Warriors, Queens, and Intellectuals: 36 Great Women before 1400

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well presented, visually interesting The lecturer was a wonderful yet careful storyteller and wove together themes throughout time in a way that made it easy to follow how the influences of the women in question built upon one another. Each lecture was smooth and visually beautiful, with the set dressing and the added visuals and music matching an appealing aesthetic that was also woven throughout the series. This was well done not only as a lecture on the part of the presenter, but well produced and added to by the team doint the recording, directing, and digital visual editing.
Date published: 2021-03-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course! This is a wonderful course. The detail and stories are so rich, I felt like I was right there with those women in their historical time. This Instructor paints a wonderful picture through her words. Definitely every young woman should watch just how strong women of the past really were.
Date published: 2021-03-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Strong Women I bought this series some time ago and have been working trough it for my own research on gender inequality. I enjoyed the lectures very much. Professor Salisbury is a great storyteller and makes each of the women featured stand out as individual human beings rather than merely names from history. I have noticed some reviewers say that the lectures are superficial and biased towards Christianity. The first is a reasonable point to make. However, I feel that, in treating such a big subject in such a short series of lectures, some superficiality is inevitable. Indeed, I was aware of it in a few lectures, however only in those where I have more detailed knowledge of the subjects already. I have no particular feelings on the second criticism. I thought the subject matter balanced and well prepared. The women covered by the lectures come from several different cultures and philosophies. Much enjoyed!
Date published: 2021-02-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A refreshing take on history, I learned a lot and hope these ladies get the recognition they deserve in future history books.
Date published: 2021-02-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A must for all women on the planet Every modern woman needs to learn about the incredible women in the “pre-modern” world upon whose shoulders we all stand. They need to be remembered as our heroes, leaders, innovators and inspiration across all cultures, regions and religions. I am inspired. Thank you to Professor Salisbury for preserving and spreading knowledge about the legacy amd importance of these women leaders.
Date published: 2021-01-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from great topic Hopefully, Prof. Salisbury will extend her course beyond the middle ages.
Date published: 2020-12-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Breathtaking! So, well organised and presented. This is the first course I chose to watch here at GCP and I could not be more thrilled at the outcome. I was enraptured through each of the 36 women and would have happily sat through this course at a Uni. Bravo.
Date published: 2020-10-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating and Eye-Opening I greatly enjoyed this course. Most basically, it covers in an expert and fascinating manner a very wide range of historical times and places, some of which I (vaguely) remember from prior education, and some of which were entirely new to me. It does indeed use the lives of the 36 women as crucial starting points, but these are not simply mini-biographies. A picture is provided (at least as much as physically possible in a single lecture) of their historical context, of other actors in the drama, and of the meaning of their lives for the world around them. Most importantly, it drums into our heads - in case we haven't figured this out already - that historical records and history classes have greatly underemphasized the roles of women in human history. The so-called "Great Man" theory of history can be debated on many grounds, but there is no question that the importance of great women has been largely ignored. One caveat - do not equate the "Great" of the course title with "good" or "admirable." Some of these women were pretty horrendous human beings. And many would be considered good or admirable only from particular perspectives. But this does not detract from the importance of their places in our history. Professor Salisbury is outstanding. Her command of detail is impressive, as are her organizational and speaking skills. I was never bored, and never lost focus. Almost every lecture left me wishing to learn more about its subject. And I certainly recommend the video - the maps and illustrations are extremely helpful. The Course Guidebook is also excellent - very complete and well-written, and it includes many of the maps and visuals presented during the course. The only possible criticism of this course is the obvious one - with only one lecture per subject, it is necessarily a very brief overview of each of the areas discussed. But this is more than made up for by the wide range of history and characters to which we are introduced. It has my highest recommendation. Enjoy!
Date published: 2020-10-03
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Warriors, Queens, and Intellectuals: 36 Great Women before 1400
Course Trailer
Julia Disobeys Emperor Augustus
1: Julia Disobeys Emperor Augustus

Begin your exploration of dynamic, influential women with Julia, the daughter of Caesar Augustus, whose experiences offer a window into the way many societies of the pre-modern world sought to control morality and enforce gender roles. Julia’s life may have been one of thwarted potential, but her story is integral to understanding what many other women had to overcome to make a mark on history.

33 min
Herodias Has John the Baptist Beheaded
2: Herodias Has John the Baptist Beheaded

Writers and artists have long portrayed the death of John the Baptist as the whim of the young femme fatale Salome, but the truth is much more complicated. Discover the story of Salome’s mother, the ambitious Herodias, an influential Judean woman whose hunger for power and recognition ultimately left her exiled and forgotten.

28 min
The Trung Sisters of Vietnam Fight the Han
3: The Trung Sisters of Vietnam Fight the Han

Turn from the Mediterranean to China under the Han Dynasty, as its imperial expansion threatened the traditional—and strongly matriarchal—culture of Vietnam. Two of the most famous Vietnamese rebels of this era were the Trung sisters, who led tribal armies against the powerful invaders. See how their story has become a touchstone of Vietnamese culture and pride into the 21st  century.

30 min
Boudicca Attacks the Romans
4: Boudicca Attacks the Romans

Witness the end of Iron Age Britain and the birth of “Roman Briton” with the valiant but thwarted rebellion led by the Celtic warrior queen, Boudicca. Like many rebels before her, she was motivated by personal tragedy as much as she was driven by the bigger picture of freedom for her people. Her legacy would be revived in the rule of another British queen, Victoria.

31 min
Poppaea Helps Nero Persecute Christians
5: Poppaea Helps Nero Persecute Christians

Nero may not have truly “fiddled while Rome burned” but his reputation for excess and cruelty is genuine. See how the beautiful Poppaea became the wife of the mad emperor and how her religious sympathies likely influenced his persecution of Christians following a devastating fire. Ultimately, Poppaea’s story is a complex mix of spiritual zeal and vicious cruelty.

29 min
Plotina Advises Emperor Trajan
6: Plotina Advises Emperor Trajan

The impact of Plotina on the reign of her husband Trajan is both profound and difficult to delineate. Witness how her moral influence—as well as that of other valued women in Trajan’s household—shaped the policies and reputation of one of the “Five Good Emperors” of Rome and how her story demonstrates a particular version of female power in the ancient world.

31 min
Perpetua Is Martyred in the Arena
7: Perpetua Is Martyred in the Arena

Follow the story of Vibia Perpetua, one of the earliest reliably verified Christian martyrs. How did the well-educated daughter of a noble family end up publicly executed in the arena? Trace the seemingly random series of events that led to a tragic death and see how Perpetua’s record of her own experiences became an immensely popular text in the early Christian church.

30 min
Julia Maesa Controls an Unusual Emperor
8: Julia Maesa Controls an Unusual Emperor

After the murder of the despised Roman emperor Caracalla, an unlikely new dynasty was formed by a family of Syrian women. Examine how both utilizing and upending the strict gender roles of ancient Rome allowed Julia Maesa and her family to gain unprecedented (and precarious) power. Their influence was short-lived, but altered the course of the empire, nonetheless.

30 min
Zenobia Battles the Roman Legions
9: Zenobia Battles the Roman Legions

Travel to the furthest edge of the Roman empire, to the wealthy outpost of Palmyra, where the gradual collapse of the Pax Romana opened the way for rebellion. There, the ambitious, young Queen Zenobia managed to bring substantial parts of the eastern Roman empire under her rule before facing defeat and exile when she attempted to declare her son emperor.

29 min
Helena Brings Christianity Down to Earth
10: Helena Brings Christianity Down to Earth

Meet Helena, a tavern girl in Naissus (modern Serbia) who captured the heart of a powerful Roman soldier and gave birth to a son named Constantine. When Constantine became emperor, his mother influenced his religious policy, creating a foothold for Christianity to become one of the most powerful institutions the world has ever seen.

29 min
Galla Placidia Supports the Visigoths
11: Galla Placidia Supports the Visigoths

The unusual life of the Roman Princess Galla Placidia shows how an odd series of events can lead to astonishing results. After being kidnapped by the Visigoths, Placidia became a political advisor to the king of these “barbarians”—and then his wife. Eventually, she would become a powerful empress of Rome and leave a strong mark on the politics, laws, and art of the empire.

32 min
Hypatia Dies for Intellectual Freedom
12: Hypatia Dies for Intellectual Freedom

Look at the brilliant and controversial scholar, Hypatia, as she lived, taught, and died in Alexandria in the middle of the 5th century. Her role as a public intellectual and philosopher would make her a rare example of respected female scholarship in a male-dominated world—and would ultimately lead to her murder at the hands of an angry Christian mob.

31 min
Pulcheria Defends the Virgin Mary
13: Pulcheria Defends the Virgin Mary

How does a 13-year-old girl become the guiding force of the most powerful empire in the world? Discover how Pulcheria used religion and a very strategic vow of chastity to ensure the success of her family’s dynasty following the death of her parents. Also see how her successful theological defense of the Virgin Mary would shape the Catholic Church for centuries to come.

31 min
Theodora Rises from Dancer to Empress
14: Theodora Rises from Dancer to Empress

Witness one of the most dramatic stories of upward mobility in history: the rise of Theodora from prostitution to royalty. As co-ruler with her husband, the emperor Justinian, she led a lavish and influential life, exercising her power to help improve the lives of women who experienced the hardships she had known in her youth.

30 min
Radegund Founds a Convent
15: Radegund Founds a Convent

During the brutal Merovingian dynasty, Queen Radegund stands out as an exception to the violence and cruelty of Western Europe after the collapse of Roman power. See how her religious convictions helped her escape her abusive husband and build a convent that would help other women find a place of freedom and safety.

28 min
Aisha Helps Shape Islam
16: Aisha Helps Shape Islam

Aisha bin Abi Bakr was the favorite wife of the prophet Muhammad and she became one of the most influential women in Islam—and one of the most controversial. Explore the many ways Aisha’s influence and authority helped shape a burgeoning religion that would become one of the largest and most powerful institutions in the world.

29 min
Wu Zetian Rules China
17: Wu Zetian Rules China

In all of Chinese history, only one woman ever ruled on her own: Wu Zetian. Trace her rise to power, from her lowly origins as the daughter of a merchant to the head of her own dynasty. Along the way, gain insight into the cutthroat nature of the Chinese imperial court and the ways Wu could be both brilliant and cruel throughout her reign.

32 min
Kahina Defends North Africa against Muslims
18: Kahina Defends North Africa against Muslims

Turn to northwest Africa, where the fierce warrior woman, Kahina, fought to defend the mountain tribes of Maghreb from Muslim incursion. Understand why the struggle between the north African tribes and Islam was not about religion, but rather about preserving independence. Also discover the crucial role of olive trees in this conflict.

29 min
Dhuoda Chronicles a Carolingian Life
19: Dhuoda Chronicles a Carolingian Life

Take a closer look at everyday life and politics in the Middle Ages with the chronicle kept by the Carolingian woman, Dhouda, for her young son. Through her writing, we can gain rare insight into this time of constant warfare and shifting alliances from the perspective of a highly educated woman who stands in for the many women whose voices are lost to time.

30 min
Elfrida Rules Anglo-Saxon England
20: Elfrida Rules Anglo-Saxon England

The life of Elfrida can serve as a lesson in the difficulties of separating historical fact from rumor. See how the first crowned queen of England was often reduced to the archetype of the “wicked step-mother” when she was so much more than that. Look at her contributions to England in the 10th century and consider the common failings of historical memory.

29 min
Freydis Journeys to North America
21: Freydis Journeys to North America

The formidable sister of Leif Eriksson, Freydis Eriksdottir, accompanied her famous brother on two of the six voyages he took from Greenland to North America, making a fortune—and building a reputation for cunning and violence—along the way. Through Freydis, consider the contributions of women to the Viking age that would transform Europe.

28 min
Lubna of Córdoba Masters Mathematics
22: Lubna of Córdoba Masters Mathematics

See how a woman, Lubna, rose to prominence as the most renowned mathematician of her day in the glittering intellectual capital Córdoba and get a better understanding of women’s education in the Muslim world and beyond. You’ll see that, while Lubna was extraordinary, she was not necessarily unique to her time and place.

30 min
Lady Murasaki Writes the First Novel
23: Lady Murasaki Writes the First Novel

At the height of the Heian period, Japan was breaking away from Chinese influence and developing its own courtly culture, with women emerging as a powerful force in art and literature. Here you will meet Murasaki Shikibu, the woman who wrote the world’s first novel: The Tale of Genji.

29 min
Anna Brings Christianity to Russia
24: Anna Brings Christianity to Russia

One strategic political alliance changed the course of history in Eastern Europe. Understand how the marriage of a Byzantine princess and a pagan Scandinavian king brought Christianity to the area that would become Russia and how the marriage would establish a base of power that would be used to legitimize future tsars, generations later.

28 min
Anna Comnena Writes a Byzantine History
25: Anna Comnena Writes a Byzantine History

Meet one of the most significant historians of the First Crusade: Anna Comnena. Denied her dream of ruling as empress in Byzantium, the highly educated Anna made a different kind of mark on history by producing one of the most thorough and clear-eyed records of a momentous event that would echo through the ages.

29 min
Eleanor of Aquitaine Goes on Crusade
26: Eleanor of Aquitaine Goes on Crusade

The Crusades of the early Middle Ages would have repercussions for centuries to come. Dive into the story of Eleanor of Aquitaine, a young queen whose experience of the Second Crusade shows how deeply personal politics could be in a world shaped by dynastic alliances and ruled by church doctrine.

31 min
Marie of Champagne Promotes Romantic Love
27: Marie of Champagne Promotes Romantic Love

The ideas of chivalry and “romantic love” have been a distinctive feature of Western culture for centuries, but where did they begin? One point of origin is through the patronage of Marie of Champagne. See how her influence shaped literature through the artists she supported, including the originator of the Arthurian romance, Chrétien de Troyes.

29 min
Heloise Embraces the New Philosophy
28: Heloise Embraces the New Philosophy

Discover the story of Heloise, a woman who embodied the passion for ideas that would define the time known as the “12th-century renaissance.” Her thirst for knowledge—and scandalous love affair with the teacher Peter Abelard—resulted in years of correspondence that captures spiritual and intellectual ideas that foreshadow modern philosophy.

29 min
Hildegard Revolutionizes Traditional Medicine
29: Hildegard Revolutionizes Traditional Medicine

Meet one of the most famous women of the Middle Ages. Pledged as a nun from the age of eight, Hildegard put the considerable knowledge she acquired to work through her writings. Her texts on medicine are notable for their blending of ideas that were drawn from the masculine and feminine spheres, as well as the insight they provide into medieval medical practice.

30 min
Razia Rules Muslim India
30: Razia Rules Muslim India

Venture to the newly established Muslim sultanate of northern India in the 13th century, where Razia became the first and only female sultan. Though her rule was challenged by conservative Muslims who did not approve of a female ruler, Razia helped keep the peace in her kingdom by promoting compromise between the two competing religions of the area, Islam and Hinduism.

30 min
Sorkhakhtani Administers a Mongol Empire
31: Sorkhakhtani Administers a Mongol Empire

Explore the life of a woman some modern historians argue is one of the most influential women in history. From a marriage alliance with the Mongols at the tender age of 13, Sorkhakhtani would grow to have a prodigious influence on this important Asian empire, exercising a degree of power unavailable to many other women of the time.

28 min
Licoricia Deals with the King of England
32: Licoricia Deals with the King of England

The story of Licoricia is inextricably tied to the commerce and violence that swept through England and its Jewish community throughout the 13th century. Her impact on society reflects the changing perception of money in the West and how Jews were both aided and restricted by the laws that dictated how they could make and keep their wealth.

30 min
Abutsu Follows the Way of Poetry
33: Abutsu Follows the Way of Poetry

Though we don’t know her birth name, the woman who would come to be called Abutsu used her talents as a writer to make her fortune in a time of immense change for Japan. Under the new regime of Confucianism, women saw their freedoms curtailed and their opportunities limited, but Abutsu found a path to influence through the “Way of Poetry.”

29 min
Brigitta Speaks to God and the Pope
34: Brigitta Speaks to God and the Pope

The disasters of the tumultuous 14th century paved the way for the modern world. The first of two stories from this era, the life of Brigitta is one of struggle with the social and environmental problems of her time, a struggle she approached through religion. Brigitta’s personal faith led her to seek comfort through mysticism and pass her experience down through her writings.

29 min
Joan of Arc Dies for France
35: Joan of Arc Dies for France

Joan d’Arc stands at the turning point of the brutal Hundred Years’ War, a conflict that would transform warfare and national identity in 14th-century Europe. How does an illiterate country girl come to lead the armies of France against the English and become a symbol of a changing world? Look at the events of her life and the tragedy of her death to find out.

31 min
Christine of Pisan Defends Women
36: Christine of Pisan Defends Women

With over 40 works that continue to be read and valued today, Christine of Pisan is considered the first professional writer in history. Her writings offer a clear window into the politics and culture of her day, with a unique perspective based on reason rather than religious faith. She also advocated for a new view of women that was ahead of its time.

35 min
Joyce E. Salisbury

We humans do not walk lightly. We leave our imprint as we go, and I want to show you how each group has left its mark on Spain.


Rutgers University


University of Wisconsin, Green Bay

About Joyce E. Salisbury

Joyce E. Salisbury is Professor Emerita of Humanistic Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, where she taught history and served as associate dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences and director of International Education. She earned her Ph.D. in Medieval History at Rutgers University, specializing in religious and social history.

Professor Salisbury began her career performing research in Spain, and she has continued to travel there to conduct further research, lecture, and guide students and other travelers. She is currently working on a book about the history of early Christian martyrdom.

In addition to receiving the University of Wisconsin's Outstanding Teaching award, she was named Professor of the Year in 1991 by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. She has taught three times on Semester at Sea, a study-abroad program on a ship that circumnavigates the world with more than 500 students for a full semester.

Professor Salisbury is a prolific author whose books include the award-winning Perpetua's Passion: Death and Memory of a Young Roman Woman; The Beast Within: Animals in the Middle Ages; Rome's Christian Empress: Galla Placidia Rules at the Twilight of the Empire; and the widely used textbook The West in the World. She has been interviewed many times on National Public Radio on topics from religion to the books she has written, and she appeared on the PBS special The Road from Christ to Constantine.

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