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Gorgo, Queen of Sparta

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Gorgo, Queen of Sparta

Gorgo (; Herodotus, and was known for her political judgement and wisdom. She is notable for being the daughter of a King of Sparta, the wife of another king of Sparta, and the mother of a third king of Sparta. Her birth date is uncertain, but is most likely to have been between 518 and 508 BC, based on Herodotus dating (Histories 5.51).


  • Family background 1
  • Marriage and reign 2
  • Children 3
  • Historical mentions 4
  • In popular culture 5
  • Notes 6
  • References 7
  • Sources 8
  • Further reading 9

Family background

Her father Cleomenes was the eldest-born son of the previous Agiad king, Anaxandridas II, and succeeded his father at his death; however, he had three paternal half-brothers, of whom the eldest, Dorieus, would cause him some trouble. The other two half-brothers were Leonidas I and Cleombrotus. All four were sons of Anaxandridas II, one of the dual kings of Sparta of the Agiad house.

According to one version (Herodotus's Histories, 5.4), Gorgo's grandfather Anaxandridas II was long married without children, and was advised to remarry (i.e. take a second wife) which he did. His second wife gave birth to the future Cleomenes I who was thus his eldest son; however, his first wife also became pregnant, and eventually had three sons, including Leonidas I. This version is however not supported by other sources, which imply that Cleomenes was either born by the king's first marriage or by a non-marital alliance. Most historians favor Herodotus because he is the earliest source. In either case, there appears to have been some tension between the eldest son and his half-brothers, resolved only by the former's death (or murder) and the accession of Leonidas I (at once his half-brother and his son-in-law).

Gorgo's mother is unknown, but she was certainly Spartan since she was Leonidas' queen. Little about Gorgo's childhood is known, although she was probably raised like other Spartan girls of noble family, well fed, encouraged in daily physical exercise, and educated, including literacy and numeracy. She would have learned to ride and drive chariots and have taken part in Sparta's many festivals, dancing and singing in chorus.

According to Herodotus's Histories, at about the age of eight to nine years old, she advised her father Cleomenes not to trust

  • Blundell, Sue. Women in Ancient Greece. British Museum Press, London, 1995.
  • Sealey, Raphael. Women and Law in Classical Greece. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill & London, 1990.
  • Pomeroy, Sarah. Spartan Women. Oxford University Press, 2002.
  • Schrader, Helena P., '"Scandalous" Spartan Women,' Sparta Reconsidered, [1]
  • Schrader, Helena P., "Scenes from a Spartan Marriage," Sparta: Journal of Ancient Spartan and Greek History, Vol.6, #1.
  • Schrader, Helena P., "The Bride of Leonidas," the Leonidas Trilogy, [2]
  • Schrader, Helena P., Leonidas of Sparta: A Peerless Peer. Wheatmark, Tucson, 2011.

Further reading

  • A Profile of Gorgo from a website.
  • Herodotus's Histories Book VII "Polymnia" where Gorgo is mentioned in Section 239 (7.239) advising the Spartan elders after Thermopylae.
  • For a number of essays on Leonidas and Gorgo visit Helena Schrader's website Sparta-Leonidas-Gorgo


  1. ^ "Gorgo of Sparta". 2011-07-07. Retrieved 2011-07-24. 
  2. ^ "Herodotus ''History'' [Translated into English]". 2010-06-15. Retrieved 2011-07-24. 
  3. ^ See Herodotus The Histories Book 9 (all), and Thucydides History of the Peloponnesian War I.126-139
  4. ^ a b Jona Lendering (2006-03-31). "Eurypontids and Agiads". Retrieved 2011-07-24. 
  5. ^ Helena Schrader. 'The Leonidas Trilogy'' website"'". Retrieved 2011-07-24. 


Sparta had a system of dual kings, from two rival but related houses, descended allegedly from twin sons of an early king of Sparta.[4]


[5], focuses on Leonidas boyhood in the infamous Spartan Leonidas of Sparta: A Boy of the Agoge Helena P. Schrader has published the first book in a three-part biographical novel on Leonidas and Gorgo. The first book,

In the 2008 film Meet the Spartans, a parody of 300, Carmen Electra plays a parody of the character named "Queen Margo".

In the 2007 motion picture adaptation of the comic, 300: Rise of an Empire.

The character makes a minor appearance in the 1998 comic series 300 by Frank Miller, who was heavily inspired by the aforementioned film.

Gorgo appears as a major character in Sacred Games, by Gary Corby.

Queen Gorgo was portrayed by Greek actress and future politician Anna Synodinou in the 1962 film The 300 Spartans.

In popular culture

Plutarch quotes Queen Gorgo as follows: "When asked by a woman from Attica, 'Why are you Spartan women the only ones who can rule men?', she said: 'Because we are also the only ones who give birth to men.'" Another version has this as, "...some foreign lady, as it would seem, told her that the women of Lacedaemon were the only women in the world who could rule men; 'With good reason,' she said, 'for we are the only women who bring forth men.'" (Plutarch's Lives: Lycurgus)

There are sections where she is present at court or in council and gives advice to the king or the elders. This either indicates that Gorgo was highly thought of by Herodotus who often left out the names of the female figures he included in his books, or that as the wife of Leonidas I, her actions and counsel were all the more noteworthy.

Historical mentions

Her son was a minor at his father's death, so his uncle Cleombrotus (died 480 BC) and then his first cousin and heir Pausanias (r. 480-479 BC) acted as his regent. It was Pausanias who was the architect of the combined Greek victory at the Battle of Plataea (479 BC).[3] After Pausanias fell into disfavor and was accused of plotting treason, Leonidas's son Pleistarchus ruled with the other king of Sparta, Leotychidas II (and then his grandson Archidamus) until his death 459/458 BC.[4]

She had at least one son by Leonidas I, Pleistarchus, co-King of Sparta from 480 BC to his death in 458 BC.


According to Plutarch, before the Battle of Thermopylae, knowing that her husband's death in battle was inevitable, she asked him what to do. Leonidas replied "marry a good man who will treat you well, bear him children, and live a good life".

There are also indications that Gorgo traveled outside of Sparta, specifically to Athens. Virtually all of Leonidas' reign was dominated by his efforts to form a coalition of Greek states willing to resist the impending Persian invasion. This entailed close coordination with the other main opponent of Persia, Athens. It is likely, therefore, that Leonidas traveled to Athens more than once. That Gorgo accompanied can be inferred from two quotes attributed to her by

Arguably, Gorgo's most significant role occurred prior to the Persian invasion of 480 BC. According to Herodotus's Histories, David Kahn in his book The Codebreakers as one of the first female cryptanalysts whose name has been recorded.[2] This is a bit of an exaggeration, for she did not break a code, so much as discover where to find the (unencoded) writing.

Looking forward to Cleomenes's death, his only surviving child Gorgo became his sole heiress. She was apparently already married by 490 (in her early teens) to her half-uncle Leonidas I.[1] Leonidas and Gorgo would have at least one child, a son, Pleistarchus, co-King of Sparta from 480 BC to his death in 459 BC/458 BC.

Marriage and reign
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