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Tomyris as imagined by Castagno, 15th century
Queen of the Massagetae
Reignunknown – c.520s BCE
Predecessorunnamed husband
Successor Skunkha (?)
Diedc.520s BCE
Spouseunnamed husband
Issue Spargapises
Religion Scythian religion
Tomyris and the Head of Cyrus, Frankenthal porcelain, c. 1773 Tomyris and the Head of Cyrus MET DP238532 (cropped).jpg
Tomyris and the Head of Cyrus, Frankenthal porcelain, c. 1773
Queen Tomyris learns that her son Spargapises has been taken alive by Cyrus, by Jan Moy (1535-1550). Queen Tomyris learns that her son Spargapises has been taken alive by Cyrus, by Jan Moy (1535-1550).jpg
Queen Tomyris learns that her son Spargapises has been taken alive by Cyrus, by Jan Moy (1535–1550).
Tomyris Plunges the Head of the Dead Cyrus Into a Vessel of Blood by Rubens Head of Cyrus Brought to Queen Tomyris, Peter Paul Rubens.jpg
Tomyris Plunges the Head of the Dead Cyrus Into a Vessel of Blood by Rubens

Tomyris ( /ˈtɒmɪrɪs/ ; Saka: *Taumuriyaʰ; Ancient Greek : Τομυρις , romanized: Tomuris; Latin : Tomyris [1] [2] ) also called Thomyris, Tomris, or Tomiride, is known only from the Greek historian Herodotus. According to him, she reigned over the Massagetae, an Iranian Saka people of Central Asia. [3] Tomyris led her armies to defend against an attack by Cyrus the Great of the Achaemenid Empire, and defeated and killed him in 530 BC. She had his severed head placed in a bag or bowl filled with blood, saying to it "There: drink your fill of blood!"


She is not mentioned in the few other early sources covering the period, especially Ctesias.

Tomyris became a fairly popular subject in European art and literature during the Renaissance. In art the usual subject was her receiving the head of Cyrus, or putting it into the blood-filled container. This became part of the Power of Women group of women subjects who triumphed in various ways over men.


The name Tomyris is the Latin form of the Ancient Greek name Tomuris (Τομυρις), which is itself the Hellenisation of the Saka name *Taumuriyaʰ, meaning "of family" derived from a cognate of the Avestan word taoxman (𐬙𐬀𐬊𐬑𐬨𐬀𐬥) and of the Old Persian word taumā ( 𐎫𐎢𐎶𐎠 ), meaning "seed," "germ," and "kinship." [1] [2]



Tomyris was the widow of the king of the Massagetae, whom she succeeded as the queen of the tribe after he died. [4]

War with Persia

When the founder of the Persian Achaemenid Empire, Cyrus, asked for the hand of Tomyris with the intent of acquiring her kingdom through the marriage, she understood Cyrus's aims and rejected his proposal. On the advice of the Lydian Croesus, Cyrus responded to Tomyris's rejection by deciding to invade the Massagetae. [3] [5] [4]

When Cyrus started building a bridge on the Araxes river with the intent of attacking the Massagetae, Tomyris advised him to remain satisfied with ruling his own kingdom and to allow her to rule her kingdom. Cyrus's initial assault was routed by the Massagetae, after which he set up a fancy banquet with large amounts of wine in the tents of his camp as an ambush and withdrew. [6] [7] [4]

Death of Spargapises

The Massagetae, led by Tomyris's son and the commander of their army, Spargapises, who primarily used fermented mare's milk and cannabis as intoxicants like all Iron Age steppe nomads, and therefore were not used to drinking wine, became drunk and were easily defeated and slaughtered by Cyrus, thus destroying a third of the Massagetaean army. Spargapises had been captured by Cyrus, and, once he had become sober and understood his situation, he asked Cyrus to free him, and after Cyrus acquiesced to his pleas, he killed himself. [6] [7] [4]

After Tomyris found out about the death of Spargapises, she sent Cyrus an angry message in which she called the wine, which had caused the destruction of her army and her son, a drug which made those who consumed it so mad that they spoke evil words, and demanded him to leave his land or else she would, swearing upon the Sun, "give him more blood than he could drink." [6] [4]

Death of Cyrus

Silver dish showing Tomryis with Cyrus' corpse, Stourhead Stourhead Death of Cyrus dish January2024 NT CCBYSA open.jpg
Silver dish showing Tomryis with Cyrus' corpse, Stourhead

Tomyris herself led the Massagetaean army into war, and, during the next battle opposing the Massagetae to the forces of Cyrus, Tomyris defeated the Persians and destroyed most of their army. Cyrus himself was killed in the battle, and Tomyris found his corpse, severed his head and put it in a bag filled with blood while telling Cyrus, "Drink your fill of blood!" [3] [6] [5] [8]


According to another version of the death of Cyrus recorded by Ctesias, Cyrus died in battle against the Derbices, who were either identical with the Massagetae or a Massagetaean sub-tribe: according to this version, he was mortally wounded by the Derbices and their Indian allies, after which Cyrus's ally, the king Amorges of the Amyrgians, intervened with his own army and helped the Persian soldiers defeat the Derbices, following which Cyrus endured for three days, during which he organised his empire and appointed Spitaces son of Sisamas as satrap over the Derbices, before finally dying. [9] [10] [1] [11]

Little is further known about Tomyris after the war with Cyrus. By around 520 BCE and possibly earlier, her tribe was ruled by a king named Skunxa, who rebelled against the Persian Empire until one of the successors of Cyrus, the Achaemenid king Darius I, carried out a campaign against the Sakas from 520 to 518 BCE during which he conquered the Massagetae, captured Skunxa, and replaced him with a ruler who was loyal to Achaemenid power. [11] [12]


Mattia Preti, Tomyris Receiving the Head of Cyrus, 1670-72 Preti, Mattia - Queen Tomyris Receiving the Head of Cyrus, King of Persia - 1670-72.jpg
Mattia Preti, Tomyris Receiving the Head of Cyrus, 1670–72
Queen Tomyris and the head of Cyrus, by Mattia Preti. Queen Tomyris and the head of Cyrus the Great.jpg
Queen Tomyris and the head of Cyrus, by Mattia Preti.

The history of Tomyris has been incorporated into the tradition of Western art; Rubens, [13] Allegrini, [14] Luca Ferrari, [15] Mattia Preti, Gustave Moreau and the sculptor Severo Calzetta da Ravenna [16] are among the many artists who have portrayed events in the life of Tomyris and her defeat of Cyrus and his armies.

Eustache Deschamps added Tomyris to his poetry as one of the nine Female Worthies in the late 14th century.

In Shakespeare's earliest play King Henry VI (Part I), the Countess of Auvergne, while awaiting Lord Talbot's arrival, references Tomyris (Act II, Sc. iii). [17]

Shakespeare's reference to Tomyris as 'Queen of the Scythians', rather than the usual Greek designation 'Queen of the Massagetae', points to two possible likely sources, Marcus Junianus Justinus' "Abridged Trogus Pompeius" [18] in Latin, or Arthur Golding's translation (1564). [19]

In 1707 the opera Thomyris, Queen of Scythia was first staged in London. [20] [21]

The name "Tomyris" also has been adopted into zoological taxonomy, for the Tomyris species group of Central American moths and the Tamyris genus of skipper butterflies. [22]

590 Tomyris is the name given to one of the minor planets.

The present-day country of Kazakhstan has adopted Tomyris as its national heroine and issues coins in her honour. [6]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 Schmitt, Rüdiger (2003). "Die skythischen Personennamen bei Herodot" [Scythian Personal Names in Herodotus](PDF). Annali dell'Università degli Studi di Napoli l'Orientale (in German). 63: 1–31.
  2. 1 2 Bukharin, Mikhail Dmitrievich [in Russian] (2011). "Колаксай и его братья (античная традиция о происхождении царской власти у скифов" [Kolaxais and his Brothers (Classical Tradition on the Origin of the Royal Power of the Scythians)]. Аристей: вестник классической филологии и античной истории (in Russian). 3: 20–80. Retrieved 2022-07-13.
  3. 1 2 3 Schmitt 2018.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 Gera, Deborah Levine (2018). Warrior Women: The Anonymous Tractatus De Mulieribus. Leiden, Netherlands; New York City, United States: Brill. p. 187-199. ISBN   978-9-004-32988-1.
  5. 1 2 Rollinger 2003.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 Mayor 2017.
  7. 1 2 Mayor 2014.
  8. Faulkner, Robert (2000). "CYRUS iiia. Cyrus II as Portrayed by Xenophon and Herodotus". Encyclopædia Iranica . Retrieved 8 August 2011.
  9. Francfort 1988, p. 171.
  10. Dandamayev 1994.
  11. 1 2 Schmitt, Rüdiger (1994). "AMORGES". Encyclopædia Iranica . Retrieved 2022-07-12.
  12. Shahbazi, A. Shapur (1994). "DARIUS iii. Darius I the Great". Encyclopædia Iranica . Retrieved 8 August 2022.
  13. "Питер Пауэль Рубенс (Peter Paul Rubens). Queen Tomyris before the Head of Cyrus. Масло на холсте. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA, USA". (Russian). 2006. Retrieved 2010-05-14.
  14. "Francesco Allegrini, attrib. to Italian, 1587 – 1663, Tomyris and Cyrus, 17th century". Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. 2006. Archived from the original on 2009-09-15. Retrieved 2010-05-14.
  15. "Queen Tomyris with the head of Cyrus the Great by Ferrari, Luca (1605–54)". Bridgeman Art Library. Archived from the original on 2011-07-19. Retrieved 2010-05-14.
  16. "The Frick Collection". 1998–2005. Archived from the original on 2013-10-05. Retrieved 2010-05-14.
  17. "Henry VI, part 1: Entire Play". Retrieved 2023-09-07.
  18. "Iustini Historiae Philippicae". 1831.
  19. The Reader's Companion to The Death of Shakespeare, by Jon Benson
  20. "Thomyris, queen of Scythia. An opera, as it is perform'd at the Theatre Royal in Drury-Lane. Most humbly inscrib'd to the Right Honourable the Lord Ryalton. By P. Motteux". HathiTrust Digital Library. Retrieved 8 December 2019.
  21. Margaret Ross Griffel (21 December 2012). Operas in English: A Dictionary. Scarecrow Press. p. 13. ISBN   978-0-8108-8325-3.
  22. "Butterflies and Moths of the World". Natural History Museum Website. Retrieved September 22, 2016.
  23. "Акан Сатаев раскрыл имя актрисы, которая сыграет Томирис". 16 February 2018.
  24. "Tomiris (Kazakhstan)".
  25. "Civilization VI: Tomyris Leads Scythia". Official Civilization Website. August 9, 2016. Retrieved August 27, 2016.
  26. "Tomyris of the Scythians will slake your thirst for blood in 'Civilization VI'". Digital Trends. August 9, 2016. Retrieved August 24, 2016.
  27. Tomyris by A Sound of Thunder , retrieved 2018-07-20


Regnal titles
Preceded by
unnamed husband
Queen of the Massagetae
unknown – c.520s BCE
Succeeded by
Skunkha (?)

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