Spartan army in retreat because of women? [The Telesilla incident]

Detail of a Painting of Hestia  by Howard David Johnson
Hestia (detail) Howard David Johnson

Back in the summer of 495 B.C a victorious Spartan army marches against the defenseless city of Argos. A few hours earlier that army annihilated the army of Argos. Now, the Spartan king Kleomenes leads his hoplites against the city which is empty of troops. They think it’s all over. It was. The army of Argos was wiped out. The Spartans; they just have to walk into the city.

Spartan phalanx
Spartan phalanx

The women of Argos think differently. Led by the poetess Telesilla they gather all arms they could find in the city and take up battle positions on the walls!

Telesilla manages to raise the moral of the women of Argos and now the wives and daughters of the soldiers of Argos decide that the war is not over yet…

Telesilla was one of the most famous poetesses of the Peloponnesus. As a young girl she always looked thin and weak. Definitely not the hero type. This didn’t stop her from grabbing shield & sword, putting a helmet on and facing the war machine of the ancient times: the mighty Spartans!

When Kleomenes reached the walls of Argos he noticed that all battle stations were manned. By women…

The king -after hesitating for a bit- decided to walk away.

  • If the Spartans were victorious this wouldn’t exactly be a celebration of their military honor.
  • If they failed to take the city then the shame would be too much to bare.The only solution was to retreat.
View of Argos from the top of the theatre
View of Argos from the top of the theatre

And thus Argos was miraculously saved!

Gathering Almond Blossoms John William Waterhouse (1849-1917)
Gathering Almond Blossoms
John William Waterhouse (1849-1917)

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