Medicine in the Days of the Pharaohs Hardcover – 8 Apr 2005
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Bruno Halioua and Bernard Ziskind's book fits into a long and fruitful tradition of writings on the more specialist aspects of ancient Egyptian culture written by non-Egyptologists who nevertheless have a strong interest in Egypt (e.g. dentists writing about Egyptian teeth, carpenters on Egyptian furniture-making, engineers on ancient construction techniques, etc.). The authors set out to synthesize our existing knowledge and ideas on the subject of Pharaonic medicine, and the result is a book that is well researched, accessible, and an interesting read.--Ian Shaw, University of Liverpool, editor of "The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt"
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Ancient Egyptian physicians guarded their medical secrets well, and were in great demand throughout the Middle East. Records have survived of Mitannian, Hittite and other kings requesting that Pharaoh send them a world-class Egyptian doctor. The best of the physicians were virtually a priestly class, trained in the royal precincts and practicing medicine largely for the royal family and nobles. Their ancient remedies were based on healing herbs, minerals and animal tissue. Some 1,740 "prescriptions" have survived in old medical papyri.
For the most part, Egyptian medicine was practiced in a rational, "scientific" manner; at times, when conventional remedies failed, the physicians would turn to magic, using spells and incantations that dated back even further into the gloom of antiquity.
Authors Halioua and Ziskind, both French physicians, have done fine work capturing for the general reader the current state of knowledge about ancient Egyptian medicine. The book is clear, concise and well illustrated. It casts a wide net, covering such topics as childhood and adolescence, the medical risks of certain careers (such as the threat of schistosomiasis for Nile fishermen), and a look at how the modern study of mummies helps us understand the health issues of ancient Egypt.
In all, this work is an appealing introduction to a rich and compelling subject.
[A version of this review appeared in Saudi Aramco World, Sep/Oct 2007.]
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