Health + Wellness

Hidden Gems In Black History: History’s First Know Physician Was Black –

Imhotep was one of the most revered figures in Ancient Egyptian history, not only because he was a pharaoh. He was appropriately named “the one who arrives in peace” because of the respect people showed him even after he passed away.

Who Is Imhotep?

Egypt was home to the first known scientist, Imhotep, a brilliant Black physician. Famous for designing King Djoser’s Step Pyramid at Saqqara, the Egyptian polymath Imhotep (Greek: Imouthes, c. 2667-2600 BCE) was a man of many talents. “He Who Comes in Peace” is the meaning of his name.

As is customary for distant historical figures, little about Third Dynasty Egyptian cultural hero Imhotep is known. We can assemble this biographical picture because of the intricacy of surviving scribal records, artistic renderings, and mythological legends, presenting a consistent image of the person.

It was supposed that Memphite commoner Imhotep served as King Djoser’s chancellor from an early age. In this position, he began his famed humanities, administrative, and science reforms. The earliest Egyptian Step Pyramid, the Pyramid of Djoser, was built at Saqqara between 2630 and 2611 B.C.E. He was well known for architecture, and a Middle Kingdom source “recognized him as one of the sages whose memory lingers via their writings,” recognizing his literary contributions to Egypt.

In addition, iconographic representations of him show him as a scholar holding a scribal papyrus, further establishing his connection to written civilization. A stele from the Third Dynasty lists the many titles that this exceptional man had, including “Chancellor of the King of Lower Egypt; First after the King of Upper Egypt; Administrator of the Great Palace; Hereditary nobleman; High Priest of Heliopolis; Builder; Chief Carpenter; Chief Sculptor and Maker of Vases in Chief.” This impressive list of accomplishments attests to the breadth and depth of this man’s influence.

So, Is He The Special God Of Medicine?

Later generations started to worship him as their deity of medicine, and he was eventually deified. His medical treatises, which saw illness and damage as naturally occurring rather than punishments given by gods, spirits, or curses, are also noteworthy; however, his Step Pyramid is more widely recognized as his greatest accomplishment.

According to certain accounts, Imhotep was also considered the father of Egyptian medicine during or shortly after his lifetime. The so-called Edwin Smith Papyrus, a medical book notable for its lack of magical thinking, which he was said to have written, included comprehensive anatomical findings and a list of diseases and their treatments, lending credence to this theory. In addition to the first accounts of cranial sutures, the brain’s exterior, and cerebral spinal fluid, the papyrus details trauma surgery and anatomy. It also includes 48 medical conditions and their diagnoses, treatments, and prognoses. Trepanation, a technique for reducing cerebral pressure, is first described in this text.

Despite the lack of contemporary documentation of Imhotep’s medical accomplishments, Wilkinson observes that he gained renown as a veritable medical demigod within a century or two after his death, suggesting that he could have been an exceptionally competent physician. 

Imhotep was the first doctor to use plant extracts as a medication. He has successfully diagnosed and treated more than 200 medical conditions. “The first figure of a physician to spring forth clearly from the mists of history,” said Sir William Osler, the “father of modern medicine.”


This is a part of our new series – “Hidden Gems in Black History,” where we highlight uncommon facts throughout Black history. Join us every day during Black History Month for interesting facts about Black people and places you likely haven’t heard before!

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