A depiction of the legendary Assyrian queen Semiramis being informed of the Revolt of Babylon in 626BC, painted by Guercino in 1624. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

It was 811 BC. The Assyrian empire had lost its head of state, King Shamshi-Adad, and his heir Adad-nirari III was too young to rule. It was a critical time in history. The empire was in dire straits financially and politically, and whoever would rule next had the huge burden of restoring both stability and prosperity to the Mesopotamian kingdom. Who would be the next king?

Click start to play today’s Crossword, which will test your knowledge of the many empires that once conquered various parts of the world.

The answer to the above question is… no one would become the next king. Because the Assyrian empire, for the first time ever, would have a queen.

The responsibility of bringing the empire back from the brink fell on the slender shoulders of the Queen Regent Semiramis. And although she ruled for just five years, history is testament to her legacy, and the impact she had on the Assyrian empire. In the fifth century BC, the Greek historian Herodotus penned an ode to her using the Greek form of her name that most historians now use: Semiramis (her original name was Sammu-ramat).

But what exactly did Semiramis do to deserve such attention?

For one, she ruled an empire in an age and time when women did not usually have a place in politics, let alone a position as head of state.

Moreover, she was ambitious and a visionary, and she wasted no time putting her plans into action. Perhaps the most important decision she made was the construction of a new city on the banks of the Euphrates – Babylon. According to National Geographic’s website, she is credited with not just the establishment of the city but also its royal palace, the temple of Marduk, and the city walls. The Greek geographer Strabo even claims that Semiramis was responsible for the legendary hanging gardens of Babylon, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

Apart from her civic triumphs, Semiramis launched military campaigns to quash uprisings in places like Libya and Iran. Historians differ over how she died – while some believe she peacefully ceded power to her son Ninias, others say she was killed by him. Still others say she committed suicide by throwing herself onto a burning pyre.

Regardless, her legend has fascinated writers and painters for centuries. French writer Voltaire penned a tragedy about her that was turned into an opera called Semiramide in 1823 by Italian composer Gioachino Rossini. Even Roman emperor Julius Caesar’s semi-historical work Bibliotheke has a detailed narrative about the queen.

Her legacy as a builder and commander endures even today in poetry, literature, art and history.

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