mythological art

Who were the Amazons?

According to Greek mythology, the Amazons were a tribe of women warriors, considered brutal, aggressive and whose main concern in life was the war. Herodotus affirmed that they lived on the banks of the Thermodon River, and according to Diodorus they were inhabitants of Ancient Libya long before settled along the Thermodon. Some writers, as Apollonius Rhodius, mention that Amazons were the daughters of Ares and the nymph Harmonia. Some of their notable queens were Penthesilea (who participated in the Trojan War) or her sister Hippolyta, she is mentioned in one of the Labours of Heracles as her belt was the ninth labour of the hero.


Fleeing Amazon. Tondo of an Attic red-figure kylix, 510–500 BC. –
Staatliche Antikensammlungen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In many versions of the myth, no men were allowed to have sexual encounters or reside in the Amazon country, but in order to prevent their race from disappearing they visited the neighbour tribe, the Gargareans, once a year.

Amazons in Art

Most of the depictions of the Amazons in art, are of them in battle against Greek warriors during the amazonomachies, especially in classical art.


Ancient Roman mosaic: Amazon warrior armed with a labrys, engaged in combat with a hippeus – Musée du Louvre (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These battles are placed on the same level as the battles of Greeks and centaurs (and very often they are associated with them too). The belief in their existence make necessary to place them as far as possible, with the appearance of the natural beings. Very often they’re depicted on horseback, as Scythian and Sarmatian horsemen, other times on foot.

In art is common find them in occupations like hunt or war. Using weapons as bow, spear, axe, half shield and helmet. In the Greek mind they created these warriors taking as model the goddess Athena, lately they will appear in some vases wearing a thin dress, a model closer to goddess Artemis.  

Battle of the Amazons by Rubens and Jan Brueghel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

During the Renaissance the myth of the Amazons evolved, the artists started to depict them in a new perspective. We can see this in the works of Rubens and Jan Brueghel, both artists depicted the battle of the Amazons (around 1598) showing many attributes of Renaissance-styled paintings.

The theme of the Amazons appears during the Rococo too, in works of Johann Georg Platzer. And in the Romanticism, the German artist Anselm Feuerbach also painted the Amazons.


Thalestris, Queen of the Amazons, visits Alexander by Johann Georg Platzer
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Curiosities:

  • In early modern period the word “amazon” became a term used for female warrior in general.
  • It is believed that the Amazons were the founders of the cities and temples of Smyrna, Ephesus or Amastris.
  • According to the legend the Amazons invented the cavalry.
  • In accordance with archaeological discoveries of burial sites with female warriors on the Eurasian steppes is believed that the Scythian women could have inspired the myth of the Amazons.
  • the Amazon queen Hippolyta appears in Shakespeare’s Midsummer night’s dream.
Copy after original by Phidias. Head is a copy from Polyclitus’ original.
Statue of the Wounded Amazon – Capitoline Museums (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

References:

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