Controlling their Bodies: Ancient Roman Women and Contraceptives

Date
2018
Authors
Brazan, Madison
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Office of the Vice President for Research
Abstract

For women in ancient Rome, pregnancy related deaths were one of the leading causes of death because of a higher likelihood of infection or complications during the birth, compared to women in contemporary Italy, such as uterine hemorrhage. Ancient Roman women, in particular women who were not as wealthy and women who worked as prostitutes, had even more of an urgent need to prevent pregnancy than wealthier women who could afford more than one child. Therefore, they had an incentive to obtain to get birth control either because they would not have been able to afford more children or because getting pregnant would have hurt their livelihood as a prostitute. However, the most common categories of birth control were quite different in antiquity. The most common categories of birth control included herbal options, pessaries, and folk remedies. I will be investigating what the ancient Roman women used as contraceptives, citing various sources, including Soranus’ Gynecology and Dioscorides’ De Materia Medica.

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