Who were the Egyptians?



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Egyptian Medicine

Who were the Egyptians?

The Egyptians dominated much of the early civilisations. They were around from roughly 3000BC to 400BC. They did not roam the area they lived in due to the presence of the River Nile. Whilst much of the area was desert, the fact that the river flooded provided Egypt with fertile land to farm.




How did this affect their society?




The land made staying put possible and therefore an organisation was created due to a large population being present.

All organisations have a hierarchy and so it was the same for the Egyptians.


Egyptian Religion

Egyptian society was based on numerous gods. Each god had a key area that the god was responsible for – a bit like a government. Some gods had more than one responsibility for example, the goddess of war Sekhmet was also the goddess to pray to in case of an epidemic (she also caused them as well!


The importance of Thoth

Thoth was the god thought to be the god who gave the physicians in Egypt the power to heal and cure. Such was the influence of religion that the early medical texts were called the Books of Thoth.




The power of the written word

The act of writing something down means that it can be referred to. This was an important feature for Egyptian society. This is definitely a sign of the Egyptian progression from Prehistoric man.




Cause and Cure

In the Egyptian medical texts the notes included what was believed to have caused and cured the illness. But how accurate were they? Not very! Many illnesses were down to evil spirits entering the body. People often wore charms to keep these spirits away! So had they progressed all that much?




Treatment

If a person managed to get ill despite the power of a charm then, he or she turned to the healing power of the gods and doctors. The use of medical texts (The Papyrus Ebers) could be said to have helped or hindered the progress of medicine in Egypt though. The medical texts were supposed to be followed exactly – like fixing a kitchen cabinet! The exact words had to be spoken and the right amount of herbs or any other kind of treatment. If the patient died despite this the doctor was not blamed, however if the doctor deviated from the procedure then he or she could be executed! Is this going to lead to experimentation?

The use of herbs, minerals and drugs was probably part of the belief in religion/magic and not as an alternative. Think if you gave someone who was ill a drug and combined that with their belief in religion – would they assume it was the drug or their god?


The use of herbs and drugs was quite complex. They were often dried, boiled and made into a powder. The medicine was often put into other foods perhaps to make it taste better.

Some treatments were actually quite effective.


Wounds

These were often treated with ointments.

Chest diseases

These were treated with steam inhalation – we still use this to aid breathing when someone has a cold.


Effective Medicine

How did they know what was effective? The answer was it was probably trial and error. Treatments that worked were used again and again. Those that did not would be discarded.

However the important thing to remember was the fact that religion played such an intensive part of their medicine.



The impact of religion on anatomy.

What is anatomy?

Basically it is the study of the human body. Why do we think this is important to the development of medicine?




Egyptian Religion and the Human Body

The manner in which Egyptian society held reverence to their religion made knowledge of the human body possible but also very limited!


Egyptians believed that when a person died the soul they had left the body, but after a time it would return and then the person would have an afterlife. The consequence of this was the need to develop a system that allowed bodies to be in a good condition for their afterlife. Such a situation meant that much time was devoted to the task of preserving the bodies


The practice of Mummification

The bodies were soaked in numerous liquids including bitumen and salt. (Salt was known to preserve meat even in the 19th century). The body was then wrapped in oil and bandages (Embalming).




How does this help with knowledge of the body?

They Egyptians knew that vital organs would rot inside the body and all the embalming would be for nothing. Therefore they removed the organs and placed them in jars. The consequence of this was that they grew to understand where the vital organs (heart, lungs, liver, spleen and brain) were but because this was a religious ceremony, no further dissection could be made as it would be needed in the afterlife.



Tasksanswer these questions fully


  1. How important has the role of religion been in Egyptian medicine? (Use an example from treatments and anatomy and also illustrate a positive and negative effect).

  2. What links do the Egyptians have to prehistoric man? What evidence is there to suggest this?

  3. List two Egyptian Gods – what did they do – how important were they to Medicine?

  4. The Egyptians used herbs and other medical treatments. Did that mean they had abandoned spiritual medicine? Explain your answer fully.

  5. What evidence is there that the Egyptians had a reasonable knowledge of the anatomy – why was this not developed?


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