Heroes and Anti-Heroes

22 The Amazons

An Amazon in a running pose. She wears a helm and armour, and hold a sword and a shield with the face of a gorgon on it.
An Amazon, red-figure kylix, ca. 500 BCE (Staatliche Antikensammlungen, Munich)


The Amazons were a mythological tribe of warrior women who lived to the east of Greece, in and around the area of the Black Sea. Many legends suggest their capital city was Themiscyra, located in northeastern Anatolia (modern Turkey), although they are also described as living in other locations, including Scythia (modern-day Ukraine), Colchis (the modern-day nation of Georgia), Thrace, and northern Africa (modern-day Tunisia). They were said to be the daughters of Otrera, who was the first queen of the Amazons, and the god Ares. The stories told about the Amazons emphasize separation from men, their ability to do tasks that the Greeks traditionally considered male (such as hunting), and their fierce battle prowess. For the Greeks, the female Amazons represented a complete inversion of their deeply-ingrained cultural beliefs about gender and society.


In the Ancient Greek mythological tradition, the Amazons functioned as foils to the Greek heroes. Each Greek male hero had his own encounter with an Amazon woman, finding her at first to be a formidable foe, but ultimately besting her in combat, often even killing her. Many of the Greek heroes fell in love with and/or had sexual trysts with the Amazons, often producing children.

The most famous Amazons were Hippolyte and Penthesileia. Other Amazons included Antiope, Orythia, and Melanippe.


Hippolyte (or Hippolyta) was a  queen of the Amazons who features prominently in myths about Heracles and his labours. For his ninth labour, Heracles was sent to steal the belt (or “girdle”) of Hippolyta. Some versions of the myth say that Theseus accompanied him on this journey. Other versions say that Theseus had his own interaction with Hippolyta later on, well after Heracles had completed the twelve labours. She was the mother of Theseus’ first son, Hippolytus. Other accounts say that the mother of Hippolytus was Antiope, Hippolyte’s sister.

For further discussion of Heracles and Hippolyte, see chapter 17.

For further discussion of Theseus and Hippolyte, see chapter 22.


Penthesileia was the queen of the Amazons during the Trojan War. In many myths about Penthesileia, she is described as having a warlike nature and is strongly associated with her father, Ares. Despite her battle prowess, in many accounts she is overpowered by Achilles on the fields of Troy, and killed by him, as shown by many vases (see Art and Symbolism below). Some accounts even relay a version of the story in which Achilles fell in love with Penthesileia as he killed her.

For further discussion of Penthesileia, see chapter 27.


Homer, Iliad, Book 3 (trans. A. S. Kline, adapted by L. Zhang)

Greek epic poem, 8th century BCE

In book three of the Iliad, the Trojan king Priam recalls a battle with the Amazons that he fought as a young man. This recollection anticipates the arrival of Penthesileia after the death of Hector.

[181] The old man viewed Agamemnon with wonder, “Ah, happy son of Atreus, fortune’s child, blessed by the gods! All these Achaeans, then, are your subjects. I journeyed to vine-rich Phrygia once, and saw the host of warriors, masters of gleaming horses, men of Otreus’ army and godlike Mygdon’s too, camped by the banks of the River Sangarius. Their ally, I was with them when the Amazon women attacked and fought like men. But that force would be outnumbered by these bright-eyed Achaeans.”


Taken from: https://www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/Greek/Iliad3.php#anchor_Toc239244771

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2009 All Rights Reserved


Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca, Epitome (trans. K. Aldrich, adapted by P. Rogak)

Greek mythography, 2nd century CE

After the death of Hector in the Trojan War, the Greek and Trojans paused from the fighting for several days so that the Trojans could celebrate their fallen leader with the traditional funeral games. Following the games, the Amazon Penthesileia showed up with an entourage to fight on the side of the Trojans. Pseudo-Apollodorus explains that she fought for the Trojans because of the purification that King Priam had granted to her after she accidentally killed her fellow Amazon, Queen Hippolyta (alternate version of the myth say that Hippolyta was killed by Theseus or other Greek men).

[E.5.1-2] After the games Priam came to Achilles, ransomed Hector‘s body, and buried it. Penthesileia, the daughter of Otrera and Ares, who had accidentally killed Hippolyte and been purified by Priam, killed many in battle, including Machaon; but later she was herself killed by Achilles, who fell in love with the Amazon after she died, and slew Thersites for rebuking him.

Hippolyte, also known as Glauce and Melanippe, was the mother of Hippolytus. As the marriage of Theseus was being celebrated, she showed up with arms together with her Amazons, and told Theseus she was going to murder the whole gathering. In the ensuing battle she died, either involuntarily killed by her ally Penthesileia, or by Theseus, or because the men with Theseus, as soon as they noted the arrival of the Amazons, quickly bolted the doors, caught her inside and killed her.


Taken from: https://www.theoi.com/Heroine/AmazonPenthesileia.html


Quintus of Smyrna, Posthomerica, Book 1 (abridged) (trans. A. S. Way, adapted by L. Zhang and P. Rogak)

Greek epic, 4th century CE

The arrival of Penthesileia is dramatized by Quintus Smyrnaeus (also called Quintus of Smyrna), a Greek epic poet who was likely writing in the 4th century, CE. In his Posthomerica (literally, “After Homer), he continues the story of the Trojan War from where Homer left on in the Iliad.

[1] When godlike Hector was killed by Peleides [ Achilles ], and the pyre had devoured up his flesh, and earth had veiled his bones, the Trojans then lingered in Priam‘s city, afraid of the might of courageous Achilles, grandson of Aeacus.

[. . .]

[22] Then from Thermodon, from broad-sweeping streams, clothed with the beauty of goddesses, came Penthesileia— she came longing for groan-resounding battle, but also to flee from hated reproach and evil fame, fearing her own people would condemn her because of her sister’s death. Hippolyta, forever lamented by Penthesileia, had been struck dead accidentally by Penthesileia’s spear when she aimed at a stag. So she came to the far-famed land of Troy. More than this, her warrior spirit drove her to cleanse her soul of the dreaded pollution of murder[1] and to appease the Awful Ones, the Erinyes with sacrifice, for they immediately haunted her, unseen, angry about her slain sister; they are always hovering near the sinner’s steps and none may escape from these goddesses.

[40] And twelve maidens followed beside her, each one a princess, eager for war and grim battle. Though all highborn, they attended to her as handmaidens; but Penthesileia outshone them all. As how in the broad sky amidst the stars the Moon rides over all, supreme, when the cleaving heavens open through the thunderclouds and the fury-breathing winds die; so unequalled was Penthesileia amidst those charging maidens. Clonia was there, Polemusa, Derinoe, Euandre, and Antandre, and Bremusa, Hippothoe, dark-eyed Harmothoe, Alcibia, Derimachea, Antibrote, and Thermodosa glorying with the spear. All these went to battle with warrior-souled Penthesileia [ . . . ] and over them all, how flawless and fair these girls may be, her splendour of beauty glows supreme; so peerless amid all the Amazons, Penthesileia came to Troy.

To right, to left, from all sides The Trojans hurried to her side, greatly marvelling, when they saw the tireless War-god’s child, the armored maiden. She was like the Blessed Gods; for in her face glowed beauty, glorious and fierce. Her smile was ravishing: beneath her brows her lovely eyes shone like stars, her cheeks were coloured like a crimson rose with a modest blush, and mantled above all this was an Unearthly grace and battle-prowess.

[73] Then the Trojans rejoiced, despite past sufferings [. . .] when they saw Penthesileia arrive at their land for battle, they felt exceeding glad; for when the heart is thrilled with hope of good, all pain of evils past is wiped away: so, after all his sighing and his pain, Priam’s soul was gladdened a little [. . .] so happy was he to see that mighty queen . . .

Into his halls he led the maiden, and with he honoured her gladly, just like one who greets a daughter to her home after returning from a far country in the twentieth year away; and set a feast before her, as splendid as that of battle-glorious kings, who have brought low nations of foes, a display of grandeur, with hearts filled with pride of a triumphal victory.

And he gave her gifts, expensive and pleasant to the eye, and pledged to give many more if she would save the Trojans from the imminent doom. And she returned to him a promise that no mortal man had even hoped to fulfill, to slay Achilles, to destroy the vast army of the Argive men, and to set their fleet aflame. Ah fool! She knew little of the lord of ashen spears and how far Achilles’ skills surpassed her in the warrior-wasting strife known as battle.

[119] But when Andromache, the noble child of king Eetion, heard the wild queen’s boast, she murmured bitterly to herself: “Ah hapless woman! Why do you make such swelling claims with your arrogant heart? You do not have the strength to combat Peleus‘ fearless son. No, he will bring you doom and a swift death. Pitiful woman! What madness stirs your soul? Fate and the end which Death brings stand by your side! Hector was a far mightier spearsman, yet despite all his prowess he was slain [. . .]”

[146] In its swift journey around the sky, Helios sank into the Ocean‘ deep stream and daylight died. So when the banqueters ceased from the wine-cup and the great feast, the serving women spread a heart-cheering couch in Priam‘s halls for brave Penthesileia and she laid down to rest; mist-like slumber veiled her eyes like rounded sweet dew. From the blue heavens slid down a dream of deceitful power at Pallas‘ order, so that the warrior-maid might see it and become a curse to Troy and to herself by straining her soul for the whirlwind of battle. In this way Tritogeneia, the cunning one, planned: the baleful dream stood over the maiden’s head in the likeness of her father [ Ares ], urging her to fearlessly meet in fight fleetfoot Achilles. And she heard the voice, and her entire heart was filled with joy, for she believed that she would, on that dawning day, achieve a mighty deed in battle’s deadly toil. Ah, fool, who unfortunately trusted a dream out of the dusk, which often beguiles the wretched tribes of men, whispering mocking lies in sleeping ears; it deceived her, urging her to battle!

[173] But when rosy-ankled Eos leapt up from her bed, then, clad in mighty strength of spirit, suddenly Penthesileia rose from her couch. Then she dressed herself in those wondrous armour given to her by Ares. First she laid beneath her silver-gleaming knees the golden greaves, clipped close to her strong limbs. She clasped her iridescent breastplate about her, and around her shoulders she slung, with glory in her heart, the heavy sword whose shining length was in a scabbard crafted from ivory and silver. Next, she took her shield, unearthly splendid, whose rim swelled like the young crescent moon’s arching chariot-rail [. . .] the light which shone from it was indescribably fair. Then on her head she settled the bright helmet plumed with a wild mane of golden-glistering hairs. And so she stood in her intricate armour seeming as if a bolt of lightning [. . .] Then in hot haste she made her way out of Priam’s halls, taking two javelins in the hand that grasped her shield-band on her way; in her strong right hand lay a huge halberd, sharp on either side, which terrible Eris gave to Ares‘ child to be her Titanous weapon in the strife that devours the souls of men.

Laughing in delight, she swiftly flashed past the ring of defence towers. Her arrival sparked all the sons of Troy to rush into the battle which crowns men with glory. They all swiftly obeyed her urgings to battle, and the best warriors came in throngs, yes, even when before they had shrank back from standing in battle against Achilles the all-conquering. In pride and triumph, she rode enthroned on a fine and swift steed, the gift of Oreithyia, bride of wild Boreas the North-wind, when the warrior-maiden went to Thrace and was Oreithyia’s guest. It was a steed whose flying feet could match the Harpies‘ wings. Mounted on this steed, noble Penthesileia left the tall palaces of Troy behind. And the ghastly-visaged Keres [spirits of Death] were ever-thrusting her into battle, doomed to be her first against the Greeks–and last! To right, to left, with unreturning feet the Trojan thousands followed to the fray, the pitiless fray, they followed that death-doomed warrior-maid in throngs [. . .] filled with battle-fury, strong Trojans and wild-hearted Amazones.

And she seemed like Tritonis [ Athena ] when she went to fight the Giants, or like Eris, rouser of discord, flashes through an army. So mighty in the Trojans’ midst she seemed, Penthesileia of the flying feet [. . .]

[238] Then the son of Laomedon [ Priam ] raised his hands unto Cronus’ son [ Zeus ]. . . and he prayed , “Father, hear me! Grant that on this day Achaea’s army may fall before the hands of our warrior-queen, the War-god’s child; and let her return to my halls unscathed: we pray to you that by the love you bear for your son, Ares of the fiery heart, and to the queen also! Is she not most wondrous like the heavenly goddesses? And is she not the child of your own seed? And pity my stricken heart! You know all the agonies I have suffered in the deaths of my dear sons whom the Fates have torn from me by Argive hands in the devouring fight. Feel compassion for us, while a remnant yet remains of noble Dardanus‘ blood, while this city stands unwasted! Let us have some respite from ghastly slaughter and strife!”

[260] In passionate prayer he spoke but an eagle darted swiftly by with a shrill scream and in his talons was a gasping dove. Then all the blood in Priam’s heart was chilled with fear. Quietly to himself he said, “I will never see Penthesileia return alive from war!’ On that very day the Fates prepared to fulfill this omen of his and his heart broke with the anguish of despair.

[269] Far across the plain, upon seeing the hosts of Troy charge down on them with Penthesileia, Ares‘ child, amidst them, the Argives marvelled. The Trojans seemed like ravening beasts among the hills that bring grim slaughter to the fleecy flocks; and she seemed like a rushing blast of flame that maddened through the dead branches summer-scorched thickets, driven on by the wind. As they mustered together, they spoke to each other, “Who is this who can rouse the Trojans to war, now that Hector has been slain? [. . .]”

[290] So they shouted and cast their shining battle-gear about themselves. From the ships they poured out cloaked in the rage of fight. Then their battles closed, front to front, like wild beasts  locked in a tangle of gory strife. Clanged their shining armour together, clashed the spears, the breastplates, the stubborn-welded shields, and adamant helmets. Each stabbed at the other’s flesh with the fierce bronze. Neither party could stop to parlay or rest and the soil of Troy was stained crimson-red.

[300] First Penthesileia slew Molion; now Persinous falls, and now Eilissos. She trapped Antitheus underneath her spear and the pride of Lernos was subdued. She bore down Hippalmos beneath the hoofs of her horse. Haimon’s son died, she withered stalwart Elasippos’ strength. And [the Amazon] Derinoe laid low Laogonos and [the Amazon] Clonia, Menippos, him who had sailed from Phylace, led by his lord Protesilaus to the war with Troy.  Podarces, son of Iphiklos, angered by his death as Menippos was his most beloved out of all his companions. Swiftly he hurled his spear at Clonia, the maid fair as a Goddess; the unswerving spear plunged through her stomach and her bloody bowels gushed out after the spear. Penthesileia, furious, drove the long point of her spear through the brawn of his right arm, shearing his blood-brimming veins, and through the wide gash of the wound, a crimson fountain sprouted. With a groan Podarces sprang backward, his courage wholly quelled by bitter pain; the men of Phylace grieved his absence as he fled. He stopped a short way from the fight and he died in the small space between the arms of his friends. Then Idoemeneus thrust out his spear and stabbed [the Amazon] Bremusa in her right breast. The beating of her heart was stilled forever. She fell as gracefully as a mighty mountain pine struck down by woodmen: heavily, sighing through all its boughs as it crashes down. So with a wailing shriek she fell, and death unstrung her every limb; her spirit mingled with multitudinous-sighing winds. Then, as [the Amazon] Euandre rushed through the murderous fray with Thermodosa, Meriones, like a lion standing in their path, slew them, driving his spear right into the heart of one and stabbing the other lightning quick sword-thrust in the stomach. Their life leapt through their wounds and escaped away.

Oileus’ fiery son killed [the Amazon] Derinoe, stabbing her between her throat and shoulder with his ruthless spear; and Tydeus‘ terrible son [ Diomedes ] swooped on [the Amazon] Alcibia and [the Amazon] Derimachea: head and neck removed clean from their shoulders by his sword. Together they fell down [. . .] by the hands of Tydeus‘ son they were laid low upon the Trojan plain, far, far away from their own highland-home, they fell . . .

[411] Penthesileia was unwavering [. . .] that warrior-maiden leapt on the Danaans. And they, their souls were cowed. They shrank back and she followed fast [. . . ] So she chased and hurled through their ranks, shouting fierce threats at them: ‘You dogs, you shall pay for the evil outrage you have done to Priam today! Not a single one of you shall escape with your life from my hands and return home to gladden the eyes of your parents or comfort your wife or children. You shall lie dead, as food for vultures and wolves, and no one will bury your body under the earth. Where is the strength of Tydeus‘ son? Where is the might of Aeacus‘ scion [ Achilles ]? Where is Ajax‘ bulk? You boast that they are the mightiest men of all your rabble. Ha! They dare not duel me in battle, lest I drag their craven souls from their fainting frames!’

[449] She then leapt on the foe, unrelenting as a tigress, crashing through ranks upon ranks of Argives, now using that huge, heavy ax and hurling her sharp spear, while her battle-horse flashed through the fight, and on his shoulder bore her quiver and death-bringing bow, close to her hand, if amidst that revel of blood she willed to shoot the bitter-biting shaft. Behind her followed the charging lines of fleet-footed men, friends and brethren of the man, Hector, who never flinched from hand-to-hand combat, all panting with the hot breath of the War-god from their breasts, all slaying Danaans with the ashen spear, who fell as frost-touched leaves in autumn fall one after other, or as drops of rain. And the Earth groaned, blood-drenched and heaped with corpse on corpse. Horses pierced through with arrows, or impaled on spears, were snorting forth their last of strength with screaming neighings. Men, with gnashing teeth biting the dust, lay gasping, while the steeds of Trojan charioteers stormed in pursuit, trampling the dying mingled with the dead as oxen trample corn in threshing-floors. Then one of the Trojans amazed, watched Penthesileia in the midst of the Trojans as she rushed on through the foes’ array, like the black storm that maddens over the sea [. . .] and thus, filled with vain hope, he shouted , “O friends, one of the deathless Gods has manifest among us on this day to fight the Argives, all of love for us and with sanction of almighty Zeus, he whose compassion now remember strong-hearted Priam, who may boast a lineage of immortal blood. For I think that no mortal woman can be so daring and is so clad in splendour-flashing arms; No, surely she is Athena or the mighty-souled Enyo, Eris, or [ Artemis ] the Child of famous Leto. Oh yes, I see her amidst the Argive men bringing slaughter, see her set aflame to their ships from which they came long years ago, bringing us many sorrows, yes, they came bringing us the intolerable woes of war. Ha! They will never joyfully return to their home-land, Hellas, since the Gods fight on our side.”

[500] That was the haughty exultation that Trojan boasted. Fool! He did not know of the ruin rushing upon himself and Troy, and Penthesileia herself. For no news of the wild battle had arrived at stormy-souled Ajax, nor to Achilles, waster of tower and town. But on the grave-mound of Menoetius‘ son [ Patroclus ] they were both lying, with sad memories of a dear fallen comrade, and echoing each other’s groaning. One of the Blessed Gods was holding these two back from the battle-tumult far away, until many Greeks could fulfill their fate, slain by Trojan foes and glorious Penthesileia, who pursued with murderous intent their rifled ranks. And her strength and valour never waxed, only grew more. She never missed her target as she thrust with her spear; she pierced the backs of those who fled, the breasts of those who charged to meet her. All along the long shaft of her spear dripped with steaming blood. Her feet were as swift as the wind as she swooped down on her foes. Her fearless spirit did not weary and her might was like the strongest of metals. The impending Ker [Doom], which had not yet driven the terrible strife unto Achilles, still clothed her with glory. She was still unbeknownst of the that the dread Power stood by her and how she would still shed splendour of triumph over those ordained for death but only for a little while longer, until it would crush that Maiden underneath the hands of Aeacus‘ scion [ Achilles ]. Hidden in darkness, it continued to drive her forwards with an invisible hand, and drew her feet towards her destruction, lighting her path to death with glory, while she slew foe after foe [. . .] So she charged, Ares‘ child, through the squadrons of Achaea’s sons, slaying some, and hunting those who fled in panic.

[545] From Troy afar the women marvelling, gazed at the Maiden’s battle-prowess [. . .] and Theano spoke [to the Trojan Women] , “[. . .] Amazons have trained in ruthless fight, in charging steeds, from the beginning of their days: they enjoy all of the toil of men and therefore the spirit of the War-god thrills through them evermore. They do not fall short of men in anything: their labour-hardened bodies make their hearts great: their knees never weaken nor tremble. Rumour says their queen is a daughter of the mighty Lord of War. Therefore no woman may compare with her in prowess–if she be a woman, not a God come down in answer to our prayers [ . . .]

[643] Still Penthesileia broke the ranks, and still before her quivered the Achaeans; they could not find escape from imminent death [. . .] In each man’s heart all lust of battle died, and fear alone lived. This way and that way fled the panic-stricken; some had flung the armour from their shoulder to the ground and some grovelled in terror in the dust underneath their shields. Horses fled through the havoc without their charioteers. In a rapture of triumph charged the Amazons; with groans and screams of agony died the Greeks. Withered was their manhood in that terrible chaos and brief was the life of all whom that fierce maid overtook in the grim jaws of battle overtook [. . . ] So the great Danaan army lay, dashed to dust by doom of Fate, by Penthesileia‘s spear.

[671] But when the ships were about to be set aflame by the Trojans, mighty Ajax heard from afar the panicked cries, and spoke to Aeacus‘ scion, “Achilles, all the air about my ears is full of very many cries; it is full of thunder of battle rolling nearer. Let us go forth then, in case the Trojans reach the ships and make great slaughter there [. . .]”

[690] Then both of them hurried and donned their splendid warrior-gear. Now they stood facing their storm-tossed foes. Loud clashed their glorious armour and in their souls a battle-fury like Ares‘ wrath maddened; such might was breathed into the two of them by Atrytone [ Athena ], Shaker of the Shield, as they pressed onwards [. . .] many they slew with their resistless spears [. . . and] Peleus‘ son [ Achilles ] lept on the Amazons, killing Antandre, Polemusa, Antibrote, fierce-souled Hippothoe, and hurled Harmothoe down on slain sisters. Then he pressed hard on all their-reeling ranks with Telamon‘s mighty-hearted son [ Ajax ] and before their hands the battalions were dense and strong [. . .]

[734] When battle-eager Penthesileia saw them, as they rushed like ravening beasts through the scourging storm of war, she rushed to meet them in battle [. . .] While the two warriors, clad in armour and putting trust in their long spears, await her lightning leap. The brazen plates clanged about their shoulders as they moved. And Penthesileia first threw her long-shafted spear. It flew straight to the shield of Aeacus‘ son and fell into slivered fragments as it glanced from the rock-like shield: of such divine quality were the gifts of the cunning-hearted Fire-god [ Hephaestus ]. Then the warrior-maiden threw a second javelin with fury against Ajax] as she threatened the men with fierce words, "Ha, one spear has left my hand in vain! But with this second look I shall put an end to the strength and courage of two foes. That’s right, even though you claim to be mighty men of war amid your Danaans! You shall die, and the load of war’s afflictions shall be lighter upon the horse-taming Trojans. Draw closer, come through the soldiers to fight with me, so you shall earn what might wells up in the breasts of Amazones. My blood is mingled with war itself! It was not a mortal man who fathered me but [Ares] the Lord of War, insatiate of the battle-cry, himself. Therefore my might is more than any man's.’

[767] With scornful laughter she spoke, then she hurled her second lance; but they in utter scorn laughed now, as the shaft hit the silver greave of Ajax, and was thereby foiled; all its fury could not scar the flesh within for fate had ordered that no blade of enemies should taste the blood of Ajax in the bitter war. But he paid no attention to the Amazon and turned to rush onto the host of Trojan men instead, leaving Penthesileia to Peleus' son alone, for well he knew his heart within that she, for all her prowess, would nonetheless be as effortless a battle to Achilles as a dove to a hawk.

[782] She cried angrily that her spears were thrown in vain and it was Achilles’ turn to rebuked her with mocking words, "Woman, with what empty boasts have you come forth against us, all eager to fight us, who are far mightier than earthborn heroes? We boast our descent from Cronus' Son [ Zeus ], the Thunder-roller. Even Hector, the battle-swift, feared us even upon seeing our charge into grim battle from afar; and indeed it was my spear that slew him, for all his might. But you--your heart is utterly mad to have dared to threaten us with death today! Your last hour will come quickly --it comes! The War-god will not rescue you from my hands, but you will pay the debt of dark doom, death, just as when a young deer meets a lion in the mountains. What, woman, have you not heard of the heaps of corpses that I thrust into Xanthos’ rushing streams? Or have you heard of it, but because the Blessed Ones have stolen your wit and discretion so that Doom’s relentless depth might open for you?’

[807] So he spoke, and he swung up his mighty hand and sped his warrior-slaying long spear, crafted by Chiron, and pierced above the right breast of the battle-eager maiden. The red blood leapt forth, as a fountain wells, and all at once fainted the strength of Penthesileia's limbs; the great battle-axe dropped from her nerveless hand; a mist of darkness veiled over her eyes, and anguish passed through her soul. Yet even so she still drew breath with difficulty, still dimly seeing the hero, even now in action to drag her from the swift steed's back. Confusedly she thought, "Should I draw my mighty sword, and wait for Achilles to rush towards me, or hastily dismount my horse down to earth, and kneel in front of this godlike man, and with wild breath promise great heaps of bronze and gold, which pacifies the hearts of victors so that it quenches their bloodlust, if so the murderous might of Aeacus' son may relent and spare me; or perhaps he may feel compassion for my youth and grant me reprise to see my home again? For oh, I long to live!"

[831] So surged the wild thoughts in her; but the Gods ordained it otherwise. Even now Peleus’ son rushed on in terrible anger; he thrust suddenly with his spear, and its shaft impaled the body of her storm-footed steed [. . .] So that deadly spear of Peleus' son ripped clean through the good steed, piercing Penthesileia. Immediately she fell down into the dust of earth, the arms of death, graceful as nothing shameful dishonoured her fair form. She lay on the long spear face down, gasping out her last breath, stretched upon that fleet horse as though on a couch [. . .] So from the once fleet steed fell Penthesileia, all her shattered strength brought down to this, and all her loveliness.

[858] Now when the Trojans saw the Warrior-queen struck down in battle, a shiver of panic ran through all their lines. Straightway they turned to flee back to their walls, heart-agonized with grief [. . .] so, Troy-ward as they fled from battle, all those Trojans wept for her, the Child of the resistless War-god, and wept for friends who died in that groan-resounding fight.

[874] Then the son of Peleus boasted over her with scornful laughter, "In the dust lie there a prey to the teeth of dogs, to ravens' beaks, you wretched thing! Who tricked you into fighting against me? And you thought you could return home alive bearing royal gifts from the old king Priam, as a reward for slain Argives? Ha, it was not the immortals gods who inspired you with these thoughts, as they know that I am the mightiest of heroes, the Danaans’ light of safety, a woe to Trojans and to you! No, it was the darkness-shrouded Fates and your own foolishness that drove you to leave the works of women, and to take to warfare, from which strong men shrink shuddering back."

[891] So he spoke, and the son of Peleus drew his ashen spear from that swift horse, and from Penthesileia in death's agony. Then both the steed and rider gasped their lives away, killed by one spear. Now from her head he took the splendid helmet which flashed like the beams of the great sun, or Zeus' own glory-light. Then, there as fallen in dust and blood she lay, like a rose, like the breaking of the dawn, and he saw underneath her dainty-pencilled brows a lovely face, beautiful in death. The Argives gathered around, and the all saw and marvelled, for she seemed like an Immortal. In her armour there upon the earth she lay, and she seemed like the Child of Zeus, the tireless Huntress Artemis, sleeping, tired after a lion hunt over far-stretching hills.

She was made a wonder of beauty even in her death by glorious-crowned Aphrodite, the Bride of the strong War-god, to the end that he, the son of noble Peleus, might be pierced with the sharp arrow of regret-filled love. The warriors gazed, and in their hearts they prayed that their wives would lie fair and sweet like her on the bed of love, when they returned home victorious. And Achilles' very heart was wrung with love's remorse to have slain a thing so sweet, who might have found her home as his queenly bride, in chariot-glorious Phthia; for she was flawless, a very daughter of the Gods, divinely tall, and most divinely fair.

[958] Then Ares' heart was filled with grief and rage for his slain daughter. He darted straight down from Olympus, swift and bright as thunderbolt terribly flashing from the mighty hand of Zeus, leaping far over the trackless sea, or flaming over the land, while shaking all Olympus as it passed by. So through the quivering air with heart aflame swooped Ares armour-clad, as soon as he heard the dread doom of his daughter. For the Aurae, Boreas the North-Wind's fleet-winged daughters, brought to him, as through the wide halls of the sky he strode, the news of the maiden's woeful end. As soon as he heard it, like thunder down to the ridges of Mount Ida he leapt. The great forests and deep ravines quaked under his feet --all of Ida's rivers and all of its far-stretching hills. Ares had brought with him a day of mourning on the Myrmidons, but Zeus himself from far Olympus sent shattering thunders terror of lightning bolts which leapt thick and fast through the sky down before his feet, blazing with fearful flames. And Ares saw, and knew the stormy threat of the mighty-thundering Father, and he stopped his eager steps on the very brink of battle's turmoil [. . .]

[975] Then did the warrior sons of Argos strip with eager haste from corpses strewn all round the blood-stained spoils. But Peleus' son continued to gaze at Penthesileia, wild with regret. He looked at the strong and beautiful maiden who lay in the dust. His entire heart was wrung and broken down with sorrowing love, deep, and as strong as he had known when that beloved friend Patroclus died.

[984] Thersites jeered loudly, mocking him to his face, "Sorry-souled Achilles! Are you not shamed to let some evil power beguile your heart to pity a pitiful Amazon whose furious spirit moved for nothing but to bring ill to us and our comrades? Ha! You are woman-mad and your soul lusts for this thing, as if she were some lady wise in household ways, with gifts and pure intent for honoured wedlock! It would have been good if it was her spear that reached your heart, the heart that still sighs for women! You no longer care, with your unmanly-soul, for valour's glorious path when your eyes land on a woman! Sorry wretch, where is your valour now? Where is your wit? And where is the might that befits a noble king? Do you not know what misery this same madness for women brought to Troy? There is nothing there more ruinous to men than lust for a woman's beauty; it makes fools of wise men. The toil of war attains renown, on the other hand. To a hero, the glory of victory and the War-god's works are sweet. Only a coward craves the beauty and the bed of a woman such as her!"

[1009] Long and loud were his insults; the mighty heart of Peleus' son leapt into flame of wrath. A sudden strike of his resistless fist made contact with Thersites’ ear and all his teeth were dashed to the earth. He fell on his face and blood gushed like a torrent from his lips; that despicable soul fled swiftly from that vile coward’s body [. . .]

[1062] Then, out of, pity the Atreid kings [ Menelaus and Agamemnon ] (for they marvelled at too at the imperial loveliness of Penthesileia ) allowed the men of Troy to bring her body and her armour back to the famous citadel of Ilus. For a herald had come with this request from Priam; for the king longed with deep yearning of the heart to lay that battle-eager maiden, with her armaments and with her war-horse, in the great earth-mound of old Laomedon. And so he heaped a great pyre before the city wall and upon its peak they laid down that warrior-queen and heaped costly treasures around her, all that befits to burn around a mighty queen slain in battle. And so the Fire-god's [ Hephaestus ] swift-upleaping might, the ferocious flame, consumed her. All around the people stood and quenched the pyre with odorous wine. Then they gathered the bones, poured sweet ointment over them, and laid them in a casket. Over the casket they placed the rich fat of the best cow that grazed on Mount Ida's slope. And, as for a beloved daughter, rang all around the heart-stricken wail of the Trojan men as they buried her by the stately wall on an outstanding tower, beside the bones of old Laomedon, a queen beside a king. This honour for Ares' sake they rendered, and for Penthesileia's own.

And in the plain beside her they buried the Amazons, all that followed her to battle, slain by Argive spears. For Atreus' sons [ Menelaus and Agamemnon ] did not begrudge them the honour of properly lamented graves and let their friends, the Trojan warriors, recover their corpses along with the bodies of their own from that grim harvest-field. No wrath falls upon the dead; once their life leaves their body, they are no longer foes but objects of pity.

[1103] Far off across the plain, while smoke rose from the pyres upon where the Argives laid the many heroes overthrown and slain by Trojan swords, unending lamentations were wailed over the perished. But above the rest they mourned brave Podarces, who in fight was no less mighty than his heroic brother, Protesilaus, he who fell long ago at the hand of Hector. Podarces, struck down by Penthesileia's spear, had cast over all Argive hearts the mantle of grief [. . .]  And in several distant pits they tossed the cowardly Thersites' wretched corpse.


Taken from: https://www.theoi.com/Heroine/AmazonPenthesileia.html

The Historical Amazons

The mythological Amazons were probably based on actual nomadic tribes in the ancient area of Scythia, or what is now modern-day Turkey. The Scythians had an egalitarian social organization, with people of various genders undertaking the work of the tribe, wearing similar clothing, and fighting together in battle. The Scythians were not a female-dominated society, as the Greeks believed of the Amazons. Nonetheless they represented a culture that the Greeks considered opposite to their own. Graves for warrior women have been discovered in the area around the Black Sea, suggesting a likely origin for Ancient Greek myths about the Amazons.[2]


Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca Historica, Book 2 (trans. C. H. Oldfather, adapted by P. Rogak)

Greek geography, 1st century BCE

Diodorus Siculus, a Greek historian writing in the 1st century BCE, describes the origins of the Scythians and the Amazons as a blend of myth and history.

[43.1] But now, in turn, we shall discuss the Scythians who inhabit the country bordering upon India.[3] This people originally possessed little territory, but later, as they gradually increased in power, they seized much territory by reason of their deeds of might and their bravery and advanced their nation to great leadership and renown.

[43.2] At first, then, they dwelt on the Araxes​ river, altogether few in number and despised because of their lack of renown; but since one of their early kings was warlike and of unusual skill as a general they acquired territory, in the mountains as far as the Caucasus, and in the steppes along the ocean and Lake Maeotis​ and the rest of that country as far as the Tanaïs​ river.

[43.3] At a later time, as the Scythians recount the myth, there was born among them a maiden sprung from the earth; the upper parts of her body as far as her waist were those of a woman, but the lower parts were those of a snake. With her Zeus lay begat a son whose name was Scythes. This son became more famous than any who had preceded him and called the folk Scythians after his own name. Now among the descendants of this king there were two brothers who were distinguished for their valour, the one named Palus and the other Napes.​

[43.4] And since these two performed renowned deeds and divided the kingship between them, some of the people were called Pali after one of them and some Napae after the other. But some time later the descendants of these kings, because of their unusual valour and skill as generals, subdued much of the territory beyond the Tanaïs river as far as Thrace, and advancing with their armies to the other side​ they extended their power as far as the Nile in Egypt.​

[43.5] And after enslaving many great peoples which lay between the Thracians and the Egyptians they advanced the empire of the Scythians on the one side as far as the ocean to the east, and on the other side to the Caspian Sea and Lake Maeotis; for this people increased to great strength and had notable kings, one of whom gave his name to the Sacae, another to the Massagetae, another to the Arimaspi, and several other tribes received their names in like manner.

[43.6] It was by these kings that many of the conquered peoples were removed to other homes, and two of these became very great colonies: the one was composed of Assyrians​ and was removed to the land between Paphlagonia and Pontus, and the other was drawn from Media and planted along the Tanaïs, its people receiving the name Sauromatae.

[43.7] Many years later this people became powerful and ravaged a large part of Scythia, and destroying utterly all whom they subdued they turned most of the land into a desert.

[44.1] After these events there came in Scythia a period of revolutions, in which the sovereigns were women endowed with exceptional valour. For among these peoples the women train for war just as do the men and in acts of manly valour are in no wise inferior to the men. Consequently distinguished women have been the authors of many great deeds, not in Scythia alone, but also in the territory bordering upon it.

[44.2] For instance, when Cyrus the king of the Persians, the mightiest ruler of his day, made a campaign with a vast army into Scythia, the queen of the Scythians not only cut the army of the Persians to pieces but she even took Cyrus prisoner and crucified him;​ and the nation of the Amazons, after it was once organized, was so distinguished for its manly prowess that it not only overran much of the neighbouring territory but even subdued a large part of Europe and Asia.

[44.3] But for our part, since we have mentioned the Amazons, we feel that it is not foreign to our purpose to discuss them, even though what we shall say will be so marvellous that it will resemble a tale from mythology.

[45.1] Now in the country along the Thermodon river,​ as the account goes, the sovereignty was in the hands of a people among whom the women held the supreme power, and its women performed the services of war just as did the men. Of these women one, who possessed the royal authority, was remarkable for her prowess in war and her bodily strength, and gathering together an army of women she drilled it in the use of arms and subdued in war some of the neighbouring peoples.

[45.2] And since her valour and fame increased, she made war upon people after people of neighbouring lands, and as the tide of her fortune continued favourable, she was so filled with pride that she gave herself the appellation of Daughter of Ares; but to the men she assigned the spinning of wool and such other domestic duties as belong to women. Laws were also established by her, by virtue of which she led forth the women to the contests of war, but upon the men she fastened humiliation and slavery.

[45.3] And as for their children, they mutilated both the legs and the arms of the males, incapacitating them in this way for the demands of war, and in the case of the females they seared the right breast that it might not project when their bodies matured and be in the way; and it is for this reason that the nation of the Amazons received the name it bears.​[4]

[45.4] In general, this queen was remarkable for her intelligence and ability as a general, and she founded a great city named Themiscyra at the mouth of the Thermodon river and built there a famous palace; furthermore, in her campaigns she devoted much attention to military discipline and at the outset subdued all her neighbours as far as the Tanaïs river.

[45.5] And this queen, they say, accomplished the deeds which have been mentioned, and fighting brilliantly in a certain battle she ended her life heroically.

[46.1] The daughter of this queen, the account continues, on succeeding to the throne matched the excellence of her mother, and even surpassed her in some particular deeds. For instance, she exercised in the chase the maidens from their earliest girlhood and drilled them daily in the arts of war, and she also established magnificent festivals both to Ares and to the Artemis who is called Tauropolus.​[5]

[46.2] Then she campaigned against the territory lying beyond the Tanaïs and subdued all the peoples one after another as far as Thrace; and returning to her native land with much booty she built magnificent shrines to the deities mentioned above, and by reason of her kindly rule over her subjects received from them the greatest approbation. She also campaigned on the other side​ and subdued a large part of Asia and extended her power as far as Syria.

[46.3] After the death of this queen, as their account continues, women of her family, succeeding to the queenship from time to time, ruled with distinction and advanced the nation of the Amazons in both power and fame. And many generations after these events, when the excellence of these women had been noised abroad through the whole inhabited world, they say that Heracles, the son of Alcmene and Zeus, was assigned by Eurystheus the Labour of securing the girdle of Hippolyta the Amazon.​

[46.4] Consequently he embarked on this campaign, and coming off victorious in a great battle he not only cut to pieces the army of the Amazons but also, after taking captive Hippolyta together with her girdle, completely crushed this nation. Consequently the neighbouring barbarians, despising the weakness of this people and remembering against them their past injuries, waged continuous wars against the nation to such a degree that they left in existence not even the name of the race of the Amazons.

[46.5] For a few years after the campaign of Heracles against them, they say, during the time of the Trojan War, Penthesileia, the queen of the surviving Amazons, who was a daughter of Ares and had slain one of her kindred, fled from her native land because of the sacrilege.​ And fighting as an ally of the Trojans after the death of Hector she slew many of the Greeks, and after gaining distinction in the struggle she ended her life heroically at the hands of Achilles.

[46.6] Now they say that Penthesileia was the last of the Amazons to win distinction for bravery and that for the future the race diminished more and more and then lost all its strength; consequently in later times, whenever any writers recount their prowess, men consider the ancient stories about the Amazons to be fictitious tales.


Taken from: https://www.loebclassics.com/view/diodorus_siculus-library_history/1933/pb_LCL303.1.xml


The term Amazonomachy refers to any battle fought between the Greeks and the Amazons. The Amazonomachy sometimes refers to a specific battle fought between Theseus and the Amazons in Athens after Theseus helped Heracles steal the belt (or girdle) of Hippolyta. This particular battle was portrayed extensively in the artwork of Ancient Greece and Rome, but does not show up much in the literary sources.

Art and Symbolism

An Amazon: a young woman drawing a bow, dressed in a conical phrygian cap and tiger-stripe pattern body suit.
An Amazon, red-figure amphora, ca. 430 BCE (Staatliche Antikensammlungen, Munich)
The head of an Amazon, a young woman in a floppy hat. On either side of the Amazon are two heads of griffins, bird-like heads on dragon-like necks.
An Amazon, red-figure pelike, ca. 375 BCE (National Archaeological Museum, Madrid)















An Amazon, a young woman in a tunic and wielding a spear, rides a horse. She fights a Greek, with a shield and helm, and another Amazons stands behind her.
Amazonomachy, red-figure krater, ca. 440 BCE (National Archaeological Museum, Madrid)

The Amazons appeared in Ancient Greek art at the end of the sixth century BCE and became immensely popular. After 490 BCE, the Greek victory over the Persian Empire inspired a flurry of new art representing Greeks triumphing over foreign enemies, both real and mythical - including the Amazons.


An Amazon wielding an axe. She wears an armoured vest and has a spotted pattern on her limbs.
An Amazon, white-ground alabastron, ca. 490 BCE (Antikenmuseum Basel und Sammlung Ludwig, Basel)
Three figures running in procession. The centre figure is an Amazon, wearing a phrygian cap and tiger-stripe body suit. The other two are Greek warriors, nude with helms and shields.
Amazonomachy, red-figure krater, ca. 500 BCE (National Archaeological Museum, Naples)















Three Amazons, armed with spears and swords. They wears curved Phrygian caps. A bird is perched to the side.
Amazons, terracotta votive shield, 7th century BCE (Archaeological Museum, Nafplion)
Greeks and Amazons fight. The Greeks are represented in black, with helms, shields, and spears. The Amazons are represented painted white, with shields, spears, and spot-patterned tunics. One of the Greeks drives a chariot. The image is framed by two sphinxes, women with lion bodies and wings.
Amazonomachy, black-figure kylix, ca. 540 BCE (Metropolitan Museum, New York)
Battle between Amazons and Greeks. The figures are divers. Some Amazons are marked with tiger-stripe limbs, and some ride horses.
Amazonomachy, one side of a red-figure krater, ca. 460 BCE (Metropolitan Museum, London)
Battle between Amazons and Greeks. The figures are divers. Some Amazons are marked with tiger-stripe limbs, and some ride horses.
Amazonomachy, second side of a red-figure krater, ca. 460 BCE (Metropolitan Museum, London)
Battle between Amazons and Greeks. The figures are divers. Some Amazons are marked with tiger-stripe limbs, and some ride horses.
Amazonomachy, third side of a  red-figure krater, ca. 460 BCE (Metropolitan Museum, London)
Battle between Amazons and Greeks. The figures are divers. Some Amazons are marked with tiger-stripe limbs, and some ride horses.
Amazonomachy, fourth side of a red-figure krater, ca. 460 BCE (Metropolitan Museum, London)




















These scenes were so popular that they were included twice in the decoration of the Parthenon in Athens: on the metopes of the western side of the temple, and on the shield of the great statue of Athena herself. The western metopes of the Parthenon are quite damaged and it is hard to make out what is going on, but archaeologists and art historians agree that they seem to depict various stages in an Amazonomachy fought in Attica between the Amazons and Theseus (along with other historical Athenian figures.)[6]


The upper left corner fo the damaged western metopes on the Parthenon, possibly showing a series of encounters between the Amazons and the Athenians. Only partial, worn-down figures can be made out in the relief. There seem to be pairs fighting, some on horseback and some on foot. Overall it is hard to see and interpret what is going on.
Ancient Friezes at the northwestern corner of Parthenon. Metopes I to IV are visible, showing possible scenes of an Amazonomachy.
At the centre of the shield, the head of a Gorgon. Around this is a large fight between many Greek warriors and Amazons. The Amazons wear tunics that expose one breast, and wield axes. The Greeks carry shields and spears and wear helms. Most of the Amazons are shown wounded and fallen.
Pericles of Athens and the sculptor Pheidias as warriors in the Amazonomachy, 3rd-century Roman marble copy of the shield from the Athena Parthenos from the 5th century BCE (British Museum, London)
Three Amazons fight two Greeks. The amazons wear Phrygian caps and capes, while the Greeks are bare-chested. Two of the figures carry shields, but the rest fight without weapons.
Amazonomachy, Halicarnassus Mausoleum frieze, ca. 350 BCE (British Museum, London)
3 Amazons fight 3 Greek warriors, and three more Greek and Amazon figures lie wounded on the ground. The Greek warriors are nude with knives, shields, and helms. The Amazons wear tunics and wield axes, and two of them ride horses.
Amazonomachy, sarcophagus relief (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna)
Greeks fighting Amazons. The Greeks wear blue and white tunics, helms, and carry spears and round shields. The amazons, some on horseback, wears Phrygian caps and white and yellow tunics.
Amazonomachy, Greek painted marble sarcophagus, ca. 350 BCE (Museo Archaeologico Nazionale, Firenze)

The women belonging to this tribe were usually portrayed as young and athletic, armed with spears or axes, bows, and crescent-shaped shields (peltai), fighting on horseback or on foot.


Greeks and Amazons fights. One of the Amazons rides a horse. The Amazons are distinguished with tiger-stripe patterns on their limbs, while the Greeks have helms and shields.
Amazonomachy, one side of a red-figure krater, ca. 450 BCE (Metropolitan Museum, New York)
An Amazon, in a cap and tunic, rides a chariot pulled by two horses. On either side, three Greek warriors fight two more Amazons.
Amazonomachy, other side of a red-figure krater, ca. 450 BCE (Metropolitan Museum, New York)













Three Greeks, with helms, swords, and round shields, fight four amazons. The amazons have spears, bows, and crescent-shaped shields. The Amazons wear floppy hats, and wear spotted patterned clothes.
Amazonomachy, one side of a red-figure lekythos, ca. 420 BCE (Metropolitan Museum, New York)
Two Greeks, with plumed helms, round shields, tunics, and spears, fight 4 Amazons. The amazons carry crescent-shaped shields and fight with swords, and are dressed in hats and patterned body suits.
Amazonomachy, the other side of a red-figure lekythos, ca. 420 BCE (Metropolitan Museum, New York)










They could be wearing either Greek-style garments and armour or a much more 'foreign' attire consisting of Phrygian cap, long-sleeved shirt, leggings, and sometimes boots.


An Amazon riding a horse. She wears a helm and tunic, and her arms and legs are covered in zig-zag tiger-stripe patterns.
An Amazon, red-figure amphora, ca. 420 BCE (Staatliche Antikensammlungen, Munich)
An Amazon, riding a horse, fight a Greek warrior. The Amazon has striped leggings and a hat, and wields a spear. The Greek wield a round shield decorated with a lion, and a spear, and wears a helm.
Amazonomachy, red-figure pelike, ca. 430 BCE (Museo Archaeologico Regionale Paolo Orsi, Syracuse)



Two Amazons on horses. They have bare chests and wield spears. One wears a hat of wrapped cloth. Birds fly around them. They fight two figures who stand off around the sides of the krater..
Amazons, red-figure krater, ca. 330 BCE (Musée Royal, Mariemont)


Apart from the fighting scenes mentioned above, mythical episodes involving famous heroes and Amazons were popular in Greek art. There are three specific encounters between heroes and Amazons that are frequently represented in art: Achilles slaying their queen Penthesileia during the Trojan War, Heracles stealing Hippolyta's girdle for his ninth labour, and Theseus kidnapping queen Hippolyta and then fighting her companions (see chapter 22 for images of Theseus and Hippolyta). These encounters are described in the primary source texts above.


Achilles, with shield and helm, stabs at Penthesilea with a spear. Penthesilea, with spear, helm, and shield, falls away from Achilles but has her head turned back to look at him.
Achilles and Penthesileia, black-figure amphora, ca. 535 BCE (British Museum, London)
Achilles, with helm and shield, stabs Penthesilea with a spear. Penthesilea wears a tunic and helm, and wields a spear and shield. She has fallen to one knee, and stares up at Achilles.
Achilles and Penthesileia, black-figure amphora, ca. 530 BCE (British Museum, London)












Achilles, in helm and with a shield on his back, stabs Penthesilea. Penthesilea falls to her knees, staring up at Achilles. Another Greek warrior stands by, and another Amazon with patterned limbs lies on the ground.
Achilles and Penthesileia, red-figure kylix, ca. 450 BCE (Staatliche Antikensammlungen, Munich)
Achilles, nude with shield, helm, sword, and spear, pursues Penthesilea. Penthesilea wields a shield and axe and wears a tunic and wrapped headdress. She runs away, with her head turned back to look at Achilles.
Achilles and Penthesileia, red-figure krater, 5th century BCE (National Archaeological Museum, Naples)
Heracles, wearing his lion skin, lunges at an Amazon with his club. Three Amazon women fight him with spears, helms, and shields.
Heracles and Amazons, black-figure amphora, ca. 530 BCE (Metropolitan Museum, New York)
Heracles, wearing his lion skin, attacks an Amazon with a sword. Three Amazons fight him, with helms and spears.
Heracles and Amazons, black-figure amphora, ca. 520 BCE (Metropolitan Museum, New York)
Heracles, wearing his lion skin, lunges at an Amazon with his sword. 5 amazons, and one other Greek warrior, fight around him. One of the Amazons drags a wounded Amazon off the field. The Amazons fight with round shields, helms, and spears.
Heracles and Amazons, black-figure hydria, ca. 530 BCE (Staatliche Antikensammlungen, Munich)
Heracles, with the lion skin tied around him, wields a shield and sword. Three amazons with helms, shields and spears fight him.
Heracles and Amazons, black-figure amphora, ca. 520 BCE (Martin von Wagner Museum, Würzburg)



Heracles, wearing his lion skin and holding his bow and club, stands among the amazons. The amazons wear conical phrygian caps, hold axes and crescent-shaped shields, and have cross-hatched patterns on their arms and legs. Some of the Amazons ride horses.
Heracles and Amazons, red-figure krater fragment, ca. 330 BCE (Metropolitan Museum, New York)

Historical sources report that during the second half of the 5th century BCE a competition was held for the creation of statues of wounded Amazons to dedicate to the newly built Artemision of Ephesus. Although the originals are all lost, their descriptions have helped scholars to identify later copies, as well as at least three sculptural 'types' inspired to the competition entries made by Phidias, Polycleitus, and Cresilas.


An Amazon, a young woman with a tunic that exposes her left breast and part of her right. She stands with one hand up behind her head, and the other leaning on a plinth.
Wounded Amazon (Polyclitus Type), ca. 1st century CE Roman marble copy of Greek original from the 5th century BCE (Metropolitan Museum, New York)
A young Amazon woman in a tunic that leaves one of her breasts bare. She stands with one arm thrown up over her head. A sword is in a scabbard at her side, and armour is scattered by her feat.
Wounded Amazon (Mattei Types), marble statue, ca. 2nd century CE
An Amazon, a young woman wearing a tunic with one exposed breast. She stands with one arm up above her head, and with the other hand holds a rag to her stomach.
Wounded Amazon (Sosicles Type), Greek statue, 5th century BCE (Capitoline Museum, Rome)
An Amazon, holding a shield an wearing a tunic that leaves one breast bare, stumbles forward, falling as if hit from behind.
Wounded Amazon, relief, 2nd century CE (Archaeological Museum, Piraeus)

The theme of the slain Amazons was also employed by the Pergamene king Attalos I in his triumphal monuments. To commemorate his victory over the Galatians, a tribe of Gauls, he commissioned a series of smaller-than-life statues, poignantly placed on the Acropolis of Athens, representing the mythical victories of the Greeks against the Giants, the Amazons, the Persians, and the Galatians themselves.


Four statues of wounded figures lying on the ground: an Amazon, a Giant, a Persian, and a Galatian
Wounded figure, marble statues, 2nd century CE (Farnese Collection, Naples)

Media Attributions and Footnotes

Media Attributions

  1. "Pollution" here refers to the Greek concept of miasma, the idea that death defiles someone or has the capacity to make surrounding people and places impure. For further explanation, see Mythology Unbound.
  2. For more on the historical Amazons, see the work of Adrienne Mayor, in particular her 2016 book "The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women across the Ancient World."
  3. The Ancient Greeks used "India" to refer generally to the people south-east of the Himalayas, or the peoples of the Indus River Valley.
  4. Amazon' can be translated as "breastless," but this is likely only a folk etymology, and not the true historical origin of the word. Nonetheless, some Greeks took this folk etymology to mean that the Amazons removed their right breast in order to more effectively draw back a bow.
  5. This epithet for Artemis may be a reference to her worship at Tauris, or to an association with bulls (taurus).
  6. For a detailed description of the scenes on the western metopes of the Parthenon see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metopes_of_the_Parthenon


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