The Lion Hunter: Amestris

Amestris © The Idle Woman 2017

Many people will only know the name of Amestris, or Amastris, from Handel’s opera Xerxes. She really was Xerxes’ wife, although she wasn’t a foreign princess but the daughter of Otanes, a Persian nobleman. Apparently she was chosen by Xerxes’ mother, Atossa, who saw something of her own formidable quality in her future daughter-in-law. Amestris gave Xerxes at least five children: three sons, Darius, Hystaspes and Artaxerxes, and two daughters, Amytis and Rhodogyne. She was a shrewd and ruthless woman, capable of taking horrific revenges on her enemies, and she may have been responsible for the plot that left her husband dead and her third son Artaxerxes on the throne of Persia. She was also incredibly long-lived, outlasting all of her own generation and most of her children. This is all true and is in the historical record. In the Lion Hunter, she enjoys a relationship of mutual suspicion and grudging admiration with her son-in-law Megabyzus (who must have been more or less her own age, as well as being her cousin). In the aftermath of Xerxes’ death, she continues to hold a position of preeminence among the women of the court, easily overshadowing Artaxerxes’ benign wife Damaspia.

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