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The Amazons were a race of women devoted to the practice of warfare, weaponry and horse care. They are written of extensively in Ancient Greek literature and depicted in Greek art known as Amazonomachies. They are particulary noted for the abscence of men in their society except for the need to reproduce. It was believed that they mainly resided on the isle of Themyscira which is now known as Asia Minor or Turkey. It is believed that the word "Amazon" means "without breast" because the Amazons were said to have cut or burn off their right breast in a rite of passage so that they could draw a bow and arrow smoothly. However many amazonomachies depict these women with both breasts and female archers today will tell you otherwise. The Amazons may have also have been divided into different tribes.
Men were forbidden to dwell among the Amazons, so therefore in order to continue their race, Amazons would wage war against a neighboring village, capture the men there and have intercourse with them. If the brief union produced a boy, the infant would either be killed or sent back with the father. If the infant was a girl, she would stay with her mother and be trained as a warrior, athlete, hunter, and agriculturist. This is the most well known depiction of Amazon reproduction and gender relations. However another known version mentions that men did live among the Amazons and were either kept as slaves or were assigned traditionally feminine roles, such as childrearing, cooking and keeping house. This version also states that each man in the Amazon village was crippled at infancy so that he would not run off to war. Greek historian Herodotus wrote that Amazons could not marry until they killed an enemy in battle.
The Amazons also believed that the god they descended from was Ares, thus explaining their warlike nature, but the goddess they worshipped was Artemis, goddess of the hunt and the moon.
Fact or Fiction?
Some believed that the Amazons may have been cautionary tales for Greek women on proper feminine behavior and societal gender roles. Sue Blundell sums it up best: "This fantasy of a horde of rampant women could be safely enjoyed because of the cautionary nature of its ending: the Amazons were everything that an Athenian woman ought not to be, and ultimately they failed. There can be little doubt that ... one of myth's functions was the provision of a negative role model." There may have also been a secret forbidden fascination among the mostly bisexual Greek males with the idea of beautiful, bold, strong women with the ability to titlate and kill at the same time.
Amazons may have also been the last remaining evidence of a matriarchal society that existed before partriarchal asendance, according to some feminist-minded scholars. The defeat of Amazons by Greek heroes was told to symbolize the suppression of the possibility of a return to female power.
However the Amazons did not exist just within Greek society. There were tales of other warrior women societies: the Valkyries of the Norse, the Gorgons of Libya and the Dahomey. Warrior Queens and female generals also exist throughout history.