It is a Child for Her: Medical and Magical Treatments of Reproduction in the Middle Kingdom of Egypt Open Access

Neiman, Leah (Spring 2018)

Permanent URL:


Reproduction is of great concern to all societies, however, the way in which each addresses the issue, and manages its inherent anxieties and risks is unique. The physical and emotional reproductive experiences of women in ancient Egypt were greatly prescribed by their culture, and specifically their religion. Treatments of reproduction can be split into two collaborative modalities: medical and magical. This study explores how both modalities contributed to the female reproductive experience during the Middle Kingdom (c. 2050-1750 BCE) through a textual analysis of the Kahun Medical Papyrus (c. 1850 BCE) and contemporary material culture from the archaeological record. The Kahun Medical Papyrus is both the earliest known medical treatise and solely concerned with women’s medicine. Through the description of 34 medical cases it provides a wealth of information on medical perceptions of the female body. Here, five of those cases regarding diagnosis of conception are retranslated with a close analysis of the grammar and diction to arrive at a clearer understanding of the physical experience of pregnancy during the Middle Kingdom. The emotional and spiritual components of reproduction are elucidated by magically potent objects such as birthing wands and decorated birth bricks. A cohesive analysis of both modalities produces an image of a deeply spiritual reproductive experience, defined by pleas for divine intervention, and in which medicine plays a purely diagnostic, not curative, role.

Table of Contents

Introduction                                                                                               1

Part I: Context                                                                                         12

Part II: Five Cases from the Kahun Medical Papyrus                          31

Part III: Magical Protections of Birth                                                    60

Conclusion                                                                                               91


About this Honors Thesis

Rights statement
  • Permission granted by the author to include this thesis or dissertation in this repository. All rights reserved by the author. Please contact the author for information regarding the reproduction and use of this thesis or dissertation.
  • English
Research Field
Committee Chair / Thesis Advisor
Committee Members
Last modified

Primary PDF

Supplemental Files