Research has substantiated the belief that, in the ancient world, Western women had far more opportunities and power with lesser restrictions than Eastern women. Undoubtedly there were a number of very strong willed women who disregarded custom and ruled their families with the sheer force of their personalities, but they were the exception. Cleopatra, one of the most famous women of all time, tried to find a balance between independence and co-operation with Rome. E.M. Forster states that, "It is almost impossible to think of Cleopatra as an ordinary person." (Prior, 1998:p1) Although Cleopatra was considered vastly renowned and significant in the ancient world it can be argued as to whether or not the power wielded by her was unique throughout various ancient societies.
In the world of antiquity, proportionately few women had either power or prestige. The position of Egyptian women as we now understand it was within the limits of a male-dominated world. Although most admired in the traditional roles of wife and mother, Egyptian women in many ways suffered far fewer restrictions than women in other contemporary cultures. Perhaps more importantly, some compensation for lack of a woman's political or professional power was found in the moral and cultural authority she was held to possess, to which the Egyptians paid genuine tribute throughout their history. Egypt treated its women better than any of the other major civilizations of the ancient world, hence it became infamous for its various queens, and female pharaohs. The Egyptians believed that "joy and happiness were legitimate goals of life and regarded home and family as the major source of delight". (Estensen, 1998:p463) It was taken for granted in the ancient world that the head of the house was the man. The true meaning of this fact for women varied considerably from one place and time to another and the impact was much greater if the law drew a distinction between a man and a woman.