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Birth control under Augustus

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)


In ancient Rome, it was realized that a high number of births guaranteed the proper development of the state and society. During the rule of Octavian Augustus (27 BCE – 14 CE), it was decided to outlaw abortion and contraception. As it turns out from paleopathological studies, the most common reason for the population decline was a low number of births, not infanticide or high infant mortality at birth.

In ancient times, there were many drugs and plants that were supposed to have an abortion effect: aristolochia, a mysterious plant of antiquity silphium or a decoction of common rue, egg and fennel.

What’s more, to encourage Romans and Roman women to have children, a law was introduced that penalized all manifestations of “avoiding” starting a family. It was the so-called lex Papia Poppaea from 9 CE. The legislator punished couples who had no children, thus “clearly” confirming the offence.

Interestingly, sometimes attempts were made to limit the birth rate – if it was too high. Already the Greek philosopher Plato advised that: “If too many children are born, there are ways to control it.”

  • Jaworowski Zbigniew, Aborcja w czasach Chrystusa, "Racjonalista", 1 sierpnia 2007
  • Krawczuk Aleksander, Cesarz August, Warszawa 1973

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