THE HISTORY AND LEGENDS OF THE AMAZON WARRIOR WOMEN
they were ‘the equal of men’, they fought and lost separate battles against three Greek heroes: Hercules, Theseus and Bellerophon. Scenes from these battles were popular in Greek art, especially on pottery and in
monumental sculpture adorning some of the most important buildings in the Greek
by Marcus Justinus who alleged that Amazons had their right breast cut off or burnt out. There is no indication of such a practice in ancient works of art, in which the Amazons are always represented with both breasts, although one is frequently covered. Adrienne Mayor suggests the origin of this myth was due to the word’s etymology.
(“destroyers of men, murderesses”), in the Iliad they are also called Antianeirai (Greek: Αντιάνειραι, singular Αντιάνειρα, Antianeira)
(“those who fight like men”) and Aeschylus in his work, Prometheus Bound, used the styganor (Greek: στυγάνορ) (“those who loathe all men”).
defeated the Amazons in battle, they sailed away carrying in three ships as many Amazons as they had been able to take alive, but out at sea the Amazons attacked the crews and killed them, then these Amazons landed at Scythian lands. Strabo writes that the original home of the Amazons was in Themiscyra and the plains about Thermodon and the mountains that lie above them, but were later driven out of these places, and during his time they were said to live in
the mountains above Caucasian Albania (not to be confused with the modern Albania), but he also states that some others, among them Metrodorus of Scepsis and Hypsicrates, say that after Themiscyra, the Amazons traveled and lived on the borders of the Gargarians, in the northerly foothills of those parts of the Caucasian Mountains which are called Ceraunian. Diodorus giving the account of Dionysius of Mitylene, who, on his part, drew on Thymoetas states that before the Amazons of the Thermodon there were, much earlier in time, the Amazons of Libya. These Amazons started from Libyapassed through Egypt and Syria, and stopped at the Caïcus in Aeolis, near which they founded several
cities. Later, he says, they established Mitylene a little way beyond the
Caïcus. Aeschylus, at Prometheus Bound, places the original home of the Amazons in the country about Lake Maeotis and they later moved to Themiscyra on the Thermodon. According to Pseudo-Plutarch, the Amazons lived in and about the Tanais (Greek: Τάναϊς) river (modern Don river),
formerly called the Amazonian or Amazon (Greek: Ἀμαζόνιος) river, because the
Amazons bathed themselves therein. The Amazons later moved to Themiscyra (modern Terme) on the River Thermodon(the Terme river in northern Turkey). Plutarch, mentions that the campaign(s) of Heracles and Theseus against the Amazons was
at Euxine Sea (modern Black Sea). Homer tells that the Amazons were sought and found somewhere near Lycia.
Amazonium. Also, on the island of Lemnos, there was another Myrina. The cities of Myrina had this name after the amazon Myrina.
FIGHTING GREEK HEROES
by Eurystheus precisely because it was an impossibly dangerous endeavour. In some versions of the story Hercules goes alone but in other accounts he first assembles an army led by the finest Greek warriors, including Theseus. In some versions, the taking of the girdle turned out to be rather easier than expected when Hippolyta willingly handed it over but in other versions, Hera – always
against Hercules because he was the fruit of her husband’s illicit affair with Alkmene – stirred up the Amazons to give the Greek hero and his army a hot reception. Fine fighters though the Amazons were, they were no match for the invincible Hercules who took the girdle back to Eurystheus. Intriguingly, our earliest depictions of the story in pottery predate the literary sources for the tale by two centuries and they sometimes show Hercules fighting an Amazon named Andromache or Andromeda and in none is a belt ever depicted. This is,
once again, evidence that the oral myths were more complicated and varied than
the literary versions that have survived. A more definite plot element is that during this expedition Theseus fell in love with and abducted (or eloped with) the Amazon Antiope, an action which would lead to a second encounter between Greeks and Amazons. Hercules fighting Amazons was
represented in sculpture on the frieze of the Treasury of the Athenians at Delphi (490 BCE), on the Temple of Apollo at Bassae, on the Hephaisteion of Athens (449 BCE)
and on metopes on the Temple of Zeus at Olympia (470-456 BCE). The throne of the cult statue of Zeus, one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world, was also decorated with scenes from this famous myth.
feat he was told to go off and fight the Amazons. Naturally, the Greek hero won
the day and was even made heir to Iobates’ kingdom in Lycia on his victorious return. A fourth and final meeting with Amazons came towards the end of the Trojan War. In the Epic Cycle we are told that the Amazon Penthesilea aided the Trojans but was
killed in battle by Achilles. In some accounts Achilles fell in love with his victim when he removed her helmet and the scene is captured on a celebrated black-figure vase by Exekias (c. 540 BCE).
reside in Amazon country; but once a year, in order to prevent their race from dying out, they visited the Gargareans, a neighbouring tribe.
making them pregnant they would send them away. Any females that were born are
retained by the Amazons themselves, but the males would be taken to the Gargareans to be brought up; and each Gargarean to whom a child is brought would adopt the child as his own, regarding the child as his son because of his uncertainty. He also stated that the Gargareans went up from Themiscyra into this region with the Amazons, then, in company with some Thracians and Euboeans who had wandered thus far, waged war against them. They later ended the war against the Amazons and made a compact that they should have dealings with one another only in the matter of children, and that each people should
live independent of the other. In addition, he states that the right breasts of all Amazons are seared when they are infants, so that they can easily use their right arm for every needed purpose, and especially that of
throwing the javelin and use the bow.
but out at sea the Amazons attacked the crews and killed them. But the Amazons
knew nothing about ships so they were driven about by waves and winds and they
were disembarked at the land of the Scythians, there they met first with a troop of horses feeding, they seized them and mounted upon these they plundered the property of the Scythians. The Scythians were not able to understand them because they did not know either their speech or their dress or the race to which they belonged, and they thought that they were men. Scythians fought a battle against them, and after the battle the Scythians got possession of the bodies of the dead, and thus they discovered that they were women. After the battle Scythians sent young men and told them to encamp near the Amazons and to
do whatsoever they should do. If the women should come after them, they were not to fight but to retire before them, and when the women stopped, they were to approach near and encamp. This plan was adopted by the Scythians because they desired to have children born from them. When the Amazons perceived that they had not come to do them any harm, they let them alone; and the two camps approached nearer to one another every day: and the young men, like the Amazons, had nothing except their arms and their horses and got their living, as the Amazons did, by hunting and by taking booty. One day a Scythian and an Amazon came close. They could not speak to each other because they were speaking different languages but the Amazon made signs to him with her hand to come. Later the young Scythians and the Amazons joined their camps and lived together, each man having for his wife her with whom he had had dealings at first. The men were not able to learn the language of the Amazons, but the
women learned Scythian.
built a marble temple of Ares. On this desert island there were ravening birds, which in countless numbers haunt it. Argonauts passed by Themiscyra on their journey to Colchis. Zeus sent Boreas (the North Wind), and with his help the Argonauts stood out from the shore near Themiscyra where the Themiscyreian Amazons were arming for battle.
the Archaic period and in connection with several Greek legends. The tomb of Myrine is mentioned in the Iliad; later interpretation made of her an Amazon: according to Diodorus, the Amazons under the rule of Queen Myrina, invaded the lands of the Atlantians. Amazons defeated the army of
the Atlantian city of Cerne, treated the captives savagely, killed all the men, led into slavery the children and women, and razed the city. When the terrible fate of the inhabitants of Cerne became known among the other Atlantians, they were struck with terror, surrendered their cities on terms of capitulation and announced that they would do whatever should be commended them. Queen Myrina bearing herself honourably towards the Atlantians, established friendship with them and founded a city to bear her name in place of the city of Cerne which had been razed; and in it she settled both the captives and any native who so
desired. Atlantians presented her with magnificent presents and by public decree voted to her notable honours, and she in return accepted their courtesy and in addition promised that she would show kindness to their nation. Diodorus also mentions that the Amazons of Queen Myrina used the skins of gigantic snakes, from Libya, to protect themselves at battle. Later Queen Myrine led her Amazons to victory against the Gorgons. After the battle against the
Gorgons, Myrina accorded a funeral to her fallen comrades on three pyres and raised up three great heaps of earth as tombs, which are called “Amazon Mounds” (Greek: Ἀμαζόνων σωροὺς).
marries Hippolyta and in others, he marries Antiope and she does not die; by this marriage with the Amazon Theseus had a son Hippolytus.
the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus.
assisted by Priam, then a young man. In his later years, however, towards the end of the Trojan War, his old opponents took his side
against the Greeks under their queen Penthesilea “of Thracian birth”, who was slain by Achilles.
spot which was, from that occurrence, called Panaema (Greek: Πάναιμα), which means blood-soaked field. In another myth Dionysus united with the Amazons to fight against Cronus and the Titans.
and so terrified the horses, that they threw and trampled upon the invaders, who were forced to retire. Pompey is said to have found them in the army of Mithridates.
mention of Amazon Queen Thalestris visiting
him and becoming a mother by him (the story is known from the Alexander Romance). 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?”
After a few centuries, following an incident where the Goths’ women successfully fended off a raid by a neighboring tribe, while the menfolk were off campaigning against Pharaoh Vesosis, the women formed their own army under Marpesia and crossed the Don, invading Asia. Her sister Lampedo remained in Europe to guard the homeland. They procreated with men once a year. These
Amazons conquered Armenia, Syria, and all of Asia Minor, even reaching Ionia and Aeolia, holding this vast territory for 100
years. Jordanes also mentions that they fought with Hercules, and in the Trojan
War, and that a smaller contingent of them endured in the Caucasus Mountains until the time of Alexander. He mentions by name the Queens Menalippe, Hippolyta, and Penthesilea.
700 BCE. Hercules fighting Amazons is the hero’s second most popular labour depicted on Greek black-figure pottery (after the Nemean lion) with almost 400 surviving
examples. Amazons fighting unnamed warriors were common throughout the 6th and 5th centuries both on black and red-figure pottery.
period are shown actually dressed in Persian costume. Public buildings and their accompanying sculpture were, without doubt, an important method of mass
communication and depictions of heroes fighting Amazons reminded ordinary
people that the political leaders had successfully defended Greek culture
against the threat of foreign, and in Greek eyes less civilized, invaders.
By Johnson Okunade
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