Ancient Egypt: The Miracle of Contraception Part 1

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Ahhh, contraception. One of the most well conceived scientific conceptions of all time…see what I did there?

Women have been trying to wrestle control back from their ovaries since the dawn of civilization. What with a near consistent almost worldwide patriarchy and, if Game of Thrones is to be believed, the hourly struggle for a dude to keep his breeches laced up, the threat of unwanted pregnancy has always haunted the female psyche. Sometimes a woman wants to do other things, guys. Like be a super Senet master or…uh…something else. Nah, but for real, as hard as it is to believe, contraception and preventing pregnancy has been around longer than the idea that women’s purpose is to marry and baby-make.

Even though the debate rages today on just how much freedom a woman is “allowed” to exert over her body, know that if ever one so much as uses the word “tradition” to explain why any form of birth control should be prevented from a modern day and supposedly educated populace, swift kick that fool in the jugular, yah get me?

Because if they don’t already know, the Egyptians have been getting down for ever. I mean, really, what else is there to do on the Nile’s off season?

The Ancient Egyptian recipe for preventing pregnancy (Because frak you, Isis!):

First of all, ladies, in the off chance that your conservative minded government prevents access to the methods I will describe below or if you get stuck with a “blessing from God” in the disguise of a sex crime, you’ve got the best natural and free birth control possible–Breastfeeding!

Women were known to extend their breastfeeding for many years! During lactation, progesterone fails to build up like in a normal menstrual cycle and thus ovulation can be prevented by keeping that kid dependent on the boob! Side note: Perhaps this is why royalty had wet nurses? Not just for social standing implications but to encourage every opportunity of producing an heir?

If the thought of childbirth turns you off though, luckily we have a papyrus from 1850 BC known as the “Kahun Gynaecological Papyrus” which details other means of birth control. (Check it out here)

“Another prescription hin of honey, sprinkle over her womb, this is to be done on natron bed.”

This was a substance mixed with honey and sodium carbonate which was applied inside the vagina. Couldn’t find any modern opinions on if this one in particular worked but than again I admittedly didn’t look hard enough.

One other substance they did use was an acacia gum which was also placed inside the vagina. This does, in fact, contain spermatocidal properties. Compounds of the substance produce lactic acid anhydride which is today used in some preventive jellies. Point goes to Egypt!

The most interesting and somewhat shocking suggestion given by the papyrus for a pessary (for those without a vagina, doctorate, or a girlfriend–a pessary acts as a physical barrier between the cervix and any invading sperm) is as follows:

“For preventing […] crocodile dung, chopped over HsA and awt-liquid, sprinkle […]”

Ignore the jumbled untranslated Egyptian text because, yes, that says crocodile dung.

As I try not to imagine dealing with that whole business, science at least puts my mind a little at ease with why anyone would consider such a thing.

It has been suggested by some modern historians that not only would the feces most likely effectively block seminal fluid at the os of the cervix but that it could also change the pH level.

Not good enough an excuse?

Well, John Riddle puts forth the suggestion that inserting feces into a woman’s vagina would, in fact, be an excellent form of contraception because…well, it would keep the boys away, wouldn’t it?

There’s also the idea that such a practice may refer to an incident in Egyptian mythology where the deity Set attempted to harm Isis while she was pregnant. He was typically associated with a crocodile (Not to be confused with Sobek) so, crocodile =/= pregnant.

Either way, I guess they had their reasons.

Any of these sound good to you, ladies? D:

Fact check it, yo!

Contraception and Abortion from the Ancient World to the Renaissance. John Riddle. 1994.

Economic Transformations and General Purpose Technologies and Long-Term Economic Growth.“Historical Record on the Control of Family Size.” Richard G. Lipsey, Kenneth I. Carlaw, Clifford T. Beker. 2005.

Kahun Gynaecological Papyrus. 1850 BC. http://www.digitalegypt.ucl.ac.uk/med/birthpapyrus.html

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Travels of Marco Polo: The Prologue part 1

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Marco Polo. Proclaimed “wise and noble citizen of Venice”. They knew him for his families travels to Constantinople and further Asian excursions. We know him for being the subject of an awesome pool party game. I know him for teaching me to never trust 10 year olds because I swear those little bastards were peeking.

For the most part, though, people know who he is. He’s that Italian dude who had adventures in Asia or something. Oh, and he was on an episode of Doctor Who.

But he was also the “author” of The Travels of Marco Polo, a book that famously introduced a narrow European world to the culture and life of their eastern brothers and sisters. Technically, Marco dictated his stories to Rusticello da Pisa, a writer and, well, prisoner. They were in prison together. I’m crossing my fingers for a Morgan Freemen narrated Italian brofest that leads to epic book writing and a trip to Mexico.

Unfortunately, none of the original text still exists, so as my nerdy heart cries over the loss of an irreplaceable relic, what we have instead is a messy bunch of editions and alterations that when collected equal a tremendous potentially embellished tale of travels through Asia, Persia, China, Indonesia, and speaking terms with Kublai Khan. And they could all very well be fabricated bull.

Despite that, The Travels of Marco Polo is a well-known primary source and if it wasn’t riddled with bias and error it wouldn’t be any fun!

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Prologue Part 1:

“And we shall set down things seen as seen, and things heard as heard only, so that no jot of falsehood may mar the truth of our book, and that all who shall read it or hear it read may put full faith in the truth of all its contents.”

Regardless of what Rusticello says here, ignore him. There were about 150 different versions and if anyone knows anything about the telephone game, sometimes “I like cats” becomes “Cindy has herpes”.

“For let me tell you that since our Lord God did mould with his hands our first Father Adam, even until this day, never hath there been Christian, or Pagan, or Tartar, or Indian, or any man of any nation, who in his own person hath had so much knowledge and experience of the divers parts of the World and its Wonders as had this Messer Marco!”

So, with only one small down payment of 500 Augustals, this information can be yours! Send all payments along with the messenger Scammy McScamkins before the next Crusade! No refunds.

Also, what are a “women”?

And, side note: Marco Polo spent 67 years exploring. I have nothing to say to this other than to shut my book for a moment and take a respectful bow. He just barely beat out Indiana Jones on the old codger leader board.

~ ~ ~

The year was 1260 when Marky Mark’s father, Nicolas, and Uncle Maffeo were chillin’ in Constantinople (modern day Istanbul if you aren’t friends with me) as merchants when they realized the gettin’ was better somewhere else. Probably true, honestly, this would have been under the reign of Baldwin II who was practically going door-to-door to various kingdoms begging for money. He’s probably more known for selling off the Crown of Thorns, you know, Jesus’ fancy kingly only-used-once-so-almost-brand-new headgear, than being the last emperor of a Latin constantly limping along Constantinople.

First they went to Soldaia, an integral Silk Road trading post and Tartar punching bag, and than decided to hang with Barca Kaan, a Tartar prince in Sara. …I mean…you guys, it’s a city. A CITY.

Turns out, Princes love them some jewels, so after a generous gift, the three of them got on famously for a whole year until Barca barked up the wrong tree in a war with fellow Tartar lord, Alau.

Not wanting to get captured or blood on their pointy shoes, the Polo brother’s journeyed onward to Ucaca, then passing the Tigris river (famous for cradling Babylon with the Euphrates river) ,and than on to an unnamed desert. Then they showed up in Bocara whose king was Barac and okay this is getting confusing. Anyway, they stayed in Not-Obama’s city for 3 years.

Than that guy, Alau, who messed up their prince friend, sent a bunch of envoys who show up and are all like,” Whoa! You guys are so WHITE! Wanna know who hasn’t seen white people before? Kublai Khan! Come with us?”

Not having the heart to tell them what a pestilent conquering awkward dancing people the whites are, the brothers agreed to travel to the court of the Great Khan!

Bum bum BUM!

(To be continued…)

Introduction

I’ve always had a love affair with history. Since I could remember, I had always been really interested in Ancient Egypt, from Ra to mummification, to the Pyramids and what I imagined to be Ramesses II’s dazzling pectorals. I crushed on King Tut and desperately wanted to chisel a sand castle out in the Sahara. Oh, and make loads of papyri with scribbled Hieroglyphs for the word “poop”. (Speaking of, anyone know the ancient Egyptian word for it?)

As I’ve only slightly matured into a 22 year old who still dreams of historical studs and laughs at dirty jokes and phrases, I have a more widespread passion for all things, people, places, and time. When asked the question, “What is your favorite period in history?” I used to confidently state, “Any and everything from the dawn of civilization up until the 1950’s.” And than Mad Men happened. Now I appreciate things up until the 70’s.

I’m no expert and while I’ve taken a handful of college courses, I still find myself stuttering out a barely audible, “Uh, urg, well it’s there.” when confronted after an anti-Edison snark filled tirade. In fact, one of my goals in creating this blog aside from nerdgasming all over my spare time is to MAKE myself an expert rather than a regurgitating info machine. That’s what teachers and calculators are for, kids!

Speaking of, one of the people in my life I look up to and respect the most was my history professor for four years (I stalked her course list like a Mongol at a cabinet convention). And while she knew heaps of information, my favorite part about lecture was when someone asked a question and they were met with a thoughtful answer that always put the timeframe and mindset of a life of people in perspective. She knew what she was talking about and she understood it. Even better was when some smart-mouthed punk would have the gall to argue and she would verbally bitch-slap that shit down with years and years of resource accumulation and fine, yes, I had a girl crush, okay?!

So basically, if you’re reading this, you’ve stumbled upon an ambitious endeavor from a casual fan of history with the explicit goal of becoming an expert on a wide array of subjects and themes pertaining to the discipline. Since I have completed my standard Liberal Arts degree and am currently in between schools slinging coffee at a bookstore in my spare time, stretching and exercising my brain is a must otherwise all that familiarity with research and learning will dry up faster than the Temperance movement. I will be researching and studying completely random ideas and topics in History, reading chapter books, and otherwise blogging on anything that piques my interest and philomathic yearning.

So if you’d like to join me on this little adventure and nerd out with me, please come in. My friends grow tired of my history chattering and do not find my jokes amusing. If you’re here to factcheck, correct, or otherwise berate my drudgery, flame on. All I ask is that you provide sources because this is, after all, a learning process and I am a fellow douche so try harder.

And now let us begin, as Julius Caesar once said, ” I came, I saw, and I totally got stabbed 33 times by some brute.”

Cheers!