Amanirenas – One-Eyed Warrior Queen

This time I’m telling you about the time the Roman Empire set its mind to conquering the Kingdom of Kush where it was met by a fierce one-eyed warrior queen who would continue to fight back for seven years and eventually pushed Rome out of her country. This is the story of Amanirenas and you’re in for a ride.

We’re jumping right into the story as not much is known about Amanirenas’ early years, other than that she was born around 60 B.C. The story is set in the Nubian kingdom of Kush, a relatively small but quite powerful kingdom in what is now Sudan. Amanirenas became Kandake, Queen, of Kush after her husband died in battle around 40 B.C. In inscriptions about her she is titled Qore and Kandake, King and Queen, clearly showing her as the kingdom’s sole ruler. But enough with the foreword, let’s get into the warring bit, shall we?! 

Amanirenas ruled her kingdom diligently and apparently without any major problems, but after ten years the Roman Empire took Egypt, their direct neighbor in the north. That alone would have been a blessing for Kush who would have lost their main competitor, but Rome turned its eyes south. Kush was a small kingdom and should the Romans truly wage war on them, their chances weren’t looking too good. However there was a bit of trouble on another front, namely Arabia, so they didn’t attack immediately. It’s not certain whether Amanirenas knew of Rome’s expansion plans, but since that was basically their whole deal, she probably anticipated it. So she struck first. 

The first battles began in 27 B.C. but the big invasion came three years later. In 24 B.C. an army of 30.000 marched against Roman Egypt, Amanirenas and her son at the helm.  Even though it seems to have been one of the battles that followed in which the Kandake lost her eye, the Kushites were ultimately successful.

They captured the cities of Syene and Philae as well as Elephantine Island, decapitating all the statues of Augustus Caesar they came across. Triumphant the Kushites returned home, with a rich bounty and war prisoners in tow – and at least one of Augustus’ bronze heads. However victory didn’t last long and in the same year the Romans pushed back, retaking their cities and advancing into Nubian territory. They took Kush’s old capital Napata and although they retreated north again relatively quickly it was a debilitating defeat.

Many Kushites were sold into slavery and the newly established Roman garrison at Primis proved undefeatable. But Amanirenas would not give in.

For three more years she waged war on the Romans. There are stories of war elephants as well as about the Kandake feeding war prisoners to her pet lion. The former are likely to be true, although Kush probably did not use elephants as much as Carthage did, while the latter might be an exaggeration but who is to say for certain. 

Even though Amanirenas didn’t succeed in reconquering her land, the Romans had to give up eventually. Yes, Kush was small and its military strength inferior to that of their opponents, but it was also too far off to easily call on reinforcements and the goods needed to sustain an army. Add the harsh environment and significant armed resistance led by our heroine and it was just too much to handle. 

Around 20 B.C. a peace treaty was forged that strongly favoured Kush. Rome was to retreat from their post at Primis and the surrounding lands (called Triakontaschoinos, the Thirty-Mile-Strip) and there was no tribute to be paid whatsoever. The Romans got to keep a smaller strip of land (the Dodekashoinos or ‘Twelve-Mile Lands’) to establish a military border zone, but apparently there were no subsequent attacks. In fact this peace treaty was honored until way after Amanirenas’ death around 10 B.C. and the Kushite Kingdom thrived for more than 300 years.

You might wonder why all we know about her is related to her military exploits. Well, most of the sources on her that exist are Roman. But even they had to admit she was brave and strong. While Kush did leave a fair share of inscriptions, they had their own system of hieroglyphs that no one has been able to really decipher to this day. They did leave us one obvious message though. Remember the decapitated statues? So, in 1912 a temple that had apparently been dedicated to victory was unearthed in Meroë, the new capital of Kush. In this temple, the archeologists found the bronze head of Augustus Caesar. It was found buried underneath the steps.

image credits:

1: Map – User Gigillo83 in Wikimedia Commons, 2010 – modified: highlighted the places important to the story, added the modern border of Sudan and Egypt, added “Kush” to Nubia as called in the article – Link
2: Kandake Amanirenas as identified by JC Coovi Gomez on the Barwa’s Beg pyramid No. 6 (*Barwa was another name of Kush at that time. The Pyramids mentioned are located at Meroë.) – Link
3: The Pyramids at the foot of Jebel Barkal, Karima, Sudan (*where Amanirenas was likely buried) by Maurice Chédel, 1884 – Link

Njinga Mbande – The Mother of Angola

It is Black History Month and I am back! This time with a heroine who ruled her country for 40 years and was incredibly successful in defending it from colonization. Her strategic knowledge, cultural wisdom, thorough education and negotiation skills make her an outstanding example of female rulership. I present to you Queen Njinga Mbande of Ndongo and Matamba. 

This story begins a little before our heroine’s birth when in 1560 the Portuguese arrived on the shores of Ndongo, a country that is now called Angola. They were welcomed by the King of Ndongo, Njinga’s grandfather, who was suspicious but allowed them to stay …under close surveillance and being forbidden to leave unauthorized. The next five years the Portuguese worked on a beneficial image, teaching the population how to read and write, all the while observing the culture and estimating the country’s wealth. Finally the King made a deal with Paulo Dias de Novais, the leader of the Portuguese exploration, to enlist help in defending his land against the neighboring kingdoms. He allowed them to leave Ndongo to return with an army to help. Bad plan. In 1575 the Portuguese did indeed return with an army, however not to aid Ndongo but instead to seize it in the name of the crown. The people were caught completely off-guard, and despite fighting bravely, they couldn’t compete with the firepower of the invaders. And so the people of Ndongo were forced to retreat.

Fast forward six to eight years to the birth of our heroine. By now the Portuguese colonizers had claimed the coast of Ndongo, established the city of Luanda and renamed the country Angola. After they discovered there to be no valuable minerals, they made it their mission to make Luanda the biggest slave-trading post in all of Africa. It was in these tumultuous times that Njinga and her siblings, two sisters and a brother, grew up. When she was around ten, her grandfather died and her father became King. Njinga was his favourite and she was allowed to sit in on war meetings and other stately affairs, trained in battle and learned to read and write in Portuguese from the missionaries. Often she fought alongside her father and brother not only against the colonizers but also neighboring kingdoms. And so they lived for the next 25 years, fighting for what was left of their home and defending it the best they could.

When Njinga was around 35, in 1617, her father died and her brother Ngola Mbande succeeded him on the throne. However he neither had his father’s charisma nor his sister’s intelligence and he feared her. To make sure she would not plot against him, he had her infant son slain and her sterilized. Afraid for her life, Njinga fled to the neighboring kingdom of Matamba. With his sister gone, Ngola declared war on the Portuguese but suffered defeat after defeat. Finally five years later he gave in to his elders’ advice to send Njinga to negotiate a peace treaty. The land was ravaged by famine and the slave trade didn’t look so peachy either, so the colonizers were quite interested in peace as well. Njinga was the best choice for a negotiator, speaking fluent Portuguese and being well-versed in stately affairs. And so she set out to Luanda to speak for her people. Travelling through the country she met people who had lost their homes and families and slaves who had managed to escape. She sent them all to Ndongo, promising them safety. 

Finally Njinga arrived at Luanda and for the first time she saw her ancestral land. It had been completely transformed, had become a crowded city. Not only black and white people lived there, but also their children of mixed race – something Njinga had never seen before. She also saw the slave-trading port, saw her countrymen being shipped of by the hundreds. Upon meeting with the governor, she was welcomed and given a residence for the duration of her stay.

When the time of negotiation came, Njinga found that all the governor was seated in a fancy chair while she was expected to sit on a mat on the floor in front of him. Not having any of it, Njinga motioned her maid to crouch for her to sit on her back – a gesture of power that made clear that she was not here to surrender but to negotiate on equal footing. And so it began. The Portuguese didn’t expect such a formidable opponent who spoke their language so well and thus they came to an agreement that actually benefited both sides: Ndongo was to be recognized as a sovereign state and all troops were to be called back. In return, they would be establishing trade routes with the Portuguese. Since that went so well, Njinga decided to stay a little longer and even converted to Christianity, hoping to strengthen the peace treaty even more. After staying for almost a year, she returned home.

Peace was shorter-lived than her stay at Luanda had been. In the same year the governor of Luanda was replaced and his successor didn’t care much for the treaty. He continued to raid Ndonga and the kingdom of course retaliated, Njinga fighting with her people. One year later, in 1924, King Ngola died. It is unclear how he died; if he committed suicide due to his military failures, or if his sister killed him after all. But however it happened, Njinga became Queen (after killing her nephew who could have objected her claim.) She was 43 years old.

For two more years the people of Ndongo continued to defend their home against the onslaught of the Portuguese, but in 1629 they had to retreat. Partly due to the Portuguese threat and partly because there was an opposition against a female ruler, led by other aristocrats who had their eyes on the throne as well. Njinga took her people to Matamba, where she had once sought refuge from her brother’s wrath. Now she was there to take over the kingdom and by 1630 she had established her new capital. With this new power behind her, she returned to Ndongo and claimed her crown, uniting the kingdoms of Ndongo and Matamba under her rule. 

For more than ten years, Queen Njinga thwarted the Portuguese opposition, building alliances and cutting of trading routes, often charging into battle herself, leading her soldiers. Finally in 1641 she saw a chance to get rid of the Portuguese once and for all. The Dutch had just seized the city of Luanda and there was an opening to regain some of Ndongo’s former land. So she forged an alliance with the Dutch, moving her capital to Kavanga, which was in a territory that had been Northern Ndongo before the Portuguese arrived.

At first things looked good, Njinga scored some major victories and secured her new capital. However in 1646 an army of 20.000 Portuguese soldiers attacked the city and forced the Queen to retreat once more. With the help of her Dutch allies however she was able to come out victorious in the end only one year later.

Unfortunately it was another short-lived victory. When the Portuguese regained Luanda, Njinga’s alliship with the Dutch ended and she once more retreated to her capital in Matamba. Continuing to be a thorn in the side of the colonizers for the next 20 years, employing guerilla tactics and spies, having trenches dug around her land and stocking up on supplies to prepare for the possibility of a siege. Furthermore she made her country a safe haven for all who needed to escape the colonizers. 

And so she expanded her power even over her borders until finally in 1657 the Portuguese buckled. They didn’t know what to do in the face of this elderly woman who kept messing with their plans (Njinga was around 70 years old at this time.) And so they finally renounced their claims to Ndongo once and for all.

Now that the war was over, Njinga did all that she could to rebuild her nation, resettling former slaves and using Matamba’s strategic position to make it a major trading power. All the while she kept resisting attempts to either dethrone or murder her until she died peacefully in 1663 around the age of 82. Following her death the nation briefly descended into civil war, but after things had calmed down her legacy was continued.

Today she is called “The Mother of Angola” for laying the foundations for Angola’s resistance to colonialism way into 20th century until it finally became independent. She is remembered for her brilliant leadership, not only on the battlefield but also in diplomacy and and politics. As it is with important figures, there is a street named after her, there was a series of coins and in 2002 a statue of her was unveiled in Luanda. Particularly women consider her a role model as she laid the first foundations for equal rights between the sexes. And even though she had to fight to be accepted as a ruler, her female successors did not have to do so; of the 104 years that followed her death, 80 were ruled by queens.

Until today she remains a symbol of resistance and Angolan identity.  

image credits:

1: “Queen Nzinga Mbande (Anna de Sousa Nzinga)” by Achille Devéria, printed by François Le Villain, published by Edward Bull, published by Edward Churton, after Unknown artist; hand-coloured lithograph, 1830s; NPG D34632 © National Portrait Gallery, London
2 – 5: from the UNESCO Series on Women in African History: “Pat Masioni” / “Njinga Mbandi, Queen of Ndongo and Matamba” / 978-92-3-200026-2 – licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO [6856] – Link

6: Queen Njinga’s Statue in Luanda, image from AfrikaNews – Link

Yaa Asantewaa – Defender of the Golden Stool

This is the story of a woman who defended her country against the British, refusing to stand down. Called “Africa’s Joan of Arc” by Western scholars, she commanded the entirety of the Ashanti forces in their final war against the colonialists. This is the story of Queen Mother Yaa Asantewaa.

First, let me take you to the place and time where all of this happened: the Ashanti Kingdom in what is now Ghana. Unifying the individual village-states into a confederacy in 1701, its first king laid the foundation for what became one of the most sophisticated kingdoms in Africa. And of course there was some mythology behind it too. It was told that the Golden Stool, the symbol of the Ashanti throne, fell from the sky into the King’s lap, blessing his reign. Thus the Golden Stool became much more than just a throne – it became a symbol of the undying Ashanti spirit.

And now for the story of the woman who defended it. And it’s not just a myth!

Around 1840, Yaa Asantewaa was born as the oldest of the two royal children in the outskirts of Kumasi, the Ashanti capital, in a town that used to be called Edweso but today is named Ejisu. She grew to become a reputed farmer and cultivated crops on her own land until at one point she married a man from the capital. Following tradition she was but the first wife in a polygamous marriage, giving birth to one daughter. Meanwhile her brother ascended to the throne sometime in the 1880s, making her Queen Mother. You see, that title was inherited just as the royal ones were – and it held just as much influence. During his reign, Yaa witnessed the Ashanti confederacy go through crisis after crisis, war after war, and saw its stability waning. In the 1870s Kumasi was burned and ransacked, a tax was imposed by the British and a civil war was raging. And in the middle of all that her brother died. Making use of her position, Yaa nominated her grandson for the vacant position of chief and he was crowned in 1888.

He wasn’t able to enjoy his position for too long as in 1896 he was sent into exile to the Seychelles and the British demanded the utter surrender of his kingdom. Plus the Golden Stool would be nice. Four years they discussed and negotiated, hoping to a least get their king back for it. And just as the Ashanti chiefs were about to give in, Yaa’s thread of patience finally snapped. Refusing to pay her share of the taxes she gave a rallying speech about pride and courage and bravery. Still the chiefs were hesitant but she won them over quickly by announcing that, if the men are to scared to fight, the women will. And so in March 1900 a rebellion began.

Yaa became the first woman to lead and command the Ashanti forces and her leadership was so a skillful that the following war bears her name. Her first move was to turn her hometown into their base. With many of the men still hesitant to join the army, scared of the British military, she once again turned to the women. After convincing them to refuse to have sex with their husbands unless they fought for their country, most men were quick to join the war effort. For further encouragement, the women were to circle the city everyday, performing victory rituals and thus keeping morality high. For the first time in the Anglo-Ashanti wars, walls and palisades were built around cities and villages, successfully keeping the enemy at bay for the time being. She regained control of the capital by besieging the British fort within it, completely incapacitating its occupants and their allies on the outside. She proceeded to secure the city, deploying generals to monitor and protect strategic points. Yaa also employed psychological warfare against her adversaries, using the traditional talking drums to strike fear in their hearts whenever they heard the drums sing of battles won by the Ashanti.

In the end however the brave warriors were driven back by the British. Village by village, their strongholds were captured and finally Yaa herself was forced to surrender and followed her brother into exile to the Seychelles, accompanied by her generals. Their battle had lasted half a year. Her exile was set to last for 25 years, but Yaa would not see her home again. She died 21 years later.

The British however never got hold of the Golden Stool. It was hidden deep in the forests and only recovered by accident, when a group of labourers happened upon it in 1920. By then, even though they were technically annexed into the British Empire, the Ashanti still basically governed themselves and were not required to report to colonial authorities. And finally in 1957, their indepencence became official – the first African nation to achieve this. So despite her defeat in the end, Yaa Asantewaa’s resilience paved the way for her people’s de facto independence and succeeded in keeping the Golden Stool out of British hands.

image credits:

1: Asante. Stool (Dwa) – Museum Expedition 1922, Robert B. Woodward Memorial Fund – Brooklyn Museum (22.1695)
2: undated portrait of Yaa Asantewaa – Link
3: Yaa Asantewaa Museum – User Noahalorwu in Wikimedia Commons – Link

The Yaa Asantewaa Museum fell victim to a fire in 2004 and unfortunately has not been restored since. – Link

Aelia Eudoxia – The Barbarian Empress of Rome

Today’s story is about a woman who rose from relative obscurity to the throne of the Roman Empire, a woman who became an influential figure of the church while hosting lavish parties. Today I will tell you about Aelia Eudoxia.

But first let’s take a look at the time she lived in: In 330 the Roman Empire moved its capital from Rome to Constantinople – and it became Christian. This marked the beginning of what is now known as the Byzantine Empire. However, this term is a modern invention and the people of the time would still consider themselves Roman for many centuries to come.

At the time Eudoxia was born, the 380s, former enemies of the Roman Empire were taken into service, beginning to play a more significant role. Her (supposed) father was one of them. He was of the Franks (a Germanic people) and had become a high military commander for the Roman Army. Nothing is known about her mother, although she is presumed to have been Roman. This heritage was to prove difficult for our heroine, as she was considered a “barbarian” by her countrymen – but more on that later.

By 388 an orphaned Eudoxia arrived in Constantinople, the new capital of the Roman Empire, and was taken in by a friend of her father’s, a high-ranking commander himself. There her fate began to show, when she was not only tutored alongside the children of the family but also the sons of the Emperor, Arcadius and Honorius. Soon-ish (about ten years later) the emperor died and his sons divided the Empire with Honorius taking the “original” Western while Arcadius remained in Constantinople – and he needed a wife. For reasons not entirely clear he chose Eudoxia and they were married in 395, with her gaining the title “Aelia.”

Her intelligence and willpower divided popular opinion with many criticizing how much control she held over her husband. That combined with her father’s heritage and her self-confidence made her quite unpopular at court and with the people. But I don’t think she cared. Instead she immersed herself in politics and church affairs, continuously increasing her influence until in 400 she was crowned “Augusta,” empress, and her picture decorated Roman coins (a fact that her brother-in-law Honorius didn’t like too much.) In the meantime she had born two children with a third on the way and would bear two more. She would also suffer two stillbirths but more on that later.

The records of her political activity in court are sparse, but it’s known that she had a say in legal matters and was allowed to wear the purple paludamentum, a garment reserved for people of imperial rank. Her involvement with the Nicene church has been recorded much more thoroughly though. She made herself its patron, attending to religious matters independently, as her husband chose to stay out of them. Remember how I said the people didn’t like her? Well, quite a few people in the church really, really didn’t like her. And so they had a lot to say. Her foremost enemy was John Chrysostom, the patriarch of Constantinople. He was a strong opponent of luxury and openly denounced the lavish parties held by the upper class and the extravagance in women’s clothes – criticism not very subtly aimed at Eudoxia herself. When her son was born in 401, John even suggested Arcadius was not the father. She decided something was to be done about him. Using her influence within the church, she had him banished.

…for, like, a day. As he had been really popular with the common people, they started a riot. Also there was an earthquake in the night of his judgement, which clearly was a heavenly sign. So he was reinstated. You could think he learned his lesson, but nope. Set off by a statue of the empress, John condemned her as Jezebel (who made her husband abandon the Christian god) and Herodias (who was responsible for decapitating John the Baptist; he compared himself to the latter.) And once again he touched on the subject of her children and placed the guilt for a stillbirth in late 403 on her actions. This time he was banished for good.

Eudoxia however did not live to enjoy her triumph for long. She would not survive a second stillbirth and died in October 404, only about 27 years old. Her legacy however lived on with first her son and later her daughter on the Byzantine throne.

image credits:

map: The Roman Empire Divided (400 AD) – Link
Coin: User Daderot in Wikimedia Commons – Link
Painting: “Saint John Chrysostome and the Empress Eudoxia” by Jean-Paul Laurens, 1893 (© Photo STC – Mairie de Toulouse) – Link

Shajar al-Durr – The King-Ransoming Sultan

The place is Egypt at the time of the Seventh Crusade. You have never heard of that one, you say? That might be because this week’s heroine stopped it before it could really begin by torching its ships Blackwater Bay-style and capturing its leader, the King of France. Her name is Shajar al-Durr and this is her story.

It begins with a lot of loose ends. She was presumably born around 1220 as a slave of maybe Armenian but most definitely Turkic descent. Her birth name is unknown. She must have been beautiful though, as she was bought as a gift to the son of the Egyptian Sultan and given the new name Shajar al-Durr, meaning String of Pearls. In 1240, when the old sultan died and his son succeeded him on the throne, she moved into the palace in Cairo with him. (It wasn’t quite that easy, but this is Shajar’s story, so I’ll keep it short here.) Not much later, she gave birth to their son Khalil and promptly the Sultan married her. For about eight years, their life was blissful. (The picture on the right is an illustration of her from a Lebanese book from 1966, but it might be set in these happy times.) Then, in 1249, the Sultan died, right when the 7th crusade, led by King Louis IX of France, knocked at the door. Well, they didn’t knock exactly, they sent a letter. It was not a diplomatic offer as one might expect, it was nothing but Louis detailing how he would crush Egypt under his foot.

Shajar, being a smart woman, only told the highest ranking and most trustworthy officers (exactly two people: the chief commander and the chief eunuch) of the predicament of the sultan being dead. In the true spirit of “The King is dead, long live the King,” they decided to hide the monarch’s death until the question of his succession was solved (Khalil was not the heir as he wasn’t the eldest son). So Shajar took the reins in the meantime, supported by her two accomplices. Luckily her husband had been kind of a lazy ruler, so there were many blank orders already signed in advance that were just waiting to be filled. And so they did. Shajar told everyone the Sultan was sick and needed rest to recover but was still watching over his country. And then she handed out orders like the badass she was. She even organized for food to be made for the Sultan and left in front of his door everyday for her to bring to him – or rather dispose of it. And so they convinced the people of Egypt that their leader was still alive.

The rumours that had existed in the beginning though reached the crusaders then and they were sure of their victory now. After all, their opponents didn’t have a king anymore. And in 1250 they launched their attack on the city of Al Mansurah where the Egyptian camp was stationed. They were delighted to see the city gates open, thinking they had caught the Heathens by surprise and expecting an easy victory. Once the army advanced though, they were ambushed and more than 15 000 soldiers and 400 Templars and noblemen were killed. Prior to the battle, Shajar had the crusaders’ ships set ablaze with Greek fire, so the expected crusader reinforcements never arrived. There were hostage taken as well. Amongst them King Louis IX.

Now for a fun interlude: this sparked the Shepherds’ Crusade of 1251, when a bunch of French farmers, peasants and, well, shepherds revolted and travelled to Egypt to rescue their king. I say they travelled to Egypt, but in fact they never made it there. The crusade dispersed rather quickly and soon they wreaked havoc on the French countryside.

So, now it gets a little complicated. There was the Sultan’s eldest son Turanshah, who was rightfully entitled to the throne and actually had been crowned before the Battle of Al Mansurah. But he made a couple of stupid mistakes. He drank in public (as a Muslim!) and rumours ensued that was mistreating his father’s household, specifically Shajar, who was beloved with her people. The biggest mistake of all however was replacing the Turkic military captains that had held command under his father and fought at Al Mansurah, with his own. Let’s say, they weren’t exactly happy to be demoted, so they stormed the palace while Turanshah was having a party. After receiving a sword blow to the hand, Turanshah fled but it was for nothing. They torched the tower he tried to hide in and finally shot him down (with arrows) in a riverbed. His reign was very short.

Instead the captains  installed Shajar, with whom they shared a heritage, as sultan. This marks the beginning of a dynasty lasting more than 300 years, one where the Muslim servant class, the Mamluks, held the throne of Egypt. Since she had been filling in for her husband when he was away in battle, the court was used to her orders and accepted their new sultan (gladly I expect, with the domestic violence rumours from before.)

The people were favorable too, especially when she ransomed King Louis IX back to his own country for 400 000 livres tournois. To set this into perspective, that was about 30% of the country’s annual revenue. That’s a lot of money. And to repeat this once more: she was Sultan in her own right, supported by the military in a Muslim country in the 1250s. She also had her own coins made (see picture!)

Well, that didn’t last for too long. Even though she had her own coins printed and was acknowledged as sultan in her people’s prayers, there were still naysayers. Powerful naysayers that is. Firstly, news of the female sultan reached Syria and its leaders were not amused and attacked Egypt. The invaders were defeated but her country worried – more specifically her opposition in the country worried and in turn made the population worry. So with all this pressure, she agreed to marry Aybek, who had been the taste-tester/accountant of her late husband and had done admirable deeds in the battle against Syria. This meant Shajar had to step down in favour of her husband, which she did. And so her reign was arguably short as well.

Ayak wasn’t a good sultan. He didn’t have much of a backbone and was easily manipulated by all parties. It’s rumoured Shajar continued to rule from the shadows, but there is no proof. Another rumor was that she would not allow the marriage to be consummated and I wouldn’t blame her. You see, Ayak had a first wife who had born him a son and whom he refused to divorce. And then he talked about taking a third one! In 1257 Shajar finally snapped. She and her servants strangled him in the bath (or she had her servants do it, historians disagree.) And again she told everyone her husband was ill – although this time she actually admitted he was dead, albeit from an illness and not from a sudden lack of oxygen.

At first everything seemed fine, no one liked Ayak anyhow, but neither his first wife not the soldiers loyal to him believed her. And after a good torture, they had the confessions of the slaves involved. A palace revolt ensued. It isn’t exactly sure what started this riot, but it is likely that Ayak’s first wife had something to do with it. Anyhow, the angry mob found Shajar and beat her to death. With wooden shoes. Ouch. Then her half-naked corpse was dumped over the city wall into the moat where the rest of her (valuable) clothes were stolen by peasants. It was only three days later, after wild animals had already taken the one or another bite, that she was finally buried. Her final resting place is the Darih Shajarat al-Durr, a mausoleum she had built in 1250, located near the shrines of female deities. And although time has left its marks on the structure, the elaborate craftsmanship is clearly visible. (see picture)

Aybak’s son Ali became the new sultan, albeit only four two years. But the Mamluk dynasty that Shajar had founded lived on, even if she was omitted from the official list of sultans and sweeped under the rug for a good while. It is often hard to tell fact from fiction and there are many different opinions on almost everything in her story but they all agree in one thing: Shajar al-Durr was a badass woman who knew what she wanted and how to get it.

image credits:

sketch: from صلاح الدين الايوبي قصة الصراع بين الشرق و الغرب خلال القرنين الثاني عشر و الثالث عشر للميلاد from 1966 – via Wikimedia Commons
coins: from “A History Of Eypt” by Stanley Lane Poole, 1901 – Link
mausoleum: John A. and Caroline Williams on Archnet