The Amazons: real or a myth?

Photo of ancient amazon stone carving
On 21 September, some of our Classicists attended a talk at King Edward's School by Miss C Hughes about the Ancient Amazons, and whether or not they were a myth or reality. Upper Fifth students, Maria and Afia, have written report on what they learnt in the talk.

Many of us have been in awe of the extraordinary tales of these warrior women, portrayed as equal to men, who dominated battle after battle, supposedly during the time of the Ancient Greeks. However, as us students would find out, these women were very possibly real. On Thursday 21 September, we attended a talk at KES by Miss C Hughes about these mysterious female figures. For centuries, the ‘Amazon Myth’ – or rather, myths, have depicted these heroines discriminatorily as foreign and barbaric. Their own legacy in Greek Mythology has warped over time, into almost radicalising who they were originally.

As we learnt, the main sources we have are Athenian ones; this in itself proved to be rather interesting. Athenian society itself was greatly patriarchal, so any mention of women would be subject to bias. This would mean that the Amazons – these ‘men-killing’ women – were potentially an imagining of their society’s own fears. Some of the claims made were quite outlandish; one being that the Amazons practised ‘male infanticide’ and thus solely trained young women to be warriors.

However, strangely enough, Greek sources address these warrior people as if they were a part of an ancient civilisation. They were described to be a people who lived near the Black Sea, in a city called Themiskyra. Fascinatingly, across Eurasia, evidence has been discovered, indicating the Amazons to be real. One example of such a society was the Scythians, and archaeological remains were even uncovered in the areas that the Amazons had been supposedly sighted previously. They seem to bear many similarities to the details of Amazons given in our records, such as horse riding (being buried in riding position), evidence of training from a young age, and more than 25% of warrior burials found having been women. However, these societies are also at odds with the supposed Amazon society: these women were buried with men, and even with children, clearly voiding the Athenian statements that Amazons killed children and even rendered themselves incapable of motherhood.

Ultimately, “Amazons” as a society do not seem to have existed, rather being a haunting tale told by men in power to validate their fears, or perhaps act as a reflection of Greek enemies, like the Persians; and yet, these matriarchal societies of warrior women did exist. The only way for us to learn more is to turn away from the Greek-constructed Amazons completely, and turn towards the Scythians.

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