Mathematics, Astronomy and Medicine in Ancient Egypt

State organization and central administration also greatly influenced progress of science and technology in ancient Egypt. The majority of ancient Egyptian population was poor and illiterate but the wealthy minority which consisted of nobility and priesthood was greatly interested in the events and occurrences in their environment. Observing, describing and studying of natural events led to development of ancient Egyptian science which based on principles of simplicity and usability. Ancient Egyptian engineers, constructers, architects, medicine practitioners, teachers and astronomers were not particularly interested in causes of certain events which were commonly attributed to the supernatural powers. Ancient Egyptians were primarily practical and less theoretical.

Ancient Egyptians greatly depended on annual Nile floods which means they had to measure the arable land, set the borders between land owners each year to prevent conflicts. Construction of magnificent temples and palaces also required precise plans as well as some mathematical knowledge. Besides measuring ancient Egyptians also had to use other basic mathematical disciplines such as counting and calculation for economical purposes. If they wanted to trade they had to learn to weight, while measuring, counting and calculating were essential for collecting taxes. Ancient Egyptians knew geometric bodies and to calculate surface and volume of some of them what clearly reveals the stunning precision in pyramid building. They used decimal system and had separate symbols for 10, 100, 1000, etc. as well as arithmetic operations: addition (+), subtraction (-), multiplication (x) and division (/). Ancient Egyptians also came very close to the numerical value of mathematical constant Pi (π).

Annual Nile inundation also greatly influenced both time measuring and astronomy in ancient Egypt. Ancient Egyptian calendar had 365 days and 12 months with 30 days, while 5 extra days at the end of the years were added as birthdays of chief gods. The basis for the ancient Egyptian calendar (which is pretty much the same than our contemporary calendar) was annual Nile flooding - the time from one to another Nile flooding was equivalent to one year. Thus ancient Egyptian celebrated new year in the middle of September when flooding reached its height. Besides the new year’s day which is according to today’s most widely spread Gregorian calendar on January 1, ancient Egyptian calendar also distinguished itself from contemporary calendar for having only three seasons: akhet (Flooding), peret (Growth-Winter) and shemu (Harvest-Sumer). Annual Nile flooding also greatly impacted the development of astronomy in ancient Egypt - flooding started every year in midd June at the time of summer solstice when Sirius, the brightest star of the Canis Major became visible just before sunrise. The priest observed celestial bodies and distinguished 36 stars and five planets. Ancient Egyptians used sundials during daytime, and water or sand clocks at the night for measuring of time.

Picture of a statue of Imhotep
Statue of Imhotep

Ancient Egyptians learned the basics of human anatomy, internal organs and their functions as well as of causes of some diseases through process of mummification. Diseases, illnesses, injuries and other health problems were treated with remedies which based on healing properties of various herbs and minerals and were made according to written prescriptions. Imhotep was the most famous ancient Egyptian physician and was raised to divine status after his death for his achievements in medicine and worshiped as god of medicine and healing. Besides his contribution to medicine, Imhotep is also known as the architect of the Pyramid of Djoser (the Step Pyramid) at Saqqara.

Ancient Egyptian physicians treated joint dislocations, bone fractures and performed surgeries on many different areas of the body including the skull and were also known as good gynecologists. However, ancient Egyptian medicine was also greatly influenced by religion and magic. Various magic objects and amulets, rituals and ceremonies were performed on an ill person to expel evil spirits and demons which were responsible for illness and pain. Treatment of health problems and preparation of remedies in ancient Egypt was exclusively in domain of priests.


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