Review: When Women Ruled the World: Six Queens of Egypt by Kara Cooney

Title: When Women Ruled the World: Six Queens of Egypt

Author: Kara Cooney

Format: Audiobook

Length: 9 hrs and 15 mins

Genre: Nonfiction, Ancient History

Date Read: February 7, 2020

5 stars
5 stars – I loved it!

After listening to Dr. Cooney’s previous book, The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt, I knew I wanted to read this book as soon as possible. I got it on audiobook and now here we are. This book focuses on six queens who ruled Egypt: Merneith, Neferusobek, Hatshepsut, Nefertiti, Twosret and Cleopatra.Of these six queens I have only heard of three of them, Hatshepsut, Nefertiti, and Cleopatra, so I am extremely excited to learn more about these ancient queens and how they came to power. 

Merneith:

Merneith was a regent during the First Dynasty and is believed to have ruled in her own right based on some records. Little is known about her but she ruled around 2950 BC and stayed in power until her son, Den, was old enough to rule.  Her reign was filled with a lot of bloodshed. I never realized that in the first dynasties they killed an entourage of people for the king to take into the afterlife with him. She continued to support her son after he came into power as well and probably lived until her 50s. 

As I said earlier, I had not heard of this Queen but she sounds fascinating. It’s too bad we don’t have more records of her time and that she was quickly forgotten. I wish I could find some pictures of her tomb because it sounds beautiful, especially since it was believed to have been a king’s tomb for a while. 

Neferusobek:

Sobekneferu, or Neferusobek, was the first known woman to reign as King. This is the first time there is confirmed proof of a woman ruling as king. Earlier dynasties had women who are believed to have ruled, like Merneith, but there is no confirmed proof that they ruled in their own right. With Neferusobek we have evidence of her life and person, how she came into power and how she reigned. She was the last monarch of her family line and reigned after the death of Amenemhat IV, who might have been her brother but that’s unconfirmed, died without a male heir to take the throne. She had a short reign, from 1806 to 1802 BC, that was a little under 4 year.

This was a fascinating look at a woman who knew her line was ending and most likely could not have an heir herself, she was believed to have been close to the end of child beiring years at this point. Her rule was short and filled with strife. Not only did she have to deal with presenting a powerful image that she was the true ruler, even though she was a woman, but also with the threat of starvation and hard times due to lack of flooding of the Nile. She sounds like a smart, strong, and determined woman. I really want to know more about her now. 

Hatshepsut:

Hatshepsut was a rule breaker. She was the only woman to have ruled as king during times of prosperity. She ruled for almost two decades (~1479-1458 BCE), and brought a lot of wealth and jobs to Egypt. She was a prolific builder and spent her reign building, restoring, and updating temples and monuments to the Gods. She re-established trade routes, including expeditions to Punt. 

Hatshepsut was a fascinating woman. She was smart, determined, and knew exactly what to say or do to obtain and keep her power. This chapter is a very brief overview of her life and accomplishments and why most people don’t really know anything about her. If you want to know more about Hatshepsut I highly recommend reading Cooney’s other book, The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt. It presents a more detailed look at  what led to her being king and how she ruled as king. 

Nefertiti: 

Neferneferuaten Nefertiti was the great royal wife of the Great Royal Wife of Akhenaten during the 18th Dynasty. Together they did something no ruling couple had ever done before, they created a new religion with only one god, Aten, the sun disc. As you can imagine, this did not make a lot of people happy. By the fourth year of his reign, Akhenaten moved the capital city from Thebes to a new city he had built called Akhetaten (modern Amarna). Akhetaten was filled with open air temples and was all about Aten. 

Nefertiti and Akhenaten had six daughters: Meritaten (No later than year 1 of Akhenaten’s reign), Meketaten (Year 4), Ankhesenpaaten (later known as Ankhesenamun, wife of Tutankhamun), Neferneferuaten Tasherit (Year 8). Neferneferure (Year 9) and Setepenre (Year 11). Around Year 14 we know that Meritaten dies from either plague or childbirth. Also around this time the two youngest princesses, Neferneferure and Setepenre, also disappeared so it is believed they died around this time as well. 

It is believed that Nefertiti was elevated to the role of co-regent by Akhenaten before his death. She is depicted in many sites as equal in stature to a king, smiting Egypt’s enemies, riding a chariot, and worshipping the Aten in the manner of a Pharaoh. Towards the end of Akhenaten’s reign Nefertiti disappears from the record and is replaced by co-regent named Neferneferuaten, who became a female king. This is believed to be Nefertiti (some say it could be her daughter Meritaten) assuming the rule of king after the death of her husband. If Nefertiti did rule after her husband’s death it is believed she was attempting damage control and was re-instantiating the original religion. 

Nefertiti lived through a time of prosperity for Egypt but also religious unrest. These two created created a new religion based around one God, which is quite amazing in a culture that has always worshiped many gods. But, it didn’t last past their reign. I find Nefertiti fascinating. Not only was she a Queen, possibly king too, but she had six daughters and lived through so much change during Ancient Egypt. I really wish they had recorded their personal feelings and ideas because it would have been fascinating to know how this woman truly felt about her life. 

Twosret:

Tworset was the last known ruler and final King of the Nineteenth Dynasty. After her husband Seti II died, Tworset became regent to his heir Siptah. Siptah was likely her stepson since there are no known children between Tworset and Seti II.  When Siptah died about 5 years into his reign, Tworset officially assumed the throne as king. She ruled for roughly 7-9 years, she absorbed the years of Siptah’s reign as her own, and we don’t know exactly when she died. Her reign did end in a civil war. It is not known if she was over throne by her successor Setnakhte, who became the founder of the Twentieth dynasty, though.  

Tworset sounds fascinating and I wish we knew more about her. But as with all the previous women rulers, she has been pretty much erased. Maybe there is more information out there just waiting to be found. 

Cleopatra:

Cleopatra VII Philopator was the last active ruler of the Ptolemaic Dynasty. She ruled for roughly 21 years (51 BC to 10 or 12 August 30 BC). She is the most famous of all these women kings. Everyone probably knows the basics about Cleopatra, her affairs with Caesar and Mark Anthony, her three children, and her death after being defeated by Rome. Cleopatra’s reign is also the first time we see any personal records about a woman being a ruler, and they are mostly negative. This is probably because a lot of the records are from Rome. 

Cleopatra was a fascinating and smart woman. She ruled on her own, took out her enemies (and a lot of family), had four kids, including twins, and influenced the men around her to suit her needs. She was powerful and ruthless. I wish we had more personal records from her point of view instead of Rome’s views on her. It would be very interesting to see how she felt about her rule and how she felt about the men in it. 

Overall, I loved this audiobook. I love learning about all these different women, many of which I had never heard of before. Cooney does a wonderful job at presenting these women to the world and their accomplishments. Also, she does a wonderful job with the audiobook. I can’t recommend this book enough. If you like Ancient Egypt you should read/ listen to this because it will give you a whole new look on the women of Ancient Egypt. 


Goodreads/ Amazon



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