Almost no evidence of successful, long-term female leaders exists from the ancient world – in the Mediterranean, Near East, Africa, Central Asia, or East Asia. The female king of Egypt, Hatshepsut, was able to take the throne for a considerable length of time, but she could only do so by sharing power with a male ruler. Empress Lü ruled for sixteen years, but always with another male at her side. Cleopatra attempted to use her sexuality and money to build alliances with warlords of the Roman empire and keep its imperial exploitation at bay; Boudicca, a noble elite of Britain led her people against Roman legions once all her kinsmen were dead. These women were exceptions, and, for the most part, served as mere placeholders.
A woman’s power in the ancient world (and perhaps even today) was always compromised from the outset, and this lecture will address the root causes of this social inequality. Given this social reality in the ancient world, how then did women negotiate their limited leadership
roles? Were they able to rule “behind the throne” so to speak? How are we to find a woman’s power when it was so habitually cloaked by a man’s dominance? This lecture will address those questions and ask how much of this ancient reality still touches us today.
ABOUT THE SPEAKER: Dr. Kathlyn (Kara) Cooney is a professor of Egyptian Art and Architecture at UCLA. Specializing in craft production, coffin studies, and economies in the ancient world, Cooney received her PhD in Egyptology from Johns Hopkins University. In 2005, she was co-curator of Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Cooney produced a comparative archaeology television series, entitled Out of Egypt, which aired in 2009 on the Discovery Channel and is available online via Netflix and Amazon.
The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt, Cooney’s first trade book, was released in 2014 and benefits from her expert perspective on Egypt’s ancient history to craft an illuminating biography of its least well-known female king. As an archaeologist who spent years at various excavations in Egypt, Cooney draws from the latest field research to fill in the gaps in the historical record of Hatshepsut.
Cooney’s current research in coffin reuse, primarily focusing on the 19th and 21st Dynasties, is ongoing. Her research investigates the socioeconomic and political turmoil that have plagued the period, ultimately affecting funerary and burial practices in ancient Egypt. This project has taken her around the world over the span of five to six years to study and document nearly 300 coffins in collections, including those in Cairo, London, Paris, Berlin, and Vatican City.