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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Sobhy

What if Covid-19 was in Ancient Egypt?


What will happens to you if you was living in Ancient Egypt and suddenly Covid-19 appears? How do you think Ancient Egyptian Doctors will deal with that?

Let's jump into Ancient Egypt to know important facts about Medicine in Ancient Egypt.

Illness is in no way a new thing, and if you happened to be alive and sick during the time of the pharaohs, there was most likely a medicine treatment of some sort to help you through. However, in ancient Egypt, medicine the way we think of it now was not always the preferred method of curing diseases.

The ancient Egyptians had a leg up, so to speak, on the rest of the ancient world when it came to medicine. Due largely to their embalming process, the ancient Egyptians gained great knowledge of anatomy because of the practice of removing human organs. They were so advanced in their understanding of the human body, afflictions and ailments, even the Greeks were envious of their expertise.


The Edwin Smith Papyrus

This papyrus carries the name of the man who purchased it from an Egyptian dealer in 1862. It is a medical text on surgical trauma, dating back to 1600 B.C., and it is the only medical papyrus of its time to reflect a scientific approach to medicine. Many Egyptologists credit the text to Imhotep, even though he lived one millennium earlier, as the Papyrus is believed to be based on texts written earlier than 1600 B.C.


The papyrus documents 48 cases including injuries to the head, neck, arms and torso, along with the treatments used. It also details a diagnosis and prognosis, as well as the cause of the trauma.

The treatments included using sutures to close wounds, using honey to prevent and cure infection and using raw meat to stop bleeding. The papyrus details recommendations on immobilizing the head and neck in the case of injuries to these areas and detailed anatomical observations.


The Ebers Papyrus

Purchased by Georg Ebers in 1873 at Luxor, the Ebers Papyrus dates back to 1500 B.C. It is a papyrus scroll that contains over 700 magical spells and remedies. It also contains incantations intended to ward off demons that caused disease.

The papyrus includes a “treatise on the heart”. This treatise documents the heart as the focal point of blood supply, with vessels attached. The ancient Egyptians did make some mistakes. They believed the heart was the center for every fluid carried within the body including urine and tears.

The ancient Egyptians were advanced in realizing that mental disorders were real, just like the physical disorders. A chapter called the Book of Hearts in the papyrus discussed mental disorders like dementia and depression. Other chapters included diagnosing pregnancy, contraception, and intestinal disease including parasites (which were common near the Nile River), dentistry, skin and eye problems and broken bone treatments.

The remedies listed on the Ebers Papyrus include a mixture of heated herbs for asthma (so that the asthmatic could inhale the fumes), wrapping the exposed end of the Guinea Worm (parasite) on a stick and pulling it out. (Amazingly, this remedy is still used nearly 4,000 years later.) It also offers a cure for death, a froth of beer and half an onion.


Ancient Egyptian Doctors

In ancient times, the ancient Egyptian doctors (and other healers) were the best in the world. Priests were the first people to practice medicine. Scribes also practiced medicine, which proved beneficial for documenting procedures and treatments. The first school dedicated to medicine dates all the way back to Egypt’s first dynasty.


Physicians studied at schools that were called The House of Life. Individuals who studied to be physicians were dedicated to one disease or one part of the body, so in ancient Egypt, doctors were everywhere. Within the hierarchy of physicians there were regular doctors, senior doctors, those who inspected and overseers who acted as ministers of health.


Tools

The medicine and surgical tools available to ancient Egyptian doctors might astound people today. Both the Ebers Papyrus and Edwin Smith Papyrus include references to “knife treatments” including several different names “knife” had for different surgical procedures. The ancient Egyptians used many surgical tools including saws, forceps, scales, shears, hooks, spoons, drill, a graduated cubit (measuring rod), shears and of course, knives.


Herbs

Cancers and other diseases were untreatable and incurable in ancient Egypt, but when they could administer treatment to a person’s condition, they usually used herbs. Some of these natural remedies are even used today.

  • Asthma: honey and milk, sesame, frankincense

  • Headaches: poppy seeds, aloe

  • Burns and skin diseases: aloe

  • Pain relief: thyme

  • Digestive aids: juniper, mint, garlic, sandalwood

  • Breath freshener: caraway, mint

  • Chest pains: mustard seeds, aloe, juniper

  • Dressing a wound: honey (which is a natural antibiotic)

  • Epilepsy: camphor

  • Laxatives: onions, parsley, balsam apple, dill

  • Vomiting: mint to stop it, mustard seeds to induce it


Facts about Ancient Egyptian Medicine

  • To this day, no evidence exists of the existence of artificial teeth, although dental problems were a widely spread issue.

  • Only alcohol was used as anesthesia during surgical procedures.

  • A parasite that lived in the Nile River was likely the cause of death for many ancient Egyptians. The disease is called Schistosomiasis.

  • The Egyptians were very clean people. Afraid of illness and disease they bathed and purified their bodies often, and shaved their body hair.

  • Ancient Egyptian doctors were specialized in dentistry, pharmacology, gynecology, autopsy, embalming and general healing.

  • The largest contribution the ancient Egyptians made was their documentation and research on how the body works. They realized the pulse related to the heart beat and the bronchial tubes were related to the lungs.

  • Malaria was common in Egypt, and doctors could not treat it.

  • Ancient Egyptian medicine inventions included ways to assist difficult deliveries, including 11 different methods.

  • Ancient Egypt’s 4th Dynasty brought about the world’s first female physician. Her name was Peseshet and her title was, “Lady Overseer of the Lady Physicians”.

  • The ancient Egyptians believed the human body consisted of passages that behaved like irrigation canals. When these became blocked, the person became sick.

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