Medicine and Health in the Ancient World

History of Medicine in Egypt

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How Life in Egypt affected medicine...

A Wealthy Country

Egypt was a wealthy country with powerful rulers, international trade, large cities and writing. Their wealth was based on the River Nile. When the river flooded every year, it covered the surrounding land with fertile soil which gave rich harvests of good crops. Farmers became very rich. Egypt's wealth led to improvements in medicine.

Specialist Doctors

Many of the rich employed doctors to look after them. These specialist doctors spent much of their lives trying to improve their understanding of medicine and health.

Metal Workers

Rich Egyptians could also afford to employ specialist craftsmen such as metal workers to make tools or jewellery for them. These metal workers made good bronze instruments for the doctors. So Egyptian doctors worked with better medical instruments than healers in prehistoric times.

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How Life in Egypt affected medicine...


Egypt had widespread trade links. ships arrived from places like China, India and parts of Africa, bringing new herbs and plants with them. Many of these herbs and plants were recommended as medicines, so Egyptian healers built up a wide knowledge of herbal medicines.

Improved Writing

The Egyptians also developed 'PAPYRUS'(a kind of paper made from reeds) and a simpler, quicker form of writing which together made writing easier and more convenience than before.

treatments and remedies could then be written down and passed on accurately to other healers.

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How Life in Egypt affected medicine...


Religion helped to increase medical knowledge. They believed that people had life after death and that they would need their bodies in their afterlife. therefore they would embalm dead bodied ready for their afterlife. parts of the body such as the liver, were taken out and preserved. the rest of the body was embalmed, which involved treating it with spices and wrapping it in bandages to make a mummy.

The Nile and Farming

Egyptian doctors began to think hard about the reasons why people became ill. they gained some of their ideas from the River Nile itself. Egyptian doctors began to think of the body as having many channels inside it which, if they became blocked, could cause a person to become unhealthy.

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How Egyptians treated illness/disease and injuries

The people who treated the sick in ancient times:

  • Priests
  • Physicians
  • Home remedies- Wives and mothers learned cures for illnesses from older members of their families. They also acted as midwives when babies were born.

What people used to treat the sick:

  • Herbs
  • Surgery
  • Magic/charms/the supernatural.

Just because many treatments we use today are so different to those used in Egypt at this time, doesn't mean to say that they would not work.

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What did Egyptian healers know about the body and

  • They knew about the heart, pulse, liver, brain, lungs and the blood. but the didn't understand about the proper roles of these parts of the body.
  • Egyptians believed that the most important organ in the body was the heart. They described how blood flowed through over 40 channels from the heart to every part of the body. they believed that the heart carried air and water that were essential for life. healthy channels were believed to be vital for good health.
  • In Egypt when someone died, the body was embalmed. many of the organs were taken out(only the heart left inside), and the body was then preserved with spices.
  • Egyptians learned little about anatomy (the parts of the body), from embalming. but it was still carried out quickly for religious reasons and because of the heat.
  • Egyptians also believed that people would need their bodies in the afterlife, therefore DISSECTION of any other parts of the body was forbidden.
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Egyptian Medicine: a Summary...

  • When people began to live in cities and became richer, knowledge and methods changed. they had specialist craftsmen, including doctors. trade increased the range of herbs available for use as medicines. Egyptians developed writing and began to learn about anatomy.
  • They also tried to work out logical reasons of why people became ill. learning from the waters of the River Nile, they blamed blocked channels for causing illness.
  • However, not everything was new. Egyptians used many herbs in the same way as their ancestors and some still heavily relied on these. They still didn't understand the functions of some important parts of the body, such as the liver, and how they kept people healthy.
  • The Egyptians didn't understand the real causes of disease either. Therefore, when sickness spread, they were helpless. This is why Egyptians still believed in evil spirits and protected themselves with AMULETS and other magical charms that they believed worked.
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