Ancient Princesses: Diplomatic Agents & Religious Leaders
Feminist History is Real History
In the time of Hammurabi, there lived a Princess named Kirum, daughter of Zumri-Lim (king of a Semitic city-state in modern-day Syria). She eventually grew up and married her brother-in-law, Hays-Samu, because her sister had betrayed their father by failing to act properly as his “agent” in the foreign court. Zumri-Lim was forced to supplement one failed Ancient Princess with another, more loyal, alternative.
Unfortunately, it turned out that Hays-Samu was basically a violent treacherous ass (much like Kirum’s sister!) and Kirum was so miserable that she threatened to kill herself if her father didn’t come get her. Hays-Samu eventually divorced her — a huge humiliation, but at least then she could go home.
Yet, the takeaway here isn’t that ancient princesses in Mesopotamia were treated poorly — in many ways Kirum’s situation was unusual, as evidenced by her outrage and her expectation that something would be done to solve this problem. Most Mesopotamian kings weren’t violent murderous asses and most of the time…
Mesopotamian Princesses acted as their father’s ambassadors in their husband’s court.
Their role was not as simply a living symbol of alliance (although this was certainly a part of their role, similar to the daughters of Roman leaders) or even as an incubator for a man to put his grandson on a rival’s throne. It was the job of ancient princesses in the Levant to offer advice to their fathers on how best to deal with their husbands and presumably vice versa, to the betterment of all. The letters they wrote back home were filled with important diplomatic content.
Not all Mesopotamian Princesses were married off as part of this “diplomatic corps.” Similar to how the daughters of English nobles sometimes became nuns in convents (especially if they became inconvenient for someone (but see The Traitor Son Cycle by Miles Cameron for an awesome example of how the role of Abbess could be a powerful one), the daughter of a king might have been dedicated to a god as a priestess, obligated to pray to the gods for the health and prosperity of her father and his kingdom. As in the case of those Abbesses, this was a position of high power, prestige, and independence. Ancient Priesthoods often served as repositories of learning and scholastic expertise.
Ancient Princesses in Egypt had a very different role to those in Mesopotamia
Compared to the countries surrounding it, Ancient Egypt was an outlier in many ways. The economic shift of 1000 BCE passed it by for centuries, its Pharaohs keeping antiquated views about commerce and refusing to allow a trading class to emerge: