Visiting Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion? You must join the virtual exhibition queue when you arrive. If capacity has been reached for the day, the queue will close early.

Learn more
The Art of Medicine in Ancient Egypt

The Art of Medicine in Ancient Egypt

Allen, James P., with an essay by David T. Mininberg, M.D.
116 pages
104 illustrations
View More Publication Info

Life in ancient Egypt was advanced and sophisticated by the standards of the time, but it was also perilous. The river Nile and the surrounding deserts teemed with dangerous animals such as crocodiles, scorpions, and snakes, and diseases carried by flies and parasites threatened blindness, disability, and death. Soldiers and men who worked in the stone quarries risked crippling injuries, and women often died in childbirth. Although these hazards certainly loomed large in the minds of most ancient Egyptians, the role they played in the creation of Egyptian art has been largely overlooked. This volume, published in conjunction with the exhibition "The Art of Medicine in Ancient Egypt," held at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, examines the expression of medical concerns in the art of ancient Egypt as well as the practice of ancient Egyptian medicine as an art form in its own right.

Of the more than sixty objects beautifully illustrated in the catalogue, most are humble representatives of the everyday material culture of ancient Egypt. In many ways these works actually bring us closer to their anonymous creators than do the recognized "masterpieces" of Egyptian art. They also bear eloquent witness to how concern for the preservation and restoration of health influenced many aspects of Egyptian life and creative activity. Complementing them is the unique Edwin Smith Papyrus, translated in full and reproduced here in color. Written about 1600 B.C., the Smith Papyrus was intended in part to provide the ancient Egyptian physician with a practical guide to treating wounds of the head and torso. It is more than fifteen feet long and inscribed on the front with forty-eight case descriptions, including a remarkable explanation of the diagnostic process. The reverse of the papyrus contains eight magic spells, one of which apparently was meant to ward off mental or emotional distress, and five prescriptions, among them a recipe for an anti-wrinkle ointment. In fact, many of the procedures and techniques described in the Smith Papyrus can be considered antecedents of modern medical practice. In separate catalogue essays, James P. Allen, Curator in the Metropolitan's Department of Egyptian Art, provides an overview of medicine as a major theme in ancient Egyptian art, and David T. Mininberg, M.D., Medical Consultant to the Department of Egyptian Art, discusses the legacies of Egyptian medical knowledge.

Bowl with Human Feet, Pottery (red polished ware)
ca. 3700–3450 B.C.
Unfinished Stela of Amennakht of Deir el-Medina, Limestone, pigment
ca. 1184–1070 B.C.
Basin, Copper
ca. 2323–2150 B.C.
Double Kohl Tube, Wood
ca. 1400–1200 B.C.
Lided Kohl Tube and Stick, Ebony and ivory
ca. 1550–1295 B.C.
Kohl Container Decorated with Bes-images, Steatite, glazed
ca. 1400 B.C.
Cosmetic Container in the Form of a Bes-image, Faience
525–404 B.C.
Fish-shaped palette, Greywacke
ca. 3650–3300 B.C.
Mummy Board of Iineferty, Wood, gesso, paint, varnish
ca. 1279–1213 B.C.
Bes Amulet, Faience
664–332 B.C.
Stela of the God Bes, Limestone, paint
4th century B.C.–A.D. 1st century
Bes with Worshiper, Cupreous metal
664–332 BC
Scarab with the Name of Amenemhat III and a Hippopotamus Hunt, Glazed steatite
ca. 1859–1749 B.C.
Hairpin with a Figure of a Hippopotamus, Bone
ca. 1981–1640 B.C.
Magical Container in the Shape of a Hippopotamus Deity, Glazed steatite
ca. 1700–1500 B.C.
Wedjat Eye Amulet, Gold
332–30 B.C.
Fishtail Knife, Flint
ca. 3650–3300 B.C.
Model of the "Opening of the Mouth" ritual equipment, Tray: limestone; vessels: Travertine (Egyptian alabaster), greywacke
ca. 2465–2150 B.C.
Magic wand, Hippopotamus ivory
ca. 1900–1802 B.C.
Magic wand, Hippopotamus ivory
ca. 1981–1802 B.C.
Showing 20 of 62

A slider containing 5 items.
Press the down key to skip to the last item.

View Citations

Allen, James P. 2005. The Art of Medicine in Ancient Egypt. New York : New Haven: Metropolitan Museum of Art ; Yale University Press.