Episode 181: Olympias

Posted 22 July 2021 by

This image, from an ancient coin, is believed to be Olympias and the only known image of her still in existence…but even this has been disputed.

She had several names: Polyxena, Myrtale, Stratonice, and the one she is best known by, Olympias. People often get hung up on the snakes she had around her and the faith by which she lived her life– but we focused on the power she had as not only a wife of a king but the mother of a great one: Alexander the Great. We had to go in the Way…Way Back Machine for the story of this woman who was descended from Achilles (or so family lore claimed) and managed to survive a cut-throat court life at a very turbulent time and place in history.

Alexander the Great riding Bucephalus in Alexandria, Egypt

Olympias was born (probably) in 375 BCE, married King Phillip II of Macedonia in 357 BCE, and raised both a son and a daughter in the court of Macedonia. Her story has been buried beneath thousands of years of propaganda and patriarchy, but the truth is sloooowly being revealed and she isn’t quite as evil as ancient writers suggested.

Don’t get us wrong, she did some pretty vile things but her actions and motivations weren’t as shocking and out there when placed in the context of society of her time. The cast of players in her story are plentiful (and often share the same names, sigh) the actions of her family are legendary and, eventually, Olympias met a very painful end after a sham of a trial and a life of strategy, diplomacy, and victories.

Hers is an epic tale of mystery, deception, violence, devotion, cunning, bravery…and a few snakes.

Time Travel With The History Chicks

Books!

Pretty much the only biography only on Olympias by, Elizabeth Carney

 

Olympus also makes an appearance in this one also by Elizabeth Carney

 

Overview of Ancient Greece (in 450+ pages) by Robin Waterfield

 

The little one by Richard Billows

 

The big one by Adrian Goldsworthy

 

Good coverage of what the men behind the women were doing by Ian Worthington

By the fine folks at National Geographic

 

You can’t go wrong with anything by Jason Porath, and don’t miss his website, Rejected Princesses. He doesn’t update it any longer, and if you read his, Where’d you go post, your heart will go out to him and understand why he has moved on and, like us, wish him all the best.

Web!

Our You Say Potato, I Say Potato ( a title that works much better in an audio format) discussion about pronunciations of Macedonia: Forvo, Macedonia Discussion, Macedonia same Reddit

Dan Carlin Hardcore History Addendum podcast, episode 9: Glimpses of Olympias; and the History Cache Podcast (3-parter on Olympias)

Want to know more about Olympias? Some interesting point in this article by Lisa Jackson,

Doing What Comes Naturally:Olympias as Mother, Regent, and Royal Woman and more about Alexander as a person can be learned from this article from Facts and Details

Where is Olympias buried? Jury is still out. The very week of recording, this article in Live Science discusses the leading contender at this moment.

Where is Alexander the Great buried? Who knows? There have been discoveries of where it might be, read about the latest here, but the mystery is still unsolved, read about that in this History Extra article.

While Olympias had very little to do with the Olympics, it was the source of the name she’s best known by. For more facts on the ancient Olympics, check out this piece from The Collector.

To brush up on your Greek gods, here is a handy, easy-to-read primer, Pantheon of the Greek Gods.

Dionysus and a bit about his cult and what happened to Dionysus when the Romans got their hands on him? Leonhard Schmitz, Ph.D tells you in this article.

Would you like to visit the Sovereign Nation of the Republic of Molossia? How about just reading about it here?

Moving Pictures!

That Movie, from 2004

This guide might help you follow along with facts in your head if, despite our best efforts, you decide to watch That Movie.

Here is one review you might want to read before giving 3 hours and 33 minutes of your life to That Movie: Peter Sobczyski review, rogerebert.com

Want to take a virtual tour of Samothrace?

Break music: Gnossienne No.3 by La Reverie and Toward the Battle by Phil Rey

End music: Killing the Drums by Horstreich