Our Story

Women Possessed

Calpurnia had a dream: her husband should not attend the senate meeting the following day. Waking on 14th March 44 BCE, Calpurnia relayed the dream to her husband, and warned him not to leave the house as she feared something unspeakable would happen…

By that evening, her husband had been stabbed 23 times.

Maria dreaming of queens, killers and necromancers.

Female seers are well known in the ancient world, so it is understandable that women in classics should possess some of the same powers. I woke from a post-marking coma with a vision of illustrating women from the ancient world, not knowing that at the other side of Leeds, Ellie was having the same dream…

Ellie’s mind teeming with Roman captive women.

Maria burst into work offering to illustrate my research on women, and I was gobsmacked. Was the dream real? After a month of marking undergraduate essays on the same collection of posh white males, had I fallen into some sort of zombie state where my waking and sleeping hours were no longer distinguishable? Probably, but it turns out that I had not revealed my day (night – who knows?) dream to anyone. Yet here Maria was with exactly the same idea…

We started naming the women you know: Cleopatra, Livia, Boudica, and got side tracked by the women you don’t: Arsinoë, Julia Mesa, Thusnelda, Locusta, Cartimandua, Atossa, Thais, Gorgo, Cynisca, Eumachia and Phryne. What about the unnamed women who defended their homes against marauding armies? The ‘Amazons’ in the Caucases who fought famed Roman generals? The women that frame histories written by men, about men? What about those who may have identified as women, like Sporus?

At a time when our students are asking: Why is my curriculum white? Why is my curriculum male? We began to ask ourselves why classicists idealise women from myth, like Medea, more than we admire REAL women from history?

We bring you the herstories of empowering women who shaped the ancient world.