Home Page

Stefan's Florilegium


This document is also available in: text or RTF formats.

birth-control-msg – 6/26/06


Period birth-control. Period abortifacients.


NOTE: See also the files: aphrodisiacs-msg, Sex-in-the-MA-art, p-hygiene-msg, p-sex-msg, perfumes-msg, bathing-msg, cosmetics-msg, Medvl-bathng-lnks.





This file is a collection of various messages having a common theme that I  have collected from my reading of the various computer networks. Some messages date back to 1989, some may be as recent as yesterday.


This file is part of a collection of files called Stefan's Florilegium. These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


I  have done  a limited amount  of  editing. Messages having to do  with separate topics  were sometimes split into different files and sometimes extraneous information was removed. For instance, the  message IDs  were removed to save space and remove clutter.


The comments made in these messages are not necessarily my viewpoints. I make  no claims  as  to the accuracy  of  the information  given by the individual authors.


Please  respect the time  and  efforts of  those who have written  these messages. The  copyright status  of these messages  is  unclear at this time. If  information  is  published  from  these  messages, please give credit to the originator(s).


Thank you,

    Mark S. Harris                  AKA:  THLord Stefan li Rous

                                          Stefan at florilegium.org



From: huff at silver.lcs.mit.EDU (Robert Huff)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: condoms and birth control

Date: 1 Apr 1993 19:40:24 -0500



      I remember reading in a book on Elizabethan women (no citation at hand)

that abortion was, at least in practice, condemned only if the soul had entered

the body.  This was said to take place at the time of quickening ....


      Diego mundoz



From: jeffs at math.bu.EDU (Jeff Suzuki)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: fetus as property

Date: 2 Apr 1993 17:24:59 -0500


Ah, found the reference:  Exodus 21:22, right after the decalog.

Essentially, if two men get into a fight and hit a woman, causing a

miscarriage, the one responsible shall be fined a sum determined by

the woman's husband and the judges.  


This assumes that the woman is not harmed physically.  If she is

harmed physically, then the penalty is death.





From: parr at acs.ucalgary.ca (Charles Parr)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: condoms and birth control, some discussion of sexuality.

Date: 7 Apr 93 18:22:51 GMT

Organization: The University of Calgary, Alberta


jeffs at math.bu.EDU (Jeff Suzuki) writes:

>Ken Mondschein writes:

>> Condoms were invented by a Dr. Condom (who soon changed his name) for

>> the court of the ribald Charles II (or was it James II?).


>I've heard arguments that this story is true, and other arguments that

>"Dr. Condom" never existed.  Anyone out there want to sort out the



>Moreach writes:

>>I once read somewhere that there is some evidence that Renaissance women

>>used cervical caps made from half a lime rind, which lime "essence" is a

>>decent spermicide.


>Anything acidic (I'm assuming lime "essence" would be) acts as a

>decent spermicide; it's the principle behind douching. (It's why, in

>a pinch, coca cola will do -- eeyuk!)


>Anyone know about period abortifacients and want to comment on it?


>Incidentally, does anyone know when the idea that abortion is

>equivalent to murder got started?  I'm inclined to believe it's a 20th

>century thing; certainly the Bible does not treat the unborn fetus as

>a human being but rather as a piece of property.  




I remember reading, in a scholarly journal somewhere, that Olive

Oil makes a pretty decent spermicide, and that Greek Hetaira

used it as such...


Does anyone know of any detailed research on period birth control

techniques? I know that the church proscribed Oral and Rectal

sex *because* these techniques were used as birth control...


This might make a good subject for a TI article, or even a

Compleat Anachronist...I think I'd add a disclaimer, though,

just to avoid paternity suits;-) (well, carolus wrote that

in period they used a sock, and quoted this rhyme, and so I

tried it, and 9 months later came the twins...)


If anyone missed the warning in the header, and is offended

by this subject...Sorry...


Carolus Malvoix

Montengarde An Tir



From: donna at kwantlen.bc.CA (Donna Hrynkiw)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Bryn Mawr: Contraception and Abortion

Date: 25 Aug 1993 12:13:07 -0400


Another book of possible interest to the SCA from the

Bryn Mawr Medieval Review. The review is too long to post

here, but if you're interested drop me a note and I'll

mail it to you.


Riddle, John M.   Contraception and Abortion from the Ancient World to the

Renaissance.   Cambridge, Mass./London:  Harvard University Press 1992.

Pp. x, 245. ISBN 0-674-16875-5.

     Reviewed by Paul T. Keyser -- University of Alberta


Elizabeth Braidwood

An Tir


[The following is the review that Elizabeth sent:


From bmmr-l at cc.brynmawr.edu Tue Aug 24 20:53:52 1993

Date: Tue, 24 Aug 93 23:56:59 -0400

Originator: bmmr-l at cc.brynmawr.edu

From: bmr at ccat.sas.upenn.edu (Bryn Mawr Reviews)

Subject: BMMR 93.8.8, Riddle, Contraception and Abortion


at  at  at  at  93.8.8, Riddle, Contraception and Abortion


Riddle, John M.   Contraception and Abortion from the Ancient World to the

Renaissance.   Cambridge, Mass./London:  Harvard University Press 1992.

Pp. x, 245. ISBN 0-674-16875-5.


     Reviewed by Paul T. Keyser -- University of Alberta


     A seminal and unique work of great importance. Riddle has

studied Dioskorides in a recent monograph, and now focusses on

one aspect of his drug lore, already broached in a valuable

article, "Oral Contraceptives and Early-term Abortifacients

during Classical Antiquity and the Middle Ages," Past and Present

no. 132 (August 1991) 3-32. A frequent problem in attempting to

understand ancient medicine is the precise nature of the

condition described: e.g. the Athenian plague. Studies of

conception and its prevention have the advantage that diagnosis

('pregnant') is proven by birth. Riddle is firmly historicist--

the procedures described are taken as such and not as metaphors

symbols or signs (vii-viii). After all, pre-modern women had as

much or more interest as moderns in effective contraceptives and



     Riddle asks was it possible for pre-modern people to

regulate fertility by other than abortion, infanticide, or

abstinence (1-16)? He rightly concludes that evidence (literary

and archaeological) shows little recourse to such methods and a

birth rate too low to explain unless achieved by the use of

contraceptives. Restraint, delayed marriage, coitus interruptus,

non-fertile intercourse, rhythm, surgical abortion, infanticide:

it is clear that none was the method of choice. The point is

crucial and elsewhere thoughtlessly neglected. The best recent

survey of any other part of ancient medicine, R. Jackson, Doctors

and Diseases in the Roman Empire (1988) devotes only two shallow

pages (109-111) to the whole topic and is hesitant to credit the

use or efficacy of any contraceptives. Similarly two otherwise

excellent books concerned in part with ancient population growth

quickly dismiss any possibility with even less discussion: J.

Diamond, The Third Chimpanzee (1992) 189-90 and M. N. Cohen,

Health and the Rise of Civilization (1989) 103, 129.


     Riddle then discusses at length the abundant but neglected

evidence in Dioskorides and Soranos (16-56) for herbal (oral)

contraceptives (ATO/KIA) and abortifacients (FQO/RIA). These

chapters ought to be required reading for those who believe that

the conceptual world of Greek medicine is wholly alien to and

disjoint from ours. First, laws and precepts from Plato to Talmud

show that ancient people believed that oral contraceptives worked

to reduce fertility (16-20), and they distinguished contraception

from abortion (20-24). Riddle evaluates the prescriptions of

Soranos 1.61-3 by reference to numerous modern pharmacologic

studies which show that nearly every plant claimed as

contraceptive by Soranos and which has been tested, in fact

works. For example, Soranos (and others) advise pomegranate rind,

which when fed to guinea pigs prevents pregnancy (25-6). SI/LFION

is prescribed, now usually thought extinct, but ferujol

(extracted from another ferula species, asafetida, which the

ancients thought an inferior substitute) is "nearly 100 %

successful in preventing pregnancy up to three days after coitus

at a low dose of 0.6 mg/kg in adult female rats" (28). A third

herb is rue (PH/GANON) now used to induce abortion in horses, in

humans in Latin America, and in rats (where it also prevents

implantation) in the lab (28-9). Modern tests validate such of

Dioskorides' prescriptions as have been tested as well. The point

is important: ancient doctors knew about working oral-route

contraceptives-- and knew they knew.


     Riddle next asks how widespread were the knowledge and

agents (57-65)? Literary references and modern folklore parallels

show they were wide-spread indeed. E.g., the seeds of Queen

Anne's Lace (wild carrot) were prescribed post-coitally by Diosk.

3.72 and Scr. Larg. 121, and are still used in the Western part

of Riddle's home state, North Carolina, and in India, for the

purpose--a practice validated by modern bioassays (58-9). Jokes

in Aristophanes Pax 706-12 and Lys. 87-9 turn on audience

recognition that penny-royal (BLH/XWN) was an effective

contraceptive--and it is (53-4, 59).


     In order to establish the continuity of the tradition of

knowledge and practice, Riddle returns to Egyptian papyri

(66-72). Already the Kahun papyrus of ca. 1850 B.C. contains

contraceptive pessaries, of doubtful efficacy, but the recipe of

the Ebers papyrus of ca. 1550 B.C., linen soaked with honey

steeped in acacia spikes (cp. the modern sponge and diaphragm)

was probably effective (69-70), and Soranos describes similar

devices (25-6, 30). At least one oral contraceptive is prescribed

in the Berlin papyrus, ca. 1300 B.C. (72-3), of uncertain

efficacy. I am surprised that there is no information from the

very potion-oriented Mesopotamian medicine: R. Campbell Thompson,

The Assyrian Herbal (London 1924). As Riddle notes, his "study

has a conspicuous omission," China and India (154): the texts are

very difficult of access (the Indian "herbal", Charaka Samhita,

so far as I know, is available in English only in a

privately-published, unindexed version by A. Ch. Kaviratna:

Calcutta 1897-1912).


     From Hippokrates to Galen, Greek medical writings contain a

variety of contraceptive prescriptions, whose known ingredients

when tested show anti-fertility effects (74-86). Such knowledge

was acquired in the same way that we have learned over centuries

and millennia which plants are edible, cure headache or heart

trouble, etc. (87). Observations of low fertility in animals by

herders allowed further discoveries (88). In the Late Roman

Empire and Early Middle Ages the tradition survived, albeit

weakened, in standard medical texts (89-107). The difficulty was

the Roman Church's well-known opposition to abortion and

contraception: yet in Macer's influential XI-A.D. herbal,

pennyroyal is still given as a birth control herb (108-117).

Arabic medicine showed no such inhibition, and is replete with

contraceptive herbs, some ancient, some new (127-34). Riddle

brings his survey down to the Renaissance (135-57) and

investigates what happened thereafter: physicians banished the

long-preserved herbalists' knowledge to the realm of superstition

(159-60). Furthermore, much of this knowledge was probably

originally resident in the oral female culture of herbalists and

midwives, who were marginalised by the professionalisation of

medicine in the XVIIII A.D. (155-7). The increasing tendency to

criminalise abortion and even contraception contributed (158-9,



     In addition to showing the efficacy, prevalence, and

continuity of know-ledge and use of oral herbal contraceptives

and abortifacients, Riddle discusses the attitudes of the

ancients, pagan, Christian, and Jewish, toward abortion and the

status of the fetus (7-10, 17-24, 62-4, 109-112). Although Riddle

treats the famous prohibition of abortive pessaries in the

Hippokratic Oath (7-10) and cites Edelstein's magisterial study,

he does not note that Edelstein argues cogently that the oath

derives from IIII-B.C. neo-pythagoreans (see Edelstein Ancient

Medicine 18-20). Riddle and Edelstein come otherwise to the same

conclusion, that from Hippokrates and Plato through Aristotle to

Augustine and Gregory of Nyssa all Greek and Roman (and Jewish)

writers more or less agreed that aborting an unformed fetus

incurred no impurity or guilt (20-24). The lone exceptions are

Musonius Rufus and Basil of Caesarea, apparently.


     Riddle however misses three documents relevant to abortion

of great importance and influence, which hamartia he shares with

many scholars (not Edelstein): none have ever yet been done into

any modern language. The latest is the earliest extant

anti-abortion pamphlet, which circulated for centuries in perhaps

the most influential corpus of ancient medicine, and collects

arguments against abortion still standard. An animal sit id quod

in utero est, formerly ascribed to Galen (19.158-81 Kuehn), is

clearly a late III-A.D. neo-pythagorean or neo-platonic work (by

Iamblichos?). [Galen] makes use of the same polar dichotomy which

inflames the modern debate, and argues since the embryo has all

the parts which make a living being, uses its organs in the womb,

and when born already knows how to eat, etc., it must therefore

be a living being and hence laws should and do exist to protect


E)/MBRUA of Porphyry--see K. Kalbfleisch, Abh. Akad. Wiss.

Berlin: Philol.-Hist. Kl. (1895)--was one of [Galen]'s sources

but is more complex and aporetic. Galen's own views, in de Fet.

Form. (4.652-702 K.), are, he claims, based on anatomy (652.1-9,

664.9-13, 676.7-9.1, etc.) and he concludes the embryo has liver,

heart, and brain from an early date (663.2-17), formed properly

in that order (672.7-4.5). It is Galen's teleologic God who forms

the fetus, not FU/SIS, the soul itself, or anything else

(687.5-8.15), but he hesitates to declare when a fetus has a

rational human soul (665.3-6.3, 685.1-14, 701.7-2.4).


     There are copious notes (171-210) and an extensive and

valuable bibliography (211-35). Although Riddle's focus is

herbal, he might have noted W. Krenkel, "Hyperthermia in Ancient

Rome," Arethusa 8 (1975) 381-6: the hot Roman baths reduced sperm

production, and Hippokrates may have known that heating the

testicles caused temporary sterility. With reference to abortion,

add Diethard Nickel Untersuchungen zur Embryologie Galens (Berlin

1989), W. Krenkel, "Der Abortus in der Antike," WZRost 20 (1971)

443-52, and idem, "Familienplanung und Familienpolitik in der

Antike," WJA 4 (1978) 197-203.


     Although it is no longer common to study classics offering

blood to ghosts, here at least the ghosts (esp. of Dioskorides

and Soranos) seem to have blood for us. Society has moved beyond

the ancients in most areas of science, and fancies it has in

politics, but it seems that the Renaissance and Enlightenment

missed A)TO/KIA. Riddle repairs that lack. In a world of fifty

myriads of myriads of people, curtailing growth would alleviate

most of our most crucial problems. According to the Cypria (fr.

1) Zeus ordained the Trojan War because the Earth groaned with

too many people. Whether or not Riddle's book influences modern

medicine (as I hope), it should influence our views of ancient

social and medical history. The ancients did seek, find, and use

effective herbal oral contraceptives and abortifacients, and

probably did so extensively. That matters for our understanding

of ancient ethics, demography, science, and women.




Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Medieval Sexuality

Date: 17 Feb 1994 09:01:23 -0500


In my mailbox last night was the March/April issue of _Archaeology_

which has an article titled "Birth Control in the Ancient World."

The article discusses means of contraception used in classical times

and continues to explore the reasons why the techniques used by the

ancients faded from common use during the Renaissance.

   "   demographic profiles of the Middle Ages provide persuasive

evidence that women used oral contraceptives and early term

abortifacients.  Such demographic research, laboratory studies, and

scrutiny of ancient texts have given us new hints concerning the

effacy of ancient 'family planning.'"

According to the article, the ancient Greeks and Romans used a

plant known as Silphium, which became extinct in the 3rd or 4th

century AD, because of overharvesting.  The article also explores

alternate plants used after the extinction of Silphium.


Luigsech ni Ifearnain, Calanais Nuadh, Calontir



Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

From: tbarnes at silver.ucs.indiana.edu (thomas wrentmore barnes)

Subject: A Book Review: The Medieval Health Handbook

Organization: Indiana University

Date: Fri, 18 Feb 1994 15:51:34 GMT


      Greetings from Lothar,


      As promised here is my review of the book I was raving about a

couple of days ago.


      You real medievalists can laugh like donkeys at my poor attempt

at a scholarly style if you wish...


      THE MEDIEVAL HEALTH HANDBOOK: Tacuinium Sanitas by Luisa

Cogliati Arano translated by Adele Westbrook and Oscar Ratti. George

Brazillier Press; New York. 1976. ISBN 0-8076-1277-4. US$20.00

      10" x 6", 48 color plates, 243 black and white plates, 46 page

introduction, concordance, and bibliography.

      Much of medieval medicine, like modern medicine focused on

preventive measures that would ward off illness. In some respects

medieval preventive medicine was more elaborate than modern preventive

medicine since the medicine of the High Middle Ages and Renaissance was

based on predicting and balancing astrological influences and the four

bodily humors of Galenic medicine. This lead medieval physicians, like

19th c. medical reformers, to prescribe not just medicines, but proper

diet, living conditions, and activities for their patients. By the 14th

and 15th c. working on the works of the Arab physician Dioscorodies,

medieval health writers had created a genre of "health manuals" that

expanded on medieval herbals. The "Tacuinium Sanitas" is a fine example

of this genre, and the George Brazillier edition is an excellent and

easily accessible source for this manuscript.

      The book begins with a 46 page history of the genre of medieval

health manuals and a discussion of the history and origins of the six

texts from which the book is collated. The illustrations and

translations of the text which make up most of the book are taken from

the Tacuinums of Leige, Paris, Vienna, and Rouen, and the Theatrum of

the Casanatense Library, Rome. All of these works were executed by work

shops in Northern Italy and Berry from the last quarter of the 14th

century to the first quarter of the 15th century with illustrations of

contemporary scenes wedded to an earlier text.

      Each color plate gives a full page illustration from a page of

one of the six texts (mostly the Rouen and Leige texts) with a

translation of the text that accompanied the illustration in the

original manuscript at the bottom of the page. Each entry describes

the virtues and dangers of the item in the picture, when it is optimum

from a medicinal point of view, the nature of the humors of the item,

and the way to neutralize the dangers of the item. Plates are arranged

in alphabetical order by the latin name for each item.

      As an example, and also as documentation for the Medieval Sex

thread, here is the text of pl. IX Coitus.


      IX. Coitus (Coytus)

      Nature: It is the union of two for the purpose of introducing

the sperm. Optimum: That which lasts until the sperm has been completely

emitted. Usefulness: It preserves the species. Dangers: It is harmful to

those with cold and dry breathing. Neutralization of the Dangers: With

sperm-producing foods. (Paris, f. 100v)


      The accompanying color illustration depicts a late 14th c.-

early 15th c. couple in bed having sex in the missionary position.


      Other plates give similar information about various herbs,

spices, foods, textiles, seasons, winds, emotions, and activities. The

black and white plates are reproduced 6 to a page, but have the same

text format. In many cases, the text of a given illustration has been

taken from several of the other manuscripts to accompany an illustration

from a second manuscript. This means, that in some cases, there are

three or four slightly different versions of the same block of text,

each of which has more or less information, or different information.

This variation is very nice to have, since some texts include

information not given in others.  

      The text is fascinating, since it gives hints as to how foods

were to be prepared, what foods they were to be served with, and when

during the meal they were to be served. It also gives us a sense of what

medicinal values and dangers were associated with each food. Beyond that

the text serves as a list of medieval herbs, spices, fruits, vegetables,

condiments, and meats. Other activities, such as fencing and hunting,

are also described, giving an amateur medievalist a sense of what

medieval genry did for fun and what they thought of a given activity.

      If, like most Anachronists, you find pictures to me more useful

than words, the book is even more valuable. The illustrations are done

in a late-Gothic, early-Naturalistic style. The figures are fairly

realistically drawn, but most of the interiors and plants are drawn out

of scale or out of perspective. While the artistic quality of any given

illustration is not high, illuminators will be impressed by the sheer

number of illuminations. There are literally hundreds of costumes,

tools, cooking utensils, pieces of furniture and other artifacts shown.

Costumers, illuminators, wood-workers, gardeners, vintners, and cooks

can spend many delightful hours looking through this book documenting

various materials, tools, and techniques.

      In case you couldn't tell, I highly recommend this book. Run,

don't walk to your nearest bookstore to get it. I can't think of any

person in the SCA who would not be at least marginally interested in

this book, especially since the text was taken from earlier sources, and

was reprinted in different forms in later sources. If you have a 14th or

15th century persona, you will WANT this book. Given the increible

number of color and black and white plates, and the usefullness of the

text, this book represents a tremendous value for the money. This isn't

just another coffee-table book, it is a credible work of scholarship

that nicely integrates art with a translation of a historical source.





From: "Decker, Terry D." <TerryD at Health.State.OK.US>

To: "'ansteorra at Ansteorra.ORG'" <ansteorra at Ansteorra.ORG>

Subject: RE: Period Condoms (humour)

Date: Mon, 21 Jul 1997 08:06:41 -0500


>> All this talk about condoms reminds me of a little ditty I once heard:


>>In days of old when knights were bold


I don't know about knights, but the Three Musketeers had condoms

available, which means they are period or just beyond period.  They were

made from very thin leather similar to parchment, stitched to the

appropriate size and shape, and the seam sealed with a small amount of

pitch or similar sealant.


You can occasionally find them as unlabeled oddities in European antique

shops.   In the British antique trade they're referred to as French




Date: Sun, 05 Oct 1997 08:58:44 -0500

From: Maddie Teller-Kook <meadhbh at io.com>

Subject: Re: SC - honey dormice recipe


Silphium was basically harvested to extinction. Along with its uses in

food, it was an excellent contraceptive product.....





Date: Fri, 13 Feb 1998 18:44:40 SAST-2

From: "Ian van Tets" <IVANTETS at botzoo.uct.ac.za>

Subject: SC - Re: hedgehogs & very OOP & OT




    2)  for period documentation on conception and associated matters,

may I recommend Boccachio's decameron (particularly book 7 from

memory).  Most English translations leave the more specific "recipes"

in Italian but I am sure there are those of you who would enjoy doing

the redaction.


Jan van Seist (mka Ian van Tets)

Adamastor (mka deepest darkest Africa), Drakenwald



Date: Thu, 22 Oct 1998 17:41:17 +1000

From: "Glenda Robinson" <glendar at compassnet.com.au>

Subject: SC - Re: wooden cutting boards


Another (similar, but non-cookery) use of olive oil (sworn by in Roman

times) was as a spermicide! Kills the little blighters stone dead,






Date: Thu, 22 Oct 1998 10:06:15 +0200 (MET DST)

From: Par Leijonhufvud <parlei at algonet.se>

Subject: Re: SC - Re: wooden cutting boards


On Thu, 22 Oct 1998, Glenda Robinson wrote:

> Another (similar, but non-cookery) use of olive oil (sworn by in Roman

> times) was as a spermicide! Kills the little blighters stone dead,

> apparently.


I think the technical term for the outcome of this procedure is

"pregnancy". Lots of things are not ideal for spermatozoa, but if you

are going to use something as a contraceptive you need more than that.

Also, a search in Medline gave no hits indicating that any research had

been done on this effect.



(Who has written a thesis mainly on how the little blighters swim)



Date: Sun, 6 Feb 2000 10:28:47 -0800

From: "David Dendy" <ddendy at silk.net>

Subject: Re: SC - Apicius and Platina


>I am in the process of interpreting recipes for the cooks guild tomorrow

>night, and have come up with two questions.  In Apicius, the recipe for Crane

>or Duck with Turnips lists "laser foot".  It must be a spice, but I am unable

>to find it.



As another respondent just pointed out, "laser foot" should read "laser

root"; laser is asafetida, a very smelly resin from a plant which grows in

Iran and other countries nearby. A little of it brings up other flavours

beautifully (just don't overdo it). Don't confuse laser with silphium, as an

earlier comment did. Silphium was the resin of a related plant which became

extinct due to overharvesting in the wild in the period of the early Roman

Empire (so, anyhow,  if you have an Apician recipe calling for silphium,

your best substitute is the closely related asafetida).


Yours spicily,

Francesco Sirene



Date: Sun, 06 Feb 2000 14:19:17 -0500

From: Philip & Susan Troy <troy at asan.com>

Subject: Re: SC - Apicius and Platina


David Dendy wrote:

> Silphium was the resin of a related plant which  became

> extinct due to overharvesting in the wild in the period of the early Roman

> Empire (so, anyhow,  if you have an Apician recipe calling for silphium,

> your best substitute is the closely related asafetida).


And available in Indian groceries under the name "hing powder", although

I bet there are several SCAdian venues for purchase, too, including,

probably, Francesco. The whole extinct-silphium question is a major part

of the plot of Lindsey Davis's wonderful ancient-Roman-private-eye novel

"Two For the Lions".





Date: Sun, 06 Feb 2000 20:48:22 -0600

From: Stefan li Rous <stefan at texas.net>

Subject: SC - Silphium


> Don't confuse laser with silphium, as an

> earlier comment did. Silphium was the resin of a related plant which  became

> extinct due to overharvesting in the wild in the period of the early Roman

> Empire (so, anyhow,  if you have an Apician recipe calling for silphium,

> your best substitute is the closely related asafetida).


> Francesco Sirene


Yes, silphium is now extinct. It grew only in a rather small area of the

southern Mediterranean. But the demand for it was enormous. It was harvested

to extinction sometime in the 3rd or 4th C AD. But it was not primarily used

as a food ingredient. It was the Classical World's best birth control herb.


For more on this, see "Ever Since Eve..., Birth Control in the Ancient

World". March/April 1994 Archaeology.

- --

Lord Stefan li Rous    Barony of Bryn Gwlad    Kingdom of Ansteorra

Mark S. Harris             Austin, Texas           stefan at texas.net



Date: Mon, 24 Jul 2000 23:28:46 EDT

From: LrdRas at aol.com

Subject: SC - Aborticidal herbs-long


korrin.daardain at juno.com writes:

<< Could someone tell me what herbs cause abortions? I know there is

at least one, but I can't remember the name. I am putting on a small

medieval feast for some friends and one of them is pregnant and I do not

want to cause a miscarriage.


Korrin S. DaArdain >>


Rue (blocks, alters or interferes in the production of progesterone) is an

abortion causing agent although when used in the rather small quantities that

are necessary for cooking it is safe. No known cases of spontaneous abortion

can be found that are in anyway related to eating rue as a seasoning in food.

However, when used as a tea or in large amounts, it definitely will cause

spontaneous abortion as any midwife worth her salt can attest too. it is

still used today to produce commercial abortion pills used in the medical



Since there is no known cases of abortion resulting from it's use as a

cooking herb, I really wouldn't worry about it. But if you are deeply

concerned simply avoid dishes that contain this herb.


Cloves and nutmeg supposedly are weak abortion agents also. Again no known

abortions have occurred from their use in cookery. And only studies of

animals fed massive amounts of these substances where used to 'prove' the



Other herbs to avoid are:


Angelica (uterine stimulating)


Black Cohosh (uterine stimulating)


Blue Cohosh (stimulates uterine contractions)


Cotton Root Bark (blocks, alters or interferes in the production of



Evening Primrose (use in conjunction with other specific herbs listed top

stimulate blood flow for more success)


Ginger root (uterine stimulating)


Dried Ginger  (uterine stimulating)


Parsley (use in conjunction with other specific herbs listed top stimulate

blood flow for more success)


Pennyroyal (stimulates uterine contractions)


Unripe Pineapple (use in conjunction with other specific herbs listed top

stimulate blood flow for more success)


Tansy (stimulate uterine contractions)


Vitamin C (blocks, alters or interferes in the production of progesterone)


Queen Anne's Lace and Carrot seeds; and,  by extension carrots in general

(blocks, alters or interferes in the production of progesterone)


Black Pepper (use in conjunction with other specific herbs listed top

stimulate blood flow for more success)


Essential oils of any kind (all oils tested on animal subjects  tended to

cause spontaneous abortion at rates statistically significant)


The above herbs should never be used to stimulate spontaneous abortion after

the 9th week of pregnancy because the mother's life could be put in jeopardy.

After that time clinical abortion should be sought if that is the choice of

the mother.


Combinations of the herbs listed above used frequently and in large amounts

are always more effective. Amounts used in culinary purposes have not been

shown to be in any way causative with regard to spontaneous abortion.


The above information should not be construed to indicate the writer's view

of the acceptance or nonacceptance of abortion in general but is given merely

for the purpose of education. Any use of this information for whatever

purposes is dependent on your personal views of women enslaved, religious and

ethical consideration and is not meant to convey my personal feelings on the

appropriateness or inappropriateness of the personal choices women have in

regard to their bodies.





Date: Thu, 26 Apr 2001 07:41:43 -0400

From: margali <margali at 99main.com>

Subject: SC - Silphium Images from Coins




Neat site with an article about the representation of the herb

'silphium' on coins.


Another article I have seen online also claims that it might be

possible that the plant is not entirely extinct, but we cannot

access them because of the political problems in the area. Is

there any country that Kaddafi isn't pissed at who can get into

Libya to check?


- -margali



From: mary_m_haselbauer at yahoo.com (Slaine)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: Period contraception

Date: 28 Sep 2004 10:08:33 -0700


I have a long term research project that I call "How to make a

medieval baby."  There's a big section of my working bibliography

that's about unmaking them as well. I've included the "contraception"

section below. The easy answer to all things concerning medieval

sexuality is the "Church says no." Easy answers are never completely



Most folks know that medieval medicine involved keeping the humors in

balance. For women this meant that she have a regular cycle. There are

lots of recipes for bringing on menstruation which would act as early

chemical abortions.


The Trotula a medieval mediecal manuel has a section called "For a

woman who does not wish to conceive." Some of the methods described to

avoid conception are downright silly (one involved a jet bead that I

could only imagine being used similarly to the "asprin pill".) but

some, chemically, could work.


In the various period texts I've seen there are many reasons given for

why a women might not want to get pregnant : narrow hips, previous

problems in giving birth and lack of funds to support a child. The

idea that a married couple would not engage in intercourse seemed more

unhealthy than avoiding it.


Obviously in the 1000 years  of what SCA's time period there were many

medical texts and religious doctrines. It's not always known how well

some items in medical treaties applied out in the general public. So

Your millege may vary. Don't try this at home.


Oh, one more thing. For a medieval family, an imperfect form of birth

control could still be a boon. She'd might still be "mommy' but it

would be to 5 kids instead of 10.


Of the books and articles below I recommend the starred ones. These

are scholars who have written extensively on this topic. They are

through and stick with primary sources.



Barony of Three Rivers, Calontir

St. Louis, Missouri

Mary_m_haselbauer at yahoo.com



Medieval Contraception Bibliography


**Biller PP. Birth-control in the west in the thirteenth and early

fourteenth centuries.

      Past and Present. 1982;(94):3-26. No abstract available.


Biller, Peter "Confessors' manuals and the avoiding of offspring,"

      Handling sin: confession in the Middle Ages, edited by Peter Biller

and A.J. Minnis, York studies in medieval theology; vol. 2, 165-187

(Boydell, 1998)


Connell EB. Contraception in the prepill era. Contraception. 1999

Jan;59(1 Suppl):7S-10S.


Crafts NF, Ireland NJ. Family limitation and the English demographic

revolution: a simulation approach.

      J Econ Hist. 1976;36(3):598-623.


Dellapenna JW.       The historical case against abortion.

      Continuity. 1989;(13):59-83. No abstract available.


Gavigan S.  The criminal sanction as it relates to human reproduction:

the genesis of the statutory prohibition of abortion. J Legal Hist.

1984;5(1):20-43. No abstract available.


Green M.  Women's medical practice and health care in medieval Europe.

      Signs (Chic). 1989;14(2):434-74. No abstract available.


Green M.     Obstetrical and Gynecological Texts in Middle English    Studies

in the Age of Chaucer 14 (1992), 53-88


Green MH. In search of an "Authenic" women's medicine: the strange

fates of Trota of Salerno and Hildegard of Bingen.       Dynamis.



Green MH.     Sex and the medieval physician. Essay reviews.

      Pubbl Stn Zool Napoli II. 1991;13(2):287-93. No abstract available.


**Green, Monica  edited and translated  The Trotula: a medieval

compendium of women's medicine

      Middle Ages series (University of  Pennsylvania Press, 2001).


Green, Monica H.     From `Diseases of Women' to `Secrets of Women': The

transformation of gynecological literature...     Journal of Medieval &

Early Modern Studies; Winter2000, Vol. 30 Issue 1, p5, 35p available

online http://0-search.epnet.com.iii.slcl.org:80/direct.asp?an=2889184&db=afh


Jochle W.  Mensus-inducing drugs: their role in antique, medieval and

renaissance gynecology and birth control.  Contraception. 1974

Oct;10(4):425-39. No abstract available.


Kass N.      Abortion in Jewish law.     Korot. 1983 Aug;8(7-8):323-31.


Mohr JC.      Sexuality, reproduction, contraception, and abortion: a

review of recent literature.

      J Womens Hist. 1996 Spring;8(1):172-84. No abstract available.


Musallam BF.  Why Islam permitted birth control.  Arab Stud Q.

1981;3(2):181-97. No abstract available.


Nathan B, Mikhail M.  Avicenna's recipe for contraception.

      Br J Obstet Gynaecol. 1991 Dec;98(12):1303. No abstract available.



Poulakou-Rebelakou E, Lascaratos J, Marketos SG.  Abortions in

Byzantine times (325-1453 AD).

      Vesalius. 1996;2(1):19-25.


Riddle JM. Oral contraceptives and early-term abortifacients during

classical antiquity and the Middle Ages. Past Present. 1991

Aug;(132):3-32. No abstract available.


Riddle, John  Eve's herbs: a history of contraception and abortion in

the west

      (Harvard University Press, 1997).


**Riddle, John M. "Manuscript sources for birth control," (Manuscript

sources of medieval medicine) edited by Margaret R. Schleissner,

Garland Medieval Casebooks (Garland, 1995), 145-158.


Schenker JG, Rabenou V.     Family planning: cultural and religious


      Hum Reprod. 1993 Jun;8(6):969-76.


Stieb EW.  The Ortho Museum on the history of contraception.

      Pharm Hist. 1989;31(4):182-3. No abstract available.


Tatum HJ, Connell-Tatum EB. Barrier contraception: a comprehensive


      Fertil Steril. 1981 Jul;36(1):1-12. Review.


van de Walle E.      Marvellous secrets: birth control in European short

fiction, 1150-1650.

      Popul Stud (Camb). 2000 Nov;54(3):321-30.


Wrigley EA.

      Family limitation in pre-industrial England.      Econ Hist Rev.

1966;19:82-109. No abstract available.



From: bronwynmgn at aol.comnospam (Bronwynmgn)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Date: 27 Sep 2004 22:20:44 GMT

Subject: Re: Period contraception


> Another method is withdrawal, where the man does not ejaculate

>into the woman.


And rather frowned on by the period Catholic church, as if you aren't having

sex with the intent to make a baby (or at least without making effort not to

have a baby), then you are succumbing to lust, one of the deadly sins.

Sex just for fun really wasn't something that was supposed to happen in the

Middle Ages.  Mind you, I'm not saying it didn't happen, just that the church

took a very dim view of it.





From: Jenne <jahb at lehigh.edu>

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: Period contraception

Date: Thu, 30 Sep 2004 12:54:06 -0400

Organization: Lehigh University


> One of the reason that Culpepper didn't talk about the uses of Basil,

> and in fact claimed that it caused "scorpions to grow in the head", was

> that it was a popular aborticant.  Okay "emenogauge(sp?)", which

> "encouraged late menses".


Actually, emmenagogues equivalent to abortifacents, per se. Check a list

of what should be avoided in pregnancy and a list of what period doctors

thought would encourage menses and you'll find that some are

cross-listed, but not nearly all...


In the case of Culpeper, a number of different herbs are listed as

emmenagogues and/or expelling the dead child.



For instance, Sage is listed not only to encourage menses and to expell

the dead child, but in a recipe supposed to ENCOURAGE conception and

prevent miscarrage; Tansy is suggested in a decoction to bring down

women's courses but applied externally to hinder miscarriage.


If you go look at what Culpeper said, he did claim that Garden Basil was

an abortifacient, but admits that some experts disagree. Would the

multiparas in the audience tell us if they were encouraged to avoid

Basil in their pregnancies?


-- J.



From: "Jennifer A. Heise" <jahb at lehigh.edu>

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: Period contraception

Date: Thu, 30 Sep 2004 18:38:52 -0400

Organization: Lehigh University


Allow me to correct my phrasing:


> Actually, emmenagogues ARE NOT equivalent to abortifacents, per se.


- J.



From: val_org at hotmail.com (Gunnora Hallakarva)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: Period contraception

Date: 29 Sep 2004 13:00:57 -0700


"Cynthia Gee" <goldndog at earthlink.com> wrote in message news:<2vi6d.3267$ls6.1094 at newsread3.news.atl.earthlink.net>...

> And, one thing I forgot about.... nursing a baby tends to prevent ovulation

> in many women.

> ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Jeanne


Benidictow, Ole Jorgen. "The Milky Way in History: Breast Feeding,

Antagonism Between the Sexes, and Infant Mortality in Medieval

Norway," Scandinavian Journal of History. 10 (1985): 19-53. (All the

text below is quoted from this source):


However, it is erroneous to believe that prolonged breast feeding has

an unlimited or virtually unlimited contraceptive effect. Extensive

international research has shown that the lower and upper limits of

amenorrhea related to childbirth as 2 and 18 months respectively. The

average in poor, developing countries is about 10 months. Two of these

10 months follow automatically after childbirth irrespective of breast

feeding. The net effect of breast feeding in ordinary societies where

suboptimal (i.e. poor) conditions of nutrition prevail, is about 8

months.[41] Once ovulation has resumed, continued breast feeding has

no contraceptive effect.[42] An amenorrhea related to childbirth of 10

months (2 plus 8) produces an interval between births of about 29

months (menstruation 8,43 early miscarriages about 245 and pregnancy

9). There is little statistically based information on birth intervals

during the middle ages, but it can be usefully seen in the light of

the somewhat more extensive and more firmly based evidence available

for the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The medieval evidence

comes from France and Italy. The census taken in Reims in 1422

contains information which clearly suggests that the average birth

interval for the years around 1420 was 25-30 months.[46] Some material

from the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries can be derived

from the family journals ("livres de raison") kept continuously by

upper-class families in Limousin in south-central France. The average

birth interval was just over 21 months. It is clear from the sources

that the use of wet nurses was widespread within this well-to-do

group, but also that some women partly or exclusively suckled their

babies themselves, which increased the birth intervals.[47] Another

and more extensive source of the same type is the "ricordanze" kept by

families in the city of Florence. This source covers the period from

the last third of the fourteenth century to the end of the third

decade of the sixteenth century, although 70% of the information

relates to the fifteenth century. The data covers 115 couples who had

701 children between them. All the children were given to wet nurses

immediately after birth and baptism, and the birth intervals are

therefore uninfluenced by the contraceptive effects of breast feeding.

The average birth interval was 20.85 months. Fifty per cent of the

births occurred within 17 months of the previous delivery.[48] This

fact explains why a small material of the same kind kept by families

in Arras from about 1390 to about 1460 can show an average

intergenetic period of 16 months. The use of wet nurses was at least

common.49 The last piece of medieval evidence we have on birth

intervals comes from Cambrai in northern France for the period

1468-82. It provides an average of 29.7 months.[50]


If we turn to the evidence for the early modern period, the average

birth interval in Cambrai during the 1550s, when conditions were good,

was 25 months and in the period 1559-75 was 30.5 months. The birth

interval in the village of Terling in south-east England during the

period 1550-1724 was just under 30 months for women of around 20 years

of age who did not practise any form of birth control.[51] In the case

of Colyton in south-west England, the average birth interval was 27.5

months between 1560 and 1646 and 31.4 months between 1647 and

1719.[52] Studies of 3 rural parishes in Brittany reveal a very

similar picture: 31.36 months in Anetz (1568-1650), 29.1 months in la

Chapelle-des Fougerets (1566-1650) and 29.14 months in Oss

(1608-1668). Prolonged breast feeding was practised in Brittany. Four

rural parishes in Lorraine had an average birth interval of 27.8

months in the period 1578-1635 (the median interval is just under 26

months and the modal interval is 27 months). A number of studies

covering the following period produce similar results [53].


This information about birth intervals in the late medieval and early

modern periods produces the same picture as the results of modern

research in underdeveloped countries: The contraceptive effect of

breast feeding among poorly nourished peoples usually lasts for 6 to

10 months.






From: val_org at hotmail.com (Gunnora Hallakarva)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: Period contraception

Date: 29 Sep 2004 07:08:50 -0700


I have not seen any evidence for contraception.  The closest to it

would be infanticide via exposure.


Gunnlaugs saga ormstungu ch. 3 says:


Um sumari bjst ޗrsteinn til ings og mlti til Jfrar hsfreyju

ur hann fr heiman: "Svo er htta," segir hann, "a ߜ ert me

barni og skal a barn t bera ef ߜ fir meybarn en upp fa ef

sveinn er." Og a var ߇ sivandi nokkur er land var allt alheii a

eir menn er flitlir voru en st meg mjg til handa ltu t bera

brn sn og ߗtti ߗ illa gert vallt.


[The same summer Thrsteinn made ready for the Assembly, and had this

to say to Jfrr, his wife, before leaving home. 'This is how matters

stand,' he told her. 'You are about to have a child. Now if you give

birth to a girl the child must be left to die of exposure, but if it

is a boy it shall be reared.' For when the land was still entirely

heathen, it was by way of being a custom that those men who had few

means and many dependents would have their children left to die of

exposure, though it was always reckoned a bad thing to do.]


Exposure of children was apparently practiced in heathen times in

Scandinavia.  The sagas refer to it, and the oldest Norwegian laws

(written after the introduction of Christianity) make it permissable

in case of severe deformity.  The Church frowned on exposure, but

infanticide did take place, with economic reasons apparently weighing

more heavily than the sex of the child according to the Old Norse

literature (as in the quote above), though scholars believe that

female infants were most likely to be exposed.


During the Viking Age, women suffered the consequences of female

infanticide as a regulatory mechanism of population control.  A

variety of Old Norse literary and historical sources report that

exposure of female infants was practiced, and women are

underrepresented in grave material of the eighth through twelfth

centuries A.D. in Scandinavia. Though this dearth of women may be

partially attributed to different burial rites or biased

archaeological methods, it also seems that there were in reality fewer

women than men in these Scandinavian populations. Written sources, the

archaeological shortage of women, and finds of scattered infant bones,

all give probable evidence of exposure.


There is no firm evidence of how often female exposure was practiced,

yet there is good evidence for a gender imbalance during the Viking

Age much larger than that which would be expected due to childbirth

mortality for women.  The laws reflect a limited amount of power for

women, yet the sagas show women having a large impact and much real

power, perhaps as a result of their relative scarcity.




Damsholt, Nanna.  "The Role of Icelandic Women in the Sagas and the

Production of Homespun Cloth,"  Scandinavian Journal of History.  9

(1984): 75-90.


Jacobsen, Grethe. "Pregnancy and Childbirth in the Medieval North: A

Typology of Sources and a Preliminary Study." Scandinavian Journal of

History 9:2 (1984), pp. 91-111.


Jacobsen, Grethe. "Pregnancy and Childbirth." in: Medieval

Scandinavia: An Encyclopedia. Phillip Pulsiano, et al., eds. Garland

Reference Library of the Humanities 934. New York: Garland. 1993. pp.



Pentikainen, Juha. "Child Abandonment as an Indicator of

Christianization in the Nordic Countries." in: Old Norse and Finnish

Religions and Cultic Place-Names.  ed. Tore Ahlbck.  bo. 1990. pp.



Scott, Eleanor. The Archaeology of Infancy and Infant Death. BAR S819.

Oxford: Archaeopress. 1999.


Wicker, Nancy L. "Selective female infanticide as partial explanation

for the dearth of women in Viking Age Scandinavia" in: Violence and

Society in the Early Medieval West. ed. Guy Halsell. Woodbridge:

Boydell. 1998. pp. 205-221.


Wicker, Nancy L. "Violence against Women and Children: Infanticide in

Viking Period Scandinavia."  Gender and Archaeology Across the

Millennia: Long Vistas and Multiple Viewpoints. Northern Arizona

University's Department of Anthropology and Women's Studies Program

Sixth Gender and Archaeology Conference, October 6-7, 2000.





From: val_org at hotmail.com (Gunnora Hallakarva)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: Period contraception

Date: 29 Sep 2004 13:07:16 -0700


I had said:

>I have not seen any evidence for contraception.


Of course I *meant* to type, "I have not seen any evidence for

contraception among the Viking Age peoples".


Just thought I should clarify that!


Cynthia Virtue asked:

> Are there theories about why exposure was

> chosen for infanticide?  It  seems much more

> heartless than just killing the child outright

> as you'd do if you had to put an animal down,

> for example.


Just as occurs later in the story in Gunnlaugs saga ormstungu, there's

a strong current of belief - at least in the stories that recount

infant exposure - that some kindly person will happen along and adopt

the child before it dies, and in fact maybe even someone who has more

money/resources than the birth parent, and the child will be better






From: val_org at hotmail.com (Gunnora Hallakarva)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: Period contraception

Date: 30 Sep 2004 11:34:27 -0700


Cynthia Virtue said:

> Ok, there's an explaination.  Are the sagas (and presumably real Viking

> life) full of people who were rescued and raised by others?  Or was it a

> total denial of reality, to hope someone would take the child?


I expect that sometimes someone adopted some children.  It is however

true that the arcaheology seems to confirm the custom of preferential

exposure of female infants:


Grslund, Anne-Sofie. "The Position of Iron Age Scandinavian Women."

Gender and the Archaeology of Death. Bettina Arnold & Nancy L. Wicker,

eds. Gender and Archaeology Series 2. New York: Altamira. 2001. pp.



p. 84 "To a fairly high degree, women figure in the runic inscriptions

in the Mlar area of central Sweden. In Uppland, the province in this

region that is richest in rune stones, women are mentioned in 39

percent of the inscriptions either as the erector of the stone or

commemorated by it, alone or together with men. The family pattern

showed that up to six sons were mentioned but not more than two

daughters. (There are very few exceptions: three daughters are

mentioned once in Uppland and twice in the contiguous province of

Sdermanland). My hypothesis is that this is due to the fact that

female infanticide was practiced in the Mlar area at this time."




Wicker, Nancy L. "Selective female infanticide as partial explanation

for the dearth of women in Viking Age Scandinavia" in: Violence and

Society in the Early Medieval West. ed. Guy Halsell. Woodbridge:

Boydell. 1998. pp. 205-221.


pp. 209-210 "Old Norse literary sources also mention fewer females

than should be the case according to natural sex ratios. A suspicious

preponderance of male children and a lack of female children, perhaps

indirectly reflecting selective female infanticide, has been noted by

Clover (1988: 167-68) in lists of household membership in the medieval

Icelandic Landnmabk, a book detailing the tenth century settlement

of Iceland. The lists of household membership show that there were not

as many girls and women as would be expected. Clover estimates that

sons usually out-number daughters at a ratio of four or five to one,

occasionally even nine to one, perhaps indirectly reflecting the

effects of female infanticide. Swedish Upplandic runestones, as

counted by Anne-Sofie Grslund, display similar ratios of sons to

daughters. Grslund (1989: 233-40) suggests that female infanticide

may account for this scarcity of daughters."


p. 210 "Some scholars have attempted to discount evidence of

infanticide by explaining that women and girls only seem to be lacking

because they were not important enough to be mentioned as often. In

either case, 'hidden' practice contributes to the relative

invisibility of women. But even slaves were enumerated in Landnmabk

(Karras 1988: 80), presumably because of their economic significance.

It would seem logical, therefore, that each girl should also be noted

due to the future negative economic impact that her dowry, the woman's

inheritance which was handed over by her father at marriage, would

represent (Frank 1973: 475-76). While the scarcity of women and girls

in written sources is not conclusive proof of infanticide, this

testimony supports the proposition of female infanticide when

considered alongside other evidence."


p. 212 "A relative shortage of adult female mortuary remains compared

to the expected sex ratio of nearly 1:1 has been noted in many regions

of Scandinavia for the late Iron Age. Norway's population seems to

diverge most markedly from average sex ratios. Dommasnes (1979; 1982;

1991) found a much smaller representation of women in studies of

burials in four regions of the country. The women's share of graves

identifiable by gender in the four areas of Sogn, Gloppen, Nordland,

and Upper Telemark varied from only 6% to 32%. Dommasnes (1979:

99-100) found ratios of eight males to one female in Sogn in the

seventh century and six to one in the eighth century. The ratios are

typical of graves throughout most of Norway in that period. For

instance, Ellen Higrd Hofseth (1988: fig. 11) found that women

represented only from 8% to 18% of the late Iron Age graves in

Hordaland. In another study, Trond Lken (1987) found three times as

many male as female graves in Iron Age material from Ostfold and

Vestfold in Norway.


In Denmark, sex ratios from cemetery analysis also are skewed toward

males. The study of all unburnt Danish Iron Age skeletal remains found

during the previous one hundred and fifty years identified 158

individuals of the Viking period for which sex could be determined by

skeletal analysis (Sellevold et al. 1984). Of these, 85 were found to

be males and 73 females. The numbers represented are small and reflect

quite a sampling problem in Denmark where preservation is poor, but

notably fewer women than men were identified and the sex imbalance is

even more pronounced in earlier Iron Age material. In addition, just

across the Danish-German border at Viking Hedeby, 62% of adult dead

(47 individuals) that could be sexed skeletally were men and only 38%

(29 individuals) women (Schaefer 1963).


For Sweden there has been no country-wide re-evaluation of Iron Age

skeletal material as completed for Denmark and in progress for Norway

(Sellevold & Nss 1987), though there is a project underway for the

medieval period (Iregren 1988: 25). The situation appears to differ

with a marked qualitative rather than quantitative difference between

women's and men's graves. Studies of Swedish material have

concentrated on extraordinary sites such as boat graves at Valsgrde,

as well as the large number of burials at Birka dating to Viking

times. At Valsgrde, men were inhumed in chamber graves and boat

graves, but women were cremated (Arwidsson 1942; 1954). At Birka where

more than 2,000 grave mounds are visible, sex has been determined for

only 415 burials. Grslund (1980) reports that women's graves there

actually outnumber men's, representing 58% of the inhumations (308

burials) and 61% of the cremations (107 burials). However, women were

buried in the generally richer chamber graves less frequently (44%)

than men, so there was at least a qualitative differentiation between

women's and men's graves."


p. 213 "Women also made up most (68%) of those interred without

coffins. Rather than indicating a preponderance of women at Birka,

Grslund has suggested that the greater number of women's graves there

may merely indicate that their graves are easier to identify because

of their contents, especially jewellery. However, Birka is anomalous;

the trading community there should not be considered representative

for the Viking period as a whole because of its unusual wealth and

early missionary activity; the relatively large number of women's

remains found at Birka might be explained by the missionaries'



In her analyses of Norwegian material, Dommasnes (1982: 73) assumed

that there was a 1:1 ratio of men to women, but perhaps that was not

so. The sex ratio from cemetery analysis could be skewed if a portion

of the population died elsewhere, away from home (Ehrenberg 1989:

127). One might expect that many men of Viking-Age Scandinavia died in

foreign lands (Grslund 1989: 236-37), and at least some such deaths

are memorialized on runestones commemorating men, listing where they

travelled and who they fought (Morris, above: 149, 152). Warfare and

migration could have taken such a toll on men that their remains would

be scarce in cemeteries at home (perhaps such as at, Birka). However,

in many Scandinavian regions, men are not lacking: women are. Divale

and Harris have hypothesized that preferential female infanticide

compensates for the loss of adult males due to extra deaths in warfare

(Divale 1970; Divale & Harris 1976). Such a functionalist explanation

could explain the mirroring effects of public and private violence to

regulate Viking society, a population in which heavy male outward

migration and warfare might have led to an overabundance of women if

not for the levelling effect of female infanticide at home.


Perhaps because infanticide is so distasteful to us, some scholars

have attempted to discount the dearth of women's remains in

Scandinavia by explaining that women only seem to be lacking because

they were not memorialized as often with large grave mounds or visible

stone settings, so their graves go unnoticed. Dommasnes (1982), for

instance, assumes she has not dealt with a representative sample of

the Iron Age population. Women may have been given a different, less

ostentatious, burial rite, as at Birka and Valsgrde. Yet it is also

possible that men actually outnumbered women due to selective female

infanticide or other factors. We may be witnessing the results of

preferential female infanticide compounded by the relative

invisibility of low status female graves."


The items cited above are:


Arwidsson G. Die Graberfunde von Valsgard I. Valsgard 6. Acta Musei

Antiquitatum Septentrionalium Regiae Universitatis IV. 1942.


Arwidsson G. Die Graberfunde von Valsgard II. Valsgard 8. Acta Musei

Antiquitatum Septentrionalium Regiae Universitatis IV. 1954.


Clover, Carol J. "The Politics of Scarcity: Notes on the Sex Ratio in

Early Scandinavia." Scandinavian Studies 60 (1988) pp. 147-188.


Divale, William T. and Marvin Harris. "Population, Warfare, and the

Male Supremacist Complex".  American Anthropologist 78 (1976) pp.



Divale, William T. "An Explanation for Primitive Warfare:  Population

Control and the Significance of Primitive Sex Ratios".  New Scholar 2

(1970) pp. 172-193.


Dommasnes, L. H. "Et gravmateriale fra yngre jernalder brukt til a

belyse kvinners stilling". Viking 1978 (1979) pp. 95-114.


Dommasnes, L. H. "Late Iron Age in western Norway: female roles and

ranks as deduced from an analysis of burial customs". Norwegian

Archaeological Review 15 (1982) pp. 70-84.


Dommasnes, L. H. "Women, kinship, and the basis of power in the

Norwegian Viking Age", in R. Samson (ed.), Social Approaches to Viking

Studies (Glasgow). 1991. pp. 65-74.


Ehrenberg, Margaret. Women in Prehistory. Norman: University of

Oklahoma Press. 1989.


Frank, Roberta. "Marriage in Twelfth- and Thirteenth-Century Iceland."

Viator 4 (1973): pp. 473-484.


Grslund, Anne-Sofie: The burial customs: a study of the graves on

Bjrk. Birka: Untersuchungen und Studien. 1980. ISBN 91-7402-108-7


Grslund, Anne-Sofie. " 'Gud hjlpe nu vl hennes sjl': om

runstenskvinnorna, deras roll vid kristnandet och deras plats i

familij och samhlle." Tor 22 (1989) pp. 223-244,


Hofseth, Ellen Higrd.  "Liten tue velter... problemer knyttet til

manns- og kvinnegravenes i fordeling i Nord-Rogaland."

Artikkel-samling II (AmS Skrifter 12). Stavanger. 1988. pp. 5-38.


Iregren, E. "Avbruten amning blev barnens dd? - Ett frsk til

tolkning av Vsterhusmaterialet."  Populr Arkeologi 4 (1988) pp.



Lken, Trond "The correlation between the shape of grave monuments and

sex in the Iron Age, based on material from stfold and Vestfold', in

R. Bertelsen, A. Ullehammer, & J.-R. Nss (eds), Were They All Men?:

An Examination of Sex Roles in Prehistoric Society (Ams Varia, 17)

(Stavanger). 1987. pp. 53-63.


Morris, I. Burial and Ancient Society: The Rise of the Greek

City-State. Cambridge. 1987.


Schaefer, U. Anthropologische Untersuchung der Skelette von Haithabu

(Die Ausgrabungen in Haithabu, 4) Neumnster. 1963.


Sellevold, Berit J. and Jenny-Rita Nss. "Iron Age People of Norway".

Norwegian Archaeological Review 20:1 (1987) pp. 46-50. ISSN 0029-3652.


Sellevold, Berit J., Lund Hansen, U., & Jrgensen, J.B. Iron Age Man

in Denmark (Nordiske Fortidsminder 138) Copenhagen. 1984.






Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

From: djheydt at kithrup.com (Dorothy J Heydt)

Subject: Re: Period contraception

Organization: Kithrup Enterprises, Ltd.

Date: Wed, 29 Sep 2004 19:16:55 GMT


Robert Uhl  <ruhl at 4dv.net> wrote:

>Cynthia Virtue <cvirtue at thibault.org> writes:

>> Are there theories about why exposure was chosen for infanticide?  It

>> seems much more heartless than just killing the child outright as

>> you'd do if you had to put an animal down, for example.


>I'd think it rather obvious: exposure kills by inaction while aught else

>would be by action.  A mother who cannot strangle, or stab, or poison

>her baby might be very able to just have a servant take it out to the

>woods and leave it there.  She might even fool herself that it'll be

>raised by wolves and found a city:-/


Or something.


In Ptolemaic Egypt, the child would be picked up by the King's

agents, brought up, and sold as a slave.  My source is F. W.

Walbank, The Hellenistic World.  Sussex: The Harvester

Press; New Jersey: Humanities Press, 1981.


Dorothea of Caer-Myrddin                         Dorothy J. Heydt

Mists/Mists/West                               Albany, California

PRO DEO ET REGE                               djheydt at kithrup.com



From: Chas <webmaster at NOSPAMhistoricgames.com>

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: Period contraception

Date: Wed, 29 Sep 2004 12:26:30 GMT


Cian ua'Lochain wrote:

> On Mon, 27 Sep 2004, Trish Liaoz wrote:

> Opinion: Latex, Spermicides and Hormones are far more reliable, and this

> in one place that period is NOT better.  Bring the condoms.


It was an Italian anatomist, Gabriello Fallopio who claimed to be the

inventor of a linen sheath as a protection against venereal disease.

(1523-62. It was also his name that was adopted for the fallopian

tubes.) His invention first appeared in his posthumously published work

De Morbo Gallico (The "French disease," i.e. syphilis). A short time

later, a Hercules Saxonia described a larger linen sheath, soaked in a

chemical or herbal preparation, which covered the entire penis like a

modern condom.


The invention of such sheep-gut condoms has often been attributed to a

certain Dr. Condom, (sometimes spelled Cundum, or Quondam), during the

reign of England's King Charles II. However, there seems to be nothing

to confirm this story outside of hearsay. Archaeological evidence

suggests that these gut condoms were already available as early as the

period of the English Civil War. Fragments of shaped animal gut were

discovered during an excavation of the garderobe (privy) of the keep at

Dudley Castle, which had been filled in 1647. These prototype condoms,

known as baudruche, French letters, or capotes anglaises (English riding

coats), were primarily employed as protection against venereal disease,

although there is some literary evidence that their dual purpose as

contraceptives was also recognized.


-Excerpted from a pamphet I wrote: "A Short History of a Delicate

Subject: Condoms through the Centuries" available at the site below ;-)




Ellesh's Closet

Reproductions of historic naughty novelties





Date: Sun, 16 Apr 2006 13:44:56 -0400

From: "marilyn traber 011221" <phlip at 99main.com>

Subject: Re: [Sca-cooks] Sausage

To: Cooks within the SCA <sca-cooks at ansteorra.org>


> Check out the book "The Savory Sausage; A Culinary Tour Around the World"

> By Linda Merinoff.  1987, Poseidon Press  ISBN 0-671-62727-9 for

> lots of recipes, albeit modern ones, from all over the world.


> As side note regards the reference to 15 foot condoms, were not the original

> condoms used in late period sausage casings?   Hmmm, if so I can

> picture a potential A/S project in my mind's eye, consider the

> possibilities.  The mind boggles does it not?


> Daniel


As I recall, there was an article talking about using lamb intestines as

condoms, as found in some garderobe they excavated, but I don't believe I've

heard of any using the intestines of any other species.





Date: Sun, 16 Apr 2006 15:30:27 -0400

From: "Daniel  Phelps" <phelpsd at gate.net>

Subject: [Sca-cooks] A/S Entries and Experimental Design was Sausage

To: "Cooks within the SCA" <sca-cooks at ansteorra.org>


Was written:


But how would you prove to the judges  that the condom actually works?

I have heard rumors that there is a RevWar reenactor who makes sheep bladder

condoms and will make the ribbons that hold the thing on in the appropriate

regimental colors.  Truly the mind wobbles.



In the case of "the hole" I did get some of the judges to test it for

comfort.  Hypothetically one might offer the items, with period

instructions, to the judges for testing.


It should be noted that Consumer Report recently tested latex condoms.  One

might use their methodology to determine loss of integrity.  That being

said, purely as a hypothetical, I suggest that one would have to define the

item's original intended purpose(s) in period, i.e. contraception vs.

disease prevention, and also determine what was considered successful use in

period.  Presumably success in the short term would be that "the raincoat"

stayed on in "the storm" and that it did not leak.   One could make up a

batch of such reproductions, solicit their use by consenting adults at some

major war, Pennsic perhaps.  Proper experimental methodology would be to

have the subjects of the experiment read a set of period instructions for

use, and then fill out before and after use surveys in order to quantify

short term failure rates for various designs.  Long term success would be

harder to define.  Perhaps if one had a sufficiently large experimental base

and the intend use was indeed contraception one could do a follow up the

next Pennsic as it would be 4 months past the gestation period.  Of course

the experimental subjects would have to pledge to use the items throughout

the test period, i.e. the two weeks of Pennsic.


While I do not intent to do this hypothetical A/S project it does suggest to

me that an article regarding how such a project could be done might be of

interest.  A "how to" article detailing documentation, experimental design,

construction, testing and results.




<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org