The History of Circumcision

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Circumcision is the surgical removal of the foreskin from the human penis. It is one of the simplest surgical procedures and also one of the oldest, pre-dating recorded history.

The most consistent explanation for circumcision is that the procedure existed over 70,000 years ago, before the human species began to spread out of Africa to the rest of the world. This theory is much more feasible than the belief that circumcision arose completely self-sufficiently in different parts of the world. This therefore, suggests that it is probable that human beings evolved as a circumcising species, and that certain cultures that do not circumcise in the modern day did at one time rather than never adopting the circumcision procedure.

The practice of circumcision is recorded as early as over 4000 years ago in ancient Egypt, being the subject of many wall carvings and paintings. Records seem to suggest that the practice of circumcision was quite universal throughout all levels of ancient Egyptian society with historical evaluation suggesting that this became a religious custom due to medical and hygienic reasons. In ancient Egypt, boys were usually circumcised during late puberty by a priest.

Evidence suggests that circumcision was a practical medical and hygienic solution to preventing illnesses such as urethritis, nephritis, or cystitis in the hot, dry and sandy environments that were common in ancient Egypt and other civilisations such as the Aztecs. By practicing circumcision, this would have solved the problem of sand and dirt getting caught under the foreskin and often leading to illness or even fatality.

Circumcision is part of religious law in Judaism, and is also practiced almost universally in Islam. This is believed to have stemmed from Abraham (Genesis 17:11), who lived roughly around 2000 BC and was ordered by God at roughly the age of 80 to be circumcised.

As well as being one of the oldest, circumcision also continues to be one of the most common surgical procedures in the world, with around a third of males worldwide being circumcised. Circumcision is seen in men of very diverse cultures and ethnicities, ranging from Africans, Middle Easterners, Asians, Australian Aboriginals and Pacific Islanders, Natives from North and South America as well as Europeans; further suggesting the ancient origin of this practice.

In recent years, circumcision has been promoted on an increasing level in modern medicine due to the related health benefits. It is well known that the British Royal Family, and also a number of the British upper classes, for many generations have circumcised their sons. It seems that George I brought the practice over from Hanover and it has continued through Queen Victoria’s children to Edward VII, and then through the Duke of Windsor to the Prince of Wales, Prince Andrew and Edward.

For more information on circumcision, you can visit the Birmingham Circumcision Clinic website.