Semiramis, Master of Disguise

Justin, Philippic History 1.2:

Semiramis, daring neither to hand over power to her immature son nor to manage it openly herself when so many and such great tribes barely obeyed her husband (not to mention a woman), pretended that she was the son of Ninus rather than his wife, a boy rather than a woman. For the stature of both mother and son was of the middle sort, each of their voices were equally graceful, and the quality of their features was fairly similar. So she covered her arms and legs with shoes and her head with a tiara. Lest she appear to be hiding something with her new habit, she ordered that the populace in general be dressed in the same outfit.

Thus she made a beginning by lying about her sex, and was believed to be a boy. She then did great things. When she believed that invidious distrust of her had been overcome by the magnitude of these accomplishments, she revealed who she was and who she had pretended to be. This did not detract at all from the dignity of her reign, but rather augmented it, because a woman not only outstripped other women, but even other men in virtue. She founded Babylon and girded it with a cooked brick wall, and in place of sand laid down bitumen, which is a material found seeping from the ground in those places. There were many other famous deeds of this queen. Indeed, not being content simply to maintain the boundaries of her kingdom established by her husband, she added Ethiopa to her domain. She also brought war to the Indians, whom no one ever invaded except for her and Alexander the Great.

Finally, when she attempted to sleep with her son, she was killed by the very same, thirty two years after having received the kingdom from her husband Ninus. Her son Ninus, being content with the kingdom wrought by his parents, set aside the pursuits of war and as if he had changed his sex along with his mother, was rarely seen by men and grew old in the company of women. His posterity, following that example, gave responses to the various peoples through intermediary messengers. The Assyrians, who were later called the Syrians, held power for 1,300 years.

Semiramis hearing of the insurrection at Babylon by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, 1624 (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

Haec neque inmaturo puero ausa tradere imperium nec ipsa palam tractare, tot ac tantis gentibus vix patienter Nino viro, nedum feminae parituris, simulat se pro uxore Nini filium, pro femina puerum. Nam et statura utrique mediocris et vox pariter gracilis et liniamentorum qualitas matri ac filio similis. igitur bracchia et crura calciamentis, caput tiara tegit; et ne novo habitu aliquid occultare videretur, eodem ornatu et populum vestiri iubet, quem morem vestis exinde gens universa tenet. Sic primis initiis sexum mentita puer esse credita est. Magnas deinde res gessit; quarum amplitudine ubi invidiam superatam putat, quae sit fatetur quemve simulasset. Nec hoc illi dignitatem regni ademit, sed auxit, quod mulier non feminas modo virtute, sed etiam viros anteiret. Haec Babyloniam condidit murumque urbi cocto latere circumdedit, arenae vice bitumine interstrato, quae materia in illis locis passim invenitur e terra exaestuata. Multa et alia praeclara huius reginae fuere; siquidem, non contenta adquisitos viro regni terminos tueri, Aethiopiam quoque imperio adiecit. Sed et Indis bellum intulit, quos praeter illam et Alexandrum Magnum nemo intravit. Ad postremum cum concubitum filii petisset, ab eodem interfecta est, duos et XXX annos post Ninum regno petita. Filius eius Ninias contentus elaborato a parentibus imperio belli studia deposuit et, veluti sexum cum matre mutasset, raro a viris visus in feminarum turba consenuit. Posteri quoque eius id exemplum secuti responsa gentibus per internuntios dabant. Imperium Assyrii, qui postea Syri dicti sunt, mille trecentis annis tenuere.

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