Fierce nomadic women were usually depicted fighting courageously and dying heroically. They were immortalized in ancient works of art, and even adorned centuries-old perfume jars and jewelry boxes.
Archaeologists excavating Eurasian graves have uncovered battle-scarred female skeletons dressed in tunics and trousers, and buried with quivers full of arrows, battle-axes, spears, and horse gear. So, there is no doubt these women did exist in ancient times, but the female Amazon warriors were not as impressive as many of us have been taught to believe.
Adrienne Mayor has studied the Amazon warriors and offers deeper insight into the lives of the genuine female warriors.
- Amazon warriors cut off one breast to shoot better – False
The Amazon Queen Penthesilea
For more than 2,500 years we have been told that Amazon warriors cut off one breast to shoot better. This is simply not true. This faked myth surfaced in 490 BC when a patriotic Greek historian attempted to force a Greek meaning on the foreign word “Amazon.” This happened because “mazon” sounded something like the Greek word for “breast” and “a” meant “without”. The Greek historian claimed the name meant that the Amazons cut off one breast so they could draw a bow.
Not only was his untrustworthy idea rejected by other Greeks of his day, but no ancient artist ever bought the notion. All Amazons in Greek and Roman art are double-breasted.
- Amazon warriors hated men – False
Another persistent myth claims that Amazon warriors hated men. They have been accused of enslaving men and mutilating baby boys. According to Mayor, the myth arose because Greek men oppressed their own women. By their logic, if women were strong and independent, then the men must be weaklings forced into submission.
But another Greek name for Amazons translates as “the equals of men.” And Greek poets called the warrior women “man-lovers.” In fact, there were as many love stories about Amazons as there were war tales.
- Amazons gave up motherhood to be warriors – False
The “no Amazon mothers” fallacy is has been disproved by the graves of nomadic horsewomen-archers whose real lives inspired Greek Amazon stories 2,500 years ago. Next to the skeletons of female warriors buried with their weapons, archaeologists discovered infants and children.
- Only ancient Greeks told tales about Amazons – False
Modern scholars tend to assume that Amazons were a purely Greek invention, a fantasy exclusive to the Greeks. But the same warrior women of the vast steppes of Central Asia also influenced other cultures that came into contact with Scythian nomads. The truth is that we find exciting tales and historical accounts of Amazon-like warrior women in the ancient literature of Egypt, Persia, Caucasia, Central Asia, India, and even China. Even the legendary Chinese girl-warrior Mulan turns out to have steppe nomad origins.