Women Writers of the Ancient World

Writers from Sumeria, Rome, Greece, and Alexandria

We know of only a few women who wrote in the ancient world, when education was limited to only a few people and most of them men. This list includes most of the women whose work survives or is well-known; there were also some lesser-known women writers who are mentioned by writers in their time but whose work doesn't survive. And there were probably other women writers whose work was simply ignored or forgotten, whose names we do not know.

01
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Site of Sumerian city Kish
Site of Sumerian city Kish. Jane Sweeney / Getty Images

Sumer, about 2300 BCE - estimated at 2350 or 2250 BCE

Daughter of King Sargon, Enheduanna was a high priestess. She wrote three hymns to the goddess Inanna which survive. Enheduanna is the earliest author and poet in the world that history knows by name. More »

Sappho statue, Skala Eressos, Lesvos, Greece
Sappho statue, Skala Eressos, Lesvos, Greece. Malcolm Chapman / Getty Images

Greece; wrote about 610-580 BCE

Sappho, a poet of ancient Greece, is known through her work: ten books of verse published by the third and second centuries B.C.E. By the Middle Ages, all copies were lost. Today what we know of the poetry of Sappho is only through quotations in the writings of others. Only one poem from Sappho survives in complete form, and the longest fragment of Sappho poetry is only 16 lines long. More »

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Korinna

Tanagra, Boeotia; probably 5th century BCE

Korrina is famous for winning a poetry competion, defeating the Thebian poet Pindar. He is supposed to have called her a sow for beating him five times.  She is not mentioned in Greek until the 1st century BCE, but there is a statue of Korinna from, probably, the fourth century BCE and a third century fragment of her writing.

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Nossis of Locri

Locri in Southern Italy; about 300 BCE

A poet who claimed that she wrote love poetry as a follower or rival (as a poet) of Sappho, she is written of by Meleager. Twelve of her epigrams survive.

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Moera

Byzantium; about 300 BCE

Moera (Myra)'s poems survive in a few lines quoted by Athenaeus, and two other epigrams. Other ancients wrote about her poetry.

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Sulpicia I

Rome, probably wrote about 19 BCE

An ancient Roman poet, generally but not universally recognized as a woman, Sulpicia wrote six elegiac poems, all addressed to a lover. Eleven poems were credited to her but the other five are likely written by a male poet. Her patron, also patron to Ovid and others, was her maternal uncle, Marcus Valerius Messalla (64 BCE - 8 CE).

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Theophila

Spain under Rome, unknown

Her poetry is referred to by the poet Martial who compares her to Sappho, but none of her work survives.

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Sulpicia II

Rome, died before 98 CE

Wife of Calenus, she's noted for mentions by other writers, including Martial, but only two lines of her poetry survive. It's even questioned whether these were authentic or created in late antiquity or even medieval times.

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Claudia Severa

Rome, wrote about 100 CE

Wife of a Roman commander based in England (Vindolanda), Claudia Severa is known through a letter found in the 1970s. Part of the letter, written on a wooden tablet, seems to be written by a scribe and part in her own hand.

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Hypatia
Hypatia. Getty Images
Alexandria; 355 or 370 - 415/416 CE

Hypatia herself was killed by a mob incited by a Christian bishop; the library containing her writings was destroyed by Arab conquerors. But she was, in late antiquity, a writer on science and mathematics, as well as an inventor and teacher. More »

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Aelia Eudocia

Athens; about 401 - 460 CE

Aelia Eudocia Augusta, a Byzantine empress (married to Theodosius II), wrote epic poetry on Christian themes, in a time when Greek paganism and Christian religion were both present within the culture. In her Homeric centos, she used the Iliad and the Odyssey to illustrate the Christian gospel story.

Eudocia is one of the represented figures in Judy Chicago's The Dinner Party.