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Roman women often died during childbirth

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

A birthing scene on a Roman sculpture
A birthing scene on a Roman sculpture

Childbirth in ancient times was a huge threat not only to the child, but also to the woman giving birth. Lack of proper sanitary conditions, infections or simply the lack of proper knowledge meant that childbirth was one of the most dangerous moments in a woman’s life.

In ancient Rome, thousands of deaths were recorded during childbirth. Information about deceased women from upper classes and plebeians has survived to our times, but surely the problem also concerned slaves. Among the famous women who died in childbirth is Julia – the daughter of Caesar and wife of Pompey’s also Tullia – beloved daughter of Cicero.

However, we also have information about “ordinary” Romans. One of the tombstones in North Africa was engraved: “she survived thirty-six years and forty days. It was her tenth birth. She died on the third day”. In Croatia, a tombstone from the epitaph was discovered: “she suffered torments in childbirth for four days and did not give birth, and she died anyway”.

Mary Beard claims that statistically 1 in 50 women died during childbirth. Younger women were at greater risk. As mentioned before, a high impact on the high death rate was due to undeveloped medicine, non-compliance with basic hygiene rules, and often associated infections, haemorrhage or obstruction.

  • Beard Mary, SPQR. Historia starożytnego Rzymu, Poznań 2016

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