Tagged History

Take a Seat Guys, Historians Say World’s Oldest Author Was a Woman

Photo Credit: This brilliant photo was created by Rori for her 100 Days, 100 Women project. I highly recommend checking it out!

Mesopotamian civilization developed in Western Asia thanks to the resource-rich valley between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

Women and Daily Life in Ancient Mesopotamia

For centuries, history (the discipline) was dominated by a bunch of old, posh European guys with tons of biases. They studied ancient cultures through the lens of their era, largely ignoring the many types of roles women played throughout history.

From excavation sites dating back to prehistoric times, we encounter female figurines that emphasize breasts and hips. Some scholars believe that these figurines may have been fertility goddesses, suggesting that many early societies worshiped ‘mother’ goddesses.

While ancient Mesopotamian peoples worshiped a pantheon of gods, there were a number of important female goddesses whose powers also revolved around life and fertility.

In ancient Mesopotamia, individuals existed to service the ‘state,’ which in turn serviced the gods. Everything within the city practically revolved around the gods – Inanna, Enki, Marduk, etc.

The temples were stocked with food, which was a direct result of their ability to farm. Along with farming and the maintenance of this sort of society, came the need to have specialized offices, such as scribes (as evidenced by contracts, payrolls, and vouchers that have survived).

In addition to the maintenance of the state itself, families were created for monetary and political protection. The first main purpose of marriage was to have children, which would secure the family line and consolidate control over property.

“In a world where governmental protection of the individual was minimal, it was essential to have the support of as strong a family as possible…hence, the more children, especially male, the better.”  

D. B. Nagle on importance of family.
The Ancient World: A Social and Cultural History

Childbirth was invaluable to societies that were constantly threatened by unpredictable weather, foreign invaders and diseases. Therefore, the ability to have children was both practical and precious.

Under “Marriage and Children,” a set of laws provided protection to a childless woman whose husband would divorce her:

“If a man would divorce his wife who has not borne him children, he shall give her money to the amount of her marriage settlement and he shall make good to her the dowry which she brought from her father’s house; then he may divorce her…” 

“Marriage and Children,” The Ancient World: A Social and Cultural History

This quote illustrates the importance of childbirth and the legal protections a woman received. Although lack of a child was a justifiable reason for divorce, this law allegedly ensured the woman received a fair sum. This woman also had the ability to re-marry. 

I know. It sounds pretty bleak, but this is kind of amazing. Compared to, say, ancient India, where women didn’t have many options after their husbands died. They could either commit ritual Sati or remain a widow. Better options didn’t exist until after Buddhism spread (~500 BC).

The World’s Oldest Author, Enheduanna

I’ve made a point in reading some of the oldest works by the oldest writers. My list ranges from the ancient far east to the west and encompasses many classics. I’ll write up a list soon. On that note, if you have any recommendations, I welcome all!

The fact that information on Priestess Enheduanna’s life (2285 – 2250) has survived thousands of years is testament to the political and literary legacy she created.

She was the daughter of the great king and conqueror, Sargon of Akkad (2334 – 2279). She was sent to Ur and fused the Akkadian beliefs with Sumerian beliefs. She wrote hymns that reconciled cultural and personality differences among the gods. She was apparently so successful that high priestesses after her became the link that legitimized following dynasties!

She wrote around 40 short poems on general life, war and religion. Her most famous works are: ‘The Exaltation of Inanna,’ ‘The Great Hearted Mistress,’ and ‘Goddess of Fearsome Powers.’

Excerpt from ‘The Great Hearted Lady”

The Great-hearted Mistress, the Impetuous Lady,
Proud among the Anuna gods [annunaki]
and pre-eminent in all lands,
the great daughter of Suen [moon god],
exalted among the Great Princes [a name of the igigi gods]
the Magnificent Lady who gathers up the divine powers
of Heaven and Earth and rivals Great An [sky god],
is mightiest among the great gods — she makes their verdicts final. The Anuna gods crawl before her august word
whose course she does not let An know;
he dare not proceed against her command.
She changes her own action,
and no one knows how it will occur.
She makes perfect the great divine powers,
she holds a shepherd’s crook,
and she is their magnificent pre-eminent one.
She is a huge shackle clamping down
upon the gods of the land.
Her great awesomeness covers the great mountain
and levels the roads.

Poem Source:
Black, J.A., Cunningham, G., Ebeling, J., Flückiger-Hawker, E., Robson, E., Taylor, J., and Zólyomi, G., The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature (http://etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk/), Oxford 1998–2006.

by Alan Fleming

An Interview With Charles Coles

Charles Coles was an old man by the time he was interviewed at his home by an out-of-work writer employed by the Federal government. Mr. Rogers, the writer, was a slim fellow with a receding hairline. His clothes weren’t the finest old Mr. Coles had seen, but Mr. Rogers didn’t seem to notice. He stood there on his door step with the kind of twisted pride that came from three hundred years of being told people like him were better than most.

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The More You Know: Queen Nzinga

Queen Nzinga was born sometime between 1580 and 1583. She was one of several children of Ngola (king) Kia Samba, who ruled over the Ndongo and Matamba Kingdoms. 

Her father, Ngola Kiluanji Kia Samba, reigned during a time of constant conflict with the Portuguese, who’d arrived in Angola in the late 14th century. Her brother, Mbandi, inherited the throne after their father, but proved himself unable to handle the growing threat from the Portuguese and other African kingdoms. 

The Portuguese established a treaty with one of the strongest kingdoms in Angola – the Kongo. The Kongo king, his son and their advisers converted to Christianity to establish trade between the two kingdoms. The Kingdom of Kongo wanted alcohol and cloth, while the Portuguese wanted people for slave labor. By the 1560’s, due to increased Portuguese demands, around 7,000 people were sold into slavery every year. Most of these people were taken to Brazil. By 1576, the Portuguese established an administrative division for slave trading at Luanda Bay. 

Between the 1620’s and 1650’s, Queen Nzinga led a steady opposition against the encroaching Portuguese and African slave traders. Other than the three decade opposition she led against the Portuguese, she is best known for her clever mind, and tactful strategies.

One of the most well-known stories about her is during a meeting with a Portuguese official. According to most renditions, the only seat in the room belonged to the Portuguese official. Queen Nzinga’s servant immediately rushed to serve as a seat, so that Queen Nzinga and the Portuguese official could speak as equals. 

Today, Nzinga is remembered for being a proto-nationalist and an anti-colonialist.

Queen Nzinga Mbandi of the Ndongo & Matamba Kingdoms
Credit: Erik Kristensen

The More You Know: Aspasia of Miletus

The Golden Age of Greece is a time period most well known for the flourishing of arts and sciences. The magnificent Parthenon was erected as both a pious symbol to the gods, and as a symbol of the wealth and superiority of Athenian culture. You may know of the general Pericles, who ushered democracy into Athens and of Thucydides and Herodotus – historians who recorded the greatness as it happened.  I could go on and list other names: Socrates, Hippocrates, Aristophanes – but you get the point. The Golden Age of Greece got its name from all of the great minds that existed during that time, despite the fact that Athens, and other surrounding Greek city-states were experiencing political unrest. However, political unrest didn’t disrupt the flourishing of the arts and sciences, until the Greek world was plunged into the Peloponnesian War in 431 BC.

Aspasia of Miletus is a name you should know if you’ve familiarized yourself with Classical Athenian history.  If you quickly search for her on Google, you may find a heap of resources designating her as “Aspasia, Pericles’s Lover,” or “Aspacia, The Concubine.” These titles do well with tying her to Pericles, because she was, in fact, his mistress. But that’s not all she was.

Aspasia of Miletus was a foreigner to Athens. She lived in the Ionian colony of Miletus, a village on the Western coast of Anatolia prior to emigrating to Athens. It’s not extremely clear how she met Pericles, but the two were an almost inseparable pair, according to their contemporaries. Because Aspasia wasn’t considered an Athenian woman, she enjoyed more freedom than her peers. She was often credited, mostly by critics, as influencing Athenian politics and poisoning Pericles’s mind with her feminine wiles.

It’s highly likely that Aspasia came from wealth, as she is known to have been extremely educated and influential. She was such a significant presence in classical Athens that her contemporary critics even criticized her for instigating wars between Athens and other Greek city-states.

Playwrights, and socratic writers had a lot to say about Aspasia, the lover of Pericles. Although most of what was said was misogynistic and negative, it’s clear that Aspasia was a central figure in Athens, socially and politically. She’s said to have given marital advice to the likes of Xenophon, called upon by Socrates himself, and to have even advised these men on rhetoric.

Even though Aspasia lived and interacted with many great men from the Golden Age of Greece, her name is one that rarely pops up. This isn’t a surprise, given Greek (especially you, Athens) attitudes toward women, and the historical biases of 19th century European men. Next time you get into a conversation about Classical Greece, don’t forget to mention Aspasia of Miletus!

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Interpreting Biblical Rape

A Brief Summation of a Facebook Debate on the Duality of the Christian God 

by Bernice

Yesterday was just like any other day. I was scrolling through my Facebook feed, liking memes, and laughing at nonsensical videos. I stopped scrolling at the sight of this meme:


It intrigued me. It made me stop, and think. I shared the post, knowing that any one of my devout Christian friends would jump onto my post and try to explain away the obvious issues with the biblical passage. My caption was:

Something to think about for sure. These scriptures in the bible are right around the sections that Christians often use for evidence against homosexuality. Well, if homosexuality is an “abomination.” Then, raping and marrying a woman is ok.

But no self-respecting Christian would argue that rape is ok. But in denying the legitimacy of the rape passage, they’ll also have to deny the legitimacy of the homosexuality passage.

First of all, this caption isn’t all that clear. On Facebook, and other social media, I tend to shorten my thoughts. But the message is clear: there are many inconsistencies in the bible. And these disparities are often overlooked and/or rationalized away by Christians.

A Christian friend eventually commented, posting a link to a website that supposedly explains common misinterpreted scriptures. The website is The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).

It started out by explaining this scripture: Deuteronomy 22:23-24

“If there is a girl who is a virgin engaged to a man, and another man finds her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city and you shall stone them to death; the girl, because she did not cry out in the city, and the man, because he has violated his neighbor’s wife.

The ERLC argues that this law is describing a consensual encounter, signified by the lack of violent descriptive words. I.e, the lack of the words ‘forced,’ ‘attacked’, etc. They further argue that the setting is important. Because the alleged assault took place in a city, there would have been witnesses to a violent rape. Therefore, this is consensual and they both should be punished.

Raise your hand if you know that rape isn’t always violent and bloody. Raise your hand if you know that screaming isn’t always an option. Raise your hand if you think this is pure speculation. Me too.

This is Deuteronomy 22:25-27 

But if in the field the man finds the girl who is engaged, and the man forces her and lies with her, then only the man who lies with her shall die. But you shall do nothing to the girl; there is no sin in the girl worthy of death, for just as a man rises against his neighbor and murders him, so is this case. When he found her in the field, the engaged girl cried out, but there was no one to save her.

This passage is clearer than the first. It condemns the rape of a woman, but this one isn’t free of issues. I’ll get to the issues in all of these passages at the end.

Here’s the passage that started this debate: Deuteronomy 22:28-29

If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay her father fifty shekels[a] of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.

Wow. You read that right, but don’t be so surprised. This is an ancient book! So the ERLC doesn’t deny that she must have been ‘overwhelmed.’ Nor do they deny that the man is guilty. But what’s problematic is that they don’t condemn this scripture. Their translation leads them to believe that it wasn’t a ‘violent rape,’ which is apparently ‘not so bad.’ The ERLC argues that there is some sort of mutual responsibility here, because the man didn’t violently rape her. Apparently, the only rape that counts is the violent kind, where you’re constantly screaming for your life.

My Christian friend brought up a good point though. The Christian god is supposed to be a just god, who hates all sexual sins and provides these laws in order to protect the weak.

He also said, The rapist deserves death. The adulterer deserves death. I deserve death, and so do you, but the good news is that Jesus died in the sinner’s place to bring about forgiveness, healing, and restoration.

I’m not a Christian, but I respect that. However, what he says and what I’ve read are at odds with each other.

The first law condemns both the man and woman. Even though it’s obvious that the man did the action of ‘finding’ and ‘lying,’ the woman is put to death. She’s put to death for not screaming, and drawing witnesses. But there could be a number of reasons why she didn’t. The man, it says, is put to death because he damaged another man’s property. Yes, property. Women were commodities that were bought and sold by their fathers and husbands. Where is the protection of the weak in this scenario?

The second law is also problematic because it’s also on the basis of the woman crying out. However, it’s still leagues better than the first and third laws.

The third law condemns only the woman. In this scenario, the woman is not engaged. After being raped by the man in this scenario, she is essentially damaged goods. Her family becomes unable to marry her off, and protect their investments. The solution to this problem is to marry her off to the man who violated her to begin with. Where is the protection of the weak in this scenario? How was this man punished?

In the first and second scenarios, there’s another problematic issue that may go over some heads. Both of the men in these scenarios are put to death. How come the man isn’t put to death in the third scenario? If rape is punished, then all three men should be put to death. Unless, rape isn’t the real issue these laws are tackling.


I’ll repeat my closing argument here:

 If god is truly a just god, and he hates all sexual sin, then laws like marrying a rapist would be against what this god stands for. If all rapists deserve death according to this god, then this god would not sanction a rapist marrying his victim. If the laws were truly created by an impartial god to protect the vulnerable, then a victim would not be forced to marry her attacker. How is the victim in this instance protected? She is forced to endure being raped by her attacker legally, every night until she dies. That doesn’t sound just or good to me. So there are only two conclusions here: the christian god is evil, or he did not make those laws. Man did.

What do you think?

Why Do We Keep Calling Native Americans ‘Indians’?

In the same way, Natives were robbed of their ancestral lands, slapped with a label, and pushed to the margins of American history. But American history IS their history. The United States of America is an infant aberration of THEIR history.

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