AMAZONS_XENA

The Amazons got a bad rep in antiquity, but people couldn’t get enough of them. That long standing trope of “all girls love bad boys” also works the other way around. At first glance, at least, the Amazons were not only strong and independent, they could fight as well as – or, even better than – men. I suppose that’s what makes them intriguing. We’re always more intrigued by that one man/woman who doesn’t look like they need us that much.

This sounds like feminism. But, apparently, much like these days, this  was misunderstood even in antiquity, and it perpetuated the idea that the Amazons had, in a way, renounced their femininity and breeds many legends and incredible stories surrounding them. One more improbable from the next.

So, let’s look at at least six of the most famous myths relating to the Amazons and pooh-pooh them!

 1. The Amazons are mythical.

AMAZONS_ARMEDVENUS1860The Amazons were considered mythical for the longest time. Yet Archaeologists have been excavating in place a large number of graves of individuals known as Scythians through the Greeks and also learned that the women fought, hunted, rode race horses, employed bows and also arrows, just as the guys. They had horse-centred routines, on the Black Seas all the way to be able to Mongolia. They were living in small tribes, so it’s wise that anyone from the group was accountable and knew how to do whatever’s necessary. All of them needed to help with safety, war and general maintenance.

Buried skeletons have bows, arrows, quivers and spears. Plus the introduction associated with DNA examinations and other bioarchaeologicaly controlled investigations identified up to one-third of all Scythian women are usually laid to rest having items and shown evidence of war wounds just as the men.

 2. They’re known as “Amazon” because they only had one breast.

AMAZONS_EURASIAEveryone who’s seen Hunger Game  would know that this is a physiologically silly thought, as well as stupidly painful. If you can aim, you can shoot, regardless of which body parts you have sticking out. Anyway, there’s never any ancient Greek artwork which shows one breasted warrior woman. Nevertheless, the concept which Amazons cut of their breasts managed to be appealing to the Ancient Greeks.

The plural noun “Amazones” was not originally a Greek word—and has nothing to do with breasts. The notion that “Amazon” meant “without breast” was invented by the Greek historian Hellanikos in the fifth century B.C.

He tried to force a Greek meaning on the foreign loan word: a for “lack” and “mazon,” which sounded a bit like the Greek word for breast. His idea was ridiculed even by other historians of his own day, but it stuck. Even in antiquity people were drawn by sensationalism. Linguists today suggest that the name derives from ancient Iranian or Caucasian roots, and not related to breasts in any way.

 3. The Amazons are lesbians.

AMAZONS_PENTHESILEA1882Nobody in antiquity ever suggested that the Amazons were lesbians. This was a very modern misconception. The ancient Greeks and Romans were not shy about discussing homosexuality among men or women, so really that idea had been current in antiquity, someone would have mentioned it.

“The women of the Sauromatae have continued from that day to the present,” wrote Herodotus, “to observe their ancient customs, frequently 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.”

The one interesting artistic bit of evidence is of a vase that shows a Thracian huntress giving a love gift to the Queen of the Amazons, Penthesilea. At least someone thought of the idea of a love affair between Amazons. But just because we don’t have any written evidence and only that one unique vase doesn’t mean that Amazons might have had relations only with each other. Yes, homosexual relations would have existed in the Amazonian tribes, as it would exist in every tribe in the world thousands of years before or after them, but it has nothing to do with the ancient idea of the Amazons themselves.

 4. The Amazons smoked pot and have tattoos.

AMAZONS_HERCULESAmazons smoked pot and drank a concoction of fermented mare’s milk which they used in rituals. Herodotus says that they gathered cannabis and sat around a campfire. They became intoxicated from the smoke and then would get up and dance. Archaeologists are finding proof of this in the graves. Every Scythian man and woman was buried with a hemp-smoking kit, including a little charcoal brazier.

There are also a lot of tattoos in images of Thracian and Scythian women on vase paintings. Ancient Greek historians described the tattooing practices of the culturally related tribes of Eurasia.

Tattoo kits been discovered in ancient Scythian burials. The frozen bodies of several heavily tattooed Scythian men and women have been recovered from graves.

 5. The Amazons invented trousers.

AMAZONS_TROUSERS470BCEThe Greeks credited three different warrior women with the invention of trousers. Medea was credited with inventing the outfit that was taken up by Scythians and Persians. The other two were Queen Semiramis, a legendary Assyrian figure, and Queen Rhodogune. They weren’t that far off. Trousers were invented by the people who first rode horses—and those were people from the steppes.

If you’re going to spend your life on horseback, it’s common sense that you  cover your legs. The ancient Greeks wore rectangles of cloth held together with pins. They thought trousers were an abomination. But once again, they’re fascinated by them.

 6. The Amazons maimed and castrated young boys.

The idea that Amazons abandoned, maimed, or killed young boys is a fairly early story that circulated among the Greeks, because several writers assumed that Amazon societies must be women only.

But this then raised the question: How do the Amazons reproduce? So stories surfaced of women agreeing to meet with neighboring tribes to reproduce – which brings us to “then what did they do with the boys?”, so stories appeared that that they either maimed them or killed them and only kept the girls.

The most common story was that they sent the boys back to the fathers to be raised. The Amazons couldn’t seem to catch a break with this one either because some modern scholars interpreted this as proof that they abandoned their duties as mothers.

But  it was a very common custom among nomadic people, called fosterage. Sending sons to be raised by another tribe ensures that you’re going to have good relations with that tribe. It’s a way of sealing treaties. It was very common in antiquity.  Philip the Great was raised by an ally of his father. It’s also a way of ensuring you don’t have incest within the tribe. It was also common in the Middle Ages in Europe.  The fact that the Scythian and Thracian tribes probably practiced fosterage led to these stories that the Amazons gave their sons to the father’s tribe. There is no archaeological evidence that harm was ever inflicted by the big bad warrior ladies to the boys.

Martini

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References

Mayor, A., The Amazons

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/10/141029-amazons-scythians-hunger-games-herodotus-ice-princess-tattoo-cannabis/

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/amazon-women-there-any-truth-behind-myth-180950188/?no-ist

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