In ancient Egypt, they advised plugging the vagina with gum, a mixture of honey and sodium carbonate, or a paste of crocodile dung mixed with sour milk. Honey or gum would certainly have reduced the motility of the sperm. A recipe from theEbers Papyrus, which dates from about 1525 BC, gave the following method: "To make a woman not become pregnant for one year, two years or three years,acacial leaves are gound fine with honey, lint is moistened therewith and placed in her vulva."
Greek and Roman medical writers give a variety of different recipes for contraception. In the fourth century BC, the philosopher Aristotle noted that women of histime who did not wish to conceive would"anoint that part of the womb on which the seed falls with oil of cedar, ointment of lead, or frankincense commingled with olive oil." The application of oil, and particularly olive oil, makes perfect sense:the motility of sperm would have been reduced considerably. Inthe Western world this contraceptive property of olive oil was rediscovered by Marie Stopes, a modern pioneer of contraception. She madea study of the contracpetive propertiesof olive oil (applied to the vagina) and in 1938 she published the results of a series of controlled tests, reporting a zero failure rate for this mehtod.
In Roman times the physicians Disocorides (c.AD 40-80) and Galen (AD 129-199) listed around a dozen plants that acted as oral contraceptives. These include asfetida, juniper,pennyroyal, "squirting cucumber" and Queen Anne's lace (wild cucumber)
An laternative approach to contraception was tried by the Jews. Rabbisof the third to fifth centuries AD refer to theinsertion of a sponge into the vagina. This would have absorbed the semen and so prevented contraception. The use of sponges was not advocated again until 1832, by Charles Knowlton, the American pioneer of contraception, and has only very recently become a standard method, used in conjunction with a spermicide.
The first cedrtain description of a condomis found in a work of theItralian anatomist Fallopius, published in 1564. He claims to have invented the use of smalllinen sheaths, to be placed behind the foreskin, as a way of avoiding syphilis. The general feeling of experts on the subject isthat Fallopius's inventionwas a refinement of an earlier device, but the whole matter remains shrouded in mystery. One theory has it that condoms were already in use in the Middle Ages.
And medieval and early modern household manuals, which always have large medical sections, contain recipesto 'bring on a woman's courses' which may have been used as abortificants, though there is no proof of this (they could just have been intended as cures for irregular periods.)
'ANCIENT INVENTIONS' by Peter James and Nick Thorpe
page 1441 to 1522