Io Semiramide (I am Semiramis; or Slave Queen of Babylon)  (1963)





Director:     Primo Zeglio.

Starring:     Yvonne Furneaux (Semiramide), John Ericson (Kir), Renzo Ricci (Minurte), Germano Longo (Onnos), Gianni Rizzo (Ghelas), John Bartha, Nino Di Napoli (Adath, the King's son), Valérie Camille (Ballerina), Mario Laurentino, Piero Pastore, Antonio Corevi, Lucio De Santis (Marduk).

woman fights for power in Assyrian empire and begins building the city of Babylon



Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.


Assyrian capital of Nineveh. [Nineveh was an ancient Assyrian city on the eastern bank of the Tigris River, and capital of the Neo-Assyrian Empire (934 BC to 609 BC). Its ruins are across the river from the modern-day major city of Mosul, Iraq.  In the Neo-Assyrian Empire Assyria assumed a position as the most powerful nation on earth.]

A man comes riding a horse fast. He comes into the palace while a woman dances.  He relays his message to another person.

King Minurte is enjoying himself with his favorite woman. The beautiful Semiramis is a member of the court of Minurte. The king is speaking with Chancellor Ghelas, who toasts to the king. Ghelas also praises the beauty of Semiramis, who tells Ghelas that she wonders how much his flattery is going to cost her?

The horse rider's message is for the king. [The news is that Gen. Onnos and his army will soon be arriving.]

Semiramis gives the nod to one of the servants and she, in turn, tells a very muscular fellow: "Now is the time." Semiramis yells: "Bring wine!" The male servant with the wine comes out and is deliberately tripped by the muscular fellow. This event is interpreted as an evil omen. For punishment the wine-bearer's hands are covered with some kind of dark, sticky oil and his hands are forced into the fire to burn.

Semiramis lounges on a couch and she asks Ghelas about the army that is headed for Nineveh? Ghelas says there is no army marching on Nineveh. The king comes over and asks Semiramis what evidence does she have of an invading army? She says it's only that she has a feeling. Nevertheless, Minurte decides to reinforces the defenses around the city. He and Ghelas go over to a curtain and open it up. They see no trace of any enemy army. Minurte says he believes in evil signs. Moreover, he believes in Semiramis.

Some members of the Assyrian army talk to General Onnos about overthrowing the king. Onnos is reluctant to do this, but he says his army will be ready for anything.

A woman and a servant come creeping around the camp. A guard sees them and captures them. Onnos comes over to find his love Semiramis under the cape and hood she wears. What is she doing her? She replies: "I was looking for my lover, for the man who left swearing he would never forget me." She says she has been waiting many years for her love to return.

Onnos takes Semiramis into his tent. They kiss each other. Semiramis knows something about his plans. She tells him it would be a terrible mistake, if the general were to rise up against Minurte and march on Nineveh. Onnos wants to know how Semiramis knew about this? She says even the king now about this. Onnos, she says, has a traitor amongst his men. She goes on to say that Onnos has lost the element of surprise.

A guard tells Onnos that an armed patrol is coming. It's Ghelas. He says the king orders the army to put down their weapons, before going into the city. Onnos promises not to come to Nineveh with their weapons.

Gen. Onnos and his men come triumphantly into the city. The king will keep half of the booty and the other half will be shared among Onnos, his officers and troops.

And a human offering to the flames has to be made. The chosen fighter from each of the two groups will fight and the vanquished will be sacrificed to the flames. The king of Dardania, called Kir, will fight for his side.

The two slaves fight with short swords. After awhile they send another man in to join in on the fight against Kir. He defeats both of the men. Kir will not kill the men. He takes a short sword and throws it so that it sticks in the head of an idol.

Semiramis complains to the king that Gen. Onnos is a very ambitious man. He also has received too many honors and too much applause. Moreover, the king has not rewarded those who have served him well. So he asks her what she wants. She wants the province of Sachel. Semiramis says a city could be built there that will prove one day to be the "key to the Orient".  He says he grants Semiramis this province. "She is at once a beautiful woman, greedy, inconstant and without scruples which is why she pleases the fancy of her king."

Ghelas goes to buy the slaves from Dardania from their owner Onnos. He says he wants all the slaves, including Kir. The owner, Onnos, says he will not sell Kir. He wants to see him die a slow, horrible death. Onnos figures out that Semiramis has sent him for these slaves and Kir. He adds: "My poor Ghelas. Are you now her servant?"

Onnos is still intent on killing Kir. Right now Kir has been tied to a small water wheel. On each revolution, Kir's head goes under the water for awhile. Onnos now tells his men to put Kir outside where the beasts will devour him.

Kir's hands and feet are tied to two posts, an easy mark for the lions. But two men come to save Kir. One lion is disabled by a spear. They cut Kir free from his bindings. He is taken into the palace where they put ointment on his wounds.

When Kir awakens he starts knocking everybody around. That is, he does so until Semiramis shows up in front of him. She says she saved his life because he is both a strong man and a king.

Kir says he only wants his and his people's freedom. She says she can be his ally and she will help him get what he wants. But at some point in time he must be an ally to her, so she can achieve the goal she desires. Kir asks what more can Assyria want? "Haven't your frontiers been extended as far as the land of the five rivers?" She says: "But Assyria is not yet mine."

Onnos comes to the king saying that something was stolen from him. He accuses Semiramis of stealing the slave Kir, partly to spite him. He says outside where Kir was kidnapped, he found an arm band with the mark of Semiramis on it that her male servants wear.

Semiramis admits that she did have Kir kidnapped. "But is it stealing to take what someone else has thrown away?" Kir was left outside to be dinner for the lions. She adds that it's not a crime to save the life of a king, a living god. "And whoever sheds the blood of a king, is doomed for all eternity."

Onnos says that Semiramis brought Kir into the palace for her pleasure, unbeknownst to the king. The king says that is not true. He shows the slave owner how Kir is employed as a physical instructor to the king's boy.

The king says the transgressions that both parties committed cancel each other out. But since Semiramis was publicly humiliated, Semiramis will have to pardon Onnos or the man will face the court of the people.

So Onnos goes down on his knees. Ghelas recites a long apology to Semiramis in parts, with Onnos repeating each part after Ghelas says it. He has to say that it's okay that Semiramis will give him any punishment she thinks is fitting. Semiramis says she wants all the Dardanian slaves and at the normal price. And Onnos will himself transport the slaves to her new province. "There they will build a city for me."

In a steam room Onnos tells his friends that the king must be dethroned. And they must get rid of Semiramis somehow. He says they will take the army and conquer new territory. This will give them hold of the Assyrian army. Then they will have the power to dethrone the king.

Semiramis is brought outside by men carrying her on a couch with a roof on it. She travels down to the pond where Kir is teaching the king's son how to swim. Semiramis is set down near the pond. The boy sees her and runs to her to say hello. Kir hides the floats they were using during swimming practice.

The boy gets on a horse and tells Kir that he has to go back now. Kir watches him and his escort walk back to the palace. Kir then goes up to ask a man how sturdy is his boat? It's sturdy enough to get through the river rapids. Kir says then it could get all the way down to the sea.

Semiramis goes swimming. Everyone is ordered not to look. Kir flaunts his disobedience and Semiramis says he could have his eyes gouged out for this little stunt. When she gets her gown back on, she starts slapping Kir's face with the thick ribbons she uses

Kir grabs her and tells her that she is the meanest woman he has ever met, but she is also the most beautiful and the most desirable. They kiss.

The king goes to a holy man. He asks the god in the room what will become of Assyria upon his death because his son is too young to take over for him. The minister says the god told him that a woman will lead Assyria to an even greater fame. The king says this woman would be Semiramis, but she is dishonest and faithless. The minister says Semiramis is the only person who loves the son enough to make sure he becomes the ruler upon his coming of age.

The king now declares that he will marry Semiramis and she will become the Queen of Assyria. Onnos is mad when he hears this and says that woman will stop at nothing to get what she wants. But, says he, he will be blocking her every move.

Another man is also mad at her. Kir asks Semiramis after she marries the king, in what kind of capacity could he justify his staying with her? She admits she is ambitious, but she wants to share her successes with Kir. She says she loves him like she has never loved any one else. Semiramis says Kir has never experienced poverty like she has, or he would never ask her to give these things up. Kir tells her: "Then be prepared to give me up." Semiramis says she must have time to think.

During the night, Kir leaves Semiramis' room. The king's guard grabs him. He is about to be executed with an arrow to the chest. But the two archers get to arguing over who should shoot first and Kir has time to throw himself into the river below him.

Semiramis thinks that Onnos kidnapped Kir. She begs him to return Kir to her. He asks what makes her think that he has Kir? She goes down to her knees and says Onnos can have her flogged, but he must give Kir back to her. 

Onnos asks himself out loud: "Why do I still love you, knowing what I know?" He admits he was jealous of Kir, but it was the king that had Kir put to death. Semiramis says she doesn't believe it. So he has one of the men question the archer who "killed" Kir while he and Semiramis listen to his tale.

Onnos now says that he pities Semiramis and would like to help her. Why? He says: "For vengeance." She asks him what does he want her to do? His men will enter the palace on the day Semiramis marries the king. When Semiramis becomes the queen, they can get rid of the king and any others in the way. She says she will help him.

It's the wedding day for Semiramis. Onnos steps forward to say its time for the king to step down. He is too old. The power should go to Onnos himself. Now a battle between the king's guard and Onnos's men starts.

Semiramis leads the king and his son and Ghelas into a back way out of the throne room. They reach a place of worship. The king stops and so does Ghelas. Semiramis and the boy keep going. Ghelas takes out his knife and kills the king.

Onnos fights his way into the holy place to find the king dead. Now Ghelas returns with lots of people and says that Onnos has killed the king. The guards come after Onnos but he kills the guards and runs away. He and some of his men are able to ride out of the gates of the palace.

Ghelas comes out to say to the people that the son of the king will be the next king. But until the boy is mature, Semiramis will rule Assyria.

A year later. Semiramis is praised on the second year of her reign. The Egyptian ambassador offers her an alliance with Egypt. But first, says Semiramis, she wants to know from the pharaoh what are the advantages of not forming an alliance with Egypt's enemies?

The news is that for around the 13th time, the queen's troops have routed Onnos.

The architects and engineers show a model of the new city of Babylon to the queen. She wants every terrace of the palace to have a garden. The city builders say that it will be impossible to get enough water for the gardens. She tells them to keep thinking and find a way to bring up water to the terraces. And she says that Babylon must be completed by the twelfth moon.

She is still hoping that Kir is  alive. She says she has nothing to live for anymore. The reader of the stars says that she will go on a long voyage at the end of which she will find happiness.

Kir is still alive. He is chained up like the other slaves. He helps hide an escaping slave, but the slave is discovered and Kir and his friends are all held as accomplices to the escape. The queen is coming tomorrow and their deaths could be good entertainment for the queen.

The queen comes to the slave work zone. She looks over the Dardanian slaves. She is probably hoping she will find Kir.

Let the games begin. Kir and his friends have only their heads sticking up above ground level. Horsemen ride around them throwing spears at their heads. After awhile, Semiramis grants a pardon to those rebels who are still alive. Kir is one of those to be pardoned.

All of a sudden Onnos and his men attack Babylon. The queen does not move from where she stands saying that the happiness the star reader promised her may, in fact, be death. One of the attackers fires an arrow at the queen, but Kir sticks his shield out in front of her and saves her life. Then Kir throws a spear at the archer and hits him. He falls off his horse.

Onnos goes to the attack against Kir. During the fight, the queen realizes that the man who saved her is Kir. Kir finally kills Onnos. He shouts: "Onnos is dead!"

Semiramis congratulates the men who fought for her. She frees all those who fought for her, including Kir.

So Kir and Semiramis are united again and she finally feels happy. But Kir is not so happy. She promises that all his people will be freed. Kir tells her she has made the right decision. "No love is worth a throne."

Semiramis returns to Nineveh. She pulls Kir out of the audience. She grants freedom to the Dardanians. The men shout: "Long live the queen!"

Kir is planning a revolt against Assyria. More and more freed slaves are joining with his forces. Ghelas warns the regent that the King of Dardania could be Assyria's greatest enemy.

Semiramis and Kir are together talking. Kir says he is grateful to her for saving his life and for teaching him what it means to be a real king. Semiramis is worried there will be no place for her in his new life. He tries to reassure saying that she is his woman and he's not letting go of her.

He now talks of his becoming the king of Assyria and she the queen with no rivals. Yes, Kir now talks a lot like Semiramis. He says it will be the Dardanians who rule Assyria. He says he will start this take-over tomorrow. By sunrise Nineveh will be his.

Semiramis puts poison into a glass of wine. She says she wants to make a toast to their joint future. He takes her glass and drinks it down. Soon everything is going dark for him. She had created a monster in her own image and learned that she could not stand the new Kir.

At the funeral she says that the new king will be Adad, the boy. She starts to tell someone to stop, but she is hit by an arrow from one of the Dardanian archers. She dies. And now Kir and Semiramis share a funeral pyre together.



Yes, Semiramis was a very ambitious, clever and beautiful woman.  But some of the reviews I read were too hard on her.  And I think that's because she was a woman.  She was a good player in the world of court intrigue.  She got the King of Assyria to give her a province.  From that start she gathered a little slave empire which started building up for her a city named Babylon which she said was a to key to Asia.  Now if this was a man doing this, it would not seem all that bad. There came a time when she wanted to kill the King of Assyria.  Well, that's not very patriotic of her.  The king was good to her and she did betray him.  When there was a threat of a military coupe on the Assyrian Empire, she was there and ready to strengthen the king and his son's claim to the throne by marrying him and becoming queen.  She liked the king's young son and would probably be the only one interested in keeping him alive.  Now that's not that bad either. 

She had her own plans to overthrow the king and becomes the sole ruler of Assyria as a regent for the young boy.  But it was the ruthless Gen. Onnos that wanted her to join his scheme to kill the king.  She joined the scheme but more in self-defense than anything else.  To survive she plotted against the general to turn the tables around and make herself queen without a husband.  And Semiramis did not deceive Kir, her real love interest.  She was brutally honest with him.  He knew she was more interested in an empire rather than love.  That's why he kept some distance between himself and her.  But, why couldn't Semiramis have both an empire and love?   Lots of men do. 

Kir eventually became a man more ambitious than Semiramis ever was.  He was going to take her empire away from her and put her is a secondary role behind him.  Now that's not fair, is it?  He wanted his own people, few in number though they may be, to rule over the Assyrian Empire. No, that's no good because the Assyrians would have condemned Semiramis as a traitor turning the empire to an overly ambitious pip-squeak.  

So I don't think Semiramis was any worse than the men around her and probably a bit better because she didn't want to go to war constantly.  I was sympathetic to her because she really did love Kir and needed him to love her.  Kir was just as fixated on his country, so to speak, as Semiramis was on her empire. 

Hey, politics can be a dirty business, especially in dictatorships and monarchies.  She played the hand she was dealt and did well. 

So good film, I say.  It brings up issues of sexual inequality.  And I get to talk about the Assyrian Empire and the rise of Babylon.  Semiramis did not build Babylon.  That was already an ancient city.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



Historical Background:


1961-1674  BC  --  Early Amorite city-states; Kings of Larsa.

1894 BC  --  Babylonia emerges as an independent state, with the city of Babylon as its capital.

1867 BC -- founding of Babylon. It was an Akkadian city-state founded by an Amorite dynasty of ancient Mesopotamia. The remains of Babylon are found in present-day Al Hillah, Babylon Province, Iraq, about 85 kilometers (55 mi) south of Baghdad.

ca. 1699–1686  --  reign of Hammurabi, King of Babylon.  Official Babylonian rule, code of Hammurabi.

Babylonian Empire: 

1830-1531 BC --  First Dynasty of Babylon, Amorite Dynasty.

1830-1817  --  Amorite chieftain, founder of independent Babylonian State, Contemporary of Erishum I of Assyria.

c. 1728–1686 BC  --    reign of Hammurabik,  He founded Babylonian Empire. Contemporary of Zimri-Lim of Mari, Siwe-palar-huppak of Elam and Shamshi-Adad I of Assyria

ca 1562–1531 BC  --  reign of Samsu-Ditana, who was deposed by Hitite king Mursilis in the Sack of Babylon. Last Amorite ruler.

c. 1507-1155  BC  -- Third Dynasty of Babylon.  Kassite Dynasty. 

1155-1025 BC  --  Fourth Dynasty of Babylon, from Isin.  First native Mesopotamian Dynasty in Babylon.

1025- 1004  BC  --  Fifth Dynasty of Babylon.

1004-985 BC  --  Sixth Dynasty of Babylon.

c. 985 – 979 BC  --  Seventh Dynasty of Babylon.

c. 979 – 943 BC  --  Eighth Dynasty of Babylon. 

c.  943-732 BC  --  Ninth Dynasty of Babylon.

911 --  Babylonia came under Assyrian domination.

824 BC -- Shamshi-Adad becomes the King of Assyria. He was named after the god Adad, who is also known as Hadad.  Shamshi-Adad was a son and successor of King Shalmaneser III, the husband of Queen Shammuramat (by some identified with the mythical Semiramis).

826-820 BC -- in 826 a rebellion begins which is led by Shamshi-Adad's brother: Assur-danin-pal. The rebellious brother got the the support of 27 important cities, including Nineveh.

820 BC -- the rebellion ends. The rebellion had weakened the Assyrian empire and its ruler. This weaker state of the Empire continued to reverberate in the kingdom until the reforms of Tiglath-Pileser III.

????? -- Shamshi-Adad weds Shammuramat.

????? -- Shamshi-Adad has a son who in the future becomes King Adad-nirari III.

Later in his reign, Shamshi-Adad campaigns against Southern Mesopotamia, and stipulates a treaty with the Babylonian king Marduk-zakir-shumi I.

814 BC --King Shamshi-Adad wins the a battle of Dur-Papsukkal against the Babylonian king Marduk-balassu-iqbi and few Aramean tribes settled in Babylonia.

Semiramis becomes the wife of Shamshi-Adad.

811 BC -- death of King Shamshi-Adad. Semiramis becomes the regent for the deceased king's son.

"Georges Roux has speculated that the many later Greek and Indo-Iranian (Persian, Median and Urartian/Armenian) flavoured myths surrounding Semiramis stem from successful campaigns waged by her against these peoples, and the novelty of a woman ruling such an empire."

811-808 BC -- the regency of Semiramis. Semiramis gains control briefly over the vast Neo Assyrian Empire. The Empire included Babylonia, western Iran (Persia and Media), Israel, much of Asia Minor, the Caucasus and Arabia, Phoenicia, Cyprus and Syria among others.

811–783 BC -- the reign of King Adad-nirari III. He led several military campaigns with the purpose of regaining the strength Assyria enjoyed in the times of his grandfather Shalmaneser III. He campaigned in all directions until the last of his 28 years of reign.

732-620 BC  --Tenth Dynasty of Babylon.  An Assyrian Dynasty.

703 BC  --  Chaldean ruler retook Babylon from Assyria during an uprising.

626-529  --  Eleventh Dynasty of Babylon.  (Neo-Babylonian or Chaldean Dynasty)

608 BC -- end of the Neo Assyrian Empire.




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