How many have you already heard of?
1. Artimisia (source for entire post)
Basic Artemisia Facts:
Known for: warrior queen – she joined Xerxes in his battle against the Greeks at Salamis
Dates: 5th century B.C.E.
Named for: the goddess Artemis
Also known as: Artemesia
Artemisia would have been ruler of Halicarnassus at the time of Herodotus’ birth in that city. Her story comes to us from Herodotus.
Artemisia was the ruler of Halicarnassus (near today’s Bodrum, Turkey) and its neighboring islands, part of the Persian empire then ruled by Xerxes. She assumed the throne after the death of her husband.
When Xerxes went to war against Greece (480-479 B.C.E.), Artemisia brought five ships and helped Xerxes fight the Greeks in the naval battle of Salamis.
The Greeks offered a reward of 10,000 drachmas for capturing Artemisia, but no one succeeded in winning the prize.
Xerxes eventually abandoned his invasion of Greece – and Artemisia is credited with persuading him to this decision.
After the war, according to Herodotus, Artemisia fell in love with a younger man, who did not return her love. And so she jumped from a cliff and killed herself.
Known for: British Celtic warrior queen who led a revolt against Roman occupation
Dates: ? – 61 CE
Also known as: Boudica, Boadicea, Boadacaea
Sources: We know the history of Boudicca through two writers: Tacitus, in “Agricola” (98 CE) and “The Annals” (109 CE), and Dio, in “The Rebellion of Boudicca” (about 163 CE).
biography: Boudicca was the wife of Prasutagus, who was head of the Iceni tribe in East England, in what is now Norfolk and Suffolk.
In 43 CE, the Romans invaded Britain, and most of the Celtic tribes were forced to submit. However, the Romans allowed two Celtic kings to retain some of their traditional power; one was Prasutagus.
The Roman occupation brought increased Roman settlement, military presence, and attempts to suppress Celtic religious culture. There were major economic changes, including heavy taxes and money lending.
In 47 CE the Romans forced the Ireni to disarm, creating resentment. Prasutagus had been given a grant by the Romans, but the Romans then redefined this as a loan. When Prasutagus died in 60 CE, he left half his kingdom to the Emperor Nero to settle this debt.
The Romans arrived to collect, but instead of settling for half the kingdom, seized control of it. To humiliate the former rulers, the Romans beat Boudicca publicly, raped their two daughters, seized the wealth of many Iceni and sold much of the royal family into slavery.
Boudicca’s Army Attacks:
Led by Boudicca, about 100,000 British attacked Camulodunum (now Colchester), where the Roans had their main center of rule. With Suetonius and most of the Roman forces away, Camulodunum was not well-defended, and the Romans were drive out. he Procurator Decianus was forced to flee. Boudicca’s army burned Camulodunum to the ground; only the Roman temple was left.
Immediately Boudicca’s army turned to the largest city in the British Isles, Londinium (London). Suetonius strategically abandoned the city, and Boudicca’s army burned Londinium and massacred the 25,000 inhabitants who had not fled. Archaeological evidence of a layer of burned ash shows the extent of the destruction.
Next, Boudicca and her army marched on Verulamium (St. Albans), a city largely populated by Britons who had cooperated with the Romans and who were killed as the city was destroyed.
Boudicca’s army had counted on seizing Roman food stores when the tribes abandoned their own fields to wage rebellion, but Suetonius had strategically seen to the burning of the Roman stores. Famine thus struck the victorious army, weakening them.
Boudicca fought one more battle, though its precise location is not sure. Boudicca’s army attacked uphill, and, exhausted, hungry, was easy for the Romans to rout. Roman troops of 1,200 defeated Boudicca’s army of 100,000, killing 80,000 to their own loss of 400.
What happened to Boudicca is uncertain. It is said she returned to her home territory and took poison to avoid Roman capture.
A result of the rebellion was that the Romans strengthened their military presence in Britain and also lessened the oppressiveness of their rule.
Boudicca’s story was nearly forgotten until Tacitus’ work, Annals, was rediscovered in 1360. Her story became popular during the reign of another English queen who headed an army against foreign invasion, Queen Elizabeth I.
Known for: making peace with the Romans rather than rebel against their rule
Dates: about 47 – 69 CE
Also known as: “sleek pony”
biography: Tacitus wrote of a queen leading the Brigantes, the largest British tribe. In the face of the Roman conquest’s progress, Cartimandua made peace with the Romans and was allowed to rule as a client-queen. The Brigantes did not join the rebellion of Boudicca in 61 C.E.
Unsuccessful rebels from a neighboring tribe, headed by Caractacus, asked for aid from Cartimandua, but she turned Caractacus over to the the Romans. Caractactus was taken to Rome where Claudius spared his life.
Cartimandua was married to Venutius, but wielded power as a leader in her own right. A struggle for power among the Brigantes broke out. Cartimandua asked for and received help from the Romans in regaining peace.
But in 69, Cartimandua divorced her husband Venutius and married his charioteer or arms bearer, who then would have become king. But Venutius raised support and attacked, and, even with Roman assistance, Cartimandua couldn’t put down the revolt. Venutius became king of the Brigantes, and ruled it briefly as an independent kingdom. Queen Cartimandua disappears from history, and soon the Romans moved in, defeated Venutius, and ruled the Brigantes directly.
Cleopatra Facts First:
Known for: last Pharaoh of Egypt, last of the Ptolemy dynasty of Egyptian rulers; also known for her relationships to Julius Caesar and to Marc Antony
Dates: 69 BCE – August 30, 30 BCE
Occupation: Pharaoh of Egypt (ruler)
Also Known as: Cleopatra Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra VII Philopater; Cleopatra Philadelphus Philopator Philopatris Thea Neotera
Cleopatra VII was the descendent of Macedonians who were established as rulers over Egypt when Alexander the Great conquered Egypt in 323 BCE.
- Father: Ptolemy XII Auletes ( – 51 BCE, ruled 80 BCE – 51 BCE except for 58-55 BCE)
- Mother: Cleopatra VI Tryphaina (co-ruler 58-55 BCE with their daughter, Berenice IV, sister of Cleopatra VII)
- The Ptolemy dynasty was descended from the Greek Macedonian named Ptolemy Soter, whom Alexander the Great installed in Egypt, so much of Cleopatra’s ancestry was Macedonian Greek. What about the origins of her mother, or her paternal grandmother? See: Was Cleopatra Black?
Marriages and Partners, Children
- brother-husband and co-ruler: Ptolemy XIII (died fighting Caesar’s forces)
- brother-husband and co-ruler: Ptolemy XIV (established by Caesar as co-ruler with Cleopatra)
- Julius Caesar (no formal or informal marriage; Cleopatra went to Rome with him in 46 BCE; Cleopatra returned to Egypt when he was assassinated in 44 BCE)
- Ptolemy Caesarion (b. 46 BCE)
- Marcus Antonius (Marc Antony) (married 36 BCE; both Antony and Cleopatra killed themselves in 31 BCE on defeat by Octavian)
- twins: Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene (born 40 BCE)
- Ptolemy Philadelphus (born 36 BCE)
Much of what we know about Cleopatra was written after her death when it was politically expedient to portray her as a threat to Rome and its stability. Thus, some of what we know about Cleopatra may have been exaggerated or misrepresented by those sources. Cassius Dio, one of the ancient sources that tell her story, summarizes her story as “She captivated the two greatest Romans of her day, and because of the third she destroyed herself.”
During Cleopatra’s early years, her father tried to maintain his failing power in Egypt by bribing powerful Romans. Ptolemy XII was reportedly the son of a concubine instead of aroyal wife.
When Ptolemy XII went to Rome in 58 BCE, his wife, Cleopatra VI Tryphaina, and his eldest daughter, Berenice IV, assumed the rulership jointly. When he returned, apparently Cleopatra VI had died, and with the help of Roman forces, Ptolemy XII regained his throne and executed Berenice. Ptolemy then married his son, about 9 years old, to his remaining daughter, Cleopatra, who was by time about eighteen.
Cleopatra apparently attempted to rule alone, or at least not equally with her much-younger brother. In 48 BCE, Cleopatra was pushed out of power by ministers. At the same time, Pompey — with whom Ptolemy XII had allied himself — appeared in Egypt, chased by forces of Julius Caesar. Pompey was assassinated by Ptolemy XIII’s supporters. A sister of Cleopatra and Ptolemy XIII declared herself ruler as Arsinoe IV.
Cleopatra and Julius Caesar
Cleopatra, according to the stories, had herself delivered to Julius Caesar’s presence in a rug and won his support. Ptolemy XIII died in a battle with Caesar, and Caesar restored Cleopatra to power in Egypt, along with her brother Ptolemy XIV as co-ruler.
In 46 BCE, Cleopatra named her newborn son Ptolemy Caesarion, emphasizing that this was the son of Julius Caesar. Caesar never formally accepted paternity, but he did take Cleopatra to Rome that year, also taking her sister, Arsinoe, and displaying her in Rome as a war captive. That he was already married (to Calpurnia) yet Cleopatra claimed to be his wife added to a climate in Rome that ended with Caesar’s assassination in 44 BCE.
After Caesar’s death, Cleopatra returned to Egypt, where her brother and co-ruler Ptolemy XIV died, probably assassinated by Cleopatra. She established her son as her co-ruler Ptolemy XV Caesarion.
Cleopatra and Marc Antony
When the next Roman military governor of the region, Marc Antony, demanded her presence — along with that of other rulers who were controlled by Rome — she arrived dramatically in 41 BCE, and managed to convince him of her innocence of charges about her support of Caesar’s supporters in Rome, captivated his interest, and gained his support.
Antony spent a winter in Alexandria with Cleopatra (41-40 BCE), and then left. Cleopatra bore twins to Antony. He, meanwhile, went to Athens and, his wife Fulvia having died in 40 BCE, agreed to marry Octavia, the sister of his rival Octavius. They had a daughter in 39 BCE. In 37 BCE Antony returned to Antioch, Cleopatra joined him, and they went through a sort of marriage ceremony in 36 BCE. That same year, another son was born to them, Ptolemy Philadelphus.
Marc Antony formally restored to Egypt — and Cleopatra — territory which the Ptolemy’s had lost control of, including Cyprus and part of what is now Lebanon. Cleopatra returned to Alexandria and Antony joined her in 34 BCE after military victory. He affirmed the joint rulership of Cleopatra and her son, Caesarion, recognizing Caesarion as the son of Julius Caesar.
Antony’s relationship with Cleopatra — his supposed marriage and their children, and his granting of territory to her — was used by Octavian to raise Roman concerns over his loyalties. Antony was able to use Cleopatra’s financial support to oppose Octavian in the Battle of Actium (31 BCE), but missteps — probably attributable to Cleopatra — led to defeat.
Cleopatra tried to get Octavian’s support for her children’s succession to power, but was unable to come to an agreement with him. In 30 BCE, Marc Antony killed himself, reportedly because he’d been told that Cleopatra had been killed, and when yet another attempt to keep power failed, Cleopatra killed herself.
Egypt and Cleopatra’s Children After Cleopatra’s Death
Egypt became a province of Rome, ending the rule of the Ptolemies. Cleopatra’s children were taken to Rome. Caligula later executed Ptolemy Caesarion, and Cleopatra’s other sons simply disappear from history and are assumed to have died. Cleopatra’s daughter, Cleopatra Selene, married Juba, king of Numidia and Mauretania.
5. Elen Luyddog
Dates: about 380 CE; feast day August 25 or May 23
Known for: legendary Welsh princess; British empress
Also known as: Saint Helen of Caernarvon, St. Elen Luyddog of the Hosts (Armies)
biography: The story of Elen Luyddog is told in Maxen’s Dream or The Dream of Macsen Wledig. The story is somewhat confused with the story of Helena, mother of the emperor Constantine, and the discovery of the true cross. Elen Luyddog may also have inherited some legendary status from an “Elen” of ancient Celtic lore. (One author has suggested that she’s linked to ancient Athena stories.)
Elen Luyddog was a Celtic princess, her father a chieftain in southwest Britain. She married a Roman soldier from Iberia, Magnus Maximus. When Magnus was proclaimed emperor by his soldiers, for winning victories in Britain, he named Elen as empress. He invaded Gaul and his success forced Theodosius to acknowledge Maximus as coemperor.
At their court in Gaul, Elen Luyddog had many children and fostered religious learning. She knew the Christian Martin of Tours and talked philosophy with him.
When Magnus was executed in 388, after a failed attempt to invade Italy, Elen Luyddog returned to Britain with her children. There, she helped Christianize the Britons and inspired or led the building of roads to connect the separate tribes, thus facilitating later unity. (In Wales, some Roman road sections are still called Elen’s Highway.)
Egyptian queen – chief wife of Pharaoh Amenhotep IV who took the name Akhenaten
Known for: appearance in Egyptian art, especially the famous bust discovered in 1912 at Amarna; part she probably played in the religious revolution centering on monotheistic worship of the sun disk, Aten
Dates: 14th century BCE, Eighteenth Dynasty.
What We Know About Nefertiti:
Nefertiti was the chief wife (queen) of the Egyptian Pharaoh Amenhotep IV who took the name Akhenaten when he led a religious revolution which put the sun god Aten at the center of religious worship. Art from the time shows a close family relationship, with Nefertiti, Akhenaten, and their six daughters depicted more naturalistically, individualistically, and informally than in other eras. Images of Nefertiti also depict her taking an active role in the Aten cult.
What Happened to Nefertiti?
After about fourteen years, Nefertiti disappears from public view. Akhenaten was succeeded first by one Pharaoh, Smenkhkhare, usually described as his son-in-law, and then by another, Tutankhaten (who changed his name to Tutankhamen when the Aten cult was abandoned), who is also usually described as Akhenaten’s son-in-law.
One theory of Nefertiti’s disappearance is that she assumed a male identity and ruled under the name Smenkhkhare. In another theory, she was murdered as part of the return to the traditional Egyptian religious customs.
Another is that she simply died.
As for Nefertiti’s origins, these too are debated by archaeologists and historians. She may have been a foreign princess from an area in what is now northern Iraq. She may have been the daughter of the previous Pharaoh, Amenhotep III, and his chief wife, Queen Tiy, in which case either Akhenaten (Amenhotep IV) was not the son of Amenhotep III, or Nefertiti married (as was a custom in Egypt) her brother or half-brother. Or, she may have been the daughter of Ay, who was a brother of Queen Tiy.
DNA and Nefertiti
DNA evidence has recently surfaced a new theory about Nefertiti’s relationship to Tutankhamen (“King Tut”): that she was the mother of Tutankhamen and a first cousin of Akhenaten. An earlier theory about the DNA evidence proposed that Tutankhamen was the son of Akhenaten and his (unnamed) sister, rather than of Nefertiti and Akhenaten. (source)
Known for: ambitious and violent ruler; mother of Alexander the Great
Dates: about 375 BCE – 316 BCE
Also known as: Polyxena, Myrtale
- Father: Neoptolemus, ruled Molossia in Epirus, Greece
- claimed descent from Achilles
- husband: Philip II of Macedonia, married 357 BCE
- children: Alexander the Great born 356 BCE, Cleopatra born about 354 BCE
A follower of mystery religions, Olympias was famed — and feared — for her ability to handle snakes in the religious ceremonies.
Olympias was married to Philip II, newly king of Macedonia, as a political alliance arranged by her father, Neoptolemus, king of Epirus.
After fighting with Philip — who already had three other wives — and angrily returning to Epirus, Olympias reconciled with Philip at Macedonia’s capital, Pella, and then bore Philip two children, Alexander and Cleopatra, about two years apart. Olympias later claimed that Alexander was actually the son of Zeus.
When they had been married about twenty years, Philip married again, divorced Olympias, and disowned Alexander. Olympias and Alexander went to Epirus, but soon returned to Pella. Olympias and Alexander were rumored to have been behind her husband’s murder, at the wedding of their daughter Cleopatra to Olympias’ brother, though whether this is true or not is disputed.
After Philip’s Death
After Philip’s death and the ascension of their son, Alexander, as ruler of Macedonia, Olympias is supposed to also have had Philip’s wife (also named Cleopatra) and her young son and daughter killed — and then also that Cleopatra’s powerful uncle and his relatives.
Alexander left his general Antipater as regent in Macedonia, but he and Olympias frequently clashed.
After Alexander’s Death
When Alexander died, Antipater’s son, Cassander, tried to become the new ruler. Olympias married her daughter Cleopatra to a general who contended for the rulership, but he was soon killed in a battle. Olympias tried to marry Cleopatra to yet another possible contender to rule Macedonia.
Olympias became regent for Alexander IV, her grandson (posthumous son of Alexander the Great by Roxane), and tried to seize control of Macedonia from Cassander’s forces. The Macedonian army surrendered without a fight; Olympias had the supporters of Cassander executed but Cassander was not there.
Cassander maneuvered a surprise attack and Olympias fled; he besieged Pydna where she fled, and she surrendered in 316 BCE. Cassander, who had promised not to kill Olympias, instead arranged to have Olympias murdered by relatives of his supporters that she had executed.
Places: Epirus, Pella, Greece
Religion: follower of mystery religion
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.
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.
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
Quote attributed to Zenobia: “I am a queen; and as long as I live I will reign.”
Known for: “warrior queen” conquering Egypt and challenging Rome, finally defeated by emperor Aurelian. Also known for her image on a coin.
Dates: 3rd century C.E.; estimated as born about 240; died after 274; ruled from 267 or 268 to 272
Also known as: Septima Zenobia, Septimia Zenobia, Bath-Zabbai, Zainab (Arabic), Julia Aurelia Zenobia Cleopatra
Zenobia, generally agreed to have been primarily of Semitic (Arab) descent, claimed Queen Cleopatra VII of Egypt as an ancestor, though this may be a confusion with Cleopatra Thea (the “other Cleopatra”). Another ancestor was Drusilla of Mauretania, granddaughter of Cleopatra Selene, the daughter of Cleopatra VII and Marc Antony. Drusilla also claimed descent from a sister of Hannibal and from a brother of Queen Dido of Carthage. Drusilla’s grandfather was King Juba II of Mauretania. Zenobia’s paternal ancestry can be traced six generations, and includes Gaius Julius Bassianus, father ofJulia Domna, who married the emperor Septimus Severus.
Zenobia’s languages likely included Arabic, Greek, Aramaic and Latin. Zenobia’s mother may have been Egyptian; Zenobia was said to be familiar with ancient Egyptian language as well.
In 258, Zenobia was noted as being the wife of the king of Palymra, Septimius Odaenathus. Odaenathus had one son from his first wife: Hairan, his presumed heir.Palymra, between Syria and Babylonia, at the edge of the and the Persian empire, was economically dependent upon trade, protecting caravans. Palmyra was known as Tadmore locally.
Zenobia accompanied her husband, riding ahead of the army, as he expanded Palmyra’s territory, to help protect Rome’s interests and to harry the Persians of the Sassanid empire.
Around 260-266, Zenobia gave birth to Odaenathus’ second son, Vaballathus (Lucius Julius Aurelius Septimius Vaballathus Athenodorus). About a year later, Odaenathus and Hairan were assassinated, leaving Zenobia as regent for her son.
Zenobia assumed the title of “Augusta” for herself, and “Augustus” for her young son.
War With Rome
In 269-270, Zenobia and her general, Zabdeas, conquered Egypt, ruled by the Romans. Roman forces were away fighting the Goths and other enemies to the north, Claudius II had just died and many of the Roman provinces were weakened by a smallpox plague, so the resistance was not great. When the Roman prefect of Egypt objected to Zenobia’s takeover, Zenobia had him beheaded. Zenobia sent a declaration to the citizens of Alexandria, calling it “my ancestral city,” emphasizing her Egyptian heritage.
After this success, Zenobia personally led her army as a “warrior queen.” She conquered more territory, including Syria, Lebanon and Palestine, creating an empire independent of Rome. This area of Asia Minor represented valuable trade route territory for the Romans, and the Romans seem to have accepted her control over these routes for a few years. As ruler of Palmyra and a large territory, Zenobia had coins issued with her likeness and others with her son’s; this may have been taken as a provocation to the Romans though the coins acknowledged Rome’s sovereignty. More urgent: Zenobia cut off grain supplies to the empire, which caused a bread shortage in Rome.
The Roman Emperor Aurelian finally turned his attention from Gaul to Zenobia’s new-won territory, seeking to solidify the empire. The two armies met near Antioch (Syria), and Aurelian’s forces defeated Zenobia’s. Zenobia and her son fled to Emesa, for a final fight. Zenobia retreated to Palmyra, and Aurelius took that city. Zenobia escaped on a camel, sought protection of the Persians, but was captured by Aurelius’ forces at the Euphrates. Palmyrans who did not surrender to Aurelius were ordered executed.
A letter from Aurelius includes this reference to Zenobia: “Those who speak with contempt of the war I am waging against a woman, are ignorant both of the character and power of Zenobia. It is impossible to enumerate her warlike preparations of stones, of arrows, and of every species of missile weapons and military engines.”
Zenobia and her son were sent to Rome as hostages. A revolt in Palmyra in 273 led to the sacking of the city by Rome. In 274, Aurelius paraded Zenobia in his triumph parade in Rome, passing out free bread as part of the celebration. Vaballathus may never had made it to Rome, likely dying on the journey, though some stories have him parading with Zenobia in Aurelius’ triumph.
What happened to Zenobia after that? Some stories had her committing suicide (perhaps echoing her alleged ancestor, Cleopatra) or dying in a hunger strike; others had her beheaded by the Romans or dying of illness.
Yet another story — which has some confirmation based on an inscription in Rome — had Zenobia being married to a Roman senator and living with him in Tibur (Tivoli, Italy). In this version of her life, Zenobia had children by her second marriage. One is named in that Roman inscription, “Lucius Septimia Patavina Babbilla Tyria Nepotilla Odaeathiania.”
Zenobia was a patron of Paul of Samosata, Metropolitan of Antioch, who was denounced by other church leaders as a heretic.
Saint Zenobius of Florence, a 5th century bishop, may be a descendant of Queen Zenobia.
Queen Zenobia has been remembered in literary and historical works for centuries, including in Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales and art works.
- Mother: not much is known; may have been Egyptian
- Father: Julius Aurelius Zenobius or Antiochus or Achilleus
- husband: Odainat or Septimius Odaenathus (married by 258; king of Palmyra)
- some sources also list sons Herrennianus and Timolaus
- possible husband: unknown name (married after 274; Roman senator)
- daughters and son reported