• Athena Ives

Warrior Queen Artemisia

Queen Artemisia, I of Halicarnassus lived from C. 520–460 BCE. She ruled over the city of Halicarnassus during the Persian Wars against the Greeks from 499-449 BCE. Artemisia was likely born around 520 BCE in Halicarnassus, near what is today Bodrum, Turkey.

She inherited the thrown when her husband died and ruled under the Persian Emperor Xerxes the Great. She was the only female commander in Xerxes army and was in charge of five out of the 70 ships in his fleet. Those five ships gained a reputation for their ferocity and valor. The Greeks feared Artemisia so much that they put out a bounty of 10,000 drachmas (around three years of wages) for her capture.

The battle of Thermopylae 480 BCE

Xerxes gathered his naval commanders, including Artemisia, and asked their advice on the upcoming battle of Salimis. All but one recommended a sea battle to destroy the Greek

Navy. The only one that recommended against was Artemisia. She suggested Xerxes wait offshore for the likely retreat and made it very clear that their chances of victory were extremely low if they didn’t (Lewis, 2019).

“Xerxes, sitting on his golden throne on the high hill, could only watch helplessly as the disaster played out. As the Persians were going down to defeat, Artemisia’s ship came under attack by an Athenian trireme. But Artemisia was blocked in on all sides by her allies. With nowhere to go, Artemisia purposely rammed one of the Persian ships, which then sank. When the Athenian captain saw that, he broke off his own attack, either assuming that Artemisia’s trireme was a Greek ship or a Persian one that had switched sides during the battle. Either way, Artemisia made her escape. Watching all this from the hill, one of Xerxes’s scribes said: Master, dost thou see Artemisia, how well she is fighting, and how she sank even now a ship of the enemy” (Zabecki, 2015)?

Xerxes once again asked Artemisia her advice. He felt there were only two options, take control and lead the Persian Army himself or return to Persia and leave Mardonius in command. Artemisia advised Xerxes to return to Persia. She told Xerxes that he had accomplished his goal by punishing Athens and that if Mardonius succeeded the glory would go to Xerxes but if Mardonius failed, Xerxes could blame it on Mardonius. Xerxes returned with around half of his army. The struggle between Greece and Persia finally ended after Alexander III (the Great) of Macedon took the war directly into the empire’s Asian heartland and defeated Persia in 330 BC (Zabecki, 2015).

Xerxes trusted Artemisia so much he put her in charge of escorting his sons back to their home. After that, Artemisia disappears from historical records. Her grandson Lygdamis II, became King.

“Artemisia was an Officer at whom I especially marvel, who being a woman went to war against Greece….She took part in the expedition on account of her daring and manly courage, and not under any compulsion” ((Zabecki, 2015)

Lewis, J. (2019). Biography of Artemisia I, Warrior Queen of Halicarnassus. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/artemisia-warrior-queen-of-halicarnassus-3528382

Zabecki, D. (2015). History Net. Artemisia at Salamis. https://www.historynet.com/artemisia-at-salamis.htm