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Amazons. Relief from Bassae (The Temple of Apollo Epikourios), c 450-420 BC

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The Amazons are a nation of all-female warriors in Greek mythology and historiography.

The Amazons are a nation of all-female warriors in Greek mythology and historiography. Amazons were said to have lived near the shore of the Euxeinos Pontos (the Black Sea). There they formed an independent kingdom under the government of a queen, often named Hippolyta ("loose, unbridled mare"). The Amazons were supposed to have founded many towns, amongst them Smyrna, Ephesus, Sinope, and Paphos. According to the dramatist Aeschylus, in the distant past they had lived in Scythia, at the Palus Maeotis ("Lake Maeotis", the Sea of Azov), but later moved to Themiscyra on the River Thermodon (the Terme river in northern Turkey). Historian Herodotus called them Androktones ("killers of men"), and he stated that in the Scythian language they were called Oiorpata, which he asserted had this meaning.

In Hellenistic and Roman era historiography, there are various accounts of Amazon raids in Asia Minor. The Amazons become associated with various historical peoples throughout Late Antiquity. From the Early Modern period, their name has become a term for woman warriors in general.

Notable queens of the Amazons are Penthesilea ("swiftness"), who participated in the Trojan War, and her sister Hippolyte (Hippolyta), whose magical girdle was the object of one of the labours of Hercules. The Amazons were told to be excellent horse riders, spending the most of their time on horses. According to Lysias the Amazons were first who mounted horses.

Herodotus reported that the Sarmatians were descendants of Amazons and Scythians, and that their females observed their ancient maternal customs, "frequently hunting on horseback with their husbands; in war taking the field; and wearing the very same dress as the men". Moreover, said Herodotus, "No girl shall wed till she has killed a man in battle". In the story related by Herodotus, a group of Amazons was blown across the Maeotian Lake into Scythia near the cliff region (today's southeastern Crimea). After learning the Scythian language, they agreed to marry Scythian men, on the condition that they not be required to follow the customs of Scythian women. According to Herodotus, this band moved toward the northeast, settling beyond the Tanais (Don) river, and became the ancestors of the Sarmatians (Sauromatians). According to Herodotus, the Sarmatians fought with the Scythians against Darius the Great in the 5th century B.C.

Classical Greeks considered the word amazon derived from mazos (without breast), connected with an etiological tradition that Amazons had their right breast cut off or burnt out, so they would be able to use a bow more freely and throw spears without the physical limitation and obstruction; there is no indication of such a practice in works of art, in which the Amazons are always represented with both breasts, although the right is frequently covered.

Hippocrates describes them as: "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." But experts agree that the Amazons would not have had the medical knowledge to manage the inevitable massive hemorrhage or infection if such ablation of the breast actually occurred. Others claim that amputation of the breast followed by cauterization could have been performed with instruments specifically designed for this purpose.

Amazons came to play a role in Roman historiography. Caesar reminded the Senate of the conquest of large parts of Asia by Semiramis and the Amazons. Successful Amazon raids against Lycia and Cilicia contrasted with effective resistance by Lydian cavalry against the invaders (Strabo, Nicholas Damascenus). Gnaeus Pompeius Trogus pays particularly detailed attention to the Amazons. The story of the Amazons as deriving from a Cappadocian colony of two Scythian princes Ylinos and Scolopetos is due to him. Diodorus relates the story of Hercules defeating the Amazons at Themiscyre. Philostratus places the Amazons in the Taurus mountains. Ammianus places them east of Tanais, as neighbouring the Alans. Procopius places them in the Caucasus. Although Strabo shows scepticism as to their historicity, the Amazons in general continue to be taken as historical throughout Late Antiquity. Several Church Fathers speak of the Amazons as of a real people. Solinus embraces the account of Plinius. Under Aurelianus, captured Gothic women were identified as Amazons (Claudianus). The account of Justinus was influential, and was used as a source by Orosius who continued to be read during the European Middle Ages. Medieval authors thus continue the tradition of locating the Amazons in the North, Adam of Bremen placing them at the Baltic Sea and Paulus Diaconus in the heart of Germania.

In some versions of the Greek myth, no men were permitted to have sexual encounters or reside in Amazon country; but once a year, in order to prevent their race from dying out, they visited the Gargareans, a neighbouring tribe. The male children who were the result of these visits were either put to death, sent back to their fathers or exposed in the wilderness to fend for themselves; the females were kept and brought up by their mothers, and trained in agricultural pursuits, hunting, and the art of war.

In the Iliad, the Amazons were referred to as Antianeira ("those who fight like men"). The Amazons also make an appearance with the Argonauts, who came across the island of Lemnos on their way to the land of Colchis. They found Lemnos inhabited only by women and ruled by Queen Hypsipyle. They named the island Gynaikokratumene, a Greek word which roughly translates to "reigned by women". Apollonius of Rhodes writes that the women received Jason and his companions in battle array -- "Hypsipile assumed her father's arms, and led the van, terrific in her charms." The young queen tells them that Lemnos was invaded in the past and all of the men were killed. The Amazons invite the Argonauts to take their fallen husbands' places. What the Argonauts do not realize is that the men of the island were slain by their own womenfolk. The Argonauts fortunately were not persuaded to stay long. As they sailed away through the Hellespont and crept up the Euxine they are told -- "flee the Amazonian shore, Else Themyscira soon, with rude alarms, Had seen the assembled Amazons in arms."

The Amazons appear in Greek art of the Archaic period and in connection with several Greek legends. They invaded Lycia, but were defeated by Bellerophon, who was sent against them by Iobates, the king of that country, in the hope that he might meet his death at their hands (Iliad, vi. 186). The tomb of Myrine is mentioned in the Iliad; later interpretation made of her an Amazon: according to Diodorus, Queen Myrine led her Amazons to victory against Libya and much of Gorgon.

They attacked the Phrygians, who were assisted by Priam, then a young man (Iliad, iii. 189). Although in his later years, towards the end of the Trojan War, his old opponents took his side again against the Greeks under their queen Penthesilea (Quintus Smyrnaeus), who was slain by Achilles, in the Aethiopis that continued the Iliad. (Quintus Smyrn. i.; Justin ; Virgil, Aeneid).

One of the tasks imposed upon Hercules by Eurystheus was to obtain possession of the girdle of the Amazonian queen Hippolyte (Apollodorus ii. 5). He was accompanied by his friend Theseus, who carried off the princess Antiope, sister of Hippolyte, an incident which led to a retaliatory invasion of Attica, in which Antiope perished fighting by the side of Theseus. In some versions, however, Theseus marries Hippolyta and in others, he marries Antiope and she does not die. The battle between the Athenians and Amazons is often commemorated in an entire genre of art, amazonomachy, in marble bas-reliefs such as from the Parthenon or the sculptures of the mausoleum of Halicarnassus.

The Amazons are also said to have undertaken an expedition against the island of Leuke, at the mouth of the Danube, where the ashes of Achilles had been deposited by Thetis. The ghost of the dead hero appeared and so terrified the horses, that they threw and trampled upon the invaders, who were forced to retire. Roman commander Pompey is said to have found them in the army of Mithridates.

They are heard of in the time of Alexander, when some of the great king's biographers make mention of Amazon Queen Thalestris visiting him and becoming a mother by him. However, several other biographers of Alexander dispute the claim, including the highly regarded secondary source, Plutarch. In his writing he makes mention of a moment when Alexander's secondary naval commander, Onesicritus, was reading the Amazon passage of his Alexander history to King Lysimachus of Thrace who was on the original expedition: the king smiled at him and said "And where was I, then?"

The Roman writer Virgil's characterization of the Volscian warrior maiden Camilla in the Aeneid borrows heavily from the myth of the Amazons.

According to ancient sources (Plutarch, Pausanias), Amazon tombs could be found frequently throughout what was once known as the ancient Greek world. Some are found in Megara, Athens, Chaeronea, Chalcis, Thessaly at Scotussa, in Cynoscephalae and statues of Amazons are all over Greece. At both Chalcis and Athens Plutarch tells us that there was an Amazoneum or shrine of Amazons that implied the presence of both tombs and cult. On the day before the Thesea at Athens there were annual sacrifices to the Amazons. In historical times Greek maidens of Ephesus performed an annual circular dance with weapons and shields that had been established by Hippolyte and her Amazons. They had initially set up wooden statues of Artemis, a bretas.

Amazons continued to be discussed by authors of the European Renaissance, and with the Age of Exploration, they were located in ever more remote areas. Francisco de Orellana in 1542 reached the Amazonas River, naming it for the warlike women he encountered there. Amazons also figure in the accounts of both Christopher Columbus and Walter Raleigh.

Medieval and Renaissance authors credit the Amazons with the invention of the battle-axe. This is probably related to the Sagaris, an axe-like weapon associated with both Amazons and Scythian tribes by Greek authors (see also Aleksandrovo kurgan). Martial arts expert of the 16th century, Paulus Hector Mair expresses astonishment that such a "manly weapon" should have been invented by a "tribe of women", but he accepts the attribution out of respect for his authority, Johannes Aventinus.

Ariosto's Orlando Furioso (The Frenzy of Orlando) contains a country of warrior women, ruled by Queen Orontea; the epic describes an origin much like that in Greek myth, in that the women, abandoned by a band of warriors and unfaithful lovers, rallied together to form a nation from which men were severely reduced, to prevent them from regaining power.

Classicist Peter Walcot spoke for most mythographers when he wrote, "Wherever the Amazons are located by the Greeks, whether it is somewhere along the Black Sea in the distant north-east, or in Libya in the furthest south, it is always beyond the confines of the civilized world. The Amazons exist outside the range of normal human experience."

Nevertheless, there are various proposals for a historical nucleus of the Amazons of Greek historiography, the most obvious candidates being historical Scythia and Sarmatia in line with the account by Herodotus, but some authors prefer a comparison to cultures of Asia Minor or even Minoan Crete.

Speculation that the idea of Amazons contains a core of reality is most recently based on archaeological findings from burials, pointing to the possibility that some Sarmatian women may have participated in battle. These findings have led scholars to suggest that the Amazonian legend in Greek mythology may have been "inspired by real warrior women", though this remains a minority opinion among classical historians.

Mounted Amazon in Scythian costume, on an Attic red-figure vase, ca 420 BCE. Archaeological evidence seems to confirm the existence of Women-Warriors, as Sarmatian women's active role in military operation and social life. Burial of armed Sarmatian women comprise about 25 percent of the military burial in the group, and are usually buried with bows.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amazons - cite_note-autogenerated1-10#cite_note-autogenerated1-10

One of evident of existence of Scythian female warriors is the Mounted Amazon in Scythian costume depicted on an Attic red-figure vase, ca 420 BCE. Russian archaeologist Vera Kovalevskaya points out that when Scythian men were away fighting or hunting, nomadic women would have to be able to defend themselves, their animals and pasture-grounds competently. During the time that the Scythians advanced into Asia and achieved near-hegemony in the Near-East, there was a period of twenty-eight years when the men would have been away on campaigns for long periods. During this time the women would not only have had to defend themselves, but to reproduce and this could well be the origin of the idea that Amazons mated once a year with their neighbours, if Herodotus actually intended to base this on a factual base. Before modern archaeology uncovered some of the Scythian burials of warrior-maidens entombed under kurgans in the region of Altay Mountains and Sarmatia, giving concrete form at last to the Greek tales of mounted Amazons, the origin of the story of the Amazons has been the subject of speculation among classics scholars. In the 1911 Encyclop?dia Britannica speculation ranged along the following lines:

"While some regard the Amazons as a purely mythical people, others assume an historical foundation for them. The deities worshipped by them were Ares (who is consistently assigned to them as a god of war, and as a god of Thracian and generally northern origin) and Artemis, not the usual Greek goddess of that name, but an Asiatic deity in some respects her equivalent. It is conjectured that the Amazons were originally the temple-servants and priestesses (hierodulae) of this goddess; and that the removal of the breast corresponded with the self-mutilation of the god Attis and the galli, Roman priests of Rhea Cybele. Another theory is that, as the knowledge of geography extended, travellers brought back reports of tribes ruled entirely by women, who carried out the duties which elsewhere were regarded as peculiar to man, in whom alone the rights of nobility and inheritance were vested, and who had the supreme control of affairs. Hence arose the belief in the Amazons as a nation of female warriors, organized and governed entirely by women. According to J. Viirtheim (De Ajacis origine, 1907), the Amazons were of Greek origin. It has been suggested that the fact of the conquest of the Amazons being assigned to the two famous heroes of Greek mythology, Hercules and Theseus shows that they were mythical illustrations of the dangers which beset the Greeks on the coasts of Asia Minor; rather perhaps, it may be intended to represent the conflict between the Greek culture of the colonies on the Euxine and the barbarism of the native inhabitants."

When Minoan (Crete) archeology was still in its infancy, nevertheless, a theory raised in an essay regarding the Amazons contributed by Lewis Richard Farnell and John Myres to Robert Ranulph Marett's Anthropology and the Classics (1908), placed their possible origins in Minoan civilization, drawing attention to overlooked similarities between the two cultures. According to Myres, (pp. 153 ff), the tradition interpreted in the light of evidence furnished by supposed Amazon cults seems to have been very similar and may have even originated in Minoan culture.

In works of art, battles between Amazons and Greeks are placed on the same level as and often associated with battles of Greeks and centaurs. The belief in their existence, however, having been once accepted and introduced into the national poetry and art, it became necessary to surround them as far as possible with the appearance of not unnatural beings. Their occupation was hunting and war; their arms the bow, spear, axe, a half shield, nearly in the shape of a crescent, called pelta, and in early art a helmet, the model before the Greek mind having apparently been the goddess Athena. In later art they approach the model of Artemis, wearing a thin dress, girt high for speed; while on the later painted vases their dress is often peculiarly Persian – that is, close-fitting trousers and a high cap called the kidaris. They were usually on horseback but sometimes on foot. They can also be identified in vase paintings by the fact that they are wearing one earring. The battle between Theseus and the Amazons (Amazonomachy) is a favourite subject on the friezes of temples (e.g. the reliefs from the frieze of the temple of Apollo at Bassae, now in the British Museum), vases and sarcophagus reliefs; at Athens it was represented on the shield of the statue of Athena Parthenos, on wall-paintings in the Theseum and in the Stoa Poikile. There were also three standard Amazon statue types.

The Amazon subject, especially their battle against male Greeks (a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amazonomachies" target=new>amazonomachies), was exceptionally popular – both in Ancient world and in later centuries. Interestingly, how different artists differently depict the battle of Amazons and Greeks. Numerous Greek steles represent the battles in detail; they show those battles as a dynamic, real, fierce and deadly struggle. There was no indications of indulgence toward the "weaker sex" at all - male warriors descent grabbing their female rivals by hair. Painters of later times introduced some eroticism in Amazon battles. For instance, the static battle-painting by Anselm Feuerbach looks more like an orgy rather than a combat.

Penthesilea The most known Amazon is queen Penthesilea, who participated in the Trojan War. According to the myth, she was a daughter of Ares and Otrera, her sister Hippolyte possessed a magical girdle which was the object of one of the labours of Hercules. Penthesilea was a brave and strong warrior, she wielded various weapons. Despite her position as the commander-in-chief, she courageously battled herself nip and tuck with other Amazons. The myth says that Penthesilea and her Amazons came to rescue sieged Troy and its king Priam after Hector was killed. According to Quintus Smyrnaeus, Penthesilea accidentally killed her sister Hippolyta with a spear when they were hunting deer; this accident caused Penthesilea so much grief that she wished only to die, but, as a warrior and an Amazon, she had to do so honorably and in battle. She therefore was easily convinced to join in the Trojan War, fighting on the side of Troy's defenders.

In the battle she killed many Greeks 'manu propria' but was killed by powerful Achilles. After he killed her, Achilles fell in love with the dead valiant beauty and mourned over her. Tersit poached her eyes by a spear and acused Achill in the perverted passion. Achill turned around and punched him so badly that killed him knocking out all his teeth. Later tales developed the motif of erotic relations between Achilles and Penthesilea – they allegedly had a son Caistrus. The feats of Penthesilea at Troy were glorified by the poet Arctinus in the epic poem "Aethiopis".

Probably the most romantic description of the Penthesilea and Achilles story was done by German play writer Heinrich von Kleist in his tragedy "Penthesilea". Penthesilea pursues Achilles as she leads the Amazons against the Greeks. According to Amazon law, the women warriors are bound to make war in order to take male prisoners, who will provide for the continuity of the state. In singling out Achilles, Penthesilea breaks the special law forbidding the Amazons to choose their individual male opponents. Her military campaign against Greek goes successful but she is desperate to fight Achilles following her mother's prophecy that she would capture him. Ignoring the warnings of the High Priestess, Penthesilea sets out in quest of Achilles. At last she battled with him but suffers defeat losing consciousness and is taken by sisters-in-arms to the Amazon camp; Achilles follows her there. As Penthesilea regains consciousness she cherishes the delusion that she has gained Achilles in fulfillment of a prophecy made by her mother. Achilles, who falls in love with her and wishes to carry her off sends her a challenge with the intention of surrendering to her, and goes forth unarmed. Penthesilea mistakes his action for scorn and in a fury of mad despairing rage sets her hounds on him and joins them in rending his body. When she becomes aware of what she has done she defies state and god, casts away her sword, and through the power of her will undergoes a death of repentance, love, and hope, which looks forward to her reunion with Achilles in the Elysian realm…

Owing to the poetic talent of Ancient Greeks, the history of the legendary Amazons and particularly Penthesilea has survived centuries. The history teaches that women are not always helpless creatures depending on men; they can be self-dependent, strong and courageous. However, the tragic death of Penthesilea by Achill warns against the aspiration for primitive equality; in the most cases, a woman must not and could not defeat a man in a straight struggle – this is a lesson for extreme feminists. At the same time, Achill's love to the woman killed by him cautions men against real battling with women.

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The Early Amazons: Modern and Ancient Perspectives on a Persistent Myth (англ.) by Josine Blok (1995)

Trojan War. Penthesilea

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Penthesilea. Answers.com


Stele portraying Amazons fighting naked Greek men. British Museum. London

Greeks and Amazons

Amazons and Greeks. Sarcophage

Greeks and Amazons

Amazonomachy (fight between Greeks and Amazons), relief of a sarcophagus (ca. 180 BC), found in Salonica, 1836. Louvre. Photographer: Jastrow (2005)

Greeks and Amazons

Thalestris, Queen of the Amazons, visits Alexander, engrave, 1696

Departure of the Amazons

Departure of the Amazons by Claude Deruet, 1620

Combat of the Amazons

Arturo Michelena. Combat of the Amazons

Riding Amazons

J. Heinrich Wilhelm. Riding Amazons, 1788

Stuck. Amazon and centaur

Franz von Stuck. Amazon and Centaur, 1912

Fighting Amazons

Rudolf Jettmar (Poland). Fighting Amazons, 1912. Oil on canvas. Private collection

Bass-reliefs from Bassae, The Temple of Apollo Epikourios c 450-420 BC

Appolo Temple

Appolo Temple

Amazons. Bassae Temple

Amazons. Bassae Temple

Amazons. Bassae Temple

Amazons. Bassae Temple

Amazons. Ethruscian Frescos

Amazons. Ethruscian Frescos

Amazons. Ethruscian Frescos


Hartmann Schedel. Nuremberg chronicles, 1493

Greeks and Amazons

Marble Sarcophagus Depicting Greeks and Amazons, Found at Tell Barak Near Caesarea

Hercules kills Hippolyta

Hercules and Hyppolite. Tomb

Greek-versus-Amazons battle

One of many Greek-versus-Amazons battle friezes from the tomb of Mausolus at Halikarnassos, Greece, fourth century BCE, which ranked among the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. (British Museum, London. Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons)

Hercules kills Hippolyta

Hercules and Amazon. Temple E Selinunte Museo archeologico regionale di Palermo

Bass-reliefs from Bassae, The Temple of Apollo Epikourios c 450-420 BC


Greeks and Amazons

Sarcophagus, 3rd century CE

Greeks and Amazons

Duel between Amazon and Greek. Bass-relief


Stone from the foundations of Bouffay Roman wall. Nantes, France
This bas-relief used to adorn a powerful family tomb. Dobree Museum


Bass-relief from Delphi

Achilles and Penthesilea

Achilles and Penthesilea. Bas-relief

Herculer battles with Hyppolite

Herculer battles with Hyppolite. Attic black-figured amphora

Herculer battles with Hyppolite

Herculer battles with Hyppolite. Attic black-figured amphora

Wounded Amazon

Marble statue of a wounded Amazon. Roman, imperial period, 1st-2nd century A.D. Copy of a Greek bronze statue of ca. 450-425 B.C.
Metropolitan Museum, New York

Achilles and Penthesilea

Exekias. Achilles and Penthesileia. Attic black-figured amphora, ca. 540/530 BC. The British Museum, London

Achilles and Penthesilea

Achilles and Penthesileia. Attic black-figured amphora, ca. 540/530 BC.

Achilles and Penthesilea

Achilles and Penthesileia. Attic plate.

Achilles and Penthesilea

Achilles and Penthesileia. Attic plate.

Achilles and Penthesilea

Achilles and Penthesileia. Attic amphora.


Penthesilea (1862), by Gabriel-Vital Dubray (1813-1892).
East facade of the Cour Carree in the Louvre palace, Paris.


Wounded Amazon. Hans von Stuck, 1904

Ancient city of Sepphoris (Tsipori, Zippori)
Mosaics are on display in the villa of the Byzantine period (before 7AD) – they depict amazons, mythological hunting women who are said to have cut off their right breast so they would be better at handling a bow. (In the mosaics there seem to be no breasts missing.) Amazons in Sepphorus

Amazons in Sepphorus

Amazons in Sepphorus

Greeks and Amazons

Amazonomachy: fight between Greek warriors and Amazons. Marble, sarcophagus panel, ca. 160–170 AD. Served as basin for the Tigris fountain

Greeks and Amazons

Amazonomachy (fight between Greeks and Amazons)

Rubens. Amazons

Peter Paul Rubens. The Battle of the Amazons, c.1618-1620. Oil on panel. Bayerische Staatsgemaldesammlungen, Munich, Germany

Battle of the Amazons

Anselm Feuerbach. Battle of the Amazons - left part

Battle of the Amazons

Anselm Feuerbach. Battle of the Amazons - right part

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