Ancient Egyptian Medicine

The Egyptians believed that disease and death were caused by a god, a spirit, or some other supernatural force. They had shaman-physicians, who would discover the particular entity causing the disease and then drive it out with magic rituals or talismans, as well as medicines. The duties of Egyptian physicians included creating medications, providing magic spells and prayers to provide healing, mending broken bones, dentistry, embalming, surgery, and autopsy. Physicians were often very specialized. ?From the tombstone of Iry, chief physician to a pharaoh of the Sixth Dynasty, we learn that he was also "palace eye physician" and "palace stomach bowel physician" and bore the titles "one understanding the internal fluids" and "guardian of the anus." (Ead)
A common diseases among the Egyptians was the parasitic disease Schistosomiasis, an infection by the larval worm of a snail. Humans are infected when they come into contact with the free swimming worm, which is released by the snail into water. The worm burrows into the skin and enters the veins of the human host and causes anemia, loss of appetite, urinary infection, and loss of resistance to other diseases.
The commoners also suffered from the injuries and deformities caused by hard labor. They suffered from insect born diseases such as malaria and trachoma, an eye disease, small pox, measles, tuberculosis, and cholera. It is believed that there were occasional outbreaks of the bubonic plague spread along trade routes from the east. They contracted diseases such as trichinae, parasitic worms, and tuberculosis from their livestock. Leprosy, which had originated in Egypt, was relatively rare, possibly because of the immunity that tuberculosis sufferers have. Silicosis of the lungs, caused by breathing in sand particles was a common cause of pneumonia for the ancient Egyptians. The ancient Egyptians also suffered from diet-related ailments such as malnutrition, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, dental abrasion, and ailments normal to all humans such as arthritis.
A great deal of our knowledge of ancient Egyptian medicine comes from the Edwin Smith Papyrus, the Ebers Papyrus and the Kahun Papyrus. The Edwin Smith Papyrus and the Ebers Papyrus date from the seventeenth and sixteenth centuries BCE. These manuscripts are believed to be derived from earlier sources. They contain recipes and spells for the treatment of a great variety of diseases or symptoms. They discuss the diagnosis of diseases and provide information of an anatomy. They detail the ancient Egyptian concept of medicine, anatomy, and physiology. The Kahun Papyrus is a gynecological text that deals with topics such as the reproductive organs, conception, testing for pregnancy, birth, and contraception. Among those materials prescribed for contraception are crocodile dung, honey, and sour milk.
Thanks to the medical papyri, we know of many of the ancient Egyptian treatments and prescriptions for diseases. They call for the treatment of many disorders and the use of a variety of substances, plant, animal, mineral, as well as the droppings and urine of a number of animals. They knew how to use suppositories, herbal dressings and enemas and widely used castor oil.
Honey and milk were used for the respiratory system as well as throat irritations.
Honey, a natural antibiotic, was also widely used to dress wounds.
Aloe Vera was used to treat worms, relieve headaches, soothe chest pains, burns, ulcers and for skin diseases.
Frankincense was used to treat throat and larynx infections, stop bleeding, as well as treating asthma.
Dill was used to sooth flatulence, also for its laxative and diuretic properties.
Caraway was used to treat flatulence and as a breath freshener.
Balsam Apple or Apple of Jerusalem was used as a laxative.
Garlic was believed to provide vitality, sooth flatulence and aids digestion, shrinks hemorrhoids, rids body of spirits.
Camphor tree was used to reduce fevers, sooth gums, and treat epilepsy.
Juniper tree was utilized to treat digestive ailments, sooth chest pains, sooth stomach cramps.
Mustard seeds were used to induce vomiting and relieve chest pains.
Onions could be used to induce perspiration, prevents colds, and as a diuretic.
Parsley was used as a diuretic.
Mint was used to sooth flatulence, aids digestion, stop vomiting, and as a breath freshener.
Sandalwood was used to aid digestion, stop diarrhea, and to treat gout.
Sesame was used to sooth asthma.
Poppy seeds were used to relieve insomnia, headaches, and as an anesthetic.
Thyme was also used as a pain reliever.
Majno, Guido. The Healing Hand. Harvard University Press, Cambridge. 1975.
Silverburg, Robert. The Dawn of Medicine. Putnam Publishing, New York. 1966.
Dawson, Warren R. The Beginnings, Egypt & Assyria. Hafner Publishing Company, New York. 1964.
Sanders, J. B. Transitions from Ancient Egyptian to Greek medicine. University of Kansas Press, Lawrence. 1963.
Medicine In Old Egypt. Edited and prepared by Prof. Hamed A. Ead.
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