Ancient Egyptian medicine provides us with some of the earliest written evidence of medical practice. Medicine was prescribed, surgery performed and ailments were diagnosed. Along the banks of the Nile, medicine began to develop, alongside innovations in Public Health. In Ancient Egypt there were sophisticated methods of treating some illnesses. There was surgery that seems hard to believe possible some 5000 years ago. There was a system of providing water and removing waste in many places. Perhaps most importantly for historians of the history of medicine, the ancient Egyptians began to write down their medicines and the way that they should be used.
Evidence of Egyptian Medicine
Evidence of medicine in Ancient Egypt comes in several forms. Firstly there are scrolls. These, written on papyrus, are among the earliest written records of medical practice. The most famous of these scrolls are the Papyrus Ebers and the Papyrus Edwin Smith. These scrolls show us a number of things. The types of medicines and potions used are recorded. The prayers or chants that accompany the taking of the medicine are also recorded. For surgical procedures, the precise method of conducting the operation is recorded.
The papyrus evidence hints at a strong link between medical practice and religious beliefs. This is re-enforced by the second form of evidence. That is the paintings that remain. Here we see images of the gods alongside doctors. In tombs the evidence shows that there is a large link with a belief in the afterlife. This explains the careful process of mummification that took place throughout much of the Egyptian Civilisation.
Egyptian Medicine: Teaching Resources
Compare the Egyptians with medical practice in the Roman Empire to identify examples of continuity and change in medicine.
Medicine through time – Prehistoric Medicine – Egyptian Medicine – Greek Medicine – Roman Medicine – Medieval Medicine – Medicine in the Renaissance – Fight against Infectious Disease – Public Health in the Industrial Revolution – Modern Medicine – Revise for Medicine through time GCSE – GCSE History of Medicine resources