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Image Credit:Ancient Egypt / Ancient New” by WILLPOWER STUDIOS is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.
Ancient Egypt was a Well-Structured Society

When we consider that Ancient Egypt was a civilisation that lasted nearly 2800 years until 525 BC, it’s not surprising that the concept of health care probably started during that period – Medical News Today (MNT) cites these points in support of that notion[1]:

  • Some of the earliest records of medical care come from ancient Egypt.
  • The ancient Egyptians believed in prayer as a solution to health problems, but they also used natural remedies, such as herbs. The ancient Egyptians were traders – they travelled long distances, returning home with herbs and spices from faraway lands.
  • Their society was structured with tools such as written language and mathematics, an organised economy, social conventions, settled laws and governance – all of which enabled them to record and develop ideas, and others could learn from them.
  • In addition, there were also relatively wealthy individuals in ancient Egyptian society. They could afford some health care and had time to ponder and study.

Health and well-being were important to the pharaohs. Both physicians and magicians participated in the field of medical care. Holistically, they conceived health and sickness as an unceasing fight between good and evil. Most of the complementary medicine modalities originated from ancient Egyptians.[2]

After their death, the pharaohs of Egypt were usually mummified and buried in elaborate tombs. Although the process was an expensive one, beyond the budgets of most citizens, higher-ranking nobility and officials often received the same treatment as the pharaohs, as did, occasionally, some common people.[3]

The Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus[4]
One of the most informative documents on Egyptian medical practices is the Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus – an ancient Egyptian medical text. Named after Edwin Smith, the American dealer and collector of antiquities who bought it in 1862[5], it is the oldest known surgical treatise[6] on trauma[7]. From a cited quotation in another text, it may have been known to ancient surgeons as the “Secret Book of the Physician[8] and may have been a manual of military surgery. It dates to Dynasties 1617 of the Second Intermediate Period in ancient Egypt, c. 1600 BC[9] and is unique among the four principal medical papyri in existence known to survive today[10]. While other papyri, such as the Ebers Papyrus and London Medical Papyrus, are medical texts based on magic, the Edwin Smith Papyrus presents a rational and scientific approach to medicine in ancient Egypt,[11] upon which medicine and magic do not conflict. Magic would be more prevalent had the cases of illness been mysterious, such as with internal diseases.[12]

A few words of explanation[13] will help to put things in perspective for readers of this paper:

  • Papyrus sheets are the earliest paper-like material – all other civilisations (so far as is known) used stone, clay tablets, animal hide, wood materials or wax as a surface on which to write. Papyrus was, for over 3000 years, the most important writing material in the ancient world.
  • The ancient Egyptians mixed vegetable gum, soot and beeswax to make black ink. They replaced soot with other materials, such as ochre, to create different colours.
  • The expertise of the ancient Egyptians in preserving the bodies of the dead that even after thousands of years, we know of the diseases they suffered, such as arthritis, tuberculosis of the bone, gout, tooth decay, bladder stones, and gallstones; there is evidence, too, of the disease bilharziasis (schistosomiasis), caused by small, parasitic flatworms, which still exists in Egypt today. There seems to have been no syphilis or rickets.
  • It is interesting to note that ancient Egyptians invented toothpaste, and the world’s oldest-known recipe for it comes from ancient Egypt. Egyptians are believed to have started using a paste to clean their teeth around 5000 BC – long before toothbrushes were invented. One recipe for the earliest toothpaste called for “one drachma (one-hundredth of an  ounce) of rock salt, one drachma of mint, and one drachma of the dried iris flower, all mixed with around 20  grains of pepper to form a paste-like consistency when in contact  with the saliva of the mouth.”[14]

Description of the Edwin Smith Papyrus
The Edwin Smith Papyrus is a scroll 4.68 metres or 15.3 feet in length. The recto (front side) has 377 lines in 17 columns, while the verso (backside) has 92 lines in five columns. Apart from the fragmentary outer column of the scroll, the remainder of the papyrus is intact, although it was cut into one-column pages at some time during the 20th century.[15]  It is written, probably with a reed pen, right-to-left in hieratic, the Egyptian cursive form of hieroglyphs in black ink with explanatory glosses in red ink.

The vast majority of the Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus is concerned with trauma and surgery, with short sections on gynaecology and cosmetics on the verso.[16] On the recto side, there are 48 cases of injury, each of which details the type of injury, examination of the patient, diagnosis and prognosis, and treatment.[17] The papyrus text describes 48 types of injuries, fractures, wounds, dislocations and tumours[18]. But, surprisingly, it has little to say about diseases. It covers surgical treatments for injuries of the head, neck, shoulders, breast and chest and contains a list of instruments — including lint, swabs, bandage, adhesive plaster, surgical stitches and cauterisation tools — used in treatments and surgeries, plus instructions on how to suture a wound using a needle and thread. It is also the earliest document to make a study of the brain.[19]

The verso side consists of eight magic spells and five prescriptions. The spells of the verso side and two incidents mentioned in Cases 8 and 9 are the exceptions to the practical nature of this medical text.[20] Generic spells and incantations may have been used as a last resort in terminal cases.[21]

  • 11 – 19: (Not categorised)
  • 21–30: Preservation of the parts of ‘being’
  • 31–53: Protection from peril
  • 54–63: Empowering to breathe and drink
  • 64–89: Coming Forth by Day
  • 98–112: Navigating the Underworld (Spells 90 to 97 are omitted)
  • 125-126: Judgement (Spells 113 to 124 are omitted)
  • 127–137: Journeys in the Duat and on the Barque of Ra
  • 144–150: Gates, caverns, mounds, and guardians (Spells 138 to 143 are omitted)
  • 151–189: Amuletic and protective spells

Image Credit: Plates vi & vii of the Edwin Smith Papyrus at the Rare Book Room, New York Academy of Medicine. Martin, Andrew J. (2005-07-27).  “Academy Papyrus to be Exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art” (Press release).
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Ancient Egyptians loved life and were firm believers in immortality and that each person possessed a ka and ba:[22]

  • A ka is a life force that leaves the body after death. Upon death, the ka needed to continue to receive offerings of food, whose spiritual essence it still consumed.
  • A ba is a set of spiritual characteristics unique to each person. These remained attached to a body after death and would return each night to receive new life.

Due to the post-mortem importance of a body, Egyptians believed bodies had to be preserved. A fundamental part of their belief was that the mummified body housed one’s soul or spirit. If the body was destroyed, the deceased’s spirit could be lost and not make an entrance into the afterlife.[23]

The earliest ancient Egyptians buried their dead in small pits in the desert sand. The heat and dryness of the sand dehydrated the bodies quickly, creating lifelike and natural ‘mummies’. Later, the ancient Egyptians began burying their dead in coffins to protect them from wild animals in the desert.[24] Otherwise, post-death decomposition occurs, and it was necessary to deprive the tissues of moisture and oxygen for the body to be preserved via a process called mummification, which involved embalming the body and then wrapping it in thin strips of linen.[25] A 2011 study on the materials used during the mummification procedure in ancient Egypt revealed that the process took 70 days, although, sometimes, poorer people might be mummified in less than a week. The process of preparing the body to prevent decaying is known as embalming.[26]

It was commonplace that Pharaohs were mummified and buried in elaborate tombs. However, non-royals were also mummified, but their mummification wasn’t as thorough as royalty. The mummification of a poor person could be as simple as washing out the intestines and covering the body with natron salt, then applying minimal wrappings before burying them in a shallow grave or cave.[27] According to what Ancient Egyptians recorded in their medical papyri, we can deduce that they were advanced medical practitioners for their time. They were masters of human anatomy and healing mostly due to the extensive mummification ceremonies involving the removal of most internal organs, including the brain, lungs, pancreas, liver, spleen, heart and intestine.[28] Each organ was put in one of four canopic jars to be protected by one of the Four Sons of Horus.

Image Caption: The four sons of Horus (from left): ImsetyDuamutefHapi, and Qebehsenuef
Attribution: Jeff Dahl, CC BY-SA 4.0 <;, via Wikimedia Commons
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Canopic Jars
The four sons of Horus were a group of four gods in ancient Egyptian religion. They were ‘represented’ by the four canopic jars, which accompanied mummified bodies.[29]

Usually, the jars were carved from limestone or made of pottery.[30] The ancient Egyptians used them from the time of the Old Kingdom until the Late Period or the Ptolemaic Period when the viscera (the internal organs in the main cavities of the body) were simply wrapped and placed with the body.[31] The viscera were not kept in a single canopic jar: each jar was reserved for specific organs.

Since the heart was thought to embody the soul, it was left inside the body.[32] The brain was thought only to be the origin of mucus, so it was reduced to liquid, removed with metal hooks, and discarded.[33] It left the stomach (and small intestines), liver, large intestines, and lungs, which were then removed, embalmed and stored, each organ having its own jar.

Sometimes, embalmers deviated from this scheme – during the 21st Dynasty, they embalmed and wrapped the viscera and returned them to the body, while the canopic jars remained empty symbols.[34] The chief embalmer was a priest wearing a mask of Anubis, the jackal-headed god of the dead. He was closely associated with mummification and embalming.[35]

Until the end of the 18th Dynasty, the canopic jars had the head of the king, but later they were shown with animal heads.

The earliest reference to the sons of Horus the Elder is found in the Pyramid Texts[36] in which they are described as friends of the king, as they assist the king in his ascension to heaven in the eastern sky (possibly ‘by means of ladders’). Their association with Horus the Elder specifically relates to the Old Kingdom when they were said to be his children and his souls. As the king, or Pharaoh was seen as a manifestation of, or especially protected by, Horus, these parts of the deceased pharaoh, referred to as the Osiris, were seen as parts of Horus, or rather, his children.[37]

Isis was often seen as the mother of the four sons of Horus, and in the details of the funerary ritual, each son, and therefore each canopic jar, was protected by a particular goddess. Others say their mother was Serket, the goddess of medicine and magic. Just as the sons of Horus protected the contents of a canopic jar, the king’s organs, so they, in turn, were protected. Under the principles of male/female duality, as they were male, their protectors were female.

The Four Sons of Horus explained

Attributes of the Sons of Horus
Name Appearance Organ Orientation
Imsety Human Liver South
Duamutef Jackal Stomach East
Hapi Baboon Lungs North
Qebehseneuf Falcon Intestines West


  • Imsety: Imsety (Jmstj), the human-headed son of Horus, protected the deceased’s liver and was, in turn, protected by the goddess Isis.[38] His role was to ensure the dead would attain the afterlife, as he was asked to lift them by Horus. In Spell 148 in the Book of the Dead, Imsety was associated with the south.[39]
  • Duamutef: Duamutef (Dwꜣ-mw.t⸗f), the jackal-headed son of Horus, protected the deceased’s stomach and was, in turn, protected by the goddess Neith.[40] It seems that his role was to worship the dead person, and his name literally means “he who worships his mother“.

In the Coffin Texts, Horus calls upon Duamutef: “Come and worship my father N for me, just as you went that you might worship my mother Isis in your name Duamutef.”[41] Duamutef was considered one of the four pillars of Shu, a rudder of heaven, and was associated with the east.[42]

  • Hapi: Hapi (Ḥpj), the baboon-headed son of Horus, protected the lungs of the deceased and was, in turn, protected by the goddess Nephthys.[43]  Spell 148 in the Book of the Dead directly associates all four of Horus’s sons, described as the four pillars of Shu and said to be one of the four rudders of heaven, with the four cardinal points of the compass. Hapi was associated with the north.[44]
  • Qebehsenuef: Qebehsenuef (Qbḥ-sn.w⸗f) was the falcon-headed son of Horus and protected the intestines of the deceased. He was protected by the goddess Serket.[45] It appears that his role was to refresh the dead person, and his name means literally “he who libates his siblings“. Libation, or showering with cool water was a traditional form of worship in Ancient Egypt. There are many images of the pharaoh presenting libation to the gods. There is a sense of a dual function of cleansing and refreshing them. After Set murdered Osiris, he cut the body into pieces and scattered them around the Delta.[46] This was anathema to the Egyptians, and the service that Qebehsenuef gave to the dead was to reassemble their parts so they could be properly preserved. Qebehsenuef was the god associated with the west.[47]­­­

A picture containing building, floor, wood

Description automatically generated
Image Caption: Middle Kingdom coffin with the Coffin Texts painted on its panels 
Attribution: British Museum, Copyrighted free use, via Wikimedia Commons
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The Coffin Texts explained
The Coffin Texts are a collection of ancient Egyptian funerary spells
written on coffins beginning in the First Intermediate Period. They are partially derived from the earlier Pyramid Texts, reserved for royal use only, but contain substantial new material related to everyday desires, indicating a new target audience of common people. Coffin texts are dated back to 2100 BC.[48] Ordinary Egyptians who could afford a coffin had access to these funerary spells, and the pharaoh no longer had exclusive rights to an afterlife.[49]

As the modern name of this collection of some 1,185 spells implies, they were mostly inscribed on Middle Kingdom coffins. They were also sometimes written on tomb walls, stelaecanopic chestspapyri and mummy masks. Due to the limited writing surfaces of some of these objects, the spells were often abbreviated, giving rise to long and short versions, some of which were later copied in the Book of the Dead.[50]

The Book of the Dead[51]
The Book of the Dead is an ancient Egyptian funerary text generally written on papyrus and used from the beginning of the New Kingdom (from around 1550 BC to 50 BC.[52] The original Egyptian name for the text, transliterated as rw nw prt m hrw,[53] is translated as Book of Coming Forth by Day[54] or Book of Emerging Forth into the Light. The word “Book” is the closest word to describe the loose collection of texts[55] consisting of several magic spells intended to assist a dead person’s journey through the Duat, or underworld, and into the afterlife and written by many priests in a span of about 1,000 years.

The Book of the Dead, which was placed in the coffin or burial chamber of the deceased, was part of a tradition of funerary texts, including the earlier Pyramid Texts and Coffin Texts, which were painted onto objects, not written on papyrus. Some of the spells included in the book were drawn from these older works and date to the 3rd millennium BC. Other texts were composed later in Egyptian history, dating to the Third Intermediate Period (11th to 7th centuries BC). A number of the texts which make up the Book continued to be separately inscribed on tomb walls and sarcophagi, as the spells from which they originated always had been. A Book of the Dead was produced to order by scribes. They were commissioned by people in preparation for their own funerals, or by the relatives of someone recently deceased. The Project Gutenberg E-Book of The Book of the Dead, by E. A. Wallis Budge, says this[56]:

“Book of the Dead” is the title now commonly given to the great collection of funerary texts which the ancient Egyptian scribes composed for the benefit of the dead. These consist of spells and incantations, hymns and litanies, magical formulae and names, words of power and prayers, and they are found cut or painted on walls of pyramids and tombs, and painted on coffins and sarcophagi and rolls of papyri.”

There was no single or canonical Book of the Dead. The surviving papyri contain various religious and magical texts and vary considerably in their illustration. Some people seem to have commissioned their own copies of the Book of the Dead, perhaps choosing the words they thought most vital in their own progression to the afterlife. The Book of the Dead was most commonly written in hieroglyphic or hieratic script on a papyrus scroll and often illustrated with vignettes depicting the deceased and their journey into the afterlife.

Picture Credit: Book of the Dead
Attribution: British Museum, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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The Papyrus of Ani
The Papyrus of Ani is a papyrus manuscript in the form of a scroll with cursive hieroglyphs and colour illustrations created c. 1250 BC, during the Nineteenth Dynasty of the New Kingdom of ancient Egypt. It was customary for Egyptians to compile an individualised book for certain people upon their death, called the Book of Going Forth by Day, more commonly known as the Book of the Dead, typically containing declarations and spells to help the deceased in their afterlife. The Papyrus of Ani is the manuscript compiled for the Theban scribe Ani.

The scroll was discovered in Luxor in 1888 by Egyptians trading in illegal antiquities. It was acquired by E. A. Wallis Budge, as described in his autobiography By Nile and Tigris. It is considered the finest example of the Egyptian Book of the Dead.

For the texts mentioned, the pioneering Prussian Egyptologist, linguist and modern archaeologist Karl Richard Lepsius introduced the German name Todtenbuch (modern spelling Totenbuch), translated into English as Book of the Dead.

Picture Credit: Illustration from the Book of the Dead of Hunefer
Attribution: Hunefer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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The detailed scene above, from the Papyrus of Hunefer (c. 1275 BC), shows the scribe Hunefer’s heart being weighed on the scale of Maat against the feather of truth by the jackal-headed Anubis. The ibis-headed Thoth, scribe of the gods, records the result. If his heart equals exactly the weight of the feather, Hunefer is allowed to pass into the afterlife. If not, he is eaten by the waiting chimeric devouring creature Ammit, composed of the deadly crocodile, lion, and hippopotamus. Vignettes such as these were a common illustration in Egyptian books of the dead.[57]

A more detailed explanation of the scene can be found in the public domain, The Book of the Dead, by Sir E. A. Wallis Budge. It is considered one of the most influential books in all history and contains the ancient ritual to be performed for the dead with detailed instructions for the behaviour of the soul in the afterlife, and it served as the most important repository of religious authority for some three thousand years.[58]

The Spells
A list of all the 189 known spells in the Book of the Dead, and what they are for, is available on Wikipedia at: – although it may not be entirely reliable (as cautioned in the preface on that website). Subject to that caveat, and also that Faulkner suggests the number is 192, the Wikipedia listing of spells is grouped as follows:

  • 1 – 19 Dealing with matters such as burial and protection from animals (no mention of number 20)
  • 21–30: Preservation of the parts of being
  • 31–53: Protection from peril
  • 54–63: Empowering to breathe and drink
  • 64–89: Coming Forth by Day (no mention of numbers 90 to 97)
  • 98–112: Navigating the Underworld (no mention of numbers 113 to 124)
  • 125-126: Judgement
  • 127–137: Journeys in the Duat and on the Barque of Ra (no mention of numbers 138 to 143)
  • 144–150: Gates, caverns, mounds, and guardians
  • 151–189: Amuletic and protective spells

Today, as many as 192 spells are known[59], although no single manuscript contains all of them. The spells in the Book of the Dead depict Egyptian beliefs about the nature of death and the afterlife. They served a range of purposes. Some are intended to give the deceased mystical knowledge in the afterlife or perhaps to identify them with the gods: for instance, Spell 17 is an obscure and lengthy description of the god Atum.[60]

Other spells are incantations to ensure the different elements of the deceased’s being were preserved and reunited and to give control over the world around them. Still, others protect the dead from various hostile forces or guide them through the underworld past various obstacles.

Weighing of the Heart
Famously, two spells also deal with the judgment of the deceased in the Weighing of the Heart ritual. Such spells as 26–30 (and sometimes spells 6 and 126) relate to the heart and are inscribed on scarabs.[61] Scarabs were popular amulets and impression seals in ancient Egypt. They survive in large numbers and, through their inscriptions and typology, are an important source of information for archaeologists and historians of the ancient world. They also represent a significant body of ancient art.

A picture containing text, fabric

Description automatically generatedPicture Credit: The Weighing of the Heart ritual, shown in the Book of the Dead of Sesostris
Attribution: Manfred Werner – Tsui, CC BY-SA 3.0 <;, via Wikimedia Commons
Page URL:,_Papyrusmuseum_Wien.jpg
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

If all the obstacles of the Duat[62] could be negotiated, the deceased would be judged in the “Weighing of the Heart” ritual, depicted in Spell 125. The deceased was led by the god Anubis into the presence of Osiris. There, the dead person swore they had not committed any sin from a list of 42 sins,[63] reciting a text known as the “Negative Confession“. Then the deceased’s heart was weighed on a pair of scales against the goddess Maat, who embodied truth and justice. Maat was often represented by an ostrich feather, the hieroglyphic sign for her name.[64] At this point, there was a risk that the deceased’s heart would bear witness, owning up to sins committed in life; Spell 30B guarded against this eventuality.

If the scales balanced, it meant the deceased had led a good life. Anubis would take them to Osiris, and they would find their place in the afterlife, becoming maa-kheru – meaning “vindicated” or “true of voice”.[65] If the heart was out of balance with Maat[66], then another fearsome beast called Ammit, the Devourer, stood ready to eat it and put the dead person’s afterlife to an early and unpleasant end.[67]

Healthcare in Ancient Egypt

Picture Credit: [Cropped] Statuette, Imhotep
Attribution: Metropolitan Museum of Art, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
Page URL:,_donated_by_Padisu_MET_DP164134.jpg This file is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

The Oldest Known Doctor
The Egyptians were one of the first people to have practising physicians. The oldest known physician, Imhotep, lived around 2725 BC. He was an Egyptian chancellor to the Pharaoh Djoser, possibly the architect of Djoser‘s step pyramid, and high priest of the sun god Ra at Heliopolis. Very little is known of Imhotep as a historical figure, but in the 3,000 years following his death, he was gradually glorified and deified.[68]

Imhotep’s historicity[69] is confirmed by two contemporary inscriptions made during his lifetime on the base or pedestal of one of Djoser’s statues[70] and by a graffito on the enclosure wall surrounding Sekhemkhet‘s unfinished step pyramid. The latter inscription suggests that Imhotep outlived Djoser by a few years and went on to serve in the construction of Pharaoh Sekhemkhet’s pyramid, which was abandoned due to that pharaoh’s brief reign.

Early Healthcare
The ancient Egyptians drank alcoholic beverages with medicinal herbs and other ingredients, according to a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2009. The beverages, the oldest of which was a wine of 3150 BC vintage, were chemically analysed to determine their ingredients and revealed the first direct chemical evidence of wines with organic medical additives.

Physicians and doctors were highly revered in ancient Egypt, and for a good reason – they were the best in the world. Even then, scientific methodologies were adopted by physicians and researchers to study the effects of particular medicines and were rewarded handsomely by rich people. Doctors were even equated to God, so much so that around 2700 BC, Imhotep (see above) was bestowed the status of God of medicine. ‘Trainee doctors’, often priests, used medical material written on stone slabs (later on papyrus and wood) as a reference guideline to manage patients’ health conditions. They studied at schools called Houses of Life. Generalisation was common, and ancient Egyptian doctors were expected to know about all types of diseases.

The Egyptians compared the human body to the river Nile. They equated the interconnecting streams of the Nile and canals of their region to how the human body worked. The heart was considered the main organ, and all physiology was pertinent to the functioning of the heart. The heart also had spiritual connotations. It was the window to the soul and regularly communicated to the person’s soul. The menu or links that flowed from a heart were comparable to the complex channels of the Nile that supplied water to the people. Egyptians believed that the channels (arteries and veins) of the heart also carried air. Ancient Egyptian doctors/physicians often adopted a holistic approach to treat a health condition due to this belief.[71]

State-sponsored healthcare is generally considered a relatively modern concept, but Egyptian papyri texts dating back 3,100 to 3,600 years ago tell a different story, says the Smithsonian Magazine[72]:

“The papyri texts were discovered during archaeological excavations of Deir el-Medina, a village occupied during ancient Egypt’s New Kingdom period, which spanned between 1550 and 1070 BC. The village was the home to the highly skilled craftsmen charged with creating rock-cut tombs for royalty in the Valley of the Kings.”

Ancient Egyptian Medical Facts[73] tells us about other papyrus papers:

  • One that dates to the 17th century BC revealed how the ancient Egyptians were skilled in various problems such as head, neck, shoulder, and chest surgeries. This papyrus showed how the Pharaonic physicians dealt with more than 48 cases of surgeries. Historians believe that the rest of this papyrus included how the ancient Egyptians managed all surgeries.
  • Another papyrus that dates back to the 19th century BC, during the ruling period of King Amenemhat III, addressed how the ancient Egyptians managed obstetrics and gynaecology cases.
  • There is also the Ebers Papyrus, named after George Ebers, who could translate and understand it. It is considered the most ancient medical papyrus of all time. It dates to 3000 BC and mentions more than 400 medicines and 877 methods to treat various diseases.
Herbs, Drugs, Splints, Teeth and Obsidian [74]

As medicines, the ancient Egyptians used herbs and drugs. They also used splints to set broken bones. There is evidence that some surgery was done as skulls with holes in them have been found. Dentists and obstetricians were available and Egyptian physicians often specialised in a specific part of the body, such as the stomach, eyes and bowels.

Herodotus, writing during the fifth century BC, stated that the Egyptians had doctors who specialised in particular areas of the body, and indeed Egyptian physicians appear to have been famed in other parts of the ancient world.[75]

Image Credit: Egyptian dentist” by Daily LOL Pics is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

The ancient Egyptians led the way in terms of dental procedures. The first dentist on record is known as “Hesy-Ra,” who held the title of “Great One of the Dentists.”[76] The earliest instances of dentistry can be traced as far back as 7500 BC when the Egyptians began to use replacement teeth to replace missing ones[77].

Skulls from 2500 BC contained weak teeth anchored to other teeth with gold wire (see picture, above).

The earliest recorded dentist not only in Egypt but in the world was Hesyre (or Hesy ra), evidenced by six exquisitely carved wooden panels discovered in his tomb at Saqqara near modern-day Cairo, which are generally considered the finest wood artefacts handed down from antiquity[78].

Bronze or copper knives were not sharp enough for the ancient Egyptians – bodies were believed to have been cut open with blades made from obsidian – a naturally occurring volcanic glass formed when lava extruded from a volcano cools rapidly with minimal crystal growth[79].

Ancient Medicines [80]

Image Credit: Relief of Hesy-Ra from his Mastaba, shown seated in front of his offering table of possessions, food for sustenance in the Afterlife. Note also the scribal equipment on his body.
Attribution: Hesy-Ra_CG1426.jpg: User:GDK: James Edward Quibell († 5. Juni 1935)derivative work: JMCC1, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Page URL:[81] notes that:

“Of all the branches of science pursued in ancient Egypt, none achieved such popularity as medicine as it was based on an integrated scientific methodology and a system of medical schools. Under this system, the first of its kind in human history, the first school of medicine dated back to the first Dynasty, followed by other reputed schools such as Per Bastet in the New Kingdom and at Abydos and Sais in the late period.”

A picture containing text, building, building material, stone

Description automatically generated
Picture Credit: [Cropped] Ancient Egyptian medical instruments depicted in a Ptolemaic period inscription on the Temple of Kom Ombo
Attribution: Jeff Dahl, CC BY-SA 3.0 <;, via Wikimedia Commons
File URL: This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported2.5 Generic2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license.

The medicine of the ancient Egyptians is some of the oldest ever documented, and their understanding of medicine influenced later traditions, including that of the Greeks. From the beginnings of the civilisation in the late fourth millennium BC until the Persian invasion of 525 BC, Egyptian medical practice went largely unchanged and included simple non-invasive surgery, setting of bones, dentistry, and an extensive set of pharmacopoeia[82]. Although older writings deal with herbal medicine, the major initial work in the field is considered to be the Edwin Smith Papyrus in Egypt, Pliny‘s pharmacopoeia.[83]

Sources and Further Reading

Books, Papers and Video:

Websites about Ancient Egypt: 

Websites about Mummification:

Websites about Ancient Egyptian Medicine:

CAUTION: This paper is compiled from the sources stated but has not been externally reviewed. Neither we nor any third parties provide any warranty or guarantee as to the accuracy, timeliness, performance, completeness or suitability of the information and materials covered in this paper for any particular purpose. Such information and materials may contain inaccuracies or errors and we expressly exclude liability for any such inaccuracies or errors to the fullest extent permitted by law. Your use of any information or materials on this website is entirely at your own risk, for which we shall not be liable. It shall be your own responsibility to ensure that any products, services or information available through this paper meet your specific requirements and you should neither take action nor exercise inaction without taking appropriate professional advice. The hyperlinks were current at the date of publication.

End Notes and Explanations
  1. Source:

  2. Source: Journal of Medicinal Plants Research Vol. 4(2), pp. 082-086, 18th January 2010 Available online at Academic Journals Review Herbal medicine in Ancient Egypt by N. H. Aboelsoud, at:

  3. Source:
  4. Source:
  5. Source:
  6. Source: Wilkins, Robert H. (March 1964). “Neurosurgical Classic-XVII (Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus)”Journal of Neurosurgery21 (3): 240–244. doi:10.3171/jns.1964.21.3.0240PMID 14127631
  7. Explanation: Trauma: an injury is any physiological damage to living tissue caused by immediate physical stress. An injury can occur intentionally or unintentionally and may be caused by blunt traumapenetrating traumaburningtoxic exposureasphyxiation, or overexertion. Injuries can occur in any part of the body, and different symptoms are associated with different injuries.
  8. Source: The Edwin Smith surgical papyrus, published in facsimile and hieroglyphic transliteration with translation and commentary in two volumes (PDF). Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago, Oriental Institute. 1930. ISBN 978-0-918986-73-3., full text of translation with commentary.
  9. Source: Allen, James P. (2005). The Art of Medicine in Ancient EgyptNew York/New Haven: The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Yale University PressISBN 978-0-300-10728-9LCCN 2005016908.
  10. Source:  Lewkonia, Ray (2006) [First published 1986]. “education”. In Lock, Stephen; Last, John M.; Dunea, George (eds.). The Oxford Companion to Medicine (Online ed.). Oxford ReferenceISBN 978-0-19-172745-0.
  11. Source: Ghalioungui, Paul (1965) [First published 1963]. Magic and Medical Science in Ancient Egypt. New York: Barnes & NobleLCCN 65029851.
  12. Source:  Ritner, Robert K. (2005) [First published 2001]. “Magic”. In Redford, Donald B. (ed.). Archived copy. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt (Online ed.). Oxford ReferenceISBN 978-0-19-518765-6.
  13. Source and recommended further reading:
  14. Source:
  15. Source: Allen, James P. (2005). The Art of Medicine in Ancient EgyptNew York/New Haven: The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Yale University PressISBN 978-0-300-10728-9LCCN 2005016908
  16. Source: Ritner, Robert K. (2005) [First published 2001]. “Medicine”. In Redford, Donald B. (ed.). Archived copy. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt (Online ed.). Oxford ReferenceISBN 978-0-19-518765-6.
  17. Source: Nunn, John F. (1996). Ancient Egyptian Medicine. Transactions of the Medical Society of London. Vol. 113. Norman, OklahomaUniversity of Oklahoma Press. pp. 57–68. ISBN 978-0-8061-2831-3.
  18. Source:  Lawrence, Christopher (2008). “Surgery”. In Lerner, K.Lee; Lerner, Brenda Wilmoth (eds.). Biomedicine And Health: Surgery. In Context. Vol. 1. Detroit: GaleISBN 978-1-4144-0299-4LCCN 2007051972.
  19. Source: Page of Egyptian Medicine, (at:
  20. Source: Allen, James P. (2005). The Art of Medicine in Ancient EgyptNew York/New Haven: The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Yale University PressISBN 978-0-300-10728-9LCCN 2005016908
  21. Source: Ritner, Robert K. (2005) [First published 2001]. “Medicine”. In Redford, Donald B. (ed.). Archived copy. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt (Online ed.). Oxford ReferenceISBN 978-0-19-518765-6.
  22. Source and acknowledgement:
  23. Source: Smithsonian at:
  24. Source:
  25. Source and acknowledgement:
  26. Source:
  27. Source:
  28. Source:
  29. Source: Aufderheide, Arthur C. (2003). The Scientific Study of Mummies. p. 258. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-81826-5.
  30. Source: Shaw, Ian; Paul Nicholson (1995). The Dictionary of Ancient Egypt. p. 59.New York: Harry N. Abrams. ISBN 0-8109-9096-2. Cited at:
  31. Source: Spencer, A. Jeffrey, ed. (2007). The British Museum Book of Ancient Egypt. p. 115. London: British Museum Press. ISBN 978-0-7141-1975-5. Cited at:
  32. Source: Germer, Renate (1998). “Mummification”. p. 462. In Regine Schulz; Matthias Seidel (eds.). Egypt – The World of the Pharaohs. Cologne: Könemann. ISBN 3-89508-913-3.
  33. Source: Ibid, Germer,  pp. 460–461.
  34. Source: Aufderheide, Arthur C. (2003). The Scientific Study of Mummies. As above.
  35. Source:
  36. Source: Assmann, Jan (2005). Death and Salvation in Ancient Egypt. p. 357. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. ISBN 0-8014-4241-9.
  37. Ibid, p. 467.
  38. Source: O’Connor, David (1998). Amenhotep III: Perspectives on His Reign. p.121. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0-472-10742-9. Cited at:
  39. Source: Budge, Edward Wallis (2010) [1925]. The Mummy; a Handbook of Egyptian Funerary Archaeology. p. 240. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-108-01825-8. Cited at:
  40. Source: O’Connor, David (1998). Amenhotep III: Perspectives on His Reign. p.121. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0-472-10742-9. Cited at:
  41. Source: Faulkner, Raymond Oliver (2004). The Ancient Egyptian Coffin Texts. pp. 520-523. Oxford: Aris and Phillips. ISBN 0-85668-754-5. Cited at:
  42. Source: Budge, p. 240. Cited at:
  43. Source: O’Connor, David (1998). Amenhotep III: Perspectives on His Reign. p.121. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0-472-10742-9. Cited at:
  44. Budge, p. 240. Cited at:
  45. Source: O’Connor, David (1998). Amenhotep III: Perspectives on His Reign. p.121. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0-472-10742-9. Cited at:
  46. Source: Budge, p. 361. Cited at:
  47. Source: Budge, p. 240. Cited at:
  48. Source:
  49. Sources: (1) Lichtheim, Miriam (1975). Ancient Egyptian Literature, vol 1. London, England: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-02899-6, and (2) Goelet, Dr. Ogden; et al. (1994). The Egyptian Book of the Dead: The Book of Going Forth by Day. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.
  50. Source: Goelet, Dr. Ogden; et al. (1994). The Egyptian Book of the Dead: The Book of Going Forth by Day. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.
  51. Source: Mainly from with other sources as stated and acknowledged in the text.
  52. Source: Taylor, John H. (Editor), Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead: Journey through the afterlife. p. 54. British Museum Press, London, 2010. ISBN 978-0-7141-1993-9, cited at:
  53. Source: Allen, James P., Middle Egyptian – An Introduction to the Language and Culture of Hieroglyphs, first edition, p. 316. Cambridge University Press, 2000. ISBN 0-521-77483-7, cited at:
  54. Source: Taylor (as end note previously), p. 55, or perhaps “Utterances of Going Forth by Day”, D’Auria 1988, p. 187 (D’Auria, S (et al.) Mummies and Magic: The Funerary Arts of Ancient Egypt. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1989. ISBN 0-87846-307-0), cited at:
  55. Source: The Egyptian Book of the Dead by Anonymous (2nd June 2014) …with an introduction by Paul Mirecki (VII), cited at:
  56. At:
  57. Source: and Hunefer at

  58. Source: at:
  59. Source: Faulkner, Raymond O; Andrews, Carol (editor), The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead. 1994, p. 18, cited at
  60. Source: Taylor 2010, p. 51, 56, cited at
  61. Source: Hornung, Erik, “The Ancient Egyptian Books of the Afterlife”, 1999, p.14, cited at

  62. Explanations: (a)The Duat is the realm of the dead in ancient Egyptian mythology. It has been represented in hieroglyphs as a star-in-circle. Logo, icon

Description automatically generated The god Osiris was believed to be the lord of the underworld. He was the first mummy as depicted in the Osiris myth and personified rebirth and life after death. (b)The Duat was the realm of the dead of Ancient Egypt, where deceased people would go to continue their existence. However, the journey to (and through) the land of the dead was complex, involving encounters with different monsters and deities, and a judgement of their worthiness. Sources: (a) and (b)
  63. Source: Taylor (as end note above), p. 208.
  64. Ibid, p. 209.
  65. Ibid, p. 215.
  66. Explanation: Maat, also spelt Mayet, in ancient Egyptian religion, was the personification of truth, justice, and the cosmic order. Maat was the daughter of the sun god Re, she was associated with Thoth, god of wisdom. Source:
  67. Ibid, p. 212.
  68. Source:
  69. Explnation: Historicity is the historical actuality of persons and events, meaning the quality of being part of history instead of being a historical mythlegend, or fiction. The historicity of a claim about the past is its factual status. Historicity denotes historical actuality, authenticity, factuality and focuses on the true value of knowledge claims about the past. Source – see references 1-3: at
  70. The limestone base or pedestal known as Cairo JE 49889, is all that remains of a complete statue belonging to King Djoser, the builder of the Step Pyramid at Saqqara. Source:
  71. Source: from Ancient Egyptian Doctors (Facts About Ancient Egyptians) at:
  72. At:
  73. At:
  74. Source: Mainly from with other sources as stated and acknowledged in the text.
  75. Source: Joyce M Filer, BBC, 17th February 2011
  76. Source:
  77. Source:
  78. Source:
  79. Source:
  80. Sources: (1), (2) and (3)
  81. Source and acknowledgement:
  82. Explanation: A pharmacopoeia, pharmacopeia, or pharmacopoea (from the obsolete typography pharmacopœia, meaning “drug-making”), in its modern technical sense, is a book containing directions for the identification of compound medicines, and published by the authority of a government or a medical or pharmaceutical society. See: Holmes, Edward Morell (1911). “Pharmacopoeia“. In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 21 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 353–355. Source:
  83. Source:  van Tellingen C (March 2007). “Pliny’s pharmacopoeia or the Roman treat”. Netherlands Heart Journal. 15 (3): 118–20. Referenced at:

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