Ebers Papyrus

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Ebers Papyrus
Sizelength: c. 20 meters
Createdc. 1550 BCE
Present locationLeipzig, Saxony, Germany

The Ebers Papyrus, also known as Papyrus Ebers, is an Egyptian medical papyrus of herbal knowledge dating to c. 1550 BC (the late Second Intermediate Period or early New Kingdom). Among the oldest and most important medical papyri of Ancient Egypt, it was purchased at Luxor in the winter of 1873–1874 by the German Egyptologist Georg Ebers. It is currently kept at the Leipzig University Library in Germany.


The papyrus was written in Ancient Egypt in c. 1550 BCE, during the late Second Intermediate Period or early New Kingdom, but it is believed to have been copied from earlier Egyptian texts. The Ebers Papyrus is a 110-page scroll, which is about 20 meters long.[1]

Along with the Kahun Gynaecological Papyrus (c. 1800 BCE), the Edwin Smith Papyrus (c. 1600 BCE), the Hearst papyrus (c. 1600 BCE), the Brugsch Papyrus (c. 1300 BCE), and the London Medical Papyrus (c. 1300 BCE), the Ebers Papyrus is among the oldest preserved medical documents. The Brugsch and the London Medical papyri share some of the same information as the Ebers Papyrus.[2]

One side of another document, the Carlsberg papyrus VIII, is identical to the Ebers Papyrus, though the provenance of the former is unknown.[2]

Medical knowledge[edit]

The treatment for asthma suggested in the Ebers papyrus is a mixture of herbs heated on a brick so that the patient could inhale their fumes

The Ebers Papyrus is written in hieratic Egyptian writing and represents the most extensive and best-preserved record of ancient Egyptian medicine known.[3]

The scroll contains some 700 magical formulas and folk remedies.[4] It contains many incantations meant to turn away disease-causing demons and there is also evidence of a long tradition of empiricism.[5]

The papyrus contains a "treatise on the heart". It notes that the heart is the centre of the blood supply, with vessels attached for every member of the body.

The ancient Egyptians seem to have known little about the kidneys and made the heart the meeting point of a number of vessels which carried all the fluids of the body—blood, tears, urine and semen.

Mental disorders are detailed in a chapter of the papyrus called the Book of Hearts. Disorders such as depression and dementia are covered. The descriptions of these disorders suggest that Egyptians conceived of mental and physical diseases in much the same way.

The papyrus contains chapters on contraception, diagnosis of pregnancy and other gynecological matters, intestinal disease and parasites, eye and skin problems,[6] dentistry, the surgical treatment of abscesses and tumors, bone-setting, and burns.

The "channel theory" was prevalent at the time of writing of the Ebers papyrus; it suggested that unimpeded flow of bodily fluids is a prerequisite for good health.

The Ebers papyrus may be considered a precursor of ancient Greek humeral pathology and the subsequently established theory of humorism, providing a historical connection between ancient Egypt, ancient Greece, and medieval medicine.[6]

Examples of medical remedies[edit]

Examples of remedies in the Ebers Papyrus include:

  • Birth control: "To prevent conception, smear a paste of dates, acacia, and honey to wool and apply as a pessary."[7]
  • Diabetes mellitus: "Drink a mixture including elderberry, asit plant fibres, milk, beer-swill, cucumber flowers, and green dates." It is not known what "asit" is.[8]
  • Guinea-worm disease: "Wrap the emerging end of the worm around a stick and slowly pull it out." 3,500 years later, this remains the standard treatment.[9]
  • Bleary eyes: Combine the following ingredients into a paste to apply to the bleary eyed patient. "Myrrh, Onions, Verdigris, and Cyperus from the North, with Antelope dung, Clear Oil, and Entrails of the qadit animal. This could be painted on with a Vulture's feather."[10]
  • To drive Blood from the eyes: create two substances one from powdered fruit of the donpalm and milk of a woman who has borne a son. The other Cow's Milk. Then in the morning bathe both eyes from the first mixture then wash the eyes with the Cow's milk four times for six days.
  • Xanthelasma: Use a combination of red lead, Goose Grease, and Ginger to coat the eyes with.[11]
  • Pterygium: apply a mixture of red lead, powdered wood from Arabia, Iron from Apollonopolis parvis, Calamine, Egg of an ostrich, Saltpeter from upper Egypt, Sulfur, and honey to the eyes.[12]
  • Trichiasis: Combine Myrrh, Lizard's blood, Bat's Blood and then tear out the Hairs and Put thereon in order to make him well. Then use a mixture of Incense ground in lizard's dung, Cow's blood, Donkey's Blood, Pig's blood, Dog's blood, Stag's blood, Collyrium, and Incense to prevent the hair from growing back into the eye after being pulled out.[13]
  • Blindness: Use two eyes of a pig with the water removed from them, True Collyrium, red lead, and Wild Honey to create a powder and inject it into the ear. while mixing you must repeat "I HAVE BROUGHT THIS THING AND PUT IT IN ITS PLACE. THE CROCODILE IS WEAK AND POWER- LESS. (Twice)."[14]
  • Constipation: Chew bits of berry along with beer and it will relieve the constipation.[15]
  • Migraines: A clay effigy of a crocodile with herbs stuffed into its mouth was firmly bound to the head of the patient by a linen strip.[16] The linen strip is inscribed with the names of Egyptian gods.[16] This treatment was said to get rid of the ghosts and demons that were causing the pain.[17] This remedy likely reduced the pain by cold compression of the head.[18]
  • Headaches: Combine the inner of an onion, fruit of the am tree, natron, setseft seeds, cooked bones of a swordfish, cooked redfish, cooked crayfish skull, honey, and abra ointment. Apply to the head for four days.[19]
  • Burn wound prevention: use a frog and warm it in oils and rub the afflicted spot, or warm an electric eel's head in oils and apply it to the burn site.[20]
  • Diabetes: cakes, wheat, corn and grits.[21]
  • Miosis: small shavings of ebony wood and saltpeter.[21]
  • Corneal Opacity : place powdered granite in a cloth and place upon the afflicted eye.[21]
  • Bilharzia/Hookworm: warm the Jochauflegung of the sau wood in oil and give to the patient.[22]
  • To strengthen the nervous system: use a poultice of flesh of a fat cow applied to the body part which needs the strengthening.[23]
  • Coryza: "Spit it out, thou Slime, Son of Slime: Grasp the bones, touch the skull, smear with tallow, give the patient, seven openings in the head, serve the god Ra, thank the god Thoth. Then I brought thy remedy for thee, thy drink for thee, to drive away, to heal it: Milk-of-a-Woman-who-has-Borne-a-Son and Fragrant Bread. The Foulness rises form out the Earth! The Foulness!(Four times). to be spoken over the Milk-of-a-Woman-who-has-Borne-a-Son and Fragrant Bread. put in the nose."[24]

One of the more common remedies described in the papyrus is ochre, or medicinal clay. It is prescribed for intestinal and eye complaints. Yellow ochre is also described as a remedy for urological complaints.[25]

Animal repellents[edit]

The use of animal and insect repellents derived from plants and other organisms found in nature is known from the time of the Ebers Papyrus. Several examples of such repellents can be found in the text.[26]

  • To prevent fleas and lice, Egyptians would mix in date-meal and water in bowls and cook the mixture until warm. They would then drink it and spit it out.[27]
  • To protect their grain from rodents and vermin, they would spread gazelle dung and mice urine around the fire in the granary.[27]


In the time of Amenhotep I a calendar table was written on the verso side of the papyrus.[28] Since 1906 we have a transcript by Kurt Sethe. Some rate this table to be "the most valuable chronological tool from Egypt that we are ever likely to possess".[28]

Modern history of the papyrus[edit]

Like the Edwin Smith Papyrus, the Ebers Papyrus came into the possession of Edwin Smith in 1862.

The source of the papyrus is unknown, but it was said to have been found between the legs of a mummy in the El-Assasif district of the Theban necropolis.

The papyrus remained in the collection of Edwin Smith until at least 1869, when there appeared—in the catalog of an antiquities dealer—an advertisement for "a large medical papyrus in the possession of Edwin Smith, an American farmer of Luxor."[29]

The papyrus was purchased in 1872 by the German Egyptologist and novelist, Georg Ebers, after whom it is named.


In 1875, Ebers published a facsimile with an English-Latin vocabulary and introduction. It was not until 1890, however, that it was translated by H. Joachim. In the early 1900s, Dr. Carl H. von Klein, alongside his daughter Edith Zitelmann, created a direct-to-English translation of the Ebers Papyrus.[30] Ebers retired from his chair of Egyptology at Leipzig on a pension and the papyrus remained in the University of Leipzig library. An English translation of the papyrus was published by Paul Ghalioungui. The papyrus was published and translated by different researchers.

The Ebers Papyrus is available online, at a dedicated website, with translations in English and German.[31]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Stern, Ludwig Christian (1875). Ebers, Georg (ed.). Papyros Ebers: Das hermetische Buch über die Arzeneimittel der alten Ägypter in hieratischer Schrift, herausgegeben mit Inhaltsangabe und Einleitung versehen von Georg Ebers, mit Hieroglyphisch-Lateinischem Glossar von Ludwig Stern, mit Unterstützung des Königlich Sächsischen Cultusministerium (in German). Vol. 2 (1 ed.). Leipzig: W. Englemann. LCCN 25012078. Retrieved 2010-09-18.[permanent dead link]
  2. ^ a b Baker, Jill (2018-08-30). Technology of the Ancient Near East: From the Neolithic to the Early Roman Period. Routledge. ISBN 9781351188098.
  3. ^ Guerini, Vincenzo (1909). A History of Dentistry from the Most Ancient Times Until the End of the Eighteenth Century. Lea & Febiger. p. 19.
  4. ^ Rogers, Kara (2011-01-15). Medicine and Healers Through History. The Rosen Publishing Group, Inc. ISBN 9781615303670.
  5. ^ Magner, Lois N. (1992-03-17). A History of Medicine. CRC Press. ISBN 9780824786731.
  6. ^ a b PubMed
  7. ^ "A Brief History of Birth Control: From early contraception to the birth of the Pill". Time. New York. May 3, 2010.
  8. ^ Roberts, Jacob (2015). "Sickening sweet". Distillations. 1 (4): 12–15. Retrieved 20 March 2018.
  9. ^ Palmer, Philip E.S.; Reeder, Maurice M. (2008) [First published 1981]. "Chapter 27: Guinea Worm Infection (Dracunculiasis)". The Imaging of Tropical Diseases: With Epidemiological, Pathological and Clinical Correlation (DVD ed.). Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. LCCN 99039417. Archived from the original on 2008-12-29. Retrieved 2009-06-20.
  10. ^ Smith, Grafton (1974). Ancient Egyptian medicine: the Papyrus Ebers. Chicago: Ares Publishers. p. 95.
  11. ^ Smith, Grafton (1974). Ancient Egyptian medicine : the Papyrus Ebers. Chicago: Ares Publisher. pp. 96–97.
  12. ^ Smith, Grafton (1974). Ancient Egyptian medicine : the Papyrus Ebers. Chicago: Ares Publisher. pp. 100–101.
  13. ^ Smith, Grafton (1974). Ancient Egyptian medicine : the Papyrus Ebers. Chicago: Ares Publisher. p. 102.
  14. ^ Smith, Grafton (1974). Ancient Egyptian medicine : the Papyrus Ebers. Chicago: Ares Publisher. p. 104.
  15. ^ Smith, Grafton (1974). Ancient Egyptian medicine : the Papyrus Ebers. Chicago : Ares Publisher. p. 16.
  16. ^ a b Popko, Lutz (2018). "Some Notes on Papyrus Ebers, Ancient Egyptian Treatments of Migraine, and a Crocodile on the Patient's Head". Bulletin of the History of Medicine. 92 (2): 352–366. doi:10.1353/bhm.2018.0030. ISSN 1086-3176.
  17. ^ Gantenbein, Andreas (2013). Multidisciplinary Management of Migraine: Pharmalogical, Manual, and Other Therapies (1st ed.). Burlington, Mass.: Jones & Bartlett. pp. 67–69.
  18. ^ Silberstein, Stephen D. (2005). Atlas of Migraines and Other Headaches (2nd ed.). London: Taylor & Francis. pp. 13–31.
  19. ^ Smith, Grafton (1974). Ancient Egyptian medicine : the Papyrus Ebers. Chicago: Ares Publishing. p. 60.
  20. ^ Smith, Grafton (1974). Ancient Egyptian medicine : the Papyrus Ebers. Chicago: Ares Publisher. p. 68.
  21. ^ a b c Major, Ralph H. (1930). "The Papyrus Ebers". Annals of Medical History. 2 (5): 552. ISSN 0743-3131. PMC 7945839. PMID 33944361.
  22. ^ Smith, Grafton (1974). Ancient Egyptian medicine : the Papyrus Ebers. Chicago: Ares Publishers. p. 120.
  23. ^ Smith, Grafton (1974). Ancient Egyptian medicine : the Papyrus Ebers. Chicago: Ares Publisher. p. 114.
  24. ^ Smith, Grafton (1974). Ancient Egyptian medicine : the Papyrus Ebers. Chicago: Ares Publisher. p. 110.
  25. ^ The Papyrus Ebers: The Greatest Egyptian Medical Document. Translated by Ebbell, Bendix. Copenhagen: Levin & Munksgaard. 1937. LCCN 37020036. Archived from the original on 2005-02-26.
  26. ^ Pennacchio, Marcello (2010). Uses & Abuses of Plant-Derived Smoke: Its Ethnobotany as Hallucinogen, Perfume, Incense & Medicine. Oxford University Press. p. 21.
  27. ^ a b Bryan, Cyril (1931). The Papyrus Ebers / translated from the German version. New York: Appleton. pp. 1633–167.
  28. ^ a b M. Christine Tetley: The Reconstructed Chronology of the Egyptian Kings. Onerahi 2014, S. 86 f.
  29. ^ (Breasted 1930)
  30. ^ Hartsock, Jane; Halverson, Colin (2023-10-02). "Lost in translation: the history of the Ebers Papyrus and Dr. Carl H. von Klein". Journal of the Medical Library Association. 111 (4): 844–851. doi:10.5195/jmla.2023.1755. ISSN 1558-9439. PMC 10621680.
  31. ^ "Papyrus Ebers – Universitätsbibliothek Leipzig". papyrusebers.de. Retrieved 2023-11-17.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]