Imhotep (sometimes spelled Immutef, Im-hotep, or Ii-em-Hotep; called Imuthes (Ἰμούθης) by the Greeks), fl. 27th century BC (circa 2650-2600 BC) (Egyptian ỉỉ-m-ḥtp *jā-im-ḥātap meaning "the one who comes in peace, is with peace") was an Egyptian polymath, 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 engineer and physician in early history though two other good 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.
Some scholars associate Imhotep with the Biblical figure of Joseph.
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."
The location of Imhotep's self-constructed tomb was well hidden from the beginning and it remains unknown, despite efforts to find it. The 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. 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.
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.
These dreams are another factor which has lead some scholars to associate Imhotep with the Biblical figure of Joseph.
Imhotep is credited with being the founder of medicine. He was 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. However, this attribution of authorship is speculative. The Papyrus can be viewed at the Brooklyn Children's Museum, New York City. The 48 cases contained within the Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus concern:
- 27 head injuries (cases #1-27)
- 6 throat and neck injuries (cases #28-33)
- 2 injuries to the clavicle (collarbone) (cases #34-35)
- 3 injuries to the arm (cases #36-38)
- 8 injuries to the sternum (breastbone) and ribs (cases #39-44)
- 1 tumour and 1 abscess of the breast (cases #45-46)
- 1 injury to the shoulder(case #47)
- 1 injury to the spine (case #48)
Architecture and engineering
As one of the officials of the Pharaoh Djoser, he designed the Pyramid of Djoser (the Step Pyramid) at Saqqara in Egypt in 2630 – 2611 BC. 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 was always conceived holding his medical scrolls and his architectural drawings. He was a model figure who defined the training and selection process of all succeeding Egyptian priests and architects within Egypt’s jurisdiction. Although The step pyramid for King Zoser of the 3rd Dynasty was important for the reason that it had exemplified unbelievable skill and the introduction of building with stone, it was also very symbolic. It architectonically represented Ptah-TaTanen, the architect of the universe, and his creation where he evoked the primeval hill (waret) to rise from the primeval waters of nun. The Pyramid of Steps was also designed to serve as a place to worship the sun that symbolized the dead king’s ascent to the sun and passage across the heavens. The architecture highlighted Imhotep’s abilities as an architect, a religious priest and an astronomer. Additionally, in the construction of the Step Pyramid Complex was intended to forever honor the dead.
Egyptians considered Imhotep as a creative and inventive intellectual by the way he enlarged the burial site at Sakkara that was also constructed in stages. He amplified the existing tomb by adding five mastabas that decrease in sizes creating this unique form of architecture known as the great pyramid of steps. The burial compartments are great accomplishments of Imhotep’s work in design and engineering as well as debuted the progression of numerous complex structures such as tunnels, mortuaries, chapels, shafts and rooms for offerings. The massive tombs consisted of mud-brick walls and the style of the structure imitated a palace portico probably to mimic Djoser’s palace in Memphis where he lived at one point in his life.
The fact that Imhotep was an architect, which was extremely unique at that time, got him special treatments from the royal family, several positions and privileges inside the royal palace. This earned him the title of chief of engineering, amongst other essential titles such as prime minister, crown prince and head of the Royal Court. Later, his architecture had tremendous influence on Christian religion and architecture. He was also honored by the Romans, particularly the emperors Claudius and Tiberius whom had inscriptions that praised Imhotep on the walls of many of their Egyptian temples.
The preservation of the kings body was very important to Imhotep, like the conservation of the nation was a responsibility. As a priest who knew all ancient practices and rules, it was a given that he had mastered the understanding of the nature of building. Amongst other values, for Imhotep, it meant definiteness.
Although not certain, it has been believed that during a 40 year period of the Third Dynasty, Imhotep influenced and was the ultimate master builder of numerous other projects which have been finished. He wrote an encyclopedia of architecture that was used as the main bases and as guidance for Egyptian builders thousands of years after his death.