Where Some Ideas Are Stranger Than Others...
CHAPTER THREE: ORIGINS AND GEOGRAPHY OF THE AMAZON NATION
The origins of the Amazons, if deduced only from Greek records, are obscure and purely mythological. However, as in the case of the Greeks themselves, the records of other peoples and clues in their own culture give more detail. Record of the Amazons lie also with the Ukrainians, the Chinese, Scythians, Sarmatians, Hittites, and Indians, to name a few. The Amazon Nation consisted of a confederation of numerous all women tribes from two main groups: women who left their villages temporarily for service to their Goddess, and women who preferred an all female society. Still others may have come from among children who had been orphaned or deliberately given up by their parents, whose care was taken up by priestesses and priests. This was not considered harmful or unusual, nor was it a purely 'old world' phenomenon. The Aztecs remembered a time before violent male dominance when Amazon tribes flourished in Central America. In myth these women became powerful spirits who could take spider form.
Amazons and priestesses often formed the backbone of medical and teaching personnel in communities. They passed on the stories and chants recording the ways and history of their peoples, a process as imperative to the survival of a culture as medical or scientific knowledge – which were also preserved in sacred chants. Priestesses were as much a part of the discovery and development of new technologies as anyone else. They instructed people in how to use these new ideas by example, and particularly important lessons were enshrined in rituals, including ceremonial planting and reaping before the entire community.
Scientific knowledge in particular was often preserved in the context of spiritual practice: astronomical phenomena from eclipses to solstices, land surveying techniques, even metallurgical skills, all used to create shrines, temples, and sacred objects. The present day cult of technology is a late, much altered expression of the same principle, although now the objects are treated with reverence, rather than the knowledge needed to use and create them. Systems of divination, once almost universally condemned as superstition, are again being recognized as repositories of powerful symbolism. In them are the lost roots of any attempt to truly understand human nature.
The concept of a passive and defenseless mother was all but unknown. Warriors bore children. Pregnancy and birth were physically harrowing to both mother and child, with the mother acting as no less than a gateway between the worlds, a task not only physically but spiritually dangerous. A woman engaged in such work couldn't risk being incapable of defending herself or her child, or having less than robust health.
At the time that Amazon tribes began to form, the primary deity was a Goddess, usually identified as the Lady of Beasts, the Bird Goddess, or the Snake Goddess, categories developed by Dr. Marija Gimbutas. This was particularly true of the Amazons, and is reflected in all mythology concerning them. Perhaps then, the easiest way to trace the Amazons is to begin with their Goddesses, given the origin of their tribes in dedicated religious colleges in North Africa and Anatolia approximately 10 000 years ago.
In the Myrine entry of Chapter One, two Goddesses of the Libyan Amazons were described: Sipylene (better known as Cybele) of the Moon and Sea, and Athena-Medusa of the Sun and Sea. In fact, there was a third Goddess worshipped in the area, by a tribe of Amazons later known as the Pallantids. This was Pallas Promachos (Pallas of the Vanguard), whose mere shadow appeared in Athens later. The Pallantids eventually became hereditary enemies of Athens, after the raids which broke the treaties signed at the conclusion of the Attic War.
The first recorded encounters between Greek and Amazon tribes occur in North Africa. Few authors make clear that the Libyan Amazons were black, and that so too must be Athena, Pallas, and Sipylene. They may have helped inspire divine female figures who have black skin in European folklore, apart from Goddesses who are usually believed to be black due to their connection with the soil. The other source is ancient India, homeland of the Goddesses Sena 'army' and Uma 'light' or 'Moon.' Sena seems to have been only a War Goddess (she did not gradually acquire other concerns), but Uma became Goddess of the Moon, war, and wisdom, somewhat similar to Athena. Uma's name may be the root of the term 'Amazon' from Uma-zoon, often translated 'Moon warriors' or 'Moon women.' The Amazon settlement of Amastris on the Black Sea may also be named for her. Donald Sobol translates Amastris as 'Uma's women' and connects the name 'Amazon' to Phoenician am 'mother' and azdom 'lord.' Sena's followers were settled on the Gulf of Amnissus.
Words similar to 'Amazon' turn up in other, perhaps surprising places as well. Among the Berbers of Northern Africa, it is still their custom to use the term Amazigh 'the free' for themselves. In ancient Sumer after the introduction of patriarchal rule, women continued to speak of freedom, which they considered synonymous with 'returning to the mother.' Their term for this concept was 'ama-gi.' Sumerian women had their own dialect, emesal 'language of women,' and later the Babylonian term for a college of priestesses was ommati 'mothers.' 'Gi' refers specifically to the centre, the inside, in Scythian and related languages. The Ambo of Southwest Africa refer to their gay shamans as Omaserge.
The migration of Indian Amazons occurred early, probably corresponding to the migrations and environmental changes that contributed to the ending of the Harrapan civilization (approximately 2 000 BCE). They established early Northern Amazon settlements, and seem to have made contact with the Libyan Amazons, whose Gorgon Goddess bears some resemblance to Kali. These Amazons may also have worshipped Aranyani, a Goddess of the forest who was usually heard rather than seen due to the bells she liked to wear. She may well be an earlier version of Kali, because she also avoided villages, was most active in the evening, and although Aranyani never killed without provocation, once aroused she was merciless and absolutely just. Aranyani tended the forest and all wild things, providing uncultivated foods. Later Indian traditions refer to Yakasis, women who lived in Aranyani's forests and kept away from villages. They were believed to have curious features and powers.
The Hittites, like the Greeks later, were afraid of Amazons, and worshipped them and their Goddesses (Cybele, Artemis, Ma). They never truly extricated the warrior women from their society. Hittite priestesses were almost invariably had the word for horse in their names 'hipa' showing continuity with the Amazons the Greeks encountered, so many of whom had the word 'hippo' in theirs when they were translated into Greek. The Hittite priestesses were famous for their skill in the saddle and with the bow, perennial Amazon pursuits.
The Greeks believed that all Amazons were descendants of Ares through Harmonia, or daughters of the Sea Goddess Thetis/Tethys. Harmonia is a title of Aphrodite, whose warlike aspect was more commonly known as Galataea. She comes from the Middle East originally, and may be related to Astarte. Paphos was initially an Amazon colony, so her warrior women probably carried Aphrodite there. Still other Amazons were from Anatolia and Krete, as evidenced by their worship of Artemis, Cybele, Rhea, and Gaea. All of these and Aphrodite were worshipped as Ladies of the Beasts and Warrior Goddesses. Athena was different.
A descendant of the Bird Goddess of Neolithic times, that was also her aspect among the Gorgons... in fact, this helps explain why the Argive Greeks believed Medusa's head was buried in front of their great temple of Hera. Athena and Medusa were the original Bird Goddess-Snake Goddess pairing. Medusa was deprecated for the same reason Kali was among Westerners: she represented bluntly frightening things. It was far easier to put her aside and exalt the golden Sun eagle, another of Athena's avatars. Of course, these North African Goddesses were not the sole reason for worship of companion Bird and Snake Goddesses. This practice went back to the Neolithic in Anatolia, another aspect of Goddess worship illustrated by Dr. Marija Gimbutas. Long into Classical times, Athena and Hera's shrines and temples were chosen or placed close to each other.
The Amazons of Old Europe saw their Bird Goddess replaced wholesale by a version of Athena as foreign to their Libyan counterparts as she was to them, and their own Snake Goddess rewritten into an enemy. Daughter of Rhea, who controlled the silver Moon sickle of Time, Hera wielded the labrys in defense of her Amazons, the blows manifesting on Earth as bolts of lightning. Eventually, she sent her daughter Heraklaea to defend her women, an idea that impressed the Dorian Greeks so much they masculinized her and substantially rewrote her labours.
It was this diverse group of people who banded into a confederation influencing a huge territory that at its largest extended from North Africa to the Danube. The Greek tribes had already institutionalized the fear of women, firm in the belief men were defenseless in the face of a woman's revolt prior to their first encounters with Amazons. The Amazons did nothing to disabuse them of the notion. Between the devastatingly effective Amazon cavalry to their skilled use of war cries that froze or panicked the Greeks so completely the men thought themselves bewitched, they served as proof of the point. This and the refusal by Amazons to submit to male authority led to an obsessive determination to destroy them.
Efforts at destruction proved to be in vain. When the Amazons were finally pushed out of their homelands, they fled back to the Nation's roots in present day Tunis and Morocco, and then moved west and north through southern Spain. The star Bellatrix in Orion, originally called Al-Najid 'woman who conquers' was considered an especially propitious star for a woman to be born under, and may have been named around the time of this migration.The Valkyries of northern Europe descend from those Amazons who went further north. As late as the 18th century, Medieval histories recorded Amazon rulers of Ulm until the time of Alexander in a reign spanning thousands of years. Later historians believed Amazon customs only persisted until the 18th century, an interesting congruence. That this is blatantly untrue can be seen at the all-women festivals still held annually on Giresun Adesi (Cherry Island), formerly called Aretias on the Black Sea, the tradition of women-only gatherings under the auspices of 'tea' or 'crafts,' or the banding together of women for common cause. Present day movements such as lesbian separatism and women-only religious space are further reclamations of those customs.
The earliest Amazon Nation located by the Greeks was centred on Lake Tritonis, in the lands of the Libyan Amazons. These lay near the Atlantic ocean, apparently between the Atlas mountains and the shore. It had been extended East toward Egypt after the geologic disaster that forced a migration from the original island of Tritonia. Further expansion led to the occupation of the land around the future city of Cyrene and into what is now the Libyan Stone Desert. They appear to have had colonies on the coast of Spain, and have been traced to Afghanistan. Existing in a combination of pasture, desert, mountains, and sea coast, the Libyan Amazons became wide ranging sailors and traders, known for their art, textiles, and orchards. At the height of its influence, the Southern Amazon Nation spread north to Anatolia and the Black Sea area. Probably the first tribe of Maeotides, Amazons of Lake Maeotis and the Tanais River established their settlement in this period, and other Amazons founded the Sun priestesshood of Troy, its royal line.
The leading tribes of the Nation and its very nature altered as the Libyans suffered increasingly violent raids by Greek tribes, as much due to the trade competition they represented as their different cultural values. It was under these circumstances that Lysippe, a queen of the Maeotide colony began working to improve the organization, connections, and defense of the Northern Amazons. An unspecified disaster, or the need to take up a better area militarily and agriculturally, caused Lysippe to move her people to the Thermodontine plain. The river flows from the former Amazon Mountains and empties into the Black Sea, watering a great plain roamed by wild horses. The capital proved so unapproachable that the Chinese, Cherkesians, and Indians all described it as such, agreeing in detail up to Themiskyra's high walls.
The new centre of the Amazon Nation soon included a ring of fortresses on the Thermodon plain, and roads cut straight and level through solid rock. The most famous of those fortresses today is Karpu Kale, perched on a mountaintop with near vertical sides and walls placed only where absolutely necessary. Within those walls, rooms and cisterns were cut into the stone.
Extant throughout most of the Bronze Age, the Northern Amazon Nation consisted of the Taurian Mountains, Russian Steppes, northern Anatolia, Thrake, and southern Scythia up to the southern and western banks of the Danube, where the Amazons bred their famed horses. They named the rivers ending at the Black Sea for their Great Goddess, Artemis-Diana-Danuna. This includes the river Tanais, which was named not for Lysippe's dead son, but for Artemis as Goddess of the Sun. Taurus, Lemnos, Lesbos, Paphos, Smyrna, Ephesus, Kyme, Samothrake, and Kappadocia were all Amazon colonies, part of the Nation from the time of the third Myrine of the Libyan dynasty.
On the Thermodon Plain, there were three Amazon queens, of whom Lysippe was the leader. Each founded a city, later known as Themiskyra, Lykastia, and Chadesia in an area today called Ünye by the Turks. Lysippe's tribe, the Themiskyrans, was best known for its cavalry, the first in that part of the continent. The Chadesians were famous for their skill with javelin and spear.
They garnered many names from their varied neighbours, from Emetchi 'those who count from the mother' among the Cherkesians, Oiorpata 'mankillers' to the Scythians, Anthropophagi 'man eaters' to northern Greeks and Thrakians, and perhaps Aemetzai among the Kalmucks.
The Amazons were itinerant city-founders, especially along the part of the Anatolian coast better known as ancient Ionia. In Ionia women continued to have greater freedoms than was typical of the rest of the surrounding regions before the increasing influence of Persians, Makedonians, and finally the Romans. The Amazon cities there included: Myrine, Mitylene, Sinope, Marpesia, Hippo, Lampado, Araea, Elaea, Gryneia, Smyrna, Kyme, Ephesus, Pitane, Magnesia, Halikarnassos, Xanthos, and Pyrrichos, where they built a famous temple in honour of fallen comrades. It too shows their varied origins; inscriptions were to Artemis-Astarte.
Greek attitudes to Amazons were always ambivalent. On one hand, it was important to portray them all as doomed to die violently at the hands of men, particularly Greek men. On the other, almost every major Greek city or town claimed an Amazonian founder whether it had once been part of the Nation or not, her 'tomb'... in fact a temple, marking the centre of town.
MAPS OF THE AMAZON NATION
- The religious origins of Amazon tribes presented here were described by Budapest 1997, p. 54. The role of religion in the creation of the Amazon Nation were also alluded to by Salmonsan, p. 8.
- The African Amazons did not view Sipylene in a manner exactly equivalent to Cybele, as might be expected.
- A problematic category, because chthonic or Death Goddesses often have navy blue coloured skin, like Kali, and black skinned chthonic Goddesses tend to correspond to areas the worship of Egyptian Isis had been carried.
- From pages 140 and 161 in 'The Amazons of Greek Mythology' 1973. Sobol doesn't make his reasoning for why he thinks this plausible explicit, but it may be due to the combination of 'male' and 'female' terms for women who embody both 'female' and 'male' qualities.
- The point here is not to try to derive terms in unrelated languages from each other, which is a nonsensical effort, but to note an intriguing array of coincidences.
- It is also important to note that the Indian concept of all Goddesses (or gods) being aspects of one root Being is very ancient, so this explanation of evolution of one Goddess from another must be understood as a contemporary perspective that should not be projected onto those early Amazons.
- For example, Putik-Hipa, a priestess-queen during the Hittite period, Poudo-Hipa 'horse guard,' Toudou-Hipa, and Goulou-Hipa.
- Effectively the region including present day Turkey, along with part of northern Syria.
- 'The Living Goddess' 1991 and 'The Language of the Goddess' 1991.
- Referring to present day southern Europe and Anatolia before the Indo-European migrations.
- In fact, the mainland town of Giresun across from the island was founded by Thermodontine Amazons.
- Mounted archers had played a part in Libyan Amazon military operations, but such warriors were not organized into a true cavalry until Lysippe.