The fierce Amazons were more than just a myth—they were real

Archaeology is revealing that the real Amazons were horse-riding, spear-throwing, pants-wearing fearsome female fighters from ancient Scythia.

Amazons fight Greeks on a terra-cotta lekythos (oil flask) from the fifth century B.C. Amazon battle scenes, known as Amazonomachy, were popular in ancient Greek art. Metropolitan Museum, New York
MET/SCALA, FLORENCE

The Amazons of Greek mythology, were fierce warrior women dwelling in the lands around and beyond the Black Sea. The greatest Greek heroes proved their valor by overcoming formidable Amazon queens in several famous myths. In one, Theseus, mythic founder of Athens, fought and defeated the Amazon Antiope. Heracles set out on his ninth labor with orders to obtain the war belt of the Amazon queen Hippolyte. In the legendary Trojan War, the champion Greek warrior Achilles and the bold Amazon Penthesilea were locked in hand-to-hand combat on the battlefield. (The ancient city of Troy was thought to be lost or legendary, but archaeologists found it.)

Known to the Greeks as the “equals of men,” the Amazons were said to be as courageous and skilled in war as men. In Greek art and literature, Amazons were invariably depicted as brave and beautiful, but always armed and dangerous. By the time Homer wrote The Iliad (around 700 B.C.), every Greek man, woman, boy, and girl knew exciting Amazon tales.

Greek artists created myriad images of Amazons wearing pants, riding horses, shooting bows, swinging battle-axes, hurling spears, and fighting and dying heroically. Amazons were popular subjects on privately commissioned pottery as well as on public sculptures. Vivid scenes of women warriors in battle decorated buildings and temples. To the lover of Greek myths, the Amazons might seem as imaginary as the hydra or Pegasus, but archaeologists are finding compelling evidence for the existence of ancient warrior women.

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