The Egyptians were very religious and had many Gods and Goddesses. These controlled all areas of life including disease and medicine.
A major part of the Egyptian belief was that evil spirits entering the body caused illness. To cure this the evil spirit had to be driven away.
The ancient Egyptians had quite a large knowledge of the body for the period – this knowledge was gained through their religious beliefs and ceremonies. The Egyptians new about the pulse, liver, brain and other organs but they wouldn’t of known there proper uses. The Egyptians prepared bodies for the return of the soul in the after-life. During embalming, they took out the major organs and preserved them. We also no that the heart of an Egyptian was known to be considered important and was therefore left in the mummified body rather than being dissected. This gave them good knowledge of the anatomy. Embalming also provided skills in surgery and pharmacy – the use of drugs to preserve the body gave many doctors a good idea of their properties.
However, religion also held back further progress: dissection was forbidden (as the Egyptians believed that the body would be needed in the after-life) so further analysis of the body, and the internal organs, could not occur.
Because of the Egyptians belief in their religion, when they saw the benefits of drugs and herbs they would not believe in a natural cure. Instead, they believed that these drugs were driving out evil spirits. The Egyptians also believed that evil sprits could be kept away by wearing charms, such as a scarab beetle. Many of these charms were foul smelling and therefore were thought to deter the evil spirits.
The second factor in the improvement of knowledge was the civilized society in which the Egyptians lived. The Egyptians enjoyed the benefits of trading with Greece. Through their trading, they acquired drugs such as senna, arsenic and menthol. They could also exchange knowledge. The Egyptians also believed in cleanliness and used toilets (although there were still no sewers for waste disposal!) The Egyptians were also the first society to treat Doctors with great respect. Because of their belief in links between medicine and religion, Doctors were held in the highest of esteem.
Writing helped Egyptian medicine and knowledge. People could record new findings and these could be passed down through the generations.
Observation was one of the most important factors in the development in knowledge. By studying the Nile, some Doctors, known as physicians to the Egyptians, started to think that, just as when the Nile was blocked there was a flood, when there was a blockage in the human body there was an illness. The Ancient Egyptians described how the flowed through over forty channels from the heart to every part of the body. They thought that the blood carried water and air, the two most important things for staying alive. This was later called the Nile theory. These were treated with methods such as the use of purgatives, natural laxatives such as figs, and senna, which are still used, or menthol for a blocked nose; again, still used today.
This shift in belief from religious causes, and cures, of disease to natural causes and cures was a giant leap forward. Now natural cures could be explored mankind was on course for modern medicine.
Egyptian methods of clinical observation, study of the symptoms, recording, diagnosing, and treating with drugs are, relatively close to the same methods used today.