In the modern day, many people in the English-speaking world may think of J. K. Rowling’s intelligent witch when they think of the word “Hermione.” Yet, the original Hermione was a woman from the ancient age of the Trojan War, and there was also a prominent city-state in the Peloponnesus that was allegedly named in her honor.
According to mythology, Menelaus of Sparta and Helen (whose capture caused the famous Trojan War) had a daughter named Hermione. Her story is short and scant, but complex. In the myths, two men were promised Hermione’s hand in marriage. In every story, Menelaus, the father of Hermione, always promised his daughter’s hand in marriage to a man named Neoptolemus, the son of the great warrior, Achilles. In other versions, Hermione had already been married (or engaged) to another man named Orestes, with the blessing and encouragement of Hermione’s grandfather, Tyndareus. In that telling of the myth, Hermione ran away with (or was kidnapped by) Orestes and abandoned Neoptolemus. Though the two men would continue to fight over Hermione for the duration of this myth, Orestes eventually emerged victorious and kept Menelaus’s daughter as his bride.
Mythology also provided an origin story for the real ancient Greek city of Hermione. According to Herodotus, the Dryopian people, who would later found the city of Hermione, originally lived near Mount Oeta, in the ancient land of Doris, in central Greece. They were forced to flee their home after an attack carried out by the Malians and the legendary Greek hero, Heracles. After being chased from central Greece, the refugees (allegedly led by a hero named Ermionas) settled in the Argolid Peninsula and began to build the city of Hermione.
By the 6th century BCE, the settlement of Hermione had grown to become a large city. With growing wealth from agriculture, shipbuilding, fishing and dye production, the city transitioned into a kingdom. The Hermionis Kingdom that extended out from the city of Hermione into the interior of the Argolid Peninsula is said to have matched reasonably well with the modern Greek municipality of Ermionida.
As a major Greek city, Hermione was not exempt from the politics and wars that entangled all of the other population centers of ancient Greece. Generally, Hermione sided with the great militant power of Sparta. During the Greco-Persian Wars, Hermione joined in the Greek coalition that fought against Persia. In that conflict, sources such as Herodotus claimed that Hermione contributed 3 warships to the Battle of Salamis around 480 BCE, as well as a further band of three hundred hoplite infantry that fought against the Persians in the 479 BCE Battle of Plataea.
After the Greeks won the Greco-Persian War, a power struggle broke out between the powerful seaborne Athenian Empire and the renowned infantry might of Sparta. With the Athenians controlling the Delian League and the Spartans heading the Peloponnesian League, virtually all of the Greek communities had to choose, or were forced into, a side in the bloody conflict. In this Peloponnesian War, a series of brutal military campaigns and truces spanning 431-404 BCE, the city of Hermione sided with Sparta and the Peloponnesian League. Although Hermione’s side was ultimately victorious in the war, the city was one of the many regions of Greece left damaged by the decades of fighting. Nevertheless, as numerous empires grew and fell around the city, Hermione rebuilt and survived, and is now known as the modern Greek city of Ermioni.
Uppermost picture attribution: (Athena, Zeus and Ares flee Heracles, pottery by Nikosthenes, c. 6th century BCE, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)
Written by C. Keith Hansley.
- The Histories by Herodotus, translated by Aubrey de Sélincourt and revised by John Marincola. New York: Penguin Classics, 2002.