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Artemisia I – Warrior Queen of Halicarnassus

Artemisia I, a brilliant strategist and military commander, acted as an advisor to Xerxes I in his campaigns in the Persian Wars. He was born at the end of the 6th century BC. C., supposedly in Halicarnassus, in present Bodrum of Asia Minor, Turkey and known as The First Admiral. Most of the information we have on Artemisia I of Halicarnassus comes from the pages of Herodotus, the first historian, son of Halicarnassus. He wrote about the Persian wars in his Historiai Herodotou (c. 424 BC, The history, 1709). Halicarnassus, at that time, was a city-state, ruled by the Persian Empire albeit culturally Greek. In the VIII century a. C., many Greek city-states sent colonies to Asia Minor. Eventually most of these colonies were conquered and incorporated into the Persian Empire. Herodotus tells us that Artemisia, daughter of the King of Halicarnassus, Lygdamis, and sister of Pigres, was the daughter of a Cretan mother. She assumed the throne after the death of her husband, whose name is unknown. Herodotus does not give us her date of birth, however, he does tell us that Artemisia was the mother of an adult son at the time of the Battle of Salamis and as such was probably around thirty-five years old during the Persian Wars. In 521 a. C., Darío took the Persian throne, ruling until 486. Darío’s reign was characterized by the many changes he made, guiding the Persian Empire towards its eventual goal of world domination. He made the decision to focus the government of the Persian Empire on a new capital at Persepolis, and was the brain of an administrative and financial infrastructure stable enough to last two centuries. He ordered the construction of a canal that would unite the Nile with the Red Sea, thus improving commerce and trade. He was the first Persian king to mint his own coins and expanded his borders to the Indus River and Gandhara in the west, conquering Thrace.

Artemisia is recognized for her participation in the naval battle of Salamis. In 499 a. C., Athens led the support of several city-states that inhabited the Greek continent and their Ionian counterparts Greek city-states in rebellion against Darío. After putting down the rebellion, in 490 a. Darius retaliated by invading mainland Greece, only to find a coalition of Greek city-states in a war-ready state. The Battle of Plataea proved disastrous for Darius, as he was severely defeated. Ten years later, Darius’ son Xerxes I, now king of Persia, moved to invade Greece once more. Artemisia, the ruler of Halicarnassus, personally led five ships in Xerxes’ army. Before the initial attack, Xerxes consulted his top admirals for advice on whether to attack Salamis. One man was urged to attack, with the sole exception of Artemisia. After reminding his audience that he had fought valiantly in Euboea, Artemisia advised Xerxes not to attack the Greeks by sea. In her address to the advisory council and to Xerxes himself, Artemisia deftly stroked the infamous ego of the Persian leader with a series of questions that set the information you would need to complete your own argument (Herodotus 8.68). Thus, Artemisia not only gave him the recommended course of action, but also the reasoning behind it. Although Artemisia’s allies feared that Xerxes would be angry with her, they were shocked to find that her advice had, in fact, pleased him. Xerxes, however, paid no attention to the information and realized that Artemisia had provided him, choosing instead to listen to most of his advisers, leading his own forces in an attack on Salamis. Artemisia distinguished herself in the Battle of Salamis, sinking what Xerxes believed to be an enemy ship. In reality, Artemisia, finding herself surrounded by Athenian ships, contrived a cunning and a cold-blooded cunning to ensure the survival of her crew. She deliberately rammed the ship of Damasithymus, king of the Calyndians, an ally of Persia.

Calyndian’s ship was lost with all hands, convincing the pursuing Athenians that he was an ally of their fleet. Apparently, Aminias de Pallene, the general who pursued Artemisia’s ship, would not have stopped his pursuit if he had known that Artemisia herself was on that ship. The Athenians, offended by his presence in the war against them, offered an incentive of ten thousand drachmas for his arrest. As Plutarch claimed, in the pages of his biography of Themistocles, Artemisia increased her esteem for Xerxes when Ariamenes, his brother, and one of his admirals, died in battle. Artemisia, who recognized the body, personally handed it over to Xerxes. The Persian king, who only saw Artemisia sink a ship while surrounded by Athenians, was also misled by her daring move and later praised her for her bravery. After the disastrous defeat of the Persians at Salamis, Xerxes again called his commanders for advice. This time, however, he chose Artemisia for his consultation because only she had given him accurate information and wise advice in her previous advice. Xerxes presented Artemisia with two possible courses of action, asking her which one she would recommend. Xerxes would lead his troops in an attack on the Peloponnese or personally withdraw from Greece, leaving his general, Mardonius, in charge. (Herodotus 8.102). Once again, Artemisia had given the reasoning behind her advice, which Xerxes found correct. Deciding to follow Artemisia’s advice, Xerxes further asked her to accompany his illegitimate sons to Ephesus. Although this is the last that we find of Artemisia in the Herodotus accounts, it appears in other ancient sources. Thessalus, son of Hippocrates, described Artemisia in a speech, painting her as a cowardly pirate. It is unknown where she obtained her information, but in her speech, Artemisia leads a fleet of ships to the Island of Kos to hunt down and slaughter the Coan, but the gods intervene. After Artemisia’s ships are destroyed by lightning and she experiences visions of great heroes, she flees from Cos, her unfulfilled goal. According to Polyaenus, Artemisia carried two different banners on her ships, and would fly the Persian banner while pursuing the Greeks, but would fly a Greek banner when they were pursuing her. The only account we have of Artemisia’s death is itself quite dubious. According to the story, Artemisia falls in love with a man, but he rejects her. That is why he is thrown off a cliff. It seems hard to believe that a woman of such formidable character, a ruler of great renown in her own right, and a leader of soldiers in battle, would commit such a questionable act. Exploring ancient literature, we find it replete with myths about women committing suicide as a result of unrequited love. It seems more likely that the author adapted the Artemisia story to fit the literary traditions of the time. It is known that her grandson, named Lygdamis after her father, ruled Halicarnassus after her, and was in fact the reason Herodotus had to flee the city, visiting the island of Samos before finally settling in Athens.

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