I never used to like non-fiction. Why waste my time? It was dry and boring; I’d much rather spend my time reading fiction. However, I quickly learned I would have to get over my dislike of non-fiction because I needed to do the research necessary to create a believable world in my novel. True, I encountered dry and boring tomes but I encountered many more brilliantly written books that made the ancient world come alive. I’ve been hooked ever since. I do most of my reading about the Ancient World-Rome, Egypt, Carthage-and am thrilled when I discover stories of women who defy the strictures of society. Women who made a name for themselves by living their lives on equal footing with men. Women like Hypsicratea, the Amazon who fought beside and loved Mithradates VI.
I’d encountered Mithradates in a couple of my Roman history books but never heard of Hypsicratea until I purchased Vicki Leon’s “The Joy of Sexus”. It was there I discovered Hypsicratea-or Hypsicrates, as Mithradates called her. I wanted to know more. Ms. Leon’s book led me to Adrienne Mayor’s “The Poison King”. I bought it and searched its pages for mention of this amazing woman.
Mithradates meets Hypsicratea after the Third Mithradatic War while recruiting soldiers in Armenia. She belongs to to one of the nomadic Eurasian tribes where both boys and girls were taught to ride, hunt, and make war. She’s most likely in her early thirties in 69 BC and is a proficient horsewoman, archer, and wielder of the javelin and battle-axe. Hypsicratea begins traveling with Mithradates as his groom, caring for his horses, but quickly becomes his personal attendant and lover and, quite believably, the love of his life.
She would be at his side when he faced Pompey in battle and is more than likely at his side when he is forced to flee Pompey’s moonlight attack and take refuge in Sinora, his fortified treasury on the border of Armenia. But then what?
Unfortunately, there is no historical account of Hypsicratea after the winter of 63 BC. Did she die when Mithradates crossed the Caucasus? The base of a marble statue unearthed by Russian Archeologists says no. She survived the crossing and was still with Mithradates when he reclaimed the Kingdom of the Bosporus. Yet she was not with Mithradates when he met his death in that same Kingdom. Where did she go? Did she survive?
There is plenty of fuel for speculation. There are historical references to a “Hypsicrates”, a historian who wrote about Pontus and the Black Sea. Is this Mithradates’ Hypsicrates, an amazing woman who would have little difficulty passing as a male? There just isn’t enough information to know for sure and it only makes the story of Hypsicratea all the more fascinating.
The Poison King by Adrienne Mayor