Today’s Illustrated Woman in History was written by Lavinia Roberts and illustrated by Sophia Parsons Cope.
TIME: Circa 530 B.C.
WHERE: Parts of present day Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, western Uzbekistan , and southern Kazakhstan.
Queen Tomyris ruled over the Massagetae, an Iranian confederation of nomadic, pastoral tribes.
Queen Tomyris inherited the throne from her husband Cyrus II of Persia, conqueror of the Babylonians, controlled much of Mesopotamia, Syria, and Palestine. In an attempt to gain control of her lands, cunning Cyrus proposed marriage to Queen Tomyris. Tomyris declined, and Cyrus’ response to rejection, was to directly declare war. He began building a bridge to cross the Araxes River.
Queen Tomyris sent part of her forces, led by her son, Spargapises, to met Cyrus. Her army fought on horseback, and on foot, using bows, lances, and battleaxes. She proposed to Cyrus to meet on her lands, or to allow her army to cross the river Araxes and fight on Persian territory using the bridge he had constructed.
Cyrus laid a trap for Queen Tomyris’ forces. The Massagetae were not used to drinking wine, only hashhash and fermented mare’s milk. An extravagant feast was prepared for them, supplied with plenty of strong drinking wine. A small band of Cyrus weakest troops were left behind as bait. As predicted, Queen Tomyris forces fall into the trap, easily ambushing and slaughtering the weak band of soldiers left behind. Queen Tomyris forces, led by her son, preceded to make merry, drinking the wine, and engorging on the slaughtered sheep. Falling into an inebriated slumber, they were easily killed and captured by Cyrus’ troops.
Her son, Spargapises, was taken hostage. Queen Tomyris demanded his return, in exchange for a third of her territory. Cyrus ignored Queen Tomyris’ request. Spargapises committed suicide to restore his honor after such a terrible blunder in battle.
Enraged, Queen Tomyris marched into battle. She outmaneuvered Cyrus’ forces, defeating him in battle.
For using trickery and wine to defeat her son instead of fighting fairly in battle, Cyrus the Great’s head was turned into a wine gourd.