When you are named after the goddess of the hunt, you’re destined to somehow live to that attribute, and that’s just what this 5th century BC Queen of Halicarnassus named Artemisia did. Although not much known in history, she was a decisive and intelligent leader, but thanks to a sexist legend written by an ecumenical patriarch, she was portrayed as a woman who was obsessed with love.

Ally of Xerxes

Artemisia was born to a mother from the Greek island of Crete and a father who was a satrap (the equivalent of governor) of Halicarnassus, where she, later on, became a queen. In 500 BC, she married the king of Halicarnassus, just before the Ionian Revolt that would later cause the war between Greece and Persia. His husband died a few years later, and she took over the throne. She gave her loyalty not to Greece but to Persia, where she fought alongside the then-king of Persia, Xerxes I.

Xerxes I
Xerxes I (Published by Guillaume Rouille (1518?-1589), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Battle of Salamis

And so, Greece and its allied city-states were led by Themistocles while the Persian Empire was under Xerxes I. The Persians were advancing, so to block this, Themistocles attempted to trick Xerxes by sending his servant named Sicinnus to inform him that Themistocles was now on his side. He also fabricated a story that the Peloponnesians, whom Xerxes was planning to invade, were about to evacuate that very same night, so Xerxes had to stop them by blocking the straits. In reality, he was just trying to lure the Persians into the straits. Perhaps blinded by the idea that the Athenians were willing to submit to him, which was something that he had wanted to hear, Xerxes took the bait, and he sent the Persian fleet to block the strait. He also ordered to build a throne for him on the slope of Mount Aigaleo so he could watch the battle from a VIP seat. They waited all night for the Peloponnesian escapees that never really arrived.

Battle of Salamis by Wilhelm von Kaulbach. (Wilhelm von Kaulbach , Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

This led to the naval battle between Themistocles’ allies versus Xerxes, who was obviously not happy about the trickery that he fell into. Before the battle, he consulted his naval commanders if they should engage in the battle. Everyone agreed but Artemisia. In Herodotus: Book 8, it was written:

Xerxes hold a conference with his commanders, all of whom favor a sea fight at Salamis, except Queen Artemisia of Halicarnassus (67). Artemisia wisely urges Xerxes to wait and allow the fragile Panhellenic coalition to break up; she points out the worthlessness of some of his allied forces (68). Xerxes is pleased with Artemisia’s advice, but decides not to follow it.

Despite this, Artemisia joined the battle in September 480 BC and remained a Persian ally. During the battle, the Persians were being defeated, and Artemisia’s ship was being pursued by an Athenian ship. She had nowhere to steer because other friendly ships were in front of her. Her quick thinking made her decide to charge against a friendly ship from the king of the Calyndians, Damasithymos. She also ordered for their Persian flag to be taken down so that the enemies would not recognize that she was an enemy ship. When the captain of the Athenian ship saw that Artemisia’s vehicle charged against a Persian ship, he thought that she was one of the Greeks, so he turned his vessel away and went for the others.

Xerxes, on the other hand, saw what happened from his VIP seat and thought Artemisia had attacked and sunk a Greek ship, so she praised her and exclaimed, “My men have become women, and my women, men!”

The Greeks were not happy after finding out what Artemisia did, so they offered 10,000 drachmas for her capture.