Ancient Egyptian Medicine

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The Ancient Egyptian Civilization

The society of Ancient Egypt relied on the River Nile.

  • Agricultural- spread in a narrow bend along Nile- 3400BC- 30BC
  • Nile floods- fertilises fields & provides water for irrigation 
  • Successful agriculture- spare food- more people could be professionals (doctors etc)
  • Barges on Nile enabled transportation & communication- trade & government easier
  • Had writing- ideas could be recorded & communicated

The world of the Egyptians was controlled by the Gods.

  • Gods- controlled all aspects of life- including illness & medicine
  • Amulets, charms & rituals- avoid & cure illness
  • Sekhmet- goddess of war- also sent & cured epidemics
  • Thoth- god who gave doctors ability to cure
  • Imhotep- Pharaoh Zoser's doctors- adopted god of healing
  • Priest kept Books of Thoth- contained treatments & spells
  • Some drugs used are still used today (opium)- driving away spirits rather than curing
  • Instructions were exact- what medicines to give etc.

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Practical Medicine in Ancient Egypt

The Eqyptians actually looked at their patients.

  • Diagnosis- observation of patient & recognition of symptoms
  • Egyptians writings demonstrate- included diagnosis in medical rituals

The Egyptians mummified dead bodies.

  • Human body- be needed by person in afterlife & material possesions were important
  • Preserved bodies & etombing them with grave goods
  • Prepared by- extracting soft organs (eg brain) & dried what remained with salt
  • This Egyptians some knowledge of anatomy
  • Destroying a body- wouldn't go to afterlife- so no experimental dissection- limited info
  • Egyptian papyrus- 1600BC outlined simple surgical procedures
  • Carvings in temple of Kom Ombo (100BC)- show surgical instruments
  • Willow- used after surgery- treat wounds- contains salicylic acid (mild antiseptic & original source of asprin)
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Practical Medicine in Ancient Egypt

Non- spiritual causes for illness were suggested.

  • River Nile- body was full of channels
  • Blocked channels led to disease- use vomiting, purging (laxatives) & bleeding to clear 
  • Such treatments may have worked in some cases
  • Ideas- weren't accepted by all & people didn't abandon spiritual explanantions
  • Knew diet was important- medical procedured included recommended foods

The Egyptians kept themselves clean.

  • Valued cleanlieness- bathed, shaved heads, had toilets & reguarly changed clothes
  • In Climate- made life more comfortable but hygiene appears to have religious significance
  • Priests washed more & shaved whole bodies before important ceremonies
  • Had toilets- didn't have water few sewers- emptied manually
  • Developed mosquito nets- protection against malaria 
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