It has been proposed that deaths in Ancient Egypt due to Medical Procedures were lower than in any European or American Hospital until the mid 1900s. Why? Cleanliness Practises
Doctors in Egypt were Religious Mediators and thought of as magicians who were as successful at practising medicine as they were at invoking the deities to assist them in curing the sick.
Doctors were predominately Male although Women were accepted into the profession as equals to their male counterparts. In general, women tended to practise more in the Women’s Health range of Medicine as is often the case today.
All Doctors were Scribes as the need to read Spells and write proficient notes was as essential then as it is today. However, it is important to note that not all Scribes went on to become Doctors.
The Heka and its concept was behind the original Magic in the Creation of the World and was the Magic behind the Deities. Therefore, the Heka could override any of the Deities, and any Demon or ill wishing spirit who looked to physically or mentally wished to malign any Egyptian. In saying this, the Egyptians also looked to specifically the following deities to assist them with their Health and Welfare Issues:
Goddess Sekhmet: Goddess of Healing and Medicine especially in Upper Egypt
Goddess Neith: Goddess associated with the creation of birth
God Sobek: Goddess linked with healing and surgery and was invoked for surgeries
God Thoth: God of Learning and Scribes. As all Doctors were required to be Scribes the God Thoth would have been highly venerated
Goddess Hathor: Goddess of fertility
Goddess Isis: Goddess of Healing and Magic
Goddess Serket: Goddess of Healing Stings and Bites whose Priests were all Doctors
Goddess Bastet: Goddess of keeping women’s secrets
The Heka: A Deification of Heka who could give the Egyptians protection and healing as. To learn more about the Heka, click here
Medical Schools were often founded by the Royal Family, and often by Great Royal Wives and Queens. Particularly known for founding Medical Schools were Queen Nefertiti, Queen Hatshepsut, and Queen Tiye. The Medical School at Sais was located inside the Temple of Neith in Lower Egypt and was opened in approx. 3,000BC by an unnamed woman.
We do not know much at all about the Medical School, whether the training was practical as well as theoretical? Did they train with Priests and Priestesses as well as other Magicians? Would the student need to pass exams before they qualified?
The point that nearly every Temple had its own Medical School attached to it gives us maybe an insight into their methods, especially when the students were allowed to use the scrolls in the Temple’s House of Life, or Library, for research and leaning.
The Medical Papyri that we know about:
Brooklyn Papyrus: Written in the Ptolemaic Era: Snakes and Scorpion bites, and how to drive out the poison of such animals
Carlsberg Papyrus: Written in the 19th and 20th Dynasties: Obstetrics & Gynaecology, Medicine, Paediatrics & Ophthalmology
Chester Beatty Medical Papyrus: Written around 1,200BC: Headache and Anorectal Disorders
Ebers Papyrus: Written in the 1,550BC: Medicine, Obstetrics, Gynaecology & Surgery
Edwin Smith Papyrus: Written in the 16th & 17th Dynasty: Oldest known Surgical Treatise on Trauma
Erman Papyrus: Written in the New Kingdom Period: Medicine, Anatomy and Magic
Hearst Papyrus: Written in the 18th Dynasty: Urology, Medicine and Bites
Kahun Gynaecological Papyrus: Written in the 1,800BC: Medicine, Obstetrics, Gynaecology, Paediatrics and Veterinary medicine
Leiden Papyrus: Written in the 18th & 19th Dynasties: Medicine and Magic
London Medical Papyrus: Written in the 19th Dynasty: Skin Complaints, Eye Complaints, Bleeding, Miscarriage and Burns
Papyrus Berlin 3038: Written in the 19th Dynasty: Discussing General Medical Cases
Ramesseum Medical Papyrus: Written in the 18th Century BC: Medicine, Gynaecology, Ophthalmology, Rheumatology & Paediatrics
As well as the usual physical injuries that the Human Body would sustain, we know from the Medical Texts of Ancient Egypt that they regularly treated the following: Appendicitis, Bronchitis, Burns, Cancer, Common Cold, Curvature of the Spine, Dementia, Depression, Digestive Issues, Dysentery, Eye Infections, Drinking of contaminated water, Heart Disease, High Blood Pressure, Kidney Stones, Liver Disease, Malaria, Ovarian Cysts, Pneumonia, Rectum Diseases, Smallpox, Skin Issues and Diseases, Tuberculosis, Typhoid, and Urinary Tract Infections.
They were also available and willing to be consulted about advice on Fertility, Contraception and Pregnancy Testing issues.
All Medical Treatments, or Spells, were written into Medical Texts and shared all over Egypt to enhance learning and treatments. This is why Doctors needed to also be Scribes to ensure the correct copying of the Treatments. The Spells themselves were a mixture of Medicines, Techniques and the Application of the appropriate forms of Magic.
We do know that Doctors would treat physical injuries much the same way we do today, resetting bones and, cleaning and bandaging wounds. Surgeries were highly successful in Ancient Egypt. Mummies have been found who survived dentistry surgery, amputations, and brain surgery. Prosthetics have been found in Tombs and recent experiments have proven that they would have made the amputees lives very much easier and worked in a similar way to today’s designs.
When it came to diseases, these would be viewed as a punishment which had been decreed on them by one of the Gods. Therefore, Doctors were known as Magicians as they would need to invoke the correct Spells to appease the Gods and be relieved, if never completely cured, of their Disease
Treatments were twofold:
- Medications that had been researched and tested
- Reliance on Religion: including the use of amulets, magical spells, tattoos, incantations, offerings, and aromas. Primarily these were to rid the body of any misdeed the Patient had done or to remove the body of any demon that had taken root there, placating the deities who had given the patient their sickness
A Famous Female Doctor: Peseshet
The first named Female Doctor that we know of was Chief Doctor Peseshet who practised medicine in approx. 2,500BC. The reason her name has survived is probably for 3 reasons: Firstly, she held the Title “Royal Court’s Chief Doctor” or “King’s Associate”, meaning that she was probably the Pharaoh’s Personal Doctor. Secondly, she was mentioned in the study of Science and Medicine, and thirdly, because she was Lady Overseer of Female Doctors meaning she would have taught and supervised trainee Doctors and midwives in the Medical School at Neith Temple in Sais.
Famous Male Doctors
The first Male Doctor that we know about from Ancient Egypt was Vizier Imhotep. He is slated as a genius for all the different skill sets that he excelled in. He was considered the real Father of Medicine after his writing of a Medical Treatise and advanced theories that disease occurred naturally rather than as a punishment for sins. He was deified as a God of Healing & Medicine. To learn more about Imhotep, click here.
Some Famous Male Doctors are:
Vizier Imhotep: Worked for King Djoser: 2650–2600 BC
Dentist Hesy-Ra: Worked for King Djoser: 2650–2600 BC
Doctor Medunefer: Leader of the Eye Doctors at the Palace: Old Kingdom Period
Doctor Qar: Royal Court’s Chief Doctor: 6th Dynasty
Doctor Penthu: Royal Court’s Chief Doctor: Served at the Court of Akhenaten
Doctor Iwti: Chief Doctors: 19th Dynasty
Doctor Djehutyemheb: Doctor: Worked for Pharaoh Ramses II during the 19th Dynasty
Doctor Psamtiksen: Head of Doctors: 26th Dynasty
Doctor Udjahorresnet: Head of Doctors & Supervisor of the Houses of Life: 26th Dynasty
Doctor Harsiese: Head of Doctors & Chief Doctor of Upper & Lower Egypt: 26th Dynasty
Doctor Peftuaneith: Chief Doctor: 26th Dynasty
This appears to have been a Female only operation in which male Doctors were never present. The general populace used experienced local women as their midwives, whilst the nobility would have used a Nurse.
There seems to have been some training for the women as the Doctors of the time knew about female specific medicine, but most of their knowledge came from apprenticeships and local knowledge.
Similar to other Medicine disciplines of the time, a Midwife would be expected to use practical Medicine as well as Religious Spells and Amulets.
Wet-nurses were critical to the ancient Egyptians. So critical that agreements between the child’s parents and the Wet-nurse was legalised with paperwork.
For example, a Wet-nurse would be expected to care for the child if the mother died in labour, they would have a trial run before the birth, they had to provide milk for the parents to examine, they were forbidden from nursing any other babies at the same time, not to have intercourse or fall pregnant whilst working with the baby.
For their services, the wet-nurse would be paid and receive oil which was expensive.
Maya, the Wet Nurse of Pharaoh Tutankhamun, also known as “Great One of the Harem”, “The One who has suckled the God” and “The Greatly praised one of the Perfect God”.
To see Maya’s Tomb which Pharaoh Tutankhamun built for her in the Saqqara Necropolis, click here.
Sitre In was the Wet nurse for Pharaoh Hatshepsut, and she recognised her Nurses’ devotion to her charge when she died. Pharaoh Hatshepsut had her buried within the Valley of the Kings, in Tomb KV60 which was very unusual for a non-Royal and non-Family member to be buried. Her Title was “Great Royal Wet Nurse In”.