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Startling Lives of First Women in History

Land pegs inserted into a building to denote ownership. These of the first woman mentioned in history, GAR-GIR-gal.

Two books on women's lives in the distant past reveal fascinating differences and similarities to our own time. Here are highlights from She Who Wrote: Enheduanna and Women of Mesopotamia and Women at the Dawn of History.


  • The first woman in history known by name was KA-GIR-gal. They discovered her name on a land sale peg, which would have been inserted into the wall of a building to denote ownership, ca 3000-2750 BCE.[i]
  • Prosperous and autonomous: "During the old Babylonian period there existed a class of so-called cloistered women (Naditus/Naditum) who lived within the walls of temples. Although forbidden to marry, many owned large amounts of property. They were drawn from families in the upper echelons of society and were given their share of the family wealth when they entered the temple. With land, money, and (sometimes) slaves at their disposal, these women engaged in business transactions, especially real estate and money lending, and found much success financially... They lived long and comfortable lives and adopted other cloistered women, who were to look after them in their advanced age and in return receive an inheritance."[ii]
  • Women had their own language: "There was even a dialect of written Sumerian called emesal, primarily reserved for women."[iii]
  • Women were equal in business: "Women held the same rights as economic agents and were active in the buying and selling of land, slaves, craft products, and luxury goods, served as suppliers, representatives, and administrators. If the couple had divorced - as some did - she would have been entitled to half of their shared assets but within the bounds of marriage she worked to advance what was understood to be her husband's estate." [Women] were also "authors and scholars, astute businesswomen, sources of expressions of eroticism, priestesses with access to major gods and goddesses, and regents, who exercise power on behalf of kingdoms, states, and empires."[iv]
  • The goddess of writing: goddess with horned crown, "possibly identifying the figure as Nisaba", the goddess of writing.[v]
  • Queen Puabi: Puabi was the queen of the city of Ur around 2500 BCE. She died at about age 40 and was interned in a stone tomb chamber in an elaborate ceremony, which involved the ritual sacrifice of many soldiers, musicians, and servants. Her body, when excavated in 1927, was still adorned with beads of precious stones and other pieces of jewelry, as well as an ornate headdress that is on view [in the JP Morgan Library and Museum.] Three cylindrical seals give only her name and title as queen, which suggests that she ruled in her own right. The excavation of Puabi's burial site was an archaeological sensation that led to unprecedented press coverage, perhaps only comparable to the earlier discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb in Egypt.[vi]
  • Queen Sammu-Ramat: "Assyria, throughout the 1400 years of its existence, was always ruled by kings. On a few occasions, however, wives and mothers of Assyrian monarchs acquired an extraordinary amount of power. The first of these exceptional female leaders was a woman called Sammu-Ramat, wife of the Assyrian king who reigned 823-811 BCE and the mother of his successor who may have ascended the throne as a minor. It seems that during his early years as king it was essentially SAMMU who was really in charge. No image of her is known, but four inscribed monuments document her involvement in religious, political and military affairs. Two limestone statues of the god Nabu honor both Sammu and her son. A large stela is dedicated to Sammu-Ramat. As the only Assyrian inscription known so far to mention an Assyrian royal woman engaged in warfare, [this] indicates that Sammu possessed unprecedented power and influence."[vii]
  • Images that represented women:

                     The scorpion (because they carry their offspring on their backs)[viii]
                     The bird
                     The date and palm tree
                     Lions (representing Ishtar)


  • LAMASHTU "was one of the most despised demons in ancient Mesopotamia. Expelled from the heavens because of her terrible behavior, she sneaked into houses and snatched babies from their mother's womb with her long, clawing fingers… Like most Mesopotamian demons, she is an animal - human hybrid: her head is usually that of a dog, lion or other predatory animal, and her legs are usually bird legs. Small dogs and/or pigs often appear by her side or suckle from her breasts. In some cases, she grasps to venomous snakes."[ix]
  • Enheduanna was the first author of any gender to be known by name. The daughter of king Sargon, she lived circa 2300 BCE and was appointed high priestess of the moon God Nanna in the ancient Sumerian city of Ur. For the first time in the written word, issues appeared such as the creative process, confessions of emotions and limitations, sexual harassment, and an awareness of one's own humanity. "Enheduanna's passionate voice left a lasting mark on Mesopotamia, as her writings were copied in scribal schools for centuries after she died." Pages six and seven. " Enheduanna was not just an exceptional woman, she was also an exceptional person."[x]
  • Before Writing: Until the fourth millennium BCE when writing emerged, "the most sophisticated form of messaging involved clay tokens, enclosed in hollow balls."[xi] [I would love to see an example of that! Did you have to break it to get the note? Were the balls made of wood or pottery? Sealed with wax? I love this image!]


Onward, to more research!


[i] She Who Wrote: Enheduanna and Women of Mesopotamia ca 3400-2000 BC, Babcock, Sidnew, Tamur, Erhan, The Morgan Library & Museum, New York, 2022, pg. 149
[ii] Women at the Dawn of History, Lassen, Agnete, Wagensonneer, Klaus, Yale Babylonian Collection, Yale University, New Haven Connecticut, 2020 pg. 65
[iii] Women at the Dawn of History, op.cit., pg. 98
[iv] Ibid, pgs 60, 62, 10-11
[v] She Who Wrote, op.cit., pg;. 122-124
[vi] Ibid, pg. 20
[vii] Women at the Dawn of History, op.cit., pg. 49
[viii] Ibid, pg. 87
[ix] Ibid, pg. 83
[x] Ibid, pg. 19
[xi] She Who Wrote, op.cit., pg. 25

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