Ellie Bennett defended her dissertation titled ‘The “Queens of the Arabs” During the Neo-Assyrian Period’

On 19th April, I successfully defended my dissertation titled ‘The “Queens of the Arabs” During the Neo-Assyrian Period’. The current coronavirus conditions meant the event was a hybrid event, with a small number of people present in the examination room, but the opponent, Prof. Lorenzo Verderame, joined remotely via Zoom.

My dissertation was an interdisciplinary approach to a small number of women who had not had much scholarly attention prior to my research. These women were titled šarratu aribi, or ‘Queen of the Arabs’ in Akkadian. They had been mentioned in works about Arabs during the first millennium BCE before, but only in their economic, political, and military relationships with the Assyrians.

The first aspect of the interdisciplinary nature of my dissertation was the theories I used to analyse my material. Gender studies and gender theory are a relatively recent development in Assyriology. The ‘Queens of the Arabs’ are the only women in the Neo-Assyrian textual corpus who are described in an active military role on the battlefield, and they are discussed in the same manner as foreign male rulers. I used gender theory to investigate their unique nature, and came to the conclusion that they should be called ‘female kings’ rather than ‘queens’. It also allowed me to understand certain depictions of these women in the material. I also used Mann’s ‘IEMP’ model of power to structure my dissertation and categorise my data according to different aspects of power. Finally, I used a comparative approach to illustrate the unique nature of the ‘Queens of the Arabs’ in the Assyrian material. 

The second interdisciplinary aspect of my dissertation was the inclusion of non-textual materials to provide wider context. In traditional Assyriological dissertations, texts are the primary pieces of evidence. There were only 29 texts that mention a ‘Queen of the Arabs’, so I expanded my material to include those from other sub-fields of Near Eastern studies. I also attempted to move away from Assyrian evidence. Assyriological discussions of Arabs tended to only include Assyrian evidence, as there are no texts from the North-west Arabian Peninsula during this period. I included archaeological material from the Arabian Peninsula to provide a wider context of the region the ‘Queens of the Arabs’ operated in. This was particularly important for my ‘Religious roles’ chapter, as I was able to provide models of religion the Arabs could have followed that were not Assyria-based.

I feel very lucky to complete my dissertation as part of ANEE, and I want to extend my gratitude to the entire community for their support. I cannot imagine a better start to my career. If you would like to read my dissertation, it’s available as a pdf from Helda