Ancient Egyptian Medicine
Among the most ancient civilizations, the Egyptians became renowned for the practice of medicine combined with what seems to be a lively inquiry into what might be considered the science or philosophy of the day. The caliber of Egyptian medicine is broadly recognized in numerous references in both modern and ancient literature. In The Odyssey Homer wrote that "for there [in Egypt] the earth, the giver of grain, bears the greatest source of drugs, many that are healing when mixed, and many are baneful, there every man is a physician wise above human kind." Many kings of other surrounding ancient cultures sought medical advice from Egyptian physicians, often traveling far distances for personal attention. For example, Niqmaddu II, the king of Ugarit, asked the Pharaoh Akhenaten (1375–1334 BC) for an Egyptian physician. King Hattusili III of the Hittites asked Ramses II to provide him a physician to cure his sister, and even Cyrus the Great, the ruler who united the Medes and the Persians, requested an Egyptian ophthalmologist to treat an eye injury. It appears that even though there might have been ongoing international or cultural conflicts, such requests for services from an Egyptian physician were usually met with neutrality or immunity, even when a ruler would travel to Egypt or an Egyptian physician would travel to another country.
According to Breasted, the ancient Egyptians established categories for their physicians. Some of these ranks are recorded in the Edwin Smith Papyrus. The swnw were the "doctors of the people," while the wabw were "ceremonially pure." The saw were guardians who obtained their education and training in the temple palace schools, some of whom reached the position that has been translated as "great palace doctors." A junior doctor was considered a swnw. A senior doctor was called imy-r-swnw. The registrar was referred to as smsw-swnw. Consultants were called shd-swnw. Furthermore, each specialist had his own title. Importantly, a physician might reach a high rank or be highly regarded, but he was still expected to be available to the common people. The chief physician of the pharaoh was expected, more or less, to set the medical policy for the country.
Neurosurg Focus. 2012;33(2):e2 © 2012 American Association of Neurological Surgeons