The Women Warriors

The Amazons were a female warrior race, descended from the god of war Ares and Harmony. They lived in the north, near the Caspian sea, around the small but wide Thermodon river in the Black Sea or on the slopes of the Caucasus or in Thrace or in the valleys of the left bank of the Danube in Southern Scythia.

amazonsHerodotus connects them with the Scythians, noting that the Sauromatians (or Stavromatids, because they lived in Stavromatica Scythia, or Sauropatids, because they trampled and ate lizards, according to the Ephorus) came from the Amazons.

They ruled alone, having a woman as queen, without the help of men and using them only as serving staff. They were trained to be ready for war and valor and if they ever united with a man and gave birth, the boys would kill or injure them immediately after birth, blinding them or making them lame

Most ancient written sources locate the kingdom of the Amazons in the area of ​​ancient Bithynia, near the Thermodon river. They define all the plains and mountains around the river, with Themiscyra as its capital.

Other sources look for their kingdom on the northeastern shores of the Black Sea, near Lake Maiotida, or east of the Tanai River, or in the Caucasus region, at the foot of the Kerainian mountains, or vaguely in the area between the Pontus and the Caspian Sea. It is placed still in the area of ​​ancient Scythia, or further west in Thrace, even in Illyria.

As a separate kingdom, perhaps even more ancient, than that of Thermodon, there is also that of the Amazons of Africa, in Libya or in Ethiopia, on the shores of the Red Sea. This race of Amazons is said to have already disappeared many generations before the Trojans . The kingdom of the Amazons of Africa comes to the fore with their queen Myrina’s great victorious campaign of expansion in the eastern and western Mediterranean.

Society – relationship with men

Homer calls the Amazons “antianeira”, a term that denotes either those who are similar or even equal to men or those who are hostile to or fight men. After all, Aeschylus characterizes the army of the Amazons as “styganora”, meaning that they hate the male sex, while elsewhere he calls them “anandros”, because they have no men.

Herodotus reports that the Scythians called the Amazons “oirpata”, which in their language meant “man killers”. After all, various names of individual Amazons, as preserved in lists of late writers but also – for the most part – in representations of vases as early as the 10th c. BC, they allude to their hatred and the constant war they had waged against men, but also in general their martial spirit and supremacy.

amazons-mythThe Amazonian society was female-dominated. The population consisted mostly or exclusively of women. The predominance of women is justified in various ways. Ptolemy argues that because Bithynia, Phrygia, and Colchis are preeminently associated with Cancer and the Moon, men become submissive and women masculine, domineering, and warlike. Stephanus of Byzantium conveys the opinion that in Sauromatic Scythia, where he placed the homeland of the Amazons, women were born with stronger bodies than men.

The same author, however, puts forward as much more likely the story told by the neighbors of the Sauromata: that once the Sauromata campaigned in Europe and all perished, leaving their women in fateful power. When their male children grew up, they rebelled against the women, but they overcame and destroyed them. However, fearing reprisals from the younger men, they set about neutralizing them, mutilating his limbs when they were still at a young age.

An earlier version of this story by the Ephorus (th century BC) tells how the Amazons, disgusted by the abusive behavior of the men, devised a method of excluding them on the occasion of their absence in some military operation: those who remained behind they killed them, while those who returned from the battle refused to receive them again. Apart from Stephen Byzantius, the existence of men in Amazonian society is also witnessed by other authors, but they always report that they are abused, blinded or crippled, so that they become weak, while their position is subordinate, they are assigned auxiliary or traditionally female tasks.

A different view wants the Amazons to completely exclude men from their society. They did not associate with them and did not seek them out except to ensure reproduction. According to one story, the gathering of the Amazons with men was defined at regular intervals and by agreement with the neighboring people of the Gargareans. For two months every spring, Amazons and Gargareans climbed a neighboring mountain and mingled with whoever they came across, secretly and in the dark.

The female children were kept by the Amazons, while the male children were sent to the Gargareans to be raised. With this agreement the two peoples ended the war between them, deciding to live independently and limiting their cooperation in this cooperation to the matter of reproduction.

Another story has the Amazons of Ethiopia sailing across the Red Sea to mingle with the native men there, keeping only the girls and leaving the boys. The legend that involves Alexander the Great with the Amazons is also connected with the habit of the Amazons to meet, according to their needs, with men with the aim of procreation. Diodorus narrates that while the recruit was in Hyrcania, the queen of the Amazons, Thallistris, distinguished for her beauty, courage and prowess, allegedly arrived with an Amazon concubine.

When asked the purpose of her visit, Thallistris replied that since he too had been shown to be excellent among men and she first among women in strength and prowess, the child of two such parents would fatally excel all mortals. Alexander accepted and after spending thirteen amorous nights with her, he gave her rich gifts and sent her back to her kingdom.

Arrian tells the story somewhat differently: the Median satrap Atropates presented Alexander with female horsemen, claiming they were Amazons. Alexander, fearing incidents with his men, sent them away, but with the promise that he would go to visit their queen to give her children. Arrian, of course, questions the possibility of survival until those years or even the existence of the Amazons in the first place, and assumes that they were barbarian women who knew how to ride horses that Atropatis presented to Alexander with the equipment of the Amazons weapons.

Already Alexander’s contemporary historians appear divided in terms of their disposition to recognize the historicity of Alexander’s encounter with the Amazons, which was also disputed by later writers of Antiquity, such as Strabo and Plutarch.

Those who did not accept the existence of men in Amazon society argued that the Amazons occasionally intermarried with outsiders and of the children they had they kept only the girls, raising them to be hunters and warriors and with the same principles of indifference to the male gender. Those who accepted the existence of men, gave them the position traditionally held by women in Greece, with several variations of course according to region and era.

The Amazons were in the army for a certain period of time, during which they maintained their chastity. After the end of their term they mingled with men only to have children, which they left in their care. The men stayed at home dealing, under the orders of the women, exclusively with the management of the house and with the upbringing of the children. They had no participation in the management of the commons. Women held all the offices and they undertook the military operations.

Lifestyle – habits

Amazonian girls in infancy had their right or both breasts cut off or cauterized and stunted so that they would not be hindered in drawing the bow or throwing the javelin. On the battlefield they later bared their mutilated breast in display of their “manly” nature.

Strabo notes some division of labor among the Amazons. Some of them were engaged in agriculture and animal husbandry, especially horse breeding, while the most valiant practiced martial arts and hunting.

the-amazonsThe Amazons had a special relationship with horses on and off the battlefield. They were famous for their horsemanship and for their beautiful horses. It is said that they were the first to fight on horseback. Several names of individual Amazons have the word horse as a composite, while some also refer to their special performance in hunting.

Although in other cases the occupation of the Amazons with agriculture is witnessed, for the Amazons of Ethiopia at least it is noted that they did not yet know the cultivation of grains and fed exclusively on the fruits of trees and on the meat and milk of goats and sheep.

In several sources, moreover, the peculiar diet of the Amazons with reptile meat is noted. There are various testimonies about the connection of the Amazons with the dance.

Callimachus (3rd century BC) maintains that the mythical Pleiades, who first set up dances and all-night celebrations, were daughters of the queen of the Amazons.

Elsewhere the poet describes the ceremonial war-dance that the Amazons danced around the xoano they dedicated to Artemis in her sanctuary at Ephesus: first armed, then in a large circle, stamping their feet on the earth, to the sharp sound of the whistles and the wave of their rattling quivers.

A later source mentions a type of antichristian, complex dance called “pecten Amazonicus”, in which one or more lines of dancers probably mingled and passed each other.

Armament – equipment – clothing

In various myths, the Amazons are remembered as fierce archers. The bow is a key part of their weaponry. The bow of Penthesilea, as depicted in the Nekyia of the Delphic Cnidian Club, resembled the Scythian, while elsewhere it is noted that the Amazons filled their quivers with Thracian arrows.

Various Amazon names refer to their special association with the bow and quiver. They still fought with the single-mouthed war pelecy, the sagari, a weapon par excellence of the Scythians, but also of the Persians. After all, Penthesileia is also referred to as the finder of the Sagareos. They defended themselves with a light crescent-shaped shield, the pelti, which was used by Thracians and Persians.

In Greek, and in fact Attic vases, which constitute the most important source of our knowledge of Greek figurative art, initially the Amazonian warriors are not differentiated from their Greek male opponents except by the white color of their flesh, a characteristic convention to declare the female figures in the melaniform rhythm.

amazonOtherwise they wear the clothing and armament of the Greek hoplites: tunic, breastplate, helmet, circular or eight-shaped shield, spears, sword or bow. They rarely carry the war pelecy and only towards the end of the melanomorph do they start to appear with the pelt.

With the red-figure rhythm, and especially after the Persian, the related representations multiply and the Amazons begin to acquire, in addition to the appearance of a hoplite, the oriental (Persian, Scythian) clothing and armament: they wear the pointed Scythian cap and anaxerides and carry a bow , pelti and pelecy.

Sometimes the two costumes are combined. Their femininity is rarely emphasized, with the breasts bare or erased under the tunic, never with particular emphasis. This happens in later years (Hellenic/Roman), when they are shown dressed in the exomis and the opportunity is given, especially to the sculptors, to project the female body.

In no extant example, however, is any allusion attempted to the Amazons’ habit of mutilating and displaying their breasts.

Amazon battles

amazon-battlesThe Amazons fought against Bellerophon at the behest of Iobatis and with Hercules when Eurysthea’s daughter Admitis asked for the Amazon queen Hippolyte’s girdle and her father asked Hercules to bring it to her. Thus the hero accomplished his ninth feat. Hercules, with a single ship, having with him volunteers as companions, sailed to the port of Themiscyra, capital of the Amazons, at the mouth of Thermodon.

There he was visited by Hippolyta who, learning the purpose of the journey, promised to give him the girdle. But Hera, Heracles’ enemy, who made sure to constantly cause him difficulties, especially where things were progressing calmly and smoothly for him, took the form of an Amazon and, circulating among the crowd, spread the word that the strangers who had come were abducting the queen their. And the Amazons, armored and on horseback, moved aggressively towards the ship.

Heracles, suspecting a trick, killed Hippolyte, snatched her girdle, and after fighting with the others, sailed away and rushed to Troy. According to another version (Diod. ..-) the cause of the conflict was the fact that they were not giving him the zone for which he had campaigned. The most prominent Amazons lined up against Heracles and engaged in a fierce battle. First slain was Aella, who was so called, that is, a whirlwind, because of her speed; then Philippida, Protho, after she had first repulsed seven times her adversary whom she had provoked, Eriboia, who boasted that she fought so bravely that she had no need of assistant.

Then Kelaino, Euryboia, Phoebe, Deianeira were slain, Amazons who hunted with Artemis, and their javelins always found their mark; but not this time. Then Hercules killed Asteria, Marpi, Tecmessa, the sworn virgin Alkippe. And Melanippi, who was especially admired for her bravery, lost the chief strategy she had in the Amazons. Thus perished the most famous of the Amazons, while the rest were dispersed by Hercules until their race was completely exterminated.

He gave the captured Antiope to Theseus, who participated in the campaign, while he released, according to one version, Melanippi, Hippolyta’s sister, in exchange for the girdle. For the seizure of Antiope, the Amazons launched a war against Athens, they even camped inside the city, on the rock that was later named Areios Pagos after their father Ares. But they were defeated by the Athenians, led by their king, Theseus, who was also said to have been united with Hippolyta and from this union Hippolytus was born who would inspire love in his stepmother Phaedra, with the final result of Phaedra’s suicide and his death.

The society of the Amazons, with their androgynous character and with the exclusion or displacement of men from the key political, social and military roles that they have traditionally monopolized, summarizes the subversion of all the values ​​of the male-dominated society and is used as a symbol of the subversion or of undermining the harmony and culture that men, and above all the Greeks, represent.

Thus in the Amazons it is definitely attributed to Greece and especially to Athens of the th century. e.g. a clear political symbolism (the Amazons as Persians, the Amazon Battle as a parable of the recent conflict between Greeks and Persians), as evidenced by numerous vase paintings and also the pictorial program of the leading building of the Athenian republic, the Parthenon.

Creation and branding of cities by the Amazons

The heroic profile of the Amazons is complemented by the performance in several of them of the building and naming of cities, almost exclusively in Asia Minor and the surrounding area. These are mostly cities not only of Bithynia-Pontus, where the kingdom of the Amazons was usually located, but mainly of the ancient Aeolis according to the story preserved by Heraklides Pontikos (th century BC) that Heracles granted to the Amazons the area from Pitani to Mykali. And the Ephorus also places the Amazons between Mysia, Lydia and Caria.

Thus the building and name of Smyrnisalla and Ephesus are generally attributed to the Amazons. Also adjacent regions are said to derive their name from Amazons, such as Sisirva from Sisirvi, Smyrna from Smyrna and Samorna from the queen and priestess of Artemis, mother of Mazus, the first Amazon. But Latoria, a mountain town near Ephesus, is also said to have been named after an Amazon.

Myrina or Myrini was built and named after the eponymous queen, while Pitani (or Pitana) and Priini were built by Myrina and named after prominent Amazons of her, as was Kymi, which is also witnessed to have been inhabited by Amazons and formerly called Amazonian. When Myrina finally captured Lesbos she founded Mytilene and named it after her sister who had participated in the operation.

The Panaima region of Samos, moreover, was named according to one view from the slaughter of the Amazons carried out there by Dionysus. The Amazons fled to the island from Ephesus, the god pursued them and fought them, slaughtering many of them. Those who later saw the blood of the massacre named the place Panaima.

And in other cases cities or places were named after Amazons, because they were associated with their death, burial or some crime, such as Grynia from the Amazon Gryni who was raped by the god Apollo, Anaia from Anaia who was buried there or Thebais from an Amazon who was killed by Hercules.

Sinope was named after an Amazon who married the king of Pontus and drank a lot, that’s why she got the nickname Sanapi. So, from Sanapi, by corruption, the city of Sinope was also named. Myrleia, as Apamea was formerly called, took its name from an Amazon, in one sense, like Cynna and Amastris.

Origin of the Amazon myth

Since Antiquity, the question arises whether the myth of the Amazons has its starting point in some historical reality. Was there ever an Amazon society in any sense or form? What is the basic core upon which a multitude of stories and reconstructions have been superimposed?

One theory rejects the existence of any historical core to the myth of the Amazons and looks for its origins in similar cultural processes that also gave birth to the myths of other masculine and androgynous women.

Another theory, from those looking for some degree of historicity, recognizes that the source of inspiration for the legend was the participation of women in the armies of peoples of the northern coast of the Black Sea, such as the Scythians or the Cimmerians, who in early years invaded Asia Minor.

For others, moreover, the myth began with a misunderstanding: when the Greeks came into contact with male warriors of peoples who used to shave their faces, they mistook them for women.

As such, the Scythians with whom the Greeks came into contact with trade in the Black Sea, a small people, who were also famous horsemen, but also the Hittites with whom the Greeks came face to face during the colonization of the th century have been proposed. e.g.

A final theory accepts that the myth developed on the occasion of war rituals, where women were the protagonists, as in Libya, or on the model of armed priestesses who sacrificed men.

Relations with gods

The relation of the Amazons to Ares seems to be expected, due to their warlike nature, who, after all, acts as the father of individual Amazons but also as the begetter of their entire race.

On a desert island in the sea of ​​the Black Sea, the queens Antiope and Otriris build a temple in honor of the god, while an unnamed queen establishes from the spoils of her expansion campaigns various sanctuaries of Ares and Artemis in the kingdom of Thermodon and institutes magnificent festivals in his honor their.

Also, during their campaign against Theseus in Athens, the Amazons had camped on the Areopagus and sacrificed to the god Ares. The sacrifices of white horses, which we learn from elsewhere, were perhaps addressed to the same god.

Fierce warriors and sworn virgins, the Amazons are compared to Athena. When they ally themselves with Dionysus, in the latter’s fight against Saturn and the Titans, the goddess enters at their head.

In addition to Mars, the Amazons also worship Athena Partheno with fanaticism. However, they did not always have good relations with Dionysus. The massacre of the Amazons in Panaima of Samos, mentioned above, is typical.

Dionysus had been attacked by them on his way back from the Indies, but defeated them and pursued them. Some then fled to Artemisium in Ephesus and others crossed over to Samos.

In terms of their hunting prowess, misandrous feelings, and fanatical obsession with preserving virginity, the Amazons are fatally associated with Artemis. Some named Amazons are handed down from myth as co-hunters of the goddess.

In addition to the establishment of anonymous sanctuaries in honor of Artemis, as mentioned above, the Amazons are credited with the establishment of the cult of the Taurus Artemis, but also the establishment, according to one view, of the famous sanctuary of the goddess in Ephesus.

The Amazons establish it before their campaign against Theseus in Athens. They place the goddess’s xoano under an oak tree, Hippo performs the dedication ceremony and all of them, together with their queen Upis, dance the war dance around it.

Those authors who do not accept that the sanctuary was founded by the Amazons at least point out that they knew about it from a long time ago and that they sacrificed to the goddess in every difficult situation, not only before the campaign in question, but also when they escaped from Heracles and from Dionysus , those who had then resorted to Artemisium.

In the city of Pyrrhus near Mani, Pausanias notes two sanctuaries associated with the Amazons: one in honor of Artemis, called Astrateia, because here the advance of the Amazons stopped, and one in honor of Apollo’s brother, the so-called Amazon.

The xoana were again said to have been commissioned by the Amazons. Apollo is friendly to the Amazons, but in their conflicts with Theseus and Hercules he naturally favors the Greek heroes.