[Imhotep--builder, physician, god]

Med Pregl. Sep-Oct 2008;61(9-10):533-8.
[Article in Serbian]


Introduction: The medicine had been practiced in ancient Egypt since the earliest, prehistoric days, many millenia before Christ, and was quite developed in later periods. This is evident from the sceletal findings, surgical instruments found in tombs, wall printings, the reliefs and inscriptions, and most of all, from the sparse written material known as medical papyri. However, there were not many physicians from that time whose names had been recorded. The earliest physician in ancient Egypt known by name was Imhotep. WHO WAS IMHOTEP?: Imhotep lived and worked during the time of the 3rd Dynasty of Old Kingdom and served under the pharaoh Djoser (reigned 2667-2648 BC) as his vizier or chief minister, high priest, chief builder and carpenter. He obviously was an Egyptian polymath, a learned man and scribe and was credited with many inventions.

Builder: As one of the highest officials of the pharaoh Djoser Imhotep is credited with designing and building of the famous Step Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqarah, near the old Egyptian capital of Memphis. Imhotep is also credited with inventing the method of stone-dressed building and using of columns in architecture and is considered to be the first architect in history known by name.

Physician: It is believed that, as the high priest, Imhotel also served as the nation's chief physician in his time. As the builder of the Step Pyramid, and as a physician, he also had to take medical care of thousands of workers engaged in that great project. He is also credited with being the founder of Egyptian medicine and with being the author of the so-called Smith papirus containing a collection of 48 specimen clinical records with detailed accurate record of the features and treatment of various injuries. As such he emerges as the first physician of ancient Egypt known by name and, at the same time, as the first physician known by name in written history of the world. GOD: As Imhotep was considered by Egyptian people as the "inventor of healing", soon after the death, he was worshiped as a demigod, and 2000 years later he was elevated to the position of a god of medicine and healing. His cult reached its zenith during Greco-Roman times when he was identified with the Greek god of medicine Asclepius.

Conclusion: Imhotep was a real historic person from the period of the 3rd Dynasty of Old Kingdom (2686-2637 BC) and he served under the pharaoh Djoser as his vizier and high priest. Obviously, he was a very capable and many-sided man who is believed to be the designer and builder of the so-called Step Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqarah and of several other buildings. Apart from that he was believed by his people to be the "inventor of healing" and is considered to be the practicing physician at his time and the author of the famous Smith papirus. As such he is considered to be the first physician known by name in written history of the world. He was one of only two mortals ever to be accorded divining status after death.

Publication types

  • Biography
  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Architecture / history*
  • Egypt, Ancient
  • History, Ancient*
  • Physicians / history*
  • Religion and Medicine*

Personal name as subject

  • None Imhotep