Aba of Caria & A Few Thoughts on Persian Women

Yesterday I blogged about an inscription which I feel identifies Aba, daughter of Hyssaldomus, as having been the wife of Hecatomnus and the mother of Mausolus of Caria - here.
I further speculated that Aba might have been part Persian because of her name.

This late Hellenistic funerary inscription from Aphrodisias in Caria provides a nice parallel to the Aba inscription in Istanbul: 12.801. Funerary inscription for Aba (source of photo above).

   Ἄβα Ἀτραπάτου
2 γυνὴ δὲ Ἀθηνα-
3 γόρου τοῦ Μηνο-
4 δότου Κασταίου
5 vac. χαῖρε vac.
6 vac.
"Aba, daughter of Atrapatos ..." - the language is similar to the Istanbul Aba inscription (below), but here her father has a name which is Persian: Atrapates.

Aba was the name of several Anatolian priestesses. One well attested in the 2nd century AD Roman period, is the priestess of an Eastern Mother of  the Gods cult at Histria in modern Romania (see here and Dacia 4, 1960, 273-296); she had a father named Hekataios, which is a Carian name ... sometimes transliterated as Hecatomnus.

Another Aba was ruler of  Cyinda in Cilicia (Strabo 14.5.10):
"Above Anchiale is situated Cyinda a fortress ... Subsequently many tyrants seized upon the country ... Aba, the daughter of Xenophanes, one of the tyrants, entered into this family by marriage, and obtained possession of the government. Her father had previously administered it as guardian, but Antony and Cleopatra afterwards conferred it upon Aba, as a favour, being ultimately prevailed upon to do so by her entreaties and attentions. She was afterwards dispossessed, but the government remained in the hands of the descendants of her family"

I also argued that Aba might be a Persian name and suggest a Persian mother, explaining why Hecatomnus was chosen to be an Achaemenid Satrap. Previous Satraps were all Persians, whilst he was a native Carian. I also feel that the Hecatomnids are better studied as Western Persian Satraps that employed Greek artists to build their monuments, than as Greeks.

The problem is that our views of the ancient Persians are still distorted by 19th century Orientalism and by prejudices about more recent Muslims societies which share their geographical locations. It doesn't help that the Persians left no narrative histories, so we are forced to study them largely through the eyes and propaganda of their Greek enemies. So the introduction to a book, Women in Ancient Persia, 559-331 BC, by Maria Brosius, starts in this way:

I don't pretend to be a scholar of Islam, but I read a great deal on Mohammed and his time when researching Aisha. The great joy of knowledge is that we can interpreted in many different ways - David Ben Gurion is credited with pointing out that if you put two Jews together you will likely end up with three opinions ... Whilst some interpretations of Mohammed's teachings can be extreme, many scholars have pointed out that some of the concepts we criticise the most about Islam, such as the segregation of women and iconoclasm, only became issues in the early Islamic world after his death and as his followers came into greater contact with Byzantium, where these were standard institutions of the Christians of the time.

In fact, most of the strong female leaders, both queens and warriors, that I have compiled came from lands that are now part of the "Arab world" - from Tomyris who fought Cyrus the Great, through to Zenobia and Mavia who fought Valens. Nabia Abbott made this point in 1941 (JSTOR) but it is clearly worth repeating. The Seleucids that followed the Achaemenids produced many powerful women.

It's also worth pointing out that Artemisia I, queen of Halicarnassus, was a general under Xerxes of Persia. It's unclear what geneological link, if any, the Hecatomnids claimed to her, but Hecatomnus gave his daughter this unusual name. And Artemisia II of Caria also led both an army and a navy. The Persian royal women were no wallflowers, and the Carian ones knew how to wield weapons.

Xerxes himself had a formidable mother, Atossa, who is well attested in ancient sources. The joy of archaeology is that one can dig up additional sources of information, sometimes written out of the official record or lost to ancient historians. The Ada inscription in Istanbul is one such example, and this tantalising piece of information from the Persepolis Fortification Archive is another (see here and image to left): Atossa might be the name that history commemorates, but her sister Irtastuna (also known as Artystone) was pretty important in their lifetimes. Darius married them both to solidify his claim to the throne through their father.

The Book of Esther, which tells the story of the eponymous Esther, married to a Persian king Ahasuerus, shows how influential a wife could be. The king in question is believed to have been Xerxes, whom as we have noted already greatly admired his general Artemisia, so much so that Herodotus quotes him as having said:
"My men have become women and my women, men."
The Persepolis Fortification Archive also tells us about the lives of ordinary women, and shows that they worked and were payed more or less equal wages as men. This could not be more different from Pericles' expressed desire that women stay at home and do nothing.

So it we see Aba and Hecatomnus' mother as having been a Persian, because of her name and his otherwise unprecedented appointment as Satrap, then what more can we deduce about her?

Persian kings married daughters of previous kings to reinforce their claims to the throne, and in turn married off their own daughters to their military leaders to tie these men to them. We know from Xenophon (Hellenica, 2.1.8) that a sister of Darius II married Hieramenes (a military leader attested by the Xanthus Stele), and that their sons Autoboesaces and Mitraeus were put to death on the orders of their cousin Cyrus the Younger. 

Hyssaldomus, the father of Mausolus, is attested by inscriptions. He may or may not have issued coins, and he may or may not have been Strap of Caria before Mausolus, but he was a local Dynast who ruled over Mylasa and controlled the main Carian sanctuary there. We know little else about him, so it is difficult to know how he came to marry a Persian, or what her rank might have been. The family are believed to have held Cindya at the time of the Persian Wars, and only controlled Mylasa at a later date. Like so much else, this potential Persian bride is lost in the mists of history, but the Hecatomnids of Caria must be studied as a Persian Dynasty.

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