Brigh Brigaid – c. 59 – Feisin, Ireland

Ireland

BrighBrigaid

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Historical map of Ireland

Brigh Brigaid, (also Briugaid or Brughaidh), was a woman who held the office of Judge (Brehon) in ancient Ireland.

We know about Brigh from the Senchus Mór, a compendium of Celtic laws in Ireland. Her decisions were cited as precedents for centuries after her death.

The role of Brehons during this time was to administer the Brehon law. Brigh Brigaid was likely a very well educated woman who understood and interpreted these laws, often citing legal precedents from memory.

Studying the Brehon law in full took around twenty years, and they were written in the form of rhyming poems in order to make them easier to remember.

Redwood castle built by the Normans in 1200 CE and later used as a school of law for Brehons

Redwood castle built by the Normans in 1200 CE and later used as a school of law for Brehons

Legal disputes would have been mostly clan feuds over land or goods. Brehons were given land to live off as part of their roles and were respected members of the community. Over time, the position became hereditary, so it is possible that Brigh’s father passed the role onto her.


References:

Ancient Laws and Institutes of Ireland vol.1

A Social History of Ancient Ireland

On Wikipedia:


Image Credits:

Wenceslas Hollar – Ireland (State 2)” by Wenceslaus Hollar – Artwork from University of Toronto Wenceslaus Hollar Digital CollectionScanned by University of TorontoHigh-resolution version extracted using custom tool by User:Dcoetzee.

Licensed under Public Domain via Commons

Redwood Castle” by Steve Ford Elliott – Steve Ford Elliott.

Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons

 

 

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Consort Ban (班婕妤) – c. 48 BCE – 6 BCE – Chang’an, China

Ancient China, China

BanJieyu

Consort Ban (also known as Ban Jieyu 婕妤 or Lady Ban) was the title of a woman who was a third-ranking wife to Emperor Chengdi in Han Dynasty China. We do not know her personal name.

She began palace life as a junior maid (similar to the later European position of lady-in-waiting), and became a concubine to the emperor, a more prominent position.

Consort Ban was admired as a great scholar who was able to recite beautifully from the Shi Jing (the Chinese classic poetry). She was also very demure, and famously refused to ride in a palanquin (a covered litter) with Chengdi as she did not want to distract him from matters of state.

Consort_Ban_and_Emperor_Cheng,_Northern_Wei_painted_screen

Consort Ban declining to ride with Emperor Cheng on his palanquin. The painting is from the bottom panel of a Northern Wei screen.

However, her poetry and modesty were not enough to secure her position with the emperor. Though she bore him two sons, both of them died shortly after birth. As the Empress Xu, Chendi’s first wife, had not produced an heir either, his mother the Empress Dowager Wang Zhengjun asked him to take more concubines.

In around 19 BCE, the Emperor was visiting Princess Yang’a when he first saw her dancing girls, sisters Zhao Feiyan and Zhao Hede. He at once became infatuated with them and had the sisters brought back to his palace where he made them concubines.

Feiyan and Hede soon became Chengdi’s favourites, and he became less and less interested in Empress Xu and Consort Ban.

In 18 BCE the Zhou sisters accused both the empress and Consort Ban of witchcraft.

The empress was deposed from court and placed under house arrest, but Consort Ban took a stand. She made a speech before the emperor to plead her case, using citations from her studies of Confucius. The speech so impressed Chengdi that he permitted her to stay at court.

Not happy to remain in the palace which had now been taken over by the sisters who persecuted her, Consort Ban chose to become lady in waiting to the Empress Dowager instead. Another story tells of Consort Ban saving her brother Ban Zhi, father of the Chinese historian Ban Biao, from a charge of treason.

Two well-known Chinese poems are credited to Consort Ban and she was included in Liu Xiang’s Biography of Exemplary Women.


References:

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

Autumn in the Han PalaceMa Zhiyuan

On Wikipedia:


Image credits:

Consort Ban and Emperor Cheng, Northern Wei painted screen” by Michael Sullivan’s The Arts of China (1999).

Licensed under Public Domain via Commons

 

 

Phile – c. 50 BCE – Priene, Greece

Ancient Turkey, Turkey

Phile

Phile lived in the Greek city state of Priene, which was under Roman rule. She was honored for her services to the city and the first woman elected Magistrate.

1280px-Agora_of_Priene

Ruins at Priene

A wealthy woman, Phile personally paid for the construction of a reservoir and aqueduct for the city in 50 BCE. The funding of public works by private citizens was encouraged under the Emperor Augustus who wished to see his Empire modernised.

History doesn’t tell us how Phile was able to pay for such a huge project, but she must have been independently wealthy somehow, whether she was widowed or by some other means.

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Aqueduct of Segovia, Spain

We do know that the city of Priene was grateful to their benefactress – Phile was honoured by public decree. She was also rewarded in another way; by being elected Magistrate – the first woman to achieve this post.

To the ancient Romans, Magistrates were not lawyers, but the highest government officers. They often held some excecutive and judicial powers (and would be advised by jurists, who knew the law). Phile was probably responsible for supervising public works in the city.


References:

Roman Wives, Roman Widows: The Appearance of New Women and the Pauline Communities – Bruce W. Winter

Participating in Public: Female Patronage and Economic Prominence at Hellenistic Priene – Ashley Eckhardt

On Wikipedia:


Image Credits:

Agora of Priene” by Ken and Nyetta – Flickr: Agora of Priene.

Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Acueducto1 Lou“.

Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Puduhepa – fl. c. 1250 BCE – Harpissa, Hittite Empire

Ancient Turkey

A signatory of the world’s first known peace treaty, a priestess, politician, lawyer, judge, midwife and diplomat, Puduhepa ruled for seventy years and is the most influential Queen you’ve never heard of….

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In 1274 BCE, General Hattusili was returning home from the battle of Kadesh. He stopped to rest in the city of Lawazantiya, where he was welcomed by the high priest. He also met the priest’s daughter, Puduhepa, a beautiful priestess. Later that night, Hattusili dreamed of the Goddess Ishtar, who instructed him to marry Puduhepa.

The following day he returned to the temple to request the priestess’ hand in marriage, to which she assented. From that day onwards they were partners in all things. They returned to Harpissa as husband and wife, and within a few years Hattusili rose to the throne with Puduhepa as his queen (Tawananna).

“Puduhepa” by Firaktin2Kayseri.jpg: Klaus-Peter Simonderivative work: Zunkir (talk) – Firaktin2Kayseri.jpg. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The Hittite empire (now modern day Turkey) is defined by its regular clashes with the Egyptians and Hattusili was often away at war, leaving Puduhepa to run their Kingdom. Even when Hattusili was present, it was made clear that Puduhepa ruled beside him as his primary counsel.

Queen Puduhepa liked to keep busy. She retained her status as priestess of Ishtar, regularly performing rituals and offering prayers for the health of her husband and the strength of her Kingdom. She gave advice to her husband and regularly involved herself with legal cases, becoming supreme judge of the Kingdom.

While many ancient Queens took up some administrative responsibility when it came to the affairs of their kingdoms, Puduhepa also turned her focus outwards to international relations. She brokered a number of political marriages between Hattusili’s many children and the royal families of Babylon and Egypt. She was instrumental in the drawing up of the world’s first written peace treaty between Egypt and Hattusili and formed a strong diplomatic relationship with Great Royal wife Nefertari,

Hittite version of the peace treaty.

Hittite version of the peace treaty.
“Istanbul – Museo archeol. – Trattato di Qadesh fra ittiti ed egizi (1269 a.C.) – Foto G. Dall’Orto 28-5-2006”. Licensed under Attribution via Wikimedia Commons

who sent her gifts and called her ‘sister’.

‘Speak to my sister Puduhepa, the Great Queen of the Hatti land. I, your sister, (also) be well. May your country be well. Now, I have learned that you, my sister, have written to me asking after my health. You have written to me because of the good friendship and brotherly relationship between your brother, the king of Egypt, The Great and the Storm God will bring about peace, and he will make the brotherly relationship between the Egyptian king, the Great King, and his brother, the Hatti King, the Great King, last forever… See, I have sent you a gift, in order to greet you, my sister… for your neck (a necklace) of pure gold… coloured linen maklalu-material, for one royal dress for the king…’

When her husband died and her son Tudhaliya IV became king, Puduhepa did not withdraw, but continued to use her influence under the (badass) title of Goddess Queen.


References:

Historical Dictionary of the HittitesCharles Burney 

A Day in the Life of PuduhepaJudith Starkson for the Unusual Histories blog

PuduhepaJulia Richardson

The Hittites DocumentaryThe Smithsonian Channel

On Wikipedia:

Amat Mamu – c. 1750 BCE – Sippar, Babylonia

Mesopotamia

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Amat Mamu lived an unusual life by the standards of her era. She was a nadītu priestess in Babylonia who worked as a scribe.

It is likely that Amat Mamu was from a noble or even royal family. As women were not able to receive inheritance from their fathers, their only income was from their dowry which, if they became nadītu, they were not allowed to pass on to another man.

We do not know if nadītu were expected to remain unmarried and celibate, but the word nadītu means ‘the fallow’, indicating they were not expected to have children. These women inhabited convent-like enclosures called Gagum’s, where they lived apart from men.

The freedoms afforded to Amat Mamu in this position were significant. The nadītu lived unlike any other women of their time; they did not marry and were financially independent. They were granted the ability to enter into business contracts, borrow and lend money as well as own property. As a result, many of these women were active merchants and tradeswomen.

“Sumerian MS2272 2400BC” Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Amat Mamu herself chose to become a scribe (writer) for her temple, which was a popular vocation among the nadītu; she was one of eight scribes in her gagûm. It is from the records kept on cuneiform tablets that we know her name. Also, we know that she had a long life and her career as a writer spanned the reign of three kings.

Ancient Babylonians attributed the gift of writing to a goddess and the earliest writing tablets (4th millennium BCE) come from a temple where nadītu lived – suggesting that Amat Mamu was part of a lineage traceable to the origins of the written word.


References:

Order, Legitimacy and Wealth in Ancient StatesJanet Richards & Mary Van luren

Who’s Who in the Ancient Near East – Gwendolyn Leick

Sacred Prostitutes – Johanna H. Stuckey

On Wikipedia:


In Fiction:

She Wrote on Clay by Shirley Graetz: a historical fiction novel about a young woman who becomes a Nadītu in ancient Sippar with the ambition to be a scribe – Amat Mamu is a minor character.