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Semiramis - Sammu-Ramat

Semi-legendary Assyrian Queen


Semiramis in 15th Century Artist's Conception

Semiramis, from De Claris Mulieribus (Of Famous Women) by Giovanni Boccaccio, 15th century.

Fine Art Images / Heritage Images / Getty Images

When: 9th century BCE

Occupation: queen, warrior

Some legends have Semiramis raised by doves in the desert, born the daughter of the goddess Atargatis. Her first husband was said to have been the governor of Nineveh, Menones or Omnes. King Ninus of Babylon became captivated by the beauty of Semiramis, and after her first husband conveniently committed suicide, he married her.

That may have been the first of his two biggest mistakes in judgment. The second came when Semiramis, now Queen of Babylon, convinced Ninus to make her "Regent for a Day." He did so - and on that day, she had him executed, and she took the throne.

Semiramis is said to have had a long string of one-night-stands with handsome soldiers. So that her power would not be threatened by a man who presumed on their relationship, she had each lover killed after a night of passion.

There's even one story that the army of Semiramis attacked and killed the sun itself (in the person of the god Er), for the crime of not returning her love. Echoing a similar myth about the goddess Ishtar, she implored the other gods to restore the sun to life.

Semiramis is also credited with a renaissance of building in Babylon and with the conquest of neighboring states, including the defeat of the Indian army at the Indus River.

When Semiramis returned from that battle, the legend has her turning over her power to her son, Ninyas, who then had her killed. She was 62 years old and had ruled alone for almost 25 years (or was it 42?).

The truth? Records show that after the reign of Shamshi-Adad V, 823-811 B.C.E., his widow served as regent from 811 - 808 B.C.E. The rest of the real history is lost, and all that remains are stories, most certainly exaggerated, from Greek historians.

The legend of Semiramis attracted not only the attention of Greek historians, but the attention of novelists, historians and other storytellers through the centuries since. Great warrior queens in history have been called the Semiramis of their times. Rossini's opera, Semiramide, premiered in 1823. In 1897, the Semiramis Hotel was opened in Egypt, built on the banks of the Nile. It remains a luxury destination today, near the Museum of Egyptology in Cairo. Many novels have featured this intriguing, shadowy queen.

  • Period: 9th century B.C.E.
  • Places: Assyria, Nineveh, Babylon

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Text © Jone Johnson Lewis

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