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Myths & mysteries: Legends of the Amazon

Updated August 31, 2013
Amazon myth
Amazon myth

WE often read mythical stories of fearless women warriors — a tribe of strong, warlike women who lived in a land which they ruled by their own laws; kingdoms where warrior queens had their own armies and took on battles with the armies of men.

These epics that go back to ancient times, were written by scholars and poets who spoke of women who were experts in certain weaponry, like shooting arrows, sword fighting and especially the art of targeting their enemy with a javelin. Stories go back many millennia, as far back as The Bronze Age around the 27th century BCE. At that time the warrior queens and princesses are depicted as goddesses, as many statues and carvings from ancient Greece and other civilisations have been found showing a female form with a warlike costume or native outfit with a weapon in her hand.

Are these just isolated cases of women who were princesses who learned the art of war and weaponry to fight with male soldiers to defend their land or did they come from a long line of warrior tribes and lands ruled only by women? A land where men were either slaves or even barred from entry? Can these legends of the “Amazon” be real?

Where the word came from is a mystery too. The only clue is that it could have been derived from the Iranian term, “ha-mazan”, meaning warriors. But who gave them this name originally and where did they actually come from?

Moreover what was the reason for a culture in which only women ruled, worked and even fought wars instead of men? The Greek philosopher and historian, Strabo wrote, “The Amazons spend their time isolated from men occupying themselves with ploughing and sowing, planting and taking their herds to pasture, and especially in breeding horses. The more courageous among them engaged in hunting on horseback and exercise martial arts.”

He further adds that they make further use of the axe and wear a light bag on their arm. “They prepare helmets, clothing and waist belts from animal skin.” For the continuation of their race, he states that every spring, these women climb the mountains and cross over to the Gagarians, a native tribe in Albania and marry the men. The sons were left to the men but the daughters were kept by the women who raised them to be Amazon women.

How they chose their queens and who won the title of princesses still remains shrouded in mystery as the entire legend. Nevertheless, there is quite a bit of recorded history that speaks of warrior races of women who were among the nomadic tribes originating from Persia and then being a part of huge battles in the entire region occupying Syria, Egypt and a large part of the Middle East, including the sub-continent.

But if we turn the pages of history to more recent times than ancient Greece, there is also evidence that the Amazons after assisting and fighting many battles settled down to ruling places in Albania, not just with the entire population being women but where the society was run by men and women, with women being a part of the infantry and fighting battles side by side with male soldiers. This could have been part of their original tradition when the Amazon woman was well-trained in warfare.

In an article ‘Amazons: legends in history, fearless women warriors in life and lore’ by Farid Alakbarli, has tried to prove with quite a bit of historical evidence that this unique tribe of women were from Azerbaijan. There is also evidence in their local history that they fought against the Roman invaders during the first century BC, when they tried to invade Albania. In later years, Iranian and Azerbaijani historical manuscripts and relics depict women fighting on horseback around 11th century AD.

Kitabi-Dada Gorgud is an epic tale written around those times and speaks of Turkish women armed in Amazonian attire. It is related how the wife of the King Dirse Khan of Oghuz went to look for her son who had been captured with 40 woman soldiers armed on fast-footed horses and how this queen of Oghuz led these Amazons and brought her son back. Then there is the mention of Queen Myrine who led her warrior maidens to fight against Libya and other parts. Thus the legends of the Amazon, warrior queens still prevail as a large part of Azerbaijani folklore.

Even today there is a festival around these regions in which women fighters battle as a show of strength devoted to the Amazons. And last, but not the least, writers claim that quite a few of the Albanians and Azerbaijanis are descendants of these fearless maidens of war. But even with ancient manuscripts and legends, it is a bit difficult to accept the fact that kingdoms were not only ruled but in ancient times consisted of only women putting men “on the backseat”, as one might say.