24. The Real Queen Behind the Fictional Semiramis
Semiramis in Greco-Roman mythology was the daughter of a goddess and a mortal, who was fed by doves after her divine mother abandoned her as an infant in order to drown herself. Semiramis grew into a formidable woman who married a general, advised him into great victories, then switched husbands and married the king. As queen and queen regnant, she personally led troops into battle and conquered much of Asia, as well as Ethiopia and Libya. Domestically, Semiramis restored the decrepit ancient Babylon to its former glory, built the city’s famous Hanging Gardens, and protected it with impregnable defensive walls. All of that is fictional, but Semiramis’ legend was based on the life of an actual ninth century BC Assyrian queen named Sammu-Ramat.
The wife of King Shamshi Adad V (reigned 824 – 811 BC), Sammu-Ramat took the reins of power after her husband died. She then ruled for five years as queen regent for her underage son Adad Nirari III, until he was old enough to rule in his own right. Steles from that period record that Sammu-Ramat negotiated alliances on behalf of her son, and that she was a generous patroness of religious temples. She seems to have ruled well enough to become a revered figure in Assyria. Between that, and the fact that rule by a woman was such an extraordinary event in Assyrian history, the story of Sammu-Ramat grew over the years, until she emerged centuries later as a full-blown mythological figure, the legendary fictional Queen Semiramis.