Is it physically possible for a man to sire over 800 children?

By Seriously Science | February 18, 2014 6:00 am

Photo: wikipedia

Photo: wikipedia


It’s clear that men can have more children than women, but can they have hundreds of children? Here, scientists created a computer simulation to determine how many times a day the 17th-century Moroccan Emperor Moulay Ismael would have had to have sex to have his reported brood of 888 kids. Accounting for factors ranging from sperm aging and ovulation to Moulay falling in love and having favorites, they found that the Emperor needed to get frisky 1-2 times a day and have a harem of at least 65 women to achieve his plentiful progeny.
The Case of Moulay Ismael – Fact or Fancy?

“Textbooks on evolutionary psychology and biology cite the case of the Sharifian Emperor of Morocco, Moulay Ismael the Bloodthirsty (1672–1727) who was supposed to have sired 888 children. This example for male reproduction has been challenged and led to a still unresolved discussion. The scientific debate is shaped by assumptions about reproductive constraints which cannot be tested directly—and the figures used are sometimes arbitrary. Therefore we developed a computer simulation which tests how many copulations per day were necessary to reach the reported reproductive outcome. We based our calculations on a report dating 1704, thus computing whether it was possible to have 600 sons in a reproductive timespan of 32 years. The algorithm is based on three different models of conception and different social and biological constraints. In the first model we used a random mating pool with unrestricted access to females. In the second model we used a restricted harem pool. The results indicate that Moulay Ismael could have achieved this high reproductive success. A comparison of the three conception models highlights the necessity to consider female sexual habits when assessing fertility across the cycle. We also show that the harem size needed is far smaller than the reported numbers.”

Related content:
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CATEGORIZED UNDER: how is babby formed?
  • Ty Lockton

    i got 99 comments, ain’t none of em appropriate…..

  • Smilingswan

    I would think that women in a harem would have, for the most part, synced ovulation cycles, since women in close proximity tend to do so. I wonder how the simulation accounts for that?

    • Anthony Vito

      It wouldn’t, since that effect doesn’t actually exist. It’s a myth.

      • Dirty Dan

        Wrong answer Vito. Worked at female prison. Guess what, when one inmate started cycle, the other 1,500 did too! so much for the myth.

        • Anthony Vito

          Citation needed. Read the wikipedia page on the subject. No research has ever held up to show the effect conclusively. If you still have access to that prison you could collect data and be the first to verify the effect and win fame. As humans we recognize patterns and overlaps because of positive selection bias. When real data is collected and analyzed often those effects vanish.

          • Dirty Dan

            Retired, but will assure you, the “herd” cycle is is at work. Surely someone has documented this phenomenon before!

          • Anthony Vito

            Yes. It’s been studied a lot. Use google to read up. The original paper published in 1971 was complete debunked and no study since has shown any effect. It remains one of those things that people believe is “common knowledge” when in fact it was bad science, and is really just a myth.

  • Timothy James Rogers

    Personally, I think it’s perfectly possible to get frisky 1-2 times a day and with a total of 65 women in a man’s lifetime, I know a guy that’s halfway there except the fathering 800 children aspect what with the advent of birth control preventing that, thank God.The second thing that comes into view would be the materialism of women and their fondness for a “rich” mate (I’ll find a study to support my claim, I’m sure one is out there) I would say a lot of it may have even been consensual, even if Moulay Ishmael a known alpha males, probably wasn’t all that great of a father.

  • Douglas High

    i’m not sure what the issue is. males are capable of having children from puberty to old age, accounting for tens of thousands of days. so, theoretically a single male could easily father over 8000 children.

    • LeslieFish

      The Pharaoh Ramses II ascended to the throne — and therefore any number of secondary wives he wanted — at the age of 15. He ruled for 65 years, an amazing span in those days. He was reputed to have sired over 1000 children, though there’s no solid proof of that, but he certainly has a better probability than ol’ Moulay.

  • MPark

    Ovulation synchronisation (although doubtful) is in the simulation – it had no effect

  • eetom

    If the emperor were to believe that all 888 kids were his then he was extremely naive. It is so difficult to keep track of one wife, not to say 65. If DNA were available then some women could have their heads chopped off.

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