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Are Caesarean Sections Named after Julius Caesar?

by Drishti Ranjan
Are Caesarean Sections Named after Julius Caesar?

March 4, 2021

Most people would be stupefied to know that Julius Caesar, the Roman legend has more than just a salad named after him! For the uninitiated, caesarean sections have nothing to do with scissors. A popular apocryphal legend claims that c-sections are actually named after Julius Caesar. Strange? We thought as much.

"For when Aurelia (Caesar's mother) died in the ninth month, they cut her open, took him out and named him thus. For the Romans, dissection is called 'Caesar."

Evolution of Caesarean Sections Over the Years

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A cesarean section is a medical process in which baby is removed from uterus through surgery.

A C-section, also known as the caesarean section, is a medical procedure in which a baby is removed from the uterus through surgery instead of being born vaginally. In this process, A doctor makes incisions in the abdomen and the uterus to retrieve the baby.

The procedure of caesarean section has evolved and improved over so many years. For one, mothers rarely die during a caesarean section, thanks to advancement in care. The era of anaesthesia also makes the process of caesarian sections less painful. Even the availability of quality antibiotics also decreases the risk of life-threatening infections.

The History C-Sections

To trace the origin story of the C-section or caesarean section, we have two different narratives to believe. However, one of the most famous stories of all time is that the Roman Consul was the first individual to be born through this method. The first mention of this can be traced back to the 10th century Byzantine-Greek historical encyclopedia ‘The Suda’.

Furthermore, even the Oxford English Dictionary gives the same story as the term’s origin. However, chronologically, this story does not add up. 

As a procedure a caesarean section or a C-Section is not a new medical development. There is historical evidence of the death of a near-full-term pregnant woman or a high-risk pregnant woman so as to salvage the baby. Back then, there was a lot of optimism surrounding babies born via this procedure. According to research, these babies were said to possess great strength and mystical powers. Greek gods such as Adonis were said to have been born through caesarean sections only.

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The Greek god Adonis is said to be born by the process of C Section or Cesarean section.

However, no classical source records any woman surviving a caesarean section. The first known mother to make it through the ordeal was from the 16th century Switzerland (Her delivery was performed by her husband, who castrated pigs).

Caesar's association with Caesarean Section

It is claimed that Julius Caesar had to be born through a caesarean section because his mother had slim chances of surviving her delivery, which is why they had to cut her open so as to save the baby at least. The problem with this claim is that Aurelia Cotta was known to have survived long enough to see her son grow up and even served him as a political advisor. This is contrary to what The Suda says.

Caesarean sections continue to be life-threatening throughout history, though, and it is only recently that the mortality rate started to decline. The first known such successful operation where the mother survived didn’t occur until the early 1800s in Britain. Even in 1865, the survival rate for a woman having a C-section was only 15%.

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Even in 1865, the survival rate for a woman having a C-section was only 15%.

So, it’s very unlikely that if Julius’ mother Aurelia did have a caesarean section about 1000 years before and survived, that her unique accomplishment slipped through the pages of history unnoticed. That’s not even considering the fact a caesarean section wouldn’t have been done until physicians were sure she was going to die anyway. So, she’d have to dually survive whatever they had thought was going to kill her and then the procedure of C-Section.

Other texts mentioning Julius Caesar

Apart from The Suda, Pliny Elder’s Historia Naturalis from the first century may also have contributed to the misconception around Caesar’s name being associated with this. In a section about human birth, he writes about a Caesar (an ancestor of Julius Caesar, but not him) who “was named thus, from him being taken out from his mother’s womb.” It is probable that legend about the famous Caesar’s birth likely to have stemmed from a misreading of this text.

As Historia Naturalis and The Suda both note, the name “Caesar” seems related to various forms of the Latin word caedere, which means “to cut.” The word caesones referred to babies born via this kind of surgical procedure. So perhaps the term “caesarean section” comes directly from the Latin words caedere or caesones, without the Julius Caesar intermediary. 

Hence, at least by the end of this, we can agree on the fact that the entire confusion is nothing, but different people simply mixing up their Caesar Salads!

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