The Amazons. Ancient female warriors.

Amazon soldier. Ancient female warrior. Greek costume.

Amazon from a fictile vase

The Amazons. Ancient female warriors.

Battle of the Greeks and Amazons

The Amazons, a warlike race of females who established a republic among themselves, were originally inhabitants of Sarmatia, where they fixed their residence on the banks of the river Tanais. They afterwards dwelt in Pontus, near the river Thermodon, and in course of time spread themselves over a great part of Asia. According to Strabo, they built the cities of Ephesus, Smyrna, Cuma, Myrrhina, and Paphus; and Diodorus Siculus mentions, that they built the cities of Cyme, Pitane, Prynea, and Mitylene.

Amazon warriors. Labrys. Pelte. Penthesilea. Ancient female soldiers costumes.

Amazon Warriors with Labrys and Pelte.

The word Amazon is commonly supposed to have been derived from a “privative”, and “a breast” because it is said that the Amazons, when young, underwent the loss of their right breast, which was burnt off, in order that they might be able to draw the bow with greater force. Eustathius derives the word from a privative, and bread, from the savage mode in which these females lived, feeding on the flesh of wild animals. Others again suppose they lived together without the society of the other sex. Several other derivations of the term might also be given, but without entering farther into the labyrinth of etymology, particularly in a case which admits of so much doubt, we will only remark, that the manner in which the Amazons were represented by the ancients, in their works of art, by no means confirms the etymology which has been so generally acceded to respecting the name of these heroines.

Amazon. 8th Century. Ancient. Female soldier. Historical costume.

Amazon in VIII. Century. Historical costume for theater and travesty. Publ. 1831

The Amazons are invariably represented with both breasts entire, but, like the attendants on Diana, they generally have one exposed, and the other concealed by drapery; and it is not, perhaps, a very unwarrantable conjecture, that it was from this circumstance, the fable of their having but one breast derived its origin, rather than from the improbable account related by Hippocrates, Diodorus Siculus, and others. A learned writer conjectures that ” by giving the full prominent form of the female breast on one side, and the flat form of the male on the other, the artist meant to express the union of the two sexes.”

Amazon. warrior. Greek spear. Ancient female soldier. weapons

Amazon warrior

The battles of the Amazons, like those of the Centaurs and Lapithae, were often repeated by the Greeks in their sculptures and paintings. Pausanias informs us, that the combat between Theseus and the Amazons was represented on the base of the statue of Jupiter, at Olympia; and we learn from Pliny, that the same subject was engraved on the shield of the statue of Minerva, which stood in the temple of Theseus at Athens. From Pausanias we also learn that the battle of the Athenians and Amazons was painted on the walls of the temple of Theseus, and we know that Micon painted the defeat of the Amazons by his countrymen, on the walls of the Poecile, and that the same subject was also represented in the Acropolis. The battles of the Amazons are frequently depicted on the Greek fictile vases, and form some of the most beautiful designs which we meet with on those highly elegant and interesting remains of ancient art.

Amazone soldier. Ancient female warrior. Nanteuil, Célestin.

Amazon by Nanteuil, Célestin (1813-1873). Painting of the romanticism

Although the Amazons in their pursuits of conquest, were engaged in a succession of hostilities with different countries, it will not, we think, be difficult to determine the particular people with whom the sculptor intended to represent them fighting on the Phigalian frieze. The battle here exhibited was that fought between the Amazons and Athenians, as may be inferred from the circumstance, that the architect of the temple was himself an Athenian, and from the frequency with which the same subject was represented, as we have already seen, at Athens. This supposition is in some measure confirmed by the shape of the shields and by the costume of the male warriors, which are similar to those of the Athenians on the frieze of the Parthenon.

 Amazon warrior. leopard skin. Ancient female soldier. Greek vase.

Amazon clothed in leopards skin from Greek vase

A remarkable diversity is apparent in the dresses of the Amazons; sometimes they are represented in long tunics reaching to the ground, sometimes in a short vest reaching only to the knees, and in one of the bas-reliefs an equestrian Amazon has her arms covered with long sleeves, and her lower limbs covered with a kind of trowsers; all which dresses, as we know from the testimony of ancient authors, were in use among the Amazons. In some instances their heads are without any covering, while in others they are defended by a close helmet; one of these females has her hair fastened up in a knot at the top of her head. Their legs, with only one exception, are invariably protected by boots, which reach up nearly to the knees; their robes are uniformly fastened round their waists by a zone, and they have often one or two belts passing over their shoulders, and crossing in front between the breasts.

Amazon warrior. Ancient greek vase. Classical antiquity clothing, Female soldiers

Amazon on horse from greek vase

It is to be regretted that none of the offensive arms with which the Amazons fought, are here preserved; but we perfectly know, that they assailed their enemies with swords and battle axes in close combat, and that they annoyed them at a distance with spears and bows and arrows. In the Phigalian frieze, they are represented as using the two former weapons only; the use of the sword is indeed clearly determined by the circumstance of a scabbard being fastened to the belt of one of the Amazons, and by the hilts which are left in the hands of some of the figures; and we may reasonably conclude from the action of a few other figures, that they also fought with the battle-axe. But the almost total loss of the weapons used by the combatants in this frieze, renders it extremely probable that they were for the most part executed in bronze, the holes into which they were inserted being still visible in many places. The Amazonian shields are rather larger than usual in these bas-reliefs; they are of an oval shape, and a semi-circular piece has been cut out at the edge of the upper part, probably for the purpose of furnishing a loop-hole through which they might watch the motions of their enemy. These shields were called peltae, and from the semi-circular piece cut out at the edge, they are frequently described as having the form of a half moon.

Amazon warrior on horse. Ancient Greece greek vase. Ancient soldiers

Amazon warrior on horse from greek vase.

The Amazons are said to have been very skilful in the management of horses; they are here sometimes represented righting on horseback, though more frequently on foot.
The dress of the Athenians, with whom the Amazons are engaged in combat, consists of a kind of cloak or robe which covers the left shoulder, leaving the right bare; it is fastened round the waist by a belt, and reaches no lower than the knee. In many instances, this robe is nearly disengaged from the body, being either simply secured round the neck by a fibula, or thrown loosely over the left arm. The offensive weapons of the Athenians appear to be swords, except in the particular case of Theseus, who, as the avowed imitator of Hercules, is here properly represented fighting with a club, and bearing on his arm the skin of a lion instead of a shield. Their defensive armour consists of helmets and shields. The latter are large and circular, with a broad border round the circumference; they resemble in form the shield on which the names of the Ephebi of Athens are engraved, a description of which we have already given in a former volume. Of the helmets there are four kinds ; one which fits the head closely, without either visor or crest; another which differs from the former only in having a crest; a third with a long pointed visor; and a fourth of an oval form, with flaps descending on each side of the face, for the protection of the cheeks and ears.

Amazone statue. Louvre Paris. Amazons costume. Ancient greek clothing.

Amazone statue from the Louvre

Group of Amazons warrior.

Group. Amazons. Sarcophagus. Ancient Greece. female soldiers

Group of Amazons.

The front of a sarcophagus representing a group of Amazons sitting upon the ground; each resting upon one hand which holds a bipennis (*1). In the centre of the composition is a shield with a bow and quiver apparently suspended from the wall. On either side are two Amazons having between them a sort of trophy consisting of two helmets and two peltae (smaller, lighter crescent-shaped shield), upon which each rests a hand. Behind the outer Amazon of each of these pairs is suspended a shield and sword in its sheath; and the composition at each end is closed by an Amazon resting her head upon her hand in an attitude of grief, with a shield, battle-axe and helmet before her. One end however of the sarcophagus has, by some former owner been cut off to fit it into some particular space, and the symbols and legs of the Amazon do not appear in the plate; the piece however has been discovered, and the parts are reunited in the new building of the British Museum London. Each Amazon has her hair plaited along the sides of her head and collected into a knot behind; they are clothed in a tunic of rather scanty dimensions, bound round the waist with a zone, drawn off the right shoulder leaving one breast exposed. On the legs are boots of soft leather, turned back at the top and twisted round the calves like those worn by the riders on the frieze of the Parthenon. This group is nearly identical with the bas relief on the lid of a sarcophagus in the Museum Capitolinum, the front of which is ornamented with a combat of Greeks and Amazons, and it is therefore probable that the monument before us belonged to a similar sarcophagus, and that on both the design of the lid is a continuation of that of the front and represents the Amazons reposing after the contest. The Amazonomachiae or battles of the Amazons formed a favorite subject in ancient art, see Museum Marbles, and are seen on several other extant bas reliefs from sarcophagi, all probably of Roman times.

This bas relief was purchased from the Camaldoli, near Frascati.
Length 5 ft. 9 in. Height 1 ft.

Trojan soldier. Amazons soldier. Costumes. Ancient warriors.

Trojan and Amazons soldier

*(1) Greek,  λάβρυς, lábrys, lat. bipennis, also Amazons ax or Labrys. In the context of female life forms, Labrys is a symbol of the lesbian homosexuality, but also takes place in the context of feminist matriarchal using. According to the findings in the palace of Knossos on Crete, the Labrys was a ceremonial weapon of priestesses, a symbol of fertility and one of the most sacred symbols of the Minoans. In the feminist context, the double ax stands also for a matriarchal society. It is directly related to the etymological notion of the labyrinth, which means something like “House of the Axe”. In Mycenaean daburinthos means “Lady of the Labyrinth”.

Head of an Amazon warrior

 Amazon warrior. Ancient Greek. Female soldier. Sculpture.

Head of an Amazon warrior.

This head is called that of an Amazon from its resemblance to that of a statue engraved in the Museum Capitolinum, and it originally perhaps belonged to a similar statue. That figure represents a wounded Amazon, the head is bent forward, and there is an expression of melancholy and of pain very similar to that in the countenance before us. On both the hair is similarly arranged, being accurately separated along the top of the head; the front and side locks are drawn towards the back of the head where they are passed beneath the hair which is turned up behind, having the end curled inward apparently within a band, which however is not visible. The throat and shoulders are modern, as is also the end of the nose. This head was brought from Rome by Mr. Lyde Browne, and is thus described in his Catalogue. ” No. 49. Amazonis vulneratae caput egregium.” There is another statue of an Amazon having a very similar head, which was formerly in the Villa Mattei, but which is now preserved in the Vatican. See Mus. Pio Clem. 8vo. tom. ii. tav. 38., and another, Clarac, Description des Antiquités du Musée, No. 281. a supposed copy of the of the Amazon of Ctesilas. Height of antique portion 10 in.

Related:

(Ancient Egypt, Greek, Minoan, Assyria, Roman, Levante fashion history)




Antique Greek theatrical masks.
Antique Greek theatrical masks. Antiqués. Art Gréco. Masques Tragiques, Sculptés. These mas... Read more
Ancient • Greece
Mask • Theatre
Military costumes of ancient Rome. Germanic mercenaries, Roman general.
Roman general (on the right) and Germanic mercenaries costumes. Military costumes of ancient Rome... Read more
Ancient • Headdresses • Military • Roman
Ancient Military • Ancient Roman Costumes • Ancient Roman headdresses
Byzantine silk fabric by the mantle of St. Fridolin
Byzantine silk fabric by the mantle of St. Fridolin 4th to 8th century. Silk fabric multicolore... Read more
4th Century • 6th Century • 8th Century • Ancient • Byzantine • Carolingian • Fabric
Byzantine fashion era
Greek Priestess of Demeter with long-sided diploidion
Priestess of Demeter (Ceres) with long-sided diploidion or ampechonion. Read more: Ancient Mino... Read more
Ancient • Ecclesiastical • Greece • Hairstyle • Headdresses
Ancient Greek Costumes • Thomas Hobe
Ancient Egyptian culture. Brief overview of the cultural epochs.
Brief overview of the cultural epochs by using selected characteristic elements of style. Architect... Read more
Ancient • Egypt • Fabric • Middle East
Ancient Egypt clothing • Architecture • Decoration • Interior
Antique Greco Roman culture
Antique Greco Roman Culture Costumes and attributes Greek Roman deities. Aggiunte all'opera Il... Read more
1800 • 18th Century • 19th Century • Ancient • Greece • Roman
Ancient Greek Costumes
A leader of the Franks. Salian Frankish 5th century
A leader of the Franks. Salian Frankish 5th century Un chef des Franks. (D'après Monfaucon.)... Read more
5th Century • Ancient • France • Gauls • Middle Ages • Nobility
Costumes civils et militaires des Français • Knighthood • Medieval costume • Merovingian fashion and history
Gallic chieftain under the Roman domination.
Gallic chieftain under the Roman domination. 2nd to 3rd century. Costume d'un chef gaulois sous... Read more
4th Century • Ancient • Celts • France • Gauls • Military
Ancient Military • Celtic • Costumes civils et militaires des Français • Historical Gaul costumes

  1. Assyrian and BabylonianMesopotamian costume history.
  2. Egyptian costume history.
  3. Greek fashion history
  4. Minoan costume history.
  5. The Amazons.
  6. Ancient Roman costume history. B.C. 53 to A.D. 450..
  7. Ancient Costumes of the Persians and other Asiatics.
  8. Ancient Costume History of Egyptian, Greek, Roman and others.
  9. The Roman Tunica or Greek Chiton.
  10. The Roman Paenula. The cowl or hood.
  11. On the origin of the pants by Max Marcuse
  12. The Toga and the manner of wearing it.
  13. The Gallic and Gallo-Roman costume period.
  14. The Ancient inhabitants of France. Till B.C. 125. (French History)
  15. The shields of the Gauls. Clans in the Roman Empire.
  16. The Barbarian Invasions. The Migration Period in Europe, 395-527 A. D.
  17. Roman legionary in full armor.
  18. Roman Britain. Maps, Places, Tribes. Historical atlas.
  19. Celt and Roman. History of England 43 BC to 440 AD.
  20. Gallic and Gallo-Roman helmets of Celtic warriors.
  21. The Roman Paenula. The cowl or hood.
  22. Roman, Greece and Egypt. The Corset and the Crinolin fashion history.
  23. Frankish Merovingian costume history. 4th and 5th century.
  24. Byzantine costume history. 5th to 6th century.
  25. The Carolingian fashion period 752-987. Reign of Charlemagne.
  26. The Carolingian Fashion Period 987 to 1270.
  27. Europe in the time of Charles the Great 768 – 814. Maps and Places.
  28. Alfred the Great. The first English king.
  29. King Harold II. Last Anglo-Saxon king of England.
  30. Monachism. Monastic costumes history.

Bibliography:

  • The Amazons: 
Lives and Legends of Warrior Women across the Ancient World by
 Adrienne Mayor.
  • The Amazons by Guy Cadogan Rothery.
  • The Encyclopedia of Amazons: Women Warriors from Antiquity to the Modern Era by Jessica Amanda Salmonson
  • The Lost History of the Amazons by Gerhard Pllauer.
  • On the Trail of the Women Warriors: The Amazons in Myth and History by Lyn Webster Wilde.
  • Warrior Women: An Archaeologist’s Search for History’s Hidden Heroines by Mona Behan and Jeannine Davis-Kimball.

One thought on “The Amazons. Ancient female warriors.

  1. David Leonard

    In Mycenaean daburinthos means “Lady of the Labyrinth”.

    I doubt that this correct. In Luwian the -nth- suffix is allative; it seems to have subsumed a locative function when borrowed by the Mycenaeans, whom I believe were in the process of losing the allative case around the same time period. It could mean “to the place of the lady of the labyrinth,” or, later, “the place of the lady of the labyrinth,” but it is unlikely to have had a nominative meaning.

Leave a Reply