The ancient Hellenic writers were dedicated historians, but they often neglected to mention the achievements of ancient Hellenic women. Now it so happens that I am a woman and I quite like having a few female heroes to look up to, so I want to introduce you to them. Today: the Spartan warrior Archidamia.

Archidamia (Αραχιδάμεια) was a wealthy Spartan queen. It is recorded that she was the wife of Eudamidas I, the mother of Archidamus IV and Agesistrata, the grandmother of Eudamidas II and the great-grandmother and grandmother of Agis IV.

In 272 BC Pyrrhus of Epirus with 25,000 foot soldiers, 2,000 cavalry, and 24 elephants marched into Laconia on the false pretense of 'set[ting] free the cities which were subject to Antigonus” and “to send his younger sons to Sparta, if nothing prevented, to be brought up in the Lacedaemonian customs'. While the main Spartan force was in Krete to support Gortys in its war against Knossos, Pyrrhus set siege to Sparta.

In the face of Pyrrhus's invasion, the Spartan Gerousia (γερουσία, the Spartan council of elders) considered sending the Spartan women to Krete for their safety. Archidamia, speaking on behalf of the Spartan women contested this proposal in front of the elders. Plutarch describes the events in his 'Parallel Lives: Life of Pyrrhus':

"When night had come, the Lacedaemonians at first took counsel to send their women off to Crete, but the women were opposed to this; and Archidamia came with a sword in her hand to the senators and upbraided them in behalf of the women for thinking it meet that they should live after Sparta had perished." [27.2]

The elders couldn't content with that logic and allowed the women to stay. To ward of the attackers, the Spartans decided to construct a defensive trench running parallel to Pyrrhus's camp. It is likely that Archidamia helped direct the Spartan women in this respect, since Plutarch continues:

"Next, it was decided to run a trench parallel with the camp of the enemy, and at either end of it to set their waggons, sinking them to the wheel-hubs in the ground, in order that, thus firmly planted, they might impede the advance of the elephants. When they began to carry out this project, there came to them the women and maidens, some of them in their robes, with tunics girt close, and others in their tunics only, to help the elderly men in the work. The men who were going to do the fighting the women ordered to keep quiet, and assuming their share of the task they completed with their own hands a third of the trench. The width of the trench was six cubits, its depth four, and its length eight hundred feet, according to Phylarchus; according to Hieronymus, less than this. When day came and the enemy were putting themselves in motion, these women handed the young men their armour, put the trench in their charge, and told them to guard and defend it, assured that it was sweet to conquer before the eyes of their fatherland, and glorious to die in the arms of their mothers and wives, after a fall that was worthy of Sparta."

Later records of Archidamia date three decades later, with her assisting in the revolutionary designs of her grandson Agis IV, as he attempted to restore Lycurgan institutions to a Sparta then thoroughly corrupted by wealth and greed. Because Archidamia and Agesistrata were the wealthiest two people in all of Lacedaemon, Archidamia's support of Agis was instrumental in gaining support for the cause. She was among those who first pledged to contribute their wealth to a common pool, which was then to be distributed equally amongst both old and new Spartan citizens. Again from Plutarch's Plutarch, 'Parallel Lives':

"Agis, on the contrary, far surpassed in native excellence and in loftiness of spirit not only Leonidas, but almost all the kings who had followed the great Agesilaüs. Therefore, even before he had reached his twentieth year, and although he had been reared amid the wealth and luxury of women, namely, his mother Agesistrata and his grandmother Archidamia (who were the richest people in Sparta), he at once set his face against pleasures. He put away from his person the adornments which were thought to befit the grace of his figure, laid aside and avoided every extravagance, prided himself on his short Spartan cloak, observed sedulously the Spartan customs in his meals and baths and general ways of living, and declared that he did not want the royal power at all unless by means of it he could restore the ancient laws and discipline." [Life of Agis, 4.1]

However, the corrupt Agesilaus, Agis's uncle and erstwhile supporter, and the machinations of a rival party, led by the Agiad King, Leonidas II. Leonidas and the Ephors had Agis illegally imprisoned and executed, unbeknownst to a mob that had gathered out of concern and a possible desire to see him freed. Archidamia and Agesistrata were subsequently lured into the prison on the premise that they were to see Agis; and there they too both met their ends at the hands of their political rivals. Plutarch concludes the tragedy as follows:

"Agis, then, on his way to the halter, saw one of the officers shedding tears of sympathy for him. 'My man,' said he, 'cease weeping; for even though I am put to death in this lawless and unjust manner, I have the better of my murderers'. And saying these words, he offered his neck to the noose without hesitation.

But Amphares went to the door of the prison, where Agesistrata fell at his feet in an appeal to his friendship and intimacy. Amphares lifted her up and assured her that Agis was not to suffer violence or death; and he bade her, if she wished, go in to her son. And when Agesistrata begged that her mother might go in with her, Amphares said there was nothing to prevent. So he admitted both the women, and after ordered the door of the prison to be locked again, delivered Archidamia first to the executioners. She was now a very aged woman, and had lived all her days in very high repute among her countrywomen. After she had been put to death, Amphares ordered Agesistrata to enter the chamber of execution.

So she went in, and when she saw her son lying dead upon the ground, and her mother's dead body still hanging in the noose, with her own hands she helped the officers to take her down, laid her body out by the side of Agis, and composed and covered it. Then, embracing her son and kissing his face, she said: My son, it was thy too great regard for others, and thy gentleness and humanity, which has brought thee to ruin, us as well'. Then Amphares, who stood at the door and saw and heard what she did and said, came in and said angrily to her: 'If, then, thou hast been of the same mind as thy son, thou shalt suffer the same fate'. And Agesistrata, as she rose to present her neck to the noose, said: 'My only prayer is that this may bring good to Sparta'.

When tidings of the sad event had been carried to the city and the three bodies were carried forth for burial, the fear felt by the citizens was not so strong as to prevent them from manifesting sorrow over what had been done, and hatred for Leonidas and Amphares. It was thought that nothing more dreadful or heinous had been done in Sparta since the Dorians had dwelt in Peloponnesus." [20.1 - 21.1]