Gorgo of Sparta

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Gorgo of Sparta[1] was the queen of the city-state of Sparta, and wife of King Leonidas I (490-480 BC). She was likely born somewhere between 518-508 BC, was daughter of King Cleomenes (520-490 BC), and later became the mother of the future Spartan king Pleistarchus (480-458 BC). The date of her death is entirely unknown. Gorgo of Sparta is considered by some historians to have been one of the most influential women in the ancient past.[2] Most of what we know regarding Gorgo comes from the ancient historian Herodotus, where many tales about her influence, power and deeds arise.


Gorgo of Sparta was born and raised as a Spartian girl of nobility by King Cleomenes, when at an early age she was likely trained in singing, dancing, literature, and physical education. Herodotus first tells us about her when she is still under the age of ten. The head of the state of Ionia, Aristagoras had caused a revolt against Persia, and when it failed, Aristagoras fleed to Sparta and plead to the Spartan king at the time, Cleomenes, for aid in order to fight off the invading Persians. The ancient historian Herodotus, in his the fifth chapter of his Histories narrates;

Cleomenes went to his house after this exchange, but Aristagoras took a suppliant's garb and followed him there. Upon entering, he used a suppliant's right to beg Cleomenes to listen to him. He first asked Cleomenes to send away the child, his daughter Gorgo, who was standing by him. She was his only child, and was about eight or nine years of age. Cleomenes bade him say whatever he wanted and not let the child's presence hinder him. Then Aristagoras began to promise Cleomenes from ten talents upwards, if he would grant his request. When Cleomenes refused, Aristagoras offered him ever more and more. When he finally promised fifty talents the child cried out, “Father, the stranger will corrupt you, unless you leave him and go away.” Cleomenes was pleased with the child's counsel and went into another room while Aristagoras departed from Sparta, finding no further occasion for telling of the journey inland to the king's palace.[3]

Gorgo, at a very young page, was said to have convinced her father, king of Sparta at the time Cleomenes, to walk away from the begging of Aristagoras. For such a tale to be present about Gorgo at such a young age reveals and reflects her great influence and possibly intellect during her life.

Later in her life, Gorgo was married to King Leonidas I, the half-brother of her father. Her father died leaving no male heirs for the throne of Sparta, and so her husband Leonidas I succeeded to the throne, making her the queen of Sparta.

Many ancedotes have also been ascribed to Gorgo. One of her most famous anecdotes was when she was visiting Athens. A women there asked her why only Spartan women could have authority over their men—according to Plutarch, Gorgo was said to have responded by saying "Because only Spartan women give birth to men."[4]

After the death of her husband Leonidas I in the Battle of Thermopylae, Gorgo disappears from the historical record.


  1. Ancient EU Gorgo of Sparta
  3. Herodotus. Histories. Chapter 5, Section 51. Available link: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0126:book=5:chapter=51
  4. Plutarch, Moralia 225A

See also

External links