Cover

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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi

Contents

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pp. vii-viii

Illustrations

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pp. ix-xii

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Acknowledgments

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pp. xiii-xvi

Compiling this Encyclopedia Amazonica has entailed a long journey from classical Greece across vast, unexplored territories. The task was at once daunting and delightful, and, like any compendium of ancient myths and realities, the book is also unfinished and subject to revision. The excitement of discovering the lives and legends of Amazons and Amazon-like women in so many unexpected places is tempered by the realization...

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Prologue: Atalanta, the Greek Amazon

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pp. 1-14

King Iasos wanted only sons. He left his infant daughter to die on a mountainside in Arcadia, the rugged highlands of southern Greece. A mother bear nursed the abandoned baby. Hunters found the feral girl and named her Atalanta. Like a female Tarzan, Atalanta was a natural athlete and hunter. Self-reliant, with a “fiery, masculine gaze,” she wrestled like a bear and could outrun any animal or man. Atalanta loved wrestling...

PART 1 Who were the Amazons?

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1 Ancient Puzzles and Modern Myths

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pp. 17-33

If Queen Amezan and Queen Penthesilea could somehow meet in real life, they would recognize each other as sister Amazons. Two tales, two storytellers, two sites far apart in time and place, and yet one common tradition of women who made love and war. The first tale arose outside the classical Greek world, in the northern Black Sea–Caucasus region among the descendants of the steppe nomads of Scythia. The other tale...

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2 Scythia, Amazon Homeland

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pp. 34-51

Scythians! Somewhere to the north and east, beyond the world familiar to the Greeks, restless nomads crisscrossed a landscape of immense emptiness. Expert horse riders, the men and women spent their lives astride tough ponies and nourished their babies with mare’s milk. They perfected their deadly aim by shooting at turquoise gems embedded in...

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3 Sarmatians, a Love Story

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pp. 52-60

In Greek myth, Heracles and other heroes set out on an expedition to win the war belt of the Amazon queen Hippolyte. After their victory the Greek ships sailed away loaded with many captive Amazons (including Antiope, destined to become Theseus’s wife in Athens). What became of the other Amazon prisoners on the ships? The myth does not tell....

PART 2 Historical Women Warriors and Classical Traditions

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4 Bones: Archaeology of Amazons

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pp. 63-83

Wounds from a battle-axe in the skull and a bent bronze arrowhead embedded in the knee. Obviously this warrior had died in battle. Two iron lances were plunged into the ground at the grave’s entrance and two more spears lay beside the skeleton inside. A massive armored leather belt with iron plaques lay next to a quiver and twenty bronze-tipped arrows with red-striped wooden shafts. Other grave goods included glass...

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5 Breasts: One or Two?

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pp. 84-94

A beautiful courtesan of Athens named Phryne was a sensational celebrity in the time of Alexander the Great for exposing her breasts in public. In myth, the irresistible Helen of Troy saved her life by suddenly flashing her breasts to distract her murderous husband. In antiquity, Roman tourists visited the temple of Rhodes to gaze at a silver and gold chalice said to...

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6 Skin: Tattooed Amazons

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pp. 95-116

The young woman is holding an axe, about to chop off the head of Orpheus, the poet who was killed by ruthless Thracian women in Greek myth. The viewer’s eye is drawn to the delicate tattoo of a deer on her shoulder. Another tattoo graces the inside of her forearm, a ladder design. This image appears on a Greek vase attributed to the Pistoxenos Painter, who painted thirty-eight vases featuring tattooed Thracian women...

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7 Naked Amazons

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pp. 117-136

Except for a stray bare breast and occasional bare feet, Amazons in ancient Greek art were usually modestly dressed compared to their male opponents. Greek heroes typically fought in a “costume of heroic nudity” against clothed Amazons. An Amazon’s garment often left one breast exposed or slipped off her shoulder in the frenzy of battle. Despite the...

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8 Sex and Love

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pp. 137-149

Enemies of wedded life, self-sufficient outdoorswomen, belonging to no man, free to make love on their own terms. A host of questions surround Amazon sex and love, in the Greek imagination and in reality. Did Amazons remain virgins until they had proved themselves in war? Did Amazons enjoy sex? Or did they mate only to reproduce their special...

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9 Drugs, Dance, and Music

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pp. 150-162

A hard-drinking Amazon? Outside of comedy, women who overindulge in alcohol were rare in ancient Greek literature. But this was the reputation of the Amazon who gave her name to Sinope, one of several towns in Anatolia that claimed Amazons in their mythic past. The Greek tradition about the drinking Amazon appears in an ancient commentary on the epic...

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10 The Amazon Way

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pp. 163-177

In Pontus, wrote Diodorus in the first century BC, there lived a tribe called the Amazons, in which the women went to war like the men. One woman’s intelligence, courage, and physical strength made her their warrior queen. Leading an army of women, she subdued lands as far as the Don River. This self-styled “Daughter of Ares” established new laws. The...

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11 Horses, Dogs, and Eagles

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pp. 178-198

Amazons were the first people to ride horses,” the orator Lysias reminded the Athenians in his Funeral Oration (395 BC). Across the Black Sea, an ancient Abkhaz saga claimed that the nomads of the northern Caucasus were the first to tame and ride horses. It is said that the boundless steppes seem incomplete without a horse and rider, and the ancient Scythians—and Amazons—are indeed unthinkable without the horse....

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12 Who Invented Trousers?

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pp. 199-216

More than a thousand Amazons are depicted on Greek vase paintings, and most of the warrior women are clad in tunics and trousers or leggings, like those worn by their fellow Scythians. Standard Greek attire was a rectangle of cloth draped and fastened with pins and belts, as it was for many other ancient cultures (such as the Roman toga, Egyptian wraparound...

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13 Armed and Dangerous: Weapons and Warfare

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pp. 217-241

Who were the first people to make iron weapons? According to the ancient Greeks, it was the Amazons—and this advantage gave them great power over their enemies. Ironworking originated in Anatolia and/or the Caucasus around 1600–1300 BC. Hittite inscriptions record a demand for their iron objects in the fourteenth century BC. An ancient oral tradition of the Caucasus explains how a wise and practical mythic...

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14 Amazon Languages and Names

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pp. 242-254

In the realm of myth, of course, Greek heroes, Olympian gods and goddesses, Trojans, Persians, and Amazons all communicated with magical ease. For example, in the myth of Heracles’s Ninth Labor, winning the belt of Hippolyte, Heracles and the Amazon queen converse with no difficulty—until violence breaks out. But, since classical Greeks also wrote about Amazons as real people of Scythia, dwelling in the lands around the Black Sea,...

PART 3 Amazons in Greek and Roman Myth, Legend, and History

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15 Hippolyte and Heracles

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pp. 257-266

In the mists of the storied past, one glorious event stood out for the Athenians. Their founding hero, Theseus, had led the Greeks to triumph, defeating an Amazon army that swept across the Aegean, invaded Attica, and even besieged the sacred Acropolis, threatening to overrun Athens’s religious center and stronghold. The hard-won victory over the Amazonian...

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16 Antiope and Theseus

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pp. 267-278

The only Amazon of myth to lose her freedom through marriage to a Greek was Antiope (“Opposing Gaze”), the sister of Hippolyte, Melanippe, and Orithyia of Pontus. But exactly how was Antiope the warrior transformed into the domesticated wife of Theseus, legendary king of Athens? Was she a prisoner of war? Was Antiope abducted, tricked, seduced, or swept away by love? Should we imagine a combination of abduction...

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17 Battle for Athens

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pp. 279-294

Never content to stay in their own territory, in their heyday the mythic Amazons had swept west and south, cutting great swaths around the Black Sea and into Asia Minor, just as the historical Scythians had done. The Greeks imagined a great battle in which Athens itself was the target of the Amazons’ wrath and imperial designs. This terrifying attack,...

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18 Penthesilea and Achilles at Troy

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pp. 295-312

No matter how many bad things women suffer, nothing can take away their appetite for trouble,” marveled Pausanias. “The Amazons of Themiscyra fell to Heracles and the fighting force the Amazons sent against Athens was wiped out—and yet the Amazons still went to Troy and fought there against the whole of Greece.”1...

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19 Amazons at Sea

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pp. 313-326

An Amazon wearing a belted tunic, hat, and boots and carrying a crescent shield and battle-axe. The image on the ancient Anatolian coin seems commonplace. But what is that object in her right hand? A ship’s anchor. What could be more incongruous? Amazons were horsewomen, not sailors....

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20 Thalestris and Alexander the Great

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pp. 327-346

After Alexander had conquered Persia, he was determined to expand his empire all the way to India. In 330 BC, Alexander’s Macedonian army of more than thirty thousand marched east from Ecbatana (Hamadan, Iran) following the course of the caravan route (Silk Route) through the high desert to Rhaga (Tehran). They threaded through the “Caspian Gates,” a narrow defile in the Elburz Mountains, and reached fertile...

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21 Hypsicratea, King Mithradates, and Pompey’s Amazons

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pp. 347-362

In each ancient biography of an Amazon queen, from Hippolyte, Orithyia, and Penthesilea to Thalestris, the writers assure us that with her death the Amazon race perished. Yet Amazon-like women keep popping up in the traditional Amazon territories around the Black Sea, Caucasus, and Caspian Sea. Some 250 years after Alexander’s idyll with Queen Thalestris of Pontus, another great monarch—himself the king of Pontus—...

PART 4 Beyond the Greek World

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22 Caucasia, Crossroads of Eurasia

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pp. 365-384

The rugged mountains, forests, gorges, river valleys, pastures, and lonely steppes between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea have been a cultural crossroads and a turbulent cauldron of diverse languages, ethnicities, and geopolitical conflicts for thousands of years. In antiquity, adventurous Greeks traveled to the outer fringes of this vast territory, part of ancient Scythia-Sarmatia, where they established trading colonies, met...

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23 Persia, Egypt, North Africa, Arabia

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pp. 385-402

Persia and Egypt, known and respected by the ancient Greeks as venerable and powerful civilizations, had their own independent histories and traditions about warrior women. Ancient Iranians were more knowledgeable than the Greeks about the lives of women from Central Asian nomad tribes, since first the Medes and then the Persians fought Scythians...

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24 Amazonistan: Central Asia

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pp. 403-418

It is said that the boundless steppes give flight to tales of heroes and heroines because the conditions of life are so harsh and extreme. The landscape itself demands human spirit on an epic scale. Scythia, for the ancient Greeks, was an immense ocean of land whose vastness paradoxically expanded as their knowledge about the world to the East increased. The exhilarating, terrifying lives of warlike archers on horseback fascinated...

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25 China

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pp. 419-438

The forested mountains where the girl and her father bow-hunted were deep and wild, sparsely populated. Even as a child, she harbored a secret fascination with swordplay. But there were no formal teachers. So over the years she taught herself, at first with bamboo sticks and later with a sword, inventing her own special techniques of lightning speed and...

Appendix: Names of Amazons and Warrior Women in Ancient Literature and Art from the Mediterranean to China

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pp. 439-446

Notes

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pp. 447-492

Bibliography

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pp. 493-510

Index

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pp. 511-528