Aretaphila of Cyrene – c. 50 BCE – Cyrene, North Africa



We know the story of Aretaphila from Plutarch’s work De mulierum virtutes (On the Virtues of Women), in which he describes her struggle to depose the tyrannical ruler Nicocrates.

A Greek noblewoman, Aretaphila lived with her husband Phaedimus in Cyrene, North Africa. Her life was changed forever when the cruel Nicocrates murdered Phaedimus and forced her to marry him instead.

This was not the worst Nicocrates had done – the people of Cyrene lived in fear of their violent ruler, who seized their property and destroyed their homes. Determined to have her revenge, Aretaphila attempted to poison Nicrocrates.

Nicocrates’ mother, Calbia, caught Aretaphila before she could act, and had the young woman tortured. Aretaphila confessed nothing, instead convincing Nicocrates that she had given him a love potion, not poison, in order to win his affections. Polyaenus writes:

She was acquitted by the tyrant’s order; and supposing that she had suffered innocently, he afterwards treated her with marks of great attention and affection.

Ruins of Cyrene (modern day Libya)

Ruins of Cyrene (modern day Libya)

After this, Aretaphila bided her time. She gave birth to a daughter, who grew up to be very beautiful, and when she was old enough, Aretaphila introduced her to Nicocrates’ brother Leander, who fell in love and married her.

Aretaphila used Leander’s love for her daughter to win him over and managed to convince him to kill Nicorates. Unfortunately, Leander turned out to be an even worse tyrant than his brother. Aretaphila was forced to come up with a new plan to rid her people of the oppressive foreign rulers once and for all.

She won favour with Ababus, the prince of Libya and bribed him to capture and arrest Leander.

Aretaphila was celebrated by the people of Cyrene, and in their gratitude they even offered her a role in the new government. However, Aretaphila declined. After dedicating her life to avenging her first husband, she opted for a quiet retirement.


Mulierum virtutesPlutarch, translated by William W. Goodwin

Stratagems 8:38Polyaenus translated by R.Shepherd

On Wikipedia:

Aretaphilia of Cyrene

Image credits:

Cyrene8” by Maher27777 – Own work.

Licensed under Public Domain via Commons