Original Research

Egyptian medicine

F. P. Retief, L. Cilliers
Suid-Afrikaanse Tydskrif vir Natuurwetenskap en Tegnologie | Vol 23, No 4 | a202 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/satnt.v23i4.202 | © 2004 F. P. Retief, L. Cilliers | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 23 September 2004 | Published: 23 September 2004

About the author(s)

F. P. Retief, Navorsingsgenoot, Universiteit van die Vrystaat, South Africa
L. Cilliers, Departement Engels en Klassieke Kultuur, Universiteit van die Vrystaat, South Africa

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Abstract

Our understanding of ancient Egyptian medicine is seriously hampered by problems in the decipherment of the Egyptian writing, and the relative scarcity of medical writings from pharaonic times. No Egyptian medical equipment has survived. In this study the most recent understanding of medicine in pharaonic Egypt (3100-332 BC) is reviewed as it comes to the fore in inscriptions on walls and monuments, the writings of visiting historians, but mainly the contents of 10 so-called medical papyri written between circa 2500 BC and the 4th century BC. A clearly recognizable system of empirical medicine evolved from a background of magico-religious medicine during the Old Kingdom (2686-2181 BC) and flourished virtually unchanged for more than 2 millennia. Scientific empirical medicine co-existed with magical medicine during this time. The two entities influenced each other, and in the process Egypt produced mankind’s first scientific medical literature with a logical system of disease assessment and therapy, relatively free of magic. At the end of the pharaonic era a superior Greek medical system gradually became dominant, and when hieroglyphics were replaced by coptic Egyptian in the 5th century AD, the uniquely Egyptian contribution to medicine passed into oblivion, until early Egyptian writing was deciphered in the 19th and 20t centuries.

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