Ancient Alexandria and the dawn of medical science

Ismail Serageldin


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From the banks of the Nile to the shores of the Mediterranean, it is in the land of Egypt where medicine probably started. This is the story of a great period in the history of medicine. But let us start at the beginning. Imhotep, who flourished about 5,000 years ago, is the first person whose name is recorded not for being a king or a conqueror, but for the way he contributed to knowledge1. He was a statesman: he advised Pharaoh Zoser. He was an engineer: he built the stepped pyramid of Saqqara, precursor to the many great pyramids to come. But above all he was a physician of talent, who launched the first true medical revolution: that disease was not something to be dealt with by magic, but by science: observation, diagnosis, and treatment. Egyptians would later deify him as the god of medicine. 

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