Ancient Egypt for Kids
Medicines and Doctors
Treatments: What did the ancient Egyptians believe would cure a toothache? Answer: Fried mice! What did the ancient Egyptians believed would cure a headache? Answer: Fish heads!
To become a doctor in ancient Egypt, you had to go to medical school. Medical school was located in the education center call the House of Life. There was a House of Life in every major city in ancient Egypt. Medicine was only one area of study. To become a scribe or a priest, you also had to attend school in the House of Life. Other subjects were taught as well, such as mathematics, astronomy, and dream interpretation. School was not free. Although there were exceptions, most students were the children of the rich, people who could afford to pay for their child's education.
Medical School: Both men and women could become doctors, although most doctors were men. Students had to study treatments that were already known and written down.
Bureaucracy: Like every profession in ancient Egypt, there was a bureaucracy among physicians. There were ordinary doctors, senior doctors, inspectors, master doctors, along with a Chief of Physicians of the South and of the North.
Medicines: Most medicines were made from herbs. Medicines were given to patients in the form of pills, drops, and ointments. Some cures used honey. Some cures used dead animals and animal parts.
Spells: In ancient Egypt, magic and medicine overlapped. The ancient Egyptians believed in spells and in medicine. They used both to solve their problems. They might chant a magical spell they bought in the marketplace, and swallow medicine they bought from a different vendor, to solve the same problem.
Specialization: Doctors specialized as they do today. If you had a stomach ache, you went to the stomach doctor. If you had an eye infection, you went to the eye doctor.
Advanced Medical Skills: When the Greeks and then the Romans came to Egypt, they were amazed at how advanced Egyptian medicine was. Egyptian doctors treated broken bones with splits so they would heal properly. Based on the mummies found, the operations they performed were often successful. They were able to cure hundreds of ailments. They were not able to cure everyone, of course, and some of their cures were quite disgusting.
Medicine was needed to combat lice. A major problem in ancient Egypt was lice. Medicine to combat lice was sought after by everyone. (That's one reason the ancient Egyptians bathed every day, and both men and women shaved hair from their bodies including the hair on their heads, and why women wore wigs. When the wigs got too infested, they tossed them away.)
Dentists: Another health problem was sand. Sand surrounded ancient Egypt. It blew everywhere. It got into everything. It blew into bread while bread was being prepared. Gritty sand acted like sandpaper that kept working on people's teeth, grinding them down and opening sores. The ancient Egyptians invented toothpaste to help remove sand from their teeth. Dentists had a tough time of it, keeping teeth healthy.