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What evidence for the existence of the Amazons is found by modern archaeologists and other facts about female warriors
What evidence for the existence of the Amazons is found by modern archaeologists and other facts about female warriors

Amazons - notorious women who allegedly cut off their breasts, lived without men and fought fiercely, are still shrouded in secrets and myths to this day. Modern interpretations have taken them to a new level of popularity, making them the protagonists of films, one of which is Marvel's Wonder Woman. About who the ancient female warriors of the Amazon really were and how hundreds of legends about them arose - further in the article.

1. Ancient female warriors of the Amazon

A vessel depicting a battle between the Amazons and the Greeks, attributed to a vase painter of woolly satyrs, circa 450 BC. NS. \ Photo:

For centuries, scholars believed that the Amazons belonged exclusively to the realm of myth and legend. However, the ancient Greeks believed that the race of these female warriors existed in some distant country. For the Greeks, they were fearsome women who hated or even killed men. This belief is supported by various names given to the Amazons by ancient sources. Among these names were Androctons (killers of people) and Androleteirai (destroyers of people), or Styganors (those who hate all people). However, the name "Amazon" can also be derived from the Greek ἀμαζός (no breast). The use of this name is believed to have led to the myth of the Amazons, female warriors who cut off their breasts in order to better use their bows, rather than the legend leading to the name.

Monument to the Amazon. \ Photo:

In Greek mythology, the Amazons were fierce, human-killing warriors, also believed to be the daughters of Ares, the god of war. The Amazonomachy, famously depicted on the Parthenon metopes, was the great mythical battle between the Greeks and the Amazons. Many Greek heroes were tasked with defeating the Amazon queens and warriors in their trials in order to achieve their heroic glory.

2. Myths: Hercules and Hippolyta

Hercules takes the belt from Hippolyta, Nikolaus Knüpfer, 1600. \ Photo:

A famous myth involving the defeated Amazon in search of glory is the story of Hercules and Hippolytus. For the ninth work of Hercules, the hero was tasked with stealing the belt of Hippolyta, the queen of the Amazons. Hercules went to Themiscyra, where the queen of the Amazons lived, and received her belt after a bloody battle with the Amazons. Defeating Hippolyta, Hercules completed his test, earning heroic fame and recognition for this act.

3. Myths: Theseus and Hippolyta

The Morning of the Marriage of Theseus and Hippolyta (sketch), Edwin Austin Abbey, 1893.\ Photo:

Another Greek legend about the hero and the Amazon is the legend of Theseus and Hippolytus (sometimes called Antiope). Theseus was a mythical king and founder of Athens. Like Hercules, he also went through various trials in order to gain his reputation, for example, by defeating the Minotaur. There are many legends and various versions associated with the events that led to the fact that Hippolyta became the wife of Theseus. The general narrative of the legend is consistent with the fact that Theseus kidnapped or gave Hippolytus Hercules as war booty against the Amazons. Another version says that she voluntarily left her female Amazon warriors to be with Theseus as his wife.

Phaedra and Hippolyte, Baron Pierre Narcis Guerin, 1802. \ Photo:

There are also several versions about the death of Hippolyta, causing a lot of controversy and disagreement on this matter. While some historians and scholars argue that Hippolyta was killed by her own husband by no means coincidence, others are inclined to believe that Theseus has nothing to do with the death and murder of his own wife. After the death of Hippolyta, Theseus married Phaedra, a key figure in Euripides' play Hippolytus, which tells the story of Hippolyta's son.As a matter of fact, it is difficult to say how everything really was, and who was involved in the death of the great warrior.

4. Legend of Achilles and Pentesileus

Achilles and Penthesilea, Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein. \ Photo:

In addition to the legends about Hippolytus, there is another one about Achilles and Penthesileus. The fragmentary epic poem Ethiopis, attributed to Arctinus of Miletus, records a narrative for the first time, which was later taken up by Quintus Smyrnaeus. According to these stories, Penthesilea was an Amazon from Thrace. She and twelve other Amazons came to the aid of the Trojans during the Trojan War. On the battlefield, women distinguished themselves as fierce warriors.

According to one of the versions, the fearless and self-confident Penthesilea, having challenged Achilles, was killed by him and a moment before the death of the great warrior, he fell in love with her. As a result, this legend became a popular subject for potters and vase painters, and its story was retold countless times throughout antiquity.

5. Amazons of Herodotus

The Battle of the Greeks with the Amazons, Peter Paul Rubens, 1615 \ Photo:

The legends of these female warriors depict a fearsome race killing men, but are these descriptions based on any historical evidence? In Herodotus, historians have found the most convincing ancient literary evidence of the existence of a tribe of women warriors. According to one historian, after the Greeks successfully defeated the Amazons in battle, the women were captured and placed on three ships. The captive Amazons were able to defeat the crews of these ships and successfully take control of the ships. But since the women living on land knew nothing about the ships, the ships soon ran aground on the shores of Lake Mayotian. From there, the women went inland and stumbled upon a herd of horses, which they quickly tamed. On horseback, female warriors plundered and stole from the inhabitants of Scythia.

6. Scythian women warriors

Plate depicting a Scythian woman archer attributed to Epictetus, c. 520-500 BC NS. \ Photo:

The Scythians themselves were a nomadic tribe that practiced horse warfare. At first, the Scythians could not understand the language of the raiders and took them for men. It wasn't until after the battle that they discovered that the hijackers were actually women. Deciding to end the bloodshed between the two tribes, the Scythians decided to integrate women into their tribe. They sent a detachment of young men to camp alongside the Amazons. When the Amazons realized that the camp of the young people would not harm them, they left them alone.

Every day the camps approached each other, until one day a Scythian man stumbled upon a lonely Amazon. As a result, they spent the night together, after which, she gestured that he should return the next day with another young man. He did so and discovered that the Amazon had brought another woman with her. Soon all the Scythians were able to marry an Amazon, and the two tribes lived as one. Since the men did not understand the Amazon language, the female warriors soon learned the Scythian language.

Scythian warriors in the Don steppes, IV century BC, Oleg Fedorov. \ Photo:

The men persuaded the Amazons to join them along with other Scythians, but the women refused. The female Amazon warriors stated that they did not study women's work, but instead rode horses and fired bows. This, they said, could not allow them to live in harmony with the other women of the tribe. Therefore, the Amazons asked their new husbands to return home to collect their belongings. Together, the Amazons and young Scythians set out on a journey to form a new nomadic tribe, separate from the Scythians. According to Herodotus, the Sauromats were descendants of the Scythians and Amazons.

7. Archaeological evidence of female warriors

From left to right: Scythian warrior in a cloth headdress. \ Remains of a Scythian female warrior discovered in 2019. \ Photo:

Despite the history of Herodotus, many scholars agree that most of his stories border on fictional ones, as he often referred to dubious stories he heard during his travels. In the 1940s, during the excavation of Scythian burial mounds in the Caucasus region, ancient human remains were discovered. Archaeologists initially believed that these remains belonged to men, but DNA has proven that the remains of three hundred skeletons were in fact women. These Scythian warriors were buried along with their horses, quivers, bows, axes and spears. In addition, a third of the Scythian women found in graves to date have been buried with their weapons.

Amazon, armed with labrys, mosaics IV century AD. \ Photo:

Since the discovery of evidence of Scythian female warriors in the 1940s, archaeologists have successfully unearthed burial sites throughout the Caucasus region. In 2019, a mound with the remains of four Scythian women was discovered in western Russia. The age of the women ranged from thirteen to forty. The remains themselves have been dated to around 2300 BC. Each of these women was buried along with their weapons, and testimonies indicate that they were buried in the same way as the men. The skeleton of the oldest Scythian woman was completely intact, and her head was still adorned with a ceremonial headdress or kalatos.

8. Misconceptions about the Amazons

Battle between the Amazons and Greeks, detail from the Temple of Apollo at Bassa, circa 400 BC NS. \ Photo:

Archeology has successfully proved that Scythian women warriors did exist in the area described by Herodotus. Archeology has also provided evidence to refute many of the misconceptions about the Amazons. The prevailing myth about the Amazons is that they were human killers. This belief stemmed from the core of ancient Greek society. For the Greeks, these women were wild and unbridled. Fear of the unknown and a woman who could not be controlled led to the fact that the Amazons became objects of fantasy for the Greek mind. To remedy this, Greek mythology placed female warriors in narratives in which they would be defeated and tamed by a Greek hero.

The notion that the Amazons cut off one of their breasts in order to better use their bows has also been refuted. Archeology indicates that there was no such deformity, but the myth can again be attributed to a Greek invention. By cutting off one of their breasts, the Amazons will physically remove their connection to motherhood. The notion that female warriors of the Amazon have given up motherhood in favor of being warriors is another misconception. Archeology has provided evidence that many Scythian female warriors were buried along with their babies or children and their weapons.

9. Conclusion

Departure of the Amazons, Claude Deruet, circa 1620s. \ Photo:

Amazon women warriors have captivated the imagination of people for millennia. Even today, they are capturing audience interest with films such as Marvel's Wonder Woman. In the myths, they symbolized women who were equal, if not superior to, male warriors, representing a way of life that went beyond the expectations of society. Archaeological evidence supporting the existence of Scythian women warriors has shown that much of what we once thought was myth may be reality …

Read also about where did centaurs actually come from and why there are still many myths and legends hovering around such mysterious creatures.

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