Again, in order to understand what it was like to live with asthma, or any other disease, in the ancient world, it's important to understand what life was like back then and why people acted the way they did. The basic idea among most ancient civilizations was that every thing focused around mythology, including medicine.
Egyptians were basically grouped into two classes, which were further divided into specialties:
- Aristocrasy (Nobles): About 10 percent of the people. They benefited from the work of the serf, yet they were still servents of the gods, working to serve the temple to appease the gods.
- Kings (could be Pharaoh)
- Queens (could be Pharaoh)
- Governors (nomarchs)
- Nobles (people of special status to the pharaoh)
- High Priests (magicians, sorcerers)
- Princes and Princesses
- Priests and priestesses (Literati, Teachers, Physicians, scribes, engineers, architects, artists)
- Officials on the courts
- Warriers (during war)
- Farmers (tended land and produced the food)
- Fishermen (built boats, caught fish for protein)
- Herdsmen (raised animals used for food and labor)
- Craftsmen (weavers, potters, blacksmiths, etc)
- Merchants (ran papyrus factories, made weapons, jewelry, rope, )
- Traders (they dealt with traders of other nations to trade Egyptians goods and services)
- Slaves (hard laborers, they built pyramids, temples and other structures, some were artists)
- Servants (work for king doing random jobs such as preparing food and record keeping)
At least once a year each adult male had to sign up to work in one of the gangs, and these were small groups of males managed by a supervisor of sorts. He was in charge of 5-15 people, and they were assigned to do some form of task for the good of the collective, such a specific job necessary to the building of a temple, a pyramid, or a canal. Or there task might be to repair a building or structure. In either case, each peasant was a slave, of sorts, at least once a year. They labored hard, but were housed, fed, and even paid for their work. (Donn, page 87)
For the most part only people living amid the aristocracy (those who were born into rich families) were taught how to read and write, and usually these were girls. There was only a select few very bright boys chosen to become educated at the temples, and this education started with the basics of reading and writing. And this was done only out of necessity to perform the jobs they were chosen to do. (Shuter, page 13)
Chances are these few moved into the aristocracy as some point during their lives to be nobles, governors, court officials, or even priests. Or, better yet, chances are these chosen boys were already born into the aristocracy, and were training to do the jobs of their fathers. So you can see that only a few were educated, and in this way knowledge was provided only to the privileged few; knowledge was esoteric; knowledge was, therefore, power.
The priests were among the most well educated, and therefore most powerful and most well respected, in all the land. It was this profession among the aristocracy that became the most specialized, at least as time went by. Since priests were among the most well educated, they became your literati, your scribes, your architects, your physicians. Even the profession of physician became specialized over time.
That was another one of the advantages of better management of natural resources, was that enough food could be made in a small amount of land and by only a select few people. This allowed others to specialize in a particular field, with some becoming wheat farmers, some becoming herders, some becoming artists, some specializing in making paper, some specializing in making gold jewelry, etc. This allowed for a lot of work to be done in a day, and this allowed the aristocracy to become very wealthy in both precious material items and time. And, as you might have expected, more time meant more and better discoveries and inventions.
The majority of Egyptians did the job they were assigned, and labored hard. They usually worked 12 hour shifts, sun up to sun down, seven days a week, only getting time off during the inundation. Products of labor all belonged to the king or queen (the pharaoh), with each person getting paid only a portion, perhaps just enough to feed himself and his family. There was also the added stress that the pharaoh could call on a peasant at any time to become a warrior to fight in a war, or to act as a slave to build monuments and temples for the gods, or pyramids for the pharaohs themselves..
At first these monuments were built of mud-brick that could be washed away over time, yet ultimately, perhaps sometimes around 2600 B.C., perhaps during the inundation when there was lots of time to think, great minds came together and invented a material for making bigger monuments to the gods, and great pyramids for the pharaohs to begin their journey to the afterlife.
As they worked on these projects they discovered and invented better tools and methods of building, and this probably lead to even better material for managing the waters. Or, perhaps, the ideas for building such great monuments came from their projects to control the Nile waters.
And the person given credit for this was the Pharaoh, or a scribe such as Imhotep, or one of the gods, or perhaps a Pharaoh or scribe who ultimately became legend, and thus, a god.
To be continued...
References: See "4000-30 B.C.: 'The Black Land' creates mighty civilization, part 4"