Sunday, 17 March 2013

Roman family planning

The pharmacological and industrial manufacturing breakthroughs of the 20th-century have meant that these days modern families take planning for kids pretty much for granted. It's as easy as popping (or not popping) a pill or relying on various devices provided by the plastics industry. But what about two thousand years ago? Did women just go with the flow and risk the distinct possibility of death at every birth? As it happens, no. Just as we've seen in the last century where developed societies have seen decreasing birthrates as families become more affluent, the same can be seen during the Roman-era, with families usually 'choosing' to have only two or three children.

In fact Roman-era women had access to a number of effective birth control methods. There were chemical treatments that could be applied, such as a paste made from alum and olive oil or a thorough washing with vinegar, both of which, if used every time, would prevent almost all pregnancies. What you may find surprising is that Egyptian women were using intra-uterine devices (IUDs) made from small copper plates at least one thousand years before Rome even existed - and this technology almost certainly remained in use during the Roman-era. The same technique was even used for animal husbandry for female pack animals. So once again, don't underestimate the Roman woman's desire to live life with the same certainties as anyone in the 21st-century. For more on women in Roman History, check out 'Vagabond' - live on Amazon now or on YouTube