Weird History

The Saga Of Feodor Vassilyev: A Man Who Fathered 22 Twins In The 1700s  

Anna Lindwasser
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Feodor Vassilyev was one of the most prolific fathers in recorded history. A peasant from Shuya, Russia, he lived from 1707-1782 and fathered 87 children before dying at the age of 76. And nearly all of these children were twins, triplets, or quadruplets. Vassilyev's first wife, who holds the world record for most children born to a single woman, birthed 69 of those children, while his second wife had 18.

Though little information exists about Vassilyev's descendants, we know an astonishing 82 out of the 87 children survived infancy, and many lived in Moscow on government assistance. To some, the story may seem impossible, but others find the evidence quite reasonable.

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His Second Wife Had 'Only' 18 Children
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Photo:  Cornelis Bega/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

As an older man, Feodor Vassilyev married a second time. It's easy to assume he'd be tired of having kids after fathering 69 of them, but Vassilyev wasn't finished yet. His second wife, whose name is also unknown, allegedly gave birth to 18 children. While that's a staggering number, compared to his first wife's 69 kids, it doesn't sound too bad.

It's A Miracle The First Mrs. Vassilyev Survived
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Photo:  Cornelis Bega/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Today, dying in childbirth is a rarity in developed nations. As of 2015, only eight of every 100,000 women in the UK died due to pregnancy-related complications or within six weeks of ending a pregnancy. Other developed nations boast similar statistics. By contrast, Sierra Leone, one of the world's poorest countries, possessed a rate of 1,100 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births.

Russian women in the 1700s faced many risks. Life-threatening issues had no real treatment, and certain emergencies, like hemorrhaging, were significantly more likely during multiple births. Mrs. Vassilyev's 27 pregnancies carried with them significant risks, so the fact that she survived into her 70s is nothing short of a miracle.

The Vassilyevs Were Russian Peasants
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Photo: Grigoriy Myasoyedov/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

The Vassilyevs were peasants - with a lot of mouths to feed. While large numbers of children helped the agrarian lower class with farm work and other types of labor, all those kids still needed to eat. Not only that, they needed to be raised, a challenging task for parents with little time for anything but labor.

If the Vassilyevs were serfs, like many peasants at the time, they could appeal to their landowner for help when their kids became disobedient. 

Science Might One Day Remove Limits On Female Fertility
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Technically, no upper limit exists to how many children a cisgender man can have. As long as someone is willing and able to bear said children, they can keep producing kids long into old age. Giving birth is another story. 

Firstly, men produce millions of sperm every day, while women possess a set number of eggs at birth - which continue to degrade as they age. Secondly, women often become infertile in their late 40s and early 50s, while men lack any such cap on their fertility. But this might be changing with new advances in reproductive technology

Assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs) are causing a spike in the incidence of twins, triplets, and other multiple births. In 2015, scientists began working with oocyte stem cells found in human ovaries. If properly stimulated, these cells could theoretically produce unlimited eggs. These eggs could then be harvested and preserved, dramatically increasing their owner's reproductive potential.

This technology, which remains theoretical, would likely be used to help women with infertility issues. But it could technically allow one woman to have hundreds of children, outpacing Mrs. Vassilyev by far.