Time for the second installment of Pete’s Pagan Blog Project. We’re still on A, so I thought I’d cover the Amazons.
The Amazons are the warrior daughters/lovers (myths sometimes conflict on this matter) of Ares. Among the most famous mythic races in history, the Amazons represent what was a unique motif in Greek history, and they continue to capture the imagination of the West.
The Amazons were some of the most war-like people in ancient history (assuming they are actually a historical race). They were said to live near the south end of the Caucasus and would only see men once or twice a year, and only then to fight or… procreate (almost went into alliteration, but this is a family blog ). Aeschylus places them on the borders of Scythia and Sarmatia, near Thrace, but says they later emigrated to the Pontic region of Asia Minor. Their chief gods were Ares and Artemis, and they founded many famous cults and temples, according to their myths. The Amazons were said to have founded the cult of Artemis at Ephesos, which was watched over by a sacred guard called the Areistai, or Aresian Guard. Another famous, though currently undiscovered, altar was erected to Ares on the island of Lesbos, purportedly of what may be a meteorite.
One of the coolest myths of the Amazons concerns their campaign against Theseus and the Athenians. The Amazons had invaded the city of Athena, and so vicious was their assault that the whole of the city left alive had barricaded itself within the citadel on the Akropolis. Settling in for a siege, the Amazons, according to Aeschylus, created a new citadel dedicated to Ares and sacrificed to him there. The nature of this sacrifice is unknown, but with their origins near Thrace and due to the popularity in the region, it may have been a human sacrifice, methinks. Athens wasn’t the only place or people to feel the mighty sting of the Amazons. The Amazons with their father supported Priam against the Greeks in the Trojan war, and they campaigned against the Phrygians, Lycians, and others in northen Greece and Anatolia. Some report they even went so far as to attack Egypt and even conquer Libya.
Among their most famous Queens were Hippolyta (which means something akin to ‘unbridled mare’) and her sister Penthesileia. Hippolyta was the most famous of the pair and was said to be Ares daughter by Otrera. She was given a golden belt by her father, a symbol of her strength and prowess for battle. This belt was stolen by Heracles as one of his Labors. Another gift Ares bestowed upon his daughter was a flock of birds which bore iron feathers that could be shot by arrows, and these presented hazard to Jason and the Argonauts when they traveled to Ares’ grove to recover the golden fleece. Penthesileia accidentally killed her sister Hippolyta, and came to Troy as a suppliant. Priam helped her perform the rites, and sealed the relationship between the Trojans and Amazons. She would later lead a contingent of women in the war, and was slain by Achilles himself. When Achilles beheld her beauty, he stopped fighting to let her body be recovered. However, Ares turned the place into a slaughterhouse, and the Myrmidons, sons of Zeus, were almost wiped out if Zeus himself had not intervened. It was at this point in the Iliad where Achilles actually begins to feel remorse, and knows his doom really will be coming; from this point on he seems more sullen and brooding.
The Amazons meant something special to the Greeks. In a time when women were little more than baby-makers, the Amazons represented breaking all the rules. They lived on their own, dressed and worked as men, and even supposedly cut of their own breasts in order to be better fighters. Wholly dedicated to war, they exemplified some of the best and most terrible qualities of both Ares and Artemis. Their legacy lives today in popular culture, euphemism, and the feminist movement. So hail to the daughters of Ares, the powerful and beautiful Amazons!