Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Despite Hollywood's bias, Cleopatra was not the only woman to rule long ago

Many queens in antiquity were able to stand on their own two feet without seducing generals, and, unlike Cleopatra, they didn't end up losing their kingdoms and committing suicide by snakebite. Herodotus tells us of Tomyris, queen of the Massegetae in modern Turkistan, who defeated the great Persian king Cyrus in battle. Amanirenas, queen of Nubian Kush, likely led a war to defend her lands against Rome in the 20s B.C. In the 3rd-century A.D., the Arabian queen Zenobia of Palmyra assumed rulership after her husband's death and gallantly challenged the Romans. These women were hardly the only noteworthy queens in the ancient world.

Puduhepa From Priestess to Princess: In the mid-1200s B.C., Puduhepa of the Hittites, nominally a queen consort, took the lead in diplomatic affairs with other political giants of her time, like Ramesses II of Egypt. She dealt with the pharaoh as an equal and arranged for him to marry her daughter.
Queen Salome Alexandra Peace of Zion: In the second century B.C., Queen Salome Alexandra of Judea ended the internal strife from her husband's reign. The last stable ruler of the Hasmonean dynasty, she held Judea until her dueling sons began a civil war.
  Mavia of Arabia: In the fourth century A.D. in the nearby land of the Saracens, Queen Mavia led a successful revolt against the Romans. She dictated the terms of the peace treaty with the Roman, and, influenced by a local ascetic, converted her people to Orthodox Christianity.

Carly Silver is a junior at Barnard College, Columbia University, in New York City. A religion major, she is concentrating on ancient belief systems and their effects on the development of monotheism.