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Titles of healers in Ancient Egypt

There are three principal designations for men involved in healing from the Old Kingdom to the Late Period:

The three designations may be defined against each other, but it is not certain how rigidly they were separated in practice; it may be a modern imposition to insist on exact 'job descriptions' - on the other hand, in this and other spheres of life, there are occasionally preserved ancient Egyptian descriptions of duties with exact specifications for holders of a particular title ('Duties of the Vizier' for the head of the administration, and temple staff, in the Tebtunis papyri and other Ptolemaic and Roman Period manuscripts).

There is the higher title wr swnw 'chief physician', for the person in charge of a group of healers.

All these titles are found as designations of men in the literate elite. There is just one case of a female equivalent, for a woman of Dynasty 6 (about 2300 BC) named Peseshet, in an inscription from a tomb-chapel where her other titles include reference to the king's mother. Since female involvement in healing generally did not find expression in official designations, and remained informal, the level of involvement is difficult to gauge from the sources.

Modern commentators have tended to concentrate on the men with the titles wr swnw and swnw, as 'doctors', leaving to one side the men with the titles xrp srqt and wab sxmt, with their direct invocation of goddesses. However, the Ancient Egyptian writings indicate that holders of all three titles were healers, using manuscripts sharing the triple strategy of 1. treatment (with diagnosis/prognosis), 2. prescription (preparation of medicines), and 3. incantation. The headings of sections in some manuscripts include reference to the different types of healer, demonstrating that the different title-holders might use the same writings. Papyrus Ebers, column 99, lines 2-3 refers together to any swnw, any wab sxmt, and any sAw ('protector') who might use the manuscript.



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