When a mother is unable to deliver a baby naturally she is often rushed, or if trouble was foreseen, booked into theater for a Caesarean section. A Caesarean section is the surgical procedure where the baby is removed from the mothers womb not through the vagina, but through a cut in the lower abdomen. The name for the operation has been connected to Roman dictator Julius Caesar since the first century. Historically, the reason that it is named after the Roman general, senator and dictator for life Julius Caesar is because legend says he entered this world in that fashion. But was Julius Caesar born by Caesarean section?
Was Julius Caesar born by Caesarean section?
In short, no. We have been misled for nearly 2000 years, and we have one man to thank. Pliny the Elder.
Pliny the Elder was a first century AD Roman writer, philosopher, army and naval leader, and also a person friend of Emperor Vespasian (17 November 9 – 23 June 79). So here we can identify the first problem with the naming of caesarean sections. Pliny the Elder walked this earth from AD 23 – August 25, AD 79. Julius Caesar died 15 March 44 BC. That’s a huge difference in time. It would be akin to someone today writing about events 100 years ago with flimsy information and unreliable recollections. That’s not to say the information wasn’t reliable, but we have only his word to go by and no one else’s. But there’s more to this part of the story.
Pliny the Elder never said that Julius Caesar was born by Caesarean, what he did say was that his name came from an ancestor who was born by Caesarean section. Furthermore he said the name came from the word caesum which meant cut out.
Now things are looking flimsy, but we can’t yet completely rule out that Julius Caesar was born by Caesarean section… Yet. Today the procedure is as safe as it will probably ever be, especially if you are in a modern first world hospital. The tools, procedures and sanitation have made the operation relatively safe. But it hasn’t always been that way. Even as recently as the mid 19th century, a mother who underwent such an operation had a 75 percent chance of dying due to hemorrhaging, shock or infection. And that’s in a time when things were slowly beginning to improve.