Amazon's Warrior Women Or Ancient Myth?

Did Amazon warrior women, the Antiope and Hippolyte belong to an extinct matriarchal warrior society? Or were they simply fictional characters depicted in ancient Greek mythology?

Amazons - Real Warrior Women or Ancient Myth?

Stories of beautiful and bloodthirsty female warrior women thundering across arid battlefields have been told, re-told and speculated over for thousands of years and by many cultures. Greek myths are filled with tales of the Amazons and their exploits, love affairs and battles with

Olympian gods like Zeus, Ares and Hera. Amazon warriors fought and died in the Trojan war. Homer and Hippocrates speculated over or wrote of these fierce fighting women, as did Greek historian Herodotus. The West African kingdom of Dahomey employed a legion of so-called Amazons who conquered cities for King Agaja during the 1600's. Spanish adventurer, Francisco de Orellana, is said to have named South America's greatest river, the Amazon, after a fierce tribe of warrior women he encountered along its banks.

Greek mythology describes the Amazons as descendants of the god of war, Ares, and the sea nymph, Harmonia. They worshipped Artemis, goddess of the hunt and exactly where the Amazons territory was has always been disputed. Herodotus believed they may have occupied the sweeping steppes of Southern Russia. Other stories claim they lived in Thrace or along the lower Caucasus Mountains in northern Albania. The Thermodon River, in Asia Minor, known today as the coast of Turkey, seems to be the most frequently mentioned territory of the Amazons.

Amazon society was stringently matriarchal. Males were of no use other than for mating purposes and as slaves, doing work that was traditionally performed by women. Mens' outer extremities were often mutilated to prevent them taking up arms against their captors or escaping. Male babies were either given away at birth to neighbouring tribes or killed.

From an early age Amazons were trained in the arts of war. Some myths and stories say that during adolescence a young Amazon's right breast would be cauterised or entirely removed by her mother so that once the girl reached adulthood she could wield bows and throw javelins more accurately. Experts disagree, claiming that the Amazons would not have had the medical know how to prevent massive haemorrhage or infection if such drastic mutilations actually occurred.

The Amazons were said to be the first humans to tame and ride horses. They were fearless and expert warriors, on horseback or as foot soldiers, and the Greeks fiercest enemies. They dedicated themselves to endless hours of training in the art of combat, their favored weapons, bows, spears and doubled-sided battle axes.

One of the most enduring Greek Amazon myths tells of King Eurytheseus dispatching Hercules to steal Queen Hippolyte's golden girdle, a gift from Ares. Rather than attacking the army standing outside their city, the Amazons showed curiosity and welcomed them. Hippolyte and Hercules fell in love. Jealous goddess Juno spread lies about the Greeks ulterior motive to kidnap the Amazon queen and hold her for ransom. A bloody battle ensued and there were great losses on both sides, Hercules eventually victorious and returning to Greece with Hippolyte's girdle.

Yet despite such tales and myths very little concrete archaeological evidence has ever been unearthed to prove that a race of Amazons actually existed. Most stories about them have been dismissed as pure conjecture or wishful thinking, including Herodotus's writings of Amazons in Russia and their possible connection with the ancient Scythian race. Recent excavations by Russian archaeologists, however, have produced new evidence that suggests Herodotus may have been right.

The Scythians were a race of mounted nomadic warriors whose early origins are still a mystery and who lived in Central Asia around the 7-8th centuries BC. Their generals were said to be more cunning military tacticians than Genghis Khan, who, centuries later conquered half the world. Yet the Scythians were illiterate, they left no language and history, other than their large round burial mounds, or kurgans, plundered ruins that are found all over the Russian steppes. Russian archaeologists have found some kurgans that are still intact, a few of them containing the remains of what they believe were Scythian royalty or aristocrats. These tombs also contained a breathtaking array of golden artefacts: jewellery, chalices, weapons, breastplates and other finely crafted masterpieces depicting Scythian life.

Herodotus wrote of the Scythians as being an extremely barbaric and bloodthirsty race,skinning and beheading slain adversaries and shaping their skulls into drinking cups. Funerals were highly ceremonial and even more blood-drenched. A fallen warrior's wife and entire household were often killed and placed inside the kurgan to serve in the afterlife. Dozens of the finest horses were sacrificed and staked upright around the outside of the burial mound.

New burial mounds recently opened outside the town of Pokrovka contained the remains of women, some thought to be of great station. They were buried in full battle dress and with a assortment of weapons and other items of war lying beside them. One young woman's leg bones were signifi

cantly bowed suggesting she spent most of her life on horseback. Another skeleton had an arrowhead lodged in the upper chest, indicating she might have died in battle.

This startling evidence seems to confirm Herodotus's early theories that certain cultures held women in higher esteem, some even riding alongside men into battle. Other mysterious burial sites have also been recently unearthed in China dating back 2000 years or more, the remains and artefacts suggesting that within other extinct cultures women may have held powerful social and perhaps even military positions as well. Whether any of these long-dead women found in the Pokrovka kurgans or in other recent digs could actually be the mythical Amazons of Greek legend has yet to be confirmed - or may never be proven. For the foreseeable future, research and speculation continues.

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