History of Europe

Amazons, daughters of Mars! Myth and truth from ancient times to today

The Amazons, the mythical, legendary and real female warriors of the ancient world and their successors in more recent times have occupied a multitude of historians throughout the centuries. They are described as fearless and strong, skilled in war, excellent at horsemanship, excellent at the bow who could easily overcome many men. According to ancient sources they mated with men only to produce children and kept only the girls while the boys they gave birth to were given to their fathers or, according to some sources, killed.


Their presence is witnessed in myths, historical writings, but also based on archaeological evidence in Greece, Asia Minor, Egypt and the lands from today's Armenia to China. In western Europe there is also evidence of female warriors and queens.

Name and origin

Their name is the first mystery about them. According to some sources it comes from a corruption of Persian terms and means "warrior" or "women who fight", other opinions state that the name comes from old Greek and means "she who has no husband".

Ancient writers claimed that their name derives from their habit of cutting off their right breast to make it easy to arch. However, this assumption is not documented anywhere. Herodotus mentions that the name "Amazon" means "man killer", while he also calls them "destroyers of men" in his work. Aeschylus names them as "those who hate men".

The ancient Greeks had no doubt about their existence in their own or earlier times and had connected them with the legends of the greatest heroes of Hellenism, Hercules, Theseus, Achilles, Bellerophon. Minoan Crete was considered their cradle - where women enjoyed freedom and moved around without a problem with their breasts uncovered.

Other ancient historians, poets etc. considered Scythia as their homeland and some Lycia in Asia Minor where the society was matriarchal at least until the 5th century. e.g. as Herodotus testifies. Today, however, the evidence of the existence of mythical women warriors is numerous and unshakable as many tombs of women warriors have been found who were buried with their weapons, from antiquity to the Middle Ages, with many skeletons bearing the obvious signs that they had participated in battle.

Myth and history

According to the myths the first queen of the Amazons was the daughter of the god of war Ares, Otriri. Their other famous queens were Hippolyta and Penthesilia. The first was associated with the adventures of Heracles while the second is mentioned in the Homeric Cycle as an ally of the Trojans. According to the Epic "Ethiopis" the queen of the Amazons was defeated only by Achilles and met her death. Another queen of the Amazons, Myrini, perished in Troy, according to the Iliad.

About her, Diodorus Siculus mentioned that with her army he had destroyed the city of the Atlanteans, in the mythical Atlantis. Herodotus places their capital at Thermiscyra on the river Thermodon on the Pontic coast of the Black Sea near Samsunda.

The great geographer Strabo also accepts that the Amazons lived there, in the area of ​​the Thermodon river. But later, under pressure, they settled in the Caucasus region where they mated with men from the Gargarean people. The latter kept the male children while the Amazons kept the females. The legend has the Amazons even invading Attica but ultimately being defeated by Theseus. The Amazons are found in various myths fighting gods.

In the "Phylada of Alexander the Great" Alexander is said to be associated with the queen of the Amazons Thalistris who provided 300 of her warriors to the Greek soldier. Although considered a legend, this story probably refers to Indian female warriors. We know that many Indian kings had female virgin guards who formed separate corps . These were bare-breasted and wore only a bodice-skirt, while they were armed with a shield and a heavy crushing sword. Even the Jewish Talmud mentions that Alexander wanted to conquer a kingdom of women.

The Romans expanded the Greek myths about the Amazons, but fighting Celts in Britain saw the myths come to life in the person of Queen Boadicea. They themselves, however, "honoring" the myth with their own barbaric custom, sometimes used female gladiators in the arena.

From Byzantium to today

In the 7th century A.D. Stephen the Byzantine in his work "Ethnika" but also Eustathios Thessaloniki (12th cent.) in his work "Apocalypse to Homer's Iliad and Odyssey" mention the Amazons. The historian Iordanis in the "Getika" of the 6th c. A.D. refers to them as well, as does the famous Epic of Digenis Akrita where the warrior Maximo stars. Ioannis Tzetzis (12th century) mentions the names of Amazons killed at Troy. The names of all refer to war – e.g. Toxofoni, Toxoanassa, Aghimachi. Western medieval sources also mention the Amazons, influenced of course by Celtic and Norse history and mythology.

We know, for example, that Viking women were almost required to know how to fight even for their own personal safety. References continue into the Renaissance period while in 1542 the Spanish Conquistador Francisco de Oreña named the Amazon River the Amazon River after the local warrior women he encountered. Christopher Columbus also speaks of Amazons, as well as the English explorer Walter Raleigh in the 16th century.

However, Amazons, female warriors, as the myth wants them to be, existed even in recent times. In Africa, the king of Dahomey, now Benin, maintained a corps of female guards. In 1787 Potemkin formed a company of Greek Amazons in honor of Catherine of Russia

All-female units were formed in various wars – even air squadrons – while today women serve in almost all the world's armies as new Amazons. As for the authentic ones, the archaeological evidence is decisive as in burial monuments discovered in the area of ​​Scythia and the Sarmatian civilization about 1/5 to 1/4 belonged to female warriors who were buried with all their weapons. Finally let's not forget the Greek "Amazons" and especially those from the years of the Turkish rule, such as the Souliotisses and the Maniatisses