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Ancient Women Rulers

Queens, Empresses, Pharaohs, Other Women Rulers of the Ancient & Classical World

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Though most rulers in the ancient (and classical) world were men, some women wielded power and influence. Some ruled in their own name, some influenced their world as royal consorts. Here are some of the most powerful women in the ancient world, listed alphabetically below:

Artemisia

When Xerxes went to war against Greece (480-479 B.C.E.), Artemisia, ruler of Halicarnassus, brought five ships and helped Xerxes defeat the Greeks in the naval battle of Salamis.

Boudicca (Boadicea)

"Boadicea and Her Army" 1850 Engraving
Print Collector / Hulton Archive / Getty Images
Queen of the Iceni, a tribe in East England, Boudicca led a rebellion against Roman occupation in about 60 C.E.

Cartimandua

Queen of the Brigantes, Cartimandua signed a peace treaty with the invading Romans, and ruled as a client of Rome. Then she dumped her husband, and even Rome couldn't keep her in power -- and they ultimately took direct control, so her ex didn't win, either.

Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt

Cleopatra and Caesar
Getty Images / Hulton Archive
Cleopatra was the last Pharaoh of Egypt, and the last of the Ptolemy dynasty of Egyptian rulers. As she tried to keep power for her dynasty, she made famous (or infamous) connections with Roman rulers Julius Caesar and Marc Antony. Also: Cleopatra Facts

Elen Luyddog - Helen of the Hosts

A shadowy legendary figure, the stories say she was a Celtic princess married to a Roman soldier who became the Western Emperor. When he was executed after failing to invade Italy, she returned to Britain, where she helped bring Christianity and inspired the building of many roads.

Hatshepsut

Pharaoh Hatshepsut Depicted as the God Osiris
(c) iStockphoto / BMPix
She was born about 3500 years ago, and when her husband died and his son was young, she assumed the full kingship of Egypt, even dressing in male clothing to reinforce her claim to be Pharaoh. Why did she assume the kingship, how was she nearly lost to history, how was her history recovered, and what's the latest news about what happened to her mummy after she died?

Lei-tzu or Si Ling-chi

More legend than history, Chinese tradition credits Huang Di as founder of the Chinese nation and of religious Taoism, creator of humanity and inventor of the raising of silk worms and spinning of silk thread -- and, according to tradition, his wife Lei-tzu discovered the making of silk.

Meryt-Neith

The third ruler of the first Egyptian dynasty which united upper and lower Egypt is known only by name and a few objects -- but many scholars believe that this ruler was a woman. We don't know much about her life or her reign.

Nefertiti

Nefertiti of Egypt
© 2008 Clipart.com, modifications © 2008 Jone Johnson Lewis.
Chief wife of Pharaoh Amenhotep IV who took the name Akhenaten, Nefertiti is portrayed in realistic art of Egypt's religious revolution initiated by her husband. The famous bust of Nefertiti is sometimes considered a classic representation of female beauty.

Olympias

Olympias was the wife of Philip II of Macedonia, and the mother of Alexander the Great. She had a reputation as both sacred (a snake handler in a mystery cult) and violent. After Alexander's death, she seized power as regent for Alexander's posthumous son, and had many of her enemies killed. But she didn't rule long.

Semiramis - Sammu-Ramat

Semiramis in 15th Century Artist's Conception
Fine Art Images / Heritage Images / Getty Images
Legendary warrior queen of Assyria, Semiramis is credited with building a new Babylon as well as conquest of neighboring states.

Zenobia

Image of Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra.
From a third century coin.

Zenobia, who claimed Cleopatra as ancestor, took power queen of the desert kingdom of Palmyra when her husband died. She conquered Egypt, defied the Romans and rode into battle against them, but was eventually defeated and taken prisoner.

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