A Desire to Eat Strange Things

The Perceptions of Pregnancy blog, like the Researchers’ Network, aims to reach beyond boundaries and borders, and to facilitate an international and interdisciplinary conversation on pregnancy and its associated bodily and emotional experiences from the earliest times to the present day. This week, network director, Jennifer Evans looks at early modern understandings of cravings in pregnancy.

Everyone knows that pregnant women experience cravings for particular foods. This certainly isn’t just a modern phenomenon. Early modern medical writers were emphatic that this was a sign to watch out for in pregnant women. John Sadler, author of The Sicke Womans Private Looking-Glasse, believed that women would develop ‘a longing desire after strange meates’ once they were pregnant.[1] The satirical piece The Ten Pleasures of Marriage suggested that pregnant women at every dinner or celebration would be offered her fill of whatever she ‘long or have a desire’ for, even to the point that ‘no body else should so much as tast of it’.[2]

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A Roman Amulet for Protection in Childbirth

The Perceptions of Pregnancy blog, like the Researchers’ Network, aims to reach beyond boundaries and borders, and to facilitate an international and interdisciplinary conversation on pregnancy and its associated bodily and emotional experiences from the earliest times to the present day. This week, Adam Parker discusses a roman phylactery created by a mother for her pregnant daughter as protection during childbirth. 

 

Discovered by a metal detectorist in 2007 in South Oxfordshire, UK (PAS: BERK-0B6771) this small, inscribed gold sheet is a truly interesting insight into the material strategies of personal protection in Roman Britain. A translation of the text inscribed upon the sheet reveals that this is a phylactery (a protective, magical charm) created by a lady named Terentia to protect her daughter Fabia during childbirth (Tomlin 2008).

The rectangular sheet is tiny. It measures 63.1mm x 28.3mm and weighs 1.41g. The text is all written on one side and is organized in sixteen lines of Greek writing. Although this is the Roman period and we might expect it to be Latin, there are lots of Greek texts from Britain – it might suggest that Fabia had spent time elsewhere in the Roman Empire

 

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The issue of maternal and child mortality: the German sense of the tragic

The Perceptions of Pregnancy blog, like the Researchers’ Network, aims to reach beyond boundaries and borders, and to facilitate an international and interdisciplinary conversation on pregnancy and its associated bodily and emotional experiences from the earliest times to the present day. This week, Associate Director of the POP Network writes about the ways 18th century art reflects cultural attitudes toward pregnancy and medical intervention in birthing rooms.

Death during childbirth did not respect age or social class; it occurred more often than recently married women liked to think about. The same could be said of child mortality: if a child survived childbirth the perils of the diseases of early life awaited. In the German Territories of the Holy Roman Empire, the promotion of large families was central to the process of recovery after the Thirty Years’ War. Especially in rural communities this was seen as central to economic recovery even though it was a risk for the mother. This was a social belief supported by state policy, academic publications, and popular literature that would continue well into the 19th Century. .

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