Ancient Greece: How Amazon Women Altered Their Bodies to Prepare for War! (26.7.2022)

Author’s Note: The Greek (Ionian) word ‘Amazon’ (Ἀμαζών) literally translates as ‘without a breast’. This is probably a Greek transliteration of the Persian word ‘hamazan’ – a term for a well-known and expert ‘warrior’. The Greek interpretation of this ideal is as follows with the usual onus shifted from that of men (the usual subject used when depicting skilled warriors) – to that of highly feared, aggressive and independent women:

1) ‘a’ = ‘without’

2) ‘mazos’ = ‘female breast’.

After reaching puberty, so the Greek tradition records, Amazon women (who lived somewhere in Asia Minor – but perhaps came from elsewhere) would ‘burn-off’ their right breast so that they could draw a bow and fire an arrow without hindrance of the released bow-string catching the protuberance, or so that these warrior women could throw a spear like a man! Around the 8th century BCE it is said that armies of these women would take on and sometimes defeat the best male armies the City States of Greece could muster! In a life or death struggle – the Amazon warrior women would never retreat and preferred to fight to death – dying in piles of bodies – true to their comrades to the very end! The following is an extract from a very good (old) British history book explaining the history of the Amazon warrior women! ACW (26.7.2022)

‘The Greeks were not content that their legends should be confined to the range of their own country and their own race; and, in curious contrast with that exclusive pride which drew a hard and fast line between Greek and barbarian, they brought their ancestors and their myths into connexion with foreign lands. Thus the myth of Io made the Danaoi of Argos cousins of the Egyptians. By her amour with Zeus, Io became the grandmother of Danaus and Aegyptus, the eponymous ancestors of the two peoples. Cadmus, the name-sire of the Cadmeians of Thebes, was represented as a Phoenician, who went forth from his own land in quest of his sister Europa and settled in Boeotia. The tale which gained widest belief made Pelops son of the Phrygian Tantalus, King of Sipylus, whence he migrated to the Peloponnesus and founded the royal line of Argos, from which Agamemnon was sprung. A Corinthian legend brought the early history of Corinth into connexion with Colchis, representing Aeetes, offspring of the Sun, as the first Corinthian King, and his daughter Medea as heiress to the land. The true home of the Greeks before they won dominion in Greece had passed clean out of their remembrance, and they looked to the east, not to the north, as the quarter from which some of their ancestors had migrated.

Of the legends which won sincere credence among the Greeks, and assumed as we may say a national significance, none is more curious or more obscure in its origin than that of the Amazons. A folk of warrior women, strong and brave, living apart from men, were conceived as to have dwelt in Asia in the heroic age, and proved themselves worthy foes of the Greek heroes. An obvious etymology of their name, “breastless,” suggested the belief that they used to burn off the right breast that they might the better draw the bow. In the Iliad Priam tells how he fought against their army in Phrygia; and one of the perilous tasks which set to Bellerophon is to march against the Amazons. In a later Homeric poem, the Amazon Penthesilea appears as a dreaded adversary of the Greeks at Troy. To win the girdle of the Amazon Queen was one of the labours of Heracles. All these adventures happened in Asia Minor; and, though this female folk was located in various places, its original and proper home was ultimately placed on the river Thermodon near the Greek colony of Amisus. But Amazons attacked Greece itself. It was told that Theseus carried off their Queen Antiope, and so they came and invaded Attica. There was a terrible battle in the town of Athens, and the invaders were defeated after a long struggle. At the feast of Theseus the Athenians used to sacrifice to the Amazons; there was a building called the Amazoneion in the western quarter of the city; and the episode was believed by such men as Isocrates and Plato to be as truly an historical fact as the Trojan war itself. The battle of the Greeks with Amazons were a favourite subject of Grecian sculptors; and, like the Trojan war and the adventure of the golden fleece, the Amazon story fitted into the conception of an ancient and long strife between Greece and Asia.’

JB Bury: A History of Greece to the Death of Alexander the Great, MacMillan, (1952), Pages 82-83

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