Ane & hist XXXX women and Power in the Ancient World

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ANE & HIST XXXX Women and Power in the Ancient World

Fall 2011

Almost no evidence of successful, long-term female leaders exists from the ancient world – in the Mediterranean, Near East, Africa, Central Asia, East Asia, or the New World. Only the female king of Egypt, Hatshepsut, was able to take the throne for any considerable length of time, and she shared power with a male ruler. Not until the development of the modern nation-state were women like Elizabeth I or Catherine the Great allowed to rule without intervention from husbands or fathers or other male relatives. Female rulers from the ancient world used a variety of methods to gain power: Cleopatra attempted to use her sexuality and money to keep the Roman empire at bay; Boudicca, a noble elite led her people against Roman legions; Wu Zeitan began as regent for her young son, but ruthlessly expelled both her sons from power before they came of age.
Complex societies are inherently based on masculine dominance, forcing female rulers to resort to familiar methodologies to gain power. Some female rulers used their sexuality to gain access to important men. Some women gained their position as the regent and helper of a masculine king who was too young to rule. And many of these women only ruled at the end of a dynasty, after the male line had run out, or in the midst of civil war. Or, a woman was sometimes the only effective leader left in drawn-out battles against imperial aggression. A woman’s power in the ancient world was always compromised from the outset, and this class will address the root causes of this social inequality.
Given this social reality, how did women negotiate their limited leadership roles? Were they able to rule “behind the throne” so to speak? How are we to find a woman’s power when it is cloaked by a man’s dominance?


Kathlyn (Kara) Cooney, Assistant Professor of Egyptian Art and Architecture


393 Humanities Building


Office hours:


378 Humanities Building


310 206 9222


Meryl King;


In addition to lecture, each of you will also be in a section class. Sections will be a place for you to go over questions you may have from lecture or your reading, in preparation for the midterm and final exam. Most of your work in section will involve your preparation for the paper. Your TAs will help you with your collection of primary and secondary sources, the development of your analysis, and the crafting of your argument. You will also spend time critiquing each other’s arguments in class. I will look over your papers, but your TAs will be responsible for all grading, including your participation, midterm, final, and the paper.

Time and Place:







Discussion session 1A

Meryl King

Discussion session 1B

Meryl King

Weekly Schedule:

Week 1

Introduction: Women and Power in the Ancient World


  • Michael Mann, The Sources of Social Power, 1-33

  • Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, (1999) (pp.98-113, 157-175, 215-38).

  • Green and Troup, “Gender and History” from The Houses of History (1999), pp. 253-276

Week 2

Women in pre-complex societies

Read selections of:

  • Robert Max Jackson, Down So Long (unpublished) – chapter 2 (

  • Margaret Ehrenberg, Women in Prehistory (1989)

  • Karen Olsen Bruhns and Karen E. Strothert, Women in Ancient America (1999).

Week 3

Female Rule in the Americas Part 1

Read selections of:

  • Karen Olsen Bruhns and Karen E. Stothert, Women in Ancient America. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1999 (chapter 8)

Week 4

Female Rule in the Americas Part 2

Read selections of:

  • Traci Ardren, ed., Ancient Maya Women. Altamira, 2002 (chapters by Ardren, Bell, and Falcon, Krochok)

Week 5

Female Rule in the context of a Regional State: Egypt

Read selections of:

  • Read Gay Robins, Women in Ancient Egypt

  • Capel and Markoe, eds., Mistress of the House; Mistress of Heaven (1996)

Week 6

Female Rule in Egypt: Hatshepsut vs. Cleopatra

Read selections from:


Week 7

Female Rule in a City-State: Mesopotamia and Greece

Read selections from:

  • Zainab Bahrani, Women of Babylon: Gender and Representation in Mesopotamia. London (2001)

  • Sue Blundell, Women in Ancient Greece (1999)

Week 8

Female Rule in the context of Empire: Persia and Rome

Read selections from:

  • Maria Brosius, Women in Ancient Persia, 559-331 BC (1998)

  • Diana E.E. Kleiner and Susan B. Matheson, eds., I, Claudia: Women in Ancient Rome. Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven (1996)

Week 9

Female Rule in the context of Empire: China

Read Selections from:

  • Yuan Yang, Tales From Ancient China's Imperial Harem (1998)

  • Bret Hinsch, Women in Early Imperial China (2010)

Week 10

Female Rule in Opposition to Empire

Read selections from:

  • R. Hingley and C. Unwin, Boudica: Iron Age. London (2005).

  • Stacy Schiff, Cleopatra: A Life (2011)

  • Diana E.E. Kleiner and Susan B. Matheson, eds., I, Claudia: Women in Ancient Rome. Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven (1996)(chapter on Cleopatra)

Finals Week

Wed, Dec 7

Paper due!!


% of grade

Type of work


Discussion sessions participation



XX in class



due date XXX!
Use Turnitin and leave paper copy in mailbox of your TA in 378 Humanities Building


Final Exam XX, on last day of class

Required reading:


You will have two exams in this class – a midterm and a final. Both will be short answer and essay format. There will be no multiple choice. They are not cumulative, per se, but a holistic knowledge will be necessary for the final exam. I will give you a study guide before each exam, and you will know what you need to prepare in advance. Please bring blue books to class on exam days.

The culmination of the course is a paper of at least 15 pages that relies on primary ancient Egyptian source material – in the form of ancient texts, ancient art, and/or archaeological evidence like artifacts and features from an ancient site – to understand a problem about feminine power (or the lack thereof) from one or more points in time in the ancient world. You can work with your TA to develop an appropriate dataset to answer your research questions. Your paper might focus on aspects of interest to this class, including the reasons for gender inequality, biological determinism, cultural creation of gendered roles, ways around gendered roles, feminine power in the home, feminine power amongst elites, feminine power at court, or feminine power on the throne. You can also include discussions of bureaucracy, systems of labor, systems of elite incentives, conspicuous consumption, the ideological underpinnings of power, state collapse, reaction to empire, or economic systems – all in relation to female influence.

The main point of this paper is to allow you to do analysis with primary sources, including ancient texts in translation, artifacts, buildings, and other archaeological data. We are interested in argument, not description. This is not meant to be a book report, but an examination of primary data to understand how a particular system may have touched, influence, or worked upon women. That system might be ideological, political, social, economic, and/or militarily oriented (as in Michael Mann’s The Sources of Social Power).
If you are asking WHY? or HOW? in your paper, you are on the right track. If you are just asking WHAT happened?, then you will produce a descriptive paper with no real analysis.
Please use at least 4 primary sources and at least 4 secondary sources for your paper. We have a number of sourcebooks on reserve at the library, and these will be of great use to you:

  • Bonnie MacLachlan, Women in Ancient Greece: A Sourcebook. Continuum Sources in Ancient History (2012)

  • Mark Chavalas, Women in the Ancient Near East: A Sourcebook. Routledge (2012).

  • Judith Evans Grubbs, Women and the Law in the Roman Empire: A Sourcebook on Marriage, Divorce and Widowhood. Routledge (2002).

  • Ross Shepard Kraemer, Women’s Religions in the Greco-Roman World: A Sourcebook (2004)

  • Mary R. Lefkowitz and Maureen B. Fant, Women’s Life in Greece and Rome: A Sourcebook in Translation (2005).

  • Prudence J. Jones, Cleopatra: A Sourcebook. Oklahoma Series in Classical Culture (2006).

  • Jane Rowlandson, Women and Society in Greek and Roman Egypt: A Sourcebook (1998).

  • Stephanie W. Jamison, Sacrificed Wife / Sacrificer’s Wife: Women, Ritual and Hospitality in Ancient India (1996).

  • Barbara Lesko, Women’s Earliest Records from Ancient Egypt and Western Asia

You may use MLA (parenthetical) or Chicago (footnotes) for you citations. For a quick guide to either system, see Please do not use endnotes.
Your TAs will develop their own internal due dates for the paper, including when bibliography and outlines are due. Please look at your section syllabus for those due dates.

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