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Summary

What is power and who is allowed to wield it? Why is female power so rare and, often, so feared? What can the women who gained power in the ancient world teach us about the contemporary world and our modern ideas of gender, authority, and equality?

Listeners will explore these and other questions as you travel back to the ancient world and uncover the stories of remarkable women who overcame a host of barriers to wield power in a male-dominated world. From Egypt and Mesopotamia to China and Rome, you will meet women who worked strategically to gain unprecedented influence and you will see how their stories echo through the centuries, offering surprising relevance to our understanding of gender and sexual dynamics today. 

In Powerful Women of the Ancient World, Professor Kara Cooney will share the stories of women who rose to power through ambition; intelligence; skill; and sheer determination. First, you will take a look at what power actually is - how it is defined, how different kinds of power operate, and why women and men are often viewed differently when power is involved. Then, meet the women of the ancient world who challenged the status quo by grasping for and holding authority. Some names listeners will likely already recognize through their “cautionary tales”, such as Cleopatra and Jezebel. Others, though less well-known, will show you the different ways it is possible to be powerful. You will meet rulers like Empress Lü of China and Hatshepsut of Egypt, rebel leaders such as Boudica of Britain, religious leaders like the Hebrew prophetess Deborah, and more. 

As listeners will learn, times may have changed since antiquity, but the past has a long reach - and in many ways, our cultural ideas about women and power are surprisingly slow to change.

©2020 Audible Originals, LLC (P)2020 Audible Originals, LLC.

What listeners say about Powerful Women Who Ruled the Ancient World

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    3 out of 5 stars

History written in woke bitterness

So desperate is this author to paint a picture of downtrodden womanhood today it is as if modern strong women (regardless of their politics) Margaret Thatcher, Golda Meir, Indira Ghandi etc had never existed.

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really good

really interesting and clear to understand. great subjects and brilliant women discussed. would recommend

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  • Red-Haired Ash
  • 02-05-20

Informative

This audiobook is broken down into twelve lectures that discuss women in power in the ancient world, what power is, the different types of power there are and people in power are viewed and remembered differently because of their sex.

Kara Cooney does an amazing job at breaking down the history of women in power and the different types of power they wielded. Here are some of the women discussed in these lectures: Merneith (Egypt), Puabi (Sumerian), Hatshepsut (Egypt), Deborah (Isreal), Jezebel (Isreal), Athaliah (Isreal), Aspasia (Athens), Artemisia (Greek), Hypatia (Egypt/Roman), Empress Lu (China), and Cleopatra (Egypt). A few of these ancient Egyptian women are mentioned and discussed in more detail in Cooney’s previous books, The Woman Who Would Be King, and When Women Ruled the World.

The lectures focus on how these women wielded their power and for what reason. The majority seemed to be centered around family. They rose to power as regents over their sons and controlled their worlds through them. These women frequently met an untimely end and it is unclear how much of their legacy is the truth because of the slander made against them. I found it all to be fascinating and very informative, especially since quite a few of these women I had never heard of.

One of the facts that surprised me was that in ancient Greece true love was viewed to only be between a man and a man, never a woman and a man. This was fascinating because while I knew male/male coupling was a part of Greek culture I didn’t realize it was so widespread and actually expected.

Overall, this was a fascinating audiobook. I loved learning about all these different women and their rises to power. I do recommend you check out Cooney’s other books as well, especially if you like learning about Egypt. They go into greater detail about these women, especially Hatshepsut.

6 people found this helpful

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  • Toro
  • 07-03-21

Disappointing.

I listened to this course hoping it would focus on the characteristics and untold accomplishments of powerful women who ruled in the ancient world, as titled. Instead it was an exploration on the roots of modern patriarchy.

I understand Cooney’s objective to provide historical cultural context, and the allure of contrasting that context against modernity, but the title is grossly misstated. Instead of covering individual characters with any type of serious academic depth or in a chronological narrative, it groups together the challenges of women across cultures and expanses of time, spending disproportionate energy chronicling the methods by which contemporaneous males sought to limit female power or their legacy. Despite being rife with assumption and sometimes glaring logical leaps, this could be interesting if the title of the course was renamed to something more accurate to its content.

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  • Suzan
  • 15-04-21

Don’t waste your time

She makes everything super political and controversial. I couldn’t get past the first 10 min. I found this absolutely unlistenable.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Bernadette Culpepper
  • 22-04-21

Author modern attitude eclipse the material.

I ignored the warnings of other reviewer ‘s regarding the author. I absolutely love learning particularly areas I have no experience. The subject of women in the ancient world was quite intriguing to me.
This author did not use the proper context for her descriptions of powerful women in the old testament. I disagreed with her analysis of the situations primarily because she left out so much regarding the back stories of people like Jezebel. It makes me wonder just how much the other information is like in context as well.
I ceased before the last few chapters of the book due to the crescendo of woke feminism layered on ancient civilization. Thankful this course was included with my membership so I didn’t lose any credits just time.

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  • B. Dillon
  • 06-03-21

Very well done

It was interesting but I would have liked to see the Hun daughters included. They stood on their own merits and would have been an interesting contrast.

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  • P. C.
  • 26-06-21

Overkill on Discovering Misogyny

I agree that history and judgments come from the MEN in power. But the detection of misogyny throughout human motivations and judgments is overkill. The attack on the Hebrew Scriptures are disingenuous. I love Boudicca and Zenobia. They are hugely respected. But to dig up sexism and stereotypes of women in power really killed it for me.

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  • Lynn
  • 18-06-21

Engaging perspective

Cooney’s argument about women in power is persuasive and interesting. She sets the framework for the argument in the very effective first lecture and sticks to it to the end. She also makes solid connections between the women she uses as case studies and our modern political environment. This is definitely not an unbiased recitation of historical fact, but it is thoughtful and relevant. I highly recommend it.

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  • Hubris
  • 08-06-21

Surprisingly Biased

I think that what this book thought better than anything is that pretty much anyone can give an account of history; I will be more cautious in the future about discerning crafted assumptions from plainly presented truths.

I was hoping to learn a more detailed and insightful account of the lives of women rulers with a neutral perspective on the settings they existed in. Instead, it’s basically a cherry-picking soapbox for the authors feminist aligned bias.

One chapter wasn’t even about women in power, but just about bashing the Greeks (with what seems to be homophobic undertones) which she followed up by praising the Spartans and glossing over their own use of homosexuality.

Having said that, I will give the author this: she is an excellent narrator. She’s great at enunciation, pronunciation, and emotional emphasis— especially where venom is called for.

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  • Tatiana Sadyrina
  • 20-05-21

Disturbing music

It was impossible to listen to this book because of the background constant music. Why do you need a flute accompanying the reading of the book it beyond me. I had to stop after 10 min , it gave me a sharp headache. The content might be good but the producers of this recording made entirely impossible to evaluate this.

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  • gordon cruse
  • 05-11-21

awesome book

Once I started it I couldn't stop, usually if the author doesn't grab my interest within the first 30 minutes of the audible ill stop and find something else. I love how this book was put together and gave insight in how women were treated and what they had to do to persevere thru their struggles. The author gave good references and gave me other interests towards researching women's past.

Truth be told, women have been pushed down and treated unfairly for thousands of years. The one obstacle they have is the Bible, I hate to say it, thru research, the book was written in Latin 500 years after Jesus. When you tie the information the author gives in this book to how women were commodified by the Greeks, their beliefs transposed into the Bible thru time translated about another 700 years after that into English, it doesn't change much for women and holds until this day.

Overall, it's a great book and definitely suggest women and more men to read/listen to it to gain a better perspective.