Conqueror and Early Feminist
Granted, the form feminism took in 336 BC was not the same sort we see today describing themselves as a numbered wave or discussing the glass ceiling. In Greek culture the ceiling wasn’t made of glass, it was impenetrable stone, and it was stone that whichever male in control could choose to drop on the women under his thumb at his leisure. There was no working toward equality in ancient Greece – it was assumed that women were inherently unequal in all things. It was an inarguable point.
Unless, that is, you were somehow related to the Macedonian royal family.
It seems to have started with Eurydice I of Macedonia, the mother of Philip II and grandmother of Alexander the Great. Several historians state that she was Illyrian, which would make sense. Amyntas III married her to quell trouble in Illyria and Illyrian women were known to be formidable.
Raised by a women who was constantly involved in politics, it was little wonder that her son, Philip II of Macedonia, not only allowed his Illyrian wife Audata to raise his daughter Cynane as a warrior (at one point she commanded 1/3 of Alexander’s armies), but allowed his wife Olympias to participate heavily in Macedonia’s political affairs.
The men of ancient Greece and Macedonia were far more comfortable with permanently eliminating rivals than most people today. Olympias could give any man in Macedonia a run for their money. She was most likely involved in the assassination of Philip II that put her son Alexander on the Macedonian throne. Immediately after his death, she then eliminated his seventh wife, Cleopatra Eurydice, and her toddler daughter.
Meanwhile, Cleopatra of Macedonia- Alexander’s full sister, was ruling Epirus as regent while her husband-uncle was off fighting.
So, to take stock: Alexander the Great’s mother was intimately involved in governing his kingdom (even to the loud complaints of the official regent Antipater), his sister Cleopatra was the regent for the Kingdom of Epirus, his sister Cynane was leading his armies and raising her own warrior daughter Adea, and then Alexander married the Bactrian princess Roxana. Roxana was still a teenager when Alexander the Great died, and acted before anyone else to kill the rest of his wives and assure the throne for the son she was pregnant with.
Speaking of the death of Alexander, it was then that the strong women he was surrounded with began to truly shine, and to fall.
His sister Cleopatra briefly ruled three countries on two continents while events worked themselves out, but was put under house arrest after accusations of being involved in the death of her sister Cynane.
Cynane was killed – while leading an army to escort her daughter Adea to marry yet another sibling of the Macedonian royal family. Cynane may have been killed, but her 15-year-old daughter had enough to strength to demand that the marriage take place as planned. Later, the grandmother Olympias and granddaughter Adea would meet on the battlefield at the head of armies.
It’s true that Alexander didn’t brag or give speeches about the abilities of women. He didn’t demand the world reform. He probably didn’t consider it anything other than business as usual and in his best interest to allow the capable women he was surrounded with to handle things.
And yet, it took thousands of years for women to reach the heights of rule that they reached under the Macedonian Empire of Alexander the Great.
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