A blog detailing the culture, history, geography and nature of the Republic of Karakalpakstan and neighbouring areas on the lower reaches of the Amu Darya River.
Thursday, April 30, 2015
Tomyris warrior queen of the Massagetae
Tomyris (also called Tahm-Rayiš, Thomyris, Tomris, Tomiride, or Queen Tomiri) reigned over the Massagetae, a Scythian pastoral-nomadic confederation of Central Asia. She is most famous for leading her armies to defend her nation against attack by Cyrus the Great (the founder of the Achaemenid Empire).
In the year 530 B.C Cyrus the Great's army invaded the Scythian lands. Cyrus who had already beaten the Babylonians was riding high on his power and might and didn't take into consideration that the leader of the Massagetae Tomyris was a woman of such indomitable spirit.
According to the accounts of Greek historians, Cyrus was victorious in his initial assault on the Massagetae. His advisers suggested laying a trap for the pursuing Scythians: the Persians left behind them an apparently abandoned camp, containing a rich supply of food and wine. The pastoral Scythians were not used to drinking wine—"their favoured intoxicant was fermented mare's milk"—and they drank themselves into a stupor.
The Persians attacked while their opponents were incapacitated, defeating the Massagetae forces, and capturing Tomyris' son, Spargapises, the general of her army. Of the one third of the Massagetae forces that fought, there were more captured than killed. According to Herodotus, Spargagises coaxed Cyrus into removing his bonds, thus allowing him to commit suicide while in Persian captivity.
Tomyris sent a message to Cyrus denouncing his treachery, and with all her forces, challenged him to a second battle. Tomyris, in a rage, donned a golden helmet, picked up her favourite brass battle-axe and rode out at the front of a new group of warriors. The fight at close quarters lasted a long time, but the Massagetae ultimately got the upper hand, and the Persians were defeated with high casualties. Cyrus was killed and Tomyris had his corpse beheaded and then crucified, and shoved his head into a wineskin filled with human blood.
She was reportedly quoted as saying, "I warned you that I would quench your thirst for blood, and so I shall" records the Greek historian Herodotus (484 to 425 BC) who was the earliest of the classical writers to give an account of her career. Others Strabo, Polyaenus, Cassiodorus, and Jordanes all wrote of the great legendary Queen who defeated Cyrus the Great.
The history (legend) of Tomyris has also been incorporated into the tradition of Western art; Rubens, Allegrini, Luca Ferrari, Mattia Preti, Gustave Moreau and the sculptor Severo Calzetta da Ravenna are among the many artists who have portrayed events of her defeat of Cyrus and his armies.
More recently Toʻmarisning Koʻzlari (The Eyes of Tomyris) was published (1984) a book of poems and stories by Uzbek author Xurshid Davron and in 1996 Toʻmarisning Aytgani (The Sayings of Tomyris) a book of poetry by Uzbek poet Halima Xudoyberdiyeva.
In Khazakhstan they have produced a 100 Tenge silver proof coin featuring Tomyris (See the obverse of the coin to the left).
The name "Tomyris" has also been adopted into zoological taxonomy, for the tomyris species-group of Central Asian Lepidoptera and has been used to name a minor planet.
The first name Tomris or Toʻmaris has also become a popular girls name in Central Asia and Turkey.