This article is about the ancient Egyptian official. For other uses, see Imhotep (disambiguation).
Imhotep in hieroglyphs
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Jj m ḥtp
He who comes in peace

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Jj m ḥtp

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Jj m ḥtp

Greek Manetho variants:
Africanus: Imouthes
Eusebius: missing
Eusebius,  AV:  missing
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 at Heliopolis. He is considered by some to be the earliest known architect,[3] engineer,[4] and physician in history,[5] though two other Egyptian figures identified as 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.[6]

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."[7]

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

Biographical clues

Birth myth

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.[9] Alternatively, since Imhotep was known as the "Son of Ptah,"[10] his mother was sometimes claimed to be Sekhmet, the patron of Upper Egypt whose consort was Ptah. According to another tale, his father may have been an architect named Kanofer.


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.[11][12] 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.[13]

The Upper Egyptian Famine Stela, which dates from the Ptolemaic period, bears an inscription containing a legend about a famine of seven years duration 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.[14]

Biographical papyrus

A demotic papyrus from the ancient Egyptian temple of Tebtunis, dating to the 2nd century AD, preserves a long story about Imhotep.[15] 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 Renpetneferet, and Imhotep disguises himself and tries to rescue her. The text also refers to the royal tomb of Djoser. An anachronistic detail is a battle between the Egyptian and Assyrian armies where Imhotep fights an Assyrian sorceress in a duel of magic.


Architecture and engineering

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, a step pyramid at Saqqara in Egypt in 2630 2611 BC.[16] He may also have been responsible for the first known use of stone columns to support a building.[17] 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 size of the step pyramid made entirely out of stone had never before been constructed. Prior to Djoser, pharaohs were buried in mastaba tombs.


Imhotep has been described as a major figure in Ancient Egyptian medicine, and particularly by James Breasted as 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 copy of the 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. Egyptologist James Peter Allen states that "The Greeks equated him with their own god of medicine, Asklepios, although ironically there is no evidence that Imhotep himself was a physician."[18]


Two thousand years after his death, Imhotep's status was raised to that of a deity of medicine and healing. He was identified or associated with Thoth, the god of architecture, mathematics, medicine and patron of the scribes, Imhotep's cult merging with that of his former tutelary god. He was also associated with Amenhotep, son of Hapu, who was another deified architect in the region of Thebes where they were worshiped as "brothers" in temples dedicated to Thoth and later in Hermopolis following the syncretist concept of Hermes-Thot,[19][20] a concept that led to another syncretic belief, that of Hermes Trismegistus and hermeticism. Imhotep was also linked to Asklepios by the Greeks.


According to Sir William Osler, Imhotep was the real "Father of Medicine", "the first figure of a physician to stand out clearly from the mists of antiquity."[21]

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.'

See also


  1. "Imhotep". Collins Dictionary. n.d. Retrieved 25 September 2014.
  2. "The Egyptian Building Mania". Archived from the original on June 14, 2011. Retrieved 2015-06-23.
  3. Editors, The (2014-11-20). "Imhotep | biography - Egyptian architect, physician, and statesman". Retrieved 2015-06-23.
  4. "What is Civil Engineering: Imhotep".
  5. William Osler, The Evolution of Modern Medicine, Kessinger Publishing 2004, p.12
  6. Feder, Kenneth (2010). Encyclopedia of Dubious Archaeology: From Atlantis to the Walam Olum. ABC-CLIO. p. 43. ISBN 0313379181.
  7. Barry J. Kemp, Ancient Egypt Routledge 2005, p.159
  8. "Lay of the Harper". Retrieved 2015-06-23.
  9. Marina Warner, Felipe Fernández-Armesto, World of Myths, University of Texas Press 2003, ISBN 0-292-70204-3, p.296
  10. Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature: A Book of Readings, University of California Press 1980, ISBN 0-520-04020-1, p.106
  11. Jaromir Malek 'The Old Kingdom' in The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt by Ian Shaw (ed.) Oxford University Press paperback 2002. p.92
  12. J. Kahl "Old Kingdom: Third Dynasty" in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt by Donald Redford (ed.) Vol.2, p. 592
  13. Shaw, op. cit., pp.92-93
  14. "The Famine Stele on the Island of Sehel". Retrieved 2015-06-23.
  15. 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.
  16. Barry J. Kemp, Ancient Egypt, Routledge 2005, p.159
  17. Baker, Rosalie; Baker, Charles (2001). Ancient Egyptians: People of the Pyramids. Oxford University Press. p. 23. ISBN 0195122216.
  18. Allen, James Peter (2005). The Art of Medicine in Ancient Egypt. Yale University Press. p. 12. ISBN 9780300107289. Retrieved 17 August 2016.
  19. 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
  20. M. Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, The University of California Press 1980, vol. 3, p.104
  21. "The Evolution of Modern Medicine, by William Osler". Retrieved 2015-06-23.
  22. Reid, Danny. "The Mummy (1932) Review, with Boris Karloff and David Manners". Retrieved 6 June 2016.
  23. Holden, Stephen. "Sarcophagus, Be Gone: Night of the Living Undead". New York Times. Retrieved 6 June 2016.
  24. "Imhotep Review". Review. Retrieved 6 June 2016.
  25. Hickman, Jonathan (w). S.H.I.E.L.D. 1 (April 2010), New York, NY: Marvel Comics

Further reading

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