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
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.”
Lacedaemon – The name of the Spartan homeland
Parallel Lives: Life of Phyrrus 27.2-5, 29.3 – Plutarch