Exhuming Artemisia:

A Case Study of Gender Bias in Historical Criticism

Kirsten Day

University of Arkansas

In the 4th C. B.C., the Hecatomnid dynasty reigned in Caria, with Mausolus and his sister-wife Artemisia acting as co-regents.  After the death of Mausolus in 353/2 B.C., Artemisia assumed sole power.  Ancient sources suggest that Artemisia was a shrewd and capable leader. Modern critics, however, have tended to minimize Artemisia's leadership abilities and either to transfer credit for her accomplishments to her late husband or to dismiss her achievements altogether. This paper examines these trends and attempts to rectify them by analyzing the extant sources with an eye to discerning what truths they preserve about the historical Artemisia.

Modern scholars have paid little attention to Artemisia, and when mention is made of her, it is usually parenthetical to the life of Mausolus.  For example, while ancient sources give Artemisia primary credit for the construction of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus (Strabo Geo.XIV.ii.17; Pliny Nat. Hist. xxxvi.30; Lucian Dial. Mort. xxiv), modern critics suggest that the monument's commission was merely an extension of Mausolus' building programs (Ruzicka 1992).  Ancient and modern critics demonstrate opposing attitudes towards her accomplishments as well: in a story preserved in De Architectura (II.viii.14-15) in which Artemisia effectively quashes a Rhodian attack on Halicarnassus soon after Mausolus' death, the ancient author Vitruvius demonstrates admiration and respect for this Hecatomnid queen who dealt quickly and effectively with an assault on her city.  Modern scholars, on the other hand, have tended to scornfully dismiss this story and Artemisia's display of military acumen as complete fabrications (Berthold 1978; Hornblower 1982) or ignore them altogether (OCD 1999). 

By either marginalizing Artemisia and her achievements or focusing on information they deem unreliable, modern scholars have approached the evidence on this Hecatomnid queen differently than they have similar stories surrounding male leaders. This negative approach denigrates not only Artemisia but also the integrity of the ancient tradition.  This paper utilizes instead a more positive method of examining the evidence, analyzing the ancient sources for the historical truths they contain and for what they can tell us about the general character and public persona of Artemisia, a common practice with anecdotes about male leaders, such as those concerning Alexander the Great preserved in Plutarch.

The information provided by ancient authors suggests that Artemisia was a strong, effective leader in her own right rather than merely heir to her husband's achievements. These sources deserve further scrutiny in order to ascertain what they can tell us about this important historical figure and to restore to her the respect she was afforded in the ancient world.

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