Showing posts with label damn girl. Show all posts
Showing posts with label damn girl. Show all posts

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Damn, Girl--Catherine the Great

Czarina Catherine II was enlightened, and she was a despot, but she was not an enlightened despot, no matter what the stories say. Though she embraced the ideals of the enlightenment, her laws and reforms kept  Russia under her autocratic thumb. She strengthened the institution of serfdom, and conquered most of the Crimea region. That aside, she was one boss lady.

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Young Catherine
Born Prinzessin Sophie Friederike Auguste, Catherine was the daughter of a minor Prussian prince. Living in the principality of Anhalt-Zebst, Catherine was mainly ignored by her parents until she grew to a marriageable age. When Catherine was old enough to marry, her mother took her around Europe shopping for a suitable husband. In 1744 Catherine and her mother went to Russia, then ruled by the Empress Elizabeth. Elizabeth had a young heir and nephew, Peter, to dispose of, and she decided that Catherine would be an ideal bride.

Catherine had to give up a lot to be considered a suitable future czarina. She was required to convert from Lutheranism to Russian Orthodoxy, and learned Russian in order to fit in with her people better. She was successful, and in 1745 she and Peter were married.

Peter and Catherine were not a good match. Catherine was intelligent, vivacious, and ambitious, while Peter was immature, antisocial, and dim. Peter felt threatened by his wife, and was often cruel to her in private and public. It wasn't long after their marriage that Peter began to take lovers. Hurt, Catherine spent a lot of time reading, and took lovers of her own. During their entire marriage Peter and Catherine had two children--a son Paul and a daughter Anna. It is highly unlikely that either of them were Peter's child.

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The Malachite Room of the majestic Winter Palace--a residence
that Catherine had a large hand in building
In 1761 Empress Elizabeth died, leaving Peter in charge. Crowned Czar Peter III, Peter was a terrible leader. He pulled out of a war against Prussia, decided to invade Denmark, and made friends with Russia's long-time nemesis--Frederick the Great. He was widely unpopular among the nobility and the clergy, and it wasn't long before there were many groups plotting to overthrow him.

Fortunately for Catherine, she had an in with the Russian Guards. She and her lover, Grigory Orlov, had Peter quietly arrested, and Catherine proclaimed Empress. Catherine had planned to have Peter live out his life in imprisonment, but eight days after his arrest he was quietly strangled.

Unlike many other royal women who's husbands died before their heirs had reached majority, Catherine didn't even pretend to be a regent, she outright had herself proclaimed Empress, and only had her son Paul declared as her heir as an afterthought. She didn't much care for her son, and she didn't much care for a man to tell her what to do. Catherine had some very definite ideas about how she was going to run Russia, and she wasn't going to be stopped.

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An older Catherine the Great
Catherine was very fond of Enlightenment principles. She had read extensively, and was determined to be the model of an enlightened monarch. She believed that by applying the principles of the enlightenment to her rule in Russia she could make a nation where life would be fair and just for everyone. Catherine had a lot of ideas, and in 1767 she convened a commission of people to frame a constitution for Russia. The commission was comprised of people of all social ranks (except serfs), and representatives from all major and minor ethnic groups. Catherine had very firm instructions on how the commission was to proceed, and detailed them in a letter that was, reportedly, so scandalously liberal it was banned in France.

Despite all of her ideals, Catherine knew she couldn't do without the support of the nobility. The commission failed to produce a working constitution, and in 1785 Catherine released her 'Charter of the Nobility', which granted the nobility more powers than ever before, and essentially made all peasants into serfs. This act was especially damning, because Catherine had spoken out privately and publicly about the evils of serfdom.

When she wasn't reforming the laws of the land, Catherine was trying to get more land. Thanks to Peter the Great, Russia had a port on the Black Sea, but Catherine wanted to solidify her position there. Through three partionings, she gradually ate away at Poland, and took the entirety of the Crimea from the Ottoman Empire.

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Gregory Potemkin, Catherine's lover and
advisor
What Catherine is most known for is for her love affairs. As with almost all women of power, rumors of her intense sexual appetites have been grossly exaggerated, though in Catherine's case the rumors aren't entirely unfounded. While Catherine the Great didn't engage in bestiality, she did have some 12 lovers throughout her life, many of whom were quite a bit younger than her.

Catherine's memoirs reveal a woman who was lonely and desperate for love. However, in order to maintain her position Catherine couldn't remarry, and even if she could have it seems unlike that she would have. Catherine wrote in a letter to Gregory Potemkin, one of her most loved and longest lasting lovers, that her passions cooled quickly, and that as soon as a man was out of her site she forgot about him.

Though very popular, Catherine did inspire one of the largest uprisings in Russian history. In 1773 Yemelyan Pugachov, a former Cossack officer, started traipsing around claiming to be Peter III. According to Pugachov, Peter had not died, but had instead been in hiding, and he was ready to lead the serfs and peasantry to a better life, and to throw off Catherine's tyranny. He gained some 200,000 supporters, and marched down along the Volga river, slaughtering nobles along the way. He was within attacking distance of Moscow before he was finally captured, and his force dispersed in 1774.

At age 67, Catherine had a stroke and died in the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. Though controversial, she is often regarded as one of Russia's greatest rulers, and as one of the greatest female rulers of all times. Catherine had lofty ideals and unbounded ambition. While she didn't manage to live up to her ideals, she brought Russia into an era of political stability and expansion that led to Russian prosperity in the 1800s.

Sources
Catherine II
Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia
When Catherine the Great Invaded the Crimea, and Put the Rest of the World on Edge
Catherine the Great: Biography, Accomplishments, and Death
Catherine the Great


Thursday, November 2, 2017

Damn, Girl--Queen Seondeok of Silla

Seondeok was the first of three queen regnants of the medieval kingdom of Silla. She was a skilled diplomatist, devout Buddhist, and prolific builder. During her reign, Seondeok managed to get Tang Dynasty China on her side, promote Buddhism as the national religion, and lead Silla into a golden age of art, science, and literature. She was a smart, strong woman, and is still celebrated in Korea today.

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Queen Seondeok. Probably. I've had trouble
finding pictures of her that aren't from the popular
K-Drama named after her.
Silla was located at the bottom of the Korean peninsula, in modern day South Korea. It was a very internally stable kingdom, ruled by one of the longest continuous royal houses in the world. Silla would later conquer the kingdoms of Baekje and Goguryeo to unite the peoples in the Korean peninsula. However, at Seondeok's time Silla was still viciously warring with their neighbors.

Seondeok was born somewhere in the 580 CEs. Her father, Chinpyong was a reasonable ruler, but couldn't seem to have a son. Like all men of the era, he blamed his wife, Ma-ya, and sent her away to a Buddhist nunnery. Though he remarried, he was unable to have another child, leaving him with the three daughters he had with Ma-ya.

Seondeok was probably the eldest daughter, but even if she wasn't she was hand picked by her father to succeed him. From an early age Seondeok showed great wisdom, and her father believed her the most fit of his children to rule. A traditional story says that when the Chinese emperor sent Chinpyong some peony seeds, along with a picture depicting them, the young Seondeok remarked that the flowers were pretty, but it was a shame they didn't smell¹. When asked what she meant, she told her father that if the flowers had a good scent, surely they would be surrounded by bees and butterflies. When the flowers were revealed to have no scent, her father declared that she was wise beyond her years, and that she would succeed him.

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Map of Silla during the 400s. By Seondeok's
time, Silla had swallowed Gaya.
Now, you may be wondering why Seondeok was able to succeed Chinpyong at all. In most Western societies had Chinpyong died without male issue the throne would have passed to his brother or nephew. This was the prevailing pattern in Europe, as well as in neighboring China. Silla, however, had different requirements for a ruler. To rule Silla, you had to come from the 'Sacred Bone' class--the class that encompassed the ruling family, and those who married the ruler. Seondeok and some of her (female) cousins fit into this class, but there were no males in the Sacred Bone class other than Seondeok's father.
In 632, Seondeok ascended to the throne. Though there were some members of the True Bone Class (the class right below Sacred Bone) who protested, many of the people of Silla were more than happy with Seondeok being in charge. Having a woman in charge of medieval Korea isn't as revolutionary as you might think. Though the people of Silla still operated inside of the traditional gender roles, women were respected and placed in positions of power. There had been Queen Regents before, and women were usually in charge of the family. Though these attitudes changed later when Confucianism seeped into the country, a female ruler wasn't too objectionable at Seondeok's time.

Like many rulers, Seondeok had a craze for building. She was famous for building Buddhist temples, including a nine level pagoda. Her temples are directly credited for making Buddhism so popular in Silla. Seondeok's most famous building, however, is the observatory. The Tower of Moons and Stars or Cheomseongdae is the oldest observatory in eastern Asia. The observatory is a little taller than 9 meters, and has 27 layers of brick to recognize Seondeok as the 27th ruler of Silla. It is the only remaining structure definitely built by her (the rest were made of wood, and have since vanished), and is a national Korean symbol.

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Cheomseongdae
Though Silla was very peaceful internally, they were almost constantly at war with their neighbors--Baekje and Goguryeo. Goguryeo was the real problem. They were a large country, and they were just as determined as Silla to conquer the whole peninsula. Baekje, though smaller, was just as hostile. However, on the other side of Goguryeo was Tang China, and since Tang China was Goguryeo's enemy, they were one of Seondeok's best friends--diplomatically speaking.

Seondeok had to walk a fine line with Tang China. She needed their help, but they were a strictly Confucian nation, and Confucianism just wasn't down with a female ruler. The Chinese Emperor offered Seondeok generous aid, but it was  on the condition that Seondeok would step aside, and let a Chinese prince rule in her stead. Seondeok, of course, refused, though still managed to win the Tang's support.

Seondeok died of illness around 647, leaving the throne to her cousin Jindeok. Jindeok was the last Silla ruler of the Sacred Bone class, and the throne passed to her nephew. Though Seondeok died more than a thousand years ago, she's still a pretty big deal. Her observatory has been designated a national wonder, and rites are still performed at her tomb every year.



¹Not all peonies have a scent. Many of the single and red varieties of peonies do not have a scent. While I haven't done extensive research into the history of Chinese peonies, it is reasonable to assume that one of those varieties was the one sent to Chinpyong. (source)

Sources
Sondok, Queen of Silla
Queen Seondeok
Queen Seondeok of Silla
Chemseongdae
Royal Tomb of Queen Seondeok



Thursday, October 19, 2017

Damn, Girl-Sammuramat and Semiramis-The Woman and the Legend

Ancient Assyria was brutal. Warmongering and conquest was an enormous part of the culture, and women had no place in war or political leadership¹. Queen Sammuramat, however, had a place in both.

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Semiramis Hears of the Insurrection of Babylon
by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri
Unfortunately, there's not a lot of definitive, reliable information about Sammuramat. She lived before 1000 BCE, and it's difficult to retrieve written, official records from that era. However, it's a pretty good bet that Sammuramat was something special, because she's the basis for the legendary Semiramis, and legends don't usually spring out of nowhere.

But first the facts. We know that Sammuramat was the wife of king Shamshi-Adad V, and that after he died in battle she took the throne as regent for her son, Adad-Nirari III. She was involved in invasions of Armenia² and India, and she was a great builder. We also know that she held her throne for between 30-40 years--pretty impressive for a ruler of that time period.

And that would be about the end of the stone cold fact for Sammuramat, the rest is guesswork based off the myths of Queen Semiramis. There are enough similarities between Semiramis and Sammuramat to presume that Semiramis is based off of Sammuramat, Hellenization of her name aside.

According to the myths, Semiramis was the the daughter of Derceto, a Syrian fish goddess, and a handsome youth who served Derceto. Ashamed at having done the deed with a mortal, Derceto killed the youth, and abandoned Semiramis on the banks of a river to die. Luckily for Semiramis, the local avian community decided to keep her alive. Doves brought her food and milk, and covered her for warm. They nourished her until the keeper of the king's herds--Semmis-- found her and adopted her. All of this demi-goddess and dove nonsense later led to Semiramis being associated with Ishtar/Inanna/Astarte after her death.

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Map of the Assyrian Empire
Semiramis possessed, or course, an unearthly beauty, and so when Onnes, the governor of Syria, saw her, he immediately asked for her hand in marriage. Semmis agreed, and the pair married. According to legend, they were quite in love, and had two sons together. Legend also claims that not only was Semiramis really attractive, she was also really smart. Smart enough that Onnes consulted her before doing pretty much anything. So when the king asked Onnes to go to war, it wasn't long before Onnes asked Semiramis to join him.
The Assyrian army had been unsuccessfully attacking the city of Bactra in modern day Afghanistan when Semiramis turned up. She had been wearing long robes that covered her skin and made it impossible to tell if she was male or female³. When she arrived on the battlefield, she saw Assyrian soldiers besieging the city from every angle except at the raised acropolis, which was  undefended. Choosing a group of soldiers skilled at climbing, Semiramis led the men, and captured the acropolis, bringing down the city.

Shamshi-Adad was, understandably, intrigued to see who had captured the city he'd been going after for forever. When Onnes introduced him to his lovely wife, Shamshi-Adad fell instantly in love. He ordered Onnes to let him have Semiramis. Though the king said that Onnes could marry his daughter as recompense, Onnes wasn't too keen on that, and he went and hanged himself. Semiramis' feelings are unknown.

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Cuneiform on a rock near Van, Armenia. This writing
is sometimes attributed to Semiramis in myths
Sources disagree upon how exactly Semiramis came to the throne, but the most common story is that she convinced Shamshi-Adad to let her have power for five days. He agreed to do so, and in the biggest power move of the BCEs, Semiramis had him executed, and declared herself regent.

Next Semiramis started engaging in the traditional hobbies of kings--conquest, building, and sex. According to the legends, she was a master of all three. She lead a successful invasion of Armenia, kept stability in the restless Assyrian empire, and led an invasion of India that may or may not have gone well depending on who you ask. Semiramis for sure built the embankments at Babylon, but she's also credited with building the city of Babylon and the famous hanging gardens. (Spoiler alert, she didn't do either of those things) According to Armenian legends, she carved wisdom on the unbreakable stones near modern day Van.

And, of course, the most lurid myths about Semiramis are the myths about her insatiable sexual appetites. Wherever famous and powerful women go, myths about their voracious lust follow them. In Semiramis' case, the myths are that she never remarried in order to preserve her power, but instead took lovers from an elite regiment of guards in her army. After one night of passion, she had her lover executed to prevent endangering the political stability she worked so hard for.
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Semiramis Inspecting the City of Babylon
by Degas
Sammuramat, while definitely a colorful character, could not possibly have done all the things that the mythical Semiramis did. Historical dating of the ruins of Babylon prove that it existed long before she did, and the writing in the caves above Van, while written in Cuneiform, is not written in the Assyrian language. What is true, however, is that myths and legends grow up around powerful and exceptional people. A woman holding power, and for that long, in ancient Assyria was completely unprecedented, it only follows that myths would spring up around her, if not only to justify the status quo. By making Sammuramat a demigoddess with superhuman skills the Assyrians guaranteed that she would be the exception, not the rule. By making Sammuramat the exception, it was ensured that it would be incredibly difficult for another woman to hold the throne.

¹Enheduanna, remember, was Sumerian. The Sumerians and Assyrians, though they share a homeland and are often lumped together under the term 'Mesopotamian', are different civilizations.
²The Armenians aren't too fond of her
³Some myths attribute Semiramis with the invention of the chador.

Sources
Semiramis
Sammu-ramat
Sammu-Ramat and Semiramis: The Inspiration and the Myth
The True Story of Semiramis, Legendary Queen of Babylon
Sammuramat


Thursday, October 12, 2017

Damn, Girl-Enheduanna, High Priestess of Ur and the World's First Author Known by Name

Living more than 2000 years before the common era, Enheduanna was, without a doubt, one of the most important religious and political figures of ancient Mesopotamia. Not only was she one of the first women to serve as high priestess to the moon god Nanna, but she successfully integrated the Sumerian and Akkadian pantheons, uniting the Sumerians and Akkadians into one people under the rule of her father, Sargon the Great.

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Alabaster disk depicting Enheduanna and three unknown
males. She is the second from the left, and the largest
figure, showing her importance. 
To really explain why Enheduanna is such a remarkable woman, I need to explain the political situation of her era. Enheduanna was born into ancient Mesopotamia--arguably one of the most bloody and turbulent civilizations to exist. Located in modern Iraq, the ancient state of Sumer was in the process of being unified (read as 'conquered') by an upstart, fatherless Akkadian named Sargon. Sargon was eventually successful, but he didn't just want to conquer unify all of Sumer. No, Sargon dreamed big, Sargon wanted the impossible; he wanted peace.

The Mesopotamians had a whole pantheon of violent and angry goods whom they relied on very much. Being located between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers might have given them lush farmland, but the rivers were wildly unpredictable, and violent floods could happen at any moment. To try and keep the rivers, as well as more bloodshed, at bay, the Sumerians were devout worshipers. Their lives depended on it.

The Akkadians worshiped a different set of gods. Sargon came to the conclusion that to unite his people, he should unite them under one religion. That's when he asked his daughter, Enheduanna, to step in.

Now, before I go further, I must note that Enheduanna may not have been Sargon's literal daughter. Sargon may have designated her his 'daughter' as a symbolic gesture to link his kingship with the gods. However, if Enheduanna was Sargon's literal, biological daughter, it would certainly explain the Sumerian tradition of appointing princesses as high priestesses.
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Clay tablet of Enheduanna's poetry

Sargon appointed Enheduanna as high priestess to the moon and creator god Duanna. It is presumed that Enheduanna changed her name to Enheduanna to reflect her position. Enheduanna's job was to unite the Akkadian and Sumerian gods into one pantheon; a job Enheduanna set to with relish. To do this, she picked up her scribe, and proceeded to dictate several hundreds of hymns and religious texts.

Though Enheduanna was priestess to Duanna, she was much more interested in Inanna, goddess of fertility, love and beauty. She seemed to have considered Inanna her goddess, and most of her surviving works are devoted mainly to Inanna, not Nanna.

Enheduanna was also quite interested in the Akkadian goddess Ishtar. Ishtar was similar to Inanna--goddess of love, fertility, etc.--but she was also the goddess of war. In her hymns to Inanna, Enheduanna started to slowly combine the aspects of Inanna with the aspects of Ishtar--depicting Inanna on the battlefield, sword of judgement in her hand.

Enheduanna was briefly exiled from Ur during a coup d'etat orchestrated by political enemy Lugal-Ane. Lugal-Ane overthrew Enheduanna's father Sargon, and forced Enheduanna out of the city. Enheduanna had proclaimed Lugal-Ane unworthy and ungodly because of his treatment of the priestesses. It was in response to this exile that Enheduanna wrote her seminal work.

Inanna with a lion.
The Temple Hymn, Enheduanna's most famous work, was preserved in stone on pillars in her temple. It is a poem starting in the third person, then gradually moving to the first, praising Inanna, calling Inanna to rid Enheduanna of her enemies, telling the story of Enheduanna's exile from Ur, then telling the story of Enheduanna's triumphant return. In reading of the poem, Enheduanna seems to take on the place of Inanna as a goddess herself. Unsurprisingly, there is evidence saying that Enheduanna may have been worshiped as a deity after her death.

Despite having lived more than 4,000 years ago Enheduanna is well known because of the many copies of her works that exist today. Hundreds of clay tablets have been excavated that contains copies of her poetry. Additionally, in 1929 an alabaster disk containing Enheduanna's image was found. This disk portrays Enheduanna as the central character, and confirms that she held a great position of importance in Sumerian society.

In addition to the many great things she did politically, Enheduanna has quite a few literary firsts to her name. She is the first (known) author in the world. While there are certainly texts written before Enheduanna's hymns and poetry, all are written anonymously; Enheduanna was the first to claim credit for her work. In addition, Enheduanna is the first (known) author to have written in the first person.

Enheduanna was an exceptional woman for many reasons. She effected tremendous change in the politics, religion, and literature of her time, and those changes made history. Sumer wouldn't have been who it was without her contributions to their religion. Though she isn't well known, Enheduanna life's work is still taught in schools today.

Sources
Enheduana-Ancient History Encyclopedia
Enheduana-Dr. Roberta Binkley
Enheduana-New World Encyclopedia
Enheduanna, Daughter of King Sargon. Princess, Poet, Priestess. 2300 BC