Ancient Egyptian Medicine

Ancient Egyptian


The Nile river is known almost universally
by historians as the cradle of medicine because it passes through the great
region of Egypt. Egypt greatly contributed to the western civilization.

Their knowledge was far superior to any previous civilization, and many
civilizations to come. One of their greatest achievements was in the field
of medicine because they replaced myth with medical fact, this laid the
foundations for modern medical practice. They discovered the cause of various
illnesses and developed a cure. They practiced both medical and spiritual
healing so the worlds of religion and science could coexist. With the discoveries
of several papyrus’, we are learning more and more about their knowledge
of the human anatomy.

The literature discovered by archaeologists
dates back to over 7000 years ago. In the early Egyptian times, medicine
was practiced most often by priests, not doctors or physicians. There were
three main types of early healers, the priest physician, lay physician,
and the magician-physician. The priest physicians were ranked highest among
physicians because they practiced a combination of clinical and spiritual
medicine. The priest physicians were in such a high favor that it is most
likely they were part of the Egyptian hierarchy, and involved with the
state officials and pharaohs. It is unknown if the priest physicians ever
received medical training. They were permitted to examine patients and
participate in minor tasks. All diseases except those of the eye, were
treated by a clergy who specialized with their own rule and hierarchy known
as the Priests of Sekhmet. Gradually the physicians would gain their medical
knowledge and would combine it with their knowledge of magic to become
an effective and respected healer.

The lay physicians also practiced a combination
of clinical and spiritual healing. Unlike the priest physician, the lay
physicians were most likely trained to practice medicine. They were most
likely derived from priests who had knowledge of the anatomy, and from
magicians because they weren’t associated with any particular god or temple.

The role of a lay physician wasn’t only open to males, unlike the priest
physicians, there are records of women physicians. Although the duties
of the lay physician are vague due to the lack of information contained
in the medical papyri, we can assume that they were closely linked to the
field of surgery because of their medical training. The last type of physician
called the magician-physician, was not trained in medicine and only used
spells to cure the ill. This signifies that although the Egyptians made
advances in the field of medicine, the aspect of magic never their medicine.

All physicians of Egypt were regarded in
high favor of the kings. They were given such titles as "Chief of all court
physicians" The nobles also used the term "body physicians." These "body
physicians," were permanently employed. Historians and archaeologists are
unsure of the methods of payment for these physicians, but they know that
the general physicians who went into the land were paid by natural resources
such as a gold ring or bracelet. It was a family tradition to become a
doctor. It is unsure whether the position was inherited or the fathers
just wanted to pass down their knowledge to their sons. They can come to
the conclusion that all physicians were well looked after and were a valuable
asset to all pharaoh. In wartime and on journeys anywhere within Egypt,
the sick are all treated free of charge, because doctors are paid by the
state. Court physicians had the same advantages of those who went out to
the war front. They were paid directly by the pharaoh so a wounded soldier
in battle would be able to receive free treatment.

The art of medicine was divided: each physician
applies himself to one disease only and not more. Some are for the eyes,
others for the head, others for the teeth, others for the intestines, and
others for internal disorders. In ancient Egypt, most physicians were specialists.

One physician would specialize in treating flesh wounds, while another
would specialize in treating eye infections. The larger part of the training
of physicians took place in a house of life. The house of life is a temple
devoted to treated the ill. One would only have to tell the "house of life"
of his illness and a physician who specialized in that field would visit
that person and treat the illness as best he could. At the temple of Heliopis,
they discovered gravestones of the doctors of old schools and engraved
on them were such inscriptions as "superintendent of the secrets of health
of the house of Thoth", "the greatest of doctors", "eye