Down through the ages exceptional elite leaders have been referred to with the suffix, the great. Cyrus the Great of Persia, Alexander the Great of Macedonia, and perhaps Alaric the Great of the Visigoths who sacked Rome or Peter the Great of Russia.

Question:
Who was the first woman ruler to be referred too as "the Great"?

I know:

Perhaps Hatshepsut of Egypt 1478-1458 B.C. (18th Dynasty) might fit the bill, she is regarded as one of the most successful rulers of Egypt, with a reign lasting for at least twenty years. She expanded trade and undertook ambitious building projects. But I don't see her referred to as "Hatshepsut the Great" in literature.

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    What about suffixes and titles in other languages? Do you mean “great” as in ‘mighty, fearsome’, as in ‘more qualitatively complex’, or do you mean as in ‘quantitatively larger, more’? Maybe different historians have translated similar words into titles other than “the Great” … – can-ned_food Aug 17 at 2:38
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    Without a specific definition of what constitutes 'being referred to' this is rather opinion based; could you edit your question to give one? – walrus Aug 17 at 9:22
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    Also, what has to happen for a ruler to count as being called "the Great" (or "der Grosse" or "velikiy" or whatever)? Actual references I've seen to Elizabeth I do not call her Elizabeth the Great. The link gives reference to one book calling her Elizabeth the Great and no other such mention. Could there be one book out there referring to Hatshepsut the Great, although a Google search found nothing on the first page? – David Thornley Aug 17 at 15:35
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    is she: Queen Elizabeth I of England is referred to as a Great. (1533 – 1603), never heard that before, source live in the UK. – WendyG Aug 17 at 16:07
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    @WendyG I think it's tenuous. I found references to Elizabeth the Great, and her achievements were considerable. But I didn't find a lot of such references. I'll remove her inclusion from the question and write my own answer stating her case. – JMS Aug 17 at 17:24
up vote 45 down vote accepted

The only candidate apart from Catherine the Great would appear to be Tamar the Great of Georgia. Born in 1166, she ruled as sole monarch from 1184 to 1213 (or possibly 1210), having been made co-ruler by her father George III in 1178. However, her early years were not easy ones as nobles sought to restrict her authority:

Powerful lords took advantage of the passing of the king to reassert themselves. Queen Tamar was forced to agree to a second coronation that emphasized the role of noble families in investing her with royal power....royal authority was significantly limited and the responsibilities of the royal council, dominated by the nobles, was expanded.

Source: Alexander Mikaberidze, Historical Dictionary of Georgia

enter image description here Source: Queen Tamar: The Confident Female Ruler of the Georgian Golden Age

In time, though, she was able assert her authority and achieved considerable military success, perhaps most notably when her second husband defeated a large Muslim coalition at the Battle of Shamkor in 1195. During her reign, Georgian territory reached its greatest extent:

In addition to protecting her own lands, Tamar also launched military campaigns to extend the borders of her kingdom. Apart from military success, Tamar’s reign also saw a flourishing in culture, as many remarkable monuments and works of literature were produced during this time. Georgia’s national epic, ‘The Knight in Panther’s Skin’ was produced during the reign of Tamar, and dedicated to the queen.

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    I had never heard of Tamar of Georgia. Good answer, predates Elizabeth and gives me someone to read up on. Thank You. – JMS Aug 16 at 23:56

This would basically come down to how we translate words from foreign languages, but scholars do translate the royal titles of a few ancient Egyptian ruling queens with the word “great,” and at least one has been called “The Great” by a modern historian.

Hatshepsut, who ruled Egypt in the fifteenth century BCE, held the title usually translated Great Royal Wife before becoming regent and ruler in her own right (unlike the previous known female Pharaoh, who had been a Pharaoh’s daughter) and afterwards used several royal names, including Weseretkau (Mighty of Kas).

Another ancient Egyptian ruler, much later, who used royal titles that have been translated “Great One,” “The Great Lady,” or “Goddess,” was the famous Cleopatra VII of the first century BCE. She is sometimes called “Cleopatra the Great” in modern sources. For example, one scholarly biography of her has the title, Cleopatra the Great: The Woman Behind the Legend, although she died in defeat with her kingdom conquered. She was admired enough in classical times that a later ruling queen in Syria, Zenobia, claimed descent from her.

In between were several other female rulers renowned by ancient writers, including at least four Kandakes of Meroe.

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