The Case of Female Circumcision

  • Bret L. Billet


Female circumcision1 is a long-standing practice of numerous traditional cultures around the world. It is believed to have originated in ancient Egypt during the rule of Pharaohs. The first confirmed instance of this practice dates back to female mummies in 484 b.c. (Slack, 1988, p. 444) and 200 b.c. (El Dareer, 1983, p. 41). The Greek historian Herodotus confirmed the practice of female circumcision in Egypt during his mid-fifth-century b.c. visit to the country. Nile Nubians circumcised nine- and ten-year-old girls with either sunna or pharaonic types (see the fivefold classification below) (Colón & Colón, 2001, p. 173). A Greek papyrus from 163 b.c. made specific reference to operations performed on girls in Memphis (i.e., the ruined capital of ancient Egypt located south of present-day Cairo) when they were of age to receive their dowry (Kouba & Muasher, 1985, p. 95). The Greek geographer Agatharchides of Cnidus also reported that the practice of excision was prevalent among tribes on the western coast of the Red Sea (Mackie, 1996, p. 1003). Moreover, the Greek geographer Strabo reported the ritual practice of female circumcision when he visited Egypt in 25 b.c. (Hosken, 1982). More specifically, Strabo distinguished “between the operations of circumcision and excision” (Bryk, 1934, p. 271).


Human Development Index Male Circumcision United Nations Development Programme Female Genital Mutilation Female Circumcision 
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© Bret L. Billet 2007

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  • Bret L. Billet

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