Queen Artemisia of Halicarnassus, fl. 480: “My men have become women and women men”

Misogyny is a bane of any age and certainly the Greeks were as prone to it as any culture, but as in all things, men seem willing to make exceptions when the woman in question is notably accomplished, no longer a threat to the living, and somehow a credit to their own homeland.  Thus, the historian Herodotus of Halicarnassus is happy to give us the story of Artemisia, queen of Halicarnassus, despite her being a) a woman and b), a military commander of the hated Persians.

The title she inherited from unnamed husband (and despite their having a grown son). When the Persians marched west, she joined with them, serving notably in the battle for Euboea.  She also brought five triremes to the alliance, a significant contribution.  She warned Xerxes, however, not to take on the Greeks at sea, “for these people are as much superior to your people in seamanship, as men to women.”

Well, most women, at any rate.

The vote went against her and battle was joined in Salamis, losing Xerxes a good deal of his fleet and much face.   She herself was in the front line and seeing the fight was lost, ordered her ship to break out through the Persian line, deliberately sinking the flag ship of a Calyndian king.  The Athenians assumed she was now an ally and left her alone.   Xerxes, witnessing the action assumed the sinking ship was Greek and so praised Artemisia for her skill: “My men have become women and women men.”

No surprise that when she next advised him to pack it in and return to Persia, he agreed, even though his other commanders said push on.   After the war, she herself went to Ephesus with his sons and disappeared from the records.   There does remain, however, an calcite urn with Xerxes name on it,  dug up from the ruins of the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, and now resting in the British Museum in London.

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