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Did the Amazons Really Exist in Ancient Greece?

ancient greek amazons
Amazons featured on an ancient Greek lekythos. Did the Amazons really exist in Ancient Greece? Credit: Public domain

The fierce, fearsome, war-loving female warriors known as Amazons existed in ancient Greece, according to American historian Adrienne Mayor.

The Stanford University historian’s book The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women Across the Ancient World, reveals that such women may have actually existed in the ancient world and were likely from the Eurasian Steppe, which stretched from eastern Europe to central and northern Asia.

“Excavations of Eurasian graves have uncovered battle-scarred female skeletons dressed in tunics and trousers, and buried with quivers full of arrows, battle-axes, spears, and horse gear,” Mayor told CNN recently.

“So we know that genuine warrior women really existed at the time and places reported by the ancient Greeks and other cultures,” she added.

Amazons were immortalized in ancient artifacts, such as perfume jars and jewelry boxes.

Amazons amazed, and frightened the Ancient Greeks

Mayor argues that “Amazons enjoyed lives very different from Greek women, who were confined indoors doing domestic chores.”

Amazons were nomadic warrior women who left their babies at home with their fathers, a complete inverse of family structures most commonly found across the world.

“The radical idea of powerful, independent women living in exotic lands evoked ambivalent emotions in the Greeks: awe, fear, respect, and desire,” she added. Yet, it also made the Greeks uneasy.

In her book, Mayor tears down some popular myths surrounding the warrior women, such as that they were cutting off one breast so that they could fire an arrow better or that they were man-haters.

In fact, Mayor examined contemporary women archers from the Steppe and found that they had no problem using their bow and arrow on horseback with their physical anatomy intact.

She further claims that the Amazons were neither a fantasy invented by the Greeks nor were the Greeks the only ancient people who told such tales.

It is likely, however, that some aspects of the mythology surrounding these warrior women came from anxiety of the Greeks regarding the women that so clearly defied the Greek expectation of women.

Penthesilea, queen of the Amazons in Greek mythology

There are many myths and legends about the Amazons from ancient Greece, but perhaps the most well-known story about these fighters involves Penthesilea, the queen of the Amazons.

The warrior woman went mad after she caused the death of her sister during a hunting incident.

Driven by the demons haunting her, she decided to go on a suicide mission to fight in the Trojan War.

Eventually, she got her wish but not before killing her way through the Greek troops and heroes and slaughtering many soldiers.

She even held her own in a fight against Ajax, one of the greatest heroes of Greek mythology. Eventually, she was defeated by the Greek demigod Achilles, according to mythology.

A legend states that the moment Achilles killed her with his spear, their eyes met, and he fell in love with her, but it was too late.

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