These legendary horsewomen-archers are often described as fearsome, war-loving lesbians, who killed baby boys and cut off their own breasts to better fire a bow and arrow.
But is this true or just a myth? Stanford University historian Adrienne Mayor revealed the truth in her book: “The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women Across the Ancient World.”
Eurasian graves uncovered battle-scarred female skeletons dressed in tunics and trousers and buried with quivers full of arrows, battle-axes, spears, and horse gear, which proves these female warriors really did exist, as reported by the ancient Greeks and other cultures.
Amazons were usually shown fighting courageously and dying heroically and were immortalised in ancient works of art.
“Amazons enjoyed lives very different from Greek women, who were confined indoors doing domestic chores,” explained Mayor.
“The radical idea of powerful, independent women living in exotic lands evoked ambivalent emotions in the Greeks: awe, fear, respect, and desire.”
1. They cut off one breast to shoot better
This myth first surfaced in 490 BC when a Greek historian attempted to give a Greek meaning on the foreign word “Amazon.” And because “mazon” sounded like the Greek word for “breast” (mastos) and “a” meant “without,” he said the name meant that the Amazons cut off one breast so they could draw a bow. But that idea was rejected by other Greeks of his day, while no ancient artist ever depicted them with one breast.
2. They were man-haters
Another myth which arose because it is believed Greek men were more dominating with their own women. But another Greek name for Amazons translates as “the equals of men.” And Greek poets called the warrior women “man-lovers.”
3. They gave up motherhood to be warriors
This false idea is further disproved by the graves of nomadic horsewomen-archers. Next to the skeletons of female warriors buried with their weapons, archaeologists discovered infants and children.
4. Only ancient Greeks told tales about Amazons
Modern scholars assume that Amazons were a purely Greek invention. But the same warrior women also influenced other cultures who came into contact with Scythian nomads. Stories of Amazon-like warrior women exist 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.
5. They were a fantasy invented by the Greeks
According to the Greeks, Amazons were barbarian archers on horseback living in Scythia, an area stretching from the Black Sea to Mongolia. Archaeologists have discovered more than 300 ancient graves of Eurasian warrior women proving that Amazons were not just figments of the Greek imagination.