Did the Amazons really exist? - Adrienne Mayor
- 1,394,222 Views
- 3,116 Questions Answered
- TEDEd Animation
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.
Create and share a new lesson based on this one.