The origin of sex between a man and a woman goes back to the origins of human beings on earth. Human beings engage in sex both for pleasure and procreation, “The man had sexual relations with Eve his wife” (Genesis 4:1).
With sex comes pregnancy, “[Eve] conceived and gave birth to Cain” (Genesis 4:1). Since men and women have sex on a regular basis, they had to develop some method of birth control, otherwise, the woman would become pregnant almost every year.
One form of birth control in antiquity and today is the use of condoms. In an article published in Ancient Origins, Joanna Gillan writes about the Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamun using condoms made from oil-soaked linen.
In her article, Gillan writes,
When Tutankhamun’s tomb was first discovered in 1922, archaeologist Howard Carter was stunned by the astonishing array of grave goods – more than 5,000 artifacts were left for the boy king to use in his afterlife. But amongst all the gold, silver, ebony, ivory , precious jewelry, weapons, furniture, fine linen and rare perfumes, a small piece of cloth caught the eyes of the experts; it was King Tut’s condom and, apparently, it was deemed essential for him to take into eternity.
Tutankhamun’s condom, which contained traces of his DNA, consisted of a sheath made of fine linen, soaked in olive oil, and attached to a string that would have tied around his waist. Dated to 1350 BC, it is the oldest known condom in existence. If the condom was used for contraceptive, rather than ritual purposes or the prevention of disease, it is unlikely to have been very effective. Indeed, the remains of two fetuses were also found in his tomb, and genetic testing revealed King Tut was the father.
The ancient Egyptians had other methods of contraception too. The Kahun Medical Papyrus (known also as the Gynaecological Papyrus), which has been dated to around 1825 BC, recommends the use of a mixture of crocodile dung and some other (now unknown) ingredients as a contraceptive. This mixture would then be formed into a pessary. According to one hypothesis, the dung of crocodiles is alkaline in nature, thus acting as a spermicide.
The Egyptians may have been among the first civilizations to use condoms, but others soon followed. In ancient Rome, condoms were made from linen and animal intestine or bladder.
You can read the article in its entirety by visiting Ancient Origins online.
The Kahun Gynacological Papyrus is the oldest known medical text in Egypt, although not the oldest in the world. The Philadelphia museum preserves a Sumerian medical clay tablet from the 3rd millennium BCE.
The Kahun Gynacological Papyrus is dated to 1800 BCE. The Kahun Gynacological Papyrus deals with gynacological diseases, fertility, pregnancy, contraception, and other topics related to women’s health.
The papyrus was found at El-Lahun by Sir Flinders Petrie in 1889 and was translated by Francis Llewellyn Griffith in 1893. Griffith was an eminent British Egyptologist of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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