Ancient Origins Tour IRAQ

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Bas-relief at Angkor Wat, Cambodia, c. 1150, depicting a demon inducing an abortion by pounding the abdomen of a pregnant woman with a pestle. Source: Malcolm Potts/CC BY-SA 3.0

Family Planning in the Ancient World (Video)


In ancient times, family planning methods such as abortion and contraception were integral parts of medical practices and societal norms, particularly in the ancient Mediterranean and Near East regions. The earliest written evidence of these practices dates back to around 1500 BC in ancient Egypt, with subsequent references found in civilizations like Babylon, Greece, and Syria.

Medical texts from the period offer insights into the techniques used for abortion. These methods included the administration of medicinal herbs known to induce miscarriages or terminate pregnancies, as well as surgical procedures, albeit less commonly due to the associated risks. While some herbs like Pennyroyal and Acacia are still known today for their abortifacient properties, others, like Silphium, have since gone extinct.

Access to these procedures likely varied depending on factors such as geographical location and socioeconomic status. Wealthy individuals might have had greater access to skilled physicians or midwives who could perform these procedures safely. However, there is evidence to suggest that even individuals from less privileged backgrounds could access these services through local healers or midwives.

Societal views on abortion and contraception were complex. While some texts portrayed these practices negatively, often using them to denigrate certain groups, others recognized their importance in preserving women's health and well-being. Religious and cultural beliefs also influenced attitudes towards these practices, with some communities allowing abortion in cases where it was deemed necessary to protect the mother's life.

Top image: Bas-relief at Angkor Wat, Cambodia, c. 1150, depicting a demon inducing an abortion by pounding the abdomen of a pregnant woman with a pestle.   Source: Malcolm Potts/CC BY-SA 3.0

By Robbie Mitchell

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I’m a graduate of History and Literature from The University of Manchester in England and a total history geek. Since a young age, I’ve been obsessed with history. The weirder the better. I spend my days working as a freelance... Read More

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