Biography of Artemisia I, Warrior Queen of Halicarnassus

Fought With Xerxes at the Battle of Salamis

Naval Battle of Salamis
The naval battle of Salamis.

Wilhelm von Kaulbach/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Artemisia I is not to be confused with Artemisia II of Halicarnassus, ca. 350 B.C.E, who is noted for erecting the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus to honor her husband, Mausolus.

Artemisia would have been the ruler of Halicarnassus at the time of Herodotus' birth in that city. Her story comes to us from Herodotus.

Artemisia was the ruler of Halicarnassus (near today's Bodrum, Turkey) and its neighboring islands, part of the Persian empire then ruled by Xerxes. She assumed the throne after the death of her husband.

When Xerxes went to war against Greece (480-479 B.C.E.), Artemisia brought five ships and helped Xerxes fight the Greeks in the naval battle of Salamis. The Greeks offered a reward of 10,000 drachmas for capturing Artemisia, but no one succeeded in winning the prize.

Xerxes eventually abandoned his invasion of Greece — and Artemisia is credited with persuading him to make this decision.

After the war, according to Herodotus, Artemisia fell in love with a younger man, who did not return her love. And so she jumped from a cliff and killed herself.

Quotes From Herodotus' History

"Of the other lower officers I shall make no mention, since no necessity is laid on me; but I must speak of a certain leader named Artemisia, whose participation in the attack upon Greece, notwithstanding that she was a woman, moves my special wonder. She had obtained the sovereign power after the death of her husband; and, though she had now a son grown up, yet her brave spirit and manly daring sent her forth to the war, when no need required her to adventure. Her name, as I said, was Artemisia, and she was the daughter of Lygdamis; by race she was on his side a Halicarnassian, though by her mother a Cretan.

"She ruled over the Halicarnassians, the men of Cos, of Nisyrus, and of Calydna; and the five triremes which she furnished to the Persians were, next to the Sidonian, the most famous ships in the fleet. She likewise gave to Xerxes sounder counsel than any of his other allies. Now the cities over which I have mentioned that she bore sway were one and all Dorian; for the Halicarnassians were colonists from Troezen, while the remainder were from Epidaurus. Thus much concerning the sea-force."

Artemisia's Advice to Xerxes According to Herodotus

"Say to the king, Mardonius, that these are my words to him: I was not the least brave of those who fought at Euboea, nor were my achievements there among the meanest; it is my right, therefore, O my lord, to tell thee plainly what I think to be most for thy advantage now.

"This then is my advice. Spare thy ships, and do not risk a battle; for these people are as much superior to thy people in seamanship, as men to women. What so great need is there for thee to incur hazard at sea? Art thou not master of Athens, for which thou didst undertake thy expedition? Is not Greece subject to thee? Not a soul now resists thy advance. They who once resisted, were handled even as they deserved.

"Now learn how I expect that affairs will go with thy adversaries. If thou art not over-hasty to engage with them by sea, but wilt keep thy fleet near the land, then whether thou abidest as thou art, or marchest forward towards the Peloponnese, thou wilt easily accomplish all for which thou art come hither. The Greeks cannot hold out against thee very long; thou wilt soon part them asunder, and scatter them to their several homes. In the island where they lie, I hear they have no food in store; nor is it likely, if thy land force begins its march towards the Peloponnese, that they will remain quietly where they are- at least such as come from that region. Of a surety they will not greatly trouble themselves to give battle on behalf of the Athenians.

"On the other hand, if thou art hasty to fight, I tremble lest the defeat of thy sea force bring harm likewise to thy land army. This, too, thou shouldst remember, O king; good masters are apt to have bad servants, and bad masters good ones. Now, as thou art the best of men, thy servants must needs be a sorry set. These Egyptians, Cyprians, Cilicians, and Pamphylians, who are counted in the number of thy subject-allies, of how little service are they to thee!"