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.

Puduhepa – fl. c. 1250 BCE – Harpissa, Hittite Empire

Ancient Turkey

A signatory of the world’s first known peace treaty, a priestess, politician, lawyer, judge, midwife and diplomat, Puduhepa ruled for seventy years and is the most influential Queen you’ve never heard of….

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In 1274 BCE, General Hattusili was returning home from the battle of Kadesh. He stopped to rest in the city of Lawazantiya, where he was welcomed by the high priest. He also met the priest’s daughter, Puduhepa, a beautiful priestess. Later that night, Hattusili dreamed of the Goddess Ishtar, who instructed him to marry Puduhepa.

The following day he returned to the temple to request the priestess’ hand in marriage, to which she assented. From that day onwards they were partners in all things. They returned to Harpissa as husband and wife, and within a few years Hattusili rose to the throne with Puduhepa as his queen (Tawananna).

“Puduhepa” by Firaktin2Kayseri.jpg: Klaus-Peter Simonderivative work: Zunkir (talk) – Firaktin2Kayseri.jpg. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The Hittite empire (now modern day Turkey) is defined by its regular clashes with the Egyptians and Hattusili was often away at war, leaving Puduhepa to run their Kingdom. Even when Hattusili was present, it was made clear that Puduhepa ruled beside him as his primary counsel.

Queen Puduhepa liked to keep busy. She retained her status as priestess of Ishtar, regularly performing rituals and offering prayers for the health of her husband and the strength of her Kingdom. She gave advice to her husband and regularly involved herself with legal cases, becoming supreme judge of the Kingdom.

While many ancient Queens took up some administrative responsibility when it came to the affairs of their kingdoms, Puduhepa also turned her focus outwards to international relations. She brokered a number of political marriages between Hattusili’s many children and the royal families of Babylon and Egypt. She was instrumental in the drawing up of the world’s first written peace treaty between Egypt and Hattusili and formed a strong diplomatic relationship with Great Royal wife Nefertari,

Hittite version of the peace treaty.

Hittite version of the peace treaty.
“Istanbul – Museo archeol. – Trattato di Qadesh fra ittiti ed egizi (1269 a.C.) – Foto G. Dall’Orto 28-5-2006”. Licensed under Attribution via Wikimedia Commons

who sent her gifts and called her ‘sister’.

‘Speak to my sister Puduhepa, the Great Queen of the Hatti land. I, your sister, (also) be well. May your country be well. Now, I have learned that you, my sister, have written to me asking after my health. You have written to me because of the good friendship and brotherly relationship between your brother, the king of Egypt, The Great and the Storm God will bring about peace, and he will make the brotherly relationship between the Egyptian king, the Great King, and his brother, the Hatti King, the Great King, last forever… See, I have sent you a gift, in order to greet you, my sister… for your neck (a necklace) of pure gold… coloured linen maklalu-material, for one royal dress for the king…’

When her husband died and her son Tudhaliya IV became king, Puduhepa did not withdraw, but continued to use her influence under the (badass) title of Goddess Queen.


References:

Historical Dictionary of the HittitesCharles Burney 

A Day in the Life of PuduhepaJudith Starkson for the Unusual Histories blog

PuduhepaJulia Richardson

The Hittites DocumentaryThe Smithsonian Channel

On Wikipedia: