Birth Control in Ancient Times

Women in the ancient world practiced birth control with little interference from religious or political authorities. A precise knowledge of plants which could either block conception or cause abortion was resident in the oral female culture of herbalists and midwives.

One of the most common contraceptive agents used in the ancient Mediterranean world was silphium, which grew exclusively in the country of Cyrene in North Africa. Since Cyrene was the sole exporter of the plant, it became the city’s official symbol on its coinage and it remained the city’s primary source of income until the first century BCE.

Other plants used in classical times as contraceptives or abortafacients included pennyroyal, artemisia, myrrh, and rue. In Aristophanes’s comedy Peace, first performed in 421 BCE, Hermes provides Trigaius with a female companion. Trigaius wonders if the woman might become pregnant. “Not if you add a dose of pennyroyal,” advises Hermes. Pennyroyal grows in the wild and would have been readily available to ancient women. Recent studies show that pennyroyal contains a substance called pulegone that terminates pregnancy in humans and animals.


Post a Comment

Contact Form


Email *

Message *

Copyright 2007 Melita Insula