Many powerful and influential women left their mark on history. They were just as strong and fearless, if not more, than the men around them. Although the records that have survived the ages aren’t always an accurate picture of what life was like thousands of years ago—generally these are narratives dominated by men writing about men — powerful women are plentiful in history. These women weren’t content to be the handmaids of men but lived life on their own terms.
In this issue you’ll find inspirational stories of women such as Fatima Al-Fihri, who founded the al-Qarawiyyin mosque and university in Fez, Morocco, and Sophie Blanchard, who was the first female balloonist to pilot solo flights. You’ll also discover the stories of six women who fought for their beliefs on the battlefield and the history of female leaders ruling ancient Peru.
We reveal how the lives of real women are sometimes transformed into myth too; for example, Scythian warrior women may have inspired the myth of Amazons and stereotypical witches may be based on the appearance and skills of independent alewives. In more modern times, we see how even Disney stories sometimes draw upon the lives of women from history and how the lives of influential women from the past play out in on the silver screen.
We also venture into the distant past to examine the fossils of the five hominin species that were present at South Africa’s Cradle of Humankind, and we close out this issue with an examination of the strange cases of medieval dancing mania and what may have caused the social phenomenon.