Warrior Woman: Artemisia of Caria

Movie poster featuring Eva Green as Artemisia (source)
The movie 300: Rise of an Empire came out last week. It features one of my favorite "warrior women" of history, Artemisia I of Caria. But was the real Artemisia anything like her movie counterpart?

In the movie, Artemisia (Eva Green) is a Greek woman who is kidnapped by Greek soldiers as a child and chained in the hold of a ship, to be used and abused for the sailors' pleasure. After several years they get tired of her and dump her in some port to die. She's rescued by a Persian who takes her back to Persia. (Yes, that's the same man that Leonidas kicked into the bottomless pit in the first movie. Turns out he's actually a pretty nice guy.)

Her rescuer teaches her to fight and the Persian king Darius is so impressed by her that he takes her under his wing and makes her his naval commander. Artemisia goes on to command the entire Persian fleet under Darius' son Xerxes. She pretty much steals the entire movie.

The real Artemisia was the queen of the Greek city of Halicarnassus. When her husband died she took the reigns of power because their son was too young to rule on his own. During the war between Greece and Persia, Artemisia sided with the Persians. She was the admiral of a fleet in the allied Persian navy, and Xerxes valued her counsel very highly. She wasn't content to lead from behind but took part in two battles: the Battle of Artemisium and the Battle of Salamis. At Salamis, she narrowly escaped a Greek ship by ramming a friendly Persian ship and getting away in the ensuing confusion. As a reward for her excellent service, Xerxes sent her a suit of Greek armor.

Artemisia's end is unknown. A much later legend has her commit suicide on the advice of an oracle she consulted about her unrequited love for a man. To me this seems a very unlikely death for a woman who was so brave and decisive. The Greek historian Herodotus, who was a young child when Artemisia was fighting for Xerxes, wrote very favorably about her even though she was an enemy of Greece.

The movie Artemisia is a tragic character driven by a desire for revenge and a deep loyalty for the nation that adopted her. The real Artemisia was probably also motivated by loyalty, since her nation was allied to Persia and was probably treated well by them. Though the two women are very different, and I greatly admire the historical Artemisia, I found the fictional Artemisia to be even more compelling.

Have you watched the movie yet? What did you think of Artemisia's character?

Further Reading:
Excerpts about Artemisia from Herodotus
Wikipedia article about Artemisia

3 comments:

  1. I personally have just watched the movie and am also performing a monologue about the real Artemisia and find that the fictional character is just as brave and in some ways more powerful even though she is not portrayed as the queen. Her character is moving and touching and i found it very easy to love and hate her at the same time. Eva Green is an amazing actress who has done the character justice.

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    1. Thanks for the comment! How fun that you get to perform a monologue about Artemisia. I too think Eva Green did a great job creating a complex antagonist. Part of me really wanted her to win.

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  2. So, I said I'd tell you what I thought. It could have been called 300: Artemesia's Vengeance because she definitely came across as manipulating Xerxes, driving his quest for revenge. I'm not sure I bought that spin, just because the first movie made Xerxes' motives as a conqueror clear. Suddenly, it's all, "It's about my daddy!" Okay, fine. In this version of Artemisia, she has justifiable reasons to hate Greeks, but it also comes across as self-loathing too. Still I will watch anything Eva Green stars in, so...

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