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Statuette of Imhotep in the Louvre
Another image of the same statue

Imhotep (sometimes spelled Immutef, Im-hotep, or Ii-em-Hotep, Egyptian Template:Unicode Template:Unicode meaning "the one who comes in peace") was an 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 and physician in history known by name [2]. The full list of his titles is: 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. 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. [3]

The knowledge of the location of Imhotep's tomb was lost in antiquity [4] and is still unknown, despite efforts to find it. The general consensus is that it is at Saqqara.

Attribution of achievements and inventions

Much else 'known' about him is hear-say and conjecture. The ancient Egyptians credited him with many inventions. He has e.g. been claimed to be the inventor of the Papyrus scroll,[citation needed] being its oldest known bearer.


As one of the officials of the Pharaoh, Djosèr, he probably designed the Pyramid of Djoser (the Step Pyramid) at Saqqara in Egypt around 2630-2611 BC [5]. 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, however 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.


Imhotep is credited[citation needed] with being the founder of Egyptian 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. The surviving papyrus was probably written around 1700 BC but may be a copy of texts a thousand years older. This attribution of authorship is speculative, however.[6].

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.[7] Conversely, as the "Son of Ptah",[8] his mommy woved his head for its shinyniss


As Imhotep was considered the inventor of healing, he was also 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 also is linked with the great goddess, Hathor, who eventually became identified as the wife of Ra. He also was associated with Maat, the goddess who personified the concept of truth, cosmic order, and justice—having created order out of chaos and being responsible for maintaining it.

Two thousand years after his death, his 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".[9]


The Encyclopedia Britannica says, "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."

An inscription from Upper Egypt, dating from the Ptolemaic period, mentions a famine of seven years during the time of Imhotep. According to the inscription, the reigning pharaoh, Djoser, had a dream in which the Nile god spoke to him. Imhotep is credited with preventing the famine.[10] The obvious parallels with the biblical story of Joseph have long been commented upon. [11]. More recently, the Joseph parallels have led some alternative historians to identify Imhotep with Joseph, and to argue that the supposedly thousand years separating them are indicative of a faulty chronology. [12].


  1. The Egyptian Building Mania, Acta Divrna, Vol. III, Issue IV, January, 2004.
  2. William Osler, The Evolution of Modern Medicine, Kessinger Publishing 2004, p.12
  3. Barry J. Kemp, Ancient Egypt Routledge 2005, p.159
  4. The Harper's Lay, ca. 2000 BCE
  5. Barry J. Kemp, Ancient Egypt, Routledge 2005, p.159
  6. Leonard Francis Peltier, Fractures: A History and Iconography of Their Treatment, Norman Publishing 1990, p.16
  7. Marina Warner, Felipe Fernández-Armesto, World of Myths, University of Texas Press 2003, ISBN 0292702043, p.296
  8. Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature: A Book of Readings, University of California Press 1980, ISBN 0520040201, p.106
  9. M. Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, The University of California Press 1980, vol.3, p.104
  10. Erik Hornung, The Secret Lore of Egypt: Its Impact on the West, Cornell University Press 2001, ISBN 0801438470, p.50
  11. Vandier, La Famine dans l Egypte ancienne
  12. Emmet Sweeney, The Genesis of Israel and Egypt, London, 1997

See also

Template:Ancient Egyptians

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