Moero – 3rd Century BCE – Byzantium, Greek Empire

Ancient Greece

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Moero (sometimes Myro) was a poet from the city of Byzantium (later Constantinople, now Istanbul). Antipater of Thessalonica included her in his list of famous women poets. Little remains of Moero’s work, but we know she wrote epic and lyric poetry as well as eulogies.

She is mentioned a number of times in the Suda (an ancient encyclopaedia), which states that she married a man named Andromachus and had a son who also wrote poetry.

Moero was also mentioned in The Deipnosophists by Anthenaeus, where her poetry is praised and quoted:

“Myro the Byzantian admirably caught the feeling of Homeric poems saying in her poem titled ‘Memory’ that the Pleiades convey ambrosia to Jupiter.”

(Pleiades – Seven Sisters consellation)


References:

The Suda entry on Moero

The Deipnosophists, or, Banquet of the learned of Athenæus
volume II Book XI – Athenaeus of Naucratis

On Wikipedia:

Cynane – d.323 BCE – Illyria

Ancient Illyria

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She was half-sister to the greatest conqueror of the classical world, Alexander the Great, and daughter of King Philip II, but Cynane owed much of her tactical knowledge to her mother Audata, an Illyrian princess.

Audata trained her daughter in riding, hunting, and fighting in the Illyrian tradition. This unusual education prepared her Cynane for a life which would be fraught with conflict and political intrigue.

Her father Philip gave her in marriage to her cousin Amyntas, by whose death she was left a widow in 336 BCE. In the following year, her brother promised her hand, as a reward for his services, to Langarus, king of the Agrianians, who became ill and died before the wedding could take place.

Cynane, probably sick of being bartered for, continued unmarried, and devoted herself to the education of her daughter, Eurydice.

Much like Audata, Cynane trained Eurydice in martial arts and groomed her for a life in politics. When Cynane’s other half-brother, Philip Arrhidaeus was chosen king in 323 BCE, Cynane determined to marry Eurydice to him, and crossed over to Asia accordingly.

Polyaenus wrote:

“Cynane, the daughter of Philip was famous for her military knowledge: she conducted armies, and in the field charged at the head of them. In an engagement with the Illyrians, she with her own hand slew Caeria their queen; and with great slaughter defeated the Illyrian army.”

Her military prowess and influence was famous throughout the ancient world, and the idea that her daughter might marry a King was alarming to many. Perdiccas, Alexander the Great’s General, was particularly concerned and sent his brother Alcetas to meet Cynane on her way to Asia and have her killed.

Alcetas’ troops were against the murder of Cynane, but she was killed either way, and is said to have ‘met her doom with an undaunted spirit’.

Eurydice’s wedding still took place, but both daughter and son-in-law were eventually killed by Olympias. In 317 BC, Cassander, after defeating Olympias, buried Cynane with Eurydice and Arrhidaeus at Aegae, the royal burying-place.


In Fiction:

Cynane appears as a character in the historical novel Funeral Games by Mary Renault. Renault calls her Kynna.


References:

Polyaenus on Cynane

On Wikipedia:

Euryleonis – fl. c. 370 BCE – Sparta, Greece

Ancient Greece

Twenty-four years after Cynisca’s victory as the first female crown-bearer at the Olympic Games, Euryleonis became the second.

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Also from Sparta, Euryleonis was triumphant in the two-horse chariot races at the ancient games in 368 BCE. Other than this, we know little about her life. She may have been a royal woman – she was certainly wealthy. It is likely that she bred and trained her own horses, as Cynisca had before her.

We do know that Euryuleonis was celebrated in her own time. Pausanias writes that a bronze statue of the athlete was erected at Sparta after her victory. It was one of the first statues of athletic or military victors in Sparta.


References:

A-Z of Ancient Greek and Roman WomenMarjorie and Benjamin Lightman 

Spartan WomenSarah B. Pomeroy 

On Wikipedia:

Themista of Lampsacus – 3rd Century BCE

Ancient Greece

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Themista and her husband Leonteus were students of the philosopher Epicurus, whose school was held in a garden in Athens and allowed women to attend.

Epicureans believed that pleasure is the greatest good and that the way to attain pleasure is to live a modest life and gain knowledge of the world and oneself. The goal was to reach a tranquil state in which you would be free from fear and physical pain – which would be the highest form of happiness.

It is clear that Themista had a voice at Epicurus’ school and that her ideas were treated as equal to the men she studied alongside. Roman orator Cicero later criticised Epicurus for praising Themista in ‘countless volumes’ rather than ‘more worthy’ men.

Themista and Leonteus obviously held their teacher in equally high esteem, as they named their son Epicurus.


References:

Hypatia’s Heritage: A History of Women in Science from Antiquity through the Nineteenth Century – Margaret Alic

The Invention and Gendering of Epicurus Pamela Gordon

Philosophers of the Ancient World: An A to Z GuideTrevor Cunrow

On Wikipedia:

Arachidamia – 3rd Century BCE – Sparta, Greece

Ancient Greece

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The ancient Greeks are known for their philosophers and poets – and the majority of classical Greek women in this project fit into one of those two categories. But when actions speak louder than words, you can always rely on a Spartan woman.

Arachidamia was a queen and the wealthiest woman in Sparta. In the 3rd Century BCE, the city state was under siege by Phyrrhus of Epirus. Faced with invasion, the Spartan Gerousia (council of elders) began to discuss the possibility of sending the Spartan women to Crete for their safety. When Arachidamia got news of this plan, she was furious. Leave the city? They had to be joking.

The queen marched into the Gerousia, ‘with a sword in her hand’ and spoke on behalf of the women of Sparta, telling the senators that they were idiots if they thought that the women of Sparta wished to survive the city’s downfall. They would rather die fighting than run away.

With that question settled, the Spartans began digging a defensive trench along the enemy camp in order to impede the elephants Phyrrus’ army used. Arachidamia began to direct the woman to help with the digging.

“…there came to them the women and maidens, some of them in their robes, with tunics girt close and others in their tunics only, to help the elderly men in the work.”

"Spartan helmet 2 British Museum" by john antoni - Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

“Spartan helmet 2 British Museum” by john antoni – Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

It is likely that Arachidamia led the efforts of Spartan women during the subsequent battle against Pyrrhus, as they are noted for supplying the defenders with weapons and refreshment during combat, and extracting wounded from the battlefield.

“But the Lacedaemonians defended themselves with an alacrity and bravery beyond their strength; the women, too, were at hand, proffering missiles, distributing food and drink to those who needed them, and taking up the wounded.”


Notes:

Lacedaemon – The name of the Spartan homeland


References:

Parallel Lives: Life of Phyrrus 27.2-5, 29.3 –  Plutarch

On Wikipedia:

Cynisca – b. 440 BCE – Sparta, Greece

Ancient Greece

‘Kyniska, victorious with a chariot of swift-footed horses, has erected this statue. I declare myself the only woman in all Hellas to have won this crown.’

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The ancient Olympic Games were male-only and women were not even permitted to enter the main stadium. The only way women could get involved was to enter the equestrian (horse) events – step in Cynisca.

A Spartan princess, Cynisca was known as a tomboy growing up – she enjoyed athletics and competition, particularly horse riding and chariot racing. She exploited the loophole in the Olympic rules which stated she could not compete – by hiring a team of men to ride on her behalf. Cynisca bred and trained the horses herself and her team won the four-horse chariot racing event twice – once in 396 BCE and again in 392.

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Cynisca must have been an extremely ambitious woman, and was certainly proud of her achievements as the first woman to triumph at the Olympic Games. She was honoured with a bronze statue in Olympias, with an inscription celebrating her victory. A shrine was built to her in Sparta’s Plane-tree Grove – making her the first woman given this honour as previously only Spartan Kings were memorialised in this way.

The great irony in Cynisca’s life was that despite her trailblazing efforts to prove herself as capable as any man, the rules did not permit her to witness either of her victories.


References

Description of Greece (3.15.1)Pausanias 

On Wikipedia:

Aesara – 3rd Century BCE – Luciana, Greece

Ancient Greece

Aesara is almost unique among the classical women Greek philosophers in that some of her work survives today.

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Another Pythagorean* woman, Aesara was from the ancient district of Luciana, now part of the Italian coast. There she authored On Human Nature, an early treatise arguing that only by studying human nature can we understand natural law and morality.

‘Human nature seems to me to provide a standard of law and justice both for the home and for the city.’

Aesara’s theory divided the soul into three parts:

  • Mind: judgment and thought
  • Spirit: courage and strength
  • Desire: love and kindness

These three parts affected the three Pythagorean applications of morality; the individual, the family and social institutions.

There are some arguments that On Human Nature is actually a much later Roman forgery. There is no strong evidence to support this theory, but even if this was the case, it suggests that there was an Aesara of Luciana whose work was well known and worth imitating.

*Other Pythagorean women mentioned in this project so far are: Theano and Timycha.


References:

Women Writers of Ancient Greece and Rome: An AnthologyIan Michael Plant

On Wikipedia:

Aspasia – c.470 BCE – 400 BCE – Athens, Greece

Ancient Greece

“…what great art or power this woman had, that she managed as she pleased the foremost men of the state, and afforded the philosophers occasion to discuss her in exalted terms and at great length.”

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Aspasia has long been a subject of controversy when looking at life and politics in 5th Century Athens. Her fame as a female philosopher and intellect can only be matched by the notoriety of her chosen profession.

We know that Aspasia was not Athenian by birth, although she is most associated with this Greek city-state. Her origins lie in Miletus, an island which now forms part of Turkey.

Almost nothing is known of her early years, but it is likely that her family was wealthy enough to afford the education for which she is so well renowned. Traditionally, education was segregated by the sexes – boys would study philosophy, rhetoric and physical fitness, whilst girls focused on more domestic tasks with the aspiration to manage a family home. Interestingly, Aspasia is fluent in both curricula.

The reasons for Aspasia’s migration to Athens are unknown, but it is most likely that her family was sold into slavery after the Ionian Revolt.Nevertheless, we do know that she arrived in Athens alone, and sought to set herself up as an independent woman.

In 5th century Athens, however, this was no easy task. Add to this a lack of Athenian citizenship, and there are very few options open to you. Aspasia decided to become a hetaera, and it is from here that the notoriety begins.

It is important not to confuse this term with prostitution – the most accurate translation would be “companion”. Hetaerae were highly educated in the arts, and would attend male social gatherings (symposia) and discussions. Aspasia’s combination of beauty, wit and intellect was seductive and she quickly expanded her client base. She was able to buy a house in Athens, and from there she could train other young women to be hetaerae. It was around this time, also, that Aspasia met Pericles.

Socrates seeking Alcibiades in the house of Aspasia, 1861 by Jean-Léon Gérôme

Socrates seeking Alcibiades in the house of Aspasia, 1861 by Jean-Léon Gérôme

Aspasia became the mistress of prominent statesman Pericles in the early 440sBC, and she devoted the next chapter of her life to this relationship. Pericles was so taken with his new mistress that he divorced his wife in 445 BCE, and moved in with Aspasia.

They had a child in 440 BCE – Pericles the Younger. Being the unassailable mistress of the most powerful man in Athens certainly had its privileges, and Aspasia was now entertaining some of the greatest minds of the time – according to Xenophon, Socrates learnt rhetoric from Aspasia! Regular attendees to Pericles’ symposia included Socrates, Phidias and Anaxagoras, so Aspasia became well connected.

An example of these privileges could be argued in the legitimizing of her son. Despite never being married, Pericles the Younger was formally recognised as Pericles’ heir, and given Athenian citizenship. This was despite Pericles himself passing laws in Athens which forbade this.

Marble herm in the Vatican Museums inscribed with Aspasia's name at the base. Discovered in 1777, this marble herm is a Roman copy of a 5th-century BC original and may represent Aspasia's funerary stele.

Marble herm in the Vatican Museums inscribed with Aspasia’s name at the base. Discovered in 1777, this marble herm is a Roman copy of a 5th-century BC original and may represent Aspasia’s funerary stele.

Another indicator of influence would be in her portraits. Aspasia is one of only two women who had ever had their portraits publicly displayed in Athens. Even rarer, the portrait was sculpted by Phidias himself, the master sculptor of the 5th century. Aspasia is often pictured with Socrates, and the inference is that they are the male and female epitome of philosophical thinking.

As with all high-profile power couples, not everyone was a fan. Aspasia had many enemies who criticized her influence over Pericles, and even accused her of writing Pericles’ speeches. Being so close to the political sphere – an exclusively male space – was intolerable to many, and her critics sought to bring her down.

Aspasia was brought to trial on charges of impiety, but was eventually acquitted. It is rumoured that Pericles became so overwrought during Aspasia’s trial that he wept openly in court. Despite these setbacks, Aspasia was resolute in maintaining her relationship (and arguable influence) with Pericles, and this flourished until his death.

After Pericles, Aspasia became the mistress of Lysicles, a cattle farmer. As their relationship developed, Lysicles became an orator and quickly rose to prominence in Athenian politics, due in part to Aspasia’s tutelage and connections. She had a child with him, but remained at the forefront of Athenian politics until her death. She also maintained her school for hetaerae, and Plutarch records her teachings:

“they have imprisoned women in a world of superfluous interests and tasks because they fear the power women would have if female sexuality became augmented by a developed intellect and spirit.”

This entry was a guest post by G. Harvey.


References:

Gardner, P.; A female figure in the early style of Phidias (1918)

Glockhammer, H.; The apprenticeship of a hetaera; gender and socialisation in Wieland’s ‘Geschichte des Agathon’ (1988)

Lefkowitz, M. and Fant, M.; Women’s life in Greece and Rome: a source book translation (1982)

Vermeule III, C.; Socrates and Aspasia: new portraits of Late Antiquity (1958)

On Wikipedia:


In Fiction:

  • Philothea by Lydia Maria Child is a classical romance set in the days of Aspasia and Pericles.
  • Pericles and Aspasia by Walter Savage Landor
  • Aspasia by German author Robert Hamerling is about the manners and morals of the Age of Pericles.
  • Giacomo Leopardi published a group of five poems known as The Circle of Aspasia. The poems were inspired by the author’s unrequited love for a woman named Fanny Targioni Tozzetti, who he calls Aspasia.
  • The Athenian Women is a play by George Cram Cook which portrays Aspasia leading a strike for peace.
  • The Immortal Marriage by Gertrude Atherton tells the story of Pericles and Aspasia and illustrates the period of the Samian War, the Peloponnesian War and the Plague of Athens.
  • Glory and the Lightning by Taylor Caldwell  is another novel that portrays the historical relationship of Aspasia and Pericles.
  • Italian writer Daniela Mazzon wrote the biographical essay “Aspasia maestra e amante di Pericle” and in 2012 she produced the drama in ancient style “Desiderata Aspasia. Rapsodia mediterannea”.

Hydna – fl.480 BCE – Scione, Greece

Ancient Greece

A deep sea diver responsible for bringing down the Persian Navy

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Hydna (sometimes Cyana) of Scione fought in the same war as Artemisia of Caria – only on the opposing side. Growing up in a seaside town, she was a strong swimmer and proficient deep sea diver.

When the Persian navy began closing in on the Greek coast in 490 BCE, Hydna and her father volunteered to help defend their Empire. Seeing that a storm was brewing, the father and daughter came up with an elegant plan of attack.

At nightfall, the pair swam for ten miles through storm-tossed waters to reach the Persian ships. Silent and unseen, they then took their knives to the moorings, cutting the ropes and dragging away the anchors.

The peninsula where Xerxes fleet were moored - near Mount Pelion

The peninsula where Xerxes fleet were moored – near Mount Pelion

Untethered, the Persian ships were defenseless against the storm and crashed against each other, causing a huge amount of damage. Hydna and her fathers’ actions prevented battle until the Persians could recoup their losses, buying time for the Greek forces.


References:

A New Classical Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography, Mythology, and GeographySir William Smith 

Description of Greece (10.19.1)Pausanias 

On Wikipedia:

Artemisia I – fl.480 BCE – Caria, Anatolia

Ancient Turkey

A naval commander who advised the most powerful man in the world and brought Athens to its knees…

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She was a capable ruler, formidable admiral and the only person who dared to contradict the King of Persia; Artemisia I of Caria stands out not only in her own time, but in history as a remarkable woman.

As ruling queen of Caria (now in modern day Turkey) she sided with Xerxes I, the King of Persia in his campaign against the Greek states, actively participating in battle.

Born sometime in the mid-5th Century BCE, Artemisia took the throne of Halicarnassus following the death of her husband. By 480 BCE she had allied herself with Xerxes I, the powerful King of Persia who was hell-bent on invading Greece.

A capable naval commander, Artemisia leapt into the fray, personally leading five ships in the Battle of Artemisium.

Following this battle, Xerxes gathered his naval commanders to ask them their opinions on fighting another battle at sea, rather than sending his fleet to Peloponesus to wait for the dissolution of the Greek armies. All of the commanders recommended that Xerxes go to battle – except Artemisia. She (basically) said:

Look, Xerxes, the Greek navy is much stronger than your navy. You’ve got Athens now, what do you want to start another fight for? If you move towards Peloponesus you’ve got a definite win – they don’t have enough food anyway and won’t hold out for long. I know you’re impatient to get this whole invasion thing over with, but I’m telling you, Xerxes, pal, if you go through with this battle you’ll end up worse off.

Xerxes praised Artemisia for her sound advice – before promptly disregarding everything she’d said and launching into battle. Artemisia (probably after some heavy eye rolling) rallied her troops and prepared to attack.

"William Rainey - Death of the Persian admiral at Salamis" by William Rainey, (1852-1936)

“William Rainey – Death of the Persian admiral at Salamis” by William Rainey, (1852-1936)

The Battle of Salamis took place in September 480 BCE and Artemisia led five of the best ships in the fleet. Following the previous battle, she also had a price of 10,000 drachmas on her head as a reward to any Athenian captain who could take her alive.

The Queen was extremely cunning and her tactics were brutal. Before the battle, she had had a disagreement with King Damasithymos, who was also on the Persians side. During battle, Artemisia found herself pursued by a Greek vessel into a corner, with only friendly ships in front of her. Unable to see a way out, she ordered that the Persian flags be pulled down, and to attack one of the friendly ships – that of Damasithymos. Once the Greeks saw her attack a Persian ship, they turned away and left her alone – assuming that Artemisia’s ship had switched sides. Damasithymos’ ship was sunk and there were no survivors.

Seeing this, Xerxes (who was pretty disappointed in the rest of his navy) remarked; ‘My men have become women and my women men.’ – High praise considering the extremely sexist attitudes of the time.

After the battle, the king rewarded Artemisia with a full suit of Greek armour and asked for her advice yet again. Should he head to Peloponnese himself and head up his invasion of Greece? Or should he withdraw and leave his General in charge.

Once again, Artemisia’s response demonstrated a keen political mind and sound judgement:

‘Leave your General here and head home. Then if he wins, you get all the glory, because he works on your behalf. But if he loses, it’s no biggie – you’d still be safe and no one cares about your General. Either way, you’ve burnt Athens to the ground – mission accomplished.’

This time, Xerxes did the smart thing and followed Artemisia’s advice.


References:

Stratagems, Book 8Polyaenus 

The HistoriesHerodotus 

The Encyclopaedia of Women in the Ancient World – Joyce Salisbury

On Wikipedia:


In Fiction:

In The 300 Spartans (1962) Artemisia is played by Anne Wakefield.

300: Rise of an Empire (2014) portrays heavily fictionalised versions of both Artemisia and Xerxes.

Artemisia of Caria is a character in the book Creation by Gore Vidal.