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Ancient Egyptian Medical Texts

Ancient Egyptian Medical Texts

Medicine in ancient Egypt was understood as a combination of practical technique and magical incantation and ritual. Although physical injury was usually addressed pragmatically through bandages, splints, and salves, even the broken bones and surgical procedures described in the medical texts were thought to have been made more effective through magic spells.

These spells were recorded in the medical texts of the time, written on papyrus scrolls, and consulted by physicians when needed. In the present day, most people would balk at the idea of visiting a doctor and having incantations muttered over them while they were rubbed with oil and fumigated with incense as amulets and charms were swung over their bodies, but to the ancient Egyptians, this was all simply a routine aspect of the medical practice. As the Ebers Papyrus, one of the medical texts of its day, states, "Magic is effective together with medicine. Medicine is effective together with magic."

Magic & Medicine

The Egyptian god of magic was also their god of medicine, Heka, who carried a staff entwined with two serpents (no doubt taken from the Sumerian god Ninazu, son of the goddess of health and healing, Gula). This symbol later traveled to Greece where it became the caduceus scepter of the healing god Asclepius and later associated with the "father of medicine," Hippocrates. The caduceus is recognized today as the symbol of the medical profession around the world. Magical practice and incantations invoked the power of the gods to accomplish one's goals, whether in medicine in in any other area of one's life. In medical practice, the spells, hymns, and incantations drew the gods near to the healer and focused their energies on the patient. Heka was the name of the god and also the practice of magic. According to Egyptologist Margaret Bunson:

Three basic elements were always involved in the practice of heka: the spell, the ritual, and the magician. Spells were traditional but also changed with the times and contained words which were viewed as powerful weapons in the hands of the learned. (154)

Doctors were well versed in magic and how it should be used most effectively. The doctor was the magician who knew the spells and the rituals which would unlock their power. When a doctor was called to a patient, he or she was expected to be able to cure the ailment because the gods would arrive once the proper spells were incanted along with the precise rituals. The triad of a doctor, spell, and ritual was considered as reliable by the ancient Egyptians as any medical procedure in the present day.

The Papyrus Scrolls

These spells were written down on scrolls made from the papyrus plant which was cut in strips, laid in layers, and pressed to create paper. These scrolls had two sides: the recto, where the fibers of the plant ran horizontally (the front) and the verso, where they ran vertically (the back). The recto was written on first as this was the preferred surface, but once this was filled, the verso was used for additional information or, sometimes, a completely different text. The Edwin Smith Papyrus, for example, has surgical procedures written on the recto with magical spells on the verso. Although some scholars have interpreted the two sides as a whole text, others have suggested that the spells were added to the papyrus later. Papyrus was fairly expensive and so was often recycled for other works either by writing over the recto side or using the verso or both.

The tone of authority in all of the medical texts implies empirical knowledge of the success of the prescriptions & procedures.

The medical scrolls were preserved in a part of the temple known as the Per-Ankh ('House of Life'), which was an interesting combination of scriptorium, center of learning, library, and possibly hospital or medical school. Doctors were said to operate out of the Per-Ankh, but whether this meant they treated patients there, studied there, or simply referred to the knowledge they had obtained is unclear; it is possible the phrase meant all of the above. Temple complexes in ancient Egypt did serve as a kind of hospital and people are recorded as visiting them for assistance with medical problems. At the same time, of course, they were associated with centers of learning.

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The spells which medical professionals would have learned were not considered arbitrary but had been proven effective through experience. The tone of authority in all of the medical texts implies empirical knowledge of the success of the prescriptions and procedures. The Erman Medical Papyrus, for example, authoritatively gives incantations and magical spells for the protection of children and healthy pregnancies. This text, dated to the Second Intermediate Period of Egypt (c. 1782-c. 1570 BCE) and most likely to c. 1600 BCE, is interesting for a number of reasons but, notably, for its reflection of medical knowledge in folk practice. The Magical Lullaby of ancient Egypt, sung or recited by mothers to protect their children from supernatural harm, shares many similarities with the incantations suggested in the Erman papyrus.

The Medical Texts

The different medical texts each address a different aspect of disease or injury. Each of them carries the name of the individual in the modern era who discovered, purchased, or donated the text to the museum which now houses it. The names by which the works were originally known have been lost.

Although there are many different papyri which mention magical spells, medical procedures, or both, only those directly associated with the practice of medicine - and thought to have been consulted by practicing doctors - are given below. A manuscript such as the Westcar Papyrus, for example, while it does shed light on practices surrounding birth, cannot be considered a medical text since it is obviously historical fiction.

The Berlin Medical Papyrus (Brugsch Papyrus) - Dated to the early New Kingdom of Egypt, this work is considered a copy of a much older medical treatise from the Middle Kingdom (2040-1782 BCE). The papyrus deals with contraception and fertility and includes instruction on the earliest known pregnancy tests in which a urine sample was taken from the woman and poured over vegetation; changes in hormone levels would be evident in the effect the urine had on the plants. Much of the advice in this work is also found in the Ebers Papyrus.

The Carlsberg Papyrus - A collection of different papyri from different eras spanning centuries. Parts of this papyrus date from the Middle Kingdom of Egypt, some from the New Kingdom, and others from as late as the 1st century CE. The New Kingdom segment is considered a copy of a text from the Middle Kingdom dealing with gynaecological issues, pregnancy, and eye problems. The different parts are written in hieratic, demotic, and ancient Greek.

The Chester Beatty Medical Papyrus (also known as Papyrus Chester Beatty VI) - Dated to the New Kingdom (c. 1570 - c. 1069 BCE), and specifically to c. 1200 BCE, the text is written in demotic script and is the oldest treatise on anorectal disease (affecting the anus and rectum) in history. The work prescribes cannabis as an effective pain medication for what seems to be colorectal cancer as well as headaches; thus making the work an early instance of medicinal cannabis prescribed for cancer patients, predating Herodotus' mention of the Scythian's use of cannabis as a recreational hallucinogen in his Histories (5th century BCE), which is generally considered the oldest mention of the drug.

The Demotic Magical Papyrus of London and Leiden - Dated to the 3rd century CE, this papyrus is written in demotic script and deals wholly with the supernatural aspects of disease, including spells for divination and raising someone from the dead. Advice is given to the doctor on how to induce visions and make contact with supernatural entities to cure a patient by driving out evil spirits.

The Ebers Papyrus - This copy, dated to the New Kingdom (specifically c. 1550 BCE), is also an older work from the Middle Kingdom. It discusses cancer (about which it says one can do nothing), heart disease, depression, diabetes, birth control, and many other concerns such as digestive problems and urinary tract infections. It offers both 'scientific' and supernatural diagnoses for disease and cure and includes a number of spells. It is the longest and most complete ancient Egyptian medical text found to date containing over 700 prescriptions and spells. Although the Egyptians had little knowledge of internal organs, they understood the heart was a pump which supplied blood to the rest of the body. Psychological problems are attributed to supernatural causes in the text in the same way physical disease is.

The Edwin Smith Papyrus - From the Second Intermediate Period (c. 1782-1570 BCE), this work is a copy of an earlier piece probably written in the Old Kingdom (c. 2613-2181 BCE). It is in hieratic script and dated to c. 1600 BCE. Some scholars attribute the original work to Imhotep (c. 2667-2600 BCE), best known as the architect of Djoser's Step Pyramid constructed toward the end of the Early Dynastic Period in Egypt (c. 3150 - c. 2613 BCE). Imhotep was also well respected for his medical treatises arguing that disease was natural, not a punishment from the gods or the result of evil spirits. Since the Edwin Smith Papyrus focuses on pragmatic treatments for injuries, Imhotep's claims would have at least influenced the work even if he did not write the original. It is the oldest known work on surgical techniques and was probably written for triage surgeons in field hospitals. The work focuses on practical application of easing pain and setting broken bones. As noted, the eight spells which appear on the verso side are considered by some scholars to be a later addition to the scroll.

The Hearst Medical Papyrus - A New Kingdom copy in hieratic script of an older work thought to have been written in the period of the Middle Kingdom. The Hearst Medical Papyrus contains prescriptions for urinary tract infections, digestive problems, and other similar maladies. Although its authenticity has been questioned, it is generally accepted as legitimate. A number of the prescriptions repeat those found in the Ebers Papyrus and echoed in the Berlin Papyrus.

The Kahun Gynaecological Papyrus - Dated to the Middle Kingdom (specifically c. 1800 BCE), this papyrus deals with women's health and is thought to be the oldest such document on the subject. It covers contraception, conception, and pregnancy issues, as well as attendant problems linked to menstruation. It suggests that a woman with a severe headache, for example, is experiencing "discharges of the womb" and should be disinfected with incense, rubbed with oil, and the doctor should "have her eat a fresh ass liver" in order to recover. Many of the prescriptions deal with troubles emanating "from the womb" because, as Egyptologist Joyce Tyldesley notes, there was the "mistaken assumption that a healthy woman had a free passageway connecting her womb to the rest of her body" (33). Supernatural or natural disturbances in the womb, therefore, would affect the entire system of the individual, and so the womb becomes the focus in this work. Another medical text, The Ramasseum Medical Papyrus, is considered a New Kingdom copy of parts of this text.

The London Medical Papyrus - Dated to the Second Intermediate Period, this scroll consists of medicinal prescriptions and magical spells dealing with problems associated with the skin, eyes, pregnancy, and burns. The spells are to be used in conjunction with the medical applications, and the work is thought to have been a common reference book carried by practicing doctors. Some spells drive away evil spirits or ghosts while others were used to boost the healing properties of whatever treatment was applied.

Conclusion

All of these texts were as vital to the practice of medicine in ancient Egypt as any medical text in the present day. The prescriptions and procedures, which had proven effective in the past, were written down and preserved for other practitioners. Bunson writes:

Diagnostic procedures for injuries and diseases were common and extensive in Egyptian medical practice. The physicians consulted texts and made their own observations. Each physician listed the symptoms evident in a patient and then decided whether he had the skill to treat the condition. If a priest determined that a cure was possible, he reconsidered the remedies or therapeutic regimens available and proceeded accordingly. (158)

The skill of the Egyptian physician was widely recognized throughout the ancient world and their medical knowledge and procedures were emulated by the Greeks. Greek medicine was just as admired by Rome which adopted the same kinds of practices with the same sort of understanding of supernatural influences. The great Roman physician Galen (126 - c. 216 CE) was long understood to have learned his art from Cleopatra of Egypt, though a different Cleopatra from the famous queen. Roman medical practices lay the foundation for later understanding of the art of healing, and in this way, the ancient Egyptian texts continued to influence the medical profession up through the present day.


The Ebers Papyrus: Medico-Magical Beliefs and Treatments Revealed in Ancient Egyptian Medical Text

The Ebers Papyrus is an ancient medical document that contains over 842 remedies for illnesses and injuries. It specifically focused on the heart, the respiratory system, and diabetes.

The Papyrus measures over 68 ft. (21 meters) long and 12 inches (30 cm) wide. It is sectioned into 22 lines. It derived its name from famed Egyptologist Georg Ebers and is estimated to have been created between 1550-1536 BC during the reign of Amenopis I. It now resides in the University Library of Leipzig Germany.

The Ebers Papyrus is considered one of the oldest and most extensive records of Egyptian medical history . It presents a vivid window into the Ancient Egyptian world of medicine and reflects a blending of both the scientific (known as the rational method) and the magico-religious (known as the irrational method). It has been extensively studied and re-translated almost five times and has been credited for giving much insight to the cultural world of the 14-16th centuries BC of Ancient Egypt.

Though the Ebers Papyrus covers a lot of medical insight , there is only a handful of documentation to the nature of how it was discovered. Before it was purchased by Georg Ebers, it was previously known as the Assasif Medical Papyrus of Thebes. Understanding the story of how it came into the possession of Geog Ebers is just as marvelous as the medical and spiritual procedures it mentions.


What Healing Approach Came First?

The timeline and history of ancient medicine are up for debate and speculation. Many believe it started with the Egyptians. Some think that it dates back further to the indigenous cultures of Australia, South America, India, and Northern America. This question of who came first falls in line with the chicken or the egg scenario. Perhaps it doesn’t matter which came first, but rather which approach is most effective to sustain and maintain health. In addition, which modalities help people heal when they do find themselves in a state of disease or trauma.

We will go into each ancient approach in further detail as this blog evolves, but for now, try and connect the dots forward. Look for the similarities between different cultures and how modern medicine still utilises some of these approaches. We also look at the possibility that we may have forgotten some very simple principles as we became more technologically advanced.

1. Prehistoric Medicine

Prehistoric medicine refers to medicine before humans could read and write. It covers a vast period, which varies according to regions and cultures. Anthropologists, people who study the history of humanity, can only make calculated guesses at what prehistoric medicine was like. This is done by collecting and studying human remains and artifacts. They have sometimes extrapolated data from observations of certain indigenous populations today and over the last hundred years whose lives have been isolated from other cultures.

People in prehistoric times would have believed in a combination of natural and supernatural causes and treatments for conditions and diseases.

There may have been some trial and error in developing effective treatments. However, they would not have taken into account several variables scientists factor in today. These include coincidence, lifestyle, family history, and the placebo effect.

Archaeological evidence of cannibalism also exists among some of the prehistoric communities. Meaning they must have known about our inner organs and where lean tissue or fat predominates in the human body. Most likely, they believed that their lives were determined by spirits.

2. Indigenous Aboriginals

Indigenous medicine is arguably the oldest form of medicine and healing, as it is attributed to perhaps the oldest living cultures in the 21st century.

Findings detailed today in the journal Science, studied the DNA of Australian Aboriginals. Researchers found that their ancestors had split from the first modern human populations to leave Africa, 64,000 to 75,000 years ago. Dr. Joe Dortch, a scientist at UWA, says the discovery turns on its head the existing theory that Aboriginals arrived here less than 50,000 years ago.

Looking into indigenous practices for medicine, Dr. Francesca Panzironi came to Australia several years ago. She studied how international legal standards related to Aboriginal traditional medicine. She was amazed at the lack of research or recognition of this 40,000-year-old body of knowledge.

“These are really highly spiritual people. Their world view is very different to the western model. To them, the spirit world is very real, rather than our western model which is based around germ theory.” Dr. Panzirnoi

In South Australia, Dr. Panzironi found that traditional health knowledge was still alive and well and working in a contemporary setting. There, Ngangkari healers work alongside doctors and medical staff in community clinics and hospitals. They often visit Adelaide to attend to Indigenous hospital patients. In the mental health area, their involvement in the care of Aboriginal people is even enshrined in state law. Ngangkari deal with everything from childhood illnesses to loss of spirit.

“They focus a lot on pain relief, pain management, and spiritual disorders,” explains Panzironi, “so when people feel sick or weak, they may say the spirit is not there, or it’s not in the right place. Through massage and using special powerful sacred tools they are able to return the spirit to its rightful place.”

A local indigenous Aboriginal healer, Cyril McKenzie is from Ernabella in the northern South Australian desert. He says he’s been doing the job since he was “a young fella.” He states, “When I was five years old I started healing, and when I grew up then I started work at the clinics, and then in mental health.”

Unlike modern medicine, McKenzie says he learnt his skills from his grandfather, uncle, and mother.

3. Babylonians

Babylonian Medicine: Theory and Practice by Markham Geller examines the way medicine was practiced by various Babylonian professionals of the 2nd and 1st millennium B.C.

For the Greeks, the physician healed the body and wisdom of the mind.

There is a vague parallel in Babylonian medicine with the asû tending to symptoms of a disease and the exorcist treated the psyche (mind).

While ‘philosophy’ might not have been the domain of the Babylonians, change and innovation did occur. This happened most drastically in the second half of the first millennium.

This was a period when astrology came to influence scholarship more broadly and in medicine. There were even attempts to place the cause of disease within the body, rather than ascribing it to supernatural forces.

There is evidence that the Hellenistic Babylonian schools were reinterpreting and explaining the received medical texts. Such evidence strongly suggests that theory was part of the teaching and learning procedures in the scribal schools of this period. The division between medicine and magic was gone, and that exorcists, in particular, studied all areas of Babylonian science.

4. Native Americans

The healing traditions of Native Americans go back for thousands of years. As the many indigenous tribes of North America learned that by mixing herbs, roots, and other natural plants, they could heal various medical problems. But remedies were not the only part of the Native American healing process.

With more than 2,000 tribes of indigenous people in North America, the healing practices varied widely from tribe to tribe. These practices involved various rituals, ceremonies, and a diverse wealth of healing knowledge.

While there were no absolute standards of healing, most tribes believed that health was an expression of the spirit and a continual process of staying strong spiritually, mentally, and physically. Each person was responsible for his or her own health, and all thoughts and actions had consequences.

Herbal remedies filled an important role within these healing practices. They stretched beyond the body’s aches and pains and into the realm of the spirituality and harmony.

The major difference between Native American healing and conventional medicine, both in the past and present, is the role of spirituality in the healing process. Today, modern medicine focuses only on science and the mechanistic view of the body. However, many Native Americans continue to include the spirit as an inseparable element of healing.

Referred to as healers, Medicine Men, or Medicine Women by their tribes, these many healers’ primary role was to secure the help of the spirit world. This was focused especially on the “Creator” or “Great Spirit,” for the benefit of the community or an individual.

Masks, which were often grotesque and hideous, were worn by healers to frighten away the spirit causing the disease or pain. Beating drums and shaking rattles while dancing around the patient were also used to exorcise any demons. In addition to herbal remedies, suction tubes or cups were also used by many healers, as well as purging and purification.

5. Ancient Egyptians


The ancient Egyptian word for doctor is “swnw.” This title has a long history. The earliest recorded physician in the world, Hesy-Ra, practiced in ancient Egypt. He was “Chief of Dentists and Physicians” to King Djoser, who ruled in the 27th century BC.

Ancient Egypt, 3300 BC to 525 BC, is where we first see the dawn of what, today, we call “medical care.” Egyptians thought gods, demons, and spirits played a key role in causing diseases. Many doctors at the time believed that spirits blocked channels in the body and affected the way it functioned.

Their medical practices involved trying to find ways to unblock the “Channels.” Gradually, through a process of trial and error and some basic science, the profession of a “doctor of medicine” emerged. Ancient Egyptian doctors used a combination of natural remedies combined with prayer.

Archaeologists have found Papyri, thick paper-like material produced from the pith of the papyrus plant, where Egyptians documented a vast amount of medical knowledge. They found that they had fairly good knowledge about bone structure, and were aware of some of the functions of the brain and liver.

6. Ancient Chinese

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), which dates back 2,500 years, has a long and rich history. It is also believed to be the third oldest form of medicine. The fact that TCM has existed for thousands of years, and is still used today is a testament to its value as a form of healthcare.

There are four key principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Firstly, the human body is a miniature version of the larger, surrounding universe.

Secondly, harmony between two opposing yet complementary forces, called yin and yang, supports health, and disease results from an imbalance between these forces.

Next, five elements—fire, earth, wood, metal, and water—symbolically represent all phenomena, including the stages of human life, and explain the functioning of the body and how it changes during disease.

Finally, Qi, a vital energy that flows through the body, performs multiple functions in maintaining health.

TCM encompasses many different practices, commonly including acupuncture and Tai Chi.

7. Indian Ayurveda

Ayurvedic Medicine is a simple, natural approach to taking care of the body. It takes into consideration the entire framework of the human body including body, soul, and spirit.

Ayurveda is a medical science dealing not only with treatment of some diseases, but it is a complete way of life. Ayurveda aims to make a happy, healthy, and peaceful society. The two most important aims of Ayurveda are to maintain wellness in healthy people and to cure the diseases of sick people.

Watch this video about the history behind Ayurveda.

8. Aztecs and Incas

The earliest Mexican civilization to leave traces in the central plateau around 955 BC was the Olmec. However, most of the Aztec cultural achievements were inherited from the Toltecs who arrived at Colhuacan in AD 908 and founded their capital Tula in 977.

The medical doctrines and practices of the Aztecs were permeated by profound religious elements. The mother of the gods, Teteoinam or Toci, was the goddess of medicine and medicinal herbs. She was worshiped by physicians, surgeons, phlebotomists, midwives and those women using herbs for abortions.


The anatomical terminology of the Aztecs, showing a detailed nomenclature and knowledge of the exterior and much less of the interior parts of the human body. This seems to have been the result of the extensive practice of human sacrifice by the priests.

Disease, particularly those of a serious nature, were thought to be sent by the gods as a punishment for sin. Occasionally it was believed that they had been induced by enemies. Only in certain instances were natural causes given as the true origin of a disease.

9. Ancient Greeks

Hippocrates was born around 460 BC on the island of Kos, Greece. He became known as the founder of medicine and was regarded as the greatest physician of his time. He rejected the views of his time that considered illness to be caused by superstitions and by possession of evil spirits and disfavour of the gods.

Hippocrates held the belief that the body must be treated as a whole and not just a series of parts. He accurately identified disease symptoms.

He was also the first physician to accurately describe the symptoms of pneumonia, as well as epilepsy in children. He believed in the natural healing process of rest, a good diet, fresh air, and cleanliness. This influenced Greek medicine and carried on into modern times.

10. Ancient Romans

Roman medicine was greatly influenced by earlier Greek medical practice and literature. Yet it would also make its own unique contribution to the history of medicine through the work of such famous experts as Galen and Celsus. Whilst there were professional doctors attached to the Roman army, for the rest of the population, medicine remained a private affair.

The most influential work on drugs was “Materia Medica” by Dioscurides of Anazarbus written in the 1st century CE. In it, Dioscurides mentions a vast number of herbal and plant remedies. Among these were such medicinal classics as poppy juice and the autumn crocus, containing morphine and colchicine respectively.

As with the Greeks, the Romans had no official medical training or qualifications. There was no orthodox medical approach. Methods and materials were down to the individual practitioner who gained the confidence of his patients through the accuracy of his diagnosis and prognosis case by case.

11. Medieval Medicine

One of the prevailing theories about disease in medieval medicine was that of the four humours.

The idea was that the body had four bodily fluids, yellow bile, black bile, blood, and phlegm. These were used to analyse the state of a person’s health.

Another belief that was prevalent was that disease was carried by smell. So avoiding anything with a bad smell such as rotting flesh was seen as prudent. To protect themselves in times of epidemics, medieval doctors often carried with them something with a nice smell such as posies. They believed it would counteract the bad smell and prevent them from catching the disease themselves.

Astrology and the stars also played a part in healing practices. For example, during the first plague epidemic, between 1348 – 1350, the Pope’s doctor, Guy de Chauliac, believed it to be caused by a conjunction of Saturn, Mars, and Jupiter. He also correctly deduced that poor diet would make people more susceptible to disease.

Despite the appearance of a few universities in Europe, most learning took place in the monasteries. The monks believed in the need for divine intervention for healing the sick. They tended to see it as a punishment from God or even demonic possession.

Hospitals began to appear in the monasteries to help the sick and dying. The earliest was in the monastery of St Gall, built in 820.

The idea grew over time, and by the twelfth century, many larger hospitals were being built across Europe, mostly by Church institutions.

12. Modern Medicine

Modern medicine has produced four advances which have drastically changed the ways of human life. First, preventive medicine had phenomenal success. This began with the infant welfare movement. In the nineteenth century, a series of victories was celebrated over infectious diseases such as cholera and typhoid.

Second, surgery became more sophisticated.

Third, scientific understanding developed of the pathogenesis of endocrine and metabolic diseases. Prevention, control, and cure of these disorders were made possible.

Fourth, the discovery of chemotherapeutic agents has been highly effective in destroying microbial pathogens. This has greatly reduced mortality from infectious disease.

However, considering all the practices, methods and approaches above. How well is it working?

We have seen an increase in people’s length of life for many developing countries. While at the same time we’re seeing a reduction in quality of life in developed countries associated with many chronic preventable diseases. Perhaps, we know enough to balance the scales? We can do that by promoting a fine balance between both length and quality of life.


Notes

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some pages skewed inherent from the source.

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Ancient Egyptian Medical Texts - History

Ancient Egypt is one of the most amazing and awe-inspiring civilizations the world has ever known. While we might think about pharaohs, mummies, and the pyramids first, there was much more to ancient Egyptian life. In fact, if we're thinking only about the people who were important enough to be pharaohs or to be mummified, we're ignoring 99% of ancient Egyptians! One of the most incredible things the ancient Egyptians did was to create the foundation for some of the modern medical practices we see today. Read on for more information about how we have the ancient Egyptians to thank for some of what we can still see practiced in modern medicine.

Egyptian Religion and Medicine

One of the most important things to remember when studying ancient Egyptian medical practice is that medicine and ancient religion were two sides of the same coin. In fact, one of the major responsibilities of ancient Egyptian healers was to identify the spirit that was invading a sick persona and to know what treatment would drive that spirit out. When you think about it, though, if you didn't know about germs and viruses, this is likely the best way to approach medical maladies. In many ways, it's simply a matter of semantics. Rather than calling an illness by its name, they were referred to in religious terms, but the idea that there were certain proven treatments proven to cure these ailments has not changed. It was further the responsibility of these healers to know what herbs would cure these ailments, in much the same way as modern doctors.

Ancient Medical Texts

Did you know that we knew very little about ancient Egyptian medical practices before the 20th century? The fact was, there were precious few records of how people practiced medicine in ancient Egypt, and so what little we thought we knew was based mostly on conjecture. During the last century, however, we discovered some of the oldest texts in the world, and these helped to shed light on the ancient Egyptian world. With names such as the Edwin Smith Papyrus and the Ebers Papyrus, these texts contained detailed records of Egyptian medical practices such as surgery, diagnoses, and treatment.

Ancient Egyptian Diseases

So what were ancient Egyptian healers tasked with healing? Well, many of the same diseases we deal with today, though they didn't have all the tools available to them that we have today. Some of the treatments, such as the milk of a mother who has given birth to a boy, might seem ridiculous today, but remember that the ancient Egyptians were working with what they had, and much of what they knew was a mixture of experimentation and religion. So, while it might seem silly to think that an upset stomach would be cured by boiling an old book in oil and rubbing the oil on a child's stomach to cure constipation, remember that many other treatments more closely resembled what you might see in a doctor's office today. The fact is, most illnesses went untreated for a lack of resources and knowledge, and the average lifespan of an ancient Egyptian was just 35.


Oldest medical text on kidneys, notes on pregnancy test found in manuscript from ancient Egypt

Analysis of previously-untranslated ancient manuscripts has shed light on the fascinating medical and scientific practices prevalent in Egypt several thousand years ago. Part of the Papyrus Carlsberg Collection, which is currently kept at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, the papyri contain what is believed to the oldest known medical discussion on kidneys.

Researchers studying the scrolls also found notes on different eye diseases and their treatment, in addition to what appears to be a description of a pregnancy test. Apart from medicine, the manuscripts carry notes and references pertaining to a variety of subjects, including botany, astronomy and astrology.

The discovery was made recently by a joint, international team of researchers. As per collection manager Kim Ryholt, who is also a professor at the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, the Papyrus Carlsberg Collection includes more than 1,400 ancient manuscripts dating from circa 2000 B.C. to 1000 AD.

Originally donated to the university in 1939, most of the literature on the scientific practices in ancient Egypt has remained untranslated, according to the collection’s official website. In one of the medical texts from the collection, researchers recently discovered instructions for an ancient pregnancy test, which required the woman to pee into two bags: one filled with wheat and the other containing barley.

According to the translated manuscript, the sex of the unborn child would depend on which grain sprouted first. If neither sprouted, it would mean that the woman was not pregnant, the scroll further stated. Interestingly, as pointed out by Sofie Schiødt, a project researcher and doctoral candidate at the university, a medieval German manuscript from 1699 also describes a similar pregnancy test. She said –

Many of the ideas in the medical texts from ancient Egypt appear again in later Greek and Roman texts. From here, they spread further to the medieval medical texts in the Middle East, and you can find traces all the way up to premodern medicine.

From Breath Mints To Door Locks: Amazing Inventions From Ancient Egypt

The ancient Egyptians, like Mesopotamia , have been credited with some of the most fundamental inventions in human history. Many of these inventions are intrinsically related to personal hygiene, health, and even fashion – thus almost serving the evolutionary pattern of societal development (with focus on the well being of the individual).

From eye makeup (believed to have been invented by circa 4000 BC) to making the oldest known piece of woven clothing (called the Tarkhan Dress), ancient Egypt – in many ways – paved the path for a variety of other innovations. For instance, naturally occurring glass obsidian was used by various Stone Age groups as sharp cutting tools, while evidence of rudimentary glass-making has been found in Mesopotamia, dating from circa 3500 BC. However back in 2016, a group of researchers theorized that these ancient glass-makers possibly borrowed ideas from more refined techniques that were being used in ancient Egypt.

While the cursive writing was invented by the ancient Mesopotamians, their script was often inscribed as marks on clay tablets. However, the first known use of ink specifically for the purpose of writing (as opposed to art) comes from a much ‘later’ date of circa 2500 BC. Historically, this ink-writing trend emerged from both ancient Egypt and China, possibly in an overlapping time period.

Read More: 12 Incredible Ancient Egyptian Inventions You Should Know About

Coming to medicine, the Edwin Smith Papyrus is a comprehensive medical manuscript on surgery from ancient Egypt that was written around 1600 BC. It is perceived as a treatise that mainly deals with trauma, and predates the famous Hippocratic Oath by almost a thousand years! Simply put, it is the world’s oldest known surgical treatise and is dated from the Second Intermediate Period of the history of ancient Egypt.

However, given that only a miniscule percentage of scientific papyri from ancient Egypt are currently extant, the recent translation of the Papyrus Carlsberg Collection – the researchers hope – will uncover hitherto-unknown insights into the life, culture and practices of this fascinating ancient civilization.


Unpublished Egyptian texts reveal new insights into ancient medicine

The University of Copenhagen in Denmark is home to a unique collection of Ancient Egyptian papyrus manuscripts.

A large part of the collection has not yet been translated, leaving researchers in the dark about what they might contain.

&ldquoA large part of the texts are still unpublished. Texts about medicine, botany, astronomy, astrology, and other sciences practiced in Ancient Egypt,&rdquo says Egyptologist Kim Ryholt, Head of the Carlsberg Papyrus Collection at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark.

An international team of researchers are now translating the previously unexplored texts, which according to one of the researchers, contain new and exciting insights into Ancient Egypt.

&ldquoIt&rsquos totally unique for me to be able to work with unpublished material. It doesn&rsquot happen in many places around the world,&rdquo says PhD student Amber Jacob from the Institute for the Study of The Ancient World at New York University, USA. She is one of four PhD students working on the unpublished manuscripts held in Copenhagen.

The Egyptians knew about kidneys

Jacob&rsquos research focusses on the medical texts from the Tebtunis temple library, which existed long before the famous Library of Alexandria, up until 200 BCE.

In one of the texts, she has found evidence that Ancient Egyptians knew about the existence of kidneys.

&ldquoIt&rsquos the oldest known medical text to discuss the kidneys. Until now, some researchers thought that the Egyptians didn&rsquot know about kidneys, but in this text we can clearly see that they did,&rdquo says Jacob.

The papyri also reveal insights into the Egyptian view on astrology.

&ldquoToday, astrology is seen as a pseudoscience, but in antiquity it was different. It was an important tool for predicting the future and it was considered a very central science,&rdquo says Ryholt.

&ldquoFor example, a king needed to check when was a good day to go to war,&rdquo he says.

Astrology was their way of avoiding going to war on a bad day, such as when the celestial bodies were aligned in a particular configuration.

Egyptians&rsquo contribution to science

The unpublished manuscripts provide a unique insight to the history of science, says Ryholt.

&ldquoWhen you hear about the history of science, the focus is often on the Greek and Roman material. But we have Egyptian material that goes much further back. One of our medical texts was written 3,500 years ago when there was no written material on the European continent,&rdquo he says.

Analysing this 3,500-year-old text is the job of PhD student, Sofie Schiødt from the University of Copenhagen.

One side of the manuscript describes unusual treatments for eye diseases, says Schiødt.

Papy rus text discovered in Germany

The other side, describes the Ancient Egyptian equivalent of a pregnancy test and scan.

&ldquoThe text says that a pregnant woman should pee into a bag of barley and a bag of wheat. Depending on which bag sprouts first reveals the sex of her child. And if neither of the bags sprout then she wasn&rsquot pregnant,&rdquo says Schiødt.

Her research reveals that the ideas recorded in the Egyptian medical texts spread far beyond the African continent.

&ldquoMany of the ideas in the medical texts from Ancient Egypt appear again in later Greek and Roman texts. From here, they spread further to the medieval medical texts in the Middle East, and you can find traces all the way up to premodern medicine,&rdquo she says.

The same pregnancy test used by Egyptians is referred to in a collection of German folklore from 1699.

&ldquoThat really puts things into perspective, as it shows that the Egyptian ideas have left traces thousands of years later,&rdquo says Schiødt.

"E very singly contribution is important"

Translating the unpublished texts is important work, according to Egyptologist Hans-Werner Fischer-Elfert from the Department of Egyptology, University of Leipzig, Germany.

&ldquoWe still have a very fragmented knowledge of the natural sciences in Ancient Egypt. Therefore every singly contribution is important,&rdquo he says.

&ldquoToday there are still a number of sources that theoretically were known by scientists but still sat dormant in various collections around the world without anyone looking at them in detail. Now the time has come to recognise them.&rdquo


Oldest Known Mummification Manual Reveals How Egyptians Embalmed the Face

Egyptian mummies have fascinated the public for centuries. But until recently, researchers had only identified two ancient documents detailing the embalming process. Now, reports Amanda Kooser for CNET, a newly discovered, 3,500-year-old manual may shed more light on mummification’s mysteries.

Per a statement, Sofie Schiødt, an Egyptologist at the University of Copenhagen, uncovered the guide while translating a portion of the Papyrus Louvre-Carlsberg for her doctoral thesis. The nearly 20-foot-long manuscript, which focuses mainly on herbal medicine and skin conditions, contains a short section outlining embalming methods, including how to preserve a dead person’s face.

“The text reads like a memory aid, so the intended readers must have been specialists who needed to be reminded of these details, such as unguent recipes and uses of various types of bandages,” says Schiødt in the statement. “Some of the simpler processes, [for example] the drying of the body with natron, have been omitted from the text.”

The second-longest ancient Egyptian medical papyrus, the Papyrus Louvre-Carlsberg dates back to 1450 B.C., making it older than comparable mummification manuals by more than 1,000 years. As Mindy Weisberger writes for Live Science, Schiødt translated the double-sided text using high-resolution photographs, which helped streamline the process.

“This way we can move displaced fragments around digitally, as well as enhance colors to better read passages where the ink is not so well-preserved,” she tells Live Science. “It also aids in reading difficult signs when you can zoom in on the high-res photos.”

Previous research on the ancient medical text has been complicated by the fact that it’s split into multiple pieces. One is housed in the university’s Papyrus Carlsberg Collection, while another is held at the Louvre Museum in Paris. These two segments were previously housed in private collections, and the whereabouts of several other sections of the papyrus remain unknown, according to the statement.

A fragment of the nearly 20-foot long papyrus scroll (The Papyrus Carlsberg Collection, University of Copenhagen)

Among the insights offered by the newly identified manual is a list of ingredients for a plant-based embalming concoction used to coat pieces of red linen.

“The red linen is then applied to the dead person’s face in order to encase it in a protective cocoon of fragrant and anti-bacterial matter,” says Schiødt in the statement.

Brooke Taylor of CTV News reports that this process—like many covered in the manual—was repeated every four days. In between these intervals, embalmers would cloak the corpse with cloth and aromatics-infused straw to keep insects and scavengers at bay.

The entire mummification procedure took 70 days to complete, with the first 35 days focused on dehydrating the body and the next 35 on wrapping it.

According to the Smithsonian Institution, specially trained priests began by removing the brain, stomach, liver and other organs (aside from the heart, which was left in place as “the center of a person’s being and intelligence”). Next, they dried out the body with a type of salt called natron before encasing it in layers of linen and resin. The face embalming process took place during this second wrapping period, notes the statement.

On the 68th day, workers placed the mummy in a coffin the final two days of the process were dedicated to rituals that facilitated the deceased’s safe journey to the afterlife.

As Joshua J. Mark pointed out for World History Encyclopedia in 2017, medical papyrus scrolls like the recently discovered one often had two sides—the recto (front) and the verso (the back). Scribes would record most information on the front of the scroll but had the option of including additional details, or even other texts entirely, on the back. The ancient Egyptians typically preserved these manuscripts in the Per-Ankh, a section of temples that doubled as both a library and learning center.

The Louvre and the University of Copenhagen plan to jointly publish their respective fragments of the papyrus in 2022.


Ancient Egyptian Medical Texts

We are pleased to announce a three-day conference on the history of medicine and pharmacology, Traditions of Materia Medica (300 BCE – 1300 CE), that we will convene (digitally) from 16-18 June 2021 at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.

The theme of the conference is the transmission of pharmacology (in its many forms) in the immediate vicinity of the writings of Galen of Pergamum: before Galen, during the Hellenistic period after the time of Herophilus (3rd century BCE), when new directions and configurations of pharmacological concepts, practice and writing emerged as a result of the growing acceptance of the use of drugs in medicine and in Galen’s work and beyond, when the intensification of the study of pharmacology brought about by Galen’s work was transferred to the great medical ‘encyclopaedists,’ Oribasius (4th century CE), Aetius of Amida (5th / 6th century CE) and Paul of Aegina (6th / 7th century CE) and beyond. The conference, therefore, presents a case study in ‘momentum’ as a central concept in the transfer of knowledge in ancient Greek medicine.

The conference brings together scholars working on ancient Greek, Demotic, Coptic, Latin and Arabic pharmacology and medicine, and speakers will present methods of studying these traditions currently being developed in the history and philosophy of science, philology, botany, chemistry, archaeology, lexicography and digital humanities.

To register, email: [email protected] with your affiliation and research interests. Places are limited.

Organized by Sean Coughlin, Christine Salazar and Elizaveta Shcherbakova.

Presented as part of SFB 980 Episteme in Motion, Project A03: The Transfer of Medical Episteme in the ‘Encyclopaedic’ Compilations of Late Antiquity (Guidance: Prof. Dr. Philip van der Eijk)

Funded by Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation)
– SFB 980 “Episteme in Bewegung. Wissenstransfer von der Alten Welt bis in die Frühe Neuzeit” –Projekt-ID 191249397 in partnership with Freie Universität Berlin and Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.


The Red Cross, Crescent, and Crystal

The International Committee of the Red Cross has provided immeasurable humanitarian services since its establishment in the late 19th century. With over 17 million volunteers worldwide and nearly 200 countries with a society, its impact can’t be understated.

If you’d like to contribute, consider donating to the International Committee of the Red Cross or the American National Red Cross.

Red Cross

the red cross

The red cross is one of the most internationally recognized medical symbols, used to identify nonpartisan medical services for victims of conflict regardless of race or military alignment. Medical services are often identified with a red cross flag. The origins of this symbol and the service it signifies lie with Swiss entrepreneur Jean Henri Dunant (1828–1910).

In 1859, Dunant witnessed the gory aftermath of the Battle of Solferino, fought between France and Sardinia, in which 40,000 were killed or injured. Seeing the masses of unattended wounded, he began work on an idea to solve this issue. In 1862, he published “A Memory of Solferino,” in which he described the event and proposed the need for a nonpartisan organization that would attend to the wounded regardless of military alignment. The following year, the Geneva Society for Public Welfare was founded to discuss such an idea (though the name was soon changed to International Committee for Relief to the Wounded).

In 1864, the first Geneva Convention, detailing the requirements for such relief organizations, was adopted by the US, Brazil, Mexico, and all of Europe. These organizations and their personnel needed to be easily identifiable, so a red cross on a white background was designated as the medical symbol to be used. As the symbol became increasingly recognizable internationally, the committee changed its name to the International Committee of the Red Cross in 1867.

Red Crescent

the red crescent

During the Serbian–Ottoman and Russo-Turkish Wars from 1876 to 1878, the Ottoman Empire declared it would use a red crescent as its medical symbol in place of the red cross, as it claimed the cross was offensive to its Muslim soldiers. For this conflict, the crescent was temporarily, unofficially recognized.

In 1929, at the Diplomatic Conference to revise the Geneva Conventions, the red crescent was officially recognized – along with the red lion and sun, which had been used by Iran (though has been replaced by the red crescent since 1980). However, despite being a legally recognized health symbol internationally, it is not a widely recognizable symbol of such internationally, as use of the red cross far exceeds that of the red crescent.

Red Crystal

the red crystal

To solve the issue of the religious disparities of the red cross and red crescent medical symbols, at the 2005 Diplomatic Conference in Geneva, the US proposed the red crystal as a third alternative health symbol. Not only was it designed to be devoid of any religious connotations, but it also allowed for organizations to place any other of the three medical symbols (such as the cross, crescent, or lion and sun) inside it. Over the following two years, this symbol was accepted and legally codified as part of the International Red Cross Red Crescent Movement.

Wilkinson, T. A. (2001). Early dynastic Egypt (Revised Edition). London: Routledge.

Corn, G. S., VanLandingham, R. E., & Reeve, S. R. (2015). U.S. military operations: Law, policy, and practice . Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

The history of the emblems. (2007, January 14). Retrieved November 4, 2016, from International Committee of the Red Cross


Watch the video: 20 ΚΑΤΑΠΛΗΚΤΙΚΑ Σοφά λόγια του Διογένη που αξίζει να ακούσεις! Αποφθέγματα γνωμικά Αρχαίων Ελλήνων (January 2022).