Today, we will be talking about the Papyrus Ebers or Ebers Papyrus, which is among the oldest and most important medical papyri of Ancient Egypt and of the world. This papyrus is a medical papyrus of herbal knowledge, and dates back to c. 1550 BC. It is believed to have been copied from earlier texts. It is 110-page scroll, and is about 20 m long. It is among the world’s oldest preserved medical documents.
From c. 33rd century BC until Persian invasion in 525 BC, Egyptian medicine remained one of the world’s most advanced, and was used in some non-invasive surgery, setting of bones, and an extensive set of pharmacopeia. Even Homer of the Odyssey recognized this when he said, “In Egypt, the men are more skilled in medicine than any of human kind” and “the Egyptians were skilled in medicine more than any other art“.
The Papyrus Ebers is one of the oldest medical papyri still well-preserved. It was given the name Ebers, after the man who purchased it in Luxor (Thebes) in the winter of 1873-74, Georg Ebers, a German Egyptologist and novelist. It is written in hieratic Egyptian writing and preserves the most voluminous record of ancient Egyptian medicine known. It contains about 700 magical formulas and remedies, for things such as asthma, evacuation of belly, bowels, birth control, guinea worms (this remedy is still the standard practice today, over 3500 years later), and even cancer. There is also a chapter titled Book of Hearts, which deals with mental disorders such as depression and dementia.
One of the most common remedies described in the papyrus is ochre, or medicinal clay, which was prescribed for intestinal and eye complaints. Yellow ochre was prescribed as a remedy for urological complaints.
The Papyrus Ebers is currently kept at the Leipzig University‘s library (Ebers was chair of the Egyptology department there) in Germany. If you are in Leipzig, go visit. Please check out the Ancient Egyptian Medicine website, which talks in details not only about the Ebers Papyrus, but also about other famous Papyri such as the Edwin Smith Papyrus (c. 1600 BC), the Kahun Gynecological Papyrus (c. 1800 BC), and herbal remedies, and nutrition of Ancient Egypt.