Semiramis - Sammu-Ramat

Semi-legendary Assyrian Queen

Semiramis in 15th Century Artist's Conception
Semiramis, from De Claris Mulieribus (Of Famous Women) by Giovanni Boccaccio, 15th century. Fine Art Images / Heritage Images / Getty Images

When: 9th century BCE

Occupation: legendary queen, warrior (neither she nor her husband, King Ninus, is on the Assyrian King List, a list on cuneiform tablets from ancient times)

Also known as Shammuramat

Sources Include

Herodotus in his 5th century BCE. Ctesias, a Greek historian and physician, wrote about Assyria and Persia, opposing Herodotus' history, publishing in the 5th century BCE. Diodorus of Sicily, a Greek historian, wrote Bibliotheca historia between 60 and 30 BCE.

 Justin, a Latin historian, wrote Historiarum Philippicarum libri XLIV, including some earlier material; he probably wrote in the 3rd century CE. Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus reports that she invented the idea of eunuchs, castrating males in their youth to be servants as adults.

Her name appears in the names of many places in Mesopotamia and Assyria.

Semiramis appears in Armenian legends.

Historical Assyrian Queen

Shamshi-Adad V ruled in the 9th century BCE, and his wife was named Shammuramat (in Akkadian). She was a regent after her husband's death for their son Adad-nirari III for several years.  At the time, the Assyrian Empire was considerably smaller than it was when later historians wrote of her.

The legends of Semiramis (Sammu-Ramat or Shammuramat) are likely embellishments on that history.

The Legends

Some legends have Semiramis raised by doves in the desert, born the daughter of the fish goddess Atargatis.

Her first husband was said to have been the governor of Nineveh, Menones or Omnes. King Ninus of Babylon became captivated by the beauty of Semiramis, and after her first husband conveniently committed suicide, he married her.

That may have been the first of his two biggest mistakes in judgment. The second came when Semiramis, now Queen of Babylon, convinced Ninus to make her "Regent for a Day." He did so - and on that day, she had him executed, and she took the throne.

Semiramis is said to have had a long string of one-night-stands with handsome soldiers. So that her power would not be threatened by a man who presumed on their relationship, she had each lover killed after a night of passion.

There's even one story that the army of Semiramis attacked and killed the sun itself (in the person of the god Er), for the crime of not returning her love. Echoing a similar myth about the goddess Ishtar, she implored the other gods to restore the sun to life.

Semiramis is also credited with a renaissance of building in Babylon and with the conquest of neighboring states, including the defeat of the Indian army at the Indus River.

When Semiramis returned from that battle, the legend has her turning over her power to her son, Ninyas, who then had her killed. She was 62 years old and had ruled alone for almost 25 years (or was it 42?).

Another legend has her marrying her son Ninyas and living with him before he had her killed.

Armenian Legend

According to Armenian legend, Semiramis fell in lust with the Armenian king, Ara, and when he refused to marry her, led her troops against the Armenians, killing him. When her prayers to raise him from the dead failed, she disguised another man as Ara and convinced the Armenians that Ara had been resurrected to life.

History

The truth? Records show that after the reign of Shamshi-Adad V, 823-811 B.C.E., his widow Shammuramat served as regent from 811 - 808 B.C.E. The rest of the real history is lost, and all that remains are stories, most certainly exaggerated, from Greek historians.

Legacy of the Legend

The legend of Semiramis attracted not only the attention of Greek historians, but the attention of novelists, historians and other storytellers through the centuries since. Great warrior queens in history have been called the Semiramis of their times. Rossini's opera, Semiramide, premiered in 1823. In 1897, the Semiramis Hotel was opened in Egypt, built on the banks of the Nile. It remains a luxury destination today, near the Museum of Egyptology in Cairo. Many novels have featured this intriguing, shadowy queen.

Dante's Divine Comedy describes her as being in the Second Circle of Hell, a place for those condemned to hell for lust:  "She is Semiramis, of whom we read / That she succeeded Ninus, and was his spouse; / She held the land which now the Sultan rules."

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Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Semiramis - Sammu-Ramat." ThoughtCo, Jun. 4, 2017, thoughtco.com/semiramis-sammu-ramat-biography-3528387. Lewis, Jone Johnson. (2017, June 4). Semiramis - Sammu-Ramat. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/semiramis-sammu-ramat-biography-3528387 Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Semiramis - Sammu-Ramat." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/semiramis-sammu-ramat-biography-3528387 (accessed November 23, 2017).