Amastris – d.284 BCE – Herculea, Greece

Ancient Greece

From war prize to ruling queen in three husbands…

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Amastris’ life was never dull, and never easy. Born a Princess of Persia, her uncle was King Darius III, who was defeated in battle by Alexander the Great. Suddenly the royal women of Persia became the spoils of war.

Macedonian conqueror Alexander offered Amastris in marriage to his general Craterus. A ceremony took place known as the Susa Weddings – Amastris and her cousins, the noblewomen of Persia, were married off to Alexander’s Macedonian officers in a mass wedding between eighty couples.

Once Alexander died, almost every Macedonian later divorced his Persian wife, and Craterus was no different, choosing to marry Phila, one of his own countrywomen. Amastris was sent to live with Dionysius, tyrant of Herculea Pontica. This scenario was no doubt highly preferable to the fate of Stateira, Alexander’s Persian wife and Amastris’ cousin, who was murdered by Alexander’s first wife Roxana.

Amastris was the first woman to issue coins in her own name.

Amastris was the first woman to issue coins in her own name.

Dionysius and Amastris were married in 322 BCE. It was a union which lasted sixteen years and produced two sons and a daughter. While Dionysius was described as a ‘good’ and ‘mild’ ruler, he ‘gave himself up to a life of continual luxury’ and apparently became hugely overweight and lazy.

It was Amastris who took charge, supervising the education of her children and the administration of Herculea. When Dionysius ate himself to death aged 55, he left his wife as head of the government.

The widowed Queen attempted a third marriage, this time to Greek soldier Lysimachus, who supposedly had great affection for her as well as her kingdom. However, greater things beckoned and Lysimachus left Amastris to marry Arsinoë II, princess of Egypt.

Likely very sick of marrying Macedonians by now, Amastris decided to return to Herculea and rule alone, later founding a city which she named after herself. Though she hadn’t been able to keep a husband, Amastris was very effective at keeping hold of her territories.

Sadly, Amastris life ended in tragedy. When her sons, Clearchus and Oxathres, reached maturity, they somehow had cause to drown their mother, by sinking a ship she was on. The brothers were apparently cruel rulers, and when Amastris’ third husband, Lysimachus heard of her murder, he returned to Herculea and had her sons killed for matricide.

Memnon wrote:

When [Lysimachus] arrived there, he was full of praise for Amastris; he marvelled at her character and the way she ruled, how she had built up her realm in size and importance and strength. He exalted Heracleia, and included praise for Tius and Amastris, the city which she had founded in her name. ‘


References:

History of Heracleia, Chapter 5Memnon

Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities – William Smith

On Wikipedia:

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