King Mithridates VI had already had five wives before he met his match in Hypsicratea. He was a hugely ambitious man who spent much of his life at war with Rome – which was no deterrent to this warrior woman.
Historical sources describe her as loving her husband so much that she dressed as a soldier and learned to fight alongside him in order to be useful to the king during his exile.
Hysicratea’s origins are uncertain – she is described as a concubine and a Caucasian (from Caucasus – an area is now on the peripheries of Turkey, Iran and Russia). We do not know when she was born or when she died – but what we do know is that she was tough.
Plutarch writes that she displayed “manly spirit and extravagant daring”, and that the king often called her Hypsicrates (the male form of Hypsicratea).
Valerius Maximus writes that she made herself ugly by cutting her hair short, but praises her loyalty:
“The Queen Hypsicratea… loved her husband Mithradates, with all the stops of affection let out, and for his sake she thought it a pleasure to change the outstanding splendor of her beauty for a masculine style. For she cut her hair and habituated herself to horse and arms, so that she might more easily participate in his tools and danger… Her extraordinary fidelity was for Mithradates his greatest solace and most pleasant comfort in those bitter and difficult conditions, for he considered that he was wandering with house and home because his wife was in exile along with him.”
In battle, Hypsicratea is described as fighting in hand to hand combat, using an ax, lance and sword. She was also adept with a bow and arrow.
After Mithridates death, we do not know what happened to Hysicratea. She may have died in battle with her husband, or she may have been captured as a slave.
One of the more interesting theories is that she kept her male name and is the same Hypsicrates who became personal historian to Julius Caesar.
Strabo wrote that Hypsicrates accompanied Julius Caesar on his campaigns as an expert on “military fortifications of the Bosporan Kingdom” and the Caucasian Amazons – stranger things have happened!
From Amazon to Pharaoh – Following a Trail from Hypsicratea to Cleopatra VII – Borys Freiburg and Hewitt Freiburg
“Mithridates VI Louvre” by Sting.
Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Commons
“Hypsicratea” Published by Guillaume Rouille (1518?-1589) – “Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum”.
Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons