The Greek Warrior Amazons
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The Greek Warrior Amazons

The Amazons were essentially a prehistoric people who inverted the social order. And so those women, by their unjust greed for others' land, justly lost their own. The earliest coinage in fact has Amazonian influences with bulls and lions, but more importantly, the first head placed on a coin was Mytilene, the founder of Lesbos, showing the myth was alive and well. The myth of the Amazons reminds Greeks of the time from 4-18 B.C. that they would rather forget. Their children’s growth and experiences.

Homer described the myth of the Amazons during the 7th century in the Iliad. The description of the women here is very slight but, from the facts that battle with them is considered a severe test of the hero's valour and that as warriors they are ranked with the monstrous chimaera, the fierce Solymi, and picked men of Lycia, we gather that they are conceived as beings to be feared1. Some of those Amazons came to fight on the Trojan side in the war at Troy, and their queen, Penthesilea, met her death at the hands of the great Greek warrior Achilles, who fell in love with his victim as he killed her. They were considered men for their high courage, rather than women for their sex; for they seemed to outdo men in their spirit more than to be at a disadvantage in their form.

It is often said that the Greek past may be represented as the Amazons. The myth started in Athens (Amazonomachy) and it was slowly sewn into the mythology of several communities. Amazons evoked the notions of decorum, as Greek men rode nude into battle, and Amazons on horses, in the same nature.

Two female gladiators with their names Amazonia and Achillea

The Amazons were essentially a prehistoric people who inverted the social order. And so those women, by their unjust greed for others' land, justly lost their own. The earliest coinage in fact has Amazonian influences with bulls and lions, but more importantly, the first head placed on a coin was Mytilene, the founder of Lesbos, showing the myth was alive and well. The myth of the Amazons reminds Greeks of the time from 4-18 B.C. that they would rather forget. Their children’s growth and experiences.

Amazons are found within some tragedies, which described that she has sex after marriage and she is tamed and pacified. Why? She takes on a role like the conventional woman. Visually, in many forms of artwork, Amazons do not differ from Greek heroes; they wear Greek armor, carry Greek weapons, and engage in pursuits typical of male warriors. The defeat of the Amazons can be seen in Athenian propaganda and on the shield of Athena, in her temple on the Acropolis. Amazons were said to cauterize their right breasts in order to remove any impediment to effective fighting or they allegedly fed their female infants on horse's milk to prevent the enlargement of their breasts. The war-loving Amazons were an analogous female challenge to the order of civilization.

Mounted Amazon

Mounted Amazon in Scythian costume, on an Attic red-figure vase, ca 420 BCE

There are several accounts of the Amazons including those of Herodotus and Diodorus. Herodotus’ account describes how the Scythians fall in love with Amazons and want to marry. The Amazons refuse to become conventional wives, but ask that the men to stay with them alone. If the men were to be true to the Amazons, they would have to conduct themselves with strict justice towards them, go home to their parents, and ask them for their inheritance. They would then come back to the Amazons and live together by themselves. In Diodorus’ first-century B.C.E. account, Amazon men in Libya live the lives of Greek women-they stay at home, weave, and tend the children, deprived of the right to govern-while the women fight and demonstrate a remarkable capacity for just and orderly rule2.

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Sources

  1. Florence Mary Bennett, Religious Cults Associated With the Amazons, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1912), 1.
  2. Elaine Fantham, Helen Peet Foley, Natalie Boymel Kampen, Sarah B Pomeroy and H.A. Shapiro, Women in the Classical World, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 134.

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Comments (4)

interesting post

interesting post

Lauren, I love these types of articles. I have been fascinated by ancient greek history and mythology since childhood. My all time favorite movie so far has been the first series of Spartacus. I look forward to reading more of these from you. Bless you, Chris

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