Tuesday, October 28, 2014

2600 B.C.: Egyptian Priest/ Physicians Treat Asthma

So you are an Egyptian father of an Egyptian boy and you are convinced he is cursed by the god Isis. You don't know what your son did, but he is outside leaning against a tree, struggling to breathe, and he's making loud wheezing sounds with each prolonged expiration. You cannot bear to watch him suffer anymore, and so you send for help.

It's possible that in the early days of Egypt you would have your child sit in the streets, and people who walked by would offer their medical advice; their diagnosis and medical treatment. Some historians speculate this never actually occurred in Egypt, and others speculate it was an early transitional stage prior to the priest studying health at the temples, and maybe even prior to the transition of some priest into physicians who were sent to visit the sick, such as your son. (1, page 2)

Various temples were built where you could worship the various gods of Egypt, and specialized temples were built where you could worship the gods who specialized in health and healing. These temples were places where the sick could sleep in the night, and a diagnosis and remedy would occur in the night, and in the morning a priest would interpret these dreams and visions. (1, page 2) (3, page 16)(8, page 19)

Patients who were too sick to leave their homes may send for a physician. The president of the temple would determine the specialist best for the individual case, and that physician would be sent to the patient's home. In this way, physicians made house calls, and they also specialized. (2, page 4) (4, page 17)

When he treated you, he offered the following cures: (11, page 14)(12, page 13-15)
  • Magic
  • Draughts (potions)
  • Blisters
  • Poultices
  • Plasters
  • Powders
  • Clysters
  • Bleeding
  • Pills made of dough
  • Gargles
  • Salves
  • Inhalations
  • Fumigations
  • Supositories
  • Incantations
  • Amulets
  • Hope
  • Emetics
  • Purgatives
  • Diuretics
  • Diaphoretics
  • Cautery
  • Surgery
The various drugs used were from animals (worms, snakes, insects, elephant, camel, crocodile, hyena), plants (radishes, onion), minerals (sulfur, zinc) and even humans excrements (feces, semen, saliva). These were formulated in a variety of recipes that were prepared by the priests/physicians. (12, page 15)

They would also prescribe good hygiene and a proper diet. (12, page 15) They encouraged regular baths and purgings, and perhaps this was where the old adage came from: "prevention is better than the cure." People early on in history must have learned that nary a drug cured anything, and sometimes the drugs used made people worse, or even killed them. So the emphasis was placed on good hygiene and healthy eating, with the goal of keeping them healthy, and preventing them from getting sick.

Proof of this can been found in the Bible, when God told Moses to tell the people to follow the laws set forth to prevent the spread of disease. Moses, who probably studied under the tutelage of Royal Egyptian priest/physicians, encouraged Israelites to avoid diseased people, and not to touch corpes, and to wash and have good behaviors in order to prevent sickness.

Common diseases treated were osteoarthritis, tuberculosis, rickets, and syphilis. (12, page 15) Modern evidence from mummies suggests they also treated atherosclerosis. Although their limited knowledge of anatomy prevented them from knowing about these diseases, they basically observed and treated the symptoms, which to them were caused by the gods, and, if not treated by the powerful magic of the priests/ physicians, would result in death.

References:  See "2600 B.C.: Egyptian Diagnosis and Treatment."

2600 B.C.: Egyptian Diagnosis and Treatment

Ancient priests recognized early on in their practice that some ailments were simply not treatable.  So, to protect themselves from punishment when their remedies failed, the Hermetic Books must have informed physicians how to predict what diseases were treatable.  If the patient's illness was determined to have an unfavorable outcome, physicians were not expected to treat that patient.   (6, page 25)

Greek historian Diodorus said that diagnosis was made by the position of the patient in bed.  (6, page 25) Medical historian Thomas Bradford said treatment was standard and based on the symptoms.    (6, page 25) (1, page 6)

Bradford said:
The Egyptians paid strict attention to dietetic rules; they thought that the majority of diseases were caused by indigestion, and excess in eating. They practiced abstinence and used emetics. They had a considerable knowledge of Materia Medica (the pharmacopoeia) and used many drugs in the cure of the sick. They were somewhat skilled in operative surgery. They practiced castration, lithotomy and amputations
While preparing the ingredients, might site the following incantation: (3, page 23)
"May Isis heal me, as she healed Horns of all the ills inflicted upon him when Set slew his father, Osiris. 0 Isis, thou great enchantress, free me, deliver me from all evil, bad and horrible things, from the god and goddess of evil, from the cod and goddess of sickness, and from the unclean demon who presses upon me, as thou didst loose and free thy son Horus" 
As you can see, the medical profession among "the ancient Egyptians hold the honor of being the first people to cultivate medicine as a science," and that this "medicine was closely associated with the mythology of Egypt."  (2, page 1)

Surely we might look at Egyptian medicine, as well as medicine of any ancient society, and think to ourselves:  this is quackery. Yet these ancient societies probably benefited more from the magic of incantations and prayers, or by the gentle touch of a palm on the shoulder, than from any other form of medicine. As noted by Henry Sigerist in his 1951 book, "A History of Medicine: Primitive and Archaic Medicine: (13, page 280-1)
The oral rite was all important.  The correct choice of words to frighten a spirit, to enlist the help of the gods, the intonation probably also in which a spell was recited or sung, this all must have had a profound effect upon the patient.  We know the power of suggestion and know how highly responsive religious individuals are to such rites.  I should not be astonished if the sorcerer with his spells had had as better results in many cases than the physician with his drugs.  Magician and priest were able to put the sick in a frame of mind in which the healing power of the organism could do its work under the best conditions.  They gave him peace and confidence and helped him to readjust to the world from which disease had torn him.(13, page 280)
Sigerist also said:
The manual rites performed in the course of an incantation appear in infinite variety from the simplest to the most elaborate and complicated. The rite may have consisted of nothing but putting one's hand on the patient, the classical gesture of protection so familiar to us from the Bible.  After having exorcised a demon the magician said: 'My hands are on this child, and the hands of Isis are on him, as she puts her hands on her son Horus.'  Or the magician held his seal over the child and such as seal was obviously a powerful fetish: 'My hand is on thee and my seal is thy protection'  (13, page 281)
There may have come a day when, said Sigerist, "drugs were prepared and given without incantation and this was the moment when magic and medicine separated, when physicians and magician-priest became different individuals." (13, page 280)

Yet the priest of the ancient world, whether using magic words or herbal remedies, would have known of the power of suggestion, and perhaps, just perhaps, never ceased to use the power of magical words, amulets, talismans and gesticulations.

  1. Sandwich, Fleming Mant, "The medical diseases of Egypt, part I," 1905, London
  2. Bradford, Thomas Lindsley, "Quiz questions on the history of medicine: form the lectures of Thomas Lindsley Bradford, M.D," 1898, Philadelphia
  3. Baas, Johann Herman, author, Henry Ebenezer Sanderson, translator, "Outlines of the history of medicine and the medical profession," 1889, New York
  4. Renouard, Pierce Victor, "History of Medicine: From it's origin to the 19th century," 1856, Cincinnati, Moore, Wistach, Keys and Co., page 26, chapter 1, "Medicine of the Antique Nation."
  5. Garrison, Fielding Hudon, "An introduction to the history of medicine," 1922, Philadelphia and London, W.B. Saunders Company
  6. Dunglison, Robley, author, Richard James Dunglison, editor,  "History of Medicine from the earliest ages to the commencement of the nineteenth century," 1872, Philadelphia, Lindsay and Blakiston
  7. Hamilton, William, "The history of medicine, surgery, and anatomy, from the creation of the world to the commencement of the nineteenth century," 1831, volume I, London, Henry Colburn and Richard Bentley
  8. Puschmann, Theodor, translated by Evan H. Hare, "A history of medical education from teh most remote to the most recdent times," 1891, London, H.K. Lewis
  9. Puschman, Theodor, translated by Evan H. Hare, "A history of medical education from the most remote to the most recent times," 1891, London, H.K. Lewis
  10. Prioreschi, Plinio, "A History of Medicine," Volume 1: Primitive and Ancient Medicine," 1991, Edwin Mellen Press, Chapter IV: Egyhptian Medicine, page 257.  Reference noted by author is as follows:  Homer, "Ocyssey, IV, 229-232, Translation by A.T. Murray.
  11. Wilder, Aleander, "History of Medicine," 1901, Maine, New England eclectic Publishing
  12. Osler, William, "Evolution of Modern Medicine: a series of lectures at Yale University to the Silliman Foundation in April 1913, 1921", New haven, Yale University Press
  13. Sigerist, Henry E, "A History of Medicine: Primitive and Archaic Medicine," volume I, 1951, New York, Oxford University Press
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      2600 B.C.: The Egyptian Order of Priest/ Physicians

      Only certain priests were privileged to become physicians.  With only a few exceptions, "the office of these priests was hereditary and their privileges were exclusive; as the son trod with unvarying servility in the footsteps of his father."  (7, page 13)

      As with society, the priest/physicians were divided by classes.  The higher classes of priests studied the first 36 Hermetic Books and became Chief Priests, the rest studied the last six Hermetic Books, thus becoming the Pastaphori, Military physicians, and the veterinary.

      Here is a brief breakdown of the classes of priests who specialized in the healing arts. (3, page 16-17)(2, page 3-4)(7, page 13-14)
      1. Chief Priests:  Also referred to as Sages, Soothsayers, Image Bearers, Magi, sorcerers, wise men or magicians.  These were the wisest of the priests/ physicians, and they were privileged to all the knowledge of the gods, and hence were responsible for reading the first 36 books of the Hermetic books. They were physicians of the "higher sciences."  These priests/physicians were responsible for "conjurations, dissolving the charms of the gods by prayer, interpretations of the revelations received by the sick during incubation in the temples."  (incubation will be described later) (3, page 16-17) They were more like the medicine men of the primitive world, "disolving the charms of the gods by prayer... magic and divination."  (2, page 4)  They were even mentioned by Moses "in the 7th and 8th chapters of Exodus, under the names of wise men, the sorcerers, and magicians, of Egypt, whom Pharaoh called in to rival the miracles performed by Moses." (7, page 13)
      2. Pastaphori: The lower class of priests were responsible for studying the last six of the Hermetic books, and were responsible for visiting the sick and treating them.  They were your prototypical physicians, or ordinary physicians devoted specifically to medicine and the art of healing. Each of these physicians/ priests specialized in a certain ailment, such as internal medicine, dentistry, rectum, etc. They treated "anatomy, pathology, pharmacology, opthalmology, and gynecology." This profession probably morphed from the need of physicians to leave the temples, especially as medicine (particularly rational/civilized) evolved. 
      3. Military physicians:  They essentially were Pastaphori who followed the military, and mainly were experts in treating battle wounds with salves, casts, splints, incantations, etc. Each of these also specialized.
      4. Veterinary:  They specialized in health and healing of animals.  They specialized as well, as your cattle doctors, fowl doctors, etc. 
      Physicians were free from the bondage of taxes, were paid by the collective, and profits belonged to the temple. The only obligation of the patient was to provide gifts, which sometimes included models of the organ fixed or operated on (such as an arm or leg), and these were kept at the temples as mementos, perhaps, of the healing powers of the gods. Likewise, "during war, or in the case of anyone falling ill upon a journey, the doctors were bound to render help gratis," (4, page 17) (9, page 25)(11, page 10)

      So Egypt had a plethora of physicians who specialized in the various wounds and ailments that plagued Egyptian society.  Such specialization was both bad and good.  It was bad when you were sent a specialist who didn't specialize in what plagued you, such as if a physician who specialized in disorders of the rectum was sent to treat your son's dyspnea.

      It was good when the physician treating you specialized in what ailed you.  For instance, if you were suffering from an asthma attack, you would benefit when your physician had access to opium or belladonna, both of which had the magical ability to ease your suffering.

       References:  See: "2600 B.C.: Egyptian Diagnosis and Treatment."

      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."

      2600 B.C.: Egyptian Temples Expand Scope of Medicine

      So the Hermetic Books were made available in the temples of the healing gods across Egypt.  These became the universities for the priesthood.  The higher priests studied the first 36 books and became  judges, mathematicians, sorcerers, astronomers, geographers, philosophers, and scribes, while those of the lower class studied the last six books and became physicians.

      Perhaps it was at such schools where Egyptian priests/ physicians developed such beliefs as life "should be indefinitely prolonged, unless someone or something caused death, such as a spirit, or the soul of a dead man, which cunningly entered a dead person,"  according to Fleming Sandwich in his 1905 book. (1, page 2)(9, page 25)

      Perhaps it was at these temples that a greater understanding of diseases was speculated upon, and the realization was made that many diseases were associated with dirtiness, and that some diseases were spread from person to person.  It's for this reason, perhaps, that people contaminated with certain diseases, such as the lepers, were cast from society and you were warned to stay away from them.

      The priesthood, then, learned the importance of cleanliness in maintaining good health, and it's from here where circumcision became standard practice, along with regularly scheduled bathing, the wearing of clean clothing, and similar such rituals. It is also from here that diet and drugs were incorporated into the medical regime "to counteract the disorders which the strange being had produced in the body," said Fleming. (1, page 2)

      Such cleanliness must have been rather successful at keeping the Egyptians healthy. William Hudson Garrison, in his 1922 history of medicine, quotes Aristotle from his Politics, as saying:
      "They purge themselves every month, three days in succession, seeking to improve health by emetics and clysters; for they suppose that all diseases to which men are subject proceed from the food they use. And, indeed, in other respect, the Egyptians, next to the Libyans, are the most healthy people in the world, as they, on account of the seasons, because they are not liable to change." (5, page 51)
      Likewise, Plinio Prioreschi, in his 1991 history of medicine, explains that Egyptian medicine gained a "great reputation" as noted by the following passage from Homer's Odyssey: (10, page 257)
      ...for there (in Egypt) the earth, the giver of grain, bears the greatest store of drugs, many that are healing when mixed, and many that are baneful; there every man is a physician, wise above human kind...
      Alexander Wilder, in his 1901 history of medicine, says that "the skill and learning of physicians of Egypt made them famous in the neighboring countries." (11, page 15)

      So, while the upper class of priests healed with their sorcery and magic, the lower class of priests healed with their potions.  Some were the pastaphori, who followed the military, and specialized in treating wounds with salves. Others were the physicians, who treated internal diseases with their potions. 

      In one example, Wilder said:
      "The Prince Bakhtan (Bashan) sent an embassy to Ramases XII for medical aid for his queen's sister." Ultimately "the pastaphori and physicians bearing a receptacle of the divinity... the mission was successful; the princess speedily recovered, and the god received the glory." (11, page 15)
      Pastaphori are priest physicians whose main job was to follow the military.  They were responsible for the health and healing of soldiers, particularly regarding the healing of wounds obtained in battle.

      References: See "2600 B.C.: Egyptian Medicine Becomes Specialized"

      2600 B.C.: Hermetic Books allow medicine to flourish in Egypt

      The Hermetic Books, mainly the last six of them, or the Embre, were memorized by every priest/ physician in Egypt.  These contained all the medical wisdom of the gods, and the laws regulating their practice. (1, page 3)(4, page 14)  Memorizing the texts, and sticking to them when practicing, protected physicians from any malpractice, allowing the profession to flourish in Egypt.

      The Embre are broken down as follows: (7, page 4)
      • Book 37: Anatomy
      • Book 38: Diseases
      • Book 39: Surgery
      • Book 40: Remedies
      • Book 41: Disease of the Eye
      • Book 42: Disease of Women
      Deviating from these texts made the physician liable for any assumptions regarding their medical treatment. For instance, if it was assumed that a patient became sicker or died as a result of a physicians black magic, the physician could be held responsible.  So memorizing the texts was deemed essential.  

      Of course a disadvantage of this is that it prevented experimentation, which ultimately prevented any physician from inventing a new potion that might have healed patients better or faster.  

      In his 1872 history of medicine, Robley Dunglison said the script forced physicians to diagnose by the position of the patient, which must be observed as "a mode of discrimination, as may readily be conceived, at once nugatory and absurd." (8, page 25)

      Dunglison said:
      The blind adherence to the opinions and rules of their predecessors, and the criminality, as it was considered, of all innovation— whilst they continued—effectually prevented any improvement in the science, or as it might, at that time, be more properly styled, the art of medicine. (8, page 25) 
      In his 1831 history of medicine, William Hamilton said that "Improvement to medical knowledge was effectually arrested by the penal discouragement of every attempt to deviate from the canons of practice laid down in the volumes ascribed to Thouth (Thoth); and the interests of the priests led to the perpetuation of the popular delusion respecting the cause of disease." (10, pages 13 and 14)

      Hamilton added:
      While the door of salutary competition was effectually closed by the exclusion of all but the initiated few, and no opportunities afforded for the display of superior talent, or the exercise of superior skill; it cannot be a matter of surprise that medical knowledge should have remained so long stationary, and should have become almost retrogressive, or that the conquest of disease should have been effected rather by the efforts of nature counteracting the operations of art, or by the fortunate by unpremeditated concurrence of circumstances, than by any combination of skill, or exertion of judgement. (10, pages 13-14)
      So from around 2,700 B.C. to the opening of the school of Alexandria in 331 B.C., it was considered as "offensive to the Gods as the violation even of those bodies which they had slain without compunction in the fields, much more the dissection of those who had died from natural causes in their beds," said Hamilton. (10, page 8)

      This pretty much made physicians slaves to their own profession.  Not only were they not able to experiment, they were also not able to learn by their own investigations.  In fact, Theodor Puschmn, in his 1891 history of medicine, said that even "embalming exercised thus no beneficial influence upon the development of anatomical knowledge."  (11, page 23)

      While physicians did understand that the heart was the "seat of origin of the blood vessels," they were prevented from, even discouraged, from deviating from the traditional means of mummification.  (11, page 23)  In other words, priest/ physicians were forbidden from inspecting the bodies of dead people for scientific gain.

      "Hence," Hamilton said, "it was that men, being destitute of the means of acquiring a just knowledge of the structure, functions, and relative positions, of the human viscera, were unable to form a correct judgement as to the seat or causes of disease, or to adopt a rational method of cure." (10, pages 8-9)

      Garrison said that Aristotle wrote a century later, in his Politics, that, if after the fourth day the patient was not cured, a physician was allowed to deviate from script, and this allowed for some experimentation to take place. (9, page 49)(10, page 15)

      But this was certainly not enough to advance the profession. While Egyptians, partially due to the Hermetic Texts, are often credited for giving rise to rational medicine, the art did not grow into a full and flourishing tree until the philosophical days of ancient Greece.

      1. Bradford, Thomas Lindsley, "Quiz questions on the history of medicine: form the lectures of Thomas Lindsley Bradford, M.D," 1898, Philadelphia
      2. Withington, Edward theodore, "medical history from the earliest times: a popular history of the art of healing," 1894, London, The Scientific Press
      3. Von Klein, Carl H., "The Medical Features of the Papyrus Ebers," The Journal of the American Medical Association, December 23, 1905, Volume 45, page 1928, George H. Simmons, editor, volume XLV, July - December, 1905, Chicago, American Medical Association Press.  This article provides a fuller story of how the document ended up in the hands of Georg Ebers, how it came to existence, etc.  
      4. Baas, Johann Herman, author, Henry Ebenezer Sanderson, translator, "Outlines of the history of medicine and the medical profession," 1889, New York
      5. Dunglison, Robley, author, Richard James Dunglison, editor,  "History of Medicine from the earliest ages to the commencement of the nineteenth century," 1872, Philadelphia, Lindsay and Blakiston
      6. Renouard, Pierce Victor, "History of Medicine: From it's origin to the 19th century," 1856, Cincinnati, Moore, Wistach, Keys and Co., page 26, chapter 1, "Medicine of the Antique Nation."
      7. Bryan, Cyril P., translator, "The Papyrus Ebers," 1930, London, Garden City Press
      8. Dunglison, Robley, author, Richard James Dunglison, editor,  "History of Medicine from the earliest ages to the commencement of the nineteenth 
      9. Garrison, Fielding Hudon, "An introduction to the history of medicine," 1922, Philadelphia and London, W.B. Saunders Company, page 49
      10. Hamilton, William, "The history of medicine, surgery, and anatomy, from the creation of the world to the commencement of the nineteenth century," 1831, volume I, London, Henry Colburn and Richard Bentley
      11. Puschman, Theodor, translated by Evan H. Hare, "A history of medical education from the most remote to the most recent times," 1891, London, H.K. Lewis
      12. Wilder, Aleander, "History of Medicine," 1901, Maine, New England eclectic Publishing
      13. Sandwich, Fleming Mant, "The medical diseases of Egypt, part I," 1905, London
      14. Puschman, Theodor, translated by Evan H. Hare, "A history of medical education from the most remote to the most recent times," 1891, London, H.K. Lewis
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      2600 B.C.: Hermetic Books improve image of medical profession in Egyp

      After Thoth educated a priests about all the wisdom of the gods, this priest created the Hermetic Books. The priests he taught transcribed these books so they could be visible in all the temples of the gods of health and healing throughout Egypt.  This made them available to all the priest/physicians, making these temples places of learning and healing.  It was these books that allowed the medical profession in Egypt to flourish.

      Many of these Egyptian temples were also the centerpieces of places that acted like our modern universities, complete with schools, libraries, laboratories, papyrus/paper factory and boarding houses.  These were places where the priests were educated in the wisdom contained in the Hermetic Books, or "Sacred Books," as they so often were referred to.

      These were places of instruction for not just priests who aspired to be physicians, but astronomers, mathematicians, and a variety of other professions. Some of the original and most famous temples/ universities were situated at Memphis, Thebes, Heliopolis, Sais, and Chennu. (4, page 16)(11, page 19)(12, page 9)

      Eventually Thoth taught the priesthood to make paper out of stalks of papyrus, and scribes were able to transcribe the Hermatic text onto large scrolls called papyri, and it is out of this that the modern term paper was derived.  So now, instead of stone pillars of wisdom only being available at select temples, scrolls of wisdom could be kept in the possession of each priests.  When called upon to visit the sick, they carried their their "Sacred Texts" in their medical bags.

      Renouard said most ancient authors referred to the "Sacred Books" in past tense, as though they knew of them to exist but had never seen them with their own eyes. So even their references to the books are not evidence that they truly existed. There is also no evidence there were 42 books, as some accounts note as many as twenty thousand.  (6, page 28)

      Assuming there were only 42, the first 36 were thought to contain basic wisdom of the gods, such as knowledge of astronomy, mandates of religion, church ceremonies, administering justice, philosophy, the art of writing, geography, cosmography, and the knowledge of weights and measures, medicine, etc.  These are what are often referred to as the Sacred Books. (5, page 24)(8, page 19)

      These books were studied by the higher class of priests who became judges, mathematicians, astronomers, geographers, philosophers, scribes, etc.  The last six books contained the medical wisdom, and these were studied by the lower class of priests.

      The higher class of priests at these schools studied the first 36 books, and others the last six.  Perhaps it was at such schools where Egyptian priests/ physicians developed such beliefs as life "should be indefinitely prolonged, unless someone or something caused death, such as a spirit, or the soul of a dead man, which cunningly entered a dead person,"  according to Fleming Sandwich in his 1905 book. (13, page 2)(14, page 25)

      The last six were the medical books studied by physicians.  These are referred to as Embre (or sometimes Ambre or Scientia Causalitatis). (5, page 24)(8, page 19) (6, page 60)(4, page 4) The name comes from the original passages of these medical texts:
      "Here begins the book of the preparation of drugs for all parts of the human body."
      Now, it must be understood that the Sacred Books served a greater purpose other than just to educate educate and guide physicians in their medical practice.  You see, most early physicians and sorcerers and magicians and alchemists and their potions (their black magic) were not looked upon in a positive light, and mainly because some people died in spite of their potions, while others died because of them.  Some people were literally afraid of physicians, preferring to treat their sick with their home remedies.

      In those earliest days of Egypt, physicians were often often accused of practicing the "Black Art," and were sometimes sentenced to death, said Johann Herman Baas in his 1899 history of medicine. (4, page 23)

      The name "Black Art" comes from Egypt becoming known as the "Black Land," which was mainly due to the black mud along the Nile River.  Alchemy, or pharmacology, or chemistry, which is the process of mixing various substances into a potion, was referred to as the "Black Art,"  said Fielding Hudson Garrison in his 1922 history of medicine. (9, page 53)

      Garrison said Homer (the great Greek poet from around 800 B.C.) mentioned how the Egyptians were adept at making various drugs by use of the "Black Art." So, while Egyptians physicians were not pharmacists per se, they were indeed involved in the "Black Art" as they usually concocted their own potions, or perhaps used the potions concocted by alchemists and pharmacists. (9, page 53)

      What made this challenging is that the only way to learn whether a potion worked, or how much to give, was to try it on the sick, and sometimes this made the patient worse, and sometimes it resulted in death. And of course their were probably times when their poisonous qualities were specifically used to kill unwanted people per request of a king or some other leader.  So a bad reputation ensued among the medical profession. 

      So there must have come a time when the head priests decided that something needed to be done to improve respect for the profession.  They decided create a book that contained all medical knowledge, and rather than allowing priests to take credit for their own miracles, credit was given to the gods.  Or, more specifically, to the one god named Thoth.

      That said, the Embre, said Baas, "served as a source of, and a mask for, the vagaries of magic, and the extravagances and frauds of the alchemists." (4, page 4)

      This mask could now be worn by magicians, sorcerers, alchemists, or any other person who participated in the act of healing or black magic.  If their magic or their potions didn't work, they could blame it on the Sacred Books, or the will of the gods.

      This must have allayed the fears of the public and improved the image of the profession.  It sort of made the risks associated with trial and error medicine acceptable, thus allowing medicine in ancient Egypt to grow into a flourishing profession.

      References: See "2600 B.C.: Hermetic Books allow medicine to flourish in Egypt."

      2600 B.C.: Egyptian medicine evolves over time

      No one knows for certain when the Egyptian priesthood became adept in medicine. While it's easy to speculate it began with one god talking with one priest in one moment in time, chances are this was not how knowledge was learned.  Common sense dictates that it was as slowly growing process that took many years to perfect.

      There was a time before medicine in ancient Egypt, and it involved laying sick people out in the streets before their houses. People who passed by who recognized the symptoms and had previous experience with healing them were expected to offer their advice. This ultimately evolved so that certain people began to specialize in the healing art.  (13, page 2)

      Renouard said that the earliest recorded evidence of physicians in Egypt came in the Bible when Jacob, the father of Joseph, died.  According to Genesis (Genesis 50: 2-3):
      "Then Joseph directed the physicians in his service to embalm his father Israel. So the physicians embalmed him, taking a full forty days, for that was the time required for embalming.
      Renouard said this event occurred 1,700 years before the birth of Christ,  and is the "most ancient, authentic monument that we possess of the Healing Art."  He further explained that "it is certain, that before the time of the emigration of the sons of Jacob to Egypt, the arts and sciences had already attained, in that country, a degree of perfection which could only be the result of long experience, that required very many years or rather centuries of observation."  (4, page 26)

      What is known is that Egypt "rejoiced in a very advanced state of civilization" long before Joseph called the Egyptian priests/ physicians to embalm his father," said Renouard. "Agriculture, Geometry, Architecture, Metallurgy had all then made a remarkable progress. Thebes, the city of a hundred gates, existed as well as some of those gigantic edifices, destined to transmit to posterity, the evidence of the power and wisdom of the Pharaohs. " (4, page 27)

      The truth to how all this wisdom was obtained remains a mystery. And all the ancient people, priests perhaps, who had the ability to collect all the records of humanity at that time "embellished them with fiction, which renders the truth more and more uncertain," said Renouard. (4, page 27)

      He said:
      "But it must be said, for their justification, that these first chroniclers had especially in view, the inculcation to man of the principles of sociability, morality, and religion, and that their marvelous, or allegorical recitals attained much more directly the end they aimed at, than if they had stated the naked truth. It is for this reason, doubtless, that instead of seeking, laboriously, the primitive source of the arts and sciences, on the earth, they placed it in the heavens, and that they attributed to their gods, or to men they deified, all great discoveries. On this account, therefore, the cradle of Medicine, as well as all the arts of first necessity, is surrounded with fables and allegories."
      Regardless of how this wisdom came down through time, a specialty of priests became the scribes, and they were among the wisest and most revered priests in all of Egypt. And regardless of where their wisdom came from, they were taught that it came from Thoth, the secretary of the gods, the inventor of all arts and sciences.

      References:  See, "2600 B.C.: Hermetic Books allow medicine to flourish in Egypt."

      2600 B.C.: Egyptian gods educate priests about medicine

      Thoth gave Egyptian Priests
      an excuse to practice medicine
      One of the most important gods in Egyptian lore was Osiris, god of the underworld.  A good friend of his was Thoth, and he was equally important mainly because he was god of arts and sciences, and secretary to the gods.  As secretary, he was privy to all the wisdom of the gods, and therefore had the ability to share this wisdom with mortal men and women.

      Legend has it that sometime around 2,700 years before the birth of Christ, Thoth communicated with a priest, giving him all the wisdom of the gods. This priest learned about mathematics, chemistry, engineering, architecture, medicine and language.  He also learned about laws and religious practices.   (1, page 6)(2, page 19)(3) (4, page 14)

      Thoth also taught this priest how to write, and he instructed him how to carve words onto pillars of stone.  The priest then went on to communicate all the medical wisdom he learned in a collection of 42 books, which the priests referred to as the "Sacred Books."  Since the ancient Greeks referred to Thoth as Hermes Trismegistus, these books became known as the Hermetic texts. (The ancient Romans referred to him as Mercury).(4, page 14)(5, page 24)

      Medical historian Pierre-Victor Renouard said that no one knows for sure when he lived, nor whether he was an actual person. It may be that all works on religion and science were simply attributed to Thoth, and therefore bore his sign or signature.  This, Renouard said, may have been done on purpose by Egyptian priests to prevent priestly wisdom from becoming individualized. (6, page 28)

      So while some think Thoth himself wrote the books, other speculate it was Imhotep, the most famous non-Pharaoh in ancient Egypt.  He was the famous scribe, architect, physician, and vizier to King Djoser, who lived around 2650-2600 B.C.  He was so famous, and his legend so huge, that he would go on to become an Egyptian god of medicine in his own right.  So it only makes sense that, as time elapsed, he became the famous priest who obtained all the wisdom of Thoth, and thus the wisdom of the gods.   (1, page 6)

      Various opinions formed, all based on incomplete information, as to who this priest was.  Some speculated it was one of Bacchus, Zoroaster, Osiris, Isis, Searpis, Orus, Apollo, or even Shem, son of Noah. (4, page 28)

      Along with the author, there are also many theories as to the Hermetic Books.  Did they really exist? If so, who really wrote them? Chances are that it was not one priest but various priests over many years. How many years? We may never know, although various theories have arisen.

      References:  See "2600 B.C.: Hermetic Books allow medicine to flourish in Egypt."

      Thursday, October 23, 2014

      5000-2000 B.C.: Sumerian rituals prevent asthma

      Map of Sumeria compliments of Wikepedia. 
      Around 5000 B.C. the Sumerians were a growing society in ancient Mesopotamia, and by 4000 B.C. they were the most abundant group of people in the world. 

      From the beginning of their existence they worked to create the cornerstones necessary for the formation of a civilization, which included a written language, a system of mathematics, a mythological world, and even a system of medicine.   

      The exact date as to which they formed this first civilization is a matter of debate. Some say by 3500 B.C. they had the necessary ingredients, although some suggest a better date would be 3200 B.C., which would have been about the time cuneiform was established as a system of writing.  Regardless, the Sumerians are often credited as forming the first civilization as many of the systems they created helped shape later civilizations, including our own.

      The basic tenant of a civilization was that by people working together more could be accomplished.  By all people working together for the collective, this allowed for kings and queens and those working among the small aristocracy free time to think and to create. 

      Perhaps it was due to this that the Sumerians were, according to Henry Sigerist in his 1922 history of medicine, able to create a culture that lasted for thousands of years.  

      Even after Sumerian civilization ceased to exist, much of what it created continued to be used for several thousand more years, some even to this day.  For example, Sigerest notes the following: (Sigerist, page 284)
      Another map of ancient Mesopotamia. 
      "Their (the Sumerians) cuneiform script was taken over by the Semites in the north and other peoples, and was used for the writing of a number of different languages.  They began a new month with every new moon, adding an extra month to the year from time to time.  The calendar of the oriental Jews and of the Mohammedans is still based on the moon year.  Their numeral unit was 60 and we still divide the hour into 60 minutes, the circle into 360 degrees."  (10, 384)
      Since their boundaries were far more open than the Egyptians, their culture spread not only to the various tribes existing in Mesopotamia, but also to Palestine, Syria, Asia Minor, Persia, and far beyond Western Asia, and probably even India and China.  These societies assimilated not only Sumerian culture, but their science, theology, and medicine. (10, pages 380, 384)

      It must be understood that Sumerians had a very gloomy view of life and death, and their goal was basically to continue the ebb and flow of life  This view evolved, perhaps, because they were not concerned with the after life, which mainly consisted of "Shoel, or hell," said J.M. Roberts in his 1999 book "Prehistory and the first Civilizations."  (4, page 85)

      "Yet at least one ritual involved virtual suicide," Robert's explains, "for a Sumerian king and queen of the middle of the third millennium were followed to their tombs by their attendants who were then buried with them, perhaps after taking some soporific drink.  This could suggest that the dead were going somewhere where a great retinue and gorgeous jewelry would be as important as on earth."   (1, page 85)

      Perhaps one of the first cornerstones of a society was to create a mythology whereby there was life after death.  Perhaps this was the realization that came from observing all the pessimism that resulted from the people knowing there was nothing after death.

      So, over time, to improve morale in an otherwise pessimistic world, Sumerian leaders created a mythological world of gods, demons and spirits.  These mythological figures controlled every aspect of human life, even deciding who moved on to hell, or who moved on to some better world.

      These views culminated in a the belief that all sickness and injuries were the result of the gods, or were punishments handed down for improper behavior.  In other words, if you got sick it was your own fault. An example may be seen in the following passage:
      Go forth, lead her forth to suffer her punishment; disease of the eyes, of the hips, of the feet, of the heart, shall strike her. (2, page 28)
      There were methods of treating the sick and injured, all of which involved magic. There was an array of herbs and incantations to help you.  Yet the Sumerians believed if you got sick you were probably doomed, so their main emphasis was on prevention.  

      For this reason, the priests were responsible for holding rituals at the various temples to the gods.  Each individual could perform rituals as well, and these smaller rituals were performed at various smaller temples. 

      Roberts explains that "these gods demanded propitiation and submission in elaborate ritual.   In return for this and for living a good life they would grant prosperity and length of days, but not more.   (4, page 83-84)

      Roberts also notes that:
      No other ancient society at that time gave religion quite so prominent a place or diverted so much of its collective resources to its support.  It has been suggested that this was because no other ancient society left humans feeling so utterly dependent on the will of the gods (4, page 83-84)
      Sumerian medicine, and later Babylonian medicine, pretty much involved placing the sick in the streets and every person who walked by was required to ask what was ailing the invalid. As noted by the great Greek historian Herodotus:
      "They bring their sick to the market place, for they do not employ physicians. The passer-by approaches the patient and questions him concerning the sickness with which he is afflicted, to know if he himself has suffered in the same way or has seen any one so suffer. All those who go and come confer with him and suggest the remedy which has cured them of the same disease, or which to their knowledge has cured others similarly affected. No one is permitted to pass by the patient without interrogating him concerning his sickness."
      In this way, however, there were no physicians per se, as Herodotus noted. Although, in actuality, every Mesopotamian citizen was a physician of sorts, with some being more proficient at it than others.  The same was noted by a Hebrew prophet:
      Is it nothing of you, all that passby.  Behold and see, whether there be any pain like mine. (1, page 17)
      However, Sigerist notes that there is a ton of evidence that there were physicians in every civilization of ancient Mesopotamia, and that they were mainly priests who cured by their magic. (3, page 425)  

      I describe the Mesopotamian physician in 2000-539 B.C.: Assyro-Babyonian physicains.

      Even despite the effort to improve upon the psychological well-being of an otherwise gloomy society, the effort must have been fleeting.  By seeing death and destruction frequently during the course of their daily lives, it would be an onerous task to change the spirits of an otherwise disconsolate society.  

      It was eminent that such a gloomy view of life could not sustain a society, and ultimately, sometime around 3000 B.C., Sumerian civilization became weak and faded into oblivion.  

      However, the seeds that formed Sumerian civilization continued to grow, and they benefited the next civilizations that formed between the two rivers.  

      References:  See post "4000-539 B.C.: First civilizations advance medicine, part 4""

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      2000 B.C.: Assyrian physicians will treat your dyspnea

      Of course there is no evidence of asthma in ancient Mesopotamia, although there is evidence the ancient Mesopotamian civilizations had knowledge of the lungs, and were aware that some symptoms,-- excessive sputum, cough, shortness of breath, etc., were caused by "poisons" inside the lungs. There is also evidence of remedies for the various lung ailments that were known, and even something that might be considered the first man made inhaler.  

      Now, at what point the knowledge was obtained we can only speculate. Early on in human history asthma-like symptoms must have been observed, and over time someone must have speculated these symptoms were due to the lungs.  A basic anatomy of the lungs must have been known, because mankind had been cutting open animals for food since the beginning of time. And surely accidents occurred where a person was badly mangled, and his lungs were observed.  Surely this opened the door to pondering, and at some point the link was made between shortness of breath and the lungs. 

      Somewhere in the course of time herbs were tossed into a fire and inhaled.  Now, when this happened for the first time your guess is as good as mine.  Since it was also known in ancient Egypt that inhaling herbal remedies was the best way to provide breathing relief, it's highly probable this knowledge was obtained at an early time, and then shared among the various tribes or families. However, the techniques used to inhale respiratory medicine in Mesopotamia were different than what was used in Egypt.  So this may be evidence the discoveries were isolated, although we may never know for sure. 

      So let's say it's the year 2000 B.C., you live in ancient Assyria, and you are short of breath.  Your first thought may be: "What god is mad at me?" or "What did I do wrong?"  At first you just deal with it, because you don't want to be a burden, although as your shortness of breath continues, you finally decide to seek help.

      baru is sent to your home, and it is his job to diagnose you. He comes adorned with several necklaces made of precious stones, and they rattle as he dances around the fire.  He sings incantations while inspecting your body, makes occasional gestures, and then he closes his eyes and presses his hands together as if in prayer. He stands up and notifies your family that it is now time to interpret the omens.  Since you do not own much, you choose not to sacrifice one of your animals to allow the baru to inspect the liver.

      When your brother fell sick years ago a baru visited him, and he wanted your parents to sacrifice one of your sheep.  However, your parents opted to go with the cheaper option, and the baru walked to a nearby pond and placed a few drops of oil on the water and watched how the oil reacted.  The oracle did not give a good sign for your brother, and he died a few days later. Once you saw a baru place a stick in the fire, and he determined by the way the flame continued in the gentle breeze your mother would live another year or so after injuries she obtained when she fell off a horse.

      He also used this method to determine that there would be a drought, and the drought would last a long time.   Once there was no water nearby, so he placed the oil into a cup.  While you were sitting with the baru later that night, you read what he wrote: (10, page 455)
      If I drop oil on water, and the oil sinks and rises again... it means bad luck for a sick man.
      If a ring forms from the oil in eastern direction and remains thus it means: for a campaign that I shall undertake it and shall make plenty of booty; for a sick it means that he will recover.
      If two rings develop from the oil, one large, teh other small, the wife of the man will give birth to a boy; for a sick it means that he will recover
      If the oil disperses and covers the cup, the sick will die; the army will be destroyed.
      If the oil bubble moves in Eastern direction, the sick will die.  (10, page 463)
      This time, however, the baru finds a sign from the gods right away.  While inspecting your home for signs of the wishes and voices of the gods, he observes birds flying over the right side of the home, and he determines that this is a good omen, one that means the gods wish you well and will allow you to live.  This is a sign that it is okay to treat you. (10, pages 453-454, 484)

      Henry E. Sigerist, in his 1951 history of medicine, explained that descriptions of lung disorders are common in Mesopotamia.  He wrote:
      'A man is affected in his lung passage' or 'suffers from the "pipe of the lungs,"' means that the patient has a disease of the bronchi or upper respiratory organs.  An Assyrian tablet published by Labat and Tournay gives a good description of bronchitis: If the patient suffers from hissing cough, if his windpipe is full of murmurs, if he coughs, if he has coughing fits, if he has phlegm: bray together roses and mustard, in purified oil drop it on his tongue, fill, moreover, a tube with it and blow it into his nostrils.  thereafter he shall drink several times beer of the first quality; thus he will recover. (Sigerist, page 480-481)
      Sigerist continued:
      In the tables dealing with diseases of the chest, we have a number of diagnoses although they do not go beyond naming the organ affected. 'If a man's breast hurts him, his epigastrum burns him, his stomach (is inflamed (swollen)... that man has lung trouble.' (10, page 481)
      If it is determined that the ailment plaguing you is pneumonia, Sigerist said:
      "The treatment recommended in this case was very sensible. The chest was formented with water in which fennel had been boiled, after which balsamic poultices were applied.  this remained the treatment of pleurisy and pneumonia for several thousand years." (10, page 480)
      He described other symptoms of lung diseases, such as: (10, page 480)
      • A man "coughs dry, ejecting no saliva"
      • The "lungs cough up pus and the inward parts"
      • "A man is affected in his lungs and they vomit exceedingly"
      • '"If a man's lungs pant with his work"
      • "When the breath of a man's mouth is difficult"
      • "A man is affected in his lung passage"
      • "Suffers from the 'pipe of the lungs"
      Sigerest says we can interpret these however we like.  The use of "panting" and "difficult" may refer to shortness of breath, or dyspnea.  "Pus" and "inward parts" may be excessive sputum, or perhaps it means bleeding, hemorrhage. Although most of these passages must refer to "diseases of the bronchi or upper respiratory organs." (10, page 480)

      So now an asu comes to your home carrying with him pottery jars.  He says:
      "The hands of a ghost are upon you."
      He chants an incantation, and say:
      "Your breathing is ailing because of 'restriction of breath.'  We will work with you to remove the ghost the baru says is possible to extricate. I cannot promise you anything, yet what I offer is the best option for you." (10, page 420)
      Sigerist also providds a description of a Mesopotamian remedy for lung disorders, and this may be ideal for your respiratory distress, and it may be that this is what the asu was thinking, and why he brought the two jars :
      ...If a man is affected in the lungs, thou shalt spread powder of tar over a thornfiore, let the smoke enter his anus... his mouth and nostrils, it shall make him cough (?): thou shalt bathe him with water of vitex: thou shalt anoint the whole of his body with curd: thou shalt bray linseed either in milk (?)..., bind on him for three days, and let his tongue hold honey and refined oil... (11)
      Sigerist also described an ancient Mesopotamian inhaler:
      Like their Egyptian colleagues, the Assyrian doctors possessed an apparatus for inhalations.  A decoction of various drugs was placed into a pot, which was sealed with wheaten dough after a reed-tube had been inserted into it.  the pot was placed on fire and then: 'thou shalt put it (the tube) into his mouth, let him draw the steam up by the reed-tube into his mouth... it shall strike his lungs: for nine days thou shalt do this.' 
      The baru had many other natural remedies he could prescribe, including a variety of fruits and vegetables, resins, gums, trees, shrubs, and minerals.  Like the ancient Egyptians, they also used a variety of stuff taken from animals, such as fat, blood and liver.  Just about any animal's parts could be found useful, including cattle, sheep, goat, pig, donkey, dog, lion, wolf, fox, gazelle, mouse, frog, chicken, pigeon, raven, stork, swan, owl, falcon, and even vulture, said Sigerist.  Vehicles used were "wines, beers, fats, oils, honey, wax and milk."(10, page 485-6)

      Some drugs that they had access to that would some day benefit an asthmatic -- if it didn't happen already -- were hemp and opium.  (10, page 485)

      During the course of the next few days you get better, and now your sister is sick. The baru has a different diagnosis for her, and the asu a different treatment.  She is not prescribed a herbal remedy, only an incantation to site: (10, 464-465)
      O! Ninlil, lady of the gods, I have turned unto thee
      To spare and to show favour thou knowest. thy mantle I have taken hold of
      A heavy sin (?) I carry, I know not to bear it
      Because of (my) transgression known and unknown I have become weak.
      Because of the evil I have done and have not done I perish, O! lady,
      (because) of the sin which since the time of my youth I have carried
      And which the apostle of god has known or not known I suffer greatly
      daily (?), O! my lady, may my evil be expelled.
      May thy good breath blow and the darkness be brightened.
       From trouble and calamity that distress take thou my hand,
      May not my offender prosper who exults over me
      May I live, may I prosper and the greatness of thy great divinity ever shall I cherish
      Later on you witness a 'a man sick with cough," and in this case the asu recommendsthe following:
      Ground lolium, pounded roses, as mixture thou shalt mix, let him eat it in oil and honey; let him drink soup of pig's meat; when he goes to stool thou shalt light a fire before him, he shall direct it to his anus, and shall recover.
      Sometimes people recovered after seen by the baru and asu, and sometimes not. When they do it's due to the magic of the baru and the asu. When they don't it's because of the will of the gods.

      Plus as in modern times, "drugs must have been prescribed occasionally merely because the patient expected something to be done," explains Sigerist.  So perhaps that inhaler the bure prescribed for you merely made you feel better by providing you with hope.

      References here are for this post and all posts regarding ancient Mesopotamian medicine:  
      1. Wilder, Alexander, "History of Medicine: a brief outline of medical history and sects of physicians, from the earliest historic period; with an extended account of the new schools of the healing art in the nineteenth century, and especially a history of the american Eclectic practice of medicine, never before published," 1901, Maine, New England Eclectic Publishing Co.
      2. Baas, John Herman, "Outlines in the history of medicine and the medical profession," translated by H.F. Handerson, 1889, New York, J.H. Vail and Co. 
      3. Garrison, Fielding Hudson, "An introduction to the history of medicine, with medical chronology, suggestions for study, and bibliographic data," 3rd edition, 1922, Philadelphia and London, W.B. Saunders Company
      4. Roberts, J.M., "The illustrated history of the world: Volume 1: Prehistory and the first civilizations," 1998, New York, Oxford University Press
      5. "The Assiatic Journal, for British adn foreign India, China and Australia," volume VIII, New Series, May-August, 1832, London, Parbury, Allen and Co.
      6. Bradford, Thomas Lindsey, "Quiz questions on the history of medicine from the lectures of Thomas Lindsey Bradford," edited by Ray Roth, 1898, Philadelphia, John Joseph McVey
      7. Osler, William, "The evolution of the history of medicine: a series of lectures delivered at Yale University on the Silliman Foundation in April, 1913," 1922, New Haven, Yale University Press
      8. Gill, N.S., "Babylonian gods and goddesses," About.com, http://ancienthistory.about.com/cs/egypt/a/babygodsindex.htm, accessed 4/11/13
      9. Biggs, Robert G., "Medicine, surgery, and public health in ancient Mesopotamia," Civilization of the ancient Near East, edited by Jack M. Sasson, 1995, New York, Charles Scribner's Sons
      10. Sigerist, E. Henry, "A History of Medicine: Primitive and Archaic Medicine," volume 1, New York, Oxford University Press
      11. Sigerist, E. Henry, ibid, page 488, reference used by Sigerist: Thompson, Rev. Assyr.,1934, 31:18
      12. Martell, Hazel Mary, "Kingfisher Book of The Ancient World: from the ice age to the fall of Rome," 1995, New York, Larousse Kingfisher Chambers Inc. 
      13. Hopper, Anthony, "Five Important Phoenician Contributions to Western Medicine," Yahoo.com, http://voices.yahoo.com/five-important-phoenician-contributions-western-11972417.html, accessed 4/13/2013
      14. Foster, Leila Merrell, "The Sumerians," 1990, New York, London, Toronto, Sydney, 
      15. Morris, Jastrow, "The Civilization of Babylonia and Assyria," 1915, Philadelphia and London, J.B. Lippincott Company 
      16. Renouard, Pierre-Victor, "History of Medicine: from it's origin to the nineteenth century," 1867, Philadelphia, Lindsay and Bakiston
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      Monday, October 20, 2014

      4000-30 B.C.: 'Black Land' creates mighty civilization, part 4

      Herodotus was a Greek historian
      who traveledthe world hoping to record its history.
      He likewise traveled to Egypt,
      recording all he could learn about the Great Nation.
      (Read "Black Land" Part 1 here)

      Despite their hard work, the Greek historian Herodotus went to Egypt and found the people to be exceptionally healthy.  Herodotus wrote:
      Of the Egyptians themselves, those who dwell in the part of Egypt which is sown for crops practise memory more than any other men and are the most learned in history by far of all those of whom I have had experience: and their manner of life is as follows: -- For three successive days in each month they purge, hunting after health with emetics and clysters, and they think that all the diseases which exist are produced in men by the food on which they live: for the Egyptians are from other causes also the most healthy of all men next after the Libyans (in my opinion on account of the seasons, because the seasons do not change, for by the changes of things generally, and especially of the seasons, diseases are most apt to be produced in men). (Herodotus, page 41)
      Many historians, Sigerist included, wondered why Herodutus would speculate this when evidence from mummies and writings suggest that there were various diseases caused by parasites, and also arthritis of joints and hardened arteries.  So based in light of this evidence, how could Herototus have come to the conclusion that the Egyptians were so healthy.

      Sigerist speculates, however,  that perhaps the reason for this observation was that "the people we see in the streets of the city or on the fields of the farm are the peole in good health, while the weak and the sick are in the house."  (Sigerist, page 223)

      Sigerist suggests Herodutus may also have had a different perception of disease as compared to the Egyptians, and notes:
      Herodotus was a native of Halicarnassus in Caria, which, like the whole coast of Asia Minor and the Aegean islands, was infested with malaria in the fifth century B.C. When he traveled in Egypt, he must have been struck by the absensce or at least rarity of intermittent fevers, and this must have been an important factor in his favorable judgement about health conditions." (Sigerist, page 224)
      It would have been nice if the commoners of ancient Egypt were better educated and had the ability to write, because then, perhaps, we would could get a more accurate picture of what it was like to live in ancient Egypt.  As it is, however, most of what we know is by observing scrolls that pretty much contained esoteric wisdom meant only for a select few, and from other artifacts left behind.

      It is from these scrolls, and from the mummified remains of kings and the possessions meant to go with them in the after life that people learned what life was like back then.  And, unfortunately, most of these objects were created by and for members of the aristocracy, or the select few who were educated and privileged to enjoy the results of the labors of the other 90 percent.

      What is known of the peasants, the serfs, was pretty much obtained by whatever was left of where they left and worked, which is mainly in ruins.  So what was life really like for the Egyptians, the majority of them who did the work?  What was it like if you were a slave ordered to work on the pyramids, and you suddenly became short of breath?  What would you do? What could you do?

      What is known is that Egyptians had a language, and they learned how to write. This was a necessitated, probably, by the need to keep track of the level of the rivers, and perhaps to keep track of how much food each person made, and how much they should be paid. But only scribes could write, and only a few member of the aristocracy could read.

      They created Hieroglyphics, a form of writing that used pictures to represent ideas.  It was similar to the Sumerian Cuneiform, although since the Egyptians were isolated, no other societies learned to use this language, and when the Egyptians died out, so too did their language.  Modern people had no way of interpreting this language until Napoleons soldiers discovered the Rosetta Stone in 1799 that had materials written in ancient Greek and ancient Egyptian.

      While they may originally have written on clay tablets as was done in Sumeria, they eventually learned to make paper out of the papyrus tree.  As you may have guessed, the term paper comes from the term papyrus.  This allowed the Egyptians to write down information such as cooking recipes, medicine recipes, and building formulas on scrolls, and so any learned person could carry this with them.  Not many people knew how to write, however, and this made such a person who knew how --the scribes, the literati -- very powerful. As the old saying goes: knowledge is power.

      The few who were in charge of running Egypt needed someone to make sure the gods were happy, and that the laborers these gods created did the work of the gods.  So they chose a person from among them to be their king.  Initially there were two kings in Egypt, with the people and territories they were responsible for being determined by the great Nile River the gods created.

      The Nile divided Egypt into a southern and a northern region.  Sometime around 4,000 B.C. the people of southern Egypt united and formed Upper Egypt, and the people of northern Egypt came together and formed Lower Egypt.  These were the first two civilizations of Egypt, and whether they formed before, after, or about the same time as the Sumerian Civilization in Mesopotamia is anyone's guess.

      Around 3100 B.C. a very powerful ruler had gained the reins of the throne of Upper Egypt, and he had a dream that all of Egypt should be united.  He gathered a mighty army, invaded the cities of upper Egypt, and this united the two.  In this way, it was King Menes who created the mighty Egyptian Empire.  The following is how things transpired in Egypt from this point on:

      Ancient Egypt*
      The Old Kingdom: 3000-2600 B.C.
      Protodynastic Age
      Dynasties I and II
      King Menes (Narmer) made Memphis capital of Egypt, he had 42 nomarchs rule sections of land on his behalf, and these nomarchs made sure the people followed the commands of the ruler. They invented a system of irrigation to control the Nile waters and irrigate the land. They grew two crops every year. The first pyramids are built. Floods resulted in droughts and fasmine to end kingdom.(Martell, pages 30-31) Egyptian alphabet invented from pictoral signs, and invention of ability to make scrolls of papyrus.  Reeds were dipped in mixture of water, gum, and soot, and were used as first pens. (Sigerist, page 227)
      The Pyramid Age: 2600-2200
      Part of Old Kington
      Dynasties III to VI
      This was when the most pyramids were built. People discovered material and equipment needed to built great monuments, and the first great Pyramid is built at Sakkara for King Zoser of the Dynasty III.  Many later pyramids and structures were built, including the Sphynx, pyramids at Giza, etc.  These still awe people to this day. (Sigerist, pages 227-8)
      First Intermediate Period: 2200-2000 B.C.
      Dynasties VI to end of XI
      Central power weakened and various cities claimed independence.  Upper and Lower Egypt became independent, and the Egypt was open to “civil strife and to foreign invasion from Asia… the kings of Thebes and Heracleopolis contended for power. Anarchy was rampant at times and deep pessimism is reflected in the literature of the period.”  (Sigerist, page 229)
      The Middle Kingdom: 2000- 1640 B.C.
       “Classical Age of Egypt”
      Dynasties XI to XIII
      Hyksos from Canaan Invade Egypt: 1640 B.C
      King Mentuhotep II reunited Egypt from his capital of Thebes. The capital was later moved to El Lisht.  They conquered Nubia to control trade along the eastern Mediterranean and Middle East. Peace brought time to think, and this resulted in a flourishing of arts, crafts, and literature. Hyksos introduce chariots, bronze weapons, and methods of spinning and weaving. More Pyramids built. (Martell, pages 32-33) During this time medicine flourished. (Sigerist, page 229)
      Later Intermediary Period: 1640-1580
      Dynasties XIII to XVIII
      Ebers Papyrus Transcribed: 1600 B.C.
      Edwin Smith Papyrus Transcribed
      Amhose ascends to throne in 1580 B.C.

      Kings once again lost control of Egypt and the Empire broke down.  Once again the two kingdoms separated, and this made it easy for the Semetic Hyksos to invade the land and take over control of Egypt.  Their god was Baal, and he ruled with the Egyptian Seth. (Sigerist, page 231)
      The New Kingdom:  1580-1070 B.C.
      Dynasties XVIII to XX
      King Tut died: 1350 B.C.
      Ramses II enslaved Hebrews: 1300 B.C. 
      Bronze age coming to end, meant Egyptian weapons must be updated or they would be easily defeated.  Iron weapons used to defeat them. The once mighty Egyptian Empire was ending. 
      King Ahmose defeated Hyksos and reunited Egypt, and this created the “Golden Age of Egypt.” They conquered Palestine, Syria, and all land of Euphrates River.  Egypt became very wealthy. Pharoah tombs now carved into cliffs of the Valley of the Kings instead of building great Pyramids. Thebes became capital again. (Martell, pages 34-35. Ramses XI was the last King (Pharaoh)
      Decline of Egypt: 1070-30 B.C.
      Dynasties XXI-XXX
      Assyria conquered Egypt: 671 B.C. 
      Egyptians regained control: 656 B.C. 
      Persians conquered Egypt: 525 B.C. 
      Alexander the Great happened: 332 B.C. 
      Ptolemies rule Egypt until about 30 B.C. 
      Civil wars with Libyans and Nubians lead to end of New Kingdom.  Priests took over for the pharaohs.  The new Pharaohs were Lybian and Nubian. Metal work flourished. Assyrians invaded Egypt with their iron weapons. In 656 Greeks helped Egyptians regain control of their land. In 332 B.C. Alexander the Great forms Alexandria. 
      (Martell, pages 36-37)

      So it was civilization here in Egypt, as in Mesopotamia, that set the stage for a revolution of inventions and discoveries that would make life more bearable for all people.  Among these was the discovery of various herbs and plants that had medicinal and poisonous qualities, and this gave rise to medicine and a profession of physicians among the priesthood.

      Egypt alone is famous for many things, yet perhaps among the most important, at least as far as our history is concerned, is the inventions of chemistry and medicine.  Egyptians, thus, are known as the inventors of medicine. They are the people who introduced medicine to the Greeks, who, it is said, introduced it to the rest of the civilized world.

      *Please note that the dates listed here are estimates and may vary from one reference to the next. Some authors break these categories down even further, and some simplify them.  I figured the breakdown done here will suffice for our purposes.  For a further breakdown you can check out Michael Stecker's website: http://mstecker.com/pages/egyptdyn_fp.htm

      1. Sigerist, Henry E, "A History of Medicine," 1951, New York, Oxford University Press
      2. Herodotus, "An Account of Egypt," translated by G.C. Macaulay, 2008, Maryland, ARC Manor
      3. Martell, Hazel Mary, "Kingfisher Book of The Ancient World: from the ice age to the fall of Rome," 1995, New York, Larousse Kingfisher Chambers Inc. 
      4. "Egyptian Calendar," Wikepedia.com, Wikepedia, accessed 4/17/13
      5. Shuter, Jane, "Life in Ancient times: How the Ancient Egyptians Lived," 2011, China, Gareth Stevens Publishing
      6. Kobasa, Paul A., editor, "Early Peoples: Ancient Egyptians," 2009, Michigan, World Book, Inc. 
      7. Donn, Lynn and Don, writers, Kerry Gordonson, editor"Ancient Egypt," 2004, California, Social Studies School Service
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