Tuesday, October 28, 2014

2600 B.C.: Egyptian medicine becomes specialized

Medicine evolved into a flourishing profession in ancient Egypt.  Access to this medicine depended on what rank of society you were a member of.  Were you a member of the aristocracy, which consisted of about 1% of the people, or were you a commoner.

By the height of Egyptian civilization, society evolved into six orders:  (4, page 32)
  • The Aristocracy.
    • Kings and princes 
    • Priests
  • Commoners. 
    • Soldiers
    • Shepherds
    • Laborers
    • Artisans.  
Of these six orders, only the kings and princes were privy to their own physicians.  The others had access to medicine, but not their own physician.  If they were sick or wounded, they had to send for a physician.

Most of these orders were divided into various castes, with various members of the priesthood being chosen to specialize in the various wounds and diseases and these became the caste of physicians. Members of these castes becoming "the most respected and the most powerful" members of the society. The caste "was a depot of the laws, science and religion."  (2, page 32)

Of these physicians, the great Greek historian Herodotus (484-425 B.C.) once wrote: (5, page 50-51):
"The art of medicine is divided among them: each physician applies himself to one disease only, and not more. All places abound in physicians; some physicians are for the eyes, others for the head, others for the teeth, others for the intestines, and others for internal disorders."
Each physicians specialized in one disorder, such as:
  • Disorders of the head
  • Disorders of the eyes
  • Disorders of the rectum/ anus
  • Disorders of the teeth
  • Disorders of women
  • Experts in child bearing
  • Experts in surgery (surgeons)
  • Internal medicine (treat asthma-like symptoms, cancer, upset stomach, etc.)
Homer, the great Greek poet, even noted the following regarding Egyptians:
...in the land where the fruitful soil bore abundance of herbs potent for good or evil, nearly everyone was, so to speak, a doctor or a descendant of Paeon and learned among the men. (8, page 18)
According to Homer, Paeon (Paean) was the physician to the Egyptian gods.  Based on Homer's reference, some experts surmise that as medical knowledge was specialized, many of the commoners became knowledgeable in medicine, each becoming a pseudo-physician.  As our modern day homes, many people had their own medicine chests, and had the ability to treat basic cuts and scrapes, and ailments like the common cold.

When wounds were severe, or as diagnosis and treatment reached beyond the commoners scope of knowledge, only then would the greater expertise of a priest/ physician be sought. You had a choice between the Chief Priests, the Pastaphori, the Military Physicians, and the Veterinary, and this choice depended on your status in life.  Were you a commoner? Were you in the military? Were you of the upper class?

References:  See "2600 B.C.: Egyptian diagnosis and treatment."

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