Amazons — More Than Myth?

Copyright 2014 by Paula S. Jordan

Greek Vase with Amazon on Horseback

Greek Vase with Amazon on Horseback

Were the Amazons a mere figment of Greek Imagination? Perhaps “… a propaganda tool used by the Athenians during times of political stress”? Or “beardless bow-toting Mongoloids” whom the Greeks mistook for women?

The Greeks were certainly mystified and alarmed by them and, as Amanda Foreman says in the April Smithsonian Magazine, did them to “…violent death in tale after tale.”

It was Homer who mentioned them first. In the Iliad (eighth century BC, 500 years after the Trojan War) he described them in a term variously translated as anything from “antagonistic to men” to “the equal of men,” and wrote them, says Ms. Foreman, as “… worthy enough opponents for [his] male characters to be able to boast of killing them—without looking like cowardly bullies.”

Herodotus, writing in the 5th century BC, placed their capitol in Themiscyra, a fortified city in what is now northern Turkey. In further details he places a group of them among the Scythians on the north shore of the Black Sea. The two groups intermarried, he said, eventually becoming nomads known as Sauromatians, and the women have “… continued from that day to the present to observe their ancient customs…hunting on horseback with their husbands…in war taking the field and wearing the very same dress as the men….Their marriage law lays it down, that no girl shall wed until she has killed a man in battle.”

Greek Vase with Amazon in trousers circa 470 BC

Greek Vase with Amazon in trousers
circa 470 BC

Could they be real? Archaeology has proven Homer and Herodotus correct before. Why not with the Amazons?

Well, thanks again to archaeological proof, it seems that they were.

In the early 1990’s a team of US and Russian Archaeologists, excavating a 2000-year-old burial mound in the Ural steppes near the Kazakhstan border, came upon “ … over 150 graves belonging to the Sauromatians and their descendants, the Sarmatians.” Among the burials of men and “ordinary women” they found “… graves of warrior women who had been buried with their weapons.” One, a “… young female, bowlegged from constant riding [was buried] with an iron dagger on her left side and a quiver containing 40 bronze-tipped arrows on her right.” Another female skeleton contained a bent arrowhead. Further, “… the weapon-bearing females measured [on average] 5 feet 6 inches, making them preternaturally tall for their time.”

Now some 50 or more such burial mounds have been examined, with many more interesting details. See here, here, and here.

So there they are, Amazons, and the Sauromatian/Sarmatian descendants of Amazons, just as Homer and Herodotus said.

About Paula S. Jordan

Paula S. Jordan is an Analog writer, former orbit analyst, and a blogger, with a an alien contact novel in third draft. It’s all her dad’s fault: giving her that science fiction book at seven years old!

3 thoughts on “Amazons — More Than Myth?

  1. Very cool article, thanks. Hearing about the “young female, bowlegged from constant riding” of course makes me imagine what her life might have been like.

    • I had much the same thought, Steven. And all those buried as warriors seem to have been significantly taller than average. Must have been at least some inconveniences there.

      I’m pleased that you liked the post, and sorry I’m so slow replying. Been traveling a bit, and didn’t trust the WiFi where I was staying.

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