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The doctors of ancient Egypt combined magic spells with remedies. If a person fell sick, the illness was thought to be caused by the wrath of the gods or by an evil spirit that had entered the body. Both priests and doctors were called upon to heal the sick, combining their powers and skills to fix the problem. The most common cure for maladies was an amulet and a magic spell to modify the incorrect behaviour that had caused the illness in the first place.

By the fifth century B.C., Egyptian doctors had their own specialization. Most of the doctors were men and, within their ranks, there was a hierarchy. At the top were the Greatest Physicians of Lower and Upper Egypt, followed by the chief medical officer of the land. Under him were superintendents and inspectors of physicians, the chief physicians and, at the bottom, the physicians themselves. Throughout the pharaonic times, the most sought-after positions were in the royal court. These doctors looked after the health of the pharaohs, their families and members of their court.

Although the Egyptians practised mummification, doctors did not understand the internal functioning of the body. They did not realize that the brain had anything to do with thinking; it was believed that the heart was the centre of reason. They also thought that blood, urine, excrement and semen circulated constantly around the body.

Women practised contraception by using concoctions such as honey and natron, which they injected into their vaginas. The Egyptians also devised the earliest-known pregnancy test. Women moistened a sample of barley and emmer (wheat) with their urine each day. If the barley grew, it meant the child would be a male; if the emmer grew, it would be a female. If neither grew, it meant the woman was not pregnant. The effectiveness of this test has been validated by modern science. The urine of non-pregnant women will prevent barley from growing!

Remedies and prescriptions for various ailments, wounds, stomach complaints, skin irritations, broken bones and many other conditions were recorded on sheets of papyrus . Some prescriptions undoubtedly had definite physical benefits, while others would have had a purely psychological effect.

Eye of Horus; 
CMC PCD 2001-300-017 The modern symbol for prescriptions is believed to have originated from the "Eye of Horus" symbol. In the second century, a Greek physician named Galen first adapted this symbol to impress his patients. Gradually, the symbol evolved into the one we use today. This is just part of the rich legacy of the ancient Egyptians.

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