Cesarean Section History

From Suetonius' Lives of the Twelve Caesars, 1506 woodcut Have you ever wonder where does the Cesarean Section originated? Well, man...

Cesarean Section History
From Suetonius' Lives of the Twelve Caesars, 1506 woodcut
Have you ever wonder where does the Cesarean Section originated? Well, many of us still believe that this method came from the name Caesar, referring to the dictator of Rome, Julius Caesar. But based on the historian, this is only a myth because Julius Caesar were born through natural birth.

Caesar could not be born this way because at the time the procedure was performed only on dead women, and his mother died ten years before Caesar's murder in the Senate.

(Photo above: One of the earliest printed illustrations of Cesarean section. Purportedly the birth of Julius Caesar. A live infant being surgically removed from a dead woman.)

According to historians, this procedure was first performed long before Rome emerged on the map of the world. There is evidence that Cesarean Sections were performed in ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia and ancient Greece. According to ancient Greek myths, this was the way some of the heroes and even gods, such as Dionysus, were born. However, in those days, this procedure was not performed to save the lives of mothers and children, and only dying pregnant women were operated on.

The surgery was performed not for medical but religious purposes. In those days it was believed that a child that died in the womb and was buried alongside with it would become an evil spirit, preventing normal delivery of other women. The Greeks also believed that such children were later taken by Lamia - the inhabitants of Hades who would get to the surface at night to steal babies.

Cesarean History
The extraction of Asclepius from the abdomen of his mother Coronis by his father Apollo. Woodcut from the 1549 edition of Alessandro Beneditti's De Re Medica.
A variation of this myth is the assertion that the name "Cesarean Section" was given to this surgery because several Roman emperors were born this way (in fact, the word Caesar eventually came to mean emperor). Perhaps, some of them were born this way, but there is no evidence to suggest that the name originated from it. The Romans called it caederea sectio, where the first word means to make a cut and the second means a cut.

The fact that the words caederea and caesarea (i.e., Caesar) are very similar may have caused the confusion. As suggested by some historians and linguists, these words may be related. To this day no one knows what Caesar really means. There is speculation that the word caesare is simply a more ancient form of the verb caedere and means the same thing - to cut or shred.  

This surgery was first performed on a live woman in 1610 by doctor Trautman from Wittenberg. Despite the fact that it was successful, that is, the child was alive, the mother still died four weeks later. The cause of her death was not related to the surgery - she caught a cold that she was not able to beat.




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