Ancient Egyptian Medicine

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  • Ancient Egyptians
    • Ancient Egyptians had writing, so ideas could be recorded and communicated better than prehistoric societies
    • Egyptians had gods that controlled all aspects of life, including illness and medicine
      • Sekhmet = goddess of war, who also sent/cured epidemics
      • Thoth = god who gave doctors their ability to cure people
      • Imhotep = was the Pharaoh Zoser's doctor (doctors were well-respected), then adopted as a god of healing
    • Amulets, charms and rituals were used to avoid and cure illness
    • Priests kept the Books of Thoth = contained spells, potions and procedures
    • Some of the drugs used by Egyptians, including opium, are still used today
    • Diagnosis
      • Diagnosis = observation of a patient and the recognition of their symptoms
      • Egyptian writings demonstrate that Egyptians included diagnosis in their medical rituals
    • Mummification
      • Believed human body would be needed by a person in the afterlife = preserved bodies (mummification)
      • Prepared bodies by extracting soft organs (e.g. brain and intestines), the drying (desiccating) what remained with salt = some knowledge of anatomy
      • Believed destroying someone's body meant they wouldn't go to the afterlife, so experimental dissection was out = limited amount of knowledge that could be gained
    • Non-spiritual causes suggested
      • River Nile led some Egyptians to believe that, like Nile delta or their irrigation systems, the body was full of channels
        • Thought if channels were blocked = disease. Led them to use vomiting/purging/bleeding to clear various passages
      • Egyptians understood importance of diet - medical procedures included recommended foods
    • Surgery
      • Egyptian papyrus (1600BC) outlines some simple surgical procedures
      • Carvings in temple of Kom Ombo show variety of surgical instruments
      • Willow used after surgery to treat wounds; contains salicylic acid = mild antiseptic
    • Cleanliness
      • Valued cleanliness
      • Developed mosquito nets = some protection from malaria
      • Hygiene had a religious significance. Priests washed more often than others and shaved their whole bodies before ceremonies
      • Egyptian toilets found, but did not have water-fed sewers = emptied manually
  • Thought if channels were blocked = disease. Led them to use vomiting/purging/bleeding to clear various passages


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