Note: This post has been updated to include an artist’s accurate depiction of Hypatia.
Hypatia was a very accomplished Ancient Egyptian Woman mathematician and scientist. Unfortunately, I could not include an actual picture of Hypatia because there are no pictures of her that have survived antiquity, however this is an artists’ depiction of what she would have looked like. She has been pictured in some high school algebra textbooks by Euro-centrist scholars as Greek, but we know how Europeans have stolen the identity of the Ancient Egyptians who were proven first by the writings of the Ancient Greeks themselves and then thousands of years later by renowned Pan-African scholar Dr. Cheikh Anta Diop’s melanin test as belonging to the Black/African race. Little is known about Hypatia’s birth and life. However, she is best known for her contributions to math and science and one of the many examples of the Ancient African World’s respect for Women’s Rights.
Hypatia was born in Alexandria, Egypt. Theon, her father was also famous mathematician. Hypatia never married. She held a chair in the Philosophy Department at the University of Alexandria. She taught math, physics, astronomy, and philosophy. She wrote and published many works; one a treatise called the Conics of Apollonius, Arithmetica a commentary about her fellow mathematician, Diophantus’ works, and commentaries on the works of Euclid and Ptolemy who preceded her in the fields of math and science.
Hypatia’s student, Synesius of Cyrene, North Africa gives her credit for inventing an apparatus to distill water and measuring liquid levels. Author Caroline Herzburg describes Hypatia as, “One of the universal geniuses of antiquity, and the last great woman scientist of antiquity.” Hypatia’s death was tragic. At the time of her death Alexandria was under the rule of Roman Christendom. Because she did not convert to Christianity due to her position as a renowned leader of non-Christian thought, Hypatia was viciously murdered in 415 A.D. by Christian fanatics who dismembered her body and scraped the flesh from her bones. According to Beatrice Lumpkin, “If it had a been the other way around, death by a non-Christian mob, Hypatia would have been beatified and elevated to sainthood.”
Hypatia was one example of Women’s Rights and Equality in Ancient Egypt as well as across Ancient Africa. Prior to European influence, most if not all African societies were matrilineal instead of patrilineal as they are today. Now this did not mean that Black Women were domineering and controlling Black Men as some have misconstrued (starting with the Greeks and Romans) throughout millenia. Power was equally shared between men and women, there was equal educational opportunities, equal work for equal pay, equal legal and property rights.There is physical evidence in tombs and written evidence on papyri detailing equality for women. For example, writer Barbara Lesko after observing the wall of private tombs in Deir-el-Bahri in which men and women worked together in various occupations summarized, “Four thousand years ago, women in the Nile Valley enjoyed more legal rights and privileges than women have in many nations of the world today. Equal pay for equal work is a cry heard now, but seems to have been the norm thousands of years ago in Egypt.”
Greek men like Herodotus and Diodorus who were in and around Egypt at the time were surprised to find how Black Men and Women ruled alongside each other. They were surprised that Egyptian Men didn’t mind that Egyptian Women had just as much power if not more than the men.They didn’t understand that this was because Ancient African Cultures had great respect for the African Woman. To the contrary, Greek women were not allowed to travel about freely without a male escort or as the Greeks called them at the time “kourios”. Greek women were also not allowed to rule along side the Greek men, denied educational opportunities, no equal work for equal pay, no equal legal and property rights, and many other rights that Egyptian and other African Women enjoyed.
Although Hypatia has not been beatified and elevated to status of martyrdom the Ancient Egyptian way, she is a martyr and an inspiration to me (as I am sure for many other women and girls who already know or who may come to know her story) and for women and girls everywhere who may want to enter the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields, fields in which women are desperately needed, especially Black Women, but is discriminatory because of today’s European, anti-woman patriarchal society.
I Salute this AMAZING HER-story making Sista!
Source: From the Essay, Hypatia and Women’s Rights in Ancient History by Beatrice Lumpkin from Black Women In Antiquity edited By Dr. Ivan Van Sertima