The history and tales surrounding the Amazon women of ancient Greece have been one of the most researched and intriguing topics of all time.
But who were these women?
Ancient Greece and The Amazon Women
The Greek Amazons were also known as the one-breasted warrior women, were the first of their kind ever seen in history. The original Amazon women. They were the most famous of all the four Amazon nations ever to exist on earth and this is due to their impact on Greek mythology and artwork which are famous to antiquity. For this reason,
When the term ‘Amazons’ or ‘Amazon’ is mentioned today, the reference is generally meant and assumed to be towards the Amazon women of ancient Greece.
When The Amazon Warrior women First Appeared
In ancient times (long before the birth of Christ sometime between the years 6 BCE to 4 BCE), Greece was (the center of) the known world and its kingdoms were separated through Europe and Asia Minor as city-states. At that early time, much of the territory that was ‘Greece’ or rather the ‘Greek world’ extended from present-day Greece well into present-day Turkey. Some of the city-states that lay on the edge the ‘Greek world’ that is spread out over the region that is present-day Turkey were founded and inhabited exclusively by ‘warrior women’ who had come up from somewhere to the south where the old Persian empire lay (modern day Iran).
These women had several strange qualities that set them apart, their incredible beauty, total independence, a strong dislike of men and a fearsome warlike nature that made them formidable warriors, excellent horse riders and tamers, excellent bow-women and excellent hunters. They also displayed a level of sexual immorality or ‘sexual freedom’ that was off the charts even by low standards of the people of that time.
The Nature of the Amazon Warrior Women
With the passage of time, the Amazon women came to be looked upon as symbols of strength, romance, eroticism, exotic lands, and adventure. But most importantly, they symbolized the wild barbarisms living on the edge of the Greek world, because, for one thing, they were queens of pillaging. To support themselves, enrich their cities and towns, the Amazona women regularly went on regular pillaging sprees. They attacked peaceful cities and settlements in Greece and took all they could find.
These women meant trouble to the Greek world almost always. And yet, their numerous unique qualities, coupled with their bravery and stubborn nature, were so fascinating that in the end the Amazon women were celebrated in ancient Greece. Poems, tales, all manner of artworks, paintings, sculptures, and pottery, were created about them and even used as decoration in homes and public places. And this was exactly the way some of the best stories of Greek mythology, which are about Amazon women, originated.
The Legends and Myths Of The Amazon Women – The One-Breasted Woman Of Ancient Greece
According to myth, the Amazon women lived in the city of Themiscyra and its surrounding towns, which were located in the fertile plains around the river Thermodon in Asia Minor, and they were a strange race of mighty warrior women. They lived in a close-knit society that was governed strictly and exclusively by women, which was exactly the opposite of the male-dominated society of those ancient times (in ancient Greece, for example, the women were restricted to domestic chores and the welfare of children). In this all-women society of the Amazon women, men were only tolerated as slaves or instruments of reproduction to sustain their race.
They are “women who go to war like men”
– Homer (ancient Greek author of the Iliad)
They were the “Androktones”… meaning “the haters and killer of men”
– Herodotus (Greek Historian. The Father of History)
Indeed, the Amazon women lived like soldiers. These warrior women were very aggressive and their main purpose in life was to make war against all men.
The Amazons were the daughters of Ares, the god of war, and the Akmonian wood nymph, Harmonia. They were aggressive and brutal, and their major concern in life was war.
– Apollonius Rhodius
(Apollonius Rhodius – The famous Greek author of the poem, Argonautica, which is known today as the epic story of the quest of Jason and the Argonauts for the golden fleece in Greek mythology and that fascinating story includes that of Hercules who did battle with the Amazons several times.)
The Amazon Women – Life and Training
From childhood, Amazon girls were rigorously trained in the nuances of warfare. The spear, bow and arrow, the Labrys (the double-edged battle ax), swords and crescent-shaped shields were their weapons. The skill and excellence of the Amazon women of Greece as horse-tamers and riders were unsurpassed.
Strange, but justified from the perspective of the Amazon women, was the complete removal of a girl’s right breast. At that stage just before a girl’s breasts began to grow, the right breast would be cut off (cauterized) using an agonizingly hot bronze tool.
This procedure was seen as a necessary evil that helped remove all possible obstacles in a warrior women’s way in making use of a spear, a sword or drawing an arrow. Some modern historians believe that this practice may have attributed them their name ‘Amazons’ which may have been derived from the traditional Greek word “Amazoi”, which means either ‘full-breasted’, ‘breast-less’ or ‘not-touching men’. “Full-breasted” seems to be an ironic addition here, but that is exactly how the Amazons have been portrayed in paintings and sculptures – the right breast was never missing. Moreover, these women had to have been whole in order to capture the love of some of the most powerful men in ancient Greece as they so freely did… Achilles and Alexander the Great were said to have been smitten by the beauties of two Amazon queens,
Unfortunately, these women were a lot more tuned in to warfare than they were with feminism. An Amazon could never get married because ‘marriage’ was seen as a weakness, a kind of slavery to men. However, to keep their race going, the women would often mate with well-built men of nearby societies or with good looking prisoners of war. But once their purpose was fulfilled, the Amazon women would kill the prisoners or use them as slaves. A male offspring born of any Amazon suffered a fate akin to that of his father – death or slavery.
The boys were killed by their own mothers or sent away. In the rare case where the boy was exceptionally good looking and strong, he would be kept alive to mature and be used as a tool for sexual pleasures or (if healthy too) as a provider of human seed.
On the contrary, a baby girl was well taken care of, aggressively guarded, well-nourished and raised basically as a warrior, but nonetheless, as a fine woman.
Beliefs and Culture Of the Amazon women
Ancient ceramic vessels of Greek origin depict the Amazon women wearing dresses (or garments) that reach down to the knees and often with girdles around the waist and so that was most likely how they dressed in those times of long ago.
The moon, since the beginning of time, has always been the symbol of everything feminine and beautiful. The Amazon women, beautiful women that they were, not only led an untamed life but also worshiped the moon. And here lies another suggestion for the origin of their name.
Some modern historians have put forth the theory that close contact between the fierce Amazon women of ancient Greece and the ancient Circassians, who lived during the (exact) same period and were known to worship the moon as well, could have resulted in the warrior women coming to be called Amazons. In the ancient Circassian language, the word ‘Amazon’ means “moon-mother” or “mother of the forest”.
The Relationships of Amazon Women and Famous Heroes
Greek mythology is full of famous myths related to the Amazon women and their interaction with great men and the rest of the ancient world of the time. Here, we mention just a few of them, but the fascinating stories involved will come later.
- Antiope and Theseus
- Hercules and Hippolyta
- Achilles and Penthesilea
- Thalestris and Alexander the Great
Sexuality, Passion and Warfare Of the Amazon Women Of Ancient Greece
As mentioned earlier, the Amazon women of Gancitn reece weren’t favorably disposed towards marriage. Still, they did engage in sexual activities to ensure the continuity of their race with men of neighboring settlements, prisoners-of-war and, sometimes, very good-looking men (strangers) they met at random.
In truth, Amazon sexuality was animal-like; wild and untamed as the way they lived their lives: it was done under the cover of darkness, isolated and negativistic, almost without taking any pleasure in the act.
By their ways, passion and warfare were reflective of each other; they warred with passion and loved with a passion that edged almost on aggression. Sex was wholly dispensable unless it was to the advantage of the Amazon, that advantage, of course, being the birth of a girl child, who was aggressively guarded and brought up as a warrior and a successor.
A boy born to an Amazon suffered a terrible fate. He was either killed, blinded in preparation for slavery or, if lucky enough, he was sent away to his father.
According to the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, the Amazons and ancient Scythians into whose lands they strayed, shared intimate relationships. A Scythian man would make advances towards an Amazon woman only when she was alone. If accepted, they would engage in sexual intercourse.
Obviously, their natural craving for sexual gratification was greater than the Amazons’ hatred of men.
The Amazons who strayed into the lands of the Scythians were tamed this way, revealing a hidden aspect of passion and desire to their aggressive nature. Another historian Strabo makes clear that any Amazon would take on just about any man and vice-versa.
Yet another Greek writer, Plutarch, states that ‘Amazon sexuality tended towards a woman’s natural instincts and desire to be with a man in a submissive way’.
In all, the narratives of these three historians establish the fact that the Amazon women were immoral and proud women with very natural desires. The tales of the encounters of Greek heroes with the Amazon women also highlight that immorality.
The ninth task of Hercules, which was obtaining Queen Hippolyta’s golden girdle speaks to the removal of the last symbol of denial by a woman (meaning the queen was intimate with Hercules at some level). The seduction of Theseus’ and his subsequent abduction of his seducer, Antiope; her initial dislike, but resultant love for him and the birth of a child soon after, strongly suggest sexual predation. Penthesilea’s death and the subsequent violation of her lifeless body at the hands of the mighty Achilles is clear proof of an Amazon’s incredible beauty and strong sexuality.
By tradition, the Amazon women avoided sexual contact while serving in the army or in times of war. Young Amazons had to excel in battle first, proving themselves worthy warriors before being allowed to mate. Until then, they remained virgins and never gave in to the needs of the flesh.
Some historians have speculated that the pent-up anger and aggression displayed by young Amazon women when serving in the army had a lot to do with their denial of sexual fulfillment.
The Greek gods of the Amazons
The Greek gods worshiped by the Amazon women of Greece were related to their ideals and beliefs. The god of war, Ares was certainly male and yet he was the most honored by the Amazon women since their life was all about war. Athena, the female Goddess of War, was next in line, but she was honored as the goddess of the hunt, nature and childbirth. Cybele, worshipped as the goddess of the moon and fertility, was the special protector of the Amazon women and so her moon was their symbol, which is why their shields were in the shape of a moon.
Amazon Women — Myth or Reality
In truth, very little is known about the Amazon women of ancient Greece, and even most of that ‘little’ was gotten from myths. Their origins are still very much unclear, and whether they even existed at all or not is a subject that lies under a heavy shroud of doubt.
They may have lived in Libya, the Anatolian Peninsula of modern-day Turkey or in the Black Sea region. Some even believe that the Amazon women may well have been a purely fabricated race, invented by the male-dominated society of ancient Greece to additional boost their overblown ego.
And so, going by these standards, the question does arise then whether any of the information given about the Amazon women is real. Did they even exist?
Also Read: The most wicked women of the old world
On 31st July 1997, via an article in the Salt Lake Tribune titled “Were Amazons More than Myths?”, Kathy Sawyer puts it this way…
“The notion of such women who replenished their numbers by mating with men from other tribes, keeping the daughters and killing off all male infants sprang from an imaginative impulse in the male-dominated Greek society….”
Trust a woman to doubt the affairs of another woman who is capable of doing something she can’t. Nonetheless, let’s see what ancient and modern historians and archeologists have to say about the Amazon warrior whose fascinating stories we are about to read of in this book.
The Truth According to Ancient Greek Historians and Writers
Going by the little historical evidence that survived through those destructive prehistoric times, the Amazon women were well established in Greece several hundreds of years before the birth of Alexander the Great in July of the year 356 B.C., which is accurate dating because the same Alexander, who lived for less than three decades, supposedly had an affair with an Amazon queen. That places Amazons in existence at least a thousand years before Christ was born between the years 6 B.C. and 4 B.C.
The works of ancient Greek historians, writers and authors, make clear that the early tribe of women warriors who first appeared in ancient Greece came from lands to the south and were directly related to the Scythians and the Sarmatians (the first was a tribe of Eurasian nomads that spoke the Iranian language, but the second was a large Iranian confederation of states that existed in the time of the Rome right around the 5th century BC to the 4th century AD).
Ancient Rome and the Roman empire are not the same thing. Ancient Rome was merely a city ‘kingdom’ or ‘city state’ in ancient Greece just like Athens and Sparta.
The dating of the period of existence of the Amazon women actually gets confusing at this point, but the thing to note is that all these ‘ancient’ Greek historians, authors and writers did not live together in the same period. Some actually lived in the time of the Roman empire (about 80 -2 BCE), but were quoting much earlier records available to them at that time.
Herodotus (commonly called the Father of History) and Strabo both placed the homes of the Amazon women living in settlements all along the banks of the Thermodon River, a tributary of the Black Sea in present-day Turkey. They point in particular to Themiscyra, an ancient Greek city not too far from the mouth of the Thermodon River; it sits on the fertile plains that lie all around the river.
Herodotus, in particular, mentions that some Amazons lived in the lands of Scythia (present-day Uterine) after landing on the coast by accident after a war. These were the same group of Amazons mentioned earlier as ‘straying into the lands of the Scythians’.
The other important Greek historian, Strabo, reaffirmed this fact. He writes that the original home of the Amazon nations were in the lands of Themiscyra, which are the fertile plains around the Thermodon River, and the mountains that are located above them, but they were later driven out of these places, and in his lifetime, they were said to be living in the mountains above Caucasian Albania (a name given to ancient lands in present-day Azerbaijan), but he also writes that some other premiant Greek historians before him, among them Metrodorus of Scepsis (a man celebrated for his excellent memory) and Hypsicrates, say that after being driven from Themiscyra, the Amazons journeyed and made a new home on the borders of the Gargarians, a region in the northern foothills of the Caucasian Mountains which lies between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea.
Yet another great Greek historian and writer who lived about 30 B.C., producing works that are well respected till today, Diodorus, states (quoting from the works of historians who lived much earlier than his time) that before the Amazons of the Thermodon river there were, a lot earlier in time, the Amazons of Libya.
Diodorus goes on to state in detail that those early Amazons migrated from Libya, going through Egypt and Syria, to the Caïcus in Aeolis, and there, founded several cities. Later, he says they established Mitylene just beyond the Caïcus.
And then Aeschylus, a famous Greek tragedian, in his work Prometheus Bound in 430 B.C., places the original (the main) home of the Amazon women in the country around Lake Maeotis and says that they later moved to Themiscyra on the Thermodon River.
According to yet another famous but controversial Greek author known only as Pseudo-Plutarch, the Amazons dwelt around the Tanais river (Greek: Τάναϊς river) which is known today as the Don River, but formerly called the Amazonian (Greek: Ἀμαζόνιος) River, because the Amazons were known to bathe themselves in the waters. He too makes clear that the Amazons later migrated to Themiscyra on the River Thermodon. Plutarch goes right on to state that the campaign (labors) of Heracles and Theseus against the Amazons was accomplished on the Euxine Sea (it is that which is the modern-day Black Sea).
Homer, the legendary author of Iliad and Odyssey, states that the Amazons were to be searched for and found somewhere near Lycia (Turkish: Likya, Greek: Λυκία, Lykía – Lycia was a region in Anatolia in what are now the provinces of Muğla and Antalya on the southern coast of Turkey, reaching into the Burdur Province inland. This region has been mentioned in the historical records of ancient Egypt and the Hittite Empire in the Late Bronze Age,)
The Truth According to Modern Historians and Archeologists
The complete information here, being too lengthy, can be found only in the book from which this article was extracted with the full permission of the author. The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Queens and Warrior women of Ancient times.
Cities Founded by The Amazons Women in Ancient Greece
The Amazon women founded quite a number of cities in ancient Greece, a region which, as mentioned before, actually stretched from Europe into Asia Minor, and some of them have survived till this day but bear very different names. The main cities of the Amazons were Smyrna (an ancient Greek town known today as Izmir in Turkey), Ephesus (the same city is mentioned repeatedly in the New Testament of the Holy Bible), Cyme, Myrina, Sinope (a modern port city on the Black Sea on the Turkish coast), Paphos and Mitylene. And then there was Amazonium too, a city in Patmos. And over on the island of Lemnos were the cities of Myrina, which is named after the great Amazon with the name.
The famous Greek author, Apollonius Rhodius, creator of the epic tale of Jason and the Argonauts in the quest for the golden fleece, (originally the poem Argonautica), mentions in his works that on the plains of Thermodon the Amazons were not gathered together in one city, but were scattered over the land in three main tribes, the Themiscyreians, Lycastians, and the Chadesians.
Each of those Amazon tribes built their own cities and towns. As a whole, the Amazons were a united nation and whosoever attacked one city or town attacked the entire nation.
We have no choice but to conclude this amazing book here because there is simply no possible way to draft a whole book into a single post, with or without the permission of the author.
The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Queens and Warrior women of Ancient times brings you the complete, well researched and well-illustrated information about all the Amazon Nations ever to exist on earth, plus tales of queens and women of normal society who were so powerful they were referred to by historians as Amazon women.