Medical institutes in ancient Egypt

Sep 23, 2010

Medical institutes in ancient Egypt

Since the 1st dynasty (3150 – 2925 BC), medical institutes called “peri-ankh” or “houses of life” existed. The most reputable ones where that of Imhotep at Memphis which has gained an international reputation particularly for its library till AD, the one at Sais where midwives were trained and afterwards themselves instructing physicians in the art of obstetrics, and the peri-ankh of Abydos which Ramses IV visited frequently its library. At least four other houses of life were attached to temples at Bubastis, Edfu, Tel-el-Amarna and Kom-Ombo.

Apart from being a teaching center, in those house medical books and papyri were written and preserved. The eldest books ever known, “Practical Medicine” and “Anatomical Book” were written by one of the kings of the 1st dynasty. Unfortunately, both were lost. By the Late Period, more specialized books had been written, that Clement of Alexandria (first president of the Christian school at Alexandria in AD 180) have found in its library six books devoted to specific aspects of medicine (anatomy, illnesses, surgical instruments, drugs, eye ailments and gynecology).

A code of ethics was followed, and probably an oath was made by physicians. In the tomb of Nenkh-Sekhmet, Chief of Physicians in the 5th dynasty, was written:

“Never did I do anything evil towards any person”.

Though these houses of life were under the direct protection of the Pharaoh himself, sometimes they were apt to suffer from royal caprice. The return of Cambyses, the Persian king of the 27th dynasty (525 BC) after military defeat in Upper Egypt, has coincided with the harvest festivals. He thought the Egyptian people were rejoicing his defeat, and in his rage, ordered the schools and temples to be destroyed. His successor, Darius, anxious to win the friendship of the Egyptians once more, ordered his private physician, Usaherresnet, to rebuild the "house of life". The inscription on the statue of Darius referring to this event concludes with these words:

"His Majesty did this because he knew the utility of this art, which restores life to all those who are ill".

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