The Lady of Cao – c.450 – Chicama, Peru

Peru

CW: Human sacrifice, goreLady of Cao

The ancient Moche culture of northern Peru was highly sophisticated, and is well known for its beautiful ceramics, detailed gold work, enormous huacas (revered monuments) and elaborate religious rituals.

Their brutal belief system centred largely on war, blood, sex and death. Ritual human sacrifice appears to have been common, as well as drinking blood and excarnation (stripping the flesh from a corpse to leave only the bones).  Until recently, it was believed that this was a patriarchal religion, presided over by male priests.

The tomb of the Lady of Cao was only discovered in 2006, though it is estimated that she died around 450 CE. She was laid to rest surrounded by ceremonial items which included weapons and gold jewellery, indicating that she was a woman of high rank.

Her body had been mummified by the hot, dry climate, meaning that an autopsy could be performed to reveal more about her life and death. The lady was heavily tattooed with images of snakes and spiders (sacred animals in Moche culture) as well as other symbols.

Archaeologists believe that she may have been a priestess or even a ruler. It is estimated that the Lady of Cao was only in her twenties when she died as a complication from pregnancy or childbirth. A second young woman was buried in the same tomb, potentially a human sacrifice.

See also: Puabi of Ur is another high ranking woman whose tomb was discovered in Iraq – she is believed to have been either a priestess or a ruler circa 3000 BCE.


References:

Mummy of Tattooed Woman Discovered in Peru Pyramid – Scott Norris for the National Geographic

Tomb of the Tattooed Sorceress Queen, The Lady of CaoAncient Origins

On Wikipedia:

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Veleda – 1st Century – Lippe River, Germany

Germany

Veleda

Veleda (also known as Velleda and Weleda) was a Celtic woman who lived during the first century and achieved some notoriety for her psychic abilities during the Batavian rebellion of 69-70.

VelledaVeleda practiced as a Völva (shamanic priestess) for her tribe, the Bructeri, in northeast Germany (modern day North Rhine-Westphali).

The name Veleda may actually be her title (from the Celtic welet meaning ‘seer’) rather than her personal name, and we know that she must have been highly revered by her tribe. In ancient Germany (and among other Nordic peoples) it was believed that priestesses were capable of seeing the future and tribes treated women like Veleda as living goddesses.

Veleda in particular was widely known for her powers and worshipped by many tribes. The term Völva literally means ‘wand carrier’ or ‘wand bearer’, and many of our modern notions about witchcraft and wizardry stem from the practices of women like Veleda.

In true fairy tale style, she lived in a tower by the Lippe River, where tribespeople would visit her for consultations. No one was allowed inside, instead she was passed messages by a relative, who acted as an intermediary. (This is similar to the lifestyle of the Pythia or Oracle of Delphi).

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The River Lippe

During Veleda’s lifetime large parts of Germany were occupied by the Roman Empire – which by the year 69 was in the grips of a power struggle. Following the death of Emperor Nero, who had left no heirs, Rome broke into a civil war known as ‘The year of Four Emperors’. This turmoil weakened Rome’s military presence in Germany, which did not go unnoticed by the local chiefs.

Civilis, the leader of the Batavian’s came out in open revolt against the Roman presence – and it is said that he did this following a prophecy from Veleda which promised him victory.800px-Velleda,_Laurent-Honoré_Marqueste

The revolt was indeed successful, at least initially. Civilius’ forces were soon joined by the Treviri tribe and together they quickly toppled the Roman garrisons at Novaesium (Neuss) and Castra Vetera (in modern day Neiderrhein).

The Batavians attributed their victories to Veleda’s power, and as a thank you gift they rowed a praetorian trireme (galley ship) up the Lippe to her tower.

Unfortunately the rebellion was short lived. It took nine Roman legions, but Civilis and his cohorts were defeated and dispersed. As Roman dominance in Germany was so reliant on co-operation with the Celtic tribes, the rebels were not harshly punished, and Veleda was allowed to continue in her capacity as Völva for some time.

Veleda is next heard of in 77, when she is either captured or rescued by the Roman army – for what reason, we do not know.


 

In fiction:

  • Velleda, ein Zauberroman (Velleda, a Magic Novel) by Benedikte Naubert fictionalises the lives of both Veleda and Boudica. (1795)
  • Die Symbole (The Symbols) by Amalie von Helwig in which she was called Welleda. (1814)
  • Welleda und Gemma by Friedrich de la Motte-Fouqué (1818)
  • The opera Velleda by Eduard Sobolewski  (1835)
  • Star of the Sea by Poul Anderson (1991)
  • The Iron Hand of Mars (1992) and Saturnalia (2007).by Lindsey Davis 
  • She is also a character in The Dragon Lord (1979), by David Drake.

In Science:

On November 5, 1872, Paul Henry of Paris discovered an asteroid that was named 126 Velleda in honor of Veleda.


References:

On Wikipedia:


Image credits:

Lippe in Luenen 1” by Wolfgang Hunscher.

Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Ed0048” by Original illustration by Creator:Carl Larsson (1853-1919), engraving by Gunnar Forssell (1859-1903). – Project Runeberg: http://runeberg.org/eddan/ed0048.jpg Originally from Fredrik Sander’s 1893 edition of the poetic Edda.

Licensed under Public Domain via Commons

Velleda” by Charles Voillemot – fineartamerica.com.

Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Velleda, Laurent-Honoré Marqueste” by Léna – Own work.

Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

 

Ennigaldi – fl. 547 BCE – Ur, Mesopotamia

Mesopotamia

The ultimate career woman, Ennigaldi devoted her life to no less than three full time occupations, including archaeologist and curator of the world’s first museum – “For the marvel of the beholders”.

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A day in the life of Princess Ennigaldi:

The Mesopotamian princess would have woken and eaten breakfast in her private quarters within the Palace at Ur, known as E-Gig-Par (now in Iran). Ennigaldi might then have gone to oversee the Priestess School which she administrated as High Priestess. The upper class women who were educated there were literate and learned a dialect known as Emesal, which was a special women’s language.

Ennigaldi was a beloved educator, spending less time than her predecessors had on the corporal punishment of her students. She herself loved to learn, and had a particular passion for history. Her father, King Nabonidus took an interest in antiques and restoration – in fact he is considered the first serious archaeologist, undertaking a number of excavations during his reign. The King clearly passed this fascination on to his daughter, who was inspired to create the first museum known to history.

The museum was built in the Palace complex, close to Ennigaldi’s living quarters. It contained artefacts excavated by her father, and some originally collected by famous Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar. Many of them were centuries old by Ennigaldi’s time and she used them to educate others on the history of Mesopotamia and her dynasty’s heritage.

The antiquities were arranged neatly side by side, as in many modern day museums. Each individual piece was labelled with a description– carefully translated into a number of languages. Ennigaldi’s name is also inscribed throughout the museum as ‘Bel-Shalti-Nannar’, which is the title she was given after her ascension to High priestess. King Nabonidus shows an obvious affection and pride for his daughter, with whom he shared this common interest, writing:

I built anew the house of Bel-shalti-Nannar, my daughter, the priestess of Sin. And: May Bêl-shalti-Nannar the daughter, the beloved of my heart, be strong before them; and may her word prevail.

In her evenings, Ennigaldi would attend to her duties as High priestess. She worshipped Nanna (also known as Sin) the moon god in the Great Ziggurat of Ur, an enormous pyramid shaped Temple. She carried out her religious rituals and prayers in a small temple at the top of the Ziggurat known as the giparu, which her father had restored especially for her.


References:

The story behind the world’s oldest museumAlasdair Wilkins

Ur Excavations vol. IX: The Neo-Babylonian and Persian Periods Sir Leonard Woolley

On Wikipedia:


Notes:

Emesal – Meaning “fine tongue” or “high-pitched voice”, though often translated as “women’s language.” It is used exclusively by female characters in some literary texts. In addition, it is dominant in certain genres of cult songs.

The Pythia – 8th Century BCE – 395 CE – Delphi, Greece

Ancient Greece

For centuries, hundreds of women sat in the temple of Apollo at Delphi, peering through smoke and predicting the future…

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These women spoke with philosophers, kings and shepherds alike, and their prophecies made them arguably the most influential women in Greek and Roman society. Commonly known as the Oracle of Delphi, The Pythia was the name for a priestess who made prophecies.

Famous Roman orator and politician Cicero once noted that ‘no expedition was undertaken, no colony sent out, and no affair of any

“Priestess of Delphi” by John Collier – Art Gallery of South Australia Website Webpage – Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

distinguished individuals went on without the sanction of the oracle’. Supplicants would journey from far and wide to the temple of Apollo, which sat above a mystical spring where a naiad supposedly lived. Once they arrived, they might have been interviewed by the priests who took care of the temple’s administration. They then took part in rituals and presented gifts to the temple.

Supplicants would have travelled up a winding path to reach the oracle, bearing laurel leaves, an animal sacrifice and a monetary fee. Carved into the stone entrance were the words; ‘Know Thyself’ and: ‘Nothing in Excess’. The Pythia would be seated on a three-legged stool, perforated with holes, above a cleft in the earth from which rose the sacred pneuma. She would have held a laurel branch and a dish of spring water. Once the question was asked, she would inhale the vapours and commune with Apollo. Descriptions of the Pythia’s trance vary; she would seem to enlarge, her complexion would change, she would pant and convulse and her voice was described as inhuman.

Croseus and the Pythia:

In 560 BCE, King Croseus of Lydia created a trial or all the oracles in the known world. He asked them to predict what he was doing on a specific day. To make his test extra hard, he did the weirdest thing he could come up with and boiled lamb inside a tortoise shell. The Pythia said:

‘…The smell has come to my sense of a hard shelled tortoise boiling and bubbling with a lamb’s flesh in a bronze pot: the cauldron underneath it is of bronze, and bronze is the lid.’

The Oracle of Delphi was thus proclaimed the winner. The next task Croseus set for her was to ask her advice on his planned war with Persia. The Pythia predicted that if he went to war with the Persians, a great empire would be destroyed. Satisfied, Croseus mounted a campaign against the Persians. As the Pythia had predicted, a great empire fell – that of Croseus.

We don’t know how the Pythia was chosen, only that once one woman died, a new priestess took her place. She was always a local from Delphi but that is where the similarities between the various oracles end. The Pythia may have been a young virgin or an old widow, rich or poor, noble or peasant, sometimes she was highly educated and sometimes she was unable to write her own name. The role was still a coveted one, as priestesses had freedoms many Greek women could only dream of. They could own property, earn a salary, were free from taxation and permitted to attend public events.

The office of the Pythia died out with the advent of Christianity in Rome and Emperor Theodosius I, who ordered all pagan temples to close. The very last known response was given to Oribasius, a doctor working on behalf of Emperor Julian I. The sad last statement from the woman who sat in the temple at Delphi was:

‘Tell the emperor that my hall has fallen to the ground. Apollo no longer has his house, or his mantic bay, or his prophetic spring; the water has dried up.’


References:

Encyclopaedia of Women in the Ancient World – Joyce Salisbury

On Wikipedia:


In Fiction:

In both the graphic novel and film 300, King Leonidas visits the Oracle of Delphi. Both depictions place heavy focus on the use of drugs/narcotics to produce a prophecy.

The Double Tongue – William Golding

Fu Hao – d. c.1200 BCE – Yinxu, China

Ancient China, China

Prophetess, consort and commander of armies…

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King Wu Ding had a lot of wives. This Shang dynasty ruler gained allies by marrying a woman from each tribe neighbouring his kingdom, amassing a harem of no less than sixty women, who were considered his property. It was in this fashion that Lady Fu Hao arrived at the Royal palace. An intelligent and capable woman, she was not happy to settle for slavery. This lady had a plan.

Step 1 – Rise through the ranks.

The royal palace was a miniature matriarchal society, in which every wife had her place. Fu Hao put her politically astute mind to use and soon navigated her way through the hierarchy, becoming closer to the king – and his power. She did not stop until she had achieved the place of royal consort. Now she had some influence.

Step 2 – Become a Priestess.

“Shang dynasty inscribed scapula” by BabelStone. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Rituals in feudal China were under the control of the King, as sacrifices and oracle casting were highly respected tasks. As a kingdom constantly defending its borders, foreseeing the future was of utmost importance.

The ancient Chinese read prophecies by inscribing questions onto hollowed-out tortoise shells and ox bones, before heating the bone or shell until it cracked. These cracks were then interpreted as answers. These items are known as oracle bones, and it is from these artefacts that we know about Fu Hao’s life.

Inscriptions on the bones not only speak of her later triumphs on the battle field, but that she herself prepared oracle bones and conducted special rituals on behalf of her king, elevating her status further to High Priestess.

Step 3 – Become a General.

Religious power was not enough for Fu Hao, who had a more exciting life in mind, beyond the palace walls. It is thought that the royal Lady may have come from a warrior tribe, as Fu Hao soon impressed Wu Ding with her extensive knowledge of warfare and her quick thinking. Wu Ding further expressed his trust and faith in Fu Hao when he appointed her head of his army.

Bone inscriptions describe Lady Fu Hao leading a number of successful military campaigns during a time when war against neighbouring territories was commonplace. The Shang enemies, the Tu Fang, had fought for generations, until Fu Hao defeated them in a single battle. She was also responsible for the first known large-scale ambush in Chinese history – defeating the kingdom of Ba.

Step 4 – Secure a hero’s burial.

As you can imagine, Wu ding was particularly fond of Lady Fu Hao, who had made his army a force to be reckoned with, who gave him wise advice and who cast fortuitous prophecies for him. Fu Hao was rewarded

A bronze vessel in the shape of a bat, from the tomb of Lady Fu Hao, Chinese Shang Dynasty, 13th century BC

A bronze vessel in the shape of a bat, from the tomb of Lady Fu Hao, Chinese Shang Dynasty, 13th century BC

with her own fiefdom on the edge of Wu Ding’s empire.

She died before Wu Ding, and was further exalted by him in death. When her tomb was discovered in 1974, it was full of treasure – bronze, jade and fine lacquer. It also contained a full arsenal including swords, bows and battle axes. There is evidence that Wu ding sought her assistance even in death, as many sacrifices were made at this great lady’s tomb.


References:

Notable women of China: Shang Dynasty to the Early Twentieth Century – Barbara Bennet Peterson

The Tomb of Lady Fu Hao – The British Museum

On Wikipedia:

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:

Ahmose Nefertari – 1562 – 1595 BCE – Thebes, Egypt

Ancient Egypt

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This Egyptian Queen was a woman with many titles. As the daughter Pharaoh Seqenenre Tao and Ahhotep, she was named Ahmose Nefertari (the most beautiful born of Iah), and given the titles Hereditary Princess, King’s daughter.

“Ahmes Nefertari Grab 10” by Ausschnittbearbeitung NebMaatRe. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

With even more influence than her formidable mother Ahhotep, Ahmose Nefertari redesigned the position of Great Royal Wife. The eldest girl of a number of siblings, she married her brother Ahmose when he became Pharaoh, as was Egyptian custom, taking on the further titles Great King’s Wife, God’s Wife of Amun and Mistress of Upper and Lower Egypt. She and her husband became the royal couple who founded the Eighteenth dynasty.

Though Ahhotep, as King’s Mother, would have taken precedence over Ahmose Nefertari at court, King Ahmose bestowed not only titles (including Great of Grace, Great of Praises and United with the White Crown) upon his wife, but important positions and responsibilities.

The King purchased the office of Second prophet of Amun in order to gift his wife with the lands and goods associated with the role, making her independently wealthy. The Queen was also given the position of Divine Adoratrix, which gave Ahmose Nefertari more responsibilities than any Queen before her, putting her in charge of the administration of all temple properties, estates and treasuries.

Ahmose Nefertari had at least three sons and once her husband died it is possible that she (like her mother) was regent for her son Amenhotep I (adding King’s Mother to her list of titles). She likely lived to the old age of

“Ahmes nefertari2-2” by http://www.africamaat.com. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

70 and when she died her son made her a Goddess. Ahmose Nefertari was worshipped for generations under her final title: Mistress of the sky, Lady of the West.


References:

Chronicle of the Queens of Egypt: From Early Dynastic Times to the Death of Cleopatra – Joyce Tyldesley

The Life and Afterlife of Ahmose NefertariVirginia Laporta & Graciela Gestoso Singer

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.

Enheduanna – 2285 – 2250 BCE – City of Ur, Sumer

Mesopotamia, Sumer

This city – may it be sundered by An!

May it be cursed by Enlil!

May its plaintive child not be placated by his mother!

Oh lady, the (harp of) mourning is placed on the ground.

One had verily beached your ship of mourning on a hostile shore.

At the sound of my sacred song they are ready to die.

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These are the fierce and powerful words of the world’s first known author – Enheduanna from the City of Ur, in ancient Sumer. This remarkable woman was at once princess, priestess and poet.

The daughter of Sargon the Great, Enheduanna was given the office of High Priestess of Ur in a political move which would unite Sargon’s territories. She took the name ‘En’, meaning High Priestess, becoming En-hedu-anna – High Priestess, Adornment of An (the Sumerian sky god). She dedicated her life and her work to the goddess Inanna, whom the majority of her hymns refer to.

Not only was Enheduanna writing at the very beginning of literature itself, she is the first author to put her name to her work and to write in the first person. Enheduanna’s work is full of details not only of her life but, vividly, her own personality. When a rival faction expelled her from the City during her brother’s reign, Enheduanna used her poetry to curse her enemies and call upon her patron Inanna for justice:

At your battle-cry, my lady, the foreign lands bow low.

When humanity comes before you in awed silence at the terrifying radiance and tempest, you grasp the most terrible of all the divine powers.

Because of you, the threshold of tears is opened, and people walk along the path of the house of great lamentations.

In the van of battle, all is struck down before you. With your strength, my lady, teeth can crush flint.

You charge forward like a charging storm. You roar with the roaring storm, you continually thunder with Iškur.

You spread exhaustion with the stormwinds, while your own feet remain tireless.

With the lamenting balaĝ drum a lament is struck up.

From the Penn Museum collections

Disk of Enheduanna – From the Penn Museum collections

Enheduanna set the standard in all three of her roles, as not only were her hymns recalled centuries after her death, but each subsequent king’s daughter was awarded the role of High Priestess of Ur, guaranteeing these women a place of political influence. We know that Enheduanna would have approved of this, as she herself advocated the education of women:

‘The true woman who possesses exceeding wisdom, She consults [employs] a tablet of lapis lazuli.

She gives advice to all lands… She measures off the heavens, She places the measuring-cords on the earth.’ 


Notes:

  • Iškur – Sumerian storm god

References:

On Wikipedia:

Puabi – c.2600 BCE – The City of Ur, Sumer

Mesopotamia, Sumer

Puabi of Ur

Between 1922 and 1934, renowned British archaeologist Sir Leonard Woolley was working on the most important dig of his career. The excavation project took place in southern Iraq, which was once the heart of ancient Mesopotamia and the cradle of civilisation.

Under the blazing heat of the desert, Woolley worked in the ruins of the Sumerian City state of Ur. There he would uncover every archaeologists’ fantasy; a previously untouched tomb, the likes of which had not been seen since the treasures of Tutankhamun.

An artists' impression of a Sumerian woman's beauty regime

An artists’ impression of a Sumerian woman’s beauty regime

The tomb of Puabi had not been disturbed like so many others nearby, and so still contained everything she had been buried with – a fortune.

It was clear that Puabi had been an extremely wealthy woman in life. There were piles of gold jewellery, elaborate gold leaf headdresses, beads of carnelian and lapis lazuli, rings, earrings, golden dinnerwear, a beautiful silver plated lyre, jewelled hairpins, bracelets and pots of cosmetics.

On top of this, Puabi had been buried with no less than fifty-two attendants; ritual sacrifices to serve her in the afterlife, each dressed as elaborately as their mistress.

Today, Puabi’s headdress is an iconic and visceral connection to the lady herself. It would have been supported by a very large, black wool wig, giving us a clear idea of how Puabi looked when she was alive – dressed in the height of Sumerian fashion.

Puabi was approximately forty when she died and a Semitic Akkadian rather than a native Sumerian. Other than these sparse facts, we know very little about who Puabi was. Her cylinder seal tells us that her title was Puabi Nin – which might mean she was either a Priestess or a Queen.

A headdress from the tombs of Ur on display at the British Museum (taken by me)

A headdress from the tombs of Ur on display at the British Museum

What is interesting about Puabi’s seal is that it does not refer to any man. Usually we would expect to find reference to a woman’s father or husband in burials from this time.

The absence of male presence indicates that whoever Puabi was, she had wealth and status in her own right.


Notes

  • A cylinder seal is a small round cylinder, typically about one inch in legnth, engraved with written characters or figurative scenes or both, used to roll an impression onto a surface – usually wet clay. This acted as a signature for high status people.
  • Some sources refer to Puabi as Shub-Ad based on an earlier mistranslation.
  • I am very grateful to Leonard Woolley’s wife, Katherine Woolley, who is responsible for creating the model head of Puabi which served as the inspiration for my embroidered portrait.

References:

The cylinder seal of Puabi at the British Museum

Penn Museum – Dressing Queen Puabi (with video)

Ur of the Chaldees – Sir Leonard Woolley

On Wikipedia:


Other media:

The Take Back Halloween Project has an excellent page on dressing up as Puabi!