This entry was written in honor of International Women's Day, and as part of one of my future books that combines biology with stories from history. I wish you pleasure from reading
The apostles went all the way from distant Persia to the cities of Greece. They passed through the fields of hundreds of small city-states, each of which covers a territory of several dozen square kilometers. In every city where they stopped they demanded to meet with the rulers. Some cities boasted a king. others were endowed by the council of the city's wealthy. And in their minority, all residents were called to a public hearing to make decisions.
In every city they entered, the children gathered and watched the messengers with curiosity and wonder, because their clothing and appearance were strange and foreign to the Greeks. The Persians wore brown leather breeches on their legs, which were specially adapted for riding on horses. Their bodyguards carried large shields struck from canes, and in their right hand they held an ax or a short spear. They appeared to the Greeks as centaurs - half-man, half-horse - because they could steer their horses with only their feet. But the centaurs were only a legend, and the Persian emissaries were a reality, and a dangerous reality, because the demand they presented to the rulers of the cities was for 'water and land' for the vast Persian empire.
Today, when we buy water in large plastic bottles at the supermarket, and live in high-rise buildings, it is difficult to understand the meaning of the demand for water and land. But for the people who lived two thousand five hundred years ago, the meaning was clear: the Persian Empire demanded that the Greek city-states submit to it and send it an annual tax. In return, the envoys pledged, the empire would protect its allies and protect them from their enemies.
The rulers listened to the words of the Persians. Some in moderation, others in nail-biting. And finally they asked, who impliedly and who directly,
"And what if we deprive you of water and land?"
And to that there was one answer of the apostles. The cities that do not submit to the Persian Empire, whose rule spans three continents, will win its eternal defeat.
Many Greek cities surrendered in the face of the threat. It's hard to blame them, because the Persian Empire was weak in those days on fifty million citizens - close to fifty percent of the entire world's population. At his will, the great King Xerxes could have gathered an army of hundreds of thousands of soldiers from all over the empire and sent them to the Greek islands. The Greek cities, however, were small in themselves. The population of each of them did not exceed tens of thousands of residents, and sometimes even less. They were isolated from each other, and spent much of the time fighting each other. It was clear that in the event that the wrath of the Persians arose against one of them, that city would have no chance of resisting the might of the empire. And so most of the cities surrendered, paid the tax and said thank you to their new masters.
Most cities, but not all.
Greek cities are in crisis
Two of the largest Greek cities decided to refuse the demand for prizes. Athens, the first democracy, executed the Persian envoys, in a clear act of declaring war on the empire. In Sparta, which was under the joint rule of a pair of kings, the apostles were thrown to their deaths in a deep well. Each of those cities had no chance on its own to stand against the huge Persian army. But at that point a miraculous event took place: Sparta and Athens, enemies of each other since the dawn of history, agreed to abandon their enmity for a short time and unite against the Persian threat. Together with them they swept away another seventy Greek city-states, some of which were at war with each other - but agreed to a truce in the face of the next threat to them from the Persian 'barbarians'. On this note, the great war between the great Persian Empire and the coalition of Greek cities began.
King Xerxes I, the supreme ruler of the Persian Empire, invaded the territory of the Greek cities at the head of an army whose size was estimated at about five million soldiers and administrative personnel. Today we are quite sure that this number is exaggerated, and it is possible that the actual number of soldiers was closer to five hundred thousand. Either way, it was a huge swarm of people trampling the fields of Greece. The historian Herodotus reports that their numbers were so great that they dried up rivers by drinking them. And that was just the ground force. At sea, the Persians numbered more than four thousand warships.
The beginning of the war did not bode well for the Greeks. They tried to block the way of the Persians by land, but failed miserably. The Persians managed to bypass and conquer the fortifications that the Greeks had set up on their way, despite the brave fighting of the Spartans, during which they were all killed, including their king.
The Persians continued to advance deep into Greece, repulsing every defender thrown their way. It was a difficult time for the Greeks, and it only got worse when it became clear that the Persians were directing their steps to Athens, one of the largest and most magnificent of the Greek cities. The Greek War Council convened for an emergency discussion, and the garrison decided to evacuate the city ahead of time, and send the citizens by ship to a place of refuge where they were not in danger. The women, children and old people boarded the ships with moist eyes, saying goodbye to their city and hoping that they will see it again. Shortly after, the Persians arrived at the city and captured it almost without a fight.
The Persian king surely expected that the Greek forces would surrender after losing one of the most important cities in Greece, but they saw the matter differently. The goal of the war for them was not an unequivocal victory. They did not have the number of soldiers necessary to face the Persians eye to eye. Instead, they wanted to stretch the campaign over many months. The Persian king could not maintain his large army for long in the hostile territory, and he was interested in returning to oversee his empire, and not spend his days and nights on the battlefields. The Greeks wanted to prolong the war in order to make the Persians retreat, and Xiamen realized that he had to deal a fatal blow to the Greeks that would make their situation hopeless. The blow he decided to inflict on the Greeks was the destruction of the Greek fleet, which gave them the ability to move quickly from one battlefield to another. He found the fleet itself in the Straits of Salamis, but before making a final decision on the attack, Hasharish chose to consult with the generals of his army.
In those days it was customary for the king's advisers to agree without question with all his words. Any other course of action could have cost them several non-vital organs, such as ears, nose and eyes at best, or death at worst. It is not surprising to find that the advisors, mostly men, expressed the same opinion as the king: he should attack the Greek fleet with all his might. Only one woman said the opposite. Her name was Artemisia, Queen of Caria. She was the only woman among all the soldiers. And in modern words, the only person among them endowed with two X chromosomes.
Artemisia and Xiaars I. Illustration.
The chromosomes that saved Western culture
The ancient Greeks, for all their wisdom, were not aware that a person's gender was determined by his chromosomes. Each of the cells in our body contains forty-six chromosomes, or twenty-three pairs. But between women and men there is a small but important difference. Of the forty-six chromosomes in men, one of them is called the X chromosome, and the other is called the Y chromosome. The first is large, massive, and encodes a large number of genes. The second one is smaller, really low-spirited, and contains only a few genes, but one of them is especially important: it is the SRY gene, which forces the fetus to become a male while in the womb. This gene is only found on the Y chromosome. This is why embryos that are endowed with two X chromosomes develop and are born as females.
The difference between the chromosomes, therefore, is the most primary difference between men and women. For women: two X chromosomes. For men, one X chromosome and one Y chromosome.
There are many claims that the differences in development between men and women do not amount to an effect on the shape of the body, but also on the structure of the brain. These claims are also supported by scientific studies, but since it is always difficult to separate the influence of biology from the influence of the environment and education, we are forced not to address these arguments at this point. However, it must be admitted that both sexes themselves tend to associate certain traits with themselves. The men believe that they are fierce and determined, while the women are supposed to be soft and submissive.
Not so Artemisia, Queen of Caria. She took the reins of her kingdom after the death of her husband, and joined the army of Hashirs leading forces that came from four different cities. She commanded all the men under her with a firm hand and coolness, so much so that the Persian king agreed to add her to the army's council of war. This council had to decide whether the Persian fleet should attack the ships of the Greeks in the Straits of Salamis.
The Persian king demanded that the commanders of the army, including Artemisia, openly state their opinions about the planned attack. The king of Sidon spoke first, who expressed full confidence in the ability of the Persians to defeat the Greek fleet above the water. The others present, commander after commander, stood up and supported his opinion in turn. "The Greek fleet will not be able to cope with our strength." They said so confidently. Only Artemisia thought otherwise, and wasn't afraid to say it out loud.
To this day we can still be impressed by her words, as quoted by the ancient historian Herodotus. Although there is no certainty that these are indeed the exact words she said, it is likely that the message was similar.
"This is my advice to you: spare your ships and avoid fighting at sea, because their men are superior to your men at sea, just as men are superior to women. Why should you risk any naval operations at all? Do you not hold Athens, which was the object of the military campaign? Do you not control more Greece? There is no one who stands in your way. Those who opposed you ended their way as they deserved."
It is easy to imagine Artemisia standing, surrounded by men happy for Ida. Herodotus tells us that the other generals were sure that she was bringing disgrace and disaster upon herself, in her opposition to a military operation whose necessity was obvious to everyone. But Artemisia did not give in to the opinion of the majority of Y chromosomes. She continued fearlessly -
"I will explain how I think the enemy will behave. If you do not hasten to a conflict at sea, but leave the fleet here waiting on the shore, or if you attack the Philophonnes, my lord, you will achieve your purposes without any trouble. This is because the Greeks will not be able to resist you for long, but will be forced to disperse their forces and flee from you, city after city... If you drag them into a naval battle here and now, I fear that the fleet will be destroyed and the army will be defeated along with it."
There must have been a lot of commotion, as well as bursts of polite laughter and giggles. Will a woman teach the men how to forbid war? The Persian king looked at the rest of the soldiers, and saw the picture for approval. He did not rebuke Artemisia for her outspokenness, but decided to follow the men's advice and ignore the Caria queen's words of wisdom. The Persian fleet invaded the Straits of Salamis, thus opening the largest naval battle in history up to that time.
It was finished in less than a day. The Persians were beaten in the straits.
It wasn't supposed to happen. The Persians had more and more sophisticated ships than the Greeks, and most of them also had experienced crews of sailors. Perhaps the only factor that saved the Greeks from defeat was the fact that the commander in chief of the Phoenician ships in the Persian army was killed at the very beginning of the battle. Without a commander, the Phoenician ships could not continue to participate in the battle effectively, and many of them were grounded without fighting at all. The Greeks took advantage of the opportunity and attacked the Persian fleet more vigorously, until they managed to drive the invading ships out of the straits. Artemisia and Xiarach I managed to escape alive, but many good Persians died that day, and the blow to the morale of the entire army was terrible. Hashirach retreated back to the safe Persia, leaving part of his army among the Greek cities. At the end of the year, all prizes remaining in Greece were eliminated. Greek cities won their independence, by the power of blood and sword.
The Battle of Salamis, from the point of view of Hesher I
The unnecessary gamble
The Battle of Salamis demonstrates the fact that every encounter, in every war, is a gamble. Some bets are safer, others less so, but the Battle of Salamis was an unnecessary gamble that should not have happened at all. If the other commanders were willing to listen to Artemisia without their prejudices, it is very possible that the disastrous naval encounter would not have taken place at all. The war would progress as Artemisia had predicted, and the Persian Empire would conquer, after a few years, all the cities of Greece.
It is difficult to explain the magnitude of the change that history would have undergone, if the Persian king had bent his ear to Artemisia. This decision could have been one of the turning points in the history of the Western world, in general. The entire culture of the Middle Ages was based on the Greek philosophers and the Roman orators and thinkers. Every child has heard about Socrates and Plato, about Alexander the Great and Cicero and Julius Caesar. But who among us knows the name of even one Persian philosopher? These disappeared from the scene of history. Only the victorious Greeks left their memory in the annals. A world in which the Greeks were conquered by the Persians, was a world in which all those philosophers and warriors would not live in our memory and shape our cultures. It is impossible to know what we would look like today if the Persians had prevailed over the Greeks in the Straits of Salamis, but we can say with absolute certainty that our traditions, our values and our worldview were very different from what exists today.
All these vicissitudes were spared us, thanks to one heaping dose of male chauvinism. This fact makes me happy personally, and makes me hope that even in the future wars that will be waged between the modern Persian culture - if it is Iran - our enemies will remove their wives from command positions, from the army and from politics.
And now all that remains is to look at ourselves, in all sincerity, and wonder what the condition of the women of Israel is.