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Statuette of Imhotep in the Louvre

Imhotep (/ɪmˈhtɛp/;[1] also spelled Immutef, Im-hotep, or Ii-em-Hotep; called Imuthes (Ἰμούθης) by the Greeks; fl. 27th century BC (c. 2650–2600 BC); Egyptian: ỉỉ-m-ḥtp *jā-im-ḥātap meaning "the one who comes in peace, is with peace") was an Egyptian polymath[2] who served under the Third Dynasty king Djoser as chancellor to the pharaoh and high priest of the sun god Ra (or Re) at Heliopolis. He is considered by some to be the earliest known architect[3] and engineer[4] and physician in early history,[5] though two other physicians, Hesy-Ra and Merit-Ptah, lived around the same time. The full list of his titles is:[citation needed]

Chancellor of the King of Egypt, Doctor, First in line 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.

He was one of only a few commoners ever to be accorded divine status after death. The center of his cult was Memphis. From the First Intermediate Period onward Imhotep was also revered as a poet and philosopher. His sayings were famously referenced in poems: "I have heard the words of Imhotep and Hordedef with whose discourses men speak so much."[6]

The location of Imhotep's self-constructed tomb was well hidden from the beginning and it remains unknown, despite efforts to find it.[7] The consensus is that it is hidden somewhere at w:Saqqara. Imhotep's historicity is confirmed by two contemporary inscriptions made during his lifetime on the base or pedestal of one of Djoser's statues (Cairo JE 49889) and also by a graffito on the enclosure wall surrounding Sekhemkhet's unfinished step-pyramid.[8][9] The latter inscription suggests that Imhotep outlived Djoser by a few years and went on to serve in the construction of King Sekhemkhet's pyramid, which was abandoned due to this ruler's brief reign.[10]

Wikiversity Topics: Architecture, Archeology, Engineering

Attribution of achievements and inventions[edit]

Architecture and engineering[edit]

Pyramid of Djoser

Imhotep was one of the chief officials of the Pharaoh Djoser. Egyptologists ascribe to him the design of the Pyramid of Djoser (the Step Pyramid) at Saqqara in Egypt in 2630 – 2611 BC.[11] He may have been responsible for the first known use of columns to support a building.[citation needed] As an instigator of Egyptian culture, Imhotep's idealized image lasted well into the Ptolemaic period. The Egyptian historian Manetho credited him with inventing the method of a stone-dressed building during Djoser's reign, though he was not the first to actually build with stone. Stone walling, flooring, lintels, and jambs had appeared sporadically during the Archaic Period, though it is true that a building of the Step Pyramid's size and made entirely out of stone had never before been constructed. Before Djoser, pharaohs were buried in mastaba tombs.


Imhotep was an important figure in Ancient Egyptian medicine. He was the author of a medical treatise remarkable for being devoid of magical thinking: the so-called Edwin Smith papyrus containing anatomical observations, ailments, and cures.[12][13] The surviving papyrus was probably written around 1700 BC but may be a copy of texts written a thousand years earlier. However, this attribution of authorship is speculative. Today the Papyrus is on show at the Brooklyn Children's Museum, New York City. The 48 cases contained within the Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus concern:

  • 27 head injuries (cases #1-27)
  • 6 throat and neck injuries (cases #28-33)
  • 2 injuries to the clavicle (collarbone) (cases #34-35)
  • 3 injuries to the arm (cases #36-38)
  • 8 injuries to the sternum (breastbone) and ribs (cases #39-44)
  • 1 tumour and 1 abscess of the breast (cases #45-46)
  • 1 injury to the shoulder (case #47)
  • 1 injury to the spine (case #48)[14]


Two thousand years after his death, Imhotep's status was raised to that of a deity of medicine and healing. He was identified or confused with Thoth, the god of architecture, mathematics, medicine and patron of the scribes, having Imhotep's cult merging with that of his former tutelary god. Taking this into consideration, he was thus associated with Amenhotep son of Hapu, who was another deified architect, in the region of Thebes where they were worshipped as "brothers" in temples dedicated to Thoth and later in Hermopolis following the syncretist concept of Hermes-Thot,[15][16] a concept that led to another syncretic belief, that of Hermes Trismegistus and hermeticism. Imhotep was also linked to Asklepios by the Greeks.

Birth myths[edit]

According to myth, Imhotep's mother was a mortal named Kheredu-ankh, elevated later to semi-divine status by claims that she was the daughter of Banebdjedet.[17] Conversely, since Imhotep was known as the "Son of Ptah,"[18] his mother was sometimes claimed to be Sekhmet, the patron of Upper Egypt whose consort was Ptah. Also according to myths, his father was also an architect and was named Kanofer.


According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, "The evidence afforded by Egyptian and Greek texts support the view that Imhotep's reputation was very respected in early times ... His prestige increased with the lapse of centuries and his temples in Greek times were the centers of medical teachings."[citation needed]

It is Imhotep, says Sir William Osler, who was the real "Father of Medicine", "the first figure of a physician to stand out clearly from the mists of antiquity."[19]

Descriptions of Imhotep by James Henry Breasted et al. :

'In priestly wisdom, in magic, in the formulation of wise proverbs; in medicine and architecture; this remarkable figure of Zoser's reign left so notable a reputation that his name was never forgotten. He was the patron spirit of the later scribes, to whom they regularly poured out a libation from the water-jug of their writing outfit before beginning their work.'

'Imhotep extracted medicine from plants.'

'Imhotep was portrayed as a priest with a shaven head, seated and holding a papyrus roll. Occasionally he was shown clothed in the archaic costume of a priest.'

'Of the details of his life, very little has survived though numerous statues and statuettes of him have been found. Some show him as an ordinary man who is dressed in plain attire. Others show him as a sage who is seated on a chair with a roll of papyrus on his knees or under his arm. Later, his statuettes show him with a god like beard, standing, and carrying the ankh and a scepter.'

'He is represented seated with a papyrus scroll across his knees, wearing a skullcap and a long linen kilt. We can interpret the papyrus as suggesting the sources of knowledge kept by scribes in the "House of Life". The headgear identifies Imhotep with Ptah, and his priestly linen garment symbolizes his religious purity.'

Imhotep's dreams[edit]

The Upper Egyptian Famine Stela, dating from the Ptolemaic period, bears an inscription containing a legend about a famine of seven years during the reign of Djoser. Imhotep is credited with having been instrumental in ending it. One of his priests explained the connection between the god Khnum and the rise of the Nile to the king, who then had a dream in which the Nile god spoke to him, promising to end the drought.[20]

Biographical papyrus[edit]

A papyrus from the ancient Egyptian temple of Tebtunis, dating to the 2nd century AD, preserves a long story in the demotic script about Imhotep.[21] King Djoser plays a prominent role in the story, which also mentions Imhotep's family; his father the god Ptah, his mother Khereduankh, and his little-sister Renpetneferet. At one point Djoser desires the young Renpetnefereret, and Imhotep disguises himself and tries to rescue her. The text also refers to the royal tomb of Djoser by which the Step Pyramid must be meant. An anachronistic detail is a battle between the Egyptian and Assyrian armies where Imhotep fights an Assyrian sorceress in a duel of magic.[citation needed]

In popular culture[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. "Imhotep". Collins Dictionary. n.d. Retrieved 25 September 2014.
  2. The Egyptian Building Mania, Acta Divrna, Vol. III, Issue IV, January, 2004.
  3. Imhotep (Egyptian architect, physician, and statesman) - Encyclopedia Britannica
  4. "What is Civil Engineering: Imhotep".
  5. William Osler, The Evolution of Modern Medicine, Kessinger Publishing 2004, p.12
  6. Barry J. Kemp, Ancient Egypt Routledge 2005, p.159
  7. The Harper's Lay, ca. 2000 BCE
  8. Jaromir Malek 'The Old Kingdom' in The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt by Ian Shaw (ed.) Oxford University Press paperback 2002. p.92
  9. J. Kahl "Old Kingdom: Third Dynasty" in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt by Donald Redford (ed.) Vol.2, p. 592
  10. Shaw, op. cit., pp.92-93
  11. Barry J. Kemp, Ancient Egypt, Routledge 2005, p.159
  12. Mostafa Shehata, MD (2004), "The Father of Medicine: A Historical Reconsideration", J Med Ethics 12, p. 171-176 [176].
  13. How Imhotep gave us medicine, The Daily Telegraph, 10/05/2007.
  14. Leonard Francis Peltier, Fractures: A History and Iconography of Their Treatment, Norman Publishing 1990, p.16
  15. Thoth or the Hermes of Egypt: A Study of Some Aspects of Theological Thought in Ancient Egypt, p. 166–168, Patrick Boylan, Oxford University Press, 1922
  16. M. Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, The University of California Press 1980, vol. 3, p.104
  17. Marina Warner, Felipe Fernández-Armesto, World of Myths, University of Texas Press 2003, ISBN 0-292-70204-3, p.296
  18. Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature: A Book of Readings, University of California Press 1980, ISBN 0-520-04020-1, p.106
  19. A Series of Lectures Delivered at Yale University, April 1913
  20. The Famine Stela. Retrieved June 1, 2005. "After a German translation by Günther Roeder, Jena, 1923"
  21. Kim Ryholt, ‘The Life of Imhotep?’, Actes du IXe Congrès International des Études Démotiques, edited by G. Widmer and D. Devauchelle, Bibliothèque d’étude 147, Le Caire, Institut français d’archéologie orientale, 2009, pp. 305-15.
  22. Template:Cite comic

Further reading[edit]

  • Asante, Molefi Kete (2000). The Egyptian philosophers : ancient African voices from Imhotep to Akhenaten. Chicago: African American Images. ISBN 0-913543-66-7.
  • Cormack, Maribelle (1965). Imhotep: Builder in Stone. New York: Franklin Watts.
  • Dawson, Warren R. (1929). Magician and Leech: A Study in the Beginnings of Medicine with Special Reference to Ancient Egypt. London: Methuen.
  • Garry, T. Gerald (1931). Egypt: The Home of the Occult Sciences, with Special Reference to Imhotep, the Mysterious Wise Man and Egyptian God of Medicine. London: John Bale, Sons and Danielsson.
  • Hurry, Jamieson B. (1978). Imhotep (2nd ed.). New York: AMS Press. ISBN 0-404-13285-5.
  • Risse, Guenther B. (1986). "Imhotep and Medicine—A Reevaluation". Western Journal of Medicine 144: 622–624. 
  • Wildung, Dietrich (1977). Egyptian Saints: Deification in Pharaonic Egypt. New York University Press. ISBN 0-8147-9169-7.

External links[edit]

Template:Ancient Egyptian medicine

{{Authority control}} [[Category:27th-century BC clergy]] [[Category:Ancient Egyptian priests]] [[Category:Ancient Egyptian physicians]] [[Category:Egyptian architects]] [[Category:Egyptian gods]] [[Category:Wisdom gods]] [[Category:Health gods]] [[Category:Primordial teachers]] [[Category:Deified people]] [[Category:Egyptian civil engineers]] [[Category:Djoser]]