Amazon Women in Ancient Greek Art

 

Ancient Greek Amazon Warriors

In the appendix to the American heritage dictionary there is this reference to an Indo-European word, “magh-2, to fight. 1. Old Iranian *ha-maz-an, “the warrior” (*ha, the see so-), possibly borrowed into Greek as Amazon. That makes the word related to the Greek ‘μάχομαι’. It would seem that the Amazons are part of our patriarchal Indo-European heritage instead of the Minoan culture that seemed to have powerful female deities.

In Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus a reference to Amazons seems to be made at line 415: “Κολχίδος τε γᾶς ἔνοικοι παρθένοι, μάχας ἄτρεστοι,…” (And those who dwell in the land of Colchis, the maidens fearless in fight;)

In Greek mythology the Amazons are a nation or race of women
warriors which the ancient Greeks often battled.
Thus the Greek references to the Amazons are quite old. What
follows in an image of Hercules fighting Andromache, queen of the
Amazons from about 565 BCE: Click
here
.

Aristophanes in the Comedy, Lysistrata line 678 makes reference to Amazons: “Then think of Myron’s (This should be Mikon) painting, and each horse-backed Amazon In combat hand-to-hand with men….” The Athenians preferred to display images that only indirectly refer to current events. So they memorialized their defeat of the Persians by illustrating the defeat by Theseus of the Amazons of ancient times. For this reason many of the Amazons are portrayed in Phrygian garb.

Amazons form a common art subject in ancient Greece.
Aesthetically they can easily be justified because they allow the
construction of dynamic figures of both sexes interacting. But
their historical significance is quite perplexing. Recent
interest in the status of women in society has brought new
interest in the Amazons and any light they can shed on this
subject. Since the publication of J. J. Bachofen’s Mutterrecht
in 1859 the existence of Amazon’s has been taken as evidence for
a matriarchy in historic times. Though this may be a convenient
counter to current male prejudice, it may not be consistent with
the nature of the myth. Of more relevance may be the fact that
Amazons invert the roles of men and women. The myth may deal with
the initiation of youth to their proper roles, while the image of
the Amazon presents a nightmare to the average Greek.

There are a number of myths that include references to Amazons:

  • Io
    • Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound, line 720, “Then you will come to the river of violence, fierce as its name and treacherous to ford; cross not over it until you have reached the Caucasus, highest of mountains, where the river pours out its fury over the brows of the cliffs. Here over the star-neighboring summits you must toil and turn to a southern path; so in time you will reach the host of the Amazons, ever hostile to men, who one day shall inhabit Themiscyra on the Thermodon, where Salmydessus opens upon the sea her ravenous jaws, a terror to strange sailors, a cruel step-dame to ships. Gladly the Amazons will guide thee on thy way.”
  • Bellerophon and the Amazons (Homer)
    • Homer, Iliad, Book VI, line 187: “Then, third, he (Bellerophon) massacred the Amazons, women who rival men.”
    • Pindar, (Olympian XIII, 464 BCE, line 88 “(Bellerophon) smote and slew the archer host of Amazons.”
  • Priam battling them at the river Sangarius:
    • Homer, Iliad, III, 184 ff.,Priam — “I went to Phrygia once,the land of vines and galloping horses, and learnt how numerous the Phrygians are when I saw the armies of Otreus and King Mygdon encamped by the River Sangarius. I was their ally and I bivouacked with them that time and the Amazons, who fight like men, came up to the attack. But even they were not as many as these Achaeans with their flashing eyes.”
  • “The tomb of Myrrhine outside Troy” (Strabo)
  • “Penthesilia is killed by Achilles” (Arctinus)
  • Heracles conquers the Amazons:
    • Euripides, Heracles, line 401, — “Then he went through the waves of heaving Euxine against the mounted host of Amazons dwelling around Maeotis, the lake that is fed by many a stream, having gathered to his standard all his friends from Hellas, to fetch the gold-embroidered raiment of the warrior queen, a deadly quest for a girdle.” (also see Apollodorus)
  • Theseus has to repel an Amazon invasion of Attica (Plutarch).

Ancient Greek turns out to be in the family of Indo-European languages. Progress has been made in the development of the nature of the Indo-European prototype. In the more ancient stories it may be possible to determine some indication of the source by identifying the meaning of the names in the Indo-European prototype language. Failure to find such a meaning may mean the name comes from another culture or that the name was simply fabricated.

  • Caucasus — Καυκασία — ‘lamenting settlement’ from Indo-European ‘kau-1′, ‘To howl’ and ‘sel-1′, ‘human settlement’, related to Greek ‘κώκῦμα’, ‘to wail, lament’.
  • Amazons — Αμαζόνιος — ‘the warriors’ from Indo-European ‘so-‘, ‘This’ and ‘magh-1′, ‘To fight’
  • Themiscyra — Θεμίσκυρα – ‘Laws of custom returned from the sky’ from Indo-Eruopean ‘dhe-‘, ‘To set, put’, ‘ten-‘, ‘ To stretch’, ‘ski-‘, ‘To gleam’, ‘re-‘, ‘Return’
  • Thermodon — Θερμωδων – ‘Warm source’ from Indo-European ‘gwher-‘, ‘Warm’ and ‘do-‘, ‘To give’
  • Salmydessus — Σαλμυδησσός — ‘σαλ’ may relate to ‘sal-‘, ‘salt’ while μυδησσός may relate to ‘μῠδησις’, ‘dampness’ so the name seems to be of a ‘salt marsh’. From Indo-European ‘sal-‘, ‘Salt’ and ‘mori-‘, ‘Body of water’
  • Bellerophon — Βελλεροφων — ‘Shouter of speaches’ from Indo-European ‘bhel-4′, ‘To cry out, yell’ and ‘bha-‘, ‘To speak’
  • Sangarius — Σαγγάριος — ‘A search for chatter’ from Indo-European ‘sag-‘, ‘To seek out’ and ‘gar-‘to call, cry’
  • Phrygia — Φρυγία — ‘burning valley’ From Indo-European ‘bhreu-‘, ‘To boil, bubble, effervesce, burn’ and ‘gei’, ‘to sprout, spit open’

Names of Amazons

Only one name of an Amazon is to be found in Homer or other author of his time. From the Iliad Book II line 815 that name and its adjective is ‘πολυσκάρθμοιο Μυρίνης’ The Little and Scott reference on this use of this adjective is “much, springing, bounding or driving swift horses”. This is given because of the contrast between this and the translation of the name which may be ‘mouse skin’. The good thing about this translation is that it does not sound like a name given by later writers. The bad thing is that it does not sound like a name for a girl.

The Amazons in Apollodorus (2nd cent. BCE):

  • Antiope — Αντιόπην — ‘against work’ from Indo-European ‘anti-‘, ‘against’ and ‘op-1′, ‘to work, choose in abundance’.
  • Glauce — Γλαύκη — ‘glaring fiercely’ from Indo-European ‘glogh’ ‘thorn, point’ and ‘kei-3′, ‘To set in motion’
  • Hippolyte — Ἱππολύτη — ‘Of the Stampeding Horse’ from Greek ‘ιππος’ (hippos), ‘horse’ and ‘λύτήρ’, ‘one who looses, deliverer’ from Indo-European ‘ekwo-‘, ‘Horse’ and ‘leu-‘, ‘To loosen, divide, cut apart’.
  • Melanippe — Μελανιππη — Black-Mare (melas, hippos) from Indo European ‘mel-2′, ‘of a darkish color’, ‘ekwo-‘, ‘Horse’
  • Otrere — Οτρηρη — ‘Nimble’ from Greek ‘ὀτρηρός’ , but this name does not seem to have an Indo-European root.
  • Penthesilia — Πενθεσίλεια — ‘compelling men to mourn’ Greek ‘πένθοσ’, ‘grief, sorrow’ and ‘Silenus’, ‘The silent one’ from Indo-European ”, ” and ‘silo-‘, ‘Silence’.

The majority of the names of Amazons seem to have an Indo-Eropean meaning and this supports the quote from Aeschylus in “Prometheus Bound” which states that Io had contact with the Amazons in the Caucasus before they moved to the Thermodon. The Amazons seem more to do with the Indo-European past than anything else. Euripides supports this because he indicates the Amazons are located around the sea of Azov.

Other Amazons from later writers

  • Egee
  • Eurpyle
  • Hiera
  • Lampedo
  • Martesia
  • Medusa
  • Myrine
  • Orithia
  • Thalestris

Most of these references involve a battle, called an Amazonomachy
(‘Amazon-battle’), between Greeks and Amazons in which the
Amazons are ultimately defeated.

But there are also Amazons depicted in more pastoral roles:

Amazon tombs are frequent in central Greece. They are found at:

  • Megara
  • Athens
  • Chaeronea and Chalcis
  • Thessaly at Scotussa
  • Cynoscephalae

At both Chalcis and Athens there was and 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 the Eumenides by Aeschylus line 684 there is this reference about Amazons attacking Athens: “And this Hill of Ares, the seat and camp of the Amazons, [685] when they came with an army in resentment against Theseus, and in those days built up this new citadel with lofty towers to rival his, and sacrificed to Ares, from which this rock takes its name, the Hill of Ares:”

There are claims that Asia minor settlements were founded by Amazons:

  • Amastris
  • Sinope
  • Cyme
  • Pitana
  • Priene
  • Mytilene (Lesbos) Diodorus gives us following account:
    “She (the Amazon queen Myrina) seized also some of the islands, and Lesbos in particular, on which she founded the city of Mitylene, which was named after her sister who took part in the campaign”.
  • Ephesus — the legend says that Efes was first founded by Women Warriors of the Amazon in the 11th century B.C. and later inhabited by Ionians.
  • Smyrna — It is claimed that the city was founded by Tantalos, the mythic king of Phrygia, whereas in another this area is claimed to be inhabited by Lelegs. But according to other ancient stories and a common thesis of many historians of our day, the city was founded by an Amazon (a woman warrior), during the Hitite rule of Anatolia. However, “Myrina”, which is one of the Aiolis cities also claimed to be founded by an Amazon, seems to be a similar name to Smyrna.
  • Myrina

In historical times 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 an old
wooden statue of Artemis( a bretas).

Callimachus, Hymn 3 to Artemis (trans. Mair) (Greek poet C3rd B.C.) For thee, too, the Amazones, whose mind is set on war, in Ephesos beside the sea established an image beneath an oak trunk, and Hippo [an Amazon queen] performed a holy rite for thee, and they themselves, O Oupis Queen, around the image danced a war-dance–first in shields and armour, and again in a circle arraying a spacious choir. And the loud pipes thereto piped shrill accompaniment, that they might foot the dance together (for not yet did they pierce the bones of the fawn [to create flutes], Athene’s handiwork, a bane to the deer). And the echo reached unto Sardis and to the Berekynthian range [in Phrygia]. And they with their feet geat loudly and therewith their quivers rattled. And afterwards around that image was raised a shrine of broad foundations. That it shall dawn behold nothing more divine, naught richer.

Greek Literature locates one community of Amazons in north
central Turkey. They lived next to the river Thermodon in the
city of Themiscyra in Pontic Asia Minor. This location is
consistent with the stories that a contingent of Amazons led by
Penthesilea was an ally of Troy and battled the Greeks who had
come to recover Helen. The Trojan war is believed to have been
fought about 1500-1200 b.c.e. For some time it was believed that the Hittites occupied
the area of the world believed to be the home of the Amazons at
this time. The archeological remains of the Hittites are crude
and lack the excitement of the Greek ones, so they have been
poorly studied. But there are a number of possibilities which
could connect Amazons and Hittites.

Hittites wore their hair long. The Greeks simply confused them
with women because Greek women wore long hair.

Hittites had a religion based on an earth mother. Priestesses
were used extensively in their religious ceremonies. Priestesses
were brought along on their military adventures to bless the
troops. They carried a butterfly image on a stick that was sacred
to the earth mother that they used as wand to carry out their
priestly mission.

The Hittites were a world power at the time of the Trojan war,
but had sunk to a level of insignificance by the time of
classical Greece. The images of Amazons of classical Greece may
be a 700 year cultural memory of the Hittites. Writings suggest
that the Amazons used a double bit ax that resembles a butterfly
on a stick, but I have found few represented in art. The Dipylon
shield has this shape, but it is turned sideways. Amazons are
sometimes dressed in Greek clothes and sometimes in more oriental
garb. It is possible that these details in the art images will
provide a clue.

Recent research seems to remove the Amazons from the area of the
Hittites. Instead the area is occupied by the fierce Kaska people.
Little is know about these people except that they did not build cities, and they herded pigs and
wove linen. And these are facts that are consistent with the Amazons. In fact the pig
has a special relationship to Artemis who the Amazon’s worshipped. This information is presented at:
Click here. This material suggests
that the Trojan war was but a battle in a larger struggle which the
Mycenaeans badly lost and their civilization was destrowed.
And the Amazons were on the side that won.

The worship of the earth mother persisted in Asia Minor until
Roman times. The Roman state of Phrygia had a religion of this
sort. I do not know what, if any, is the relation of the religion
of the Hittities to the religion of Phrygia. Artifacts of art may
help to clarify this relation.

The notion of the mascot is of interest. In popular cullture,
a mascot is often used to personify a team spirit. Is it possible
that centaurs and Amazons were mascots used to represent other
peoples?

There are peculiarities in the stories that Homer tells that
may bear on this. In the Greek armies, only the Amazons represent
women fighting. But among the Greek gods it is common for the
women to fight. The aegis of Athena is particularly interesting
because it is a weapon from an earlier time. The Hittites were
one of the first to use iron weapons. The Greeks tell of bronze
weapons in classical times. But the aegis of Athena is a skin,
though magical, it is a pre-bronze age weapon. It seems possible
that the stories of the Greek gods are memories of an older
culture where women were indeed fighters. But the goddesses do
not seem to have the same embellishments as Amazons. <a
name=”Emp”>

Also of note is the fact that in the Trojan war the main
protagonists among the gods are Athena opposing Troy, and
Aphrodite on the side of Troy. The Amazons seem to be supporting
the side of Aphrodite. The fact that Aphrodite is ultimately
defeated seems significant.

Marija Gimbutus, in her book “The Language of the Goddess”
discusses the double axe image extensively in chapter 24 “Bull,
Bee, and Butterfly”. Her work does not consider the Hittite
culture and the examples that she gives are entirely Minoan or
Mycenaean with Minoan being in the majority. There is one curious
image (426) which has a double axe symbol hovering over a figure
in Minoan dress. This is to be contrasted with the many Amazons
who never wear the long dresses of the Minoans, but are often
given Phrygian attire. There is an image (Kahane, p 88) of two
warriors, A terra-cotta plaque from an architectural frieze from
Pazarli, north of Boghazkoy, northern Anotolia, Latter half of
the 6th century bce which is identified as Phrygian. These
figures wear the clothes that are often displayed on Amazons
namely, short skirts and pantaloons with stripes. Their helmets
bear some resemblence to those of the Amazons. This plaque is
located in the Archaeological Museum in Ankara.

One author concludes that the Amazons may be Hittites based on
what is in Homer. Homer represents the Phrygians as rendering aid
to King Priam at the seige of Troy, in return for assistance
which he had given to them in their war against the Amazons on
the banks of the Sangarius. (EB, 1960, 17, 851d)

The book “The Hittites” (J. G. Macqueen, ISBN 0-500-27887-3)
there are two interesting illustrations. On page 127 is a picture
of figures in Chamber A at Yazilikaya. Included is a secondary
figure holding a double axe. The frontispiece of the book is a
figure from the King’s gate at Bogazkoy. This figure has headress
and corselet similar to an amazon painted by the Niobid painter
about 460 bce from the Gela. Palermo, National Museum (G1283).

The book “Minoans” (Rodney Castleden, ISBN 0-415-0407-1)
on page 136 includes a discussion of the religious nature of the
double axe in Minoan Culture. The chapter title illustration for
chapter 4 illustrates a ceremonial axe with two pairs of bits.
For ceremonial uses one would expect the axe to take such an
impractical shape. To find such an axe in the hands of an Amazon
would strongly relate them to prietesses, but I have not found
any.

I have little doubt that priestesses in Minoan Culture used
the double bit axe. Some authors seem to claim that the Greeks
expressed their revulsion for the Minoan worhip of the Goddess by
turning these priestesses into Amazons who were the object of
armed conflict. But the style of clothing associated with Amazons
appears closer to Phrygian or Hittite. The location of the
Amazons is perhaps between these two cultures.
I find it odd that the Egyptian name for Hittites was
Arzawa. This name is not too far from being Amazon. But there
also seems to be the very real possibility that the Amazons were
a real culture in between Phrygia and the Hittites which was gone
by 1200 BC, the time of the demise of the Hittites.

The notion that the Amazons were Minoans also gets support. Unlike the
Hittites the Minoans are mentioned as enemies of the mainland Greeks. Oddly
the main information is included in the story about Theseus and the Minotaur.
In this story Theseus goes to Crete in the company of eleven children to be
sacrificed to the Minotaur. While there he kills the Minotaur and returns home.
Archaeology supports the fall of Minoan civiliztion about this time. The
fact that The children went to Crete as tribute suggests that the Minoans
had dominated the other Greeks for some time. The children do not well
represent an army but perhaps they do. Clearly the act of Theseus represents
a victory of some kind. When Theseus leaves Crete he takes Ariadne with him.
What she symbolizes is not at all clear. The fact that Theseus abandons
her on Naxos is weird. But he seems to continue on to Athens with Athena and
the rest of the Minoan pantheon.

The ancient Greeks do not mention the Hittites and they collapse the history of the Minoans into a single generation. The Hittites used the butterfly symbol and the Minoans had the Labris which may be a transformed butterfly. both cultures had goddesses. There is some debate as to whether goddesses predominate in the Minoan culture. Goddesses are dominant in the art of the Minoans. The Minoans were a maritime culture unlike the Hittites and the men probably spent a great deal of time at sea. This may have encouraged their women to become independent and self-reliant. Possibly the Amazon culture was formed by women of Crete, at the time of Ariadne, who did not want to submit to a patriarchy like that of Theseus. Perhaps Ariadne rejected Theseus and not the other way around.

Amazon warrior on a sortie. She wears two ginds of girdles. One that is symbolic or decorative on her chest. The other is protective, like an apron.

She finds and subdues a young women from a camp of her enemies. The girl begs for mercy. Her nudity indicates that her status is not high. Perhaps she is a a slave though most slaves have short hair.

The Amazon warrior finds the girl likely to be a suitable gift to her god Ares so she takes her to a high mountain where she knows that a god has been present. There she plans to sacrifice her to Ares. She has placed the girl on a betyl sitting on a plinth. “Betyl” is a Semitic version of the Hebrew term “Beth-el” meaning the swelling or abode of God. In Palestine, the worship of the Sun Stone or Betyl goes as far back as the 8th Millennium BC. Digging in the ancient ruins of Jericho, archaeologists found at its lowest level, carbon dated to neolithic times of about 7000 BC, a temple where at its center an oval stone stood upright on a stone pedestal. “Plinth” is likely a Minoan word. It started possibly as a placemarker where a god had been. In ancient Greece wooden objects were more often used instead of betyls. It is believed that these so called xoans were pieces blown off large trees that were struck by lightening.

Originally the sacrifice was a sacred marriage where the maiden dies to become a mother. It is a ceremony of transformation. But it changed into a marriage between a maiden and and a god where the maiden has to join the spirit world through her death. Though some were satisfied with this act because this ultimate sacrifice was sure to please the god, others were unsatisfied. A death involves a loss that can be very accute. Sometimes a chain of vengeance was set up that caused great destruction. Finding of a suitable victim is not that easy. Captives can be suitable because their relatives or suitors cannot claim them. But then they just become another victim of the carnage that is war. One salvation of many women captives is that they had some value as slaves and could be sold.

The book “The world of the Scythians” (Renate Rolle,
1980, ISBN 0-520-0684-5) claims that the Amazon Penthesilia was a
Scythian, from the region north of the Black Sea. This book
supports its claim by citing archeological evidence of women
warriors buried with their weapons. This is consistent with the
writings of Herodotus and his records of Amazons. The style of
dress as illustrated in art supports this claim. But this does
not mean that Amazons are distinct from Hittites. The references
to Amazons in Northcentral Turkey are older than the references
to Penthesilia. One would think that a culture as important as
the Hitites would be mentioned in Greek Literature, yet they are
not. It is possible that the meaning of the word changed with
time and at an early period referred to Hittites, who were men,
and later referred to Cythians, who were women.

Women warriors are not unknown among the Greeks. Atalanta is
an example. Though she did not participate in any armed conflicts,
she performed bravely in the Calydonian boar hunt, and bested men
in wrestling and running contests.

Athena fits the description of an Amazon in many respects. In
two cases in the Odyssey she is described as using a wand. This
may well be a reference to the double ax of the Amazon’s. In the
Odyssey Circe also uses a wand in the same way. That the wand is
used as an instrument of transformation is very suggestive of the
fact that the butterfly is a symbol of transformation. More
contemporary images of wands show sparkling stars at the end of
the wand, but even so the wand is an instrument of transformation.
Does the star represent an actual power, like radium, or a
symbolic power. It seems to represent a symbolic power that was
originally represented by a butterfly. A star and a butterfly are
not that dissimilar. It is also odd that the description of Circe
and her powers in the Odyssey is almost identical to the
description of a contemporary witch, even though the time
interval is over 3 thousand years. Only Circe is not an old witch.
But many of the monsters of ancient Greece are feminine: Gorgon,
Charybdic, Scylla, Harpies, etc. and ugly. This is consistent
with the notion that when a new religion takes over an old one
the dieties of the old one become the devils of the new one.

Another aspect of Athena is important. When Theseus went to
Crete to fight the Minotaur he was helped by Aphrodite because
Ariadne fell in love with him. He started to bring Ariadne back
to Athens but he left her on the island of Naxos. He did bring
Athena with him, but she is not part of the Minotaur story.
Athena must have brought her wand with her from Crete. At Athens
Athena becomes a military goddess that is very Amazon in
character. She ever acts like an Amazon, but she is never called
an Amazon.

Athena being Amazon-like helps to connect Amazons to Crete. The meaning of the name ‘Athena’ is much disputed but the most likely seems to be “Athena — Minoan and then Mycenaean (A-ta-na-po-ti-ni-ja is her Mycenaean name but this comes from Minoan A-ta-na-dju-wa-ja which means sun goddess).” Ref.: Minoan Origins of Athena. Euripides in The Bacchae suggests that the first Maenads were the nurses of Zeus, line 120,

Hail thou, O Nurse of Zeus, O Caverened Haunt
  Where fierce arms clanged to guard God's cradle rare,
For thee of old some crested Corybant
         First woke in Cretan air
  The wild orb of our orgies,
  Our Timbrel; and thy gorges
Rang with this strain; and blended Phrygian chant
     And sweet keen pipes were there.

It is interesting that the Corybants are soldiers who are dancing. Furthermore Euripides suggests that the soldiers are replaced by women. One has to wonder if they might have been first replaced by women with weapons. Just as Dionysus had the Maenads to support him, and Zeus had the Corybants, is it not possible that Athena could have had Amazons?

There are a number of interesting stories about Amazons

  • One is that they pinched out or cauterized their right
    breast so they could shoot their bows better or throw
    their javelin better. There are no known illustrations of
    this practice. This story is believed to have arisen because
    the ancients thought that ‘Amazon’ meant without breast.
  • It is logical that they would prefer to fight on
    horseback with bows and arrows because this would remove
    a size advantage of their opponents, but illustrations do
    not support this preference. The illustrations all show
    the amazon riding bareback and using a javelin. One
    illustration of this situation also has the Amazon in
    oriental embroidered tights and a cap that are probably
    Phrygian in origin. This picture shows also shows the
    characteric crecent shield. This picture is at: <a
    href=”http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/image?lookup=1992.09.0378″>Click
    here. At the time of the Trojan war Greek men fought
    with javelins also, but they used the horses to draw
    chariots.
  • The notion that the ax is their favorite weapon is not
    supported in the illustrations either. But the ax is a
    weapon as see here: <a
    href=”http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/image?lookup=1990.01.1883″>Click
    here. Notice also the embroidered tunic and tights.
    But the helmet is Attic.
  • Amazons are supposed to be brave warriors but here is one
    dressed to go to a tea party. <a
    href=”http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/image?lookup=1991.01.0323″>Click
    here. She does not even have shoes. The bow that she
    clutches is useless without arrows and the ax seems
    pretty ineffective against a Greek male armed with a
    javelin and shield.

An amazon girl
shooting a bow

They lived in Pontus by the shore of the Euxine Sea. They
formed an independent kingdom under the government of a queen.
The capital was Themiscyra on the banks of the river Thermodon.
Herodotus (iv, 110-117).

Amazon communities -one theory is that Amazon communities were
made of tents. This would explain why there are no Amazon
archeological sites. This would also be consistent with the fact
that weaving was a traditional skill of women. It is also
consistent with the fact that amazons wear more clothing than
their Greek counterparts. That would also point to the fact that
the main economy of Amazons was raising wool, flax or the
silphium plant. Farming was also a possibility as in the
traditional societies many farming tasks were done by women. The
basic unit of the Amazon army was the mounted warrior. It would
be impossible for Amazon’s to support every woman as a warrior
because of the weapons and supplies that a mounted warrior
rquires. In the middle ages mounted knights required at least one
squire and so at this early time at least two assistants might be
required. And every women who took to the field might require two
or three at home to manage the estate while the warrior was away.
So each warrior might require the assistance of perhaps one dozen
women. And if the community was made of tents, then many of the
warriors would have to stay close to home to defend the tents. A
single army of 50,000 amazons might require a community of about
1,200,000 Amazons at home, which Priam claims they did in the
Iliad. Today 7 acres are required to support each person and
then more land was needed. Using this figure 8.4 million acres
would be needed for the entire community, or about 10 thousand
square miles. This is a square about 100 miles by one hundred
miles at the very least. This would mean 1/16 of the territory of
contemporary Turkey would be occupied by amazons, with something
like a quarter being more likely unless their agriculture was
exceptionally efficient.

It is hard to understand why Amazons ever are shown fighting
on foot, because they have a tremedous disadvantage on foot. In
fact there advatage is at some distance from the enemy. Their
fighting style involves a dash at the enemy. a release at the
enemy of arrow or javelin and then a dash to the squire for a new
arrow or javelin. Arrows had the advantage of distance, while
javelin had a more armour piercing ability. But attack on a horse
required tremedous skill since the horse was always bouncing
along. The woman warrior would have to be very practiced and at
one with the horse.

It is possible that the reason we see Amazons on foot is that
they have been knocked of their horse. In view of their riding
arrangements, this may not have been that hard. It is also
possible that what we see is the squire coming to the aid of a
fallen comrade. A warrior should not have gone into battle with
just one horse. There should have been at least a pack horse for
carrying weapons and supplies including extra arrows and perhaps
three javelins. Nothing could be worse than Amazon caught without
weapons. All she could do was flee. The squire might be able to
pick up weapons off the field, but this was not always possible.

Amazon’s are commonly associated with an ax, but this is not a
particularly effective weapon and may have only been used as a
last resort. But as a tool an ax is easier to use and easier to
make than a sword so it may have had another purpose. Athena used
a wand that was probably shaped like a double bit ax to make the
end look like a butterfly. The butterfly is the symbol of
transformation and this is consistent with its use as a wand. The
ax may have had multiple purposes as the sword had for the
medieval knight. The sword would be a fighting instrument when
held by the handle and a christian cross for spiritual purpose
when held by the blade. The ax may have been used for ceremonial
purposes as a butterfly, as a camp tool, or as a weapon.

Amazon’s would have grown some linen simply for use with
bowstrings, but in general linen is a stable material that does
not fit the type of clothing the Amazon’s wore. Of course its use
with tents would be excellent. Good linen smeared with beeswax,
lanolin, lamb or goat fat, or linseed oil would be quite water
repellant. A tent within a tent would provide perhaps better
protection from the elements than a similar house made of stones
and sticks used by the greeks. The Amazons seem to be wearing
skin tite tights. Linen would allow no movement, wool is better
but knitting that gives wool fabrics their suppleness was not
invented until the seventeeth century. Silk is more appropriate
but it was only available from china at that time. Trade routes
could have provided this however as the great silk road lead to
the eastern pports on the black sea.

Amazon diet would have consisted of meat such as mutton or
goat, green vegetables like onions and turnip greens, and grain
such as barley or wheat. It seems likely that they raised beef
for religious sacrifice, and pehaps milk, but beef provide no
wool.

The dress that the Greek artists put on Amazons could not be
accurate. What they did was to adapt the stories of the Amazons
to the dress that they saw around them. The Amazons made not have
worn armor, but they certainly did not wear the flimsy,
impractical gowns that they are pictured in. They are pictued in
leggings and these are more practical. Amazons are usually shown
riding bareback yet it is very likely that they did not sit on
the horse with their bare bottom. This might be very hard on
their skin. They probably wore something like the english riding
pants which has leather protection at the points of most wear.
Myth reports that Hercules was sent for the girdle of the Queen
of the Amazons. I wonder if this was a device to help her ride
her horse. Both the Minoan men and women wore girdles. The men
wore a girdle over a loincloth and the likelihood is that the
Amazon girdle is an adaptation of this.

Much was made in ancient times about the Amazon’s cutting off
their right breast. If it is true it is easy to understand why
the Amazon culture died out. This is a severe torture for a woman.
But they did need to cover their right breast even though it was
not customary for women to cover either breast in Greece at this
time. It would have been extremely painful for a bowstring to
have caught any part of the breast when the bow was fired.
Younger women might get away with covering the right breast while
older women might need both breasts confined during battle. The
Greek women have been known to have used a triangular bandage for
this purpose. This would have been entirely adequate.

On a hot day the minimum clothing would be a two-piece outfit
consisting of a triangular bandage and a girdle. As the weather
got colder they would have added a pull-over vest and leggings.
Amazons do appear in what look like embroidered leggings, and
they also are seen in what appears to be a brass cuirass. But
during and before the Trojan war brass armor was very rare.
Hector may have had a brass helmet since its shinyness is
mentioned so often in Homer, and Achilles may have had brass
armor, because it was made by Hephaetus, but that was all.
Archeology has found none of brass but some of bone. Leather,
mentioned often by Homer in reference to armor, would have turned
to dust by now.

Homer also mentions greaves, and an apron, which might have
helpful to an Amazon the greaves might have been the only leg
protection that an Amazon wore as this is the case with artifacts
from the 6th and 7th century BCE. But one would think that on a
horse the thigh should be protected as well with something like
leather chaps from our wild west days. As you might recall the
cowboys could not walk well when they were off their horse and
their chaps seems to protect them then, too. Perhaps the Amazons
did not ride through dense brush that would tear their legs, but
since there were fewer roads then, this seems likely. On their
head they would not have worn a Corithian or Attic helmet made of
bronze as they were sometimes pictured. An image called “The
battle of the Amazons” in the Archeological Museum of
Florence shows two Amazons in what look like Phrygian hats. No
doubt this is because Phrygia occupied in Classical times the
area in western Asia Minor traditionally assigned to the Amazons.
But these hats may be very similar to the helmets that the
Amazons wore. A helmet in the shape of rounded cone would be easy
to make with just one seam. A chin strap could be cut in one
piece or sewn on. The shoes shown in this image are quite
practical and could have been used. But the flowing gowns and
jewelry are just silly. The one Amazon does have a ‘D’ or lune
shaped shield that is often associated with Amazons. In their
hands is, no doubt, the double bit axe that they were said to use.
Their use of it here, again seems silly, but they do seem to be
getting the best of their appointment.

Naked Amazon

Amazon with two-piece girdle. The upper piece pads her breasts while the lower piece protects her bottom from the horse she rides.

Amazon with leather arm shield to protect her arm from the bowstring, cuirass – a two piece leather vest tied at the sides, apron – which protected her lower front (the back needed no protection because she sat on a horse), and leather greaves for her legs (These were more for brush as she rode. She might have needed similar armour on her thighs for the same reason.).

Amazon with helmet and shoes. The helmet was more a
riding helmet if she fell off her horse, but also it provided protection against
blows.

The double-bit ax has another association with Phrygia. In
Phrygia a religion with a female head goddess persisted well into
the Roman period. In Greece the goddess based religion was
overthrown perhaps two thousand years before. Is it possible that
the Amazons were a group of women who revolted against this
overthrow? The double-bit ax was symbol of the goddess and the
amazons might have rode into battle with the ax elevated, not as
a physical weapon, but as a mystical sign against the unbeliever.

The hair theory is that Amazons were considered women just
because they wore their hair long. Homer says that at the time of
the Trojan war, all Greeks wore their hair long. All
illustrations from the Minoan culture show long hair too. They
must have been women based upon some other finding, as once they
were trussed up in leather helmet, cuirass, apron and greaves,
they would look like a man. Of course the bodies resulting from a
battle would be immediately stripped of armor as the most
important loot from a battle. Homer describes that warriors did
not even wait for the battle to be over. The sex of the typically
naked victims of war would be pretty easy to determine.

Hercules and an Amazon Warrior:
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Amazon resources:

The History of Animals, By Aristotle, Written 350 B.C.E, Translated by
D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson, Book V

In Pontus are found bees exceedingly white in colour, and these bees produce their honey twice a
month. (The bees in Themiscyra, on the banks of the river Thermodon, build honeycombs in the
ground and in hives, and these honeycombs are furnished with very little wax but with honey of great
consistency; and the honeycomb, by the way, is smooth and level.) But this is not always the case with
these bees, but only in the winter season; for in Pontus the ivy is abundant, and it flowers at this time
of the year, and it is from the ivy-flower that they derive their honey. A white and very consistent
honey is brought down from the upper country to Amisus, which is deposited by bees on trees without
the employment of honeycombs: and this kind of honey is produced in other districts in Pontus.

An interesting vase that looks like a picture of an Amazon but is not so
described. In fact it appears to celebrate a treaty between Oscans and
Amazons:

Tampa 86.102

Oscans are related to the Etruscans in Italy.

Amazons in their tent home near Themiscyra

The Amazons were ruled by queens but the matter of their succesion presents
a problem. If we and conclude the Otrera meaning queen then the first queen
at Themiscyra is Lysippe. Perhaps her daughter is Hippolyte. The next queen
mentioned is Penthesilia. Penthesilia was supposed to have the same mother
as Hippolyte but this is unlikely because a generation of 20 years separates
Penthesilia and Troy and the death of Hippolyte at the hands of Herakles. The
place of Marpesia is not clear but she could fill the gap between Hippolyte
and Penthesilia. This would suggest a succession of 4 queens in about 60 years.
This would account for all the time that the Amazon community at Themiscyra
would have lasted.

Considerations of future research on Amazons

At this time (4-24-2008) the idea that the concept of the Amazons was developed in or as a result of the Minoan culture seems unlikely.

The name for Amazons has been derived from the Indo-European language. Aeschylus in his Prometheus Bound locates the Amazons Northeast of the Black Sea. Now there have been found graves of warrior women in the region buried with their weapons.

Still the Amazons can be linked to the Minoans. That Artemis is descended from Potnia Theron of the Minoans is hardly disputed. It is easy to see a correlation between the concept of the classical Artemis and images from ancient Minoan Culture. Artemis is also the main goddess of the Amazons. A number of communities in Asia Minor claim that they are founded by Amazons. If the Amazons are indeed priestesses of the Minoan culture then it is consistent with later Greek culture (Delphi) that the priestesses should have caused colonies to develop. Furthermore the early philosopy of the Ionians bears a striking similarities to the ideas associated with the cult of Artemis. It is Artemis who demands sacrifice. It is Artemis whose wild female nature and virginity are such contrasts. It is the soul of the maiden that is preserved in the initiation ceremony that changes the wild young girl to the demeure girl trying to preserve her virginity after puberty. This is the key to the emphasis of the Ionian philosophers. There are concerned with the underlying substance that does not change as change is recognized. There is no doubt that the Minoan culture emphasized ceromonies of sacrifice. Whenever there is a sacrifice something changes and something stays the same. The change transmits the substance to the deity. So this aspect of the Minoan Culture may be the source of the Ionian Philosopy. This concept may have come to Ionia through the colonization of Ionia by the Minoans.

The content of the Minoan Culture was lost to the Classical Greeks. Perhaps it was intentionally surpressed. Different cultures seem to have survied in the Peloponeseus for some time. The Helos may have been Minoan survivors. They were severly repressed by the Spartans. This is the kind of repression that could have wiped out the memory of the Minoans. The perioci may have been the remnants of the Mycenaean Culture. There seems to have been a relation between the situation in Sparta and in Crete with many similarities in culture. Could the stories of the Amazons have been part of that supression?

The derivation of the names of the Amazons may be significant. Hippolyte is definitely an Amazon with a Greek name. It means “freer of horses’. Antiope is also a Greek name. It means “contrary voice”. Lysippe is supposed to mean “She who lets loose the horses”. Penthesileia is not so easily translated. Andromache means “battle of a man” in Greek. The language of translation may have a clue to the source of the Amazon.

Resources:

Images:

  • Arezzo 1465, Euphronios krater depicting an Amazonomachy: Drawing of side B, showing a komos (neck) and three Greeks and an Amazon (body)
  • Arezzo 1465, Euphronios krater depicting an Amazonomachy: Drawing of side A , showing Telamon and Herakles battling Amazons
  • Amazon From the Altar of the Artemision ,Greek, 2nd half of the 4th century B. C., Marble, H: 65.5 cm, AS Inv. No. I 811, Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna

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Including Amazons, Goddesses, Nymphs, and Archaic Females from Mycenaen and Minoan Cultures