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Quintuplets in message of Gellius

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Roman relief showing a woman and a child
Roman relief showing a woman and a child

It is difficult to imagine that more children than two / three could be born and survived in the world at one time in antiquity. Mostly multiple babies are premature babies, and the more babies there are, the more difficult it is to maintain the pregnancy and keep them and their mother alive after birth.

Medical care at that time was difficult and insufficient. This phenomenon is not often described in the sources, on the contrary, it is difficult to find information about a larger number of multiple babies. The quintuplets mentioned by Aulus Gellius in “Attic Nights” seem to be a real sensation.

In book II he devotes a separate passage to this issue, on the basis of which we can learn that:

  1. Aristotle was to record that quintuplets were born in Egypt. At the same time, according to this philosopher, this is the highest number of children a woman can bring into the world at one time. Besides, a higher number has never been recorded and the phenomenon itself is extremely rare.
  2. An interesting fact is an event from the times of Augustus when in Rome a slave from the imperial house gave birth to quintuplets. The children only survived for a few days, and their mother died shortly after them. To honour this event, Caesar ordered them to erect a tomb on Via Laurentina and engrave this information on it.
Author: Aneta Bąk (translated from Polish: Jakub Jasiński)

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