Saturday, 26 July 2014

Surgical Procedures in Ancient Egypt

Picture taken by me of the disputed surgical relief at the temple of Kom Ombo

Evidence suggests that the ancient Egyptian physicians (swnw) only carried out minor surgical procedures. The disputed surgical instrument relief on the wall of Kom Ombo displays several objects which can be interpreted as knife blades, spatulas, small bags for drugs etc. This relief is from the Greek/Roman period.
One surgical procedure that was routinely carried out in ancient Egypt however, was circumcision. It was a ritual performed by the priests on groups of adolescent men and not infants. The world’s oldest portrayal of circumcision was carved on the wall of the Dynasty VI tomb of Ankhmahor, Vizier to King Teti.
The Edwin Smith Papyrus is the earliest document of major medical significance and contains the first evidence of surgical procedures and scientific reasoning. The cases are described by the anatomical site of the injury, working down from the top of the skull to the facial and temporal regions, the neck, collar bones, upper arms, chest and ribs, shoulders, and then to the upper spinal column. The papyrus describes 27 cases of head trauma. Of these 4 are deep scalp wounds whereby the skull is exposed and 11 are skull fractures. Great detail is given of the symptoms and signs of head injury.
The treatment suggested in the Edwin Smith Papyrus ranges from letting nature take its course, to cauterization to seal wounds; splints (made of wood and linen rolls) to immobilize fractured limbs; manipulative reductions of fractures and dislocations and the use of medicine.
The swnw knew that the complete elimination of pus from wounds was an essential precondition to their successful closing and healing. Fresh meat was also applied to wounds to promote blood clotting.
Although the Edwin Smith papyrus shows a logical format to the management of trauma, other papyri give scant evidence of surgery outside the field of trauma.


  1. Thank you for this blog, I enjoy this subject immensely! Keep up the good work.