What Percentage Of Women Died In Childbirth In Ancient Rome

Midwives and Childbirth in Ancient Rome

The ancient Romans had an intricate system for childbirth, with midwives and physicians playing an important role in ensuring a mother’s safe delivery. Midwives would be called on to help a mother give birth in her home or in a nearby birthing house, while a physician would be consulted if a mother faced any serious health issues complicating the delivery.

In general, Roman birth outcomes were considered to be better than in other ancient culture, although statistics remain unclear. Rome’s high urban population, as well as its advances in hygiene and health, likely contributed to its better birth outcomes. That said, many women who died during childbirth could not be recorded due to the lack of reliable vital record keeping.

Research suggests that maternal mortality in ancient Rome was likely a lot higher than today. Previous research, for example, has shown that cesarean sections were done haphazardly and, since antibiotics were not available, the chances of infection were high.

Experts are divided as to the exact percentage of maternal deaths that occurred in ancient Rome. According to some estimates, the rate of maternal deaths in Rome was likely as high as 14%, which was higher than in most other ancient cultures. However, other experts believe that the rate was closer to 8%.

What is beyond dispute, however, is that the ancient Romans had a relatively sophisticated medical system when it came to childbirth and maternal care. Midwifery was a well-developed and respected field of medical practice, with midwives offering advice and assistance to mothers before and after childbirth. Additionally, some of the medical treatments and tools used by ancient Roman medical practitioners — such as olive oil enemas and forceps — set the stage for modern medical interventions.

Roman laws also reflected Rome’s commitment to providing better medical outcomes. Roman laws demanded that fathers take care of the medical expenses related to childbirth, including those related to the burial of a mother who died during childbirth. Additionally, the law mandated fathers to raise the children of any mother who died during childbirth, though there were options for outsourcing this obligation as well.

Preventative Measures Used by Mothers in Ancient Roma

In ancient Rome, mothers likely took numerous preventative measures to ensure a safe childbirth. In addition to using herbal remedies, women also placed a lot of emphasis on being physically and mentally prepared for the delivery. Women were encouraged to be well-rested in the weeks before the delivery and to consult midwives and physicians to determine the best course of action.

Women also ate a diet that was conducive to a healthy delivery. For example, women were encouraged to consume lots of dairy products in the weeks before the delivery. This was thought to reduce the risks associated with difficult deliveries.

Women also avoided particular activities and habits while they were pregnant. For instance, they were warned against eating certain fish, participating in rigorous physical activities, and engaging in activities that caused emotional stress.

Moreover, Romans also had a number of superstitions about childbirth that were thought to reduce the risk of a difficult birth. These included carrying a special talisman during the delivery, and taking special baths and drinking herbal concoctions prior to the delivery.

Medical Treatments During Childbirth in Ancient Rome

In ancient Rome, women were generally expected to give birth without medical intervention. However, physicians and midwives did use certain medical treatments if a woman was facing a difficult delivery.

For instance, a physician might use forceps to help deliver a baby if the baby was stuck. Similarly, a midwife might use herbs to stimulate contractions if the mother was having an extended labor.

Moreover, in certain cases, cesarean sections were used as a last resort. This involved opening the mother’s abdomen and womb in order to deliver the baby. These procedures were risky and could lead to infections.

That said, cesarean sections were generally only performed in cases of dire necessity, as the procedures were quite complex and expensive. In addition, the death of the mother was more likely in the cases of cesarean sections than with natural childbirth.

Advances in Maternal Care in Ancient Rome

Despite its primitive medical practices, ancient Rome made significant advances in maternal care. For instance, as mentioned previously, Rome was one of the first societies to have laws in place that mandated fathers to take care of their children and the medical expenses related to childbirth. This provided an important safety net that allowed women to trust physicians and midwives to carry out their medical interventions with a reduced risk of financial harm to themselves or their families.

Moreover, Roman laws also mandated a midwife to register her births within a certain period of time. This allowed the Roman state to keep more accurate vital records which, in turn, provided valuable data for medical research and advancements.

Furthermore, Roman laws also provided for the prosecution of negligent midwives or physicians, which meant that the medical practices for childbirth and maternal care were more closely monitored. This provided an additional layer of protection for mothers, as it ensured that medical treatments were performed with a focus on the safety of the mother and the baby.

Advocating for Better Quality Medical Care in Ancient Roma

In addition to the strides made in medical care, the ancient Roma also made innovations in the realm of advocacy. Throughout Roman history, there were numerous organizations, medical societies, and political groups which worked to provide mothers with better quality medical care.

For instance, the Roman medical society Collegia Medicorum was established to promote the work of midwives and to advocate for better medical practices. Similarly, the Roman Senate often held hearings on medical treatment practices in Rome and passed laws to ensure better outcomes for mothers and babies.

In addition, women’s rights groups often campaigned for better quality maternal care. They argued that the lack of adequate medical care and the high mortality rates were unacceptable, and urged the Roman Senate to pass laws that would protect mothers and ensure better conditions for childbirth.

The Impact of Religion on Maternal Care in Ancient Rome

The religion of ancient Rome also had a significant impact on the quality of maternal care. For example, the goddess Juno, the Roman goddess of childbirth, was believed to protect pregnant women, and Roman women often made offerings to her in order to ensure a safe delivery.

Furthermore, certain religious rituals and ceremonies were also used to protect women during childbirth. These included dancing, chanting, and the use of incantations to keep evil spirits at bay. Moreover, certain symbols, such as the crossed eyes of Janus and the snake, were often used to ward off evil.

Additionally, certain superstitions regarding the timing of childbirth were used by Roman women in order to ensure a safe delivery. For instance, it was believed that a new moon was the most auspicious time to give birth, while a full moon was considered inauspicious. Similarly, women would often avoid giving birth on certain days of the week and months of the year as well.


Despite the lack of reliable data, it is likely that the maternal mortality rate in ancient Rome was higher than it is today. However, it is also clear that the Roman society made strides to improve the quality of care for mothers and to reduce the number of maternal deaths. They had sophisticated medical treatments and procedures, as well as laws and advocacy organizations that helped to ensure that women had better medical care. Additionally, religion also played an important role in protecting pregnant women and ensuring a safe delivery.

Moshe Rideout is a professional writer and historian whose work focuses on the history of Ancient Rome. Moshe is passionate about understanding the complexity of the Roman Empire, from its architecture to its literature, political systems to social structures. He has a Bachelor's degree in classic studies from Rutgers University and is currently pursuing a PhD in classical archaeology at UMass Amherst. When he isn't researching or writing, he enjoys exploring ruins around Europe, drawing inspiration from his travels.

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