Tomyris the Warrior Queen (6thc bc)

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We Don't Hear Nearly Enough About The Epic Female Leaders of the Past, So Today I Wanted to Share the Story of the Warrior Queen Tomyris....

By Mark Skalinski

Tomyris lived in the 6th century BC and, following the death of her husband, became the widowed leader of the Massagetae: a nomadic warrior-like tribe who lived by cattle herding and fishing along the River Araxes in Central Asia (close to modern day Kazakhstan). According to the ancient historian Herodetus, her people were monotheists who worshipped the sun god and held the unusual custom of offering up their elders to the sun god as sacrifices and even meals "and those who thus end their days are reckoned the happiest". They were said to fight on horseback and foot and favoured battle axes as weapons. The tribe were awe inspiring to behold: "their arms are all either of gold or brass...[with]..belts and girles of gold." Their horses were similarily armoured with breastplates of brass " about the reins, the bit, the cheekplates."
It is little wonder that her people attracted the attentions of another covetous ruler: Cyrus the Great, the king of Persia.

Cyrus had a fantastic reputation in war and his contemporaries warned his enemies that "'wherever Cyrus directed his attack, [the] people could in no way escape.;" He was keen to conquer the lands of the Massagetae, but he decided first to feign diplomacy by offering Queen Tomyris' hand in marriage. She was suspicious and scoffed at what she saw as an attempt to steal her lands, rejecting his proposal. incensed, Cyrus declared war on the tribe and began a frenzied effort of bridge-building to cross the river Araxes into Tomyris' lands. Seeing this, the queen attempted a last piece of diplomacy;
" '[Cyrus] be content to rule in peace in your own kingdom, and bear us to see reign over the countries that are ours to goven.'" Tomyris declared, "'However, I know you will not choose to hearken to this counsel, since there is nothing you less desirest than peace and quietness, come now, if you are so desirous of meeting the Massagetai in arms, leave your useless toil of bridge-making...'"
She suggested instead that either they would come to him or he to her to fight the battle. 

-Croesus' Crime-

Initially Cyrus saw the advantages of fighting the Queen's army on his own grounds, but his advisor Croesus instead had a more cunning plan that violated all rules of ancient warfare at the time. He suggested that they send out the weakest section of Cyrus' army to fight the section of the Queen's army she would in turn send out. The Queen's victory would be assured and, jubilant, her army would then have Cyrus' cooks to create a huge banquet for them. The Massagatae would be unused to the foods and - most importantly - wines of Cyrus' culture as they were instead accustomed to drinking only milk. Thus intoxicated and with their guards down the rest of Cyrus' forces would rush forwards in the night and slaughter their way to victory. Keen not to be outdone by a woman, Cyrus approved the plan and it went off without a hitch. Tomyris' own son - Spargapises - was even captured.
Tomyris demanded revenge and sent out an ultimatum:

"'You bloodthirsty Cyrus, pride not yourself on this poor success: it was the grape-juice ---which when you drink it, makes you so mad, and as you swallow it down brings up to your lips such bold and wicked words -- it was this poison by which you ensnared by child, and so overcame him, not in fair open fight. Now hear what I advise, and we sure I advise you for your good. Restore my son to me and get you from the land unharmed, triumphant over a third part of the host of the Massagetai. Refuse, and I swear by the sun, the sovereign  lord of the Massagetai, bloodthirsty as you are, I will give you your fill of blood.'"

Before hearing of the ultimatum, Spargapises, realising his predicament, committed suicide. The furious and grieving mother vowed revenge.

-The Furious Battle and the Fallen King-

By Jason Porath
The battle that followed was a long and punishing one that made use of arrows, spears, daggers and battle-axes, crushing thousands under its weight on both sides. The Massagatae gained the upper hand and slaughtered the Persian soldiers without mercy, counting Cyrus himself among the dead.
Hearing of Cyrus' death the Queen pushed ahead to seek out his body on the battlefield and performed a very personal revenge that would forever place her in the hsitory books. It was said that she cut off King Cyrus' head and thrust it into a wineskin filled with blood.

"'See now, I fulfil my threat.'" She declared, "'You have your fill of blood.'"

Apparently Tomyris kept that wineskin with her for the rest of her life in memory of her dead son.

Tomyris has become a legend and it is not known what happened to her after this fateful battle. But she was, and always will be, a key figure in Iranian history.

Other Preludes Posts on Extraordinary Women Throughout History:

  • The Wicked Women of History

  • The Golden-Eyed Lady of Sharh-e Suketh

  • Mary Toft's Rabbits
  • A Cukold By Consent 

  • Fantastic Female Inventors 

  • Bess of Hardwick: The First Lady of Chatsworth 

  •  #herstory

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