Elisabeth Oberzaucher from the University of Vienna was fascinated by the story of Moroccan ruler Moulay Ismail the bloodthirsty, who was born in 1672 and died at the age of 55, having reputedly sired over 600 sons. With her German colleague Karl Grammer she set out to see if this could be possible, using computer simulations.
They worked out that it was theoretically possible, if the leader had sex once a day for 32 years without a break.
“It’s a lot of work it turns out,” Oberzaucher said. “Moulay had to have had sex once or twice a day, which you might actually regard as a low number, but if you think this is every single day for an entire life, this is quite a lot.” She added that it would have been especially hard work for Ismail as he was often off fighting wars.
She said that she was “thrilled” to be awarded the prize, given at a ceremony at Harvard University. Her and Krammer's study was published in PLOS One.
Ismail holds the title for fathering the greatest number of children in history in the Guinness Book of World Records, which says that he fathered 888 children.
But a French diplomat called Dominique Busnot who visited Morocco at the time, wrote that the sultan had 1,171 children by 1704, as well as four wives and 500 concubines.
Oberzaucher also speculated on why Ismael would have had such a large harem. "It wouldn’t have been to sire a large number of children - 50 or 100 women would have sufficed for that. It was for political reasons,” she said, explaining that the women in his harem would have been unavailable to other men, and unmarried men made better warriors.
Other winners of the Ig Nobel this year included an entomologist who carried out experiments recording how painful different insect stings are, and on which parts of the body the stings hurt the most.