ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Women of History: Gorgo, Queen of Sparta

Updated on June 14, 2012

Daughter of a king, wife of a king, mother of a king: Queen Gorgo of Sparta was a singular personality in the history of ancient Greece. Her wisdom and political acumen made her a highly respected queen and the subject of numerous anecdotes in Herodotus’ Histories.

Gorgo was born between 518 and 508 BC, and was the only child of King Cleomenes. Her name is a derivation of "Gorgos," meaning "terrifying," after which were named the mythical Gorgons, three sisters whose ugliness was so spectacular that any who looked upon them would be turned to stone. The implication, of course, is that Gorgo was not a particularly pretty woman, but Herodotus does not remark upon her appearance one way or another.

Artemis, goddess of the hunt, was widely worshiped in Sparta and exemplified many of the desirable traits of its women.
Artemis, goddess of the hunt, was widely worshiped in Sparta and exemplified many of the desirable traits of its women. | Source
Spartan maiden running a foot-race, c. 520 BC
Spartan maiden running a foot-race, c. 520 BC | Source

Daughter of a King

Sparta was ruled by two kings, descendants from the Agiad and Eurypontid noble families. Cleomenes was of the Agiad line, the eldest son of Anaxandrides II by his second wife, and had three half-brothers. One of these was Leonidas, who would become the husband of Gorgo and the hero of Thermopylae.

Cleomenes was an accomplished military leader and was unusually involved in political developments outside of Sparta, whose rulers and citizens were generally not interested in life outside the Peloponnesus. In 499, a man named Aristagoras, ruler of the Greek Ionian city of Miletus, came to Sparta to invite Cleomenes to take part in a planned Greek revolt against Persia. Cleomenes was skeptical of taking part in such a distant campaign, however, and when Aristagoras confessed that it would be a three-month march from the Ionian coast - not to mention the time it would take to sail across the Aegean Sea - Cleomenes curtly ordered the Milesian to leave Sparta by nightfall.

Aristagoras persisted, however, and followed Cleomenes to his home. It is here that Gorgo enters the historical record. Herodotus relates that Gorgo, a child of eight or nine, was by her father's side when Aristagoras offered the king money - ten talents - to join in the revolt. Cleomenes again refused, but as Aristagoras increased the offer, the king's resolve began to waver. When Aristagoras reached an offer of fifty talents, Gorgo stepped forward and said to Cleomenes, "Father, you had better go away, or this stranger will corrupt you." Cleomenes accepted the rebuke of his daughter, and Sparta did not enter into the Ionian Revolt.

Spartan song, dance, and poetry were highly esteemed in the Greek world.
Spartan song, dance, and poetry were highly esteemed in the Greek world. | Source
Leonidas, commemorative statue at Thermopylae
Leonidas, commemorative statue at Thermopylae | Source

Wife of a King

Cleomenes’ reign was marked by a number of controversies: military meddling in the government of Athens; a war against Argos in which he burned a sacred grove and slaughtered Argives who had surrendered to him; and bribing of the Delphic oracle in order to banish his co-monarch, Demaratus. In his later years he seems to have gone mad; Herodotus states that he attacked citizens in the streets, and was eventually confined to the stocks. There he committed suicide in grisly fashion: convincing a slave to give him a knife, he then stripped skin from his shins, thighs, hips and sides, until he reached his belly and finally died.

It is believed that by the time of Cleomenes’ death around 490 BC, Gorgo was already married to Leonidas, her half-uncle. As a Spartan girl, she would have been trained in physical education, singing, dancing, and poetry, in a less brutal but similar program that the Spartan boys received. Spartan women enjoyed an unusual status in the Greek world. Greek women were confined to their homes, seldom received any formal education, and had few rights. A Spartan woman, by contrast, was able to move about her country freely, to own and inherit property, and to initiate divorce. While they did not have a voting voice, they were highly respected by their men, and Gorgo was known to give advice to the Spartan council on at least one occasion.

The Ionian Revolt begun by Aristagoras had failed, and the Persian king Darius was determined to seek revenge against the upstart Greeks. The exiled Spartan king Demaratus, who had sought refuge at the Persian court, learned of Darius’ plans and conspired to send a warning to Sparta. Correspondence at the time was written upon wax tablets. To evade spying Persian eyes, Demaratus carved his warning message directly into the wood, then covered it over with wax. Upon receiving this apparently blank message, the Spartan council was flummoxed. It was Gorgo who deduced what Demartus had done and told them to scrape off the wax, revealing the message beneath.

Leonidas devoted much of his reign to forging and strengthening alliances between the Greek cities in anticipation of this invasion. That he visited Athens and took Gorgo with him is evident in other anecdotes related by Herodotus. In her most famous remark, she is asked by a “woman from Attica” why only Spartan women, of all the women in the world, are able to rule men. Gorgo replied that “Only Spartan women give birth to real men.”

When Leonidas and his 300 struck out for Thermopylae, both he and Gorgo knew he would not return. Gorgo asked her husband what she should do. He told her simply to “Marry a good man and have many children.”

Spartan mother giving the shield to her son, Jean-Jacques-Francois Le Barbier ( 1738-1826), Portland museum
Spartan mother giving the shield to her son, Jean-Jacques-Francois Le Barbier ( 1738-1826), Portland museum | Source

Mother of a King

Gorgo and Leonidas had at least one son, Pleistarchus. A minor at the time of his father’s death at Thermopylae, his cousin Pausanius acted as regent for the boy, and was integral in organizing the final Greek land victory over the Persian forces at the battle of Plataea in 479. Pausanius fell into disfavor and was accused of treason in 478, and Pleistarchus then ruled in his own right until his death in 459/458.

Gorgo’s date of death is not recorded, and it is not known if she was influential during her son’s reign. Pleistarchus seems not to have left an heir. Pleistoanax, son of the disgraced Pausanius, became king after Pleistarchus’ death.


While little is known of the specifics of Gorgo's life and reign, it can be inferred from the numerous quotes and anecdotes recorded by Herodotus that she was an intelligent and wise queen. Gorgo exemplified the virtues held dear not only by Sparta but by all the Greeks, most of whom regarded the strict Spartan lifestyle with great respect and admiration. As such, she retains a unique and worthy place in Greek history, not only as the wife of Sparta's most celebrated king, but in her own right as its most notable queen.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • profile image

      5 weeks ago


    • profile image


      4 years ago

      omg this was awesome!!!, i love woman who are so strong and powerful, it just goes to show that we too can be amazing as well.... :p

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      In her most famous remark, she is asked by a “woman from Attica” why only Spartan women, of all the women in the world, are able to rule men. Gorgo replied that “Only Spartan women give birth to real men.”

      This is soo true. I am a male and I respect all women.

    • profile image

      Tomato lala 

      4 years ago

      This was awesome and helpful, thanks.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      kanki cuda

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      6 years ago from San Francisco

      I cannot believe that, in all the lectures I've listened to on Sparta, that I have not heard about Gorgo. What an awesome woman, and I LOVE that she was given such a name!

      What an enjoyable read this was. I'm always stoked to discover notable female figures from ancient Greek times- and learn new things about ancient Greece in general. I, for example, hadn't realized about the bad note on which Cleomenes' reign had ended!

      Thanks for sharing all the fun info. Do you have any intention to write an article on Artemisia? She's the only other cool Greek woman I've heard of.

    • Dirling profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Aurora, Colorado

      My pleasure! Thanks for reading.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Thank you for sharing a very informative hub.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)