Childbirth has always been a risky business. Despite advances in medicine, it is the sixth most common cause of death amongst young women in the United States. For every 100,000 live births, 15 mothers lose their lives, either during pregnancy, birth or its aftermath. The current death rate is at least an improvement on the past. Only one hundred years ago, 600 women died for every 100,000 births. In the seventeenth and eighteenth century, at least 1200 mothers perished. In the centuries before, yet more women must have lost their lives from excessive bleeding, infections, puerperal fever and the trauma of a complicated birth.
These risks were universal, applying to rich and poor, high and low alike. But in addition to Queens and peasants, many remarkable women have lost their lives bringing their children into the worlds. These women were influential and talented scientists, writers, artists, philosophers, revolutionaries, politicians, and peacemakers. They all would have lived much longer if they had not lost their lives giving birth. Here are just eight of them.
Julia, Caesar’s Daughter
While she lived, Caesar’s daughter, Julia, played a crucial role in preserving the peace of the late Roman republic. Born around 76BC, she was Caesar’s only child by his first wife, Cornelia and the future dictator’s only legitimate child from any of his three marriages. Caesar briefly betrothed the young Julia to a Quintus Servilius Caepio, who became known as Quintus Servilius Caepio Brutus to differentiate him from the uncle who adopted him. This Brutus may be the same Quintus Caepio Brutus involved in the assassination of Caesar in 44BC.
However, this marriage never took place. Instead, in 59BC, Caesar married Julia to Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus or Pompey the Great, a prominent military and political leader and one of her father’s major rivals. The marriage between the 17-year-old Julia and 47-year-old Pompey was a political one, designed to seal the bonds of the partnership between Caesar and Pompey and the wealthiest man in Rome, Marcus Crassus, who together formed the first triumvirate.
Despite the disparity in their ages, Julia and Pompey appeared to regard each other with affection-even love. When Julia was pregnant in 55BC, Pompey became caught in a riot during the election of the aediles. Although unhurt, his toga became splattered in blood, so he sent a slave to exchange it for a fresh one. When Julia saw the blood, she believed her husband murdered and was so distressed she miscarried her child. This tragedy weakened Julia’s health but is a testament to the feelings between the couple- feelings that could only have helped strengthen the alliance of Caesar and his son in law.
It wasn’t to last. The miscarriage had weakened Julia’s health, and although she carried her next child full term, the labour killed her. Pompey was reputedly distraught. However, Rome’s peace died with Julia. Before her death, there were emerging strains on the triumvirate caused by tensions between Pompey and Crassus and Pompey’s jealousy of Caesar’s success. Julia’s death removed the final bond between Caesar and Pompey. In 49BC, the two went head to head in a civil war which ended the Roman Republic. Perhaps history would have taken a different turn if Julia had lived.