Medicine and pharmacology in Ancient Egypt

The idea of the structure of the human body, the Egyptians received from the practice of embalming, also testified about the achievements in the field of chemistry (I assume that the word “chemistry” comes from the ancient name of Egypt is “Kemet” or “Kemet” which means “Black land”).

Knowledge of the ancient Egyptians in the field of the body structure were quite high for its time and can only be compared with the achievements of Indians, with the reservation that the Egyptian texts date back to the II Millennium BC. and Indian medical treatises – the first centuries of our era.

In the middle of the II Millennium BC the ancient Egyptians described the major organs: brain, heart, vessels, kidneys, intestines, muscles, etc. However, they are not subjected them to special study, which is due, in all probability, to the influence of the dogmas of religion.

The Egyptians belongs to the first extant description of the brain. It is given in the Edwin Smith papyrus (CA. 1550 BC, is a treatise on surgery), in which the brain moves in the open wound is compared to “a boiling copper”. The ancient Egyptians noticed that brain damage causes painful condition of other parts of the body (for example, paralysis of the limbs),and thus, laid the natural-scientific ideas about the brain.

The causes of diseases, the Egyptians linked to natural influences (junk food, intestinal parasites, weather changes), and supernatural concepts (e.g., possession by an evil spirit died in the body of the sick). According to Herodotus, they were convinced that “all human diseases come from food.” That’s why “they clean your stomach every month three times in a row, taking laxatives, and keep healthy with vomit and clatiram” (the invention of the enema is attributed to the Egyptians).

Extensive information about the internal diseases and medical healing in Ancient Egypt contains a large medical papyrus of George Ebers (XVI century BC), discovered in 1872 and named after the scientist who studied it. Papyrus, representing the medical treatise “the Book of preparation of medicines for all body parts” contains about 900 prescription drugs for the treatment of various diseases. In the manufacture of drugs widely used plants (onion, poppy seeds, dates, Lotus, pomegranate, aloe, grapes, papyrus), minerals (antimony, sulphur, saltpeter, iron, lead, soda, alabaster, clay) and body parts of many animals. Some of the recipe were extremely complex and included up to 37 constituents.

In those cases, when the disease was due to the influence of supernatural causes, were used and frightening treatment methods. It was believed that bad odors and bitter food scare away evil spirits. Therefore, in the composition of medicines is often included unpleasant taste of the substance: parts of the mouse tail, discharge from the ears of the pig, excrement and urine of animals etc Taking these medications was accompanied by a frightening spells and incantations.

Medical ethics of Egypt demanded that the doctor, having examined the patient, openly informed him of the expected outcome of the treatment in one of three phrases:

1) “it’s a disease I can cure”;

2) “it’s a disease that I may be able to cure”;

3) “it’s a disease that I cannot cure”.

To refer patients in the ancient Egyptian language had a special word heredes. Literally it meant “one who under the knife”, but was used in a broader sense. This was also the name bitten by a snake and other patients needing medical assistance and “without a knife”.

In Ancient Egypt there existed the profession of the healer teeth – “he who cares for teeth.” Toothache and tooth decay, the Egyptians explained the presence of “the worm that grows in the tooth”. Dental treatment was conservative. It consisted in applying to the aching tooth or gum pastes and solutions that have contributed to the improvement of the oral cavity and strengthening of teeth, treating gum disease, and removed a toothache, i.e. had a local therapeutic effect, but that didn’t stop the further development of the disease. The result was widespread severe inflammatory disease of the periosteum, leading to changes in the jaw and loss of teeth antemortem.

Of great importance in Ancient Egypt was given the respect traditionally established hygienic requirements. The tradition of ordered neatness at home and moderation in food. The Greek historian Herodotus, who visited Egypt in the V century BC, wrote: “the Egyptians. only drink from copper vessels, which are cleaned daily. Wear a linen dress, always freshly washed, and it is for them a matter of great concern. Through the day the priests cut their hair on the entire body in order to have neither lice nor any other impurity, in the service of the gods. The priests wear only linen, and shoes made of papyrus. They bathe twice a day and twice a night”. It is no accident the Greeks believed the Egyptians “inventors” of medicine and especially of preventive medicine.

The training of doctors in Ancient Egypt were carried out in special schools at the temples – the so-called “Houses of life”. 600 years BC, the doors of medical schools were opened to all comers males, including for foreigners who can pay tuition and literate enough to study medicine. It was a kind of revolution in medical education, because before that the craft of healing in the East were trained in home-based schools, mostly relatives.

All the activities of doctors in Ancient Egypt was subject to strict rules. Observing them, the doctor risked nothing, even in case of unsuccessful outcome of the treatment. Violation of the rules was punishable up to death penalty.

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