Xun Guan – 3rd Century – Xiangyang city, China

Ancient China, China

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Xun Guan was born at a time of turbulence and uncertainty for feudal China. Her father, Xun Song, was the governor of Xiangyang (also Xiangcheng) during the last years of the Western Jin dynasty (265 – 316).

She was thirteen years old and with her father when their city came under attack from the insurgent Du Zeng, who had amassed some 2000 troops and surrounded the city. Under siege and low on supplies, Xun Song found himself in a desperate situation. If he could just get word to Shi Lan, a general and ally in neighbouring Pinyang, then perhaps they could send supplies and reinforcements – but to do this someone would have to break through Du Zeng’s forces.

It was a dangerous mission, one that no one was willing to take. As food supplies dwindled further, Xun Song prepared himself to carry out the task himself. Xun Guan stopped him.

His young daughter was adamant that he must stay with his people, who needed his leadership now more than ever. Instead, she volunteered to lead a small party past the enemy line and go for help herself.

Though she was only thirteen, Xun Guan clearly had some military training and was a persuasive speaker, because her father allowed her to go. She waited for night to fall, when she knew that Du Zeng’s soldiers lowered their guard, and managed to escape the city unscathed.

From there, she headed straight to Pinyang where she pleaded to Shi Lan for help. She also wrote a letter on behalf of her father to General Zhou Fang in the south, asking for further reinforcements. Zhou sent 3000 men at once and the two armies fell upon the besieged city, forcing Du Zeng to retreat.

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Xun Guan (source)

Once the city was freed, Shi Lan commented to Xun Song:”You daughter is clever and brave. I am envious of you!”

Zhou Fang added:

“Xiangyang is no longer under siege and the people are saved. Respect and thanks to young Xun Guan!”


References:

Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Women: Antiquity Through Sui, 1600 B.C.E – 618 C.E. Lily Xiao Hong Lee, A. D. Stefanowska, Sue Wiles

Xun GuanCultural China

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Cai Wenji 蔡琰 – fl. 207 – Han Dynasty China

Ancient China, China

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Cai Wenji’s life could almost be straight from a fairy tale. She was the intelligent, accomplished only daughter of Cai Yong, a scholar from Yu County (modern day Qi County, Kaifeng, Henan).

畫麗珠萃秀_Gathering_Gems_of_Beauty_(漢蔡文姬)_2She married her first husband at a young age and was widowed before the marriage produced any children.

At some time between 194 and 195, Cai was kidnapped by Xiongnu nomads who had invaded Han territory. She was taken to the north as a prisoner and married to Liu Bao, the nomads’ chieftain.

Cai Wenji lived as a captive wife in the northern lands for twelve years, and gave birth to two sons. As well as being a scholar and an articulate speaker, Cai Wenji was a highly thought of calligrapher, as her father had been. She wrote two famous poems about her years as a captive, both named Poem of Sorrow and Anger:

My dwelling is often covered by frost and snow,
The foreign winds bring again spring and summer;

They gently blow into my robes,
And chillingly shrill into my ear;

Emotions stirred, I think of my parents,
Whilst I draw a long sigh of endless sorrows.

Whenever guests visit from afar,
I would often make joy of their tidings;

I lost no time in throwing eager questions,
Only to find that the guests were not from my home town.

Finally, Cao Cao, the Han Chancellor paid a large ransom for her return. By this time her father had died, and she was the last surviving member of her family due to Cao Cao’s struggles for power. He ransomed her purely to placate her ancestors, in case they became vengeful and haunted Cao Cao himself.

Cai Wenji left her children behind in enemy territory and made the journey back to her homeland. There she was re-married to a government official named Dong Si.

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‘Cai Wenji Returns to Her Homeland’, painting dating from the Southern Song dynasty depicting Cai Wenji and her Xiongnu husband. They are riding their horses along, each holding one of their sons.

Upon her return she also found that the 4000 volumes of ancient texts she had inherited from her father had been destroyed in the same war that had wiped out her family. Amazingly, Cai wenji was able to recite 400 of the books from memory, and wrote them down at Cao Cao’s request.

When her new husband later committed a capital crime, Cai Wenji was so distressed at losing someone else close to her that she interrupted a banquet being held by Cao Cao to plead for her husband’s life. She asked if he would procure her yet another husband after she lost this one – Cao Cao took pity and pardoned Dong Si.


In fiction:

  • Guo Moruo wrote a play on her life in 1959.
  • Cai Wenji appears as a playable character in Koei’s Dynasty Warriors: Strikeforce 2 and Dynasty Warriors 7 (her debut as a playable character in North American and European ports).
  • She also appears in Koei’s Romance of the Three Kingdoms video game series and in Dynasty Warriors 6: Empires as a non-playable character.
  • She is also a playable character in Warriors Orochi 3.

In science:

  • In 1976, a crater on Mercury was named Ts’ai Wen-chi after Cai Wenji.
  • In 1994, a crater on Venus was named Caiwenji after Cai Wenji.

 

References:

Women Writers of Traditional China: An Anthology of Poetry and CriticismKang-i Sun Chang, Haun Saussy, Charles Yim-tze Kwong

On Wikipedia:


Image credits:

By Identified as He Dazi (赫達資) – Selections. The Art and Aesthetics of Form: Selections from the History of Chinese Painting (exhibit). Taipei: National Palace Museum., Public Domain

Cai Wenji Returns to Her Homeland By Unknown – CHINA Art Pic Stock (China Artistic Publisher, Beijing Panoramic Visual Pic LTD) Cat:p127, CD41:img0158, (purchased and donated by Kosi Gramatikoff User:kosigrim., Public Domain

 

 

Julia Maesa – 165 – 226 – Rome

Ancient Rome, Ancient Syria

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The younger sister of Julia Domna, Julia Maesa played an equally important part in the politics of the Roman Empire, actively influencing the ascension of her grandsons the emperors Elagabalus and Alexander Severus.

Ethnically Syrian, Julia Maesa, like her sister, was considered a Roman citizen due to her family’s immense wealth. She married Syrian nobleman Gaius Julius Avitus Alexianus and had two daughters; Julia Soaemias Bassiana and Julia Avita Matmaea.

After the death of her nephew, Caracalla and her sister’s suicide, Julia Maesa returned to Syria where she began to make plans.

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Coin depicting Julia Maesa (source)

Her grandson, Elagabalus, was fourteen years old and Julia Maesa was willing to do anything to make sure her family was back in power. Hugely rich, she was able to orchestrate a plot to overthrow emperor Macrinus and put Elagabalus in his place. She and her daughter (Elagabalus’ mother) spread a rumour that the boy was actually Caracalla’s illegitimate son, and therefore rightful heir to the empire.

The plot was successful and for her efforts Julia was rewarded with the title Augusta avia Augusti (‘Augusta, grandmother of Augustus’). Unfortunately, the best laid plans often go awry and Elagabalus was not a successful emperor.

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Bust of Elagabalus (source)

The teenager’s behaviour was erratic and scandalous. He held lavish parties, ignored the Roman gods in favour of the Syrian sun god and married a Vestal Virgin – an enormous taboo by Roman standards. Julia Maesa took swift action against her uncontrollable grandson and had him and his mother assassinated.

Now Julia promoted her second grandson, Alexander Severus, who was somewhat less of a disaster than his cousin – he managed to escape assassination until he was 26.

Julia Maesa died sometime in 226. Like her sister Domna before her, she was deified.


References:

Encyclopedia of Women in the Ancient WorldJoyce E. Salisbury

Great Women of Imperial Rome: Mothers and Wives of the CaesarsJasper Burns

A to Z of Ancient Greek and Roman WomenMarjorie Lightman, Benjamin Lightman

On Wikipedia: