Religion and Medicine in Ancient Eygpt

Religion in Ancient Egypt.

Egyptian culture was largely based upon religion and many of their greatest monuments and festivals were a result of a desire to please Gods. In ancient Egypt there were many different Gods. They did not have one god as most modern religions do. Each god would need to be pacified in order to ensure good health and prosperity. This religious belief heavily influenced medical belief at the time. Funerary ‘tomb texts’ provide much evidence about these beliefs.

Weighing the souls of the dead

Religion played a major role in the development of Egyptian medicine. The believe in the afterlife meant that bodies were cut open and parts removed. This would have improved anatomical knowledge (the extent to which physicians benefited from the embalming process is debatable as it is more than likely that specialist embalmers existed who would not act as physicians). These religious beliefs also prevented the further dissection of the body: it had to remain intact to get to the afterlife. In this way it can be argued that Religion both aided medical development and prevented it.

Gods were thought to have a direct influence over most aspects of life. As a result prayers were common and the archaeology, papyrus and artwork left by the Egyptians all portray gods overseeing all manner of things. This type of belief meant that in towns and cities there were clean, beautified areas. Cleanliness around these places was important. Priests were held in high regard and they were cleansed on a regular basis.

Water was channelled from the Nile to provide not only irrigation for fields but also a regular supply of water for homes. This was not as sophisticated a means of supplying water as would come in later civilisations.

Funerary texts in Ancient Egypt

Funerary texts developed over the course of Ancient Egypt. These texts, in the form of hieroglyphics, illustrate the route to the afterlife. They initially were used in the pyramids and were the preserve of the Pharaoh. Later, other people are known to have had funerary texts. These were not as lavish as those in the pyramids, often being recorded on Papyrus or illustrated on pottery. This became popular in the middle kingdom. The written sources are collectively known as the Book of the Dead. In the book of the Dead we see a variety of spells and prayers to be used on the journey into the afterlife. The Book of the Dead is not one specific book. No one Papyrus contains all of the spells that are considered to be part of it. There were over 200 different spells from this period.

Book of the Dead

Book of the Dead
Weighing of the heart ritual
Book of the Dead
Scene from one of the Books of the Dead
Book of the Dead
Several gods acted as a Jury on the route to the afterlife

The Amduat

THe Amduat is a different type of funerary text. This is the Book of the Underworld. It tells the story of the god Ra. Only Pharaohs had this inscribed inside their tombs. It was believed that through use of the spells the Pharaoh would take the same journey and eventually become one with Ra. The Amduat breaks the journey down into hours, starting with a journey through night and day, past the Waters of Osiris into a desert. In the 5th hour the Pharaoh will find the tomb of Osiris with Isis and Nepthys sat in Kite form on top of it. The sixth hour sees entry into the tomb and the becoming as one with Ra. This is a highly symbolic moment. Following it is a period of danger and the journey sees an adversary to be seen off before regeneration.


Ancient Egyptian Medicine – Doctors in Ancient Egypt – Alexandria – Surgery in Ancient Egypt – Religion and Medicine  – Mummification

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

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