Readings — From the April 2016 issue

All My Children

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From “The Case of Moulay Ismael — Fact or Fancy?” an Austrian study coauthored by Elisabeth Oberzaucher and Karl Grammer and published in Plos One.

The scientific discussion about the case of the Sharifian Emperor of Morocco, Moulay Ismael the Bloodthirsty (1672–1727), who is reported to have sired 888 children, is ongoing. Some claim that it is unlikely that Moulay Ismael could have had that many offspring. A French diplomat in 1704 reported Moulay as having had 600 sons from four wives and 500 concubines. Daughters by his wives were allowed to live, whereas daughters borne by his concubines were suffocated by the midwives at birth. This results in approximately 1,171 children from 500 women in thirty-two years (from age twenty-five, when Moulay became emperor, to age fifty-seven).

We modeled Moulay Ismael’s reproductive efforts in a computer simulation, calculating how many copulations would be necessary to reach 1,171 offspring in thirty-two years. If random, 0.83 to 2.30 copulations per day would have led to 1,171 offspring. Our calculations indicate that harem size is of lesser importance for the achievement of reported reproductive success than thought so far. A breeding-pool size beyond 65–110 does not necessarily lead to an increased number of offspring. Having a harem of 500 concubines might have been due to other considerations than maximization of individual reproductive outcome.

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