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Imhotep (sometimes spelled Immutef, Im-hotep, or Ii-em-Hotep; called Imuthes (Ιμυθες) by the Greeks), (2655 - 2600 BCE) (Egyptian ii-m-ḥtp *jā-im-ḥatāp meaning "the one who comes in peace") was an ancient Egyptian polymath,[1] who served under the Third Dynasty king, Djoser, as chancellor to the pharaoh and high priest of the sun god Ra at Heliopolis. He is considered to be the first architect engineer[2] and physician in early history [3] though two other physicians, Hesy-Ra and Merit-Ptah lived around the same time. The full list of his titles is:

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.

Statue of Imhotep in the Louvre Museum, Paris.

Imhotep was one of very few mortals to be depicted as part of a pharaoh's statue. 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 referred to in poems: I have heard the words of Imhotep and Hordedef with whose discourses men speak so much.[4]

The location of Imhotep's self constructed tomb was well hidden from the beginning and it remains unknown, despite efforts to find it.[5] The general consensus is that it is hidden somewhere at 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.[6][7] 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.[8]

Attribution of achievements and inventions

Most known information about Imhotep is based on hearsay and conjecture. The ancient Egyptians credited him with many inventions. For example, it is claimed that he invented or improved the papyrus scroll. James Henry Breasted says of Imhotep:

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 is not forgotten to this day. 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.

Engineering and architecture

As one of the officials of the Pharaoh, Djoser, Imhotep designed the Pyramid of Djoser (the Step Pyramid) at Saqqara in Egypt in 2630 – 2611 BCE.[9] He may have been responsible for the first known use of columns in architecture. 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 is credited with being the founder of medicine and with being 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.[10][11][12] The surviving papyrus was probably written around 1700 BCE but may be a copy of texts a thousand years older. This attribution of authorship is speculative, however.[13]

Birth myths

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.[14] Conversely, as the "Son of Ptah",[15] his mother was sometimes claimed to be Sekhmet, the patron of Upper Egypt whose consort was Ptah.


As Imhotep was considered the founder of medicine as a discipline, he was sometimes said to be the one who held up the goddess Nut (the deification of the sky), as the separation of Nut and Geb (the deification of the earth) was said to be what held back chaos. Due to the position this would have placed him in, he was also sometimes said to be Nut's son. In artwork he is also linked with the great goddess, Hathor, who eventually became identified as the wife of Ra. Imhotep was also associated with Ma'at, the goddess who personified the concept of truth, cosmic order, and justice — having created order out of chaos and being responsible for maintaining that order.

Two thousand years after his death, Imhotep's status was raised to that of a deity. He became the god of medicine and healing. He later was linked to Asclepius by the Greeks. He was associated with Amenhotep son of Hapu, who was another deified architect, in the region of Thebes where they were worshipped as "brothers".[16]


According to the Encyclopedia 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."

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."

Imhotep was also identified with Thoth, the Egyptian god of writing, education, literacy and scribes through the Greco-Roman Period.

Imhotep's dreams

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.

In popular culture

In modern times, the historical figure lent his name to Imhotep, the title character of the 1932 film The Mummy and its 1999 remake along with a sequel. Imhotep's name was also given to a character in the Agatha Christie novel Death Comes as the End and the TV show Stargate, and is the title of a video game.


  1. The Egyptian Building Mania, Acta Divrna, Vol. III, Issue IV, January, 2004.
  2. "What is Civil Engineering: Imhotep". 
  3. William Osler, The Evolution of Modern Medicine, Kessinger Publishing 2004, p.12
  4. Barry J. Kemp, Ancient Egypt Routledge 2005, p.159
  5. The Harper's Lay, ca. 2000 BCE
  6. Jaromir Malek 'The Old Kingdom' in The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt by Ian Shaw (ed.) Oxford University Press paperback 2002. p.92
  7. J. Kahl "Old Kingdom: Third Dynasty" in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt by Donald Redford (ed.) Vol.2, p. 592
  8. Shaw, op. cit., pp.92-93
  9. Barry J. Kemp, Ancient Egypt, Routledge 2005, p.159
  10. Mostafa Shehata, MD (2004), "The Father of Medicine: A Historical Reconsideration", J Med Ethics 12, p. 171-176 [176].
  11. How Imhotep gave us medicine, The Daily Telegraph, 10/05/2007.
  12. Jimmy Dunn, Imhotep, Doctor, Architect, High Priest, Scribe and Vizier to King Djoser.[1]
  13. Leonard Francis Peltier, Fractures: A History and Iconography of Their Treatment, Norman Publishing 1990, p.16
  14. Marina Warner, Felipe Fernández-Armesto, World of Myths, University of Texas Press 2003, ISBN 0292702043, p.296
  15. Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature: A Book of Readings, University of California Press 1980, ISBN 0520040201, p.106
  16. M. Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, The University of California Press 1980, vol.3, p.104
This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Imhotep. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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