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Did the Amazons really exist? - Adrienne Mayor

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It was long assumed that Amazons, the fierce and fearsome women warriors of Greece, were imaginary. But curiously enough, stories from ancient Egypt, Persia, the Middle East, Central Asia, India and China also featured Amazon-like warrior women. And Amazons were described in ancient historical accounts, not just myths. Who were the real women warriors known as Amazons? Adrienne Mayor investigates.

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Meet The Creators

  • Educator Adrienne Mayor
  • Script Editor Alex Gendler
  • Director Silvia Prietov
  • Producer Edi Jimenez
  • Animator William Cifuentes, Jorge Moyano, Diego Doncel
  • Art Director William Pineda
  • Compositor Jeffersson Vargas
  • Composer Cem Misirlioglu, Brooks Ball
  • Sound Designer Cem Misirlioglu
  • Associate Producer Elizabeth Cox, Jessica Ruby
  • Content Producer Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Producer Alex Rosenthal
  • Narrator Susan Zimmerman

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Additional Resources for you to Explore
Amazons, fierce warrior women dwelling in exotic eastern lands around the Black Sea and beyond, were the mythic archenemies of the ancient Greeks. The greatest heroes of myth, Heracles, Theseus, and Achilles, proved their courage in battles with Amazons, where they defeated the famous Amazon queens Hippolyta, Antiope, and Penthesilea in duels.

Amazons played an important role in the legendary Trojan War as allies of the Trojans. The city of Athens believed that its first citizens were victorious over a powerful Amazon army that invaded Greece in the golden age of myth. Every man, women, boy, and girl knew Amazon stories by heart and Greek artists created thousands of images of Amazons in sculptures and paintings. Meanwhile, Herodotus, Plato, Strabo, and other ancient writers described real nomadic women living the lives of mythic Amazons on the steppes of Eurasia. In historical times, King Cyrus II of Persia, Alexander the Great, and the Roman general Pompey tangled with Amazons.

Long believed to be merely mythical figures, Amazons are now known to have been modeled on real horsewomen-archers, members of the nomadic peoples of Eurasian steppes stretching from the Black Sea to China. These diverse tribes of ancient Scythia shared a culture centered on horseback archery, constant raiding and warfare, and relative gender equality, necessary for survival. Their ancestors were the first to domesticate horses and perfected the technology of the powerful recurve bow. They also invented trousers.

Thanks to recent and spectacular archaeological excavations of ancient Scythian graves and advances in DNA testing of bones, there is now undeniable evidence that a significant number of steppe nomad women served as warriors. Their battle-scarred skeletons were buried with weapons and horses, and received the same honors as male warriors.

In Greek art, Amazons were depicted as attractive, but deadly, heroic horsewomen-archers from barbarian lands (in antiquity "barbarian" meant non-Greek). The Greeks admired Amazons as the "equals of men" in combat and courage--yet no Amazon ever emerged victorious over a male hero. But the Greeks were not the only people fascinated by the war-like horsewomen of Scythia. Accounts of warrior women arose across the ancient world, from Egypt and Persia to the Caucasus and Central Asia. Notably, the non-Greek tales have radically different outcomes. Greek myths doomed all Amazons to defeat and death, but in stories of other ancient cultures, the warrior women win battles. Their duels with male enemies often end in a draw and the former foes agree to become companions in love and war.

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About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animation lessons feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Adrienne Mayor
  • Script Editor Alex Gendler
  • Director Silvia Prietov
  • Producer Edi Jimenez
  • Animator William Cifuentes, Jorge Moyano, Diego Doncel
  • Art Director William Pineda
  • Compositor Jeffersson Vargas
  • Composer Cem Misirlioglu, Brooks Ball
  • Sound Designer Cem Misirlioglu
  • Associate Producer Elizabeth Cox, Jessica Ruby
  • Content Producer Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Producer Alex Rosenthal
  • Narrator Susan Zimmerman

Share

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