Whoosh! Issue 12 - September 1997


IAXS Research Project #332
By Donna Plourd
Copyright © 1997 held by author
1757 words

WEAPONS (08-11)
CULTURE (12-13)
POLITICS (14-16)
GOOD JOB! (18-19)

Amazons: Beyond Fiction Into Existence

If I could see where I was going, I'd be a real threat!

The uniform is unmistakable.


[01] So, you think that Amazons were simply the creation of some feisty dominatrix that wickedly influenced Sam Raimi, Robert Tapert, and the writers? Think again. Few seem to realize that the Amazons, once thought to be colorful legends, have like the phoenix arisen from the ashes of myth into factual existence!

[02] The Amazons I refer to are the women warriors who existed throughout history, versus the exclusive group in Greek drama. They might not have been the well-organized band of leather clad females who ruled their own nation, as we have seen on episodes of Xena: Warrior Princess, but the evidence of women warriors and the areas where they dwelled are quickly being discovered and excavated. You might be surprised at the differences and similarities between Amazons of historical reality and Xena's version of the Amazon Nation.

Looking for Amazons

'Is Bret lurking in the underbrush again?'...'Yeah, I'll get him!'

Gabrielle and Eponin, sans bird hats.

[03] Do you see leather-everything and buckled wrist bands in your mind's-eye when you picture an Amazon warrior? Do not forget that whole Pebble's big hair thing! And do not be too disappointed. Research has yet to find anything to discredit such fashion faux pas, I mean 'style statements', and thankfully nothing to support it.

[04] In 1926, Emanuel Kanter wrote a book on the Amazon culture, which explained that Amazons were a historical reality that was yet to be discovered, much like the pygmies had been dismissed as legend until they were found alive and flourishing. As early as 1972, Time magazine reported on findings of the Scythian culture which included evidence of female warriors who fought aside the men. A leading anthropologist, Jeannine Davis-Kimball, from The Center for the Study of Eurasian Nomads, has recently reported uncovered grave sites provide significant evidence of women warriors existence (sorry, no chakrams were found attached by leather thongs on these ancient fighters). No one claims these women are proof of Greek mythical characters, but it might have influenced and embellished stories that are so well known.

All Types of Amazons

Hey, you!  I didn't say 'Simone Says'!

Gabrielle's champion, Xena, is triumphant.

[05] So what does this have to do with Gabrielle and her newly acquired nation? If these women had never existed it is unlikely we would have such a strong sense of kinship with Ephiny's sisters of war. Let us see just how Xena: Warrior Princess' Amazons compare to Amazons of reality.

[06] First, there is the issue of where and when. Gabrielle's group is somewhere in the area surrounding Greece sometime before the rise of the Roman empire. (And why is it always just two days ride from anywhere, in fan-fiction?) Most of the anthropology findings have been in areas of the now fallen Soviet Union, nations aligning the Black Sea and China-Mongolia regions. Kentor (1926) speculated that three primary groups of Amazons existed: Scythian, Libyan, and African. Female warrior societies are found throughout these areas from 300 B.C. and earlier.

[07] The Raimi/Tapert version of the Amazon is visually alluring with itsy-bitsy outfits, that strategically do not shift when engaged in combat, worn by women of every stature and shape, all with bodies of aerobics instructors, and never is a word uttered about lack of hygiene. The reality is a bit less, well, sexy. Given the geographical locations and terrains the women were probably of various shapes and sizes. Yet, the harsh seasons, unstable rainfall without means to capture it, and cultural diets should have kept women from smelling Irish-spring fresh on a daily basis nor were they probably able to maintain that copper tone tan with a few bazillion wrinkles (not to mention where bread and cheese ends up on a woman, might as well sit on it). Genetically, the females had to be sized according to regions and ethnicity, which for many areas meant wide versus tall. So far, no anthropologist has reported the discovery of Bic razors or hair bleach -- so much for that 'I just stepped out of the make-up trailer' look.


If I can beat that Velasca chick, I can beat you!

Xena and Melosa duel with chobos.

[08] As for the weapons of old, sadly not one staff has been dug up to date, but those fans of the Xena Scrolls are still keeping a vigil. Melosa's chobos, Xena's solid steel blades, and repelling ropes for tree use are unique to the show's weapons of choice. Grave sites have found iron swords and daggers, bronze arrowheads, and whetstones (that rock that Xena is forever sharpening her round-killing thing and blades with).

[09] Evidence of bowed legs from a life on horseback, broken bones and mortal wounds from bent arrowheads supports the notion of female warriors as these women were buried in the traditional style of a warrior. Southern Ukraine sights have found lances, bows and arrows, and other ornaments buried with the female.

[10] The Scythian culture was known for its lavish taste for gold, thus it would seem that Gabrielle's brightly-colored feathers and wooden mask means she got tricked or Xena: Warrior Princess' Amazons are thrifty (One never knows when you might have to rebuild an entire village after a goddess comes to visit and goes berserk).

[11] Battle garb of the endearing Velasca, with Cher headband and net stocking in odd places, is well worn but hardly what you would call essential for every woman warrior (thank the gods). It is suggested the females wore the same battle dress as the men with armor and helmets. If a woman wore heavy armor during a fight she would have to be considerably strong to stay alive (remember bronze is used for weapons, not earrings, for a reason), thus it seems logical ancient Amazons where muscular out of pure necessity.


[12] Various differences between the previous three main groups mentioned exist which help to separate them. A particularly interesting practice of the Scythian culture was the use of hemp. They did not make clothes from it, they inhaled it! It was important enough for the dead to be buried with their own stash, stored in bronze vessels aside well-detailed coffins. Imagine if they had Gabrielle leave an extra large jug for Xena (she is a big girl after all) when they burnt her sarcophagus. In addition, the show ends with Solari doing her best Spicolli.

[13] African Amazons are possibly related to Africa's "Stork people" (name used due to their tendency to stand with one leg bent and foot resting on the opposite knee). These tribes are known to be an average of 7 feet tall. They are suspected to be responsible for the exaggerated height Amazons are commonly known for. Though another theory suggests the stories of great height are due to the riding of horses in battle, which would have been new to the ancient Greeks since they had not yet seen the domesticated horse. The same theory is thought to explain the legends of Centaurs, who might have been northern barbarians who rode and fought on horseback.


I get reeeeaaaallll cranky if I don't get my fiber!

Melosa, Queen of the Amazons.

[14] Queen Melosa of the Amazon Nation would be the equivalent to a Chieftain who lead the groups domestic affairs, where as Epinon or Ephiny would have been Melosa's counterpart as Chieftain in charge of the military actions. Matriarchal societies of Amazons, devoid of any men, were run by two leaders in order to have a more even power structure.

[15] African Amazons might have been the only group that had men within the society, as they were large enough to dominate a smaller-statured male who took up the domesticated positions. I have strong feeling Joxer might have made a chocolate-chip cookie or, at least, looked much more tolerable in an apron without that bucket on his head.

[16] Other Amazon groups were likely to have followed the Scythian way, that is to reside with husbands for only three months out of the year. As in any society there were surely women who preferred solely the company of other women, though they too might have taken action to maintain the population.

A Missing Breast?

[17] Literature of historians suggest Amazons highly prized the ability to reproduce and suckle the child, therefore the notion of females having the left breast removed is most likely mythical. Greco-Roman art supports this, as not one female Amazon portrayed is missing a breast. Gabrielle's green sports bra might have been the order of the day (oh horrors!) as one could use such a top to tightly bind the breast in order to keep them from interfering with the bow.

Good Job!

That Xena *is* a big girl!

Three Amazon Queens, no waiting.

[18] Xena: Warrior Princess producers have done a great job in combating the previous stereotype of a female collective consisting of eight foot tall, man-eating crazed sirens that sought to eradicate men from the face of the earth. Historically, they are not accurate but when do they ever care about such things? Besides, who would like to think fond thoughts of sweaty, armor clad warriors with clanging armor, helmet hair, and who are desperately in need of a bath and a tampon (OK, do not answer that).

[19] The Amazon Nation of Xena: Warrior Princess is appealing and encourages us all to cheer on the women we hope exist within ourselves. Even today, the Amazon ideal is alive and takes many shapes -- the military, law enforcement, and even those who use their minds as weapons to combat the evil in the world.


[20] I do not claim to be an expert. I am merely a woman with a little education who loves the topic and likes to do research. If you disagree, dislike, or feel that I am in error -- that is fine with me, but be nice about it. (Hey- I have seen some of the letters that are written to page authors -- woo, brutal!) Additional information is welcomed! Comments welcome.


[21] As for those that care to know more, here is a list of resources I have used to gather Amazon information.

Center For Eurasian Nomads
1607 Walnut Street Berkeley, CA 94709 or call for new web site location, 510-549-3708

Kentor, E. (1926). The Amazons. Chicago: John F. Higgins Press. (out of print- see amazon.com for search of copy)

Time, January 17, 1972, p.36- "Tracking the Scythians."

Amazon Women Warriors in Ancient History- web site.

Various libraries and bookstores: under myths, women's studies, and/or warfare.

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