How Did The Term Cesarean Section Originate?

Have you ever heard of the term Cesarean section? I bet you have. It is a type of surgery performed to remove a baby from its mother’s womb. The surgery is usually performed on women who are having a difficult time delivering a baby normally.

Cesarean section is recognized as one of the oldest types of surgeries mentioned in the Roman, and Greek histories and also Old Persian mythology. Contrary to popular belief, the term “Cesarean section” does not come from fact that Julius Caesar was born through this method.

For about 2000 years and during the Roman Empire era, Cesarean sections were performed on dead bodies of pregnant women in order to save the living babies inside their wombs. This was carried out in accordance with the law of Pompilius the second ruler of Rome in the eighth century BC. Since we know from history that Julius Caesar frequently wrote to his mother, Aurelia, he could not have been born through Cesarean section. Julius Caesar’s mother was still alive and well when he was a boy and did not die from giving birth to him.

The first recorded Cesarean section with a surviving mother did not happen until around the year 1500. The procedure was not performed by a surgeon or a midwife but by a person named Jakob Nufer from Sigershaufen, Germany whose profession was gelding pigs. He carried out the surgery because he could not stand watching his wife’s suffering in trying to deliver their baby. All thirteen midwifes were unsuccessful in delivering the baby. He succeeded with the operation and his wife survived the procedure. In fact, his wife later gave birth to 5 more of their children. The baby who was born through this method was supposedly alive until the age of 77.

So, how did this term Cesarean section originate? A more likely explanation would be from a Latin word caedere which means to cut. The predecessor of Caesar’s family Scipio Africanus was born through dissecting her dead mother’s body. To immortalize the event he was nicknamed “Caesar” which means “The One Who Came out of a Cut”.

The Persians have a tale about the beautiful wife of Zal, Rudaba. When she was pregnant, the baby’s size inside her was so enormous that she almost died. A Simurgh then gave Zal instructions to perform Cesarean section. He then dissected her belly in order to take out the huge baby boy. Rudaba and this baby boy survived the procedure. This boy was named Rustam who later became the Persian great hero—sort of like the Persian version of Hercules.

Oddly enough, the first known illustration of Cesarean section was not in a medical journal but in a biographical book titled “The Lives of Twelve Caesars” written by Suetonius. The biography was written in the second century and was printed for the first time in 1506. The picture describing the procedure was in fact used as a cover illustration in the second printing of the book.