Kara Cooney writes a great deal about feminine power in ancient Egypt in When Women Ruled the World, but a lack of surviving source material and the rareness of female rulers made that research difficult.
While Cooney’s central thesis is compelling, it is hard to reconcile the supposed smoothness of Egyptian succession with greed and desire for power that surely arose from the higher nobility ... Thankfully, Cooney does weave in the archaeological record quite frequently—but so much has been lost to history, so she must conjecture where possible. And that makes it hard to create a fully fleshed-out portrayal of each queen’s life and motivations ... Overall, Cooney creates an intriguing entry in the ongoing discussion about women’s political roles in ancient Egypt. Sometimes, when striving to apply her singular thesis about a unified political motivation to different women throughout the millennia, her argument wears a bit thin.
You wouldn’t know it to read the standard survey texts, but the history of ancient Egypt is punctuated by periods of rule by women—and more of them than just Nefertiti and Cleopatra. Cooney...digs into the tombs, papyri, and literature to look at the past of a polity that...was not programmatically opposed to the notion that women could rule ... The author makes it clear that these female kings could be as tough, and sometimes as sanguinary, as their male counterparts; if forgotten, most were also skillful. The most famous, Cleopatra, was an exception, for Cooney reckons her a failure, having tied her fortunes too closely to a man...Cooney provides welcome insights into pharaonic politics while bringing numerous little-known Egyptian women to the fore.