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Gykia, the Heroine of Chersonesos

Translation N.Khrapunov

It was when the first archon Lamachos governed flourishing and populous Chersonesos. He was a very wealthy person having plenty of gold and silver, cattle and lands. His residence was in a large rectangular house looking over several streets. Lamachos even had his own gates through the city wall for his herds coming back from pastures so that they did not need to go through the city but immediately entered the corral at the house.

Gykia was the only daughter of Lamachos. Because Chersonesos was famous for its orators and sages, Gykia received a good education. Among all the girls in her city she distinguished herself with beauty and a clever mind. Being a true daughter of her community, she dearly loved her city on the coast of the endless Pontic Sea and wanted to make something extraordinary for it.

At that time, the king Asandros ruled in the neighboring Bosporan state. The tempting treasures of Chersonesos provided no rest for this man. Once he tried to take the city by force and met with failure. Asandros decided to proceed by ruse next. He knew that the chief Chersonesite Lamachos had a daughter and offered her his own son in marriage. Asandros expected that after Lamachos' death the sovereignty over Chersonesos would pass over to the hands of the first archon's family, and from Gykia to his son. The king brought his son into this plot, and he agreed to do everything according to his father's plan.

The Chersonesites allowed Lamachos to give Gykia in marriage to the son of Asandros. However, they stipulated that after the marriage Gykia's husband could never leave Chersonesos to meet his father; if he dared to do this, he would be executed. The Bosporans agreed to this convention and the son of Asandros, after having come to Chersonesos, married Gykia.

Gykia loved her husband ardently and sincerely. He seemed to be a modest person, a faithful citizen of Chersonesos, who did not spare good deeds.

Lamachos died two years later. The council of the noble Chersonesites ordered to entrust the city's government not to the son of Asandros, the son-in-law of Lamachos, but to another prominent citizen of Chersonesos, Zethos, the son of Zethonos by name. Thus the plans of Gykia's husband failed, but he did not surrender his aim and continued to wait for the opportunity to realize his plan.

On the anniversary of her father's death, Gykia decided to memorialize him and, by permission of the city council, organized a commemoration. She invited many citizens to her place, gave them wine and oil, meat and fish, everything from the rich larders of her large house. Everyone thanked Gykia for her kind-heartedness.

The city authorities permitted Gykia these annual commemorations of her father's death, and her husband decided to use one of celebrations for his insidious plan. He sent a devoted slave to his father in Panticapaion (the capital of the Bosporan Kingdom) with a message that he had found a way to take control over Chersonesos.

The father occasionally sent his son ships with ten to twelve brave young men as if they were delivering gifts to him and Gykia. Bosporan boats arrived in the Bay of Symbols, and the son of Asandros sent horses to that place, by which he brought both gifts and Bosporans to the city. The guests supposedly had to leave for their boats some days later. The husband of Gykia planned their departure for the late evening when it got dark. The Bosporans went a certain distance from Chersonesos, left the road, reached the coast, took boats, and came back by way of the paths by which Lamachos' herds entered his own gates in the city wall of Chersonesos. There they were met, let in, and hidden in the cellars of the house of Gykia. At the same time the oarsmen with their boats departed from the bay and left for Bosporos, thus making it appear that nobody was left in Chersonesos.

The son of Asandros brought three slaves from Bosporos into his plot. One of them saw Bosporan young men to the bay supposedly to send them back to their kingdom, but returned to Chersonesos then, and told the city guard that everyone had left; another one saw the Bosporans to the coast and sent them into the boats; the third one saw them to the gates in the city walls and brought them up to the house of Lamachos. The same slaves supplied the hidden Bosporans with food and water.

All this was done secretly. Gykia did not suspect what was happening at her own house.

The Bosporan prince set a term for his plan, to the third anniversary of Lamachos' death. For two years he gathered in secret about two hundred warriors from Bosporos. The son of Asandros supposed that on the day of the archon's commemoration all the Chersonesites would enjoy themselves until late into the night and get heavily drunken; when they would fall asleep, he would lead recondite plotters out and thus perform his treacherous deed. By then his father's fleet was ready for the attack against Chersonesos.

The plot was discovered by accident.

One of Gykia's favorite maidservants had offended her and was locked in the room above the cellar where the Bosporan warriors had been gathered. This lone maidservant had been spinning flax and inadvertently dropped a spindle whorl. The item flew to the wall and fell into a deep chink. To retrieve it the girl lifted a brick from the floor, looked through the hole, and saw a group of armed men in the cellar.

Having guardedly replaced the brick, the maidservant called for her friend and sent for the mistress because she was going to tell Gykia something important. Fortunately, Gykia came alone, without taking anyone with her; the maidservant fell to her knees before the mistress and divulged everything.

Thus Gykia understood what had been plotted at her place. She cared about the interests of her fellow citizens more than of any others, which is why in a minute she decided to kill the enemies together with her own husband who turned out to be a traitor.

Gykia entrusted two of her relatives to gather the best citizens. She laid them down only one condition: that they should swear that if her report were considered important, after her death she would be buried within the precincts of the city. When the citizens vowed to fulfil this wish, Gykia satisfied replied: "I would reveal a secret to you. My husband, who inherited a dislike for our city from his father, secretly brought a number of armed Bosporans to our house. I guessed that on the day of my father's memorial they were going to attack us, to burn our houses, and to kill everyone".

When the Chersonesites heard Gykia's story, they froze with fear.

"This day of commemoration is fast approaching," Gykia continued. "It should be organized as usual. You will receive everything I have promised to entertain you with. Come to my place and have fun so that the enemies guess nothing. Consume everything you received reasonably, commemorate my father, dance in the streets, but do not forget the danger. Every one of you should store up brushwood at your houses. When I make a sign that the feast should be finished, adjourn to your homes patiently. I will order the gates to be closed earlier than usual, and at this moment you should send servants with brushwood and torches, let them approach my home from each side, each entrance and exit. Tell them to pour on the wood for it to catch fire as soon as possible. At this moment I will come out, and you will set fire to the brushwood, gather around the house, and take care that nobody comes out alive. Go away now, prepare everything I asked, and do not give up your oath..."

As had been agreed, on the day of Lamachos' memorial the inhabitants of the city had fun all day long in the streets of the city. Gykia generously distributed wine at the feast at his house, entertained her husband, but she herself did not drink and ordered the same of her maidservants. Gykia ordered to give her the purple bowl, and to pour water into it, which looked like wine in this vessel.

When evening came, and the citizens returned to their places as if tired, Gykia invited her husband to take a rest. He agreed readily because he, on his own part, tried to draw no suspicion upon himself. She ordered the gates and entrances locked, was brought the keys as usual, and immediately sent reliable maidservants to take clothes, gold, and various decorations out of the house.

All the people in the house became quiet and the drunken husband fell asleep, then Gykia came out of the bedroom, closed the door behind her, called the maidservants, and left the house. On the street she told everyone to set fire to each side of her house.

Soon the house was enveloped in flames. The Bosporan warriors tried to escape, but all of them were immediately killed. In a moment all the plotters were executed.

This way Gykia kept her native Chersonesos out of the mortal danger that threatened them from the direction of the Bosporan kingdom.

Grateful citizens erected two statues in honor of Gykia in the central square of their city. One statue portrayed Gykia telling the Chersonesites about her husband's plot; another showed an armed heroine taking revenge on the plotters. The inscriptions telling of Gykia's deeds for her city were written on the bases of these statues.

When, later on, Gykia reminded the city council about their promise to bury her within the precincts of the city and asked them to repeat their oath, some dignitaries raised objections that the necropolis of Chersonesos traditionally was far away from the city walls, and they never buried the dead in residential districts. Instead, the dignitaries proposed to pay for the reconstruction of Gykia's destroyed house with public funds. Gykia did not give up and had her way: they once more promised to fulfill her will.

Some years later wise Gykia decided to test whether her fellow citizens would keep their word in practice. She told her slaves to spread word throughout the city about the unexpected death of their mistress.

The inhabitants of Chersonesos were gripped with sorrow. The people crowded the square at Gykia's house. Her slaves and relatives prepared the body for the funeral rite.

After a long meeting the eldermen did not dare infringe upon the ancient rite of the Greeks, decided to break the oath, and ordered to take Gykia out of the city and to bury her in the necropolis.

When the funeral procession stopped at the open grave, Gykia got up out of the sarcophagus, and began to accuse the citizens bitterly of deception.

The ashamed eldermen swore for the third time to fulfill her wish. While Gykia was still alive, she was permitted to find a burial place within the city, and it was marked with a gilded copper bust of the heroine.

And those who wanted to admire the beauty could brush the dust off the copper tablet on the monument to Gykia and read the story of her brave feat.



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