Some days I think I would have made an awesome Amazon – by Amazon I mean the all-female warrior society of Greek myth and legend. The idea of being this lithe warrior revered and feared by all men is pretty appealing if you ask me.Looks
Amazons were never portrayed as muscular, like a modern-day female weight-lifter, rather they were portrayed as boy-like (very different from the classical Greek idea of feminine beauty). Lithe, athletic, attractive, they’re reported to have only one breast, but are often portrayed in art with two. They were said to sear one breast off as infants to help them better draw the bow. Ow. There are reports of breast-ironing still today so the idea of the practice should not be dismissed entirely out of hand. The Amazons were proud, fierce, man-hating, oriorpata (man-slayers). Warriors so beautiful a man would grow heart-sick with just one glance – sounds a bit like Sirens and Mermaids doesn’t it?
Amazons were said to be excellent warriors, fearless, and effective. They were proficient with many battle tools but excelled with the bow. Excellent archers, they could shoot rapid fire from horseback riding backwards if need be. Amazons are given credit for crafting the double-bladed battle axe called a bipennis. And while archaeologists haven’t been able to prove the existence of an all-female society of warriors near the Black Sea, there is much evidence that supports the idea of female warriors in Scythian and Sarmatian graves (ancient Iranian peoples based in modern-day Ukraine). One of the most documented examples of actual female warriors are the warrior women of Dahomey – a group of militarized female warriors in modern-day Benin. And, of course, the relative freedom and athleticism of the free Spartan woman.
The Amazons are perhaps most famous for being celibate (or lesbians depending on the story teller) but spent up to two months in spring or summer with their Black Sea neighbors, the Scythians, to get pregnant each year. Virgins were said to wear belts, and removed their belts to copulate and get pregnant. They could not join in the Rites until they had killed a man. The Amazons had no use for their male offspring, and by some accounts the boys were returned to their fathers, and by others the boys were either killed or left to die of exposure. Herodotus, the father of history, claims that Amazons landed on the shores of the Sea of Azov after being defeated by Hercules. They intermarried with the Scythian men they found there, but refused to join Scythian society. Instead, the Amazons and their men struck out on their own and formed a new peoples called Sauromatai (Sarmatians, Sauromatians).
In Slavonic mythology, Amazons wounded or those ill with epilepsy became mermaids. It was said that the god Ares gifted the Amazon queen Hippolyte with a belt that Hercules was then commanded to steal (the accounts of what happened at that point vary greatly). The Amazon queen Thalestris was reported to have visited Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.) during one of his Asian campaigns to conceive a daughter by him. She supposedly stayed with him for 13 days.
I remain unconvinced about whether there was a true Amazon all-women warrior society during the time of the Greeks. What I find so fascinating is that to the Greek man, the Amazon seemed to be the equivalent of the boogie man. In every battle where Amazons are reported to have taken part, they’re on the losing side. They are reported to have been at Troy – fighting against the Greeks of course. They are defeated by Hercules (Herakles), and their queen Antiope is abducted (or chose to leave Amazon life depending on the story teller) by Theseus. The Greeks tell stories of these vicious barbarian women living outside normal society, savages, but are continually intrigued by them at the same time.
I first learned of the Amazons watching Wonder Woman, and later Xena: Warrior Princess. As a child, I gravitated to these strong female characters who were the equal of men, could meet them in battle and prevail. I was also a huge fan of She-Ra, but she wasn’t an Amazon. Regardless of whether you believe that Amazons existed, it still makes for a great story.
What Ancient Writers Say About Amazons
Women the equal of men – Homer
Those famous Amazons, who live without men and feed on flesh. – Aeschylus
Virgins fearless in battle – Aeschylus
Golden-shielded, silver-sworded, man-loving, male-child slaughtering Amazons. – Hellanicus
They have no right breasts…for while they are yet babies their mothers make red-hot a bronze instrument constructed for this very purpose and apply it to the right breast and cauterize it, so that its growth is arrested, and all its strength and bulk are diverted to the right shoulder and right arm. – Hippocrates
Violent resisters of masculine rule, they fought ruthlessly, they killed or mutilated their male offspring, and they had promiscuous, anonymous sex in order to get pregnant. They were as beautiful as they were cruel. – Homer
Whom the Scythians call Oriorpata – man-slayers. – Herodotus
What do you think? Did Amazons really exist?
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