Artemisia II of Caria

Artemisia II of Caria (Greek: Ἀρτεμισία; died 350 BC) was a naval strategist, commander and the sister (and later spouse) and the successor of Mausolus, ruler of Caria. Mausolus was a satrap of the Achaemenid Empire, yet enjoyed the status of king or dynast of the Hecatomnid dynasty. After the death of her brother/husband, Artemisia reigned for two years, from 353 to 351 BCE. Her ascension to the throne prompted a revolt in some of the island and coastal cities under her command due to their objection to a female ruler.[1]:27 Her administration was conducted on the same principles as that of her husband; in particular, she supported the oligarchical party on the island of Rhodes.[2]

Artemisia II
Original and reconstitution of the statue traditionally identified as Artemisia, from the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, now in the British Museum.
Satrap of Caria
Reign353–351 BCE

Because of Artemisia's grief for her brother-husband, and the extravagant and bizarre forms it took, she became to later ages "a lasting example of chaste widowhood and of the purest and rarest kind of love", in the words of Giovanni Boccaccio.[3] In art, she was usually shown in the process of consuming his ashes, mixed in a drink.

Another Artemisia of Caria is also a well-known military strategist, Artemisia I of Caria, satrap of Caria and ally of Xerxes I about 150 years earlier in the early 5th century BCE.


Artemisia is renowned in history for her extraordinary grief at the death of her husband (and brother) Mausolus. She is said to have mixed his ashes in her daily drink, and to have gradually pined away during the two years that she survived him. She induced the most eminent Greek rhetoricians to proclaim his praise in their oratory; and to perpetuate his memory she built at Halicarnassus the celebrated Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, listed by Antipater of Sidon as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and whose name subsequently became the generic term for any splendid sepulchral monument.[4]

Artemisia is known for commanding a fleet and played a role in the military-political affairs of the Aegean after the decline in the Athenian naval superiority.[1]:27 The island republic of Rhodes objected to the fact that a woman was ruling Caria. Rhodes sent a fleet against Artemisia without knowing that her deceased husband had built a secret harbour. Artemisia hid ships rowers, and marines and allowed the Rhodians to enter the main harbour. Artemisia and her citizens met the Rhodians at the city walls and invited them into the city. When the Rhodians began exiting their ships, Artemisia sailed her fleet through an outlet in the sea and into the main harbour. She captured empty Rhodian ships, and the Rhodian men who disembarked were killed in the marketplace. Artemisia then put her men on the Rhodian ships and had them sail back to Rhodes. The men were welcomed in the Rhodian harbour and they took over Rhodes.[1]:28

Polyaenus, in the eighth book of his work Stratagems, mentions that when Artemisia (he may have been referring to Artemisia I, but more probably Artemisia II) wanted to conquer Latmus, she placed soldiers in ambush near the city and she, with women, eunuchs and musicians, celebrated a sacrifice at the grove of the Mother of the Gods, which was about seven stades distant from the city. When the inhabitants of Latmus came out to see the magnificent procession, the soldiers entered the city and took possession of it.[5]

Other monuments

Another celebrated monument was erected by Artemisia in Rhodes to commemorate her conquest of the island. The Rhodians, after regaining their liberty, made it inaccessible, whence it was called in later times the Abaton (άβατον).[6]

In later art

Artemisia drinking her husband's ashes was a subject in painting from the Renaissance onwards, especially enjoying a vogue in Dutch Golden Age painting around the middle of the 17th century, being painted by Rembrandt (Prado) among others. This was probably stimulated by the publication in 1614 of a Dutch translation of the collection of anecdotes of Valerius Maximus, who was active in the reign of Tiberius. Rembrandt for one can be shown to have read and used this book.[7]

Artemisia is always shown with a cup or urn, either alone or with a group of attendants offering or helping to mix the drink. The subject is therefore very similar to Sophonisba taking poison, and the Rembrandt, and a Donato Creti in the National Gallery, are examples of works where the intended subject remains uncertain between the two.[8]

Other cultural references

Artemisia received a full and friendly biography in the De mulieribus claris ("On Famous Women"), a collection of biographies of historical and mythological women by the Florentine author Giovanni Boccaccio, written by 1374. Boccaccio completely omits reference to her husband being her brother ("... knowledge of her parents or native country has not reached us ..."), and praised her: "to posterity she is a lasting example of chaste widowhood and of the purest and rarest kind of love".[3]

Plant genus

According to Pliny, the plant genus Artemisia was named after Queen Artemisia II of Caria, who was also a botanist and medical researcher.[9][10][11] The anti-malarial drug Artemisinin, extracted from the plant variety Artemisia annua, is also derived from the name of Queen Artemisia II of Caria.[11]:1217

Mulieres quoque hanc gloriam adfectavere, in quibus Artemisia uxor Mausoli adoptata herba, quae antea parthenis vocabatur.
[Women too have been ambitious to gain this distinction, among them Artemisia, the wife of Mausolus, who gave her name to a plant which before was called parthenis.]

Pliny Natural History XXV.xxxvi.73[12][13]

Representations of Artemisia in art


  1. Pennington, Reina (2003). Amazons to Fighter Pilots: A biographical dictionary of military women. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. pp. 27–28. ISBN 0313327076.
  2. Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca, xvi. 36, 45; Demosthenes, Speeches, "On the liberty of the Rhodians", 11, 27
  3. Boccaccio, Giovanni (2003). "Chapter 57". De mulieribus claris [On Famous Women]. Translated by Brown, Virginia. Harvard University Press. pp. 115–118. ISBN 0-674-01130-9. ISBN 9780674011304
  4. Cicero, Tusculanae Disputationes, iii. 31; Strabo, Geography, xiv. 2; Aulus Gellius, Noctes Atticae, x. 18; Pliny, Natural History, xxv. 36, xxxvi. 4; Valerius Maximus, Facta et dicta memorabilia, iv. 6; Suda, s.v. "Artemisia", "Mausolos"
  5. Polyaenus. Stratagems. book 8, 53.4. Artemisia planted soldiers in ambush near Latmus; and herself, with a numerous train of women, eunuchs and musicians, celebrated a sacrifice at the grove of the Mother of the Gods, which was about seven stades distant from the city. When the inhabitants of Latmus came out to see the magnificent procession, the soldiers entered the city and took possession of it. Thus did Artemisia, by flutes and cymbals, possess herself of what she had in vain endeavoured to obtain by force of arms.
  6. Vitruvius, De architectura, ii. 8
  7. Golahny, Amy (2003). Rembrandt's Reading: The artist's bookshelf of ancient poetry and history. Amsterdam University Press. pp. 129–133. ISBN 9789053566091. ISBN 9053566090
  8. Finaldi, Gabriele; Kitson, Michael (1997). Discovering the Italian Baroque: the Denis Mahon collection. London, UK; New Haven, CT: National Gallery Publications; Yale U. Press. p. 56. ISBN 1857091779.
  9. "Artemisia II". Etymology. Encyclopedia Britannica. article 9009683. Retrieved 7 June 2012.
  10. Comstock, John Lee (1833). An Introduction to the Study of Botany. D.F. Robinson & Company. p. 175. In which the science is illustrated by examples of native and exotic plants: Designed for the use of schools and private students.
  11. "Artemisinin". Etymologia. Emerging Infectious Diseases. Center for Disease Control. 20 (7). July 2014. doi:10.3201/eid2007.ET2007. PMC 4073852. Retrieved 4 July 2014.
  12. Pliny the Elder. Natural History. Translated by Henderson, Jeffrey. Loeb Classics.
  13. Lacus Curtius • Pliny the Elder's Natural History. University of Chicago. book 25, pages XXV.xxxvi.73.


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