Ancient Roman Rituals: Birth

   During birth, ancient Romans performed many rituals, often involving the children, spirits and the many gods of the Roman religion. It was a Roman tradition to perform these rituals that were associated with and involving birth.


   Nowadays mostly birth is seen as a special occasion, a happy time for all involved with the child or the parents, but in ancient Rome it was not taken as such. Birth in ancient Rome was not something a woman looked forward to, as opposed to a man. This was often because women died during childbirth as the methods used during labour were dangerous and could easily result in death. Yet, there was another problem during childbirth, namely miscarriages. Some women in ancient Rome had miscarriages just as some women do today, but then a miscarriage might have been a relief to women who were scared to have the baby, but not others. Sometimes women in ancient Rome didn't even notice they were pregnant. Just as Pliny's wife had done, she overlooked her pregnancy and carried on in the same way she had normally, which must have affected her baby. As a result she then miscarried.

   But when it all goes right, it can be a most wondrous occasion for both the mother and the father. But especially so for the man, the father. As it was tradition for the father to hoist the baby up and into their arms to show and prove to the baby he was its real father.


   Several days after birth, specifically nine days for a boy, eight for a girl, a child was given its first name, as was chosen by his/her parents, and a gift, a special locket to be worn around their neck, called a bulla. This bulla contained an amulet symbolising good as it is believed to give the baby a protective aura, a protection against evil in whatever form it may take. The bulla was worn on a chain, cord, or strap. Girls wore their bulla until the eve of their wedding day, when their bulla was set aside with other childhood things, like her toys. Boys wore their bulla until they day they became a citizen. Boys’ bullas were put aside and carefully saved. A boy's bulla could be worn by the owner again, if he won special honours. For example, if he became a successful general, and won the honour of triumph, he would wear his bulla in ceremonial parades, to protect him from the evil jealously of men or gods.


   Until the third century AD, parents never had to register the birth or even existence of their newborn baby. But on the day this new process was introduced, the parents of all babies that were born had thirty days to register the birth of their newborn baby. This is a tradition that has survived to this very day, although there has been a slight change in the time allowed to register births at the Public Records Office. This has changed many times.