Archaeologists have been digging up thousands of graves of people called Scythians by the Greeks. They turn out to be people whose women fought, hunted, rode horses, used bows and arrows, just like the men.
Pergamon, a prosperous city in western Anatolia, was fabled to have been founded by Hercules' son. Like many Hellenistic cities populated by Greeks who intermarried with indigenous people, Pergamon after Alexander the Great's death (323 B.C.) had evolved a hybrid of democracy and Persian-influenced monarchy.
We know their names: Hippolyta, Antiope, Thessalia. But they were long thought to be just travelers' tales or products of the Greek storytelling imagination. A lot of scholars still argue that. But archaeology has now proven without a doubt that there really were women fitting the description that the Greeks gave us of Amazons and warrior women.
The Greeks first identified the Amazons ethnographically, as a nation of men and women distinguished by something outstanding in their gender relations. Later, any ambivalence or anxiety that knowledge of this alternative gender-neutral culture evoked among Greeks was played out in their mythic narratives about martial women.
The real Amazons were long believed to be purely imaginary. They were the mythical warrior women who were the archenemies of the ancient Greeks. Every Greek hero or champion, from Hercules to Theseus and Achilles, had to prove his mettle by fighting a powerful warrior queen.
I think that the Greeks were extremely ambivalent about the stories of Amazons: they found them both thrilling and rather daunting at the same time.
The Amazons were notorious for their freedom: their sexual freedom, their freedom to hunt, to be outdoors, to go to war; and the Greeks, both men and women alike, were fascinated by these stories. Maybe it was a safe way to explore the idea of women who could be equals of men.
The nomads' egalitarian lifestyle astonished the Greeks, who kept their own women indoors weaving and minding children. The exotic Scythian lifestyle fueled the Greek imagination and led to an outpouring of myths about fierce Amazons, 'the equals of men.'
From about 700 B.C. to A.D. 500, the vast territory of Scythia, stretching from the Black Sea to China, was home to diverse but culturally related nomads. Known as Scythians to Greeks, Saka to the Persians, and Xiongnu to the Chinese, the steppe tribes were masters of horses and archery.
Hollywood grew to be the most flourishing factory of popular mythology since the Greeks.