THE HISTORY AND LEGENDS OF THE AMAZON WARRIOR WOMEN

In Greek mythology, the
Amazons were a race of warlike women noted for their courage and pride who
lived at the outer limits of the known world, sometimes specifically mentioned
as the city of
Themiskyra on the Black Sea. Their queen was Hippolyta and although Homer tells us
they were ‘the equal of men’, they fought and lost separate battles against
three Greek heroes: HerculesTheseus 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
world.
In mythology, the Amazons
were daughters of Ares, the god of war. They were a
women-only society where men were welcomed only for breeding purposes and all
male infants were killed. In legend, the Amazons burnt off their right breast
in order to better use a bow and throw a spear, indeed, the word amazon may
signify ‘breastless’. Interestingly though, Amazons are not depicted in Greek
art with a missing breast. They are most often depicted wearing hoplite armour
and frequently ride a horse. The most common weapon is the bow and spear but
there are also examples where Amazons carry axes.
IN GREEK ART AMAZONS CAME TO REPRESENT BARBAROUS
FOREIGNERS.

ETYMOLOGY
The origin of the word is uncertain.
It may be derived from an Iranian ethnonym *ha-mazan- “warriors”,
a word attested indirectly through a derivation, a denominal verb in Hesychius of
Alexandria’s gloss “ἁμαζακάραν· πολεμεῖν.
Πέρσαι” (“hamazakaran: ‘to make war’ in Persian”),
where it appears together with the Indo-Iranian root *kar- “make”
(from which Sanskrit karma is
also derived).
It
may also be derived from *ṇ-mṇ-gw-jon-es “manless,
without husbands” (a- privative and a derivation
of *man- also found in Slavic muzh)
has been proposed, an explanation deemed “unlikely” by Hjalmar Frisk. 19th century
scholarship also connected the term to the ethnonym Amazigh. A further explanation
proposes Iranian *ama-janah “virility-killing” as source.
The Hittite researcher Friedrich Cornelius assumes that
there had been the land Azzi with the capital Chajasa in the area of the
Thermodon-Iris Delta on the coast of the Black Sea. He brings its residents in
direct relation to the Amazons, namely based on its name (woman of the land
Azzi = ‘Am’+ ‘Azzi’ = Amazon) and its customs (matriarchal custom of
promiscuous sexual intercourse, even with blood relatives). The location of
that land as well as his conclusions are controversial. — Gerhard Pollauer
Among
Classical Greeks, amazon was given a folk etymology as originating
from a- (ἀ-) and mazos (μαζός),
“without breast”, connected with an etiological tradition once claimed
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.
Greeks
also used some descriptive phrases for
them. Herodotus used the Androktones (Greek: Ανδροκτόνες, singular Ανδροκτόνα, Androktonα)
(“killers of men”) and Androleteirai (Greek: Ανδρολέτειραι, singular Ανδρολέτειρα, Androleteira)
(“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”).
ORIGINS
Herodotus and Strabo placed them on the banks of
the Thermodon and Themiscyra. Herodotus
also mentions that some Amazons lived at Scythia because after the Greeks
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.
The
Amazons were supposed to have founded many towns, amongst them Smyrna, Ephesus, Cyme, Myrina, Sinope, Paphos, Mitylene. At Patmos there was a place called
Amazonium. Also, on the island of Lemnos, there was another Myrina. The
cities of Myrina had this name after the amazon Myrina.
Apollonius Rhodius,
at Argonautica, mentions that at Thermodon the
Amazons were not gathered together in one city, but scattered over the land,
parted into three tribes. In one part dwelt the Themiscyreians (Greek: Θεμισκύρειαι), in another the Lycastians (Greek: Λυκάστιαι),
and in another the Chadesians (Greek: Χαδήσιαι).
OTHER
NAME
Greeks also used other names for
them. Herodotus used the Androktones (Greek: Ανδροκτόνες, singular Ανδροκτόνα, Androktonα)
(“killers/slayers of men”) and Androleteirai (Greek: Ανδρολέτειραι, singular Ανδρολέτειρα, Androleteira)
(“destroyers of men, murderesses”),  in the Iliad they
are also called Antianeirai (Greek: Αντιάνειραι, singular Αντιάνειρα, Antianeira)
(“those who fight like men”) and Aeschylus used the Steganor (Greek: Στυγάνορ)
(“those who loathe all men”)
Herodotus stated that in the Scythian
language they were called Oiorpata, oior means “man”, and
pata means “to slay”

FIGHTING GREEK HEROES

The first meeting between
Greeks and Amazons was when Hercules was sent by Eurystheus, the king of MycenaeTiryns and Argos on one of
his celebrated twelve labours, this time to fetch the girdle of the Amazon
queen Hippolyta. The girdle was given by her father Ares and the task was set
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.
Theseus eventually became the
ruler of Athens but the Amazons had not forgotten the loss of one of their
members and so launched an expedition to rescue Antiope. Theseus defeated the
barbarian invaders but during the battle,
Antiope was killed. Theseus abducting Antiope is the subject of the pediment
from the Temple of Apollo at Eretria (c. 510 BCE) and on the metopes of The
Treasury of the Athenians at Delphi. 
Bellerophon was involved in a
third meeting between Greeks and Amazons. He was another hero who had to
perform impossible tasks in service to a king. This time Proitos, king of
Argos, outraged at (false) accusations from his wife that Bellerophon had
attacked her, the king sent the hero to serve Iobates. It was he who set the
hero the task of killing the Chimera – a fantastic creature which was a
fire-breathing mix of lion, snake and goat – and when Bellerophon managed that
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 Lyciaon 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).
MYTHOLOGY
In
some versions of the 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.
Strabo, giving credits to Metrodorus of
Scepsis and Hypsicrates, mentions that at his time the
Amazons were believed to live on the borders of the Gargareans. There were two special months
in the spring in which they would go up into the neighboring mountain which
separates them and the Gargareans. The Gargareans also, in accordance with an
ancient custom, would go there to offer sacrifice with the Amazons and also to
have intercourse with them for the sake of begetting children. They did this in
secrecy and darkness, any Gargareans at random with any Amazon, and after
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.
Herodotus
mentions that when Greeks defeated the Amazons at war, 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. 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.
Apollonius Rhodius,
at Argonautica, mentions that Amazons were the
daughters of Ares and Harmonia (a
nymph of the Akmonian Wood). They were brutal and aggressive, and their main
concern in life was war. According to him, the Amazons were not gathered
together in one city, but scattered over the land, parted into three tribes. In
one part dwelt the Themiscyreians (Greek: Θεμισκύρειαι), in another the Lycastians (Greek: Λυκάστιαι),
and in another the Chadesians (Greek: Χαδήσιαι). Also,
he mention that on an island, the Queens of the Amazons, Otrere (Greek: Ὀτρηρή)
and Antiope (Greek: Ἀντιόπη),
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
King Iobates sent Bellerophon against Amazons, hoping
that they would kill him, but Bellerophon killed them all.
The
Amazons appear in Greek art of
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,
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).
One
of the tasks imposed upon
Hercules by Eurystheus was to obtain possession of
the girdle of the Amazonian queen Hippolyta. He was accompanied by his friend Theseus, who carried off the princess Antiope, sister of Hippolyta, 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; by
this marriage with the Amazon Theseus had a son Hippolytus.
In another version of this myth, Theseus made this voyage on his own account,
after the time of Heracles. 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.
Plutarch, in his work Parallel Lives-The Life of Theseus,
mentions that Bion said that the Amazons, were naturally friendly to men, and
did not fly from Theseus when he touched upon their coasts.
Amazons
attacked the Phrygians, who were
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.
The
god Dionysus and his entourage fought the
amazons at Ephesus, the amazons fled to Samos,
but Dionysus pursued them and at Samos he killed a great number of them on a
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.
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. 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 king’s biographers make
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?”
The
Roman writer Virgil’s characterization of the Volscian warrior maiden Camilla in
the Aeneid borrows heavily from the
myth of the Amazons.
Jordanes’ Getica (c. 560), purporting to
give the earliest history of the Goths,
relates that the Goths’ ancestors, descendants of Magog, originally dwelt within Scythia, on
the Sea of Azov between the Dnieper and Don Rivers.
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.
In
the Grottaferrata Version of Digenes Akritas, the twelfth century
medieval epic of Basil, the Greek-Syrian knight of the Byzantine frontier, the hero battles
with and kills the female warrior Maximo.

AMAZONOMACHIES

More general Amazonomachies
(battles with Amazons) were present on the shield of the cult statue of Athena Parthenos
in the Parthenon (438
BCE), on the west pediment of the Temple of Asklepios at Epidaurus (395-375
BCE), on the Temple of Athena Nike on
the Athenian Acropolis (c.
425-420 BCE), on the Tholos of Delphi (380-370 BCE) and on the Temple of Ares
in the Athens agora. The oldest
depiction of a warrior fighting an Amazon is on a terracotta votive shield from
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.
In particular, during the 5th
century BCE in Athens, these mythological battles with Amazons came to
represent contemporary events, i.e. the battles between Greeks and the invading
Persian Armies of Dariusat Marathon (490
BCE), Xerxes at Salamis and the
Persian attack on Athens itself in 480 BCE. In this sense, Amazons came to
represent barbarous foreigners; indeed depictions of Amazons on pottery in this
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.

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