- the essential oil of thyme, for instance, has been shown to be 20 times stronger than phenol, the standard modern antiseptic - while aloe was applied to burns and inflammation. Opium poppy and mandrake root were also taken to alleviate pain. Opium poppy is today the source of morphine and heroin, while mandrake, in modern anaesthesia, was the main anaesthetic before the development of ether. Apart from puncture wounds, namely those caused by arrows, spears and axes, there were wounds involving blows to the body that were violent enough to break bones. The army physicians could cope with most of these injuries well, treating fractures with manipulation, wooden splints and swabs of linen. On the other hand, they would have been unable to treat wounds that caused internal injuries, which were not readily apparent. Routine risks
In addition to war wounds, army physicians would also have been expected to deal with any number of day-to-day complaints and ailments, which the soldiers would have experienced either on campaign or in garrison. The medical papyri indicate that dysentery and water pollution were both problematic issues. Soldiers would also have been plagued by lice, gnats, mosquitoes and sand flies and, if they were stationed on the rim of the desert (known as deshret, 'red land'), would have had to cope with scavenging dogs, jackals and venomous snakes. Of the latter there were evidently 38 different types in Egypt alone, all of which were considered to be divine manifestations (Papyrus Brooklyn 1-38). Travel on the river was also a risky business, with crocodiles along the length of the Nile and hippopotami also present, which even today in central Mrica cause more deaths than any other wild animal. Less frightening were the various sorts of personal health issues soldiers had to deal with on a daily basis. Poor diet and inadequate hygiene made diarrhoea a frequent companion on campaign. Inevitably it was difficult for soldiers in the field to follow the sensible advice of the physicians, such as to abstain from drinking warm beer and from eating raw meat (Papyrus Ebers 207,855). Soldiers on campaign no doubt ate with their fingers, like all Egyptians, but were not always able to observe the niceties of washing their hands before and after every meal. This was especially so if water was a premium, the little they had being reserved for drinking and cooking purposes only. Unsurprisingly, then, infectious diarrhoea was common. One treatment calls for 'fresh djaret-plant: ~; fresh dough: ~; fat/ oil; honey: X; wax: Yl6; water: 25 ro [one ro is roughly equivalent to a tablespoon]. Cook this and eat for four days [in a row]' (Papyrus Ebers 44). Here mention of the djaret-plant refers to the seed of the carob tree, which is still widely used by herbalists today in treating diarrhoea. Chances of survival
From Diodoros (1.82) we know that army physicians were charged with alleviating the sufferings of soldiers to the very best of their abilities and that, since they were paid (in kind) from state funds, medical care was given to them free of charge. Yet survival rates were probably dismal as the physicians, undoubtedly too few in numbers, would be too overwhelmed in the first critical hours after a battle to attempt anything more complicated than patching up the wounded.