They Call Her…
Her name was Semiramis, legendary queen of Assyria, an empire built on blood and glory. In the ninth century B.C., she effectively ruled the Neo-Assyrian Empire, a great kingdom built on countless military campaigns, tributary states, all backed by a warrior-culture that would give even the Spartans pause. But within the confines of this blood-stained nation of glorified killers and seductive politics, Semiramis seemingly appeared on a Medes wind, daughter of Derketo, a fish goddess who is often syncreticly linked to the Babylonian Ishtar.
She was the first woman in Assyrian history to rule its entirety, in a time period where it’d never occurred before. The legends, the myths, and the portrayals of this contradictory queen of the Antiquity period cannot be underestimated.
She was the real deal.
And, worst of all, the most frustrating thing is how little of her life, the historic Sammurāmat who ruled as queen regent for several years, is lost. Semiramis, like many historic conquerors and noted rulers of Antiquity, is likely a combination of her historic life, the exaggerated tales spun by her own subjects, and those nations she successfully conquered.
No One Did it Like Her:
Forget Daenerys Targaryen, and other fictional female liberators or conquerors, the semi-mythic Semiramis assumed power, either through her husband’s death or by taking it through cunning, and effectively ruled as queen regent for forty years in an era where life expectancy was somewhere between sword to face and death by famine, according to classic historians who exaggerated these rulers into demigod stature. Disguising herself as her own son, she took to the field of battle, similar to how the real Sammuramat accompanied her husband out on military campaigns (and did lead a military campaign, depending on the sources.) And she conquered the Babylonians, the Armenians, and other equally hardened Levanite and Twin Rivers city-states, reasserting the stone-cold authority of the last testament of the Assyrian Empire.
A woman, in a culture where warriors were hardened and ruthless killers, and masters of war, led countless military campaigns during a time period where no woman could hold authority positions. It was unheard of, and there is a reason why her legend grew over time, transforming her into a titaness of myth. Even the Greeks and Armenians, the victims of her fabled conquests, attributed her sheer force of will and might in the way a Spartan would respect an equally vicious warrior.
She led the warriors of warriors.
She was one of the original warrior queens!
A Hell of a Court:
Rebellions, seductions, rival cousins and family members, a dead husband, a too young son, Semiramis faced threats from every corner of her empire the day she took the throne. But even with her son too young to rule, her empire shattered by a vicious civil war, what did she do?
She rebuilt it into a monstrous machine. She stabilized Assyria’s political situation, quelling potential resistance, holdouts from her deceased husband’s enemies. She constructed dozens of holy temples, reinforced the cities with greater fortifications, and improved countless roads and ordered building projects as well.
And she rode into battle, with an army of iron-weapon wielding and screaming chariot-driving warriors, to take on an often brutal world where a simple tactical mistake meant death. And she did this all on her own, without the support of any husband, any real confidant, in a time period where only the strongest killers survived the day.
The absolute confidence, or potential ruthlessness hinted at by historians who gave her negative portrayals, to not just lead but effectively browbeated or persuaded a nation of bad mutherfuckers to follow her, who came to revere her in the way the Greeks deified Alexander the Great several centuries after her death, speaks volumes about the level of her personal power.
Her last feat was an attempted conquest of the Indus, which she failed to conquer but in her mythic profile, she survived to the sweet old age of 62. To be blunt, living beyond 35 in that era was a miracle.
There’s a reason why, centuries later, women like Catherine the Great were called the Semiramis of the North. Her legacy was carved into the dried dirt where she buried her enemies in blood and ash.
Semiramis was a divine demon, descended from the Queen of the Heavens herself, Derketo, or Ishtar.
The Will to Power:
Modern morality has no bearing on her greatness. To be blunt, Semiramis, and other rulers like her, were probably not the most compassionate of people. When the average lifespan could end in slavery, genocide, flooding, or death by grand chariot auto, you don’t have room for empathy or platitudes. When your own kin plot your demise, want your sweet position, it becomes a must to eliminate potential threats. Such aggression was a necessary virtue in a time period of political uncertainty. The ancient world rarely had room for careless error or unguarded kindness. It was do or get done situation, and unlike most, Semiramis did a whole lot without getting done.
When we think about powerful figures, it has little to do with morality or gender, and it has everything to do with personality, conviction, vision. Even centuries after these rulers, killers, and cunning political agents returned to the earth, we revisit them in fiction, through homages or direct interpretations in historical or alternate fantasy.
To me, Semiramis was a great ruler, the great woman who disproved Great Man Theory: she was unapologetic in her pursuit of power, transformed her floundering political state into its final greatness, and survived countless obstacles to live out her last days in peace. It might not be right, or just, but politics, especially in the times before Roman Empire ordained Christianity, was rarely about what was right.
It was about how to endure; how to prosper where other nations become a stepping stone for the strong.
And Semiramis, like she always had, didn’t just prosper.
She became a timeless legend.