Egypt: Medication in Ancient Egypt

Medication in Ancient Egypt

Some medicinal plants used by Pharaohs

Ancient Egyptians were as equally familiar with pharmacy as they were with medicine. They conceived health and sickness as an unceasing fight between good and evil. According to historical records, ancient Egyptians involved in the medical and pharmaceutical profession used to recite certain incantations while preparing or administering medications. Ancient Egyptians were also familiar with drug preparation from plants and herbs such as cumin, fennel, caraway, castor, aloe, safflower, glue, pomegranates botanical, mineral substances and linseed oil.

Other drugs were made of mineral substances such as copper salts, plain salt and lead. Eggs, liver, hairs, milk, animal horns and fat, honey and wax were also used in this connection.

Accurate Diagnosis

Ancient Egyptians were fully aware that accurate diagnosis of diseases and their symptoms was fundamental for effective treatment.

An ancient papyrus says, ""If you find some one suffering from constipation, a pale face and a rapidly palpitating heart and, upon examination, you observe high temperature and flatulence, these could be symptoms of ulcer caused by eating some hot spicy food. Then prepare medicine empties and cleanses his stomach. Soak some sweet ale with some flour for one night and let the patient have this syrup four days.

Prescription No. 201, contained in Ebers papyrus talks about castor saying, "" Soak some castor roots in water until they dissolve, and then apply the solution to the head of a patient who has a headache and he will immediately recover. If a patient complains of maldigestion (dyspepsia), let him chew some castor fruits together with ale. To help a womans hair grow, grind and knead castor fruits until they into a lump, soak it in oil and then apply it to her head."

Dozens of Drugs for Each Disease

During the Modern Kingdom, medical prescriptions were so varied that dozens of them were available for certain diseases. A physician has to choose the most effective medication, based on prescribed criteria.. Some drugs were rapid-acting, while others were slow-acting. Some drugs were exclusively applicable during specific seasons. For example, there was an eye medication that was exclusively used during the first two months of winter; another during the third and fourth months, while a third was applicable all the year round.

Medications for All Age Groups

In deciding a specific drug for a patient, a physician normally had to take into account the age of the patient. For treating patients suffering from retention of urine, an adult was given a mixture of water, ale sediments, green dates and some other vegetables, while a child was given an old piece of papyrus soaked in oil applied as a hot band around his stomach. While preparing drugs, chemists had to take into consideration patients age. Ancient Egyptian physician noted that "" If the young patient is mature enough, he can take tablets, but if he is still in diapers (an infant), tablets should be dissolved into wet nurses milk"

After preparing a drug, a chemist had to test its quality. Oftentimes, he would jot down some annotations on the margin of a medical recipe, such as " This is good", Ive seen and often made it" and " And look! This is a real drug, made as a result of examining Oon- Nefri Temple manuscripts. Some drugs derived their fame from the fact that it cured a reputed figure of the time. For example, a specific eye ointment was highly popular with ancient Egyptians, simply because it cured one of their kings.

Godly Medications

Certain drugs were particularly popular as a universal remedy for all diseases, because they were thought to be made by deities. Of these, they believed that god of the sun Ra, who in his old age suffered from several diseases, made drugs to cure all men.

The truth is that ancient Egyptian priests and doctors originally made those drugs. One of these was composed of honey, wax and a collection of 14 botanical substances mixed together in equal measures. Of this mixture an adhesive plaster that cured all bodily maladies was made. However, in recognition of the effectiveness of these drugs and in honor of the deities, Egyptian physicians attributed them to the gods.

Medical prescriptions were written with high skill and erudition. A prescription usually began with a description of the medicine, e.g., " Medicine to discharge blood out of wounds", followed by ingredients and measures used in addition to method of preparation and usage.

In prescribing a drug, an ancient Egyptian physician sought carefully to get it into the patients body in different forms such as tablets, ointment or by inhaling.

Household Drugs (pesticides)

It is interesting to note that ancient Egyptian chemists invented some other drugs, commonly known as household drugs, meant to eliminate domestic pests. A popular recipe for pest control was to spray the house with nitron water and firewood coal, mixed with ground " pipit " plant. Goose fat was used to protect against fly bites and fresh oil to cure mosquito bites. Other interesting recipes were made to control reptiles and rodents. For example, a dried fish or a piece of nitron placed at the entrance of a serpents hole, will keep it inside. A piece of cat fat spread around the house will keep rats away.