Antonia Minor

ljromaDSC05858

In honor of my recent trip to Rome, I’d like to profile an ancient Roman woman whose sculpture I found tucked away in a hallway at the Palazzo Massimo museum. It’s a museum not heralded much in my guidebook, just one line, and I was intrigued by the description of a “museum of Ancient Roman Art.”

I found her statue in a long, brightly-lit hall lined with the marble busts of many women – women of influence in Rome.  Daughters, sisters, nieces, wives, mothers, aunts, and grandmothers. But she struck me as separate from the others. Separate because she was all seven of these things – a woman who played a significant role in the lives of some of the most influential men in Roman history. A daughter, a sister, a niece, a wife, a mother, an aunt, and a grandmother to emperors and generals.

Her name was Antonia Minor. She was born on January 31, 36 BC, the youngest daughter of Marc Antony and Octavia, and the sister of Octavian – the man who would become Augustus, first emperor of Rome.

Her parents’ marriage had been a political one, meant to link her brother Octavian with Marc Antony during a time known as the Second Triumvirate following the murder of Julius Caesar.

Marc Antony had been a close confidante and military commander under Julius Caesar. Following the dictator’s murder, Marc Antony and seventeen-year-old Octavian – Caesar’s named heir and adopted son — split Rome’s provinces in half between them in an alliance called the Second Triumvirate. Octavian ruled the west and Antony ruled the east while a third man, Lepidus, ruled Roman Africa. Within a year, Antony had defeated Caesar’s assassins Brutus and Antonius at the Battle of Phillipi.

But in the end, the Second Triumvirate alliance was doomed to fail. The Roman Republic was on its last legs and empire loomed.

As any fan of the great epic Hollywood films knows, Marc Antony ended up with Cleopatra, the Greek queen of Egypt. The Roman Senate grew nervous at this new alliance between Antony and Cleopatra, and forced Antony to return to Rome and marry Octavia, sister of Octavian, in a political move meant to strengthen the Triumvirate. Antony did as he was ordered, and Antonia Minor was the second daughter of this union.

Eventually, Marc Antony and Octavian went to war with one another, rivals for control of Rome. Octavian and his forces marched on Egypt, and both Cleopatra and Marc Antony committed suicide.

For her part, Antonia never knew her father, as he had left his family for Egypt and Cleopatra when Antonia was still a toddler. Antonia was raised by her mother Octavia and her uncle Octavian, the eventual emperor Augustus. Antonia was just one of a collection of important children brought up within Octavian’s oversight — the children of family, friends, and enemies alike. Growing up in such an influential sphere, Antonia likely learned the political ways of Rome from an early age.

Octavian, once he became the emperor of Rome and took the name Caesar Augustus, began working on the consolidation of the influence of his extended family and worked to strengthen his family’s dynasty by means of marriage alliances.

Augustus’s second wife Livia – herself an influential woman — brought two sons into her marriage with the emperor. Her second son was Nero Claudius Drusus, referred to simply as Drusus, and Augustus chose him as the husband for Antonia Minor.

By all accounts, this arranged marriage was a successful one. Antonia followed her husband on his military campaigns and was so loved by his soldiers that they called her “Mother of the Legions.”

Antonia and Drusus had three children who lived to adulthood — Germanicus, Livilla, and the eventual emperor Claudius. Antonia was also grandmother to the emperor Caligula.

Antonia’s husband Drusus was killed while campaigning in Germania in 9 AD, and was given great honors in death, honors which were also bestowed upon Antonia.

Left the widow of a great hero, Antonia did not shrink from public life, but remained a significant presence at court. She continued to impart broad influence within the imperial family.

As she was only twenty-seven when Drusus died, a new marriage and therefore an additional opportunity for a political alliance for Augustus was possible through her possible marriage. And although Augustus is said to have encouraged this, Antonia never remarried. In remaining an unmarried widow, Antonia embodied the Roman ideal a univira, a chaste woman who had only one husband throughout her life. It was an ideal not often realized, and made her a unique figure within the imperial family and Roman society.

The Senate honored her and offered her the title Augusta, a title given to only one other woman previously – her much beloved aunt Livia, wife of Augustus.

When Livia died, Antonia became the senior woman in the imperial household and inherited the highly respected role of queen mother.

Like her uncle Augustus, she gathered around her the children of dead relatives and raised a household of other people’s offspring, influencing them in the ways of Augustus’s dynastic court.

Antonia inherited a great deal of property and money from both her father and husband, and she managed it on her own, working with men on terms of equality as an independent businesswoman, rare for a Roman woman of the times.

Her son Germanicus died young, and Antonia’s unwavering loyalty to her deceased husband Drusus was noted in her son’s death decree:

“Antonia, mother of Germanicus Caesar, who, having experienced a single marriage . . . has shown by the integrity of her character that she was worthy of such close kinship with the deified Augustus.”

Her most important action regarding political matters was in 31 AD when she informed the emperor Tiberius of a conspiracy against him. She sent a letter of warning to the emperor, who was in self-imposed isolation on the island of Capri. Tiberius quickly removed the conspirator from power, and had him killed. Antonia’s daughter Livilla had become involved in the conspiracy, as well. Some sources say that Tiberius was willing to spare Livilla, but that Antonia had her killed in order to be loyal to the dynasty. The dynasty was above all things for Antonia, even above the fate of her own daughter.

At the age of 73, Antonia Minor committed a final act in honor of the dynasty. When her grandson, the emperor Caligula, refused her advice and acted in a way that brought dishonor to the family, Antonia committed suicide as an act of protest.

After Antonia’s death, Caligula made her a priestess of the cult of Augustus and gave her the privileges of the Vestal Virgins. When her son Claudius became emperor in AD 41, he also gave her the name of Augusta (which the Senate had already conferred), added a ceremonial carriage in her honor at the Circus Maximus, and established a series of games to honor her birth. Antonia was also remembered by means of scores of inscriptions, coins, portraits, and statues throughout the Roman Empire.

In Ancient Rome women were excluded from holding official positions, but many women were there, wielding power behind the scenes. Antonia held traditional roles — daughter, sister, niece, wife, mother, aunt, and grandmother. But she fulfilled these roles in relation to some of Rome’s most powerful men – great emperors and military leaders.

And through her position, she became in her own way one of the most powerful women in Roman history.

 

Sources:

Unusual Historicals

Encyclopedia.com

RomanEmperors.org

History.com

Pantea: Commander of the Immortals

Arteshbod Pantea - Immortal Army Commander

Her name means “strong and immortal.” Pantea Arteshbod, commander of the Persian Immortal army, the equivalent of today’s special forces.

Members of this elite force had to be Persian by blood and withstood rigorous training from the age of seven. The force was known as “The Immortals” because they were always kept at a strength of precisely 10,000 men. Whenever a man was killed or seriously wounded, he was immediately replaced by another man to maintain the fighting force’s precise number. It was a force that could not be weakened or defeated.

And for a time during Persia’s Achaemenid Dynasty, this force was led by a woman.

Pantea was born in approximately 540 BC, and wielded power as an influential commander under Cyrus the Great. Her husband was General Aryasb. Together, Pantea and Aryasb commanded the elite force of Immortals who performed the dual roles of both Imperial Guard and elite army forces during the Persian Empire’s expansion. Their force was the core of the Persian army in wartime and the royal guard in peacetime.

In Persian folklore, Pantea was considered to be the most beautiful and toughest woman in all of Asia. She is said to have kept her face covered in battle to prevent the enemy and her fellow soldiers alike from falling in love with her.

Today, we argue about whether women should have combat roles in the military, and most recently, in special forces units. In August of 2015, Captain Kristen Griest and 1st Lieutenant Shaye Haver, two West Point graduates, made history by becoming the first women to graduate from the Army’s elite Ranger School. Major Lisa Jaster graduated on October 16, 2015. According to the Army Times, “Army Secretary John McHugh defended the Army’s decision to open Ranger School [to women] and outlined data that showed female candidates performed just as well – and in some cases better than – their male peers.”

Over two thousand years ago in Persia, a woman was leading a special forces unit. No arguments. No debates. Pantea should be remembered for her bravery and for being one of the first in a long line of Persian women who held roles that we have long considered to be historically suited to men. We should remember her, and we should remember Kristen Griest, Shaye Haver, and Lisa Jaster. These women have shown us what is possible — that young women, whatever their dreams, can achieve anything. In any position or role they wish to fill. Women have been doing so for centuries.

 

Sources:

IranPoliticsClub.net

Persepolis.nu

Exemplary Women from Iran

The Army Times

Amina: Queen of the Zazzau Kingdom

amina1

Queen Amina is legendary in Nigeria. She is famed among the Hausa people for her military victories and her great leadership.

She was born in 1533, the eldest daughter of Queen Bakwa Turunku, the woman who established the Zazzau Kingdom in 1536. Queen Amina’s reign is often dated to about 1549, when she took over the kingdom after the death of her mother and the disastrous reign of her brother.

The medieval kingdom of Zazzau was located in the region now known as the Kaduna State in the north-central region of Nigeria. Zazzua was a Hausa city-state that dominated the trans-Saharan trade following the collapse of the Songhai Empire. Its wealth was due to the trade of key commodities such as imported metals, leather goods, kola, cloth, horses, and salt.

Known as a great military strategist and cavalrywoman, Queen Amina fought many successful wars that expanded her Hausa kingdom, the southern-most in West Africa. Her first military expedition took place three months after she came to power and she continued fighting until her death thirty-four years later. During her reign, she expanded the Zazzua Kingdom to its greatest extent.

Her goal in fighting was to control the trade routes in her region. She established a network of trade that linked the earthen walls that surrounded the Hausa cities that lay within her territory. Some of these walls still exist, and are, even today, called “Amina’s walls.”

Because her people were talented metal workers – and because the Kingdom traded in a great deal of imported metal — Amina introduced metal armor, including helmets and chain mail, to her army.

History tells us that Amina refused to marry and never had any children. Legend also says that she died during a military campaign at Atagara near Bida in Nigeria.

She is remembered today as “Amina, Yar Bakwa ta san rana,” meaning “Amina, daughter of Nikatau, a woman as capable as a man.”

Queen Amina of Zaria African stamp

Nubian Queens Society

Black History Heroes

History and Women

The Submission Process: “But you don’t own a shih-tzu.”

shih-tzu

I had a dream last night in which I was trying to explain the novel submission process to my father. My Dad passed away in 1990, and dreams about him are rare, so it was something of a gift. And, considering the nasty topic, it was a pretty humorous dream.

“You can’t just write ‘Dear Agent,’” I said.

“What do you write?” he said.

“You write whatever their name is. ‘Dear Ms. Huntington’ or whatever.”

“That doesn’t sound so bad.”

“Well,” I said, “but then you have to personalize the letter.”

“How do you do that?”

“’Dear Ms. Huntington, I read in the recent Annals of the American Kennel Club that you are the breeder of champion shih-tzus, and that your prize bitch, Foxy Fiona, recently won fifth prize in her class at Crufts. I, too, am the owner of a shih-tzu.’”

“But you don’t own a shih-tzu.”

“It’s for the letter, Dad. I’m supposed to make a personal connection with the agent. I’m supposed to show that I’ve done my research, and that I know something about her.”

“Sounds stupid.”

“It is.”

Of course, I know as well as you do that one does not go off on a tangent about an agent’s shih-tzu in a query letter (unless one’s book is about shih-tzus). But the dream was instructive. It was instructive in that I woke up laughing.

There is a game to be played in the submission process, and having been through it once before with my first novel, I dread it again this time with my second.

The submission process has been dangling over my head like an anvil in a Wiley Coyote cartoon — freezing me in place, preventing me from completing my most recent draft. If I finish this draft, my mind tells me, then I’ll have to finish the next draft. And then soon enough, I’ll be submitting.

But the fact that my subconscious found enough humor in the process to create a nocturnal comedy sketch about it (with my father included) tells me that maybe I am in fact ready to move forward. Maybe I shouldn’t take it all as seriously as I have in the past – the research, the e-mails, the rejections.

If my subconscious says it’s okay to laugh in my dreams, then it should be okay to laugh in my waking life. Laugh at the “Dear Author” emails, the “Thank you for your query letter, but…” e-mails.

Easier said than done, right?

So that’s one of the reasons I’m writing this post. To remind myself of my dream. To remind myself of the lunacy of shih-tzus and query letters. If my mind can come up with that, it can come up with anything.

And isn’t that what being a writer is all about?

Tomoe Gozen: Female Samurai

Tomoe

When we think of the samurai, we invariably think of the brave warriors of Japan’s feudal era. Male warriors. But there was another class of warriors. A class of women. Samurai warriors in their own right.

Perhaps the most famous of these women was Tomoe Gozen. Born around the year 1157 at a time when the samurai ruled Japan. Under the Shogun, the warrior dynasties were Japan’s aristocracy.

Samurai were trained soldiers – highly trained soldiers. They were prepared to die for family and clan.

The wives of the samurai were taught the art of war and could often be found defending the household while their men were away fighting. Others followed their husbands into battle. These women were educated and highly literate. They were instructed not just in the art of war, but in writing, painting, the time-honored tea ceremony, and the managing of estate and servants. They assisted their husband in running the household and in teaching the children. And often, they carried a dagger up their sleeve.

The part these female warriors – known as onna bugeisha – played in society was primarily defensive. Defense of home and family while their husbands were away. They were expected to be able to protect themselves, their homes, and their families in the event of an attack by the enemy.

But Tomoe was different. She played an offensive role as a samurai, not defensive.

Her “master” was Minamoto Yoshinaka – either her husband or the man to which she was an attendant. He sent her into battle as his first captain. Tomoe was strong with a bow and with a sword, fighting with a man’s katana sword and the naginata, a long, curved blade mounted on a pole.

It was also said that she could tame any horse, and was a skilled horsewoman who could ride with ease over any terrain.

She is introduced thusly in The Tale of the Heike: “She was a fearless rider whom neither the fiercest horse nor the roughest ground could dismay, and so dexterously did she handle sword and bow that she was a match for a thousand warriors, and fit to meet either god or devil.”

Image-on-Silk-of-Tomoe-Gozen

Tomoe was especially skilled at gathering intelligence from enemy forces, and was sent on many dangerous scout missions. And she did not fight from behind. Her place was always on the front line, ready to face the enemy first.

The Heike Monogatari says of Tomoe: “Whenever a battle was imminent, Yoshinaka sent her out as his first captain, equipped with strong armor, an oversized sword, and a might bow; and she preformed more deeds of valor than any of his other warriors.”

At the Battle of Awazu, the forces of Yoshinaka faced off against those of Minamoto Yoritomo. The battle did not go well for Yoshinaka. His army of three hundred was reduced to just five surviving warriors. Tomoe was among them.

History becomes cloudy on the topic of what happened to Tomoe next. Her master Yoshinaka had been killed, and some say Tomoe eventually died as well. However, others say she was taken captive and later married a rival warrior named Wada Yoshimori. Others say Tomoe gave up a life of fighting, took a vow of chastity, and became a Buddhist nun.

Interestingly, Tomoe’s story may not be a unique one. DNA testing has been completed recently from bones found at archaeological digs at samurai battlegrounds. In one case, at the site of the Battle of Senbon Matsubaru, there appears to be a large female presence among the warriors. Of the 105 bodies tested, 35 were female. Similar results have been found at other sites in Japan. And since none of these other sites were the location of a siege situation – where women would have been protecting their home and family – the conclusion may be reached that women in feudal Japan fought in armies, although their participation was rarely recorded.

 

Again they galloped through enemy bands- here four or five hundred, there two or three hundred, or a hundred and forty or fifty, or a hundred- until only five of them were left. Even then, Tomoe remained alive.

– from the Heike Monogatari

 

Sources

Samurai Archives

Lady of Legacy: Tomoe Gozen

Ancient Origins

MilitaryHistory.org

 

Telesilla of Argos: Warrior Poet

Amazon Warriors [20x16]

What follows may — or may not — be true. But the story is compelling, and I think it deserves to be told.

Telesilla of Argos was a woman known in her day as being a great lyric poet. In fact, she was listed in Antipater’s roll of earthly muses in the 5th century BC.

But she is remembered more for her role as a warrior. Legend says that in either 494 or 493 BC, King Cleomenes I of Sparta came to invade the city of Argos. After luring the male warriors of the city out to a pine grove, he slaughtered them, leaving the city populated only by women, slaves, the very young, and the very old.

Cleomenes marched on the city, and Telesilla took action. She gathered ornamental shields and swords from temples in the city, raided the city armory for whatever equipment was left over, and provided the women of the city with arms.

According to Plutarch in his On the Bravery of Women, “With Telesilla as general, [the women] took up arms and made their defense by manning the walls around the city, and the enemy was amazed.”

King Cleomenes saw that he was facing a tricky situation. He could fight against the women and defeat them, which would bring him dishonor in slaughtering women. Or, if they defeated him, Sparta would have been bested by a group of untrained women, also leading to dishonor.

Pausanius wrote: “The women stood their ground and fought with the greatest determination, until the Spartans, reflecting that the slaughter of an army of women would be an equivocal victory, and defeat at their hands would be dishonor as well as disaster, laid down their arms.”

The Spartan king withdrew, and Argos was saved.

In memory of Telesilla’s achievement, her statue was built in the temple of Aphrodite at Argos. The Greek war-god Ares was worshipped thereafter in Argos as a patron deity of women.

As I said at the start, this story may or may not be true. And modern historians still debate over its authenticity. But as the tale was repeated by many ancient sources, it is considered to be plausible by many scholars.

Clement of Alexandria, who lived from approximately 150 to 215 AD, preserved a poem detailing Telesilla’s heroism. Telesilla’s reputation for courage was such that, almost 700 years after the events in Argos, she continued to be remembered by the people of the ancient world.

 

Sources

Ancient History Encyclopedia

A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology

HellenicaWorld.com

Women’s Life in Greece and Rome

 

When Friends Don’t Support Your Writing

statues backs to each other

I’ve had to make a choice. A friend, or my writing. I chose my writing. Sounds harsh. Narcissistic. But she did not support me. In fact, she undermined me. And I’ve been on this planet long enough to know that there are people out there who are willing to support me – sometimes strangers (like you) who connect only through the ethereal mist of the internet. And I know that staying attached to those in my life who do not support me in my writing is toxic and a waste of my time.

Being a writer is hard enough without someone pulling you down, telling you in words or otherwise that it is a pointless pursuit.

This particular friend had the following statement for me: “Focus on something other than your book!” The words came in a text, complete with exclamation mark.

As writers, we pour ourselves into our work — our souls, our hearts, our entire life experiences. And this friend was dismissing hours and hours and hours of my life’s work with just a few flicks of her finger on her iPhone.

I had given her the completed first draft of my novel to read – 75,000 words. That alone should tell you how close we were. She had her hands on the manuscript for six months and had only read two chapters. She once called me up on a day I had scheduled for writing to see if I wanted to join her shoe shopping at the mall. “No, thanks,” I told her. “Today is a day I have scheduled for writing.” In response, she said, “You can’t sit around all day doing nothing.”

So when she told me to focus on something other than my book, several thoughts ran through my head. What should I focus on, then, I thought. Perhaps the triad of depressiveness that is Donald Trump, climate change, and the Syrian refugee crisis? Should I give up on my writing, the thing that gives my soul life and depth and clarity, and dwell upon the negatives of life? Or should I skirt around the edges of life, like you, dear friend, channeling my energy into my hair and makeup and the latest trendy boots? No. I choose words. I choose to write. I choose characters and soul and the weaving of stories. This is where I find my truth.

Writing is where humans have found their truth for millennia. The act of quill on paper, stylus on clay tablet, chisel on tomb wall. And before writing, we painted our stories on cave walls 15,000 years ago. We humans are storytellers — that is what we do.

cave_painting_l

I suppose writing cannot really be explained to the nonwriter. And I am certainly not the one to do the explaining. But when it came time to choose, I chose writing. And I always will. It is, as one of my characters once said, “in my veins.”

So, I wish my friend well with her trendy boots and her newest mascara. I only wish, for one small moment, that she could feel the joy of creation — the spark — that comes from forming a beautiful sentence, an eloquent phrase, or from finding just the right word at just the right time. But she won’t. Because she is not a writer. She is a consumer of things, not a creator of things.

And creation, whether it be the telling of stories or the writing of music or the painting of pictures, is where beauty lies. I will not give up. I will not “focus on something else.” It is not who I am. I must be authentic to myself. And my self, my soul, is a writer.

Dear Roger

pen-paper-700x300

We learn many lessons in our high school years, some academic and intended, many social and unintended, and others life lessons that we carry with us well beyond those years of cliques and clubs and standardized tests.

I’m going to dig deep into the annals of high school for this post, so bear with me.

When I was a senior in high school, I was in an honors English class taught by an amazing man who could – literally – speak Old English. He could read Beowulf aloud in the original text.  Seriously.  But that’s beside the point.

Our class was given an assignment: write the beginning of a frame story introducing five unrelated characters and put them in a unique situation in which they all must come together, alá Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

I worked my butt off. I spent every minute of my free time on the assignment. I had written stories my whole life – kept them in secret notebooks tucked away in the bottom drawer of the desk in my bedroom and never shared them with a single soul because I thought creative writing was, well, somehow embarrassing.

So this was just the kind of writing assignment that I lived for.  Had been waiting for.

And damn, was it good.

The night before the assignment was due, I was at a friend’s house, where there was a gathering of students from the English class. Everyone traded papers and read each other’s stories. One student – I’ll call him Roger (although his name was really Jeremy) – read my story and turned to me with a smirk on his face and said, “This isn’t what Dr. Brown wants at all.”

I was crushed. I had worked so hard; had perfected every word, every phrase, every sentence. It was, I thought, the best thing I had ever written. And it was too late to do anything about it. It was nine o’clock the night before the story was due.

I drove home that night in tears.

The next day, I turned in the paper, knowing it was a complete failure, knowing, as Roger had said, that it wasn’t what the teacher wanted at all. Knowing my work — my very finest work — just wasn’t good enough.

A week later, Dr. Brown had the papers graded and began returning them. I was a bundle of nerves. I was terrified that I had failed. I watched as the students around me received their papers, talking to each other and sharing their grades. But no paper appeared on my desk. Imagine that – everyone has a paper, everyone is chatting about their grades – and I had nothing. Nothing but an empty desk and a desolate feeling in my gut. Kids started asking me, “Where is your paper?” and I realized that my paper was so bad, so supremely awful, that it wasn’t even worth grading; Dr. Brown had kept it to perhaps speak with me after class about its worthlessness.

And then Dr. Brown addressed the class. He stood in front of his desk as he always did, holding a paper in his hands. He said, “Students. Someone in this class will be a professional writer one day.” And then he looked at me over the rim of his tortoiseshell glasses.

“Kate,” he said, “Will you read your story to the class?”

The lesson, of course, is not to listen to the Rogers in life.

It has been twenty-seven years since that moment, but it still holds great meaning for me. It is still a lesson I draw on as I write today. And last summer I was reminded again of the Rogers in the world.

My historical fiction short story “Brigida” won first prize in Spider Road Press’s 2015 Spider’s Web Flash Fiction Contest and the story will be published in their 2016 anthology Approaching Footsteps later this year.

Which is great news. And which may or may not qualify me as a “professional writer” as Dr. Brown said. But it’s not the end of the tale.

When I first learned of the Spider’s Web contest, I stood, hands on my hips, staring at my computer screen – and laughing. “Seven hundred and fifty words?!” I shouted, spooking the cats, who ran off in three different directions.

You see, I consider myself a novelist, and had just completed a 92,000-word project. I never thought I could conquer flash fiction. I thought 750 words was an impossibility. “There’s no way I can create complex characters and a rich plot in 750 words,” I said – loudly — to the computer. Seven hundred and fifty words is half a chapter. A quarter of a chapter.

“It can’t be done,” I thought.

So there are Rogers lurking inside us, too.

And those are the Rogers that must be silenced most of all.

Hatshepsut, The King Herself

Hatshepsut

Egypt. Land of the pharaohs. Land of kings. But one woman defied tradition and became “The King Herself.”

Hatshepsut. Born at the beginning of the golden age of Egyptian power and influence, the New Kingdom. She was born a princess, daughter of the pharaoh Thutmose I. And in typical ancient Egyptian royal fashion, she was wed to her half-brother Thutmose II, around the age of 12, whereupon she became queen.

When Pharaoh Thutmose II died in 1473 BC, probably while still in his twenties, Queen Hatshepsut became regent for her stepson, the infant Thutmose III, as was tradition. Queens had been acting as regents when male heirs were too young to rule for centuries. It was a time-honored tradition. And in early monuments, young Thutmose III is depicted in the conventional way – as an adult king – with his stepmother as regent, dressed in queenly garb, standing respectfully off to the side.

But within seven years, Hatshepsut appears in monuments and stone carvings dressed fully as a king, complete with flail, crook, and a pharaoh’s false beard. She had taken on the full role and title of king, pharaoh, and “Daughter of Re.” Thutmose III, who by this point may have been old enough to rule, was relegated to something like a vice-pharaoh, and Hatshepsut went on to rule Egypt for 21 years.

Why did she do it? Nineteenth century and early twentieth century Egyptologists frowned upon Hatshepsut, claiming she was a “usurper” and a “deviant” whose ambition drove her to steal her stepson’s throne. But more recently, scholars are of the mind that she may have had political motives. There may have been a threat from another branch of the royal family, they surmise, and Hatshepsut may have been acting in good faith to protect the throne for her stepson.

And it also must be noted that Hatshepsut herself was of true royal blood, a descendent of the pharaoh Ahmose, while her husband (and half-brother) was the child of an adopted king. Her steward referred to her as “the king’s firstborn daughter.”

Firstborn. But also, daughter. As with most ancient civilizations – and indeed, most civilizations of any kind – Egypt was patriarchal. Women did not rule. The kingship was passed down from father to son, not father to daughter, firstborn or otherwise. The religion of Egypt stated explicitly that the role of pharaoh could not be carried out by a woman. The pharaoh was meant to be a god, not a goddess.

How did Hatshepsut resolve this issue of gender? It seems that she “sidestepped” the issue completely by depicting herself as a male king – which gave rise to some of those 19th and 20th century Egyptologists calling her a “deviant.” In monuments and murals she wears the pharaoh’s headdress, shendyt kilt, and false beard. She is portrayed with large muscles and without any female traits at all. This is all thought to be a form of ancient propaganda, as the average Egyptian of the day would rarely actually glimpse the pharaoh, only see his (or her) image on stone carvings and monuments displayed throughout the cities.

And so she ruled. As a woman. And she ruled well.

Chip Brown writes, “She seems to have been more afraid of anonymity than of death. She was one of the greatest builders in one of the greatest Egyptian dynasties.”

She is perhaps most famous for the construction of the Temple of Deir el-Bahri, located in western Thebes, where she was meant to be buried. The temple is considered one of the architectural wonders of the ancient world and is on the itinerary of just about every tourist who visits Egypt today.

Temple of Hatshepsut 1

Hatshepsut also built and renovated shrines and temples and obelisks all over the Egyptian empire, from the Sinai to Nubia.

She was also known for extending the trading networks of an already flourishing Egyptian economy. Perhaps best known is the trading expedition she sent to Punt, a land near modern-day Eritrea. The expedition brought back glorious riches to Egypt – incense, gold, ebony, ivory, and leopard skins. Such an expedition would not only garner great wealth for the empire, but also prestige and cultural pride.

Hatshepsut died in her mid-40s, probably around the year 1458 BC. She was buried along with other pharaohs in the Valley of the Kings in the hills beyond her temple of Deir el-Bahri.

Her stepson Thutmose III ruled for thirty years after her death, proving to be an avid builder like Hatshepsut and also a great military leader. He is also know for his eradication plan; eradication of any traces of his stepmother’s reign. He had images of her as king removed from temples and monuments she had built. Because of this, little was known of Hatshepsut until 1822 when inscriptions on the walls at Deir el-Bahri were decoded and read.

Today, you can find Hatshepsut in one of the two Royal Mummy Rooms at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, where she lies side-by-side with her extended family of other New Kingdom pharaohs.

Plaques in Arabic and English proclaim her to be “Hatshepsut, the King Herself.”

“Now my heart turns this way and that, as I think what the people will say. Those who see my monuments in years to come, and who shall speak of what I have done.”

– Hatshepsut’s inscription, on an obelisk at Karnak

 

Sources

National Geographic Online

History.com

Smithsonian

Gruoch: The Real Lady MacBeth

ladymacbeth

Ah, Shakespeare. That wondrous weaver of sonnets and timeless plays. In MacBeth, he wrote: “What’s done cannot be undone.” And perhaps he was right. Perhaps not.

Shakespeare was a genius, this I dare not dispute, but he was also a man who, unfortunately, did some damage with his words – damage to historical figures who would otherwise have been looked upon with greater sympathy by later generations were it not for the Bard taking creative license with their lives.

I speak of MacBeth and of his wife and queen, Gruoch.

Gruoch lived from approximately 1015 to 1060, deep within the medieval period – an era traditionally seen as a time of darkness and shadow in European history, when accuracy is a fleeting, ethereal thing and true facts are sometimes hard to come by.

But some things we do know.

According to the British Peerage, Gruoch mi Boedhe was born sometime around 1015 AD. She was the daughter of Boedhe mac Cinaed. Before marrying Mac Bethad mac Findlaích (MacBeth), she first wed his cousin, Gille Coemgain Macrory, Earl of Moray. After the death of her first husband, she married Macbeth, King of Scotland, son of Findlaech MacRory, Mormaer of Moray and Donalda of Alba, in 1032.

Shakespeare wrote his play sometime between 1603 and 1607. He wrote the play specifically for King James I, the newly reigning king who was a great supporter of the theater. And one can only suppose that then, as now, a story of ambition, betrayal, deceit, and murder would be far more fascinating and entertaining than a tale of a devout Christian king who ruled generally peaceably for seventeen years with his loyal wife at his side.

The historical facts as we know them are that MacBeth killed Duncan in battle — an honorable way to be killed at the time — and a perfectly reasonable way for MacBeth to rise to power as king given the societal norms of the medieval era. This is a far cry from Shakespeare’s version, in which Duncan is murdered ruthlessly in his home, with MacBeth feeling remorse over the killing later.

As for the historical Lady Gruoch, when Macbeth became king after the death of Duncan, he claimed the throne of Scotland in both his and his wife’s name. This was utterly unheard of for the times.  And Lady Gruoch became the first queen ever recorded in Scottish history.

As king, Macbeth brought peace to Scotland during a time of violent upheaval. He was a popular ruler and the first Scottish king recorded to have made a pilgrimage to Rome. During his reign, Macbeth gave to the poor, imposed order, and supported Christianity throughout Scotland. He lasted seventeen years as king, when the average Scottish king of the time barely lasted ten. All the while, Queen Gruoch ruled at his side.

Queen Gruoch is named in charters endowing the Culdee monastery at Loch Leven, the home to an aesthetic group of monks devoted to community and to living in the ways of the Christian faith.

During MacBeth’s reign, Gruoch wielded power and influence alongside him as his queen. Their reign was rich enough that MacBeth was said to have “scattered silver like seeds” to the poor.

A royal princess by birth, Gruoch was already the mother of a son, Lulach, when she married MacBeth, and became the mother of the new king when Lulach ascended the throne of Scotland after MacBeth’s death.

According to Scottish historian, broadcaster, and author of MacBeth: A True Story, Fiona Watson:

“Medieval women may be more or less silent to us, but I believe this doubly royal woman played an active role in both in her marriage and in public life generally. Remember, she made a political match with Macbeth: what she and her son needed was a strong protector. In the circumstances, Macbeth fitted the bill perfectly.”

So rid yourself of the Shakespearean concept that Queen Gruoch was a nagging, manipulative, and guilt-ridden woman driven to suicide by her own scheming. The true Gruoch, the woman we should all remember, was a noble queen who ruled at her husband’s side for seventeen years, raised a son to be a king of Scotland, gave to the poor, and outlived her husband by many years.

In the end, she became innocent fodder for the imagination of one of the world’s greatest writers, and as a result, the world has remembered a nefarious Lady MacBeth through literature for more than four centuries.

Perhaps it is time for history to set things right.

 

Out, out, brief candle!

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

And then is heard no more.

          – MacBeth, Act V, Scene V

 

Fiona Watson’s non-fiction book on the life of MacBeth, MacBeth: A True Story.

GoodReads      Amazon

Read an interview with Fiona Watson at the scotsman.com.