Did Ismail the Bloodthirsty really father 888 children?

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the 18th century Moroccan ruler Ismail the Bloodthirsty holds the record for being the most prolific father ever. He supposedly fathered 888 children, which means he had to father about 15 children a year for 60 years.

But Dorothy Einon, a researcher at University College London, argues in her article "How many children can one man have?" that even if Ismail had access to a steady supply of fertile women, it would have been impossible for him to father this many children.

Problem One: The infrequency of ovulation. Ismail would need to accurately time when the women were actually fertilizable, which is a fairly small window of time each month.

Problem Two: Women who mate infrequently have longer cycles and ovulate less frequently. So if there's this huge supply of women mating exclusively with Ismail the bloodthirsty, then each woman is mating infrequently, and thus the odds of mating when she's fertile become even slimmer.

Problem Three: The low incidence of conception. Even if Ismail managed to copulate with a woman at the ideal time, and an egg was fertilized, only 42% of fertilized eggs survive to the 12th day of pregnancy.

Problem Four: The high frequency of infertile women, especially in the developing world, which reduces Ismail's odds even more.

Problem Five: Not all women are chaste. It's not logical to assume that all those women were mating exclusively with Ismail. Therefore, one can't assume he was the father of them all.

Problem Six: If Ismail copulated with multiple women every day, his own sperm count would drop, further reducing his chances of impregnating a woman.

Einon concludes that, given all these problems "unless a man has an extensive harem and a good harem keeper, it is unlikely that the extreme range of male and female reproductive success is very different."

Posted on Mon Feb 23, 2009


If the women in Ismail's harem had similar genes to the women in both my and my wife's family tree, getting pregnant simply isn't a problem.
Posted by Joe  on  Mon Feb 23, 2009  at  10:50 AM
888 isn't really a lot
15 a year for 60 years
is only 1 and a quarter
pregnacies a month.

He had 550 wives (approx)
even if they ovulate less
I'll bet it still works out to
about once a month.
Posted by Sharruma  on  Mon Feb 23, 2009  at  12:05 PM
Come on, it really isn't such a big deal. I bet a determined guy could meet Ismail's yearly quota in a single month, under ideal conditions. I mean, you can definitely have sex once a day every day, and you only need an average 50% success rate to pull it off.
Posted by Gutza  on  Tue Feb 24, 2009  at  07:38 AM
We have fed the information into our Crays now, and we have some preliminary results:

According to our logarithmic extrapolation of the fractal exponents, the answer is:

Discounts on V1agra!?!

Who's been using the Crays to go on Facebook?!?!
Posted by Vitajex  on  Tue Feb 24, 2009  at  10:36 AM
this Ismail is the slacker, no? Amatuer, Raoul is sure. Rrrraoul
Posted by Raoul  on  Tue Feb 24, 2009  at  11:36 AM
From Wikipedia: "The highest officially recorded number of children born to one mother is 69, to the first wife of Feodor Vassilyev (1707-1782) of Shuya, Russia. Between 1725 and 1765, in a total of 27 confinements, she gave birth to 16 pairs of twins, seven sets of triplets, and four sets of quadruplets. 67 of them survived infancy."

All Ismail needed was 13 wives like Mrs. Vassilyev. The 18th Century certainly was fecund.
Posted by Canadarm  on  Tue Feb 24, 2009  at  01:39 PM
I've heard Alexandre Dumas had up to 500 children (starting in his early teens and continuing to dottering old age).
Posted by Mark  on  Tue Feb 24, 2009  at  04:27 PM
So... chances of pregnancy being around 1 day in 30, then 42% after that, so you get .013 chance each copulation? Sound reasonable? Three women a day is 1095 chances per year, for 14.23 children per year. Eat well to keep your sperm count up. Keep that up for 62.4 years, and you hit your goal. Some folks think he lived to be like 93, so he wouldn't even have to start until he was 31. Gives him a little wiggle room to have some off years now and then.
Posted by Crazy Ivan  on  Wed Feb 25, 2009  at  08:06 AM
I've read that the rate of successful pregnancy when trying during a woman's fertile period is 25%. Assuming Mr Bloodthirsty was going for a record, and that his haremkeeper was providing him only with women during their fertile period, then 1.25 pregnancies a month would have been easily achievable. Even at a much lower 10% success rate (allowing for lower sperm counts, etc), that's still only 13 sexual encounters a month.
The remarkable feature here isn't Ismail's productivity, it's the amazing supply of fertile women available to him.
Posted by Canadarm  on  Wed Feb 25, 2009  at  07:23 PM
Aside from the numerical calculations thus far what about the slightly backward medical knowledge of the time? We need to account for things like miscarriages and VD.

Don't tell me he was able to escape the hazards of having sex with so many women. Not to mention the hazards of medical treatments of the time.
Posted by Peter  on  Wed Feb 25, 2009  at  11:16 PM
I'm betting he escaped the normal probability of VD by keeping his women in a cage guarded by men without genitals. The article didn't go into details but I'm guessing he had something resembling a traditional harem where he was the only one with access. If he started with virgins, the odds of him getting VD drop dramatically.

If I'm wrong and he had to pick up all these women in bars, I'll be really impressed.
Posted by Mark  on  Thu Feb 26, 2009  at  09:11 AM
I think the writer is jelous. I think it is reasonable to father so many children considering endless suply of harem wimen. It is a siantific fact that one in 5 asians is decendant of Kingis Khan. That suppouses many more oririginal children of his then 888.
Posted by Stalin  on  Thu Feb 26, 2009  at  11:06 PM
It is a siantific fact that one in 5 asians is decendant of Kingis Khan. That suppouses many more oririginal children of his then 888.

No such thing. Go read some population genetics.
Posted by outeast  on  Fri Feb 27, 2009  at  01:44 AM
You also might have to account for twins or triplets.
Posted by Sakano  on  Fri Feb 27, 2009  at  01:57 PM
I'm more interested in how you acquire and maintain a harem of 500 women. Cool.
Posted by Joe Schmoe  on  Fri Feb 27, 2009  at  02:55 PM
The question I have is how many of those 888 lived beyond three months, given the high infany mortality at the time? If you include dead children, then the number might be as stated.
Posted by D F Stuckey  on  Fri Feb 27, 2009  at  06:50 PM
Hello Alex,
I suggest an alternate approach for any would-be record-thirsty Morroccans:
He fills up a glass a few times a day, at a leisurely pace...
the resulting fertilizer bottle is used by all women in his harem who suspect they might be in fruitful mood. In parallel.

That way he could reach dozens a day, repeatedly even.
They could dilute the milky treasure for easier handling.

He can still choose the old fashioned intercourse, of course, with whoever appeals as the seductress du jour.

By separating the pleasurable bit of friction from the dreary act of record building, he can tentuple his output and pleasure at the same time.

I bet there are numerous readers here who would volunteer to double check this theory in practice.
(count me out though, one woman is plenty 😊
Posted by Sebastian K. Melmoth  on  Sat Feb 28, 2009  at  05:10 AM
If even a few of the women had an above-average tendency to multiple births, and he fertilized them regularly, that would increase the odds. If his harem was largely drawn from particular areas, and one of those areas had a high incidence of the genes for multiple births, he might have had several women who regularly gave birth to multiples.
Posted by Ann  on  Sun Mar 01, 2009  at  01:36 PM
The idle minds of intellectuals should have better things to calculate
Posted by ARCANE12  on  Mon Mar 02, 2009  at  01:17 PM
Alex, if you had done a little more research, you would have found a more recent article which asserts that Einon's argument "is based on both factual errors and unwarranted assumptions":

Richard G. Gould, How many children could Moulay Ismail have had?, Evolution and Human Behavior, Volume 21, Issue 4, July 2000, Pages 295-296, ISSN 1090-5138, DOI: 10.1016/S1090-5138(00)00043-X.

The first error is to confuse the length of Ismail's reign with that of his life and grossly underestimating the number of years Ismail had the opportunity to keep a harem.

Secondly, Einon allows Ismail no further selectivity beyond avoiding sex with his women during their menses. Even so, the number of days the women could have been fertile should not be estimated at 3.5 of 23 (15.2%), but 6 out of 23 days (26%), because sperm actually can survive that long on average.

Moreover, Einon relied on studies of the percentage of menstrual cycles that are ovulatory which also include much older women (as well as women who were breastfeeding) than those in Ismail's harem, who were retired on full pension at age 30.

Thus Ismail would need not 2.9 but just over 1.2 couplings per day in order to father 888 children, which is well within the two fertile ejaculations per day which Einon herself suggests that a man might sustain.

Gould concludes that "Einon's thesis that Ismail could not have fathered the 888 children attributed to him must be awarded the traditional Scottish verdict 'not proven.'" -- and I suggest you change the status to that rather than "Highly unlikely."
Posted by Eivind Berge  on  Sun Mar 08, 2009  at  02:14 PM
Everyone can break this record including me.

If you can supply more than enough women for me to have sex to, then for sure I can keep them pregnant for sure.

If you can supply 1000 women... I can produce more than what this fella done if I have sex two times a day... hahaha
Posted by Suhairul Hanim Kamaruddin  on  Sat Jun 19, 2010  at  06:50 PM
I have not yet seen mention of the fact that women housed together, as in a harem guarded by enuchs or castrates, often ovulate and menstruate in synch.
Posted by SKW  on  Tue Dec 07, 2010  at  08:58 PM
This argument completely excludes the fact that this is 100% possible due to the fact that Kings and rulers in those times had many, many concubines (some were known for having over a thousand) mainly for the purpose to have has many "Royal" offspring as possible. Ismail had over 500 concubines making 888 children very much a possibility.
Posted by Soda Popinski  on  Fri May 10, 2013  at  08:32 AM
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