Ancient Egyptian Medicine
Episode #2 of the course “Brief History of Medicine”
Much of what researchers know about ancient Egyptian medicine is learned from mummies—the preserved bodies of ancient Egyptian pharaohs. From the beginnings of civilization in the 3rd millennium BCE, ancient Egyptians were renowned for their healing arts, and Pharaoh received the best medical attention. The ancient Egyptians knew enough about health and wellness to institute advanced preventative healthcare in their time—they believed in a combination of proper diet and hygiene, use of medicinal oils and potions put together by studied artisans, and sacrificial prayers to particular gods.
The ancient Egyptians are rumored to have invented the first toothbrushes, and it was known that they used herbs and essential oils in cosmetics and ointments for wounds. Their physicians performed minor surgeries with the first brass surgical tools, including dental work, and they were familiar enough with human anatomy to understand the importance of the various vital organs even if they were mistaken in their specific functions. For example, they were aware of the connection between heartbeat and pulse, although they assumed it was an inner air current that functioned like the tides.
The ancient Egyptians were the first to designate a specific type of healer known as a “doctor.” It was usually a man (rarely a woman) highly skilled in a particular field of medicine, much like today. Royal households employed their own full-time specialists as long ago as 2,200 BCE. There were even specialists who focused on the brain and performed surgery on it; however, the common understanding in ancient Egypt was that thinking occurred in the heart, not the brain.
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