Imhotep was an important figure in Ancient Egyptian medicine. He was the author of a medical treatise remarkable for being devoid of magical thinking: the so-called Edwin Smith papyrus containing anatomical observations, ailments, and cures.
The surviving copy of the papyrus was probably written around 1700 BC but may be a copy of texts written a thousand years earlier. However, this attribution of authorship is speculative. Today the Papyrus is on display at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, New York City. The 48 medical cases described within the Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus concern:
- 27 head injuries (cases #1-27)
- 6 throat and neck injuries (cases #28-33)
- 2 injuries to the clavicle (collarbone) (cases #34-35)
- 3 injuries to the arm (cases #36-38)
- 8 injuries to the sternum (breastbone) and ribs (cases #39-44)
- 1 tumour and 1 abscess of the breast (cases #45-46)
- 1 injury to the shoulder (case #47)
- 1 injury to the spine (case #48)
Also an architect, Imhotep built the first pyramid in Egypt at Saquara. Pyramids were built earlier in what is now the Sudan.
While Hippocrates’ accomplishments were remarkable, Sir William Osler said it was Imhotep who was the real Father of Medicine, “the first figure of a physician to stand out clearly from the mists of antiquity.” Historical evidence seems to support this statement. Imhotep diagnosed and treated over 200 diseases, 15 diseases of the abdomen, 11 of the bladder, 10 of the rectum, 29 of the eyes, and 18 of the skin, hair, nails and tongue. Specifically Imhotep treated tuberculosis, gallstones, appendicitis, gout and arthritis. He also performed surgery and practiced some dentistry. Imhotep extracted medicine from plants. He also knew the position and function of the vital organs and circulation of the blood system.
This was his full title:
Chancellor of the King of Egypt, Doctor, First in line after the King of Upper Egypt, Administrator of the Great Palace, Hereditary nobleman, High Priest of Heliopolis, Builder, Chief Carpenter, Chief Sculptor, and Maker of Vases in Chief.