Ebers papyrus

Ebers papyrus

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The Ebers Papyrus, also known as Papyrus Ebers, is an Egyptian medical papyrus dating to circa 1550 BC
16th century BC
The 16th century BC is a century which lasted from 1600 BC to 1501 BC.-Events:* 1700 BC – 1500 BC: Hurrian conquests.* 1595 BC: Sack of Babylon by the Hittite king Mursilis I....

. Among the oldest and most important medical papyri of ancient Egypt
Ancient Egypt
Ancient Egypt was an ancient civilization of Northeastern Africa, concentrated along the lower reaches of the Nile River in what is now the modern country of Egypt. Egyptian civilization coalesced around 3150 BC with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the first pharaoh...

, it was purchased at Luxor
Luxor
Luxor is a city in Upper Egypt and the capital of Luxor Governorate. The population numbers 487,896 , with an area of approximately . As the site of the Ancient Egyptian city of Thebes, Luxor has frequently been characterized as the "world's greatest open air museum", as the ruins of the temple...

, (Thebes) in the winter of 1873–74 by Georg Ebers
Georg Ebers
Georg Moritz Ebers , German Egyptologist and novelist, discovered the Egyptian medical papyrus, of ca. 1550 BCE, named for him at Luxor in the winter of 1873–74...

. It is currently kept at the library
Leipzig University Library
Leipzig University Library , known also as Bibliotheca Albertina, is the central library of the University of Leipzig. It is one of the oldest German university libraries.- History :...

 of the University of Leipzig
University of Leipzig
The University of Leipzig , located in Leipzig in the Free State of Saxony, Germany, is one of the oldest universities in the world and the second-oldest university in Germany...

, in Germany.

The manuscript


The papyrus was written in about 1500 BC, but it is believed to have been copied from earlier texts, perhaps dating as far back as 3400 BC. Ebers Papyrus is a 110-page scroll, which is about 20 meters long. Along with the Kahun Gynaecological Papyrus (circa 1800 BC), the Edwin Smith papyrus
Edwin Smith papyrus
The Edwin Smith Papyrus is an Ancient Egyptian medical text and the oldest known surgical treatise on trauma. It dates to Dynasties 16-17 of the Second Intermediate Period in Ancient Egypt, ca. 1500 BCE. The Edwin Smith papyrus is unique among the four principal medical papyri in existencethat...

 (circa 1600 BC), the Hearst papyrus
Hearst papyrus
The Hearst Papyrus, also called the Hearst Medical Papyrus, is one of the medical papyri of ancient Egypt. It was named after the mother of press magnate William Randolph Hearst. The papyrus contains 18 pages of medical prescriptions written in hieratic Egyptian writing, concentrating on treatments...

 (circa 1600 BC), the Brugsch Papyrus
Brugsch Papyrus
The Brugsch Papyrus , also known as the Greater Berlin Papyrus, is an important ancient Egyptian medical papyrus. It was discovered by Giuseppe Passalacqua in Saqqara, Egypt. Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia acquired it in 1827 for the Berlin Museum, where it is still housed...

 (circa 1300 BC), the London Medical Papyrus
London Medical Papyrus
The London Medical Papyrus is an Ancient Egyptian papyrus in the British Museum, London, England. The writings of this papyrus are of 61 recipes, of which 25 are classified as medical the remainder are of magic. The medical foci of the writing are skin complaints, eye complaints, bleeding and burns...

 (circa 1300 BC), the Ebers Papyrus is among the oldest preserved medical documents. The Brugsch Papyrus
Brugsch Papyrus
The Brugsch Papyrus , also known as the Greater Berlin Papyrus, is an important ancient Egyptian medical papyrus. It was discovered by Giuseppe Passalacqua in Saqqara, Egypt. Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia acquired it in 1827 for the Berlin Museum, where it is still housed...

 provides parallel passages to Ebers Papyrus, helping to clarify certain passages of the latter.

Medical knowledge


The Ebers Papyrus is written in hieratic
Hieratic
Hieratic refers to a cursive writing system that was used in the provenance of the pharaohs in Egypt and Nubia that developed alongside the hieroglyphic system, to which it is intimately related...

 Egyptian writing and preserves for us the most voluminous record of ancient Egyptian medicine known. The scroll contains some 700 magical formulas and remedies. It contains many incantations meant to turn away disease-causing demons and there is also evidence of a long tradition of empirical practice and observation. The papyrus contains a "treatise on the heart
Heart
The heart is a myogenic muscular organ found in all animals with a circulatory system , that is responsible for pumping blood throughout the blood vessels by repeated, rhythmic contractions...

". It notes that the heart is the center of the blood supply, with vessels attached for every member of the body. The Egyptians
Egyptians
Egyptians are nation an ethnic group made up of Mediterranean North Africans, the indigenous people of Egypt.Egyptian identity is closely tied to geography. The population of Egypt is concentrated in the lower Nile Valley, the small strip of cultivable land stretching from the First Cataract to...

 seem to have known little about the kidney
Kidney
The kidneys, organs with several functions, serve essential regulatory roles in most animals, including vertebrates and some invertebrates. They are essential in the urinary system and also serve homeostatic functions such as the regulation of electrolytes, maintenance of acid–base balance, and...

s and made the heart the meeting point of a number of vessels which carried all the fluids of the body — blood, tears, urine and semen. Mental disorders are detailed in a chapter of the papyrus called the Book of Hearts. Disorders such as depression
Clinical depression
Major depressive disorder is a mental disorder characterized by an all-encompassing low mood accompanied by low self-esteem, and by loss of interest or pleasure in normally enjoyable activities...

 and dementia
Dementia
Dementia is a serious loss of cognitive ability in a previously unimpaired person, beyond what might be expected from normal aging...

 are covered. The descriptions of these disorders suggest that Egyptians conceived of mental and physical diseases in much the same way. The papyrus contains chapters on contraception, diagnosis of pregnancy and other gynecological matters, intestinal disease and parasites, eye and skin problems, dentistry and the surgical treatment of abscesses and tumors, bone-setting and burns.

Remedies


Examples of remedies in the Ebers Papyrus include:
Asthma
Asthma
Asthma is the common chronic inflammatory disease of the airways characterized by variable and recurring symptoms, reversible airflow obstruction, and bronchospasm. Symptoms include wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath...

 : A mixture of herbs heated on a brick so that the sufferer could inhale their fumes.
Belly : "For the evacuation of the belly: Cow's milk 1; grains 1; honey 1; mash, sift, cook; take in four portions."
Bowels : "To remedy the bowels: Melilot
Melilot
Melilotus, known as Melilot or Sweet-clover, is a genus in the family Fabaceae. Members are known as common grassland plants and as weeds of cultivated ground. Originally from Europe and Asia, it is now found worldwide....

, 1; dates, 1; cook in oil; anoint sick part."
Cancer : Recounting a "tumor
Tumor
A tumor or tumour is commonly used as a synonym for a neoplasm that appears enlarged in size. Tumor is not synonymous with cancer...

 against the god Xenus", it recommends "do thou nothing there against".
Clothing : Clothing may be protected from mice and rats by applying cat's fat.
Death : Half an onion and the froth of beer was considered "a delightful remedy against death."
Dracunculiasis
Dracunculiasis
Dracunculiasis , also called guinea worm disease , is a parasitic infection caused by Dracunculus medinensis, a long and very thin nematode . The infection begins when a person drinks stagnant water contaminated with copepods infested by the larvae of the guinea worm...

 (Guinea worm) : Wrap the emerging end of the worm around a stick and slowly pull it out. (3500 years later, this remains the standard treatment.)

Medicinal use of ochre clays


One of the common remedies described in the papyrus is ochre
Ochre
Ochre is the term for both a golden-yellow or light yellow brown color and for a form of earth pigment which produces the color. The pigment can also be used to create a reddish tint known as "red ochre". The more rarely used terms "purple ochre" and "brown ochre" also exist for variant hues...

, or medicinal clay
Medicinal clay
The use of medicinal clay in folk medicine goes back to prehistoric times. The indigenous peoples around the world still use clay widely, which is related to geophagy. The first recorded use of medicinal clay goes back to ancient Mesopotamia...

. For example, it is prescribed for various intestinal complaints. It is also prescribed for various eye complaints. Yellow ochre is also described as a remedy for urological complaints.

Modern history of the papyrus


Like the Edwin Smith Papyrus
Edwin Smith papyrus
The Edwin Smith Papyrus is an Ancient Egyptian medical text and the oldest known surgical treatise on trauma. It dates to Dynasties 16-17 of the Second Intermediate Period in Ancient Egypt, ca. 1500 BCE. The Edwin Smith papyrus is unique among the four principal medical papyri in existencethat...

, the Ebers Papyrus came into the possession of Edwin Smith
Edwin Smith (Egyptologist)
Edwin Smith was an American dealer and collector of antiquities who gave his name to an Ancient Egyptian medical papyrus, the Edwin Smith Papyrus....

 in 1862. The source of the papyrus is unknown, but it was said to have been found between the legs of a mummy
Mummy
A mummy is a body, human or animal, whose skin and organs have been preserved by either intentional or incidental exposure to chemicals, extreme coldness , very low humidity, or lack of air when bodies are submerged in bogs, so that the recovered body will not decay further if kept in cool and dry...

 in the Assassif district of the Theban
Thebes, Egypt
Thebes is the Greek name for a city in Ancient Egypt located about 800 km south of the Mediterranean, on the east bank of the river Nile within the modern city of Luxor. The Theban Necropolis is situated nearby on the west bank of the Nile.-History:...

 necropolis
Necropolis
A necropolis is a large cemetery or burial ground, usually including structural tombs. The word comes from the Greek νεκρόπολις - nekropolis, literally meaning "city of the dead"...

. The papyrus remained in the collection of Edwin Smith until at least 1869 when there appeared, in the catalog of an antiquities dealer, an advertisement for "a large medical papyrus in the possession of Edwin Smith, an American farmer of Luxor
Luxor
Luxor is a city in Upper Egypt and the capital of Luxor Governorate. The population numbers 487,896 , with an area of approximately . As the site of the Ancient Egyptian city of Thebes, Luxor has frequently been characterized as the "world's greatest open air museum", as the ruins of the temple...

." (Breasted 1930) The Papyrus was purchased in 1872 by the German
Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 Egyptologist and novelist Georg Ebers
Georg Ebers
Georg Moritz Ebers , German Egyptologist and novelist, discovered the Egyptian medical papyrus, of ca. 1550 BCE, named for him at Luxor in the winter of 1873–74...

 (born in Berlin
Berlin
Berlin is the capital city of Germany and is one of the 16 states of Germany. With a population of 3.45 million people, Berlin is Germany's largest city. It is the second most populous city proper and the seventh most populous urban area in the European Union...

, 1837), after whom it is named. In 1875, Ebers published a facsimile
Facsimile
A facsimile is a copy or reproduction of an old book, manuscript, map, art print, or other item of historical value that is as true to the original source as possible. It differs from other forms of reproduction by attempting to replicate the source as accurately as possible in terms of scale,...

 with an English-Latin vocabulary and introduction, but it was not translated until 1890, by H. Joachim. Ebers retired from his chair of Egyptology at Leipzig
Leipzig
Leipzig Leipzig has always been a trade city, situated during the time of the Holy Roman Empire at the intersection of the Via Regia and Via Imperii, two important trade routes. At one time, Leipzig was one of the major European centres of learning and culture in fields such as music and publishing...

 on a pension and the papyrus remains in the University of Leipzig library.
An English translation of the Papyrus was published by Paul Ghalioungui
Paul Ghalioungui
Paul Ghalioungui or Ghalioungi , MD , MRCP , Professor of Medicine and former Chairman of Internal Medicine department, Faculty of Medicine, Ain Shams University...

. The papyrus was published and translated by different researchers (the most valuable is German edition Grundriss der Medizin der alten Ägypter, and based on this Paul Ghalioungui edition).

See also

  • Ancient Egypt
    Ancient Egypt
    Ancient Egypt was an ancient civilization of Northeastern Africa, concentrated along the lower reaches of the Nile River in what is now the modern country of Egypt. Egyptian civilization coalesced around 3150 BC with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the first pharaoh...

  • Hieratic script
    Hieratic
    Hieratic refers to a cursive writing system that was used in the provenance of the pharaohs in Egypt and Nubia that developed alongside the hieroglyphic system, to which it is intimately related...

  • History of medicine
    History of medicine
    All human societies have medical beliefs that provide explanations for birth, death, and disease. Throughout history, illness has been attributed to witchcraft, demons, astral influence, or the will of the gods...

  • Medical literature
    Medical literature
    Medical literature refers to articles in journals and texts in books devoted to the field of medicine.Contemporary and historic views regarding diagnosis, prognosis and treatment of medical conditions have been documented for thousands of years. The Edwin Smith papyrus is the first known medical...

  • Edwin Smith Papyrus
    Edwin Smith papyrus
    The Edwin Smith Papyrus is an Ancient Egyptian medical text and the oldest known surgical treatise on trauma. It dates to Dynasties 16-17 of the Second Intermediate Period in Ancient Egypt, ca. 1500 BCE. The Edwin Smith papyrus is unique among the four principal medical papyri in existencethat...

  • Georg Ebers
    Georg Ebers
    Georg Moritz Ebers , German Egyptologist and novelist, discovered the Egyptian medical papyrus, of ca. 1550 BCE, named for him at Luxor in the winter of 1873–74...


Further reading

  • Pommerening, Tanja, "Altägyptische Hohlmasse Metrologisch neu Interpretiert" and relevant pharmaceutical and medical knowledge, an abstract, Phillips-Universtat, Marburg, 8-11-2004, taken from "Die Altägyptsche Hohlmasse" in studien zur Altägyptischen Kultur, Beiheft, 10, Hamburg, Buske-Verlag, 2005
  • Scholl, Reinhold, Der Papyrus Ebers. Die größte Buchrolle zur Heilkunde Altägyptens (Schriften aus der Universitätsbibliothek 7), Leipzig 2002; ISBN 3-910108-93-8.

External links