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News from a wargamer with a special interest in the military history of the Balkans. It mainly covers my current reading and wargaming projects. For more detail you can visit the web sites I edit - Balkan Military History and Glasgow & District Wargaming Society. Or follow me on Twitter @Balkan_Dave
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Saturday 18 February 2023


 This month's book from my local library was Amazons by John Man. Sub-titled The Real Warrior Women of the Ancient World, he looks at the myths and the evidence for Amazon warriors, widely depicted in ancient art and prose.

In a nutshell, the evidence from archaeology rather than Greek myths points to the existence of female warriors but not to an all-female state. Much to the disappointment of ancient wargamers, no doubt!

The most common myth is that Amazons cut off their right breast so as not to obstruct their bow strings. Not only not true, but as many re-enactors have shown, entirely unnecessary. It may be that leather armour hid the female shape, or some adaption of the name Amazon led to this myth - but it is still a myth.

The archaeological evidence for female warriors is strong. Scythian women were routinely given burials matching men, and in some areas, 37 per cent of these burials were those of armed women. Many of these died violently using these weapons in battle. So it appears Herodotus got something right. Scythian women and their successors were Amazons as the Greeks imagined them, but individually, not as part of some spurious female-only nation, but as ordinary members of Scythian society. A fascinating society in its own right, with fabulous surviving artefacts, such as those displayed in the 2017 British Museum exhibition.

Frankly, that is where I would have left this book. Extending the story to the Sarmatians is OK, as it is an essential part of the myth. However, while Amazon warriors in South America existed, they are stretching the story somewhat. The same applies to 'Black Sparta' women warriors in Dahomey. Then chapters on the portrayal of Amazons in art and modern culture, right up to Wonder Woman. At this stage, I found myself skim-reading. 

So, if you want to add female Scythian warriors to your ancient armies, that's fine. But, if you want a whole army, that's for the fantasy rules. Figures are available for both!

1 comment:

  1. The myth of an Amazon run kingdom is based on the myth of Argonauts. Argonauts on their way to Kolchis stopped at Lemnos . There they found queen Ypsipili who was running an all female state. The myth of queen Ypsipili of Lemnos was saying that the Lemnian women have killed all the men of Lemnos throwing them from a cape that still called Petasos ( petao is the greek verb for throw). They killed them because they have been cursed from Aphrodite to smell bad and the Lemnian men brought women from Thrace(probably Scythian) to replace them.There is still a neighborhood in Lemnos capital called Androni that it comes from the ancient Greek Androphoni (slaughter of men) . Apparently I think that the amazon myth was combined with the myth above to make a myth of an Amazon run kingdom.