Wonder Woman And The Myth Of The Mighty Amazons

Wonder Woman And The Myth Of The Mighty Amazons

We are searching data for your request:

Forums and discussions:
Manuals and reference books:
Data from registers:
Wait the end of the search in all databases.
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.

The names Thessalia, Hippolyta, Antiope, and even Princess Diana of Themyscira, better known as Wonder Woman are not unknown, even though up until recently only the romantics believed in their existence. They are Amazons, women warriors who were given mythological immortality by the Greeks. Every Greek warrior, from Hercules on down, had to prove his mettle by going up against an Amazon and emerging victorious from the battle. It was a rite of passage. But no one really believed they ever really existed. Until now.

Battle of the Amazons by Peter Paul Rubens (1617) Web Gallery of Art

Adrienne Mayor, in her book, The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women across the Ancient World , has drawn attention to recent archaeological discoveries that seem to prove, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that something like Amazons existed and may have been every bit as fierce as their reputations suggested. “ As Princess Diana of Themyscira, Wonder Woman is of Amazonian blue-blood. Formed from clay by her mother, Queen Hippolyta, and given life by the breath of Aphrodite, she is a demi-god. The gifts she receives from the gods of the Greek pantheon explain her superhero powers, which become evident when she transforms into Wonder Woman…Overwhelming evidence now shows that the Amazon traditions of the Greeks and other ancient societies derived in part from historical facts.”

Amazons and Scythians, by Otto van Veen, (pre 1629) Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna ( Public Domain)

Scythian Burial Mounds

While excavating Scythian burial mounds , archaeologists routinely uncovered evidence of Kurgans—nomadic, horse-centered warriors—including human bones found from the Black Sea to the steppes of Mongolia. To be able to fight from horseback, a unique weapon technology is required. Bows have to be shorter and more powerful in order to shoot arrows on the run over the head of one’s mount. Such bows and arrows are regularly found in burial mounds. It was just assumed that their owners were male warriors. But now the science of DNA testing has become a regular tool in the archaeologist's arsenal, and, as it turns out, at least one third of the bodies found were those of women warriors.

Riding Amazon in Scythian costume, Attic red-figure vase, c. 420 BC, Staatliche Antikensammlungen, Munich

On horseback, a trained female warrior can be just as deadly as a male warrior, and maybe even prove to be a little faster and more maneuverable, due to the lighter weight the horse has to carry.

Wonder Woman’s Surprising Origins

Clad in a golden tiara, red bustier, knee-high boots and a star-spangled skirt, Wonder Woman first bounded onto the comic book pages in the fall of 1941 in a back-up story for 𠇊ll Star Comics #8.” From the comic’s very first words, it was clear that this new superhero would be asked to represent her gender in a way that didn’t apply to male counterparts such as Superman and Batman. 𠇊t last, in a world torn by the hatreds and wars of men, appears a woman to whom the problems and feats of men are mere child’s play,” trumpeted the comic’s introduction.

Wonder Woman wasn’t the first female comic book hero, but she quickly proved to be the most popular after appearing on the cover of the debut issue of “Sensation Comics” in January 1942. That summer it was revealed that Wonder Woman’s creator was a most unlikely figure—Harvard-educated psychologist William Moulton Marston, who is often credited as the inventor of the lie-detector test.

Marston believed women were mentally stronger than men and would come to rule the United States𠅊lbeit on a lengthy timeline. “The next 100 years will see the beginning of an American matriarchy𠅊 nation of Amazons in the psychological rather than physical sense,” Marston told the Harvard Club of New York in 1937, according to an Associated Press report. “In 500 years, there will be a serious sex battle. And in 1,000 years, women definitely will rule this country.” The New York Times reflected the gender roles of the time by printing in a sub-headline that Marston thought 𠇋ored wives will start within next 100 years to take over nation.”

Marston saw the need for a strong female superhero. “Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, power,” he wrote. “The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.” Marston thought Wonder Woman needed to be not just entertaining, but a role model as well. “‘Wonder Woman’ was conceived by Dr. Marston to set up a standard among children and young people of strong, free, courageous womanhood to combat the idea that women are inferior to men, and to inspire girls to self-confidence and achievement in athletics, occupations and professions monopolized by men,” read the 1942 press release announcing Marston as the comic’s creator.

With an origin story drawn from Marston’s knowledge of feminist utopian fiction, Wonder Woman was a trained Amazon warrior sculpted out of clay by her mother who lived free from men on the all-female Paradise Island until an American pilot, Steve Trevor, washed ashore after a plane crash. Reflecting Marston’s role in developing the lie detector, Wonder Woman wielded a “Lasso of Truth” that compelled veracity along with a pair of bullet-repelling bracelets. Her introduction coincided with the entry of the United States into World War II, and her pin-up girl looks and Rosie the Riveter spirit captured the mood of the country as she led Marines into battle against the Japanese and sat astride a white horse at the head of a cavalry charge against Nazi machine gunners.

𠇏rankly, Wonder Woman is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should, I believe, rule the world,” Marston wrote. Indeed, a 1943 issue had Wonder Woman winning a presidential election over the Man’s World Party𠅊lbeit 1,000 years in the future as Marston had predicted.

Controversy grew around Wonder Woman due to her skimpy outfits and her particular proclivity for being tied or chained up in nearly every story. As Harvard historian Jill Lepore writes in her book “The Secret History of Wonder Woman,” this was no accident. From his days as a Harvard undergraduate before women had the right to vote, Marston had sympathized with suffragists and birth-control advocates such as Margaret Sanger who had symbolically used chains to represent American patriarchy. Marston thought so highly of Sanger that in 1937 he placed her ahead of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and behind only Henry Ford in their contributions to humanity. Lepore suggests the chains could have also been tied to Marston’s bondage fantasies. “The secret of woman’s allure,” Marston said in response to one objection of Wonder Woman’s constant binding, is that “women enjoy submission�ing bound.”

Marston’s response may have been rooted in his liberal sexual views for the inventor of the lie-detector test lived quite a big lie of his own. Marston had married his childhood sweetheart, Elizabeth Holloway, in 1915, and a decade later the psychology professor fell in love with one of his students, Olive Byrne, who was also Sanger’s niece. Byrne’s mother, Ethel, had opened the first birth-control clinic in the United States with Sanger, and she nearly died in prison from a hunger strike after her 1917 arrest for illegal distribution of contraception. Marston, Holloway and Olive Byrne all lived together under the same roof in a polyamorous relationship with the cover story that Byrne, who penned an advice column for housewives in the Family Circle magazine in spite of her unconventional lifestyle, was a widowed sister-in-law. Marston fathered two children with both women. Byrne couldn’t wear a wedding ring, but as Lepore notes, she did wear a pair of close-fitting, wide-banded bracelets on her wrists, which inspired those worn by Wonder Woman.

When women returned to more traditional roles after the end of World War II, so did Wonder Woman, particularly after Marston’s death in 1947. The lovestruck superhero longed for marriage as she took jobs as a model and babysitter. DC Comics replaced women’s history sidebars in the comic book with wedding advice.

Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman in the television series.

(Credit: ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images)

The growing women’s rights movement of the 1960s reinvigorated Wonder Woman as a feminist icon. She was the cover girl on the first regular issue of Ms. magazine in 1972 and became a television star with both kids and adults in the 1970s with the release of a prime-time, live-action show starring Lynda Carter and the Saturday morning “Super Friends” cartoon.

Although gender relations have changed a great deal in the 75 years since Wonder Woman’s debut, the controversy surrounding the use of a scantily clad female as a role model hasn’t. On October 21, 2016, the United Nations named Wonder Woman an “honorary ambassador for the empowerment of women and girls.” The honor was short-lived, however, as the United Nations stripped her of the title less than two months later due to a public backlash. An online petition that gained 45,000 signatures objected to “using a character with an overtly sexualized image at a time when the headline news in the world is the objectification of women and girls.” 

Wonder Woman And The Myth Of The Mighty Amazons - History


IAXS Research Project No. 326
By Julie Ruffell
Copyright © 1997 held by author
2513 words

Author's Note: Although Amazons have spread through many cultures, they originated from Greek myth. Xena also was inspired from the Greek world, so due to that, the following Amazons discussed are only from Greek myth. I also refer to Hercules as Herakles, because Herakles was his Greek name.

Graphic Editor's Note: While looking for pictures that would best illustrate this particular article, I found a very interesting site dedicated to serious scholastic study of Amazons. The pictures used in this article are by kind permission of Mag. Gerhard Poellauer, and readers are invited to visit her site at: [ Mysteries of Ancient History and Archaeology ].

Brave Women Warriors Of Greek Myth:
An Amazon Roster


[01] The word Amazon is of unknown origin, however a folk etymology popped up which explained the word as being a deriviative of the preface "a-", meaning "without", followed by "mazos", meaning "breast". This folk etymology was supported by the folktale that Amazons cut off one breast to facilitate archery. However, this is most likely a story designed to discourage women from taking up archery. This speculation is supported by even the most casual observation of modern day female archers who are more than capable of using the bow with all breasts intact.

[02] Historically, Amazons were portrayed as beautiful women in Amazonomachies, which was an artform showing battles between the Amazons and Greeks. Amazons were trained to use all weapons and especially in single combat. They were honorable, courageous, brave and represented rebellion against sexism. Their tales spread quickly and soon stories of the Amazons were everywhere, including Africa, Asia, Europe, South America (the Amazon River was named after the female warriors), and North America in the mid-1900s with the comic book hero, Wonder Woman. The following is a list of eighty-two Amazons from Greek myth.


[03] Aello was one of Hippolyte's Amazons. She was the first to attack Herakles when he came for Hippolyte's girdle. Unfortunately, Herakles now wore the lion skin from his first labor, making him invulnerable. Aello could not kill Herakles and was killed herself. Her name means, "Whirlwind."

[04] Ainia was an Amazon who was the enemy of Achilles. Due to this, she fought with Penthesilea at Troy, against Achilles. Her name means, "Swiftness."

[05] Ainippe was one of the many Amazons who went after Herakles' captains, after Hippolyte was killed, in order to avenge their Queen's death. Her name means, "Swift Mare."

[06] Alcibie fought with Penthesilea at Troy.

[07] Alcinoe was an Amazon under Andromache. Her name means, "Mighty Wisdom."

[08] Alcippe was one of Hippolyte's Amazons. She was the ninth and last Amazon to die by Herakles' hand in single combat. After her death, the Amazons fought in force. Her name means, "Powerful Mare."

[09] Alkaia was one of Queen Andromache's Amazon generals. Her name means, "Mighty One."

[10] Amynomene was an Amazon serving under Orithia in the Attic War. Her name means, "Blameless Defender."

[11] Anaea was an Amazon conqueror from the Thermodontine Amazons. She named a city after herself and her tomb lies there.

[12] Anaxilea was an Amazon whose name was one of royalty. She was believed to be of royal blood.

[13] Androdameia was an Amazon who fought in the Attic War. Her name means, "Subduer of Men."

[14] Andromache was an Amazon Queen. Her name means, "Man Fighter."

Herakles fighting against the Amazon Andromache.

[15] Andromeda served Amazon Queen Andromache. Her name means, "Ruler of Men."

[16] Antandre fought with Penthesilea at Troy. Her name means, "Preceding Men."

[17] Antianara was the Amazon Queen of the Thermodon after Penthesilea was killed at Troy.

[18] Antianeira was an Amazon in the Attic War. Dueled with Theseus in single combat.

[19] Antibrote was one of the twelve Amazons who helped Penthesilea temporarily liberate Troy.

[20] Antimache served under Andromache. Her name means, "Confronting Warrior."

[21] Antimachos was an Amazon who fought in the Attic War.

[22] Antiope was an Amazon Queen when Theseus attacked. When she was defeated, she married Theseus and had his son, Hippolytus (named after Queen Hippolyte). In one tale, Antiope survived the battle between the Amazons and Theseus, only to be betrayed by the Athenian king, who married another. Antiope attacked the day of the wedding with her Amazons. She had planned to massacre the guests. It took Theseus, his companions and the invincible Herakles to kill her. Her name means, "Confronting Moon."

[23] Antiopeia was an Amazon archer in the Attic War.

[24] Areto was an Amazon who went with Pantariste to kill the captains and soldiers of Herakles to avenge the murder of Hippolyte. The Amazons won the battle. Her name means, "Unspeakable."

[25] Areximacha was an Amazon under Andromache.

[26] Aristomache was an Amazon who fought Mounichos in the Attic War. Her name means, "Best of Warriors."

[27] Asteria was named for the Titan mother of Hecate. She was the sixth slain by Herakles in single combat when he came for Hippolyte's girdle. Even though the Amazons knew he was invulnerable, they still chose to fight bravely, challenging him one by one [Editor's note: Just like all the bad do in X:WP and H:TLJ, they always go at the hero one at a time!]. Her name means, "Of the Sky."

An Amazon carrying an injured comrade from the battlefield.

[28] Bremusa was an Amazon who was one of Penthesilea's twelve companions at Troy, where she died. Her name means, "Raging Female."

[29] Celaneo was an Amazon under Hippolyte whose best weapon was a spear. She fought with Euryhe and Phoebe, always standing shoulder to shoulder in combat. They were killed by Herakles.

[30] Clete (or Cleite) was an Amazon Queen, sailing to join Penthesilea at Troy, when she was blown off course. She landed in Italy and founded the city of Clete. Her name means, "The Invoked."

[31] Clyemne was an Amazon at the Attic war who fought both Theseus and Phaleros in single combat. Her name means, "Famous Might."

[32] Deianeira was the fifth Amazon killed by Herakles in single combat, during his ninth labor. Her name means, "Strings Together Spoils."

[33] Deinomache was an Amazon in the Attic War. Her name means, "Terrible Warrior."

[34] Derimacheia was one of the twelve Amazon companions of Penthesilea at Troy.

[25] Derinoe was an Amazon who fought for Penthesilea at Troy. Killed Laogonus in single combat.

[36] Doris was an Amazon named for a sea-goddess. She was a spear-woman in the Attic War. Her name means, "Bountiful."

[37] Echephyle fought Eudorus in single combat in the Attic War. Her name means, "Chief Defender."

[38] Eriobea was an Amazon who served under Hippolyte. She was the fourth killed by Herakles in single combat.

[39] Eumache was an Amazon in the Attic War, who once disarmed and out of arrows, fought with a stone. Her name means, "Good Fighter."

[40] Eurybe was an Amazon who was handy with a spear. She always fought in an unbeatable pattern with Phoebe and Celaneo. Unfortunately, they were killed by Herakles, when their spears broke against the lion's skin from his first labor. They were killed with one sword stroke. Her name means, "Grand Strength."

[41] Euryleia fought in the Attic War. Her name means, "Woman Wanderer."

[42] Harmothoe was an Amazon who was one of Penthesilea's twelve companions. Her name means, "Sharp Nail."

[43] Hipp was an Amazon Queen. She worked together with another Amazon Queen (Marpesia) and founded the cities, Ephesus, Smyrna, Cyrene and Myrine. Hipp also made a temple to Artemis in Ephesus that remains one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Her name means, "Horse."

The fortress of the Amazons -- in this case, probably Themiskyra.

[44] Hippolyte was an Amazon Queen. Daughter of Otrera and Ares, God of War. Herakles' ninth labor was to take Hippolyte's war girdle (a gift from her father). When Herakles came, Hippolyte was impressed with his strength and so gave him the girdle. When Hera, Queen of the Gods and step-mother to Herakles saw this, she told Hippolyte's Amazons, that Herakles was there to abduct their Queen. The Amazons attacked Herakles, and during the battle, Hippolyte was killed. Her name means, "Of the Stampeding Horse."

Hippolyte II
[45] Hippolyte II was a sister of Penthesilea. While the two were hunting together, Penthesilea accidentally killed her. Penthesilea was so shocked and ashamed, that she left the Amazons, taking twelve of her Amazons with her to Troy.

[46] Hippomache fought at the Attic War.

[47] Hippothoe fought with Penthesilea at Troy. Her name means, "Imperious Mare."

[48] Hypsipyle was an Amazon under Hippolyte. She helped in the fight against Herakles' captains. Her name means, "Of the High Gate."

[49] Iphito served under Hippolyte. She joined in the battle with Pantariste against Herakles' captains, Telamon, Theseus and Tiamides.

[50] Kleoptoleme was an Amazon under Queen Andromache.

[51] Kreousa was an Amazon who was killed by Phylakos in single combat in the Attic War.

[52] Kydoime was an Amazon under Andromache.

[53] Laodoke fought with the Amazons in the Attic War.

[54] Lykopis was an Amazon archer under Andromache. Her name means, "She-Wolf."

[55] Lysippe was an Amazon Queen. Settled her Amazons near the Black Sea. She was the one who established the policies that Amazons lived by. She was an intelligent woman, an excellent general and founded the city, Themiscrya. She was killed in battle as a hero to her people. Her name means, "She Who Lets Loose the Horses."

[56] Marpe was the seventh Amazon to challenge and be killed by Herakles.

[57] Marpesia was an Amazon Queen, who ruled with Lampedo. They excelled at building the Amazon empire. The Caucasus Mountains were once called, "The Marpesians," after her. Marpesia was killed by a group of barbarians during an Asian attack. Her name means, "The Snatcher."

[57] Melanippe was the sister of Antiope. When Herakles came for Hippolyte's girdle, Melanippe was captured by the son of Zeus. While a prisoner, she planned a successful mutiny, on one of Herakles' ships, that freed her and some other captive Amazons. They took the ship, killing the Greeks and tossed their bodies overboard. Unfortunately, these Amazons were trained to ride horses, not sail, and they were blown to the shores of Scythia. They stole horses and became marauders. Her name means, "Black Mare."

[59] Melousa was an Amazon in the Attic War, lead by Orithia.

[60] Mimnousa fought at the Attic War.

[61] Molpadia was an Amazon who fought for Orithia. Her name means, "Death Song."

[62] Okyale was an Amazon archer who fought in the Attic war. She engaged Astyochos in single combat.

[63] Okypous was an Amazon under Andromache.

[64] Orithia (or Oreithyia) was a daughter of the Amazon Queen Marpesia. When her mother was killed by Asian barbarians, her mother's position fell to her. She forged an alliance with Sagillus, King of Scythia, who sent his son with an army to help Orithia avenge her mother's death.

[65] When Herakles' captains fled, Pantariste lead the chase after them. Two Greek foot soldiers attacked her, but she killed them (killing the second by holding his throat until he suffocated). She threw her spear at Captain Tiamides, who blocked it with his shield, but the force knocked him to the ground. She then threw her labrys (a double-headed ax) and beheaded him.

[66] Penthesilea was the daughter of Orithia and Ares. She was known for her bravery, her skill in weapons and her wisdom. During a hunt, she killed her sister, Hippolyte II. She was so filled with grief that she set out for Troy (which she liberated), but Achilles retook it. Penthesilea's Amazons fought for Troy again. Since she was the daughter of Ares (God of War), she was able to kill many warriors at Troy, including Machaon and the great Achilles. Penthesilea fell at Troy. Her name means, "Compelling Men to Mourn."

[67] Philippis was the second Amazon of nine to engage Herakles, one-on-one, after he had killed Hippolyte. She was killed. Her name means, "Woman Who Loves Horses."

[68] Phoebe was the third of the Amazon spear-women with Celaneo and Eurybe. They were killed by Herakles when the Amazons attacked him after Hippolyte's death.

[69] Pisto was an Amazon under Andromache.

[70] Polemusa was one of the twelve Amazons who accompanied Penthesilea to Troy.

[71] Prothoe was the third Amazon to take on Herakles in single combat after Hippolyte's death. Herakles won, killing her. Her name means, "First in Might."

[72] Pyrgomache was an Amazon who fought in the Attic War. Her name means, "Fiery Warrior."

[73] Scyleia was an Amazon under Andromache.

[74] Tecmessa was the eighth Amazon to challenge Herakles in hand-to-hand combat. She was killed. Her name means, "She Who Judges."

[75] Teisipyte was an Amazon who served under Andromache.

[76] Telepyleia was an Amazon under Andromache. Her name means, "Far Sailing."

An Amazon saying her prayers in fron of an altar.

[77] Thalestris was an Amazon Queen during the days of Alexander the Great. Alexander met with Thalestris, and they hunted lions together and had thirteen nights of lovemaking (thirteen is a sacred fertility number for moon worshippers, due to the number of moons in a year). She had hoped to have a mighty daughter from Alexander, but she died soon afterward without issue.

[78] Thermodosa was one of Penthesilea's twelve Amazon companions at Troy.

[79] Thraso was an Amazon under Andromache. Her name means, "Confidence."

[80] Toxaris was an Amazon of Andromache. Her name means, "Archer."

[81] Toxis was an archer under Andromache.

[82] Toxophile was an archer under Andromache.

[83] Valasca (or Dlasta) was an Amazon warrior queen, who ruled for several years in tyranny. She had the right eye and thumbs of all males removed, to make them useless in battle. She wanted to start a new era for the Amazons and she was cruel in her haste, having only a small cult of willing followers. It was not until she died that, "the nation resumed its normal order."

[84] Xanthippe was an Amazon in the Attic War. Her name means, "Yellow Mare."


[85] The myths of the Amazons are a significant part of human culture. The Amazon myth was embraced by Greece, and from there spread all over the world. They were the earliest symbols of a society's fear of feminism. They questioned the order of life and rose against it. They would not allow themselves to be treated as less than human.

[86] Queen Penthesilea said it was the best when she was quoted at Troy, saying, "Not in strength are we inferior to men the same our eyes, our limbs the same one common light we see, one air we breathe nor different is the food we eat. What then denied to us hath heaven on man bestowed."

Did the Amazon female warriors from Greek mythology really exist?

Were the Amazons of ancient Greek mythology — fierce female warriors said to have roamed a vast area around the Black Sea known as Scythia — real? Or were they as fictitious as other Greek myths, such as Aphrodite emerging from genitals thrown into the sea or Jason stealing a golden fleece?

Modern historians assumed that the Amazons, first documented by the poet Homer in the eighth century B.C., were fantasy. But then, in the 1990s, archaeologists began identifying ancient female skeletons buried in warrior graves in the same region.

Some skeletons were found with combat injuries, such as arrowheads embedded in their bones, and were buried with weapons that matched those held by Amazons in ancient Greek artwork, according to Adrienne Mayor, a research scholar in the classics department and History of Science Program at Stanford University.

"Thanks to archaeology, we now know that Amazon myths, once thought to be fantasy, contain accurate details about steppe nomad women, who were the historical counterparts of mythic Amazons," Mayor, who is also the author of "The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women Across the Ancient World" (Princeton University Press, 2014), told Live Science in an email.

These nomadic warriors were part of an ancient group of tribes known as Scythians, who were masters of horseback riding and archery. They lived across a vast territory on the Eurasian steppe, stretching from the Black Sea to China, from about 700 B.C. to A.D. 500, Mayor wrote in Foreign Affairs magazine in 2015.

The Scythians were a hard-core people they had a reputation for drinking excessive amounts of undiluted wine (unlike the Greeks, who mixed wine with water), imbibing fermented mare's milk and even getting high on hemp, according to The British Museum. Frozen bodies of mummified Scythians preserved in permafrost reveal they were heavily tattooed with animals, according to the museum.

Scythian societies weren't exclusively women, like in the Greek myth they simply included female members who lived like the men did. In essence, some (but not all) of the Scythian women joined men in hunting and battle.

"It is exhilarating to know that girls and women on the steppes learned to ride horses and shoot arrows just like their brothers," Mayor told Live Science. She explained that for a small group moving across the harsh steppe lands, under the constant threat of enemies, it made sense for everyone to help with defense and raids, regardless of age or sex.

Active female warriors as young as 10 and as old as 45 have been found in Scythian burial sites, according to Mayor's piece in Foreign Affairs. "So far, archaeologists have identified more than 300 remains of warrior women buried with their horses and weapons, and more are discovered every year," Mayor told Live Science.

The Scythians were not the only group to have women participate in warfare and hunting, and the Greeks were not the only people to tell stories about the Amazons and Amazon-like women.

"There were exciting stories — some imaginary and some based in reality — about Amazon-like women from ancient Rome, Egypt, North Africa, Arabia, Mesopotamia, Persia, Central Asia, India [and] China," Mayor said. "And women who went to war have existed in cultures around the world, from Vietnam to Viking lands, and in Africa and the Americas."

The name of the Amazon river in South America is linked to one such story. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, the Spanish soldier Francisco de Orellana — credited as the first European to explore the Amazon, in 1541 — gave the river its name after reportedly being attacked by female warriors whom he compared to the mythological Amazon warriors we now know are based on the Scythians.

Wonder Woman’s Greek Roots Don’t Run That Deep

But she did grow up on Themyscira, the home island of the Amazons.

When it comes to superheroes, Wonder Woman is pretty unique. She has unusual gear, like her Lasso of Truth and Bracelets of Submission, and a wild origin story that involves her being molded from clay and brought to life by Zeus on the island of the Amazons. That origin sounds like it's straight out of Greek mythology, but is Wonder Woman based on a Greek Goddess? She certainly seems like she could have been written about by Homer, but do her roots stretch back that far?

Despite the many elements of Greek mythology that are wrapped up in her own mythos, Wonder Woman is a wholly original character. Created in 1941 by William Moulton Marston, who's also known for having a hand in creating the polygraph, he wanted to create a superhero who fought with truth and love rather than brute strength. His wife, Elizabeth Holloway Marston, suggested that the character be a woman, and William concurred. He then based the character partly on his wife and partly on his mistress, Olive Byrne, who lived with him and his wife in a consensual polyamorous relationship. So how then, from this modern and grounded origin, did Wonder Woman become all mixed up in stories from ancient times half a world away?

It's likely that Wonder Woman was made to be an Amazon because of feminist ideals at the time. Marston was a feminist, and he wanted his hero to be an equal to the male heroes of the day. According to the New Yorker's Jill Lepore, early twentieth century feminism was fascinated by the idea of an ancient matriarchal society, and Marston was very much a part of that scene. And since there's no better known example of an ancient matriarchal society than the Amazons, they seemed like a natural fit for Wonder Woman. But the Greek connections don't stop with the Amazons.

Wonder Woman grew up on Themyscira, the home island of the Amazons. Her creation at various times has involved Aphrodite and Zeus, both actual Greek Gods, and one of her greatest nemeses is Ares, the classical Greek God of War. Wonder Woman's mother is Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, who also filled that same role in Greek mythology. But one big difference between Greek mythology and DC Comics is that the Hippolyta of Greek myth never had a daughter. In the comics, her daughter is of course Diana, AKA Wonder Woman, whom she molds from clay. And while Diana is the name of the Roman Goddess of the Hunt — whose Greek equivalent is Artemis — Wonder Woman is not actually an interpretation of that character.

Wonder Woman's history is undeniably intertwined with the stories of Greek myth, but Wonder Woman herself is not based on a Greek Goddess. She was created to be a champion of feminism in the 20th century, and she's continuing that fight well into the 21st.

And when it comes to the hotly-anticipated sequel, Wonder Woman 1984, director Patty Jenkins had a lot to say about Diana's newfound perspective on feminism and how it works in the "real world." "The interesting thing about Diana to me is seeing feminism through the eyes of someone who's absolutely oblivious that it would even be an issue," Jenkins told Syfy Fangirls. "And that was what I loved in the first movie. It's like she has no chip on her shoulder. It never occurred to her that you would not see men and women as absolutely equal. Here I think she continues to just be her own sole person, but now she's aware. So now you see this awareness of like, 'Oh, okay, this is different and that's different, and there is a relationship to it,' and people are reacting to her as they work."

The queer history of Wonder Woman and the Amazons

Although acknowledged as bisexual by several of her most prominent writers in the modern era of comics, including Greg Rucka and Gail Simone, there has been much discussion revolving around Wonder Woman and whether we'll ever see her in an explicitly same-sex relationship. While her origins date back to the '40s and are quite literally based around her being born and raised on an island where only women are allowed, we've gone more than 70 years never seeing much in the way of on-page confirmation of her status as an LGBTQIA icon. Subtext so strong that it tends to jump off the page at you: yes. An openly romantic relationship with a woman: no.

The reasons for this are myriad, and certainly should be subject to valid criticism from any LGBTQIA person who feels slighted. On the other hand, it's worth mentioning that even though Diana might never have the amazing on-page or onscreen LGBTQIA love story we want her to have, there are many other queer Amazons in Wonder Woman's mythology that don't receive much attention.

In Greek mythology, the Amazons were known as the followers of Ares and Harmonia. While most people recognize Ares as being synonymous with war, Harmonia was the god representing peace. As with some gods, she had an equal but opposite half in Discordia, a god representing strife and discord. The juxtaposition of being ruled by both war and harmony is a central theme for most stories about the Amazons. Most mythology around Amazons was written by men hundreds or thousands of years ago. There are constant references to Amazons being physically similar to men, not to mention the ridiculous proposal that they actually were men (because women would never be capable of fighting in a war), in-depth explanations of how they continued to have children, and, of course, the prevalent and completely nonsensical myth that each Amazon had one of her breasts seared as a child in order to be able to shoot a bow. Obviously, a basic understanding of anatomy disqualifies this as being a necessity, but it indicates the general sense of exaggeration around the Amazonian myth.

This legend was reworked by William Moulton Marston when he was inspired by the suffragette movement to team with his wife Elizabeth and create a female superhero, one who would eventually be known as Wonder Woman. The undercurrent of sapphic longing and bondage that runs through early Wonder Woman stories has been written about at length, but essentially Marston's personal belief system revolved around the concept that men should resign from their position of authority and allow themselves to be gently dominated by women, and the comic certainly reflected that notion during the years it was under his creative control.

As is typical with adaptations, the many creators (Marston included) of the Amazons of DC Comics have changed the story significantly from the early legends of Greek mythology. In comics, Hippolyta is the leader of the Amazons and the mother of Wonder Woman. Intended as a lesson for mankind, the Amazons were introduced by the gods as a bridge of understanding. However, Hercules was hurt by taunts that he could not tame the Amazons and challenged Hippolyta to a fight, which she won. Regardless, he and his followers rapidly enslaved the Amazons, causing them to rebel and create their own secret world on Paradise Island. It's hard to say where we're at as of today with this mythos, given that Wonder Woman and most of her DC chronology have been rebooted many, many times, but, essentially, Hippolyta formed Diana out of clay because she wanted a daughter so badly.

In mythology both modern and ancient, there is a consistent emphasis on the Amazons and their dealings with men, despite those dealings being the very least interesting thing about them. Baffled by a society of women, male writers have leaned on a multitude of story devices to separate Diana from her Amazonian heritage. In response, some writers, such as George Perez and Phil Jimenez, have gone to some lengths to show what life on Paradise Island would be like in hopes of getting Diana back to her roots, but there has been shockingly little focus on just how queer this all-woman island would be, separate from the rest of mankind for thousands of years.

If Diana ever had a girlfriend, the strongest case would be for Mala. In the early days of Wonder Woman comics, Mala was referred to as Diana's best friend, and they seemed to be together all of the time. Even after Diana went to the world of men, Mala constantly tried to join her, only to be refused either by Hippolyta or Diana herself. Mala was perhaps even more naive than Diana, claiming not to understand women or men outside of Paradise Island very well. Although it changes per incarnation of the story, Mala was either Wonder Woman before Diana or challenged Diana for the role of Wonder Woman, which Diana eventually won. For a time, she even had her own invisible jet, similar to the one Wonder Woman flew for several decades. Regardless of the specifics, she and Diana have always been close. When they appear together on-panel, they tend to be touching each other, looking into each other's eyes, and generally attempting to comfort one another. In the original stories, when Diana finds Steve Trevor, it is Mala who is with her, and Mala who wants to accompany her when Diana leaves Paradise Island.

In Grant Morrison's Wonder Woman: Earth One, we are introduced to a jealous take on Mala, who is confirmed to have been Diana's lover but despises Steve Trevor for taking Diana away from her. The trope of the bitterly jealous lesbian is pretty tired, but, in all fairness, Diana did pretty much steal her title and her plane before ditching her for Steve Trevor, so Mala had pretty valid reasons to be upset with her. At any rate, Mala of Earth One is a far cry from the tender, well-meaning friend we know from the original stories. Although she's been shunted to Limbo many times over, I have incredibly fond memories of the early versions of Mala and am always interested in her returning to comics as the tough queer femme she's implied to be.

Credit: DC / Wonder Woman, written by William Moulton Marston, art by H.G. Peters

The next example of an out queer character is Nubia, who was later renamed Nu'Bia and who may or may not exist in current DC continuity. Nubia is a hugely important character, despite seldom getting her due, because she's one of the first black female superheroes. Nubia's first appearance was in 1973, in a story where she appeared dressed head-to-toe, bested Wonder Woman in battle, announced herself as the true Wonder Woman, then took off her helmet to reveal that she was a black woman. Coincidentally, Nubia ruled an island of all men and bore the same origin story as Diana, being made from clay by Hippolyta. She was later reimagined as Nu'Bia, but possessed most of the same characteristics.

Nubia has appeared mostly in the context of being Wonder Woman's equal, and she often has a female lover. In Earth One, she appears to be Hippolyta's lover, which is weird if you read her Golden Age appearances in which she is Hippolyta's daughter. Equally strange, in the comic Wonder Woman '77 Meets the Bionic Woman Nubia marries Fausta Grables, an ex-Nazi who was prominently featured in an episode of the TV series before denouncing Nazism and joining the Amazons. Nubia's relationship choices might not be the greatest, but she is a character long overdue for a more prominent role in DC.

Although she didn't make her first appearance until the '80s, Philippus has since become a vital character. At Hippolyta's side from the early days even before Paradise Island, this is a woman whose loyalty knows no bounds. She became the general of Hippolyta's Amazonian army and accompanied Hippolyta as her protector for centuries. In most versions of Wonder Woman since her debut, Philippus has served as a second mother to Diana.

Again, although it is seldom confirmed, it is generally accepted as canon that Hippolyta and Philippus were romantically involved with one another at some point throughout the years. Philippus is one of the very few Amazons who has the courage to call out some of Hippolyta's worst decisions, and she's also the only one Hippolyta ever seems to truly listen to. In fact, it is partially her disregard for Philippus' counsel that marks her as an imposter in the story Amazons Attack! Despite being addressed only briefly, in Rebirth Hippolyta and Philippus are confirmed to be lovers.

Etta Candy is another character who's been around since the Golden Age but was recently revamped in Rebirth. Originally appearing as a white blonde woman, Rebirth's Etta is black, and while her bisexuality was addressed only in alternate reality takes, she was confirmed to be part of the LGBTQIA fam. It might have taken decades for writers to work it out, but the world deserves a queer Etta Candy.

The character of the Cheetah existed nearly as long as Wonder Woman herself, making her first appearance as a wealthy, jealous socialite early on in the series. Years later, she was replaced with Barbara Minerva, an archaeologist who went seeking a god and was granted powers at a terrible cost. In Greg Rucka's most recent run on Wonder Woman, Minerva was driven to devour men after being cursed by the god. When cured, she tries desperately to redeem herself, falling tragically short due to outside forces. In Rucka's Wonder Woman, Etta Candy and Barbara Minerva don't exactly get a fully fleshed-out relationship, but they do flirt with each other quite a bit, and it's extremely cute. Here's hoping we'll see a thorough exploration of that dynamic going forward.


Golden Age Edit

In the Golden Age adventures of Wonder Woman, when Ares was primarily known by his Roman name Mars, his chief deputies were his sons: the Duke of Deception, the Earl of Greed, and Lord Conquest who assisted the Axis powers from the planet Mars using their astral powers, (also Count Conquest). Deception's daughter Lya also fought Wonder Woman.

Of these, the Duke of Deception became a major recurring foe of Wonder Woman, appearing into the Silver Age as well. Wielding his own powers of illusion, Deception was also responsible for enlisting Doctor Psycho in his first engagement with Wonder Woman. He became ruler of Mars after convincing some slaves to rebel against the God Mars.

Modern Age Edit

After the Golden and Silver Ages, the Duke of Deception made only a handful of appearances. In one adventure during the period when Wonder Woman had given up her powers, Ares used Deimos, Phobos, and Eris in a battle against the Amazons for the power to dominate every dimension of creation.

Post-Crisis Edit

In 1985 DC Comics introduced a storyline called Crisis on Infinite Earths. This storyline erased all previous writings of their characters and re-introduced new versions of each character in their place. Charles Moulton's vision of deception, greed, and the will to power being the precursors of war was set aside in favor of versions closer to the myths of Deimos, Phobos, Eris, Harmonia, and Eros. All five are parented by the Olympian war god Ares and the Olympian love goddess Aphrodite. Aside from Harmonia and Eros, the remaining children of Ares are enemies of the Amazons in the Wonder Woman comic book. They were re-created by writer George Pérez.

Deimos Edit

Deimos is the Greek god of terror. His Roman counterpart is both Formido and Metus. In the comics, Deimos is depicted with snake-like hair where he does his fear projections through the poisons in the mouths of his snake-like hair. [1] He and his brother Phobos attacked Wonder Woman early on during her mission in Man's World. During that encounter the Amazon was able to behead Deimos with her tiara. [2] His spirit later took possession of the Batman villain Joker. [3] [4] Once Ares discovered Deimos and several other of his dead children had escaped Tartarus, Ares set things right returning Deimos back to the Underworld. [5]

DC Rebirth Edit

After the events of DC Rebirth, Deimos was reintroduced as the twin of Phobos. Together, Deimos and Phobos kidnapped Veronica Cale's daughter, and coerced Cale to aid them in locating Themyscira. They believed that they could not discover the island due to their godhood. This led to Cale's associate Adrianna Anderson becoming Doctor Cyber. [6]

Phobos Edit

Phobos is the Greek god of fear and horror. [7] His Roman counterpart is Timor. After an initial attack on Wonder Woman ending with the decapitation of his brother Deimos, Phobos later sent Ixion and Euryale to attack the Amazon out of revenge. [8] The plot failed and he was imprisoned to Tartarus by Hermes. The witch god Circe later freed Phobos and convinced him to aid her during the events of the War of the Gods. This ended in his death. He later joined his brother Deimos and sister Eris in spirit in escaping Tartarus. Together they possessed the bodies of various Batman villains, in Phobos case the villain Scarecrow. He was later returned to the Underworld by his father Ares. It was Phobos who initially created the monster Decay, mixing his power with that of Medusa's carcass.

DC Rebirth Edit

After the events of DC Rebirth, Phobos was reintroduced as the twin of Deimos. Together, Deimos and Phobos kidnapped Veronica Cale's daughter, and coerced Cale to aid them in locating Themyscira. They believed that they could not discover the island due to their godhood. This led to Cale's associate Adrianna Anderson becoming Doctor Cyber. [6]

Eris Edit

Eris is the goddess of strife and chaos, and is the creator of the Golden Apples of Discord famously written in the story of the Trojan War. Her Roman counterpart is Bellona. In ancient myth she is also identified with the Greek goddess Adrestia. When Queen Hippolyta agreed to open her country of Themyscira to the outside world, Eris used the Golden Apples of Discord to make the various United Nations dignitaries fight among one another. Wonder Woman was able to defeat Eris but the event caused a negative outlook to the Amazons by the outsiders and Eris' plans thus stayed on her side despite her defeat.

Eris was later killed by the Son of Vulcan during the War of The Gods storyline. Her spirit resurfaced years later as part of a plot engineered by her also dead brothers Phobos and Deimos to merge Gotham City with the Areopagus, Ares' throne capital. Eris possessed the super villain Poison Ivy while her brothers possessed the Joker and the Scarecrow. They were later defeated by the combined efforts of Wonder Woman, Batman, Robin, Troia, Wonder Girl, Nightwing, Artemis, and the Huntress.

The New 52 Edit

In The New 52, a very different version of Eris appears in a recurring role for the relaunched Wonder Woman ongoing series. Now known as Strife, her physical appearance is drastically different from the pre-Flashpoint incarnation of the goddess instead of a hideous visage, she appears as a scantily clad young woman in a heavily torn cocktail dress with purplish-pink skin, and white hair styled as a crew cut. Although she reprises her traditionally antagonistic role with Diana, Strife is depicted as less overtly evil compared to her previous incarnation she is simply a deity who draws sustenance from incidents of discord, and revels in the chaos which result from escalations in conflict.

Harmonia Edit

Harmonia is the Greek goddess of harmony and concord. Her Roman counterpart is Concordia. Due to being the daughter of Ares, she was physically ugly and became a bitter goddess, constantly wailing at her father's home, the Areopagus. She longed to access the beauty that comes with being a child of Aphrodite. [9] Through the kindness of Wonder Woman she was able to bring forth her inner beauty. Because of this she became a close supporter of the Amazon and would aid her when able. It was through Harmonia's help that Wonder Woman was able to defeat Ares before he could destroy the world. Harmonia was later killed during the War of the Gods storyline by her brother Phobos.

Eros Edit

Eros is the Greek counterpart to the Roman Cupid. He is also tied to the Greek gods Anteros and Erotes. Eros is the male equivalent to his mother, Aphrodite, but to a much lesser extent. Whereas Aphrodite has dominion over all aspects of love, Eros tends to gravitate his hold over sudden love, lust and the erotic. He was rarely shown in the Wonder Woman comic series before the New 52 reboot on one notable occasion however, his father Ares convinced him to shoot a lust arrow at Zeus, who was watching the Amazon Artemis of Bana-Mighdall bathing in a scrying pool. This angered Hera who toppled the floating island of Themyscira during her jealous confrontation of her husband.

In the post-Flashpoint continuity, Eros is depicted as a steadfast ally of Wonder Woman. He agreed to take her and her friends to meet Hephaestus, and aid her in dealing with the machinations of the other Olympian gods in the wake of the power struggle over the vacant throne of Mount Olympus. He would lend his pistols, which cause the people they shoot to fall in love, to Diana for her mission to rescue Zola's baby Zeke from Hades. Diana makes a barter with Hades, exchanging Zola for Eros' pistols. Hades agrees and hands over Zola to Diana and Hermes. As they exit Hell, Hades shoots the pistols at Diana, who is shot through her heart, and bound to stay in Hades. Zola, who is desperate to help Diana, is taken back forcefully by Hermes. [10] [11] He would later travel to the Underworld with Hephaestus and Lennox Sandsmark to rescue Diana. She would later gain her freedom by manipulating Hades into staring at his own reflection in a mirror before firing a bullet from the pistols, which bounced off the mirror, struck Hades and compelled him to fall in love with himself. Eros would make his stand with Diana, her allies and the remaining Olympian gods when the villainous First Born began his campaign to take Mount Olympus once and for all. [12]

Lyta Milton Edit

Lyta Milton is the biological daughter of Ares and Circe, who hid herself under the identity of a mortal named Donna Milton. As Wonder Woman's Lasso of Truth could see through any disguise, Circe cast a spell on herself to truly believe she was Donna until an opportune moment presented itself where she could destroy the Amazon. As Donna Milton she believed herself to be a lawyer working for a Boston crime boss named Ares Buchanan. Unbeknownst to Donna, Ares Buchanan was really the Olympian god Ares in disguise as well. The two formed a sexual relationship once she agreed to help Ares defeat Wonder Woman, who was interrupting his illegal business dealings. After becoming pregnant Donna informed Ares that she was going to have his child. Ares showed Donna that he wasn't interested in fatherhood by shooting Donna in the chest. Because of a weapon used shortly thereafter, a mini-black hole was created that seemingly destroyed Ares and caused the building to fall on top of Donna and Wonder Woman. They fell through to the sewers below and landed in a huge underwater pool. The shock of the shooting and the black hole caused Donna to go into premature labor. Wonder Woman helped calm Donna and deliver her baby. [13]

Ashamed that she previously aided Ares in destroying Wonder Woman after sacrificing her own life to save her, Donna named her newborn daughter after Wonder Woman's mother Hippolyta, or "Lyta". Wonder Woman helped to get Donna back on her feet so that she could properly care for Lyta by hiring her to be the company lawyer for a detective agency she and friend Micah Rains newly established. This arrangement worked nicely for some time until Wonder Woman was able to discover that Donna was really Circe. Once this happened, Lyta's blonde hair and blue eyes changed to resemble more of her mother's features: purple hair and purple/red eyes. Reclaiming her true identity and angered that she would allow herself to become a close friend of Wonder Woman, albeit in a different persona, Circe took to attacking Wonder Woman more frequently. During each attack Circe had Lyta present to better show her daughter how to better destroy her enemies. To this end Circe allied herself with many evil and ruthless villains such as Sebastian Ballesteros, Lex Luthor, Doctor Psycho, and the Silver Swan. [14]

Despite being surrounded by unsavory characters at such a young age, Lyta's personality remained sweet and friendly. She even took to waving hello to Wonder Woman when she would see her. On one occasion Circe had Lyta hide in the shadows and watch as Circe and Wonder Woman beat each other mercilessly. Confused and frightened for her mother's welfare, Lyta began crying and ran to her mother's side for comfort. Circe as angry with Lyta for not following her orders to stay hidden but Wonder Woman verbally chastised Circe to see the situation for what it was: a moment when her child needed her to be a true role-model and to comfort her child. Circe grudgingly agreed and disappeared while holding Lyta, telling her everything is going to be okay. [15]

When Wonder Woman's homeland of Themyscira was revamped to include a rehabilitation island for prisoners, Circe is captured and held there. So that she could not use her magics to escape she is surrounded by the plant Moly, which is the one substance that nullifies Circe's sorceries. Lyta is then taken to be raised on the main island along with many orphaned children. Though Lyta has trouble bonding with the other children on the island, [16] she does become quite close to several Amazons and takes pleasure in being trained in the Amazon way. [17] After the Amazon Io teaches Lyta how to properly respect the god Poseidon and his domain, Lyta's father Ares appears. [18] He incapacitates Io and steals Lyta stating that he means to raise his daughter on his own terms. When Circe learns what has happened she escapes her prison and confronts Ares. [18] Ares tells Circe that the time of the gods is at a crossroads and that drastic measures needed to be taken. Circe agrees to join Ares as his consort, making them new co-rulers of the Underworld. Thus, Lyta continued to be cared for by both of her parents, reunited.

Crow Children Edit

Created by Gail Simone and Bernard Chang and first appearing in Wonder Woman Vol 3 #39, the five begotten children of Ares and the Amazons came to being when the God of War had also magically impregnated five Amazons at some point in the past, and the offspring of these unholy unions were named Adder, Goat, Rat, Scorpion and Spider. A civil war situation arose on Themyscira, overshadowing the pregnancies, the mothers reached term abnormally quickly and were mystically summoned to a forgotten court by the ghost of Ares. This long abandoned place had been built millennia before just in case children were ever born on Themyscira. Ares further summoned animals infused by his essence. After the five Amazons gave birth against their will, they were magically forced into an eternal sleep. The infants were raised by the magically corrupted animals, and grew up at an accelerated rate. Thus mere months later the five brothers, looking to be about seven years old and having about thrice the maturity, were sent out in the world to turn it against Wonder Woman and the Amazons.

The boys have a supernatural ability to influence those around them, overriding their mind with thoughts of violence, hatred, war and guilt. They can easily trigger riots and incite large crowds to deadly violence. By focusing this ability on a single person they can take direct control, even against persons with a strong personality such as Etta Candy, Steve Trevor or Power Girl. The Crow Children act by talking, though it's clearly not normal social interaction - their words have an impossibly convincing effect when it comes to seeding hatred, resentment, envy, defiance and the like. Victims will even experience mild hallucination as a result of dissonance, for instance perceiving a trusted ally as demonically deformed to try to reconcile the words of the Crow Children about that person with reality.

The five brothers, wearing a sort of school uniform with cap emblazoned with a crow symbol, strolled through Washington D.C., where Wonder Woman then lived. Using supernatural influence they fanned the flames of intolerance, envy, petty hatred and bloodlust. They both attacked Wonder Woman's reputation and the civil peace in the capital, triggering murders, arson and eventually riot. When the mighty heroine Power Girl responded, the Crow Children were delighted, taking over her mind and turning her against Wonder Woman.

The five half-brothers affected a style and speech patterns well beyond their apparent years. They act more like preps highly educated, mannered and articulate with an emphasis on what is proper and how society should behave. They constantly use sarcasm, denouncing violence and improper behavior around them and the lack of morality of modern society while fully knowing that they are the direct cause for the chaos and hatred that surround them. Part of their schtick is to sound very sheltered, like an irate old man writing strongly-worded letters to a newspaper editor about the world of today and all of its perceived shortcomings. Their schtick about how the world is terrible and brutal and exposes youths to the most unseemly sights and behaviors is not constant. They are also good actors, particularly when it comes to manipulating everyone around them and playing on their apparent status as innocent and very proper children.

The boys ended up being defeated by Wonder Woman who used her Lasso Of Truth to see through their illusions. Instead of the planned conclusion to the story, in which the boys turned into demonic versions of their animal spirits, causing further havoc in the streets, the issue ended anticlimactically with Wonder Woman giving them a spanking. However the original planned ending alludes to them having powers to transform into large animal demons.

The Amazons

According to Greek Mythology, the Amazons were a tribe of entirely female warriors. It was believed that the Amazons lived in Themiscyra near the Black Sea. This area is now Turkey, Eastern Europe.

The Amazons were famous for being all women and for hating men. No men were allowed to live alongside the Amazons. They were an entirely female tribe.

In order to continue to produce future generations, Greek Mythology says that the Amazon women used to go and visit the nearby male tribe, the Gargareans, once a year. The Gargareans was a tribe made entirely of men, and the Amazons used them purely for procreation, sometimes forcing the men to mate with them. Neither the Amazons nor the Gargareans could survive unless the two tribes came together to create children.

However, the Amazon women hated men so much that they would only keep the daughters that they gave birth to. Any male children were killed, left to die in the forests or returned back to their fathers in the Gargarean tribe.

The most famous Amazon queens were Queen Penthesilia and her sister, Queen Hippolyta. Penthesilia took part in the Trojan War: the infamous mythical battle between the Greeks and the Spartans at the city of Troy. Greek Mythology says that Queen Hippolyta was given a magic girdle by her father Ares, the Greek God of War, and later obtained by Hercules during the ‘Labours of Hercules’.

Further Facts About the Amazons:

  • The Amazons took part in many battles and fought (and lost) against Hercules, Theseus andBellerophon.
  • The Amazons mostly fought using spears, and bows and arrows.
  • Greek Mythology states that Theseus fell in love with one of the Amazons named Antiope. The Amazons later went to rescue her but Antiope was killed during the battle.
  • Queen Penthesilia was killed by Achilles whilst in battle.
  • Queen Hippolyta was killed accidentally by her sister, Penthesilia, with a spear whilst out hunting.
  • The Amazons are said to have founded the cities and temples of Smyrna, Sinope, Cyme, Gryne, Ephesus, Pitania, Magnesia, Clete, Pygela, Latoreria and Amastris.
  • The Amazons were a popular subject of Greek art and were often painted onto pottery.
  • Legend has it that the Amazons were one-breasted women. Legends say that the women removed a breast in order to use their bow and arrows more easily.
  • After the Amazons had mated with the male Gargareans, they often forced the men into slavery.

Link/cite this page

If you use any of the content on this page in your own work, please use the code below to cite this page as the source of the content.

The legend of Benin’s fearless female warriors

This fierce all-female army was so ruthless that European colonists called them the Amazons after the merciless warriors of Greek mythology.

Actors Chadwick Boseman and Michael B Jordan earned high praise for their roles in the 2018 Marvel film Black Panther. But for me, the real stars were the Dora Milaje, the special forces unit of the fictional Kingdom of Wakanda. Fearsome yet principled, these female bodyguards provided the film&rsquos moral compass.

I was thrilled to find out that the inspiration for these powerful women is rooted in reality, and that the descendants of these women still keep their traditions alive.

"She is our King. She is our God. We would die for her," said Rubinelle, choosing her words carefully. The 24-year-old secretary was talking about her grandmother, who was sitting on a bed in one of the front rooms of a house in Abomey, the former capital of the Kingdom of Dahomey and now a thriving city in southern Benin. The elderly woman&rsquos head was adorned with a crown.

I had been granted an audience with Dahomian royalty: a descendant of Queen Hangbe, who according to local legend is the founder of the Amazons, an elite group of female warriors. As her living embodiment, the elderly woman has inherited her name and her authority. Four Amazons were attending to her, sitting on a woven mat on the floor. The room was relatively grand: there was a table and chairs for visitors and, in the corner, sat an old-fashioned television next to a makeshift drinks cabinet.

After indicating that I should prostrate myself before the queen and take a ceremonial sip of water, Rubinelle and her grandmother told me the story of their ancestors.

The Dahomey Amazons were frontline soldiers in the army of the Kingdom of Dahomey, a West African empire that existed from 1625 to 1894. Its remnants lie in modern-day Benin, which occupies a sliver of the coast between Nigeria and Togo. Whether conquering neighbouring tribes or resisting European forces, the Amazons were known for their fearlessness. In one of the final battles against the French in 1892 before the kingdom became a French colony, it is said only 17 out of 434 Amazons came back alive.

According to legend, Hangbe assumed the throne in the early 18th Century after the sudden death of her twin brother, Akaba. After a short rule, she was forcibly deposed by her power-hungry younger brother, Agaja. The current Queen Hangbe told me that all traces of her ancestor&rsquos reign were erased by Agaja, who believed that only men should hold the throne. In a dusty museum that lies within the walls of the Royal Palaces in Abomey, the monarchs&rsquo elaborate bronze sceptres are displayed in order of their reign. There is no sign of one belonging to Hangbe, and some historians question whether she existed at all.

Yet her legacy lived on through her mighty female soldiers. Oral and written accounts differ over the origins of the women-only corps. Some sources describe the Amazons as elephant hunters who graduated to human prey. The more widely accepted theory is that they served as royal bodyguards to Hangbe and the kings who came after.

It was King Ghezo, who ruled over Dahomey from 1818 to 1858, who officially integrated the Amazons into the army. This in part was a practical decision, as manpower was increasingly scarce due to the European slave trade.

The recognition of the Amazons as official soldiers of Dahomey strengthened a duality that was already embedded in the society through the kingdom's religion, which has since developed into Vodun, now one of Benin&rsquos official religions and the basis of voodoo. An integral legend told of Mawu-Lisa, a male and female god who came together to create the universe. In all institutions, political, religious and military, men would have a female equivalent. The king, however, reigned supreme.

Her legacy lived on through her mighty female soldiers

Historical accounts of the Amazons are notoriously unreliable, though several European slave traders, missionaries and colonialists recorded their encounters with the fearless women. In 1861, Italian priest Francesco Borghero described an army exercise where thousands of women scaled 120m-high thorny acacia bushes barefoot without a whimper. In 1889, French colonial administrator Jean Bayol described witnessing one young Amazon approach a captive as part of her training. "[She] walked jauntily up, swung her sword three times with both hands, then calmly cut the last flesh that attached the head to the trunk&hellip She then squeezed the blood off her weapon and swallowed it."

Europeans who visited the kingdom in the 19th Century called Dahomey&rsquos female fighters Amazons after the ruthless warriors of Greek mythology. Today, historians refer to them as mino, which can be translated as &lsquoour mothers&rsquo in the local Fon language. However, Leonard Wantchekon, who was born in Benin and is now professor of politics at Princeton University and founder of the African School of Economics in Cotonou, Benin, claims the contemporary term does not accurately reflect the role the warriors played in Dahomey society. "Mino means witch,&rdquo he said.

Today, the role of Queen Hangbe and her Amazons is primarily ceremonial, presiding over religious rituals that take place at the temple near her home. When I asked to take photographs of Queen Hangbe, Pierrette, another Amazon, jumped up to unfurl a ceremonial parasol over her mistress in the dark room. Fabric spelling out &lsquoReine Hangbe&rsquo (Queen Hangbe) had been sewn into the fabric using the appliqué technique of Dahomey tradition. A dressmaker, Pierrette designs a new umbrella for her queen every year. Loaded with symbolism, these elaborately decorated parasols once showed status in the Dahomey court.

Queen Hangbe&rsquos umbrella was relatively simple, though in the 18th and 19th Centuries, they were often adorned with the bones of vanquished enemies. Parasols also featured images of birds and animals, as well as the round-headed clubs that Amazons used in battle.

These lethal weapons also feature in carvings on the mud walls of the squat palace buildings. Each king would build a new palace next to his predecessor&rsquos, leaving the former as a mausoleum. Though Behanzin, the last king of the Dahomey Empire, burnt the palaces before the French arrived, a section still stands in Abomey, a rusty Unesco sign hanging limply at the entrance. The bas reliefs show how the Amazons used the clubs, as well as muskets and machetes, to inflict death on enemies. In one dusty cabinet, a horse&rsquos tail springs from a human skull &ndash a trophy brought back by an Amazon for her monarch to use as a fancy fly swatter.

There has always been a fascination with the Amazons, but its nature seems to be changing. The Black Panther film is responsible, certainly, but Dr Arthur Vido at the University of Abomey-Calavi, who has introduced a new course on the history of women in West Africa, has another theory. "As the status of women is changing in Africa, people want to know more about their role in the past."

Much of the interest in the Amazons centres on their mercilessness, though Wantchekon dismisses the glorification of their battle exploits. "That's just what soldiers did," he said. Instead, Wantchekon is more interested in what the Amazons achieved as veterans.

Where a profession that's critical for society is dominated by men, well, why don&rsquot we insert a unit of elite women to work side by side with men? To be equal to men

The village where Wantchekon grew up, to the west of Abomey, used to be the site of the Amazons&rsquo training camp. For many years, his aunt looked after an elderly Amazon who had moved to the village after retiring from the army. Villagers still remember the former soldier as "strong, independent and powerful," Wantchekon said. She challenged village hierarchies and "could do that without any repercussion from the local chief because she was an Amazon". Her example, Wantchekon thinks, inspired other women, including his mother, to be ambitious and independent.

For this reason, Wantchekon believes the Amazons are still relevant today. &ldquoWhere a profession that's critical for society is dominated by men, well, why don&rsquot we insert a unit of elite women to work side by side with men? To be equal to men." For Wantchekon, it is not their strength or military prowess that made the Amazons extraordinary, but rather their capacity as role models. Marvel Studios can see the appeal: a spin-off devoted to the Dora Milaje is in the works.

As I took my leave of Queen Hangbe, Rubinelle rose to shake my hand, towering over me and looking me firmly in the eye. Driving away, I saw newly erected statues of Amazons along the road. They stood tall and broad-shouldered, and looked a lot like Rubinelle.

Join more than three million BBC Travel fans by liking us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter and Instagram.

Watch the video: If You Think About It.. Hippolyta Sucks - Wonder Woman 2017