Two early reviews of my book even claimed I accept that false etymology. Linguists today suggest that the name derives from ancient Iranian or Caucasian roots. You describe them as "aggressive, independent man-killers. That is one of the ideas that have arisen in modern times. Nobody in antiquity ever suggested that. We know that the ancient Greeks and Romans were not shy about discussing homosexuality among men or women. So if that idea had been current in antiquity, someone would have mentioned it.
The one interesting artistic bit of evidence that I did find is a vase that shows a Thracian huntress giving a love gift to the Queen of the Amazons, Penthesilea. That's a strong indication that 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 preclude that Amazons might have had relations with each other.
It's just that it has nothing to do with the ancient idea of Amazons. The strong bond of sisterhood was a famous trait in classical art and literature about Amazons. But it was modern people who interpreted that as a sexual preference for women. That started in the 20th century. The Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva declared that Amazons were symbolic of lesbianism in antiquity. Then others took that up. But the ancient Greeks didn't think of them as lesbians.
They described them as lovers of men, actually. Man-killers—and man lovers.
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I used that phrase in the dedication to a good friend of mine, Sunny Bock. She was a strong figure who believed in equality between men and women. She rode motorcycles, she rode horses, then became the first female railroad engineer. She was a risktaker who died an untimely death, probably because of her life of risk. She embodied the Amazon spirit: the assumption that women are the equals of men and that they could be just as noble and brave and heroic.
That comes through in the artworks and literature about Amazons. The Greeks were both fascinated and appalled by such independent women. They were so different from their wives and daughters. Yet there was a fascination. They were captivated by them. Pictures of Amazons on vase paintings always show them as beautiful, active, spirited, courageous, and brave.
I talked to a vase expert whose specialty is gestures on Greek vases. He has written an article about gestures begging for mercy in single combat images. Quite a few of the losers in duels are shown gesturing for mercy. But among Amazons, not so much. We have about 1, or so images of Amazons fighting.
And only about two or three of them are gesturing for mercy. So they're shown to be extremely courageous and heroic. And I think that's the Amazon spirit. Amazons smoked pot and drank a powerful concoction of fermented mare's milk called kumis , which they used in rituals.
Put us around a campfire in ancient Scythia. In that picture of the ancient Amazons sitting around their campfire we also have to include men. We don't have any evidence that there were whole societies with nothing but women. When we say Amazons, we mean Scythian women. In this case Scythian warrior women. Herodotus gives us a very good picture. He says that they gathered a flower or leaves or seeds—he wasn't absolutely sure—and sat around a campfire and threw these plants onto the fire. They became intoxicated from the smoke and then would get up and dance and shout and yell with joy.
It's pretty certain he was talking about hemp, because he actually does call it cannabis. He just wasn't certain whether it was the leaves or the flower or the bud. But we know they used intoxicants. 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. Herodotus also described a technique in which they would build a sauna-type arrangement of felt tents, probably in wintertime on the steppes.
He describes it as like a tepee with a felt or leather canopy. They would take the hemp-smoking equipment inside the tent and get high. They've found the makings of those tents in many Scythian graves. They've also found the remains of kumis, the fermented mare's milk. I give a recipe in the book for a freezing technique they used to raise its potency.
There are a lot of tattoos—beautifully, lovingly detailed 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. According to one account, Scythian women taught the Thracian women how to tattoo. The Greeks had lots of slaves from the Black Sea area, and they were all tattooed. 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 Mithridates. They are heard of in the time of Alexander, when some of the king's biographers make mention of Amazon Queen Thalestris visiting him and becoming a mother by him the story is known from the Alexander Romance. 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. Jordanes ' Getica c.
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After a few centuries, following an incident where the Goths' women successfully fended off a raid by a neighboring tribe, while the menfolk were off campaigning against Pharaoh Vesosis , the women formed their own army under Marpesia and crossed the Don, invading Asia. Her sister Lampedo remained in Europe to guard the homeland. They procreated with men once a year.
These Amazons conquered Armenia, Syria, and all of Asia Minor, even reaching Ionia and Aeolia , holding this vast territory for years. Jordanes also mentions that they fought with Hercules, and in the Trojan War, and that a smaller contingent of them endured in the Caucasus Mountains until the time of Alexander. He mentions by name the Queens Menalippe, Hippolyta, and Penthesilea. In the Grottaferrata Version of Digenes Akritas , the twelfth century medieval epic of Basil, the Greek-Syrian knight of the Byzantine frontier, the hero battles with and kills the female warrior Maximo.
Eusebius writes that during the reign of Oxyntes the Amazons burned down the temple at Ephesus. According to ancient sources Plutarch , Theseus ,  Pausanias , Amazon tombs could be found frequently throughout what was once known as the ancient Greek world. At both Chalcis and Athens, Plutarch tells us that there was an Amazoneum or shrine of Amazons that implied the presence of both tombs and cult. At the entrance of Athens there was a monument to the Amazon Antiope. In historical times Greek maidens of Ephesus performed an annual circular dance with weapons and shields that had been established by Hippolyta and her Amazons.
They had initially set up wooden statues of Artemis , a bretas Pausanias , fl. Harpokration mention that Ammonius of Athens in his book "On Altars and Sacrifices" writes that the Amazons founded the Amazoneion sanctuary at Athens. 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 natural beings. Amazons were therefore depicted in the manner of Scythian or Sarmatian horsemen. 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 in the Greek mind had 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. Their manner of dress has been noted to bear a striking similarity to the traditional dress of nomadic peoples from the Crimea to Mongolia.
The battle between Theseus and the Amazons Amazonomachy is a favourite subject on the friezes of temples e. In the Essays in Portraiture, Lucian of Samosata ask Polystratos which, he think, is the best work of Phidias and Polystratos respond "The Lemnian Athene, which bears the artist's own signature; and of course the Amazon leaning on her spear.
Later in the Renaissance , as Amazon myth evolved, artists started to depict warrior women in a new light. Queen Elizabeth was often thought of as an Amazon-like warrior during her reign and was sometimes depicted as such. Wright "has given a detailed account of the bad press Amazons had in the Renaissance with respect to their unwomanly conduct and Scythian cruelty. She notes that she has not found any Elizabethans comparing the queen directly to an Amazon, and suggests that they might have hesitated to do so because of the association of Amazons with enfranchisement of women, which was considered contemptible.
Peter Paul Rubens and Jan Brueghel depicted the Battle of the Amazons around , showing many attributes of Renaissance-styled paintings. As a part of the Romantic period revival, German artist Anselm Feuerbach painted the Amazons as well. Herodotus reported that the Sarmatians were descendants of Amazons and Scythians, and that their wives observed their ancient maternal 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". In the story related by Herodotus, a group of Amazons was blown across the Maeotian Lake the Sea of Azov into Scythia near the cliff region today's southeastern Crimea.
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After learning the Scythian language, they agreed to marry Scythian men, on the condition that they not be required to follow the customs of Scythian women. According to Herodotus, this band moved toward the northeast, settling beyond the Tanais Don river, and became the ancestors of the Sauromatians.
Xenophon in Anabasis writes that Democrates of Temnus captured a man with a Persian bow, a quiver and a battleaxe of the same sort that Amazons carry. Hippocrates describes them as: "They have no right breasts Amazons came to play a role in Roman historiography. Caesar reminded the Senate of the conquest of large parts of Asia by Semiramis and the Amazons.
Successful Amazon raids against Lycia and Cilicia contrasted with effective resistance by Lydian cavalry against the invaders Strabo 5. Gnaeus Pompeius Trogus pays particularly detailed attention to the Amazons. The story of the Amazons as deriving from a Cappadocian colony of two Scythian princes Ylinos and Scolopetos is due to him.
Pliny the Elder records some surprising facts pointing to the valley of the Terme River as possibly being their home: a mountain named for them the modern Mason Dagi , as well as a settlement Amazonium; Herodotus VI. Ammianus places them east of Tanais , as neighbouring the Alans. Procopius places them in the Caucasus. Diodorus Siculus Bibliotheca historica III, chapter 52 mentioned that besides Pontus Amazons existed much older race at that time entirely disappeared of Amazons from western Libya , and retells their mythological story which includes Atlantis and Greek mythology.
Although Strabo shows skepticism as to their historicity, the Amazons in general continue to be taken as historical throughout Late Antiquity.
Several Church Fathers speak of the Amazons as of a real people. Solinus embraces the account of Pliny. Under Aurelianus , captured Gothic women were identified as Amazons Claudianus. The account of Justinus was influential, and was used as a source by Orosius who continued to be read during the European Middle Ages. Medieval authors thus continue the tradition of locating the Amazons in the North, Adam of Bremen placing them at the Baltic Sea and Paulus Diaconus in the heart of Germania. Amazons continued to be discussed by authors of the European Renaissance, and with the Age of Exploration , they were located in ever more remote areas.
Amazons also figure in the accounts of both Christopher Columbus and Walter Raleigh. Beside the land of Chaldea is the land of Amazonia, that is the land of Feminye. And in that realm is all woman and no man; not as some may say, that men may not live there, but for because that the women will not suffer no men amongst them to be their sovereigns.
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 Thracian tomb of 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.
Ariosto 's 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 them from regaining power. Classicist Peter Walcot wrote, "Wherever the Amazons are located by the Greeks, whether it is somewhere along the Black Sea in the distant north-east, or in Libya in the furthest south, it is always beyond the confines of the civilized world. The Amazons exist outside the range of normal human experience.
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