Euryleonis – fl. c. 370 BCE – Sparta, Greece

Ancient Greece

Twenty-four years after Cynisca’s victory as the first female crown-bearer at the Olympic Games, Euryleonis became the second.

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Also from Sparta, Euryleonis was triumphant in the two-horse chariot races at the ancient games in 368 BCE. Other than this, we know little about her life. She may have been a royal woman – she was certainly wealthy. It is likely that she bred and trained her own horses, as Cynisca had before her.

We do know that Euryuleonis was celebrated in her own time. Pausanias writes that a bronze statue of the athlete was erected at Sparta after her victory. It was one of the first statues of athletic or military victors in Sparta.


References:

A-Z of Ancient Greek and Roman WomenMarjorie and Benjamin Lightman 

Spartan WomenSarah B. Pomeroy 

On Wikipedia:

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Arachidamia – 3rd Century BCE – Sparta, Greece

Ancient Greece

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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

“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.”


Notes:

Lacedaemon – The name of the Spartan homeland


References:

Parallel Lives: Life of Phyrrus 27.2-5, 29.3 –  Plutarch

On Wikipedia:

Cynisca – b. 440 BCE – Sparta, Greece

Ancient Greece

‘Kyniska, victorious with a chariot of swift-footed horses, has erected this statue. I declare myself the only woman in all Hellas to have won this crown.’

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The ancient Olympic Games were male-only and women were not even permitted to enter the main stadium. The only way women could get involved was to enter the equestrian (horse) events – step in Cynisca.

A Spartan princess, Cynisca was known as a tomboy growing up – she enjoyed athletics and competition, particularly horse riding and chariot racing. She exploited the loophole in the Olympic rules which stated she could not compete – by hiring a team of men to ride on her behalf. Cynisca bred and trained the horses herself and her team won the four-horse chariot racing event twice – once in 396 BCE and again in 392.

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Cynisca must have been an extremely ambitious woman, and was certainly proud of her achievements as the first woman to triumph at the Olympic Games. She was honoured with a bronze statue in Olympias, with an inscription celebrating her victory. A shrine was built to her in Sparta’s Plane-tree Grove – making her the first woman given this honour as previously only Spartan Kings were memorialised in this way.

The great irony in Cynisca’s life was that despite her trailblazing efforts to prove herself as capable as any man, the rules did not permit her to witness either of her victories.


References

Description of Greece (3.15.1)Pausanias 

On Wikipedia:

Megalostrata – 7th Century BCE – Lacedaemon (Sparta), Greece

Ancient Greece

Sparta was the only city state in the Greek empire that provided public education for girls. As a result, a number of ancient Greek female poets were Spartan…

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Sparta’s reputation today is that of a brutal culture which was staunchly patriarchal; exposing ‘weak’ children at birth and submitting young boys to rigorous training for war. However, unlike Athens, in Spartan society girls were reared and educated alongside boys, which included learning philosophy, poetry and Greek mythology as well as physical fitness.

It should come as no surprise then that the first female Greek poet in this project is Megalostrata, a Spartan. While any brothers Megalostrata may have had would have been removed from their home at the age of seven to take part in agoge, she would have remained at her mother’s house until the age of eighteen when she married. She would not have been expected to learn domestic tasks such as cleaning or weaving, as the Spartan’s used slaves for such menial labour. Instead, Megalostrata would have learned about governance and logistics, supervising the helots (slaves) in her household.

“Spartan woman” by Judith Swaddling – Licensed under CC0 via Wikimedia Commons –

Megalostrata grew up in a predominately female world, as at any given time at least half of the men of Sparta might be away at war. Women were social and political leaders in the Spartan community. They also studied music, dancing and poetry. It is documented by Athenian visitors to Sparta that Spartan women could sing and dance beautifully.

Though none of Megalostrata’s work survives, we know about her from Alcman, a contemporary lyric poet. He described her as ‘a golden haired maiden enjoying the gift of the muses’. Alcman further notes that Megalostrata attracted lovers due to her conversation skills – showing that her well-rounded education meant that she could hold her own in discussion with men of the time.


References:

Encyclopaedia of Women in the Ancient World – Joyce Salisbury

On Wikipedia: