Caesar, Leonidas, Nero, Aristotle, Mark Antony, Socrates, Pericles, Jugurtha, Alexander the Great, Plato, Augustus, Kleon, Pompey, Mithridates, Solon, Claudius, Demosthenes, Tiberius…
When we think of the ancient Mediterranean world, we are immediately bombarded by images of male figures. This is because, until fairly recently, history was written by men who, living in heavily patriarchal societies, primarily encountered male leaders as women were not permitted to (formally) participate in military and political institutions.
Therefore, the women whose names we do know from the ancient world – such as Cleopatra, Livia, Boudica, Aspasia – are often presented by historians (old and new) as hyper-sexual gender transgressors who were corrupted by the (supposedly masculine) desire for power.
Sounds familiar? Just check out the Alt-right’s use of Classical imagery in attacking powerful, outspoken women in recent years.
On top of this, male historians and writers, hailing from the upper classes of ancient societies, were not interested in or simply did not have access to the lives of ordinary women. It would be like trying to study women in our time by only having information about Queen Elizabeth II, the Kardashian-Jenner women, and Angela Merkel – not women you’d bump into in your local supermarket! So, we have to turn to non-literary sources to piece together what information we can about the lives of ordinary (or non-elite) women.
As a result, the study of women in the ancient world is muddied by negative and/or neglectful representations of women and their lives. Ancient Herstories aims to wade through these murky accounts to bring you the stories of women from all walks of life who were as brave, intelligent, determined, caring, cunning and complex as women are today!