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Triumph and Resilience: Ancient and Historical Women in Afghanistan

Evening Lecture/Seminar

Tuesday, March 29, 2022 - 6:45 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. ET
Code: 1K0225
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$25 - Non-Member
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Afghan women in Afghanistan (Photo: Ben Barber, USAID)

Current debates about women in Afghanistan suggest that they were subjugated for centuries until the arrival of western armies and aid workers. Anthropologist and archaeologist Sandra Scham reaches deep into the country’s past to reveal the complex and surprising stories of women revolutionaries, freedom fighters, intellectuals, and rulers who were instrumental in creating a country that by the 1960s was making great strides toward achieving its own version of modernization.

What happened? Scham, an anthropologist and archaeologist at Catholic University and the University of Maryland, discusses the answer. Although continuous conflict has hampered archaeological explorations in Afghanistan, there is a record of powerful women in civilizations dating back to the 3rd millennium B.C. in the region.  

Figurines from the Oxus civilization of elaborately dressed “Bactrian Princesses” are a testament to the role of women in this early urban society. Later in antiquity, one of these princesses, Roxana, became the consort of Alexander the Great, and more remarkably, the favorite of his indomitable mother Olympias. 

Afghan women were poet laureates, mighty queens, advisors to the crown, warriors, and diplomats for several thousand years. In the 20th century, Afghan Queen Soraya Tarzi became a beloved champion of women’s rights and a national heroine. Taking the long-term view of women in this region, Scham reveals that their story as told by archaeology and history is a complex and surprising one.

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This program is part of our
Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.