The Amazons - Not a Myth

~~ Paul V. Hartman ~~

...a "race" of females, mounted archers and spear throwers...

We Like the myth that there was once a race of female warriors, who mated once per year with a selected tribe in order to reproduce enough progeny to allow their society (Herodotus would say "race") to continue. The sons born would be killed or sent away to their fathers. The females would be trained in warfare.

But there is good reason to believe it was not a myth.

Herodotus states that the Scythians came upon parties of warlike "young men" (they lacked facial hair) who, when defeated, were examined afterwards and discovered to be female. The Scythians were delighted by this discovery - being a military society - and desired to produce offspring with these Amazons (a Greek name), which they could incorporate into their army.

The word may mean "without breast", in Greek, "a-mazos", meaning that the right breast was burnt off so that it would not grow, as a right breast would interfere with drawing the bowstring fully into the chest. All warriors of the Steppes were skilled in mounted archery: Scythians, Sarmatians, Parthians, and Mongols - in that historical order - would emerge from that part of the world, and overwhelm opponents as the first "blitzkrieg": swift of horse, mounted archers, who could fire arrows with machine-gun speed, killing everything in front of them.

The Mongols, for instance, not of the same genetic strand as the others, nevertheless developed the art of filling the air with so many arrows - clouds of arrows, a hailstorm of arrows - that their opponents in Europe, on hearing that they were coming, would abandon cities and countries in order to avoid the slaughter.

Herodotus (484 - 425 BC) is the first to mention the Amazons. The Queen of the Amazons (most noted in history, of which, presumably there were several) was Hippolyta (the name means "unbridled mare"), whose magical girdle*, given to her by her father Ares, was the object of one of the labors of Heracles. (Hercules)

As regards the burnt off right breast, there is no confirmation from art, painting or sculpture. Herodotus does not mention the absent right breast in that part of his history which tells of the first encounter of Scythians with the bodies of female warriors. Of course, it would have to be a very large breast to impede drawing a bow.

On the other hand, a female would not know whether she was destined to have a large breast or small, and perhaps the burning of the right chest was done later in life, rather then before the breast has a chance to enlarge? Herodotus tells us that the Scythians were successful in mating with Amazon females, and that both Scythians and Sarmatians employed females in their military, as we know from burials with grave goods, showing females with bows and spears.

The Amazons were said to have colonized the towns of Smyrna and Ephesus, from their main center in Pontus, which was that part of modern Turkey across the Bosphorus from Istanbul. Although the Greek playwright Aeschylus said they were from modern Crimea.

Now one story is that the Amazons did not kill all the males they encountered in an enemy, but saved certain of them with which to procreate. There is a reversal of the typical Harem!

In present preservation are the stone/marble works which preserve the story of Hippolyta, her magic girdle*, and Heracles' need to acquire it, in company with his friend Theseus. When Virgil sets about, centuries later, to write the Aeneid, a female warrior named Camilla is said to be a descendent from earlier Amazons.

In more modern history, in this case Germanic, the tribes known collectively as Goths (Visigoths, Ostrogoths, etc.) include the legend of female warriors who procreate with males once per year. In other extant "histories" there are enough tales of female warriors ("without husbands") to cover an historical span of more than a thousand years.

Says a current Wikipedia webpage in regard to Amazons:
In works of art, battles between Amazons and Greeks are placed on the same level as and often associated with battles of Greeks and centaurs. The belief in their existence, however, having been once accepted and introduced into the national poetry and art, it became necessary to surround them as far as possible with the appearance of not unnatural beings. Their occupation was hunting and war; their arms the bow, spear, axe, a half shield, nearly in the shape of a crescent, called pelta, and in early art a helmet, the model before the Greek mind having apparently been the goddess Athena. In later art they approach the model of Artemis, wearing a thin dress, girt high for speed; while on the later painted vases their dress is often peculiarly Persian - that is, close-fitting trousers and a high cap called the kidaris. They were usually on horseback but sometimes on foot. They can also be identified in vase paintings by the fact that they are wearing one earring.
And in a subsequent paragraph, there is this:
Herodotus reported that the Sarmatians were descendants of Amazons and Scythians, and that their females observed their ancient maternal customs, "frequently hunting on horseback with their husbands; in war taking the field; and wearing the very same dress as the men". Moreover, said Herodotus, "No girl shall wed till she has killed a man in battle". In the story related by Herodotus, a group of Amazons was blown across the Sea of Azov into Scythia near the cliff region (today's southeastern Crimea). After learning the Scythian language, they agreed to marry Scythian men, on the condition that they not be required to follow the customs of Scythian women. According to Herodotus, this band moved toward the northeast, settling beyond the Tanais (Don) river, and became the ancestors of the Sarmatians. According to Herodotus, the Sarmatians fought with the Scythians against Darius the Great in the 5th century B.C.
Hippocrates describes them this way: "They have no right breasts...for while they are yet babies their mothers make red-hot a bronze instrument constructed for this very purpose and apply it to the right breast and cauterize it, so that its growth is arrested, and all its strength and bulk are diverted to the right shoulder and right arm."

As a physician trained in surgery, and as a professor of anatomy, I can tell my readers that this "reason" is false. There is no additional "strength" given to the right arm as a result of preventing the right breast from growing, and, what is more, there is a very good likelihood that "burning the right breast" will make the right side weaker than the left, in the sense that in the infant, there is no breast growth (yet) and only chest muscle to burn. Even so, what matters is what they believed. If they thought preventing a breast from growing made the right arm or chest stronger, then they would burn off the breast. The only real advantage I can see is the need to fully draw the small bow used on horseback.

As a student of history, I believe there is sufficient historical information to say that there was indeed a "race" of female warriors in ancient time. That there could have been a female population more interested in conquest than in cooking, laundering, and foraging, seems likely in the knowledge that every modern group of females is more interested in shopping than any other endeavor. And how much more sense is made than that one can obtain more for less if conquering your neighbor and taking all they have, then by traveling to some (fashionable) mall, and paying for the stuff. Plus - have you read or seen video of females fighting among themselves to be the first through the door on a big sale day?

A military group in PMS? None more fierce! Which is why the Scythian men admired them so.

* magic girdle - was not a corset, but a belt which rode on the hips, outside of clothing, and could, but might not, support any garment. Generally it was an element which expressed some kind of authority. (Women today would regard it as an "accessory".) As to Heracles, retrieving it in whatever way necessary was his "Ninth Labor". One legend is that Hippolyta offered to give it to him, but he, suspecting there was some sort of treachery planned, instead killed her and took away the girdle.

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