Women who were kings



How women, in the most ancient past, invented ways to dominate and shine in an exclusively male world

Like Hatshepsut, in ancient Egypt, Hypatia of Alexandria and the sultana Shajarat al-Durr, near Cairo, invented devices to dominate and shine in an exclusively male world.[I]

Hatshepsut, or rather, Pharaoh Hatshepsut (as she preferred to be called) reigned as a man for 20 years in the 18th dynasty, from 1500 BC (before the Common era). It was a period of peace and prosperity.

His immediate successors in command of Egypt committed themselves to a meticulous and tenacious work of destroying any trace of his reign, in the accounts, statuary and monuments, taking pains to erase his traces, in an operation of a clean sweep (scorched earth) unprecedented. It was only in the XNUMXth century, when the Americans excavated in Luxor, that Hatshepsut re-emerged in her formidable grandeur, see the splendid temple in Luxor, open to visitors despite some terrorist attacks, and the restoration of countless half-demolished, scraped obelisks and statues and vandalized in Luxor and Karnak. The attempt to annihilate her, removing her memory through the destruction of material evidence of her existence, fell flat. She became more popular.

Something similar happened to the Neoplatonic philosopher, mathematician and astronomer Hypatia (c 350/370-415 of the Common Era), at the time when Alexandria had become the “new Athens”. She was murdered with sadistic refinement by Christian monks (instigated by the Orthodox bishop, later promoted to saint, Cyril of Alexandria), who also destroyed almost all of her work.

Cyril's fanatical followers, however, excellent at cutting up female flesh but not very clever, forgot to throw into the fire Hypatia's abundant correspondence with the Christian-Hellenistic bishop Synesius of Cyrene (current Libia), her disciple, friend and admirer, as well as an intellectual versed in Greek philosophy (Opera of Sinesio di Cyrene, Classici greci, ed. Grazya, Turin: UTET, 1989, Greek/Italian). Much of what we know about her comes from this loving exchange of letters – like the crowds she attracted to listen to her classes, or that she was the main advisor to the city's mayor, Origen, or how much she was indiscriminately loved by both pagans and Christian neophytes. non-fundamentalists.

In addition to this source, there are fragments of Hypatia's writings together with her father, the mathematician Theon (who directed the Alexandrian Mouseion), preserved in a special room in the Vatican, and access to which is only permitted with a letter of recommendation and episcopal acquiescence. The Hypatia massacre was a scandal at the time, to the point of generating an investigation attempt by mentor Cirilo (which came to nothing). However, it brought him fame, defamation and posthumous honors in the following centuries. There are countless, several books about her,[ii] starting with bestseller by Charles Kingsley of 1853 (translated into seven languages), and culminating, for a larger audience, in the monotonous film Ágora', from 2009, directed by Alejandro Amenábar and with Rachel Weisz playing the apparent sweetness of the philosopher.[iii]

Hypatia has become a kind of icon of feminism before la lettre, which would probably displease her greatly, as neither she nor her admirers paid much attention to gender issues. Perhaps she would even be uncomfortable with this epithet “woman & philosopher”. If she would ask if there is a strictly masculine logic (the unavoidable syllogisms) opposed to a typically feminine sophistry (since women are deceitful artifices...). Hypatia might even be offended if they reduced her to such a cliché. She was a female thinker (substance) (accident). Which, surprisingly, didn't cause surprise or inspire militancy around twenty centuries ago.

The sultana, rather, the female sultan Shajarat al-Durr (the title 'Sultan Shajar' is inscribed on a dinar (currency) of the time), was another Egyptian ruler who commanded armies in the 7th century, during the XNUMXth century.a. Crusade, and defeated the invading Christians. Of Armenian origin, she was probably sold as a girl slave to Al Salih Ayyub, whom she later married when he became sultan. With the death of her husband, at the height of the conflict and with the risk of collapse of Muslim Egypt, Shajarat took his place, hidden in the tent where he hid the corpse, so that the news would not spread and give courage to the enemies, in 1250.

Few knew that she was the one who devised the stratagems that trapped and annihilated the invaders. Within a year, she restored Egypt to its rightful owners and dispatched Louis IX back to France. But the Ayyubid emirs and the Syrian Abbasid Caliph did not accept bowing to the new sultana/sultan. Shajar then married Egypt's new ruler, Aybak, for a second time, but continued to run the country from behind the scenes. Years later, upon realizing that her husband was escaping her, she had him killed while taking a bath.

The Mamluks (another faction of Islam at the time) protected her, released her from prison, and prevented her conviction for murder. But she ended up dead, on April 28, 1257, at the behest of Aybak's teenage son, in the most extraordinary way: in clogs, beaten by the harem slaves. Her naked body was thrown outside the city walls. Her mausoleum, a small architectural pearl, was abandoned, infested with weeds and almost in ruins in the 1990s.

There is much more to tell, an infinity of historical adventures, about these three female individuals who governed, led militarily and educated Egypt. Here, we just gave them a made-up voice. Let a certain Hatshepsut speak, some Hypatia torn to pieces by mad Christian monks, and Shajarat beaten to death by other women. Women, we emphasize.


I, King Hatshepsut, sister and wife of Thutmosis II, conceived by Amun, most beloved of the children of Thutmosis I and Ahmose, of divine lineage and royal blood, whose name and rule reached as far as distant Ethiopia, whose seal and rule brought prosperity and peace for twenty-two years on the banks of the Nile, whose deeds, so many and so magnificent, are inscribed on the highest obelisk of Karnak, so that the details of my opulence could fit in it, I, whose mortuary temple was erected to make everyone pale the palaces and temples and sanctuaries of the past and the future, the solar and limpid Deir al-Bahri, an architectural flower embedded in the desert, hieratic, symmetrical only to me in splendor and nobility.

I, Maatkare Khnemet-Amon Hatshepsut, crowned sovereign, lord of Upper and Lower Egypt, whose name echoes like a dry breeze, whose seal bears the lion, whose deeds are beyond those of any generation, I, king and pharaoh, king and ruler , king and consort of myself, I, Hatshepsut-Amun, who wears the royal robes and beard, from here in Thebes, in the 21st year of the 18th dynasty, write to Senenmut, my friend, architect, lover and advisor, to exalt her it:

“The portal to his house was open.
My beloved leaning at your mother's feet,
brothers and sisters surrounded him.
And those who passed along the way
they were filled with love for him,
Perfect and unique young man, of rare virtues.
He laid his gaze on me,
because I had noticed it.
When I think of the beloved
My heart is startled
And it confuses my gestures.
I forget to dress properly,
I neglect my fans,
I don't put makeup on my eyes,
I no longer perfume myself with soft scents.
Oh, my heart, don't expose me to such pains.
Why do you behave like a crazy person?
Come to your home, beloved.
You have no enemies.
O beautiful child, come to your abode, that you may see me.
I am your wife, the one who loves you.
Don't turn away from me, beautiful teenager,
Come to your home now.
My heart asks for you, my eyes desire you.
Ah, how wonderful to see you, beloved.
At the head of my bed
May you sleep, nostrils full of joy,
And, early tomorrow, wake up with Amon.” [iv]


I, Hypatia, daughter of Theon, the guardian of the Alexandrian Library, daughter of the Idea and sister of diverse knowledge, instructed in the arts and sciences of Plato, Plotinus and Ptolemy, of Greek lineage in spirit and Macedonian in blood, I, who interrogate the movement of the heavens, the sun and the stars and that's why I invented the astrolabe, which weighs the gravity of every liquid substance and for that I invented the hydrometer, I, astronomer, mathematician, geometer, student of the cosmos and the emanations into which the Real, me, a presence that is like a magnet and attracts crowds to the Library halls, always more people seeing and listening to me, me, whose serious and serene lessons enchant everyone, Jews, Romans, Greeks and Egyptians from the Delta, me , whose word sprinkles a medicine that cures exasperations, whose fame spreads throughout the Mare Nostrum and made Orestes, the mayor of the city, my captive listener, my closest student, I, whose advice has the vigor of persuasion and the strength of authority, I who bend designs with the breath of the word and whose exhortations are moving and convincing, I, the last representative of Hellenistic philosophy, look with alarm at a world that is about to collapse and from now on will abhor the audacity of the intellect in bowing down to a god jealous and exclusivist.

I, Hypatia, from this new Athens, the gigantic city of Alexandria, in the year 415, write to Synesio, a fraternal and devoted student, who, I learned, was appointed bishop of Cyrenaica, of all North Africa, to calm him down. For from him I received this letter of lamentation and anguish:

From Ptolemais to Alexandria, early 413.

“Greetings, blessed Lady, to you and your most happy companions. For some time now I have intended to reprimand you for not writing to me, as you do not consider me worthy of a response. And if you, blessed Lady, and all of you, disdain me, it will not be my fault, for there is no fault in being unfortunate as only a man can be. But if I could only read your letters and know how you are (I hope enjoying the best fortune), it would be enough for me, as I would rejoice for you, thus reducing my hardships by half. But now your silence joins the evils that afflict me. I lost my children and friends, and the benevolence of others. But the greatest loss is the lack I feel of your divine spirit, the only good I hoped would be left to help me overcome the vagaries of luck and the deceptions of fate.”[v]

Shajarat al-Durr

It is I, Shajarat al-Durr, who commands thousands of men and hundreds of battles, from within this tent where my dead husband lies. I, born a slave and nomad, made wife and servant of Sahli Ayyub, now usurp her voice and her pulse, and rule through the veil. For 90 moons I decide every moment what the restless generals will do, who wait, outside the tent, for my orders, which they think are those of my dead husband, and for 90 moons in this trick I accumulate victory upon victory against the infidels , glory upon glory. And then I crowned myself Sultan of all Egypt and reigned without disguise for 80 other moons and as many battles, until the Caliph of Baghdad and other emirs sent their warriors and hatred against me. I chose not to fight and not to flee, but to marry the bravest of my tormentors.

I did so and became Aybak's wife, and through him, through his docility, for many other uninterrupted moons I ruled. Behind the veil I continued to rule through my second husband, from whom I hid every valuable political secret, until intrigues and his innate cowardice infected him and he planned to drive me away. I went ahead and had him assassinated in time. If before I had used the corpse of one husband, later I used the carnal desire of another. But she had cooled with the decision to make a second wife her favorite. Before he replaced me in his bed and in the palace, I faked his death.

She had always been excellent in the art of killing and its subterfuge. The fury of my adversaries, however, gained momentum and followers, although I did not numb some faithful servants, who freed me from prison and torture and led me to a tower where I would have been protected, had it not been for the vengeful wrath of Aybak's son, the boy 15-year-old who overcame my fiercest adversaries and finally managed to finish me off. He didn't use sword, dagger or poison: he just handed me over to the women of his harem.

To me, Shajarat al-Durr, the last great leader of the Ayyubid dynasty, the most fierce, sagacious and fearless in military campaigns, relentless in action and indifferent to mercy, to me, Shagarat ad-Durr, the “Tree of Pearls”, twin of the courage and cunning of the Kurd Saladin, to me, who subjugated Christians, persuaded Muslims and subjected so many to my will, upon me fell the hatred and rancor of women.

I, the only female sovereign there has ever been in Islam, whisper my last words to the faithful slave, here in al-Qahira, which outsiders call Cairo, minutes before being led to the concubines' feast.

“Yesterday the delirium of today was created, of this day
and tomorrow's indifference, triumph or despair.
Let's celebrate! For we do not know where we came from or why.
Let's celebrate! For we do not know why we will go, nor where.
What! A crazy one. Nothing can provoke the yoke.
It is as foolish to resent pleasures enjoyed under prohibition as it is to fear eternal punishment in the face of pain that tears the present apart.”

The many ways to die

In 1458 BC, three and a half thousand years ago, as soon as Thutmosis III, her nephew, was crowned, Hatshepsut was subjected to a second death. By order of the new pharaoh, whose regent she had been, all signs of her existence, monuments and inscriptions that reminded her of her predecessor, were destroyed. Some were demolished, scraped and reduced to fragments of granite or limestone; others, adulterated so that, in the place where her image previously appeared, that of Thutmosis III was carved.

The movement must have been intense, as Hatshepsut's architects had erected countless monuments, naturally decorated with the effigy of the sovereign pharaoh, and their suppression could only have required a commitment to destruction comparable to that of creation. In addition to having disappeared from the stone, Pharaoh Hatshepsut also disappeared from the papyri and was removed from the lists of chroniclers of Egyptian history (only one of them, Manetho, cited by the Jewish historian Flavio Josephus, recorded his passage).

For the official scribes, however, it has always been known that the reign of Thutmosis I was immediately followed by that of Thutmosis III. Hatshepsut Maatkare, the one who called herself King, remained a ghost until the beginning of the XNUMXth century, when archaeologists from Herbert Winlock's team, from the Metropolitan Museum in New York, casually unearthed, in the vicinity of Deir al-Bahri, a considerable quantity of fragments of images of the queen-king, later restored and today exhibited at the Metropolitan and in the Museums of Cairo and Luxor.

Were it not for this happy chance, Hatshepsut, the most important ruler of the 18th dynasty, would remain ignored by posterity. The symbolic death of a pharaoh is more serious than physical extinction – which is just a passage to a new life, which is why the tombs are filled with artifacts, furniture and jewelry to be recovered upon awakening. The essential thing was survival on the other shore or in the kingdom of the dead, but for this to be accomplished it was mandatory that there were representations, in this life, of the figure of the dead.

Tuthmosis III, although he did not physically eliminate his predecessor, tried to ensure her true death, that is, that she would never reach the other bank of the river, once erased in the record of history and memory. By extinguishing her past, he would abolish her destiny, ensuring that she would never pass through the scales of Anubis, which compares the weight of the dead person's heart to that of a feather and decides her future.

Hypatia's death was an episode of insanity exceptional even by the strange standards of the cult of martyrdom practiced by hermits and desert ascetics (hesichasts) who sought salvation by fasting and mute in caves for years, according to the “Philokalia”[vi]. Hypatia was hacked to death by shell shards by a mob of Christian monks from the Thebaid. Her head was thrown into the sea and the pieces of flesh, skin and bones were burned. It was a period, the same as that of Augustine of Hippo (later a Saint, despite his crypto-Protestant leanings) of troubled transition between the more tolerant Roman pagan cosmopolitanism and the intransigent and resentful ecclesiastical Christianity.

The cunning bishop Cyril, in his ambition to engulf power, feared the philosopher's influence over the city's rich and powerful, especially Orestes, the mayor. The version of Hypatia's carnage adopted by Gibbon,[vii] is that she was forcibly removed from her litter when she was on her way to one of her public lectures, stripped naked, dragged to the local Church and there disemboweled by the monks, an agony that must have been long, as they used small shells to separate the meat from the bones. Then the monks dismembered her (some say they threw her head into the sea), burned what was left of her body and went to Cyril to greet him as liberator.

As for Shagarat ad-Durr, the wives and concubines of the harem did not waste the opportunity to take revenge on the sultan's favorite and beat her to death by striking her with their clogs. Some say that the corpse of Islam's only female sultan was hung in the center of Cairo to serve as food for dogs and entertainment for the people. Others said he was thrown half-naked, with a silk and pearl fabric tied to his waist, which was then looted by passers-by.

Another legend, or fact, is that someone from archaeologist Howard Carter's team bought a mother-of-pearl box in the Khan al Khalili market in 1903 and forgot about it. Years later, her grandson opened it and found a thin roll of papyrus that described, in the most exquisite Arabic, the exploits of this extravagant and powerful woman.

To me, Hatshepsut, not even a double was granted to cross the other bank. Millennia of silence, until resurfacing in the desert. From me, Hypatia, something remains entangled in the corals at the bottom of the sea. Of me, Sultan Shajarat, whose epilogue was served as a meal for dogs, history has preserved an effigy on a coin.

I-Hypatia, I ask if it was the same hands that dismembered my body and shattered my books, I-Shajarat, I suspect that my bracelets went to the youngest concubine, I-Hatshepsut, I narrowly escaped becoming an incognito fragment of stone , I-Shajarat, who bent Islam and Christianity to my desires, I-Hypatia, who ruled a city by infiltrating the intellect of its men, I-Hypatia, the complacent and wise, I-Hatshepsut, the magnanimous, I -Shajarat, merciless, cunning and before whom everyone trembled with fear, I-We, loved and feared in life, then thrown into oblivion, vandalized, outcasts, silhouettes, mist, black brilliance: today, we emerge from the shadows.

*Marilia Pacheco Fiorillo is a retired professor at the USP School of Communications and Arts (ECA-USP). Author, among other books, of Kalash my love: The infamous weapon and other delicacies (Gryphus). [https://amzn.to/3qnJWhX]


[I] This hybrid of history and fiction is indebted to some trips to Egypt, initially to search the Coptic Museum in Cairo and clues from the Nag Hammadi manuscripts, which contain the oldest text of early Christianity, the Gospel of Thomas. From there to the non- planned were a few blocks and trips in vans or feluccas (the small boat used by peasants to navigate the shallow Nile), repeated visits to museums, mosques and temples, which instigated enchantment and subsequent reading and bibliographical research. Without forgetting the late Father João, from Bragança Paulista, kind intermediary for a Brazilian episcopal visa so that I could access those confidential documents in the Vatican Library that were closed to the public.

[ii] In particular, Hatshepsout, femme pharaon: biography mythique. Fawzia Assad, ed Librairie Orientaliste Paul GEUTHNER, preface by Michel Butor, 2000; It is Hatchepsut the Female Pharaoh. Joyce Tyldesley, PENGUIN Books, 1998.

[iii][iii] Highlight for the book L'eredità di Ipazia: donne nella storia delle scienze dall'antichità all'Ottocento. Margaret Alic, ed Riuniti, 1989

[iv] Collage extracted from Chants d'amour de lE'gypte Ancienne. ed La Table Ronde, 1996.

[v] Opera of Sinesio di Cyrene, Classici greci, ed. Grazya, Turin: UTET, 1989, Greek/Italian

[vi] The Library of the Monastery of Saint Pachomius, in Egypt, has the largest and best collection on Orthodox Christianity from the first five centuries, true treasures. Index T (voskrese.info)

[vii] The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon, 1776/1789, ed. Strahan & Cadell.

the earth is round exists thanks to our readers and supporters.
Help us keep this idea going.

See this link for all articles


  • Reasons for the end of the strike at Federal Universitiesbenches 16/05/2024 By TADEU ALENCAR ARRAIS: The Federal Government's new proposal announced on May 15 deserves debate on whether or not to continue the strike
  • How to lie with statisticschair 51 18/05/2024 By AQUILES MELO: The numbers presented by the federal government to education employees on strike confuse more than they explain, thus demonstrating a lack of interest in resolving the problem
  • “Multipolarity” and the chronic decline of the WestJose Luis Fiori 17/05/2024 By JOSÉ LUÍS FIORI: The defense of multipolarity will increasingly be the banner of countries and peoples that are currently rising up against the global military imperium exercised by the West
  • The strike at universities and federal institutes does not…path time 17/05/2024 By GRAÇA DRUCK & LUIZ FILGUEIRAS: The left-wing and democratic forces need to get out of passivity, as if waiting for Lula and his government, as well as the STF, to resolve the political impasses
  • The Caramel horsecaramel horse 15/05/2024 By LEONARDO BOFF: We must admit that we have not respected the rights of nature and its intrinsic value, nor have we controlled our voracity to devastate it
  • The operational universityMarilena Chauí 2 13/05/2024 By MARILENA CHAUI: The operational university, in university terms, is the highest expression of neoliberalism
  • Environmental denialism and the flooding of Porto AlegrePorto Alegre airport flooded 14/05/2024 By CARLOS ATÍLIO TODESCHINI: Porto Alegre has the best flood protection system in Brazil. It is considered a “Dutch mini-system”. Why did this system fail in its function of preventing the city from being flooded?
  • Oza's handJoao_Carlos_Salles 14/05/2024 By JOÃO CARLOS SALLES: The duty of the Brazilian State and the contracted university
  • Fake freedom and the Marquis de SadeEugenio Bucci 18/05/2024 By EUGÊNIO BUCCI: Fake freedom, sadistic freedom, which in essence is the denial of all freedom, is leading Brazil to total shipwreck
  • SUS, 36 years old – consolidation and uncertaintiesPaulo Capel Narvai 15/05/2024 By PAULO CAPEL NARVAI: SUS was not the “stillbirth” that many predicted. Almost four decades later, the SUS is institutionally consolidated and has developed a notable process of republican governance