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Greek Mythic Warrior Women Not Purely Imaginary

By Adrienne Mayor

In Greek myth, Amazons were fierce warrior women of exotic Eastern lands, as courageous and skilled in battle as the mightiest Greek heroes. Amazons were major characters not only in the legendary Trojan War but also in the chronicles of the greatest Greek city-state, Athens.

Every great champion of myth–Heracles, Theseus, Achilles–proved his valor by overcoming powerful warrior queens and their armies of women. Those glorious struggles against foreign man-killers were re- counted in oral tales and written epics and illustrated in countless art- works throughout the Greco-Roman world. Famous historical figures, among them King Cyrus of Persia, Alexander the Great and the Roman general Pompey, also tangled with Amazons.

[Snip] But were Amazons real? Though they were long believed to be purely imaginary, overwhelming evidence now shows that the Amazon traditions of the Greeks and other ancient societies derived in large part from historical facts. Among the nomad horse-riding peoples of the steppes known to the Greeks as “Scythians,” women lived the same rugged outdoor life as the men. These “warlike tribes have no cities, no fixed abodes,” wrote one ancient historian; “they live free and unconquered, so savage that even the women take part in war.” Archaeology reveals that about one out of three or four nomad women of the steppes was an active warrior buried with her weapons. Their lifestyle–so different from the domestic seclusion of Greek women–captured the imagination of the Greeks. The only real-life parallels in Greece were rare instances of wives forced to defend their families and towns against invaders in the absence of their husbands.

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