Ancient Egyptian Medicine Ancient Egyptian Medicine The Nile river is known almost universally by historians as the cradle of medicine because it passes through the great region of Egypt. Egypt greatly contributed to the western civilization. Their knowledge was far superior to any previous civilization, and many civilizations to come. One of their greatest achievements was in the field of medicine because they replaced myth with medical fact, this laid the foundations for modern medical practice. They discovered the cause of various illnesses and developed a cure.
They practiced both medical and spiritual healing so the worlds of religion and science could coexist. With the discoveries of several papyrus, we are learning more and more about their knowledge of the human anatomy. The literature discovered by archaeologists dates back to over 7000 years ago. In the early Egyptian times, medicine was practiced most often by priests, not doctors or physicians. There were three main types of early healers, the priest physician, lay physician, and the magician-physician.
The priest physicians were ranked highest among physicians because they practiced a combination of clinical and spiritual medicine. The priest physicians were in such a high favor that it is most likely they were part of the Egyptian hierarchy, and involved with the state officials and pharaohs. It is unknown if the priest physicians ever received medical training. They were permitted to examine patients and participate in minor tasks. All diseases except those of the eye, were treated by a clergy who specialized with their own rule and hierarchy known as the Priests of Sekhmet. Gradually the physicians would gain their medical knowledge and would combine it with their knowledge of magic to become an effective and respected healer.
The lay physicians also practiced a combination of clinical and spiritual healing. Unlike the priest physician, the lay physicians were most likely trained to practice medicine. They were most likely derived from priests who had knowledge of the anatomy, and from magicians because they werent associated with any particular god or temple. The role of a lay physician wasnt only open to males, unlike the priest physicians, there are records of women physicians. Although the duties of the lay physician are vague due to the lack of information contained in the medical papyri, we can assume that they were closely linked to the field of surgery because of their medical training.
The last type of physician called the magician-physician, was not trained in medicine and only used spells to cure the ill. This signifies that although the Egyptians made advances in the field of medicine, the aspect of magic never their medicine. All physicians of Egypt were regarded in high favor of the kings. They were given such titles as “Chief of all court physicians” The nobles also used the term “body physicians.” These “body physicians,” were permanently employed. Historians and archaeologists are unsure of the methods of payment for these physicians, but they know that the general physicians who went into the land were paid by natural resources such as a gold ring or bracelet. It was a family tradition to become a doctor. It is unsure whether the position was inherited or the fathers just wanted to pass down their knowledge to their sons.
They can come to the conclusion that all physicians were well looked after and were a valuable asset to all pharaoh. In wartime and on journeys anywhere within Egypt, the sick are all treated free of charge, because doctors are paid by the state. Court physicians had the same advantages of those who went out to the war front. They were paid directly by the pharaoh so a wounded soldier in battle would be able to receive free treatment. The art of medicine was divided: each physician applies himself to one disease only and not more. Some are for the eyes, others for the head, others for the teeth, others for the intestines, and others for internal disorders. In ancient Egypt, most physicians were specialists. One physician would specialize in treating flesh wounds, while another would specialize in treating eye infections.
The larger part of the training of physicians took place in a house of life. The house of life is a temple devoted to treated the ill. One would only have to tell the “house of life” of his illness and a physician who specialized in that field would visit that person and treat the illness as best he could. At the temple of Heliopis, they discovered gravestones of the doctors of old schools and engraved on them were such inscriptions as “superintendent of the secrets of health of the house of Thoth”, “the greatest of doctors”, “eye specialist to the palace.” From hieroglyphics on the tomb of doctor Iry, we learned that he is called “keeper of the kings rectum.” There was also a “keeper of the kings right eye,” and “keeper of the kings left eye.” The Egyptians were able to treat teeth and eye problems. Doctors who specialized in the eyes were regarded extremely high in Egyptian society and were the pride of many Pharaohs.
Eye doctors had considerable knowledge of the eye. They distinguished that there is both an outside part and an inside part to be treated. Eye diseases in Egypt, then and now, are more common then in any other region. Therefore eye doctors were in great demand and kings from neighboring lands would ask the gift of an experienced eye doctor to join their court. They discovered a treatment for trachoma, or “Egyptian eye disease.” Trachoma causes fifty percent of all blindness, and is contagious.
It is caused by the bacteria Chlamydia trachomas, and it forms tiny blisters on the conjunctiva. The eye specialists would treat it by applying a mixture of sodium carbonate, black mascara, and red ocher. They were able to perform surgeries on the eye where they would remove the iris and remove a piece of rock or metal. Another specialty was the treating of the teeth. Ancient Egyptian doctors who specialized in dental care, are not believed to have had knowledge of dental surgery because no evidence has been found in any written texts.
But archaeological finds show that attempts have been made. They discovered a mandib …