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Who Were the Amazons?

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  • Written By: Niki Foster
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 03 December 2016
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The Amazons were a legendary race of warrior women in Greek mythology. They feature frequently in Greek and Roman accounts of warfare, but it is unknown whether they were purely legendary or based on a real group of female warriors. The Amazons of myth were an exclusively female society.

According to Greek myth, the Amazons had an independent kingdom located in modern-day Turkey. Different accounts place the Amazons in varying locations, typically at the borders of the known world. In some versions, men were not allowed to live in Amazon territory or to mate with Amazons. Annually, the Amazons would mate with the members of a neighboring all-male tribe, the Gargareans, in order to maintain their population. Male babies would be abandoned, killed, or sent to live with the Gargareans.

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Amazons hold a number of important places in Greek myth. The most well known story is of the Attic War between the Athenians and the Amazons, begun when Heracles stole the magic girdle belonging to the Amazon queen, Hippolyta, as one of his twelve tasks. Heracles was joined in his endeavor by Theseus, who abducted Hippolyta's sister, Antiope. The Amazons retaliated with a raid on Attica, in southern Greece, and were defeated by the Athenians. Depictions of this battle, called amazonomachies were popular in Greek art. In some versions, Theseus marries Antiope, and in some, he marries Hippolyta. In either case, it is the only account of an Amazon marrying. Theseus had a son from this union named Hippolytus.

Archaeological evidence suggests that there may have been actual warrior women on which the legendary Amazons were based in Scythia, an area of Eurasia north of the Caspian Sea. Tombs of warrior maidens were uncovered in the area. As men of the area were often away fighting for extended periods, the women may have had to defend themselves and to go a long time without mating, possibly inspiring the myth of the Amazons.

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