Artemisia I of Caria
Artemisia I of Caria (flourished in the 400s BC) was a ruler of Halicarnassus in Caria – a satrapy, or province, of the Persian Empire in southwestern Anatolia. A warrior queen and naval commander, she fought for Persia’s king Xerxes during his invasion of Greece. She was most famous for her role in the naval Battle of Salamis in 480s, which her side lost, but during which she distinguished herself.
She was the daughter of the king of Halicarnassus, who named her after the Greek goddess of the hunt, Artemis. When she grew up, she married the satrap of Caria, and after his death, she assumed the throne of Caria as regent for her underage son. Ancient reports depict her as a courageous and clever commander of men and ships, who was an asset to Xerxes when he decided to invade Greece.
She distinguished herself as a commander and a tactician in the naval battle of Artemisium, which was fought simultaneously with the more famous Battle of Thermopylae. She so discomfited the Greeks during that engagement that they put a sizeable bounty on her head, offering 10,000 drachmas to whoever killed or captured her. The reward went unclaimed.
In the even greater naval Battle of Salamis soon thereafter, Herodotus describes Artemisia as the only commander on the Persian side worthy of mention: “I pass over all the other officers [of the Persians] because there is no need for me to mention them, except for Artemisia, because I find it particularly remarkable that a woman should have taken part in the expedition against Greece. She took over the tyranny after her husband’s death, and although she had a grown-up son and did not have to join the expedition, her manly courage impelled her to do so“.
After the Battle of Salamis, she escorted Xerxes’ sons to safety, after which she fades from history. Legend has it that her end came after she fell madly in love with a man who ignored her, so she blinded him in his sleep. However, her passion continued to burn hot despite his disfigurement. To rid herself of her feelings for him, she decided to leap from a tall rock that reportedly held mystical powers, such that jumping off it would snap the bonds of love. Instead, she fell down and snapped her neck.