Amazons

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This article is about the Amazon women of Greek mythology and similar cases. For other uses, see Amazons (disambiguation).

In Greek mythology, the Amazons (Αμαζόνες) were an ancient legendary nation of female warriors, or a society dominated by women, at the outer edges of the world known to the Greeks. The legends appear to have a nugget of factual basis in warrior women among the Scythians, but classical Greeks never ceased to be astounded at such role-reversals. Women in classical Greek society were expected to be passive and dependent on males. In modern usage, the word is often used to refer to tall, strong, aggressive women.

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The unidentified London cartographer, c. 1770, has placed Amazones in the north of Sarmatia Asiatica, based on Greek literary sources.

Contents

[edit] Etymology

The name Αμαζών is probably derived from an Iranian ethnonym, *ha-mazan-, originally meaning "warriors". A connected word is probably the Hesychius gloss ἁμαζακάραν· πολεμεῖν. Πέρσαι ("hamazakaran: 'to make war' (Persian)", containing the Indo-Iranian root kar- "make" also in kar-ma).

The Greek variant of the name was connected by popular etymology to a- (privative) + mazos, "without breast", connected with an aetiological tradition that Amazons had their right breast cut off or burnt out, in order that they might be able to use the bow more freely; there is no indication of this practice in works of art, in which the Amazons are always represented with both breasts, although the right is frequently covered. Other suggested derivations were: a- (intensive) + mazos, breast, "full-breasted"; a- (privative) and masso, touch, "not touching" (men); maza, a Circassian word said to signify "moon", has suggested their connection with the worship of a moon-goddess, perhaps the Asiatic representative of Artemis.<ref>Smith, Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, vol. 1, p. 138; Daniel G. Brinton, The Protohistoric Ethnography of Western Asia, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society (1895), calls them a "Hittite class of priestesses", deriving the Circassian word from an Indo-European word for "moon" (Sanskrit māsa).</ref>

[edit] Amazons of Greek mythology

Image:Amazonomachia Louvre Ma2119 2.jpg
Amazonomachia (fight between Greeks and Amazons), relief of a sarcophagus (ca. 180), found in Salonica, 1836.

Amazons were said to have lived in Pontus, which is part of modern day Turkey near the shore of the Euxine Sea, where they formed an independent kingdom under the government of a queen, often named Hippolyta ("she lets her horses loose"). They were supposed to have founded many towns, amongst them Smyrna, Ephesus, Sinope, Paphos. According to the dramatist Aeschylus, in the distant past they had lived in Scythia, at the Palus Maeotis ("Lake Maeotis", the Sea of Azov), but later moved to Themiscyra on the River Thermodon. Herodotus, who called them Androktones ("killers of men"), also connects Amazons with Scythia, as ancestors of the Sauromatians.

In some versions, no men were permitted to reside in Amazon country; but once a year, in order to prevent their race from dying out, they visited the Gargareans, a neighbouring tribe. The male children who were the result of these visits were either put to death or sent back to their fathers; the females were kept and brought up by their mothers, and trained in agricultural pursuits, hunting, and the art of war (Strabo xi. p. 503).

In the Iliad, the Amazons were referred to as Antianeira ("those who fight like men").

The Amazons appear in Greek art of the Archaic period and in connection with several Greek legends. They invaded Lycia, but were defeated by Bellerophon, who was sent out against them by Iobates, the king of that country, in the hope that he might meet his death at their hands (Iliad, vi. 186). The tomb of Myrine is mentioned in the Iliad; later interpretation made of her an Amazon: according to Diodorus,<ref>Book ii.45-46; book iii.52-55.</ref> Queen Myrine led her Amazons to victory against the Atlanteans, Libya and much of Gorgon.

They attacked the Phrygians, who were assisted by Priam, then a young man (Iliad, iii. 189). Although in his later years, towards the end of the Trojan War, his old opponents took his side again against the Greeks under their queen Penthesilea "of Thracian birth" (Quintus Smyrnaeus), who was slain by Achilles, in the Aethiopis<ref>The epic, by Arctinus of Miletus, is lost: only references to it survive.</ref> that continued the Iliad. (Quintus Smyrn. i.; Justin ii. 4; Virgil, Aeneid i. 490).

One of the tasks imposed upon Heracles by Eurystheus was to obtain possession of the girdle of the Amazonian queen Hippolyte (Apollodorus ii. 5). He was accompanied by his friend Theseus, who carried off the princess Antiope, sister of Hippolyte, 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. 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.

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 Mithradates.

They are heard of in the time of Alexander, when some of the great king's biographers make mention of Amazon Queen Thalestris visiting him and becoming a mother by him. However, several other biographers of Alexander totally 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.

[edit] Scythian origins

The Sarmatians (Sauromatians) were the eastern neighbors of the Scythians and both were kindred tribes of Iranian people. The relations between the Sarmatians and the Scythians were peaceful between the 6th to 4th centuries B.C. According to Herodotus, the Sauromatians fought with the Scythians against Darius the Great in the 5th century B.C.

In a recent excavation of Sarmatian sites by Dr. Jeannine Davis-Kimball, a tomb was found wherein female warriors were buried, thus lending some credence to the myths about the Amazons. Following the excavation in 2003 by Dr. Davis-Kimball, she and Dr. Joachim Burger compared the genetic evidence from the site with the nomadic Kazakhs, and have found a striking genetic link — verified later by the University of Cambridge [1]

Before modern archaeology uncovered some of the Scythian burials of warrior-maidens entombed under kurgans in the region of Altay Mountains, giving concrete form at last to the Greek tales of mounted Amazons, the origin of the story of the Amazons has been the subject of speculation among classics scholars. In the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica speculation ranged along the following lines.

While some regard the Amazons as a purely mythical people, others assume an historical foundation for them. The deities worshipped by them were Ares (who is consistently assigned to them as a god of war, and as a god of Thracian and generally northern origin) and Artemis, not the usual Greek goddess of that name, but an Asiatic deity in some respects her equivalent. It is conjectured that the Amazons were originally the temple-servants and priestesses (hierodulae) of this goddess; and that the removal of the breast corresponded with the self-mutilation of the god Attis and the galli, Roman priests of Cybele. Another theory is that, as the knowledge of geography extended, travellers brought back reports of tribes ruled entirely by women, who carried out the duties which elsewhere were regarded as peculiar to man, in whom alone the rights of nobility and inheritance were vested, and who had the supreme control of affairs. Hence arose the belief in the Amazons as a nation of female warriors, organized and governed entirely by women. According to J. Vurtheim (De Ajacis origine, 1907), the Amazons were of Greek origin: "all the Amazons were Dianas, as Diana herself was an Amazon". It has been suggested that the fact of the conquest of the Amazons being assigned to the two famous heroes of Greek mythology, Heracles and Theseus — who in the tasks assigned to them were generally opposed to monsters and beings impossible in themselves, but possible as illustrations of permanent danger and damage — shows that they were mythical illustrations of the dangers which beset the Greeks on the coasts of Asia Minor; rather perhaps, it may be intended to represent the conflict between the Greek culture of the colonies on the Black Sea and the barbarism of the native inhabitants.

Herodotus reports that the Sarmatians were descendants of Amazons and Scythians, and that their females "have continued from that day to the present to observe their ancient [Amazon] customs, frequently hunting on horseback with their husbands; in war taking the field; and wearing the very same dress as the men" Moreover, said Herodotus, "No girl shall wed till she has killed a man in battle." Their Scythian, Saka, Cimmerian and Gomerian origins are further proved by their origins from Thermodon's Scythians who invaded there coming from around the Sea of Azov and their use of the bow and arrow as their primary weapon as well as fighting on horseback.

Both Herodotus and Hippocrates accounts inform us the Sarmatians took interest in turning their women into strong-armed huntresses and fighters. Archaeological materials seem to confirm Sarmatian women's active role in military operation and social life. Burial of armed Sarmatian women comprise large percent of the military burial in the group occupy the central position and appear to be the richest.

Medieval and Renaissance authors credit the Amazons with the invention of the battle-axe. This is probably related to the Sagaris, an axe-like weapon associated with both Amazons and Scythian tribes by Greek authors (see also Aleksandrovo kurgan). Paulus Hector Mair expresses astonishment that such a "manly weapon" should have been invented by a "tribe of women", but he accepts the attribution out of respect for his authority, Johannes Aventinus.

[edit] Minoan origins

See also Minoan women.

When Minoan archaeology was still in its infancy, a theory raised in an essay contributed by L.R. Farnell and J.L. Myres ("Herodotus and anthropology") to Robert R. Marett, Anthropology and the Classics 1908, (pp. 138ff), in regards to the Amazons placed their possible origins in Minoan civilization, drawing attention to overlooked similarities between the two cultures. According to Myres, (pp. 153 ff), the tradition interpreted in the light of evidence furnished by supposed Amazon cults seems to have been very similar and may have even originated in Minoan culture.

[edit] Amazon cults and tombs in Ancient Greece

According to ancient sources, (Plutarch Theseus[2], Pausanias[3]), Amazon tombs could be found frequent throughout what was once known as the ancient Greek world. Some are found in Megara, Athens, Chaeronea, Chalcis, Thessaly at Scotussa, in Cynoscephalae and statues of Amazons are all over Greece. At both Chalsis and Athens Plutarch tells us that there was an 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 historical times Greek 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 wooden statues of Artemis, a bretas, (Pausanias, (fl.c.160): Description of Greece, Book I: Attica[4]). With the fall of the Minoan civilization, other than the mythological Amazons, there has yet to be discovered a culture which historically was known to exist, their social infrastructure so well organized and somewhat familiar to scholars which was dominated by women the way Minoan culture was.

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Two female gladiators with their names Amazonia and Achillea

[edit] Amazons in Greek & Roman art

In works of art, battles between Amazons and Greeks are placed on the same level as and often associated with battles of Greeks and centaurs. The belief in their existence, however, having been once accepted and introduced into the national poetry and art, it became necessary to surround them as far as possible with the appearance of not unnatural beings. Their occupation was hunting and war; their arms the bow, spear, axe, a half shield, nearly in the shape of a crescent, called pelta, and in early art a helmet, the model before the Greek mind having apparently been the goddess Athena. In later art they approach the model of Artemis, wearing a thin dress, girt high for speed; while on the later painted vases their dress is often peculiarly Persian – that is, close-fitting trousers and a high cap called the kidaris. They were usually on horseback but sometimes on foot. They can also be identified in vase paintings by the fact that they are wearing one earring. The battle between Theseus and the Amazons is a favourite subject on the friezes of temples (e.g. the reliefs from the frieze of the temple of Apollo at Bassae, now in the British Museum), vases and sarcophagus reliefs; at Athens it was represented on the shield of the statue of Athena Parthenos, on wall-paintings in the Theseum and in the Stoa Poikile. Many of the sculptors of antiquity, including Pheidias, Polyclitus, Cresilas and Phradmon, executed statues of Amazons; and there are many existing reproductions of these.

[edit] Amazon-like figures in folklore

Image:Blenda.jpg
Blenda leads the women in the defense of their villages, by Hugo Hamilton (1830)

Armed women have often acted as royal bodyguards throughout history. Chandragupta Maurya (322298 BC), the first emperor to develop a centralized state in India, had a personal guard composed of giant Greek women. Female royal guards re-appear 2000 years later in the history of India as guards for the Nizams of Deccan and Hyderabad. And on the island of Sri Lanka, the Kandy royal family had a royal guard of female archers. In Europe, Celtic and Germanic tribes often had women fighting with their husbands. Tacitus tells us that Boadicea had more women than men in her army.

There is also a woman in the Old Testament, Deborah, who may be one of the first recorded instances of a woman participating in battle. She was a prophetess, a warrior, a leader, and a Judge of Israel, all in one. She correctly predicted that the enemy general, Sisera, who faced Israel at this time would be slain by a woman (the woman who killed him and also received credit for the army's victory was named Jael). This story is chronicled in Judges.

Gordafrid, a warlike maid, firm in the saddle, and practiced in the fight, resembling the classic image of an Amazon, appears in Old Iranian tales:

She hid her tresses under a helmet of Roum, and she mounted a steed of battle and came forth before the walls like to a warrior. And she uttered a cry of thunder, and flung it amid the ranks of Turan, and she defied the champions to come forth to single combat. And none came, for they beheld her how she was strong, and they knew not that it was a woman, and they were afraid.
---Ferdowsi, Shahnameh


Among the Mongols and the ancient Turks were many heroic women. One such was the mother of Jenghiz Khan. In Jenghiz Khan's army women could fight along men if they wished and some did so, as reported by Muslim writers during the invasion of Western Iran by Chormagan a Mongol general.

In Scandinavia, women who did not yet have the responsibility for raising a family could take up arms and live like warriors. They were called shieldmaidens and many of them figure in Norse mythology. One of the most famous shieldmaidens was Hervor and she figures in the cycle of the magic sword Tyrfing. The Danish chronicler Saxo Grammaticus relates that when the Swedish king Sigurd Ring and the Danish king Harald Wartooth met at the Battle of Bråvalla, 300 shieldmaidens fought on the Danish side led by Visna. Saxo relates that the shieldmaidens fought with small shields and long swords.

Similarly, the Valkyries of Norse mythology are minor female deities, who serve Odin. The name means choosers of the slain or "Chanters of the slain" . The valkyries' purpose was to choose the most heroic of those who had died in battle and to carry them off to Valhalla where they became einherjar. This was necessary because Odin needed warriors to fight at his side at the preordained battle at the end of the world, Ragnarök.

A legend which may be based on the Greek Amazons appears in the history of Bohemia. As the story goes, a large band of women, led by a certain Vlasta and her henchwoman Šárka, carried on war against the duke of Bohemia, and enslaved or put to death all men who fell into their hands; eventually, they were mercilessly defeated by the duke. In the 16th century the Spanish explorer Orellana asserted that he had come into conflict with fighting women in South America on the Marañón River, which was named after them the Amazon or river of the Amazons, although others derive its name from the Indian amassona (boat-destroyer), applied to the tidal phenomenon known as the "bore".

The armored warrior maiden (whose gender is often unsuspected) is a frequent character in the European chivalric epic. The most famous of these female knights is Bradamante -- daughter of Aymon, sister to the knight Renaud de Montauban (Rinaldo, Ranaldo) and legendary ancestor to the house of Este -- who is destined to marry the knight Ruggiero (or Rugiero). Her adventures are a major element in the Italian Renaissance epics Orlando innamorato by Matteo Maria Boiardo and its continuation Orlando furioso by Ariosto. A similar character is the pagan warrior knight Clorinda who battles against the Christian crusaders in Torquato Tasso's epic Jerusalem Delivered. In his epic The Faerie Queene, Edmund Spencer devotes one chapter to the story of a female knight, Britomart, who is an example of Christian chastity. The vogue of such female knights in literature would continue though the seventeenth century and inspired not only dramatic recreations but also actual military feats (such as the duchess of Montpensier's participation in the Fronde). The best known historical Medieval Amazon characters are Sichelgaita of Salerno, Joan of Arc, queen Margaret I of Denmark and Jeanne Hachette. Medieval noblewomen often had a rudimentary military training, as it was the task of the lady of the castle to lead the defence of the castle if the lord was away.

These epics sometimes contained still closer parallels to the legends of the Amazons. Orlando furioso contains a country of warrior women, ruled by Queen Orontea; the epic describes an origin much like that in Greek myth, in that the women, abandoned by a band of warriors and unfaithful lovers, rallied together to form a nation from which men were severely reduced, to prevent their regaining power.

Image:Dahomey amazon6.jpg
Dahomey Amazons holding muskets. The horns are indicators of rank.

The Dahomey Amazons were a 6000 strong military unit of Dahomey (now Benin) in West Africa who were active from the 16th to the late 19th century. They were largely successful in their battles with neighboring kingdoms, and were finally defeated by the French.

Libya has a long history of Amazon women, which probably pre-dates the Greek Amazons. Even today, Gadaffi is guarded by female soldiers. Other African ethnic groups who used fighting women were the Igbo and Fulani, who integrated the women into their armies.

In the kingdom of Siam in the 19th century, the king had a personal battalion of 400 spear-wielding women. They were chosen from the most beautiful women of the country, and were said to be excellent spear-throwers, though they were regarded as too valuable to be sent to war. Almost all countries have female combatants in their history one time or the other; it is simply the matter of more or less. Around 400 women secretly took part as soldiers in the American Civil War. For notable cases of women became soldiers, reference may be made to Mary Anne Talbot and Hannah Snell.

In the Finnish Civil War 1918, the Reds had woman guard units (naiskaarti). They often fought more furiously than their male counterparts and seldom surrendered, as they knew what to expect if captured. Their furiosity made a lasting impression on the winning Whites, and it is said the woman guard of Sahalahti was the only unit to ever defeat German Jägers on field in that war.

In the 20th century, the states of the Soviet Union and Israel took the initiative to train and utilize women for light infantry and other combatant roles. Although these moves were initially motivated by the shortage of manpower, for example on USSR's western front in WWII, they led the way for the use of female combatants by the U.S. and other western nations.

[edit] See also

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[edit] Legendary Amazons from Greek myth

[edit] Notes

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[edit] External links

[edit] References

This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.

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Amazons

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