Childbirth in Ancient Rome

Relief image, Necropolis of Isola Sacra: Tomb 100, Ostia (Rome), Italy. Copyright Ostia Foundation

Found on the face of a brick tomb in Ostia (neighborhood in Rome, Italy), this relief image of birth depicts a laboring woman seated on a birthing chair while attended by midwives. The two occupants of the tomb, Ulpius Amerimnus and Scribonia Attice, were both medical practitioners, and this image likely depicts Sribonia Attice performing the duties of a midwife (1).

Birthing chairs were frequently used in ancient times, encouraging the woman to rest upright during labor and birth, thereby aiding delivery of the child through the help of gravity. Midwifery care was also common, and childbirth was considered “women’s business” during these times (2).

In this image we see the pregnant woman supported by two midwives. The image reminds other pregnant women who view it in contemporary times that birth is a process that women have been undergoing throughout human history. This simple idea can be a comfort because the pregnant woman sometimes feels isolated or alone in her pregnancy.

Also helpful is the viewing of support in the form of midwifery care. The two midwives here both touch the laboring woman, supporting her with their arms and bringing strength and community to the woman as she goes through the birthing process.