Re: AMAZONS: legend or history?

From: John Croft
Message: 4130
Date: 2000-10-04

João wrote:
> What would be the origin of the Amazons, the warrior women of Greek
legends? Were they some historical people? Or just a myth?
> I don't deny the opinion that Sarmatian women were very active as
warriors, but I think the Amazo:nes had some mythic substratum: a
host of fierce marine women.
> 1) AMAZO:NES (akin to Armenian Amis-Zon "Moon Woman" ?)
> They've ever apperead in Greek myths as adversaries of heroes,
Theseus, Herakles and Bellerophontes. Myrina (Bathyaia)'s tomb is
cited at Iliad. Diodorus Siculus mentioned euhemerist tales envolving
Lybian Amazons, Atlants and Gorgons.
> There were two different areas, perhaps reflecting two distinct
traditions. The "Southern Tradition", with Amazons coming from Egypt,
Libya, or even Hesperides. The "Northern Tradition", with Amazons
coming from Asia, Thracia or Scythia. The S-Tradition may have
connections with female priests of Neith, that were depicted as
warriors. The N-Tradition may have influences from Sarmatian warrior
women. Maybe these traditions could have influenced the Amazon
> I gathered other legends that can have links to the Amazons:
> Warrior women came from sea following Dionysus. They're killed by
Perseus. Sometimes depicted as Sirens.
> 50 women coming from Egypt (beyond Sea), husband-killers, killed by
Lygkeus and punished in Tartarus.
> The wild furious women that followed Dionysus, sometimes explained
as the nymphs that raised Dionysus. Dionysus sometimes ran after his
foes hiding under sea, among the Nereides Sometimes the Mainades were
described as the Kadmos's daughters, driven crazy by Dionysus.
> 50 sea-nymphs. The Orphism put them as nurses of little Dionysus.
Two of the Nereides, Autonoe & Agaue, had the same names as two
Kadmos's daughters. According to Nereus was the same character as
Proteus "First One"; Kadmos can came from Semitic Qadm "First".
Proteus and Kadmos were associated to Phoenicia. Kadmos may have
absorbed elements of Semitic Ba'al, as a dragon-killer.
> Other names of the nurses of Dionysus. Sometimes they were the
Hyades. Connection with Heimdall, raised by sea-giantesses?
> Other group of women that kill men. They were islanders,
then, "women from sea".
> 50 maidens that gave to Herakles his sons
> 50 daughters of Endymion and Selene, the Moon. Sometimes from
Caria, sometimes from Elis.
> Concluding:
> Fifty wild and ferocious sea-nymphs, maybe connected to Moon,
invading Greece and defeated by a Greek hero.

There is some interesting Classical etymologies for Amazons

Two in particular bear repeating.

A-mazon = breastless, is the one most commonly given. It was
explained that Amazons amputated their left breast so as to better
shoot with the bow and arrow. Adriana mentioned this in one of her
posts. It seems to be, however, a etymology working backwards from
their name.

The second

Amaz-oi = girdle wearers. This is tied into other Greek myths about
the Amazons. One of the 12 Labours of Hercules, for instance was to
secure the girdle of Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons.

Graves tells how Dionysus in his return from India was oposed by
Amazons living near Ephesus. He persued them and they took refuge in
the temple of Artemis where remnants were still living in classical
times. Others fled to Samos by boat.

In the story of Pegasus and Belerophon, the hero, sent by Iobates the
King of Lycia to stay the Chimera, was later employed by the same
king to attack the neighbouring warlike Solymians and their allies
the Amazons.

The Lybian Amozons story seems to have been the tale of Diodorus
Siculus who is most unreliable in ethnography. He links the Amazons
(a group of Berber tribes in which women had unusually high status
for classical peoples) with the Atlantians (on the basis of the
nearby presence of the Atlas mountains), and the proposes Lake
Tritonis and the Gulf of Sirte as the site for Atlantis. Graves
copies Diodorus in his entirity to propose Atlantis had a Lybian

There is also a Scythian connection in Greek Amazoni myth too.
Hippolyta and Melanippe suggest an ancient horse cult. Graves links
the Amazons with the Taurian cult of Artemis (also practiced in a
tamer form at Ephesus. In Taurian Artemisian ritual men were slain
by women). The Scythian connection (also mentioned by Herodotus) has
recently been confirmed by the finds of women warrors in kurgans in
this area.

Amazons were considered to be daughters of Ares by the nymph
Harmonia, born in the Phrygan area of the Thermodon River. They are
spposed to have originally lived on the Don (Tanais). Lysippe (again
a horse woman) led her followers around the shores of the Black Sea
to settle in the area of Thermodon. Called Oerpatata by the Scythians
propper who rejected them, as un-natural, they lived in three
tribes. Three queens Marpesa, Lampado and Hippo (horse again) seized
a great deal of Asia Minor and even Thrace, founding Ephesus and
Smyrna, Thiba and Sinope. They are supposed to have captured Troy
when Priam was a boy, establishing the Artemisia at Ephesus.

Forced to withdraw, at the time of Hercules's labour they were ruled
by Hippolyta, Melanippe and Antiope.

The Amazons were forced out of Thermodor by the expanding Lydians,
and moved to Colchis where their queen Minythyia accompanied
Alexander the Great for thirteen days in his travels through Hyrcania.

There is a story of connections with a queen Myrine who from ships
settled Lesbos and founded Mytilene named after her sister. She is
connected with Mopsus and the Libyan expeditions.

How do we make sense out of these tales?

Firstly there was a group that had women (as well as men) warriors
amongst the Scytian and Sarmatian peoples.

Secondly, the Askenaz (Scythians) did invade the Middle East pursuing
the Cimmerians into this area. After destroying Uruartu, his
perenial enemy, Ashurbanipal pursuaded them to turn west, where they
fell upon Phrygia and got as far as the Aegean coast, burning a
number of cities from Troy southwards.

These people were expelled eventually by the expansion of the Lydian
Empire, and forced to move into Albania (Caucasian Albania that is).

Added to this there is a myth of an earlier people in Central
Anatolia who held women in high repute, who conquered Troy, and whose
remnants are linked in the voyages of Mopsus (tied in to the late
Bronze Age collapse). These Amazons were the Hittites, during the
reign of Hattusilis III and his queen Padukhepa (the Amazonian
queen!). Greek mythographers regularly confused these events and
conflated them into one story.

Hope this helps