Persian Women Who Wielded Military and Political Power
I recently heard from a reader that said she found it difficult for her to imagine a woman in such a powerful role as Supreme Commander…particularly in an Islamic culture.
I will respect the wishes of my reader and while I will keep her identity private…I will make my response to her public as there is a beneficial public message here for us all.
Now I had to sit back and catch my breath on this. Are you kidding me? At that moment, I thought about Grand Admiral Artemisia…the legendary leader of the Persian Navy. But then , I reminded myself that we…westerners tend to view the Islamic world through a very pervasive stereotypical lens.
Then I realized that I am dealing with a total westernized mindset. But then I thought, we all should be forgiven for assuming that the political and economic power is totally male-dominated. This is how America and the western world have showcased and framed world history to us.
Many Americans believe that Muslim (Including Persian) women are oppressed by their religion, forced to cover themselves completely, denied education and other basic rights. It is true that Muslim women, like women all over the world, have struggled against inequality and restrictive practices in education, workforce participation, and family roles.
In the midst of all of this…it was not uncommon for women of the Persian Empire to rule empires and govern cities. I tried to posture these facts for "Western Minds" early on in my novel, “The Sixth Extinction.”
So let’s do the numbers on selected powerful Persian Women Rulers
Special Note: Time periods are spoken in terms of BCE (Before Common Era) and BC (Before Christ) mean the same thing. CE (Common Era). This is the same as the year AD (Anno Domini) which means in the year of the lord.
550 B.C.E: Pantea Arteshbod was one of the greatest Persian commanders. She partnered with her husband to secure Persian rule. As co-commander of an army of ten thousand called the immortals, she kept law and order in Babylonia, ensuring peace and a successful transition.
545 B.C.E: Cassandane Shahbanu and Atusa Shahbanu: Cassandane Shahbanu was an Achaemenid Persian noblewoman that became one of the wives of Cyrus the Great. Her daughter was the influential Princess Atusa Shahbanu who played an important role in Achaemenid royal family as she married Darius the Great, king of Persia in 522-486 BC, one of the greatest rulers of the Achaemenid dynasty, who was noted for his administrative genius and for his great building projects.
530 B.C.E: Mahruyeh Shahbanu was the Queen of the Persian Achaemenid Empire and the wife of King Cambysis the Second who carried the distinction of the King who conquered Egypt.
525 B.C.E: Lieutenant Artunis was Commander of the Achaemenid Persian Army and the daughter of Artebaz, Sepahbod, the Lieutenant General of Darius the Great massive armies.
522 B.C.E: The formidable Atusa Shahbanu was the Queen of the Persian Achaemenid Empire and 1st wife of the mighty Persian Achaemenid King Darius the Great.
488 B.C.E: Irdabama was a major formidable landowner and controlled a huge workforce. She also was a highly successful historical businesswoman. She ran her own wine and grain business at the time of Xerxes the Great.
486 B.C.E: Amestris Shahbanu was an Achaemenid military Commander and had the reputation of being more bloodthirsty than any Persian king. She became the Queen of Persia. Amestris was also the beautiful daughter of Otanes and the early wife of Emperor Xerxes the Great, mother of King Artaxerxes.
485 B.C.E: Grand Admiral Artemisia was the legendary Grand Admiral and leader of the Persian Navy. When King Xerxes went to war against Greece 480 BC, Artemisia led her powerful ships into battle and helped Xerxes defeat the Greeks. (The movie “300 Rise of an Empire” is derived from her life)
381 B.C.E: Sissy Cambis was the Empress of Persia and the Mother of Darius the Third, she was a remarkable Achaemenid woman who fought, resisted and did not surrender to Alexander the Macedonian Tyrant.
336 B.C.E: Princess Estatira was a fierce Lieutenant General and the daughter of Darius the Third and Sissy Cambis.
334 B.C.E: Youtab Aryobarzan was the Commander of Achaemenid Army, sister of the legendary Persian Hero, General Aryobarzan, she stood side by side with her brother and fought the Greeks and Macedonians to death during the invasion of Alexander.
213 C.E: Sura was a high ranking General and daughter of the last King of the Ashkanid Empire. She was known as a strategical and military genius during the Parthian dynasty.
383 C.E: Princess Aspas was a Commander of the Persian Sassanid police force and a daughter of Emperor Ardeshir the Second.
488 C.E: Princess Parin was a Persian Sassanid politician, daughter of Qobad, Counselor of the Persian Courthouse, extremely intelligent and confident female politician.
629 C.E: Empress Purandokht was the twenty-sixth Sassanid monarch of Persia, reigning from 629 to 631.
632 C.E: Empress Azarmidokht was the daughter of King Khosrow Parviz. She was the twenty-seventh Sassanid Monarch of Persia and she ruled the empire after her sister Purandokht during the Sassanid Dynasty era.
635 C.E: Apranik was a Persian Sassanid High Ranking Commander of Army and the daughter of Piran the great General of King Yazdgird III.
751 C.E: Azad Deylami was a Guerrilla Commander and a partisan leader from Caspian Sea shores in the north of Iran, who fought bravely for many years with her band of freedom fighters against the Arab Oppressors, during the Occupation era.
795 - 838 C.E: Banu Khorramdin or Bānu Xorram-Din was an Iranian rebel leader, the wife of Babak Khorramdin. Banu fought side by side with her husband Babak against the Abbasid Caliphate.
In conclusion, I agree that women's rights for Iranian women and their legal status has changed during different political and historical eras. I strongly disagree and was somewhat disappointed with the racial and cultural bias displayed by the reader that wrote me.
Women in ancient Persia were of high position and honor in the history. In fact, Islam gave women many rights which were not enjoyed by Western women until the 19th century.
Today, Iranian women can drive and to move with relative freedom. There are no restrictions on female primary or secondary education and at university, women are now the majority.
Today, women are generally accepted in the workplace in Iran with some restrictions. An Iranian man can ban his wife from working if he believes this would be incompatible with the interests of the family or with his or his wife’s dignity.
Women can run for parliament. Presently nine females serve President Hassan Rouhani has appointed female ministers. Masoumeh Ebtekar, now serves as one of Iran’s 12 vice-presidents.
We will conclude this discussion of powerful women in leadership role with quotes from five modern day women leaders”
“You can and should set your own limits and clearly articulate them. This takes courage, but it is also liberating and empowering, and often earns you new respect.” ~ - Rosalind Brewer - COO & Group President of Starbucks
“Do not be afraid to make decisions. Do not be afraid to make mistakes.” ~ Carly Fiorina Former CEO, Hewlett-Packard
“Success isn’t about how much money you make; it’s about the difference you make in people’s lives.” ~ Michelle Obama - Former First Lady of the United States
“Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.” ~ Sheryl Sandberg - COO, Facebook
“There will be people who say to you, ‘You are out of your lane,’ They are burdened by only having the capacity to see what has always been…instead of what can be. But don't you let that burden you.” ~ Vice President, Kamala Harris
Perhaps, our female reader will leave this discussion with a new awareness and courage to lead.