Whoosh! Issue 12 - September 1997


IAXS Research Project No. 304
By Robin Reed
Copyright © 1997 held by author
1535 words

Classical Greece Versus Television (01-02)
The Amazon Homeland (03-06)
Amazon Government (07-09)
Amazon Customs (10-12)
Amazon Warfare (13-15)
Amazon Designations (16)
Conclusion (17)

Amazon Portrayal In Xena: Warrior Princess

Classical Greece Versus Television

In a catfight, I know who *I'm* betting on!

Thena, Warrior Goddess, meets Xena, Warrior Princess, on the sitcom SOMETHING SO RIGHT.

[01] Throughout history the supposed myth of the Amazons has captured and spurred the imagination of both men and women. This fascination is a reason in part for the popularity of the internationally syndicated television show, Xena: Warrior Princess. This article will compare the televised portrayal of the Amazons with that of the Greek classical tradition which has survived through literature, art, and archeology.

[02] There are several areas of representation in which there are obvious differences:

The Amazon Homeland

You can e-mail the King of Bulgaria.  Really!

Bulgaria, mythical land of Amazons and factual land of superb women's choirs.

[03] In Xena: Warrior Princess, the Amazon homeland appears to be located along the Thracian border, which would roughly equate to the area of modern Bulgaria. This representation works well with the wandering nature of our favorite woman warrior and her bard, but it does not necessarily present the most widely-held belief as to the conjectured classical location for the Amazons. This Thracian theory is perhaps based upon the journey of Jason and the Argonauts and the belief that when they sailed through the Hellespont that they turned to their left and followed the coastline up to the region now known as Bulgaria.

[04] Academic researchers present three other theories as to where the original homeland was located. The first matter to address in looking at these theories is to identify the specific time frame of the Amazons that are being represented. Although anachronism is alive and well in Xena: Warrior Princess, due to the premise that Xena is functioning most often with prominent figures from Greek Mythology and Mycenaean Greece, one could reasonably conclude that the time period would relate roughly to 1200 BCE [Before the Common Era]. This precludes the first theory, which places a tribe of Amazons in Libya at a date roughly 500 years earlier than that portrayed in Xena: Warrior Princess.

[05] The theory that places the Amazons along the Don River, just north of the Crimea Peninsula, can also be excluded based upon the documentation and archaeological findings that place the Scythian empire's origin date at around 700 BCE. This theory is one of two that receives the most credibility based upon the recent discoveries of burial tombs containing the bodies of women warriors.

[06] The other two theories are both from the time frame in which we can conclude that Xena: Warrior Princess is set. These two theories are based upon geographical comments that have been passed down to us from the Hellenic Greek historians and poets. The Thermodon River theory places the homeland of the Amazons along the river Thermodon in Northeastern Turkey. Although this is the second of the two most credible theories, it does not set well within the Xenaverse due to the distance between this region and Greece.

Amazon Government

Whoa!  These x-ray specs really work!

Gabrielle becomes queen of the Amazons.

[07] The next varying issue is the portrayal of the governmental functions of the Amazons. In Xena: Warrior Princess there is only one queen, whose authority is ultimate. In the classical presentation, the Amazons were ruled by two queens. One queen was in charge of the military aspect of waging war and of defending the homeland. The second queen was in charge of domestic affairs. She was tasked with seeing that the homeland was run with a firm hand, that the well-being of her fellow Amazons, such as shelter and food, was available.

[08] One of the most important components of the classical Amazon culture was their emphasis on justice. This aspect is addressed by the show, though, probably without the producers and writers conscious intent. Queen Melosa, in the episode HOOVES AND HARLOTS (#10) demands that justice is served regarding Terreis' death. The classical Amazons placed a high value on the pursuit of justice. They named their capital city, Themiscrya, after the Goddess Themis, who represented wisdom, order and justice.

[09] It is curious that The Powers That Be chose to use a mask as the means of identifying the queen of the Amazons in Xena: Warrior Princess. In a classical context, the queen of the Amazons was identified by a golden girdle that she wore around her waist, supposedly given to her by either Ares or Artemis.

Amazon Customs

Let's twist again, like we did last summer!

Amazon customs seem to involve a lot of dancing.

[10] The third illustration is that which deals with specific customs. A strikingly different custom is in the apparel. Obviously, in Xena: Warrior Princess, the importance of drawing in certain fans to the show has caused the dress code of the Amazons to be somewhat lacking in coverage. According to classical portrayal, the Amazon dress ranged from a short thin tunic with one or both breasts bare (the television censors would love this) to trousers, a woolen shirt and a cloak with ankle-high, fur-topped boots of untanned leather with an upturned toe for walking in snow. They were also known to wear fillets in their hair for color. It seems from several varied documents that the Amazons loved the splash of color -- from the fillets in their hair to the rainbow-colored corset that Penthesilea wore when she faced Achilles at Troy.

[11] Also, the representation of the Amazons in Xena: Warrior Princess, except for the earlier Amazon movie in the Hercules series, Hercules and the Amazon Women (Bill L. Norton, 1994), the television series is somewhat vague as to their personal relationships. Ephiny and Phantes do have a child together, but other than that, the whole issue is subtly avoided. In the classical references there are numerous remarks about the Amazon's hatred of men, but at least on two accounts Amazon queens were obviously involved with men, Hercules being one, in the traditional sense of men and women.

[12] There were also several referrals to the Amazon custom of requiring the death of three enemies before a warrior could participate in the annual ceremony. Those women who met the requirements would journey outside their homeland to spend a short amount of time with a neighboring tribe to breed with the men. If the resulting child was male, he was either returned to his father's tribe or he was left for dead on a hillside. A female child would remain in the Amazon village and grow to be a future Amazon.

Amazon Warfare

Which one is in possession of the most dangerous weapon?

A favourite Amazon strategy is to fire arrows from high up in trees.

[13] The next area that shows some distinction is the portrayal of the Amazon style of warfare. In Xena: Warrior Princess, the Amazons use of the trees is paramount to their ability to remain hidden and to surprise their quarry. I have found no documentation that the classical Amazons used trees for anything more than a source for several of their weapons.

[14] The most important method that the Amazons used to defeat their enemies was one that is still deadly and quite difficult to defend against today, using the enemy's arrogance against them. The Amazons would often fake a retreat, only to turn together at a precise moment and attack the disarrayed forces, who, seeing the retreating women, had broken rank and could not provide a solid front to the advancing women.

[15] The choice of weapons is also a source of difference. The use of bows and arrows is common in both portrayals, as is the sword and its accompanying scabbard. Unfortunately, the use of the staff is not documented in the classical records and the crossbow had not been invented. The most interesting weapon difference is that of the battle axe, also known as the labrys, or pennis. The most common weapon associated with the Amazons in their portrayal throughout history has been the labrys, which the modern Lesbians have taken as a symbol of their strength and unity. In Xena: Warrior Princess the labrys has no presence.

Amazon Designations

[16] The last area of representation that shows a distinct difference between the world of Xena: Warrior Princess and that of the classical Amazons is the use of proper names. In Xena: Warrior Princess the show often uses names associated with Greek Mythology and History -- Hercules, Pandora, Zeus, Aphrodite, Hera, Homer, Troy, Hector, Helen, Ares, Artemis, Greeks, Amazons, etc. However, where the Amazons are concerned, the proper names of known Amazons are not used. Hippolyta [however, Hippolyta was used in Hercules and the Amazon Women], Antiope, Penthesilea, Mysia, Mitylene, Smyrna, Molpadia, Oreithyia, etc. are not present and I have often wondered why the disregard for portraying these individuals in the story lines of Xena.


And don't come back to this village with that 'AMWAY' stuff again!

Amazons in all their glory.

[17] The Xenaverse is one that we have all grown to love and this article is not to ridicule or to demand that the show accurately portray the Amazons as they appeared in history. The anachronism of Xena is a given feature that allows the growth of the episodes and provide future story lines that the audience can relate to as they hear a familiar name. At least the Amazons have made an appearance -- there has been many instances when they have been passed over or simply ignored.

Return to Top Return to Index

Episode Guide FAQ Air Dates Encyclopedia Xenaica Membership Submission Back Issues