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The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women Across the Ancient World

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The real history of the Amazons in war and love Amazons—fierce warrior women dwelling on the fringes of the known world—were the mythic archenemies of the ancient Greeks. Heracles and Achilles displayed their valor in duels with Amazon queens, and the Athenians reveled in their victory over a powerful Amazon army. In historical times, Cyrus of Persia, Alexander the Great, a The real history of the Amazons in war and love Amazons—fierce warrior women dwelling on the fringes of the known world—were the mythic archenemies of the ancient Greeks. Heracles and Achilles displayed their valor in duels with Amazon queens, and the Athenians reveled in their victory over a powerful Amazon army. In historical times, Cyrus of Persia, Alexander the Great, and the Roman general Pompey tangled with Amazons. But just who were these bold barbarian archers on horseback who gloried in fighting, hunting, and sexual freedom? Were Amazons real? In this deeply researched, wide-ranging, and lavishly illustrated book, National Book Award finalist Adrienne Mayor presents the Amazons as they have never been seen before. This is the first comprehensive account of warrior women in myth and history across the ancient world, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Great Wall of China. Mayor tells how amazing new archaeological discoveries of battle-scarred female skeletons buried with their weapons prove that women warriors were not merely figments of the Greek imagination. Combining classical myth and art, nomad traditions, and scientific archaeology, she reveals intimate, surprising details and original insights about the lives and legends of the women known as Amazons. Provocatively arguing that a timeless search for a balance between the sexes explains the allure of the Amazons, Mayor reminds us that there were as many Amazon love stories as there were war stories. The Greeks were not the only people enchanted by Amazons—Mayor shows that warlike women of nomadic cultures inspired exciting tales in ancient Egypt, Persia, India, Central Asia, and China. Driven by a detective's curiosity, Mayor unearths long-buried evidence and sifts fact from fiction to show how flesh-and-blood women of the Eurasian steppes were mythologized as Amazons, the equals of men. The result is likely to become a classic.


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The real history of the Amazons in war and love Amazons—fierce warrior women dwelling on the fringes of the known world—were the mythic archenemies of the ancient Greeks. Heracles and Achilles displayed their valor in duels with Amazon queens, and the Athenians reveled in their victory over a powerful Amazon army. In historical times, Cyrus of Persia, Alexander the Great, a The real history of the Amazons in war and love Amazons—fierce warrior women dwelling on the fringes of the known world—were the mythic archenemies of the ancient Greeks. Heracles and Achilles displayed their valor in duels with Amazon queens, and the Athenians reveled in their victory over a powerful Amazon army. In historical times, Cyrus of Persia, Alexander the Great, and the Roman general Pompey tangled with Amazons. But just who were these bold barbarian archers on horseback who gloried in fighting, hunting, and sexual freedom? Were Amazons real? In this deeply researched, wide-ranging, and lavishly illustrated book, National Book Award finalist Adrienne Mayor presents the Amazons as they have never been seen before. This is the first comprehensive account of warrior women in myth and history across the ancient world, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Great Wall of China. Mayor tells how amazing new archaeological discoveries of battle-scarred female skeletons buried with their weapons prove that women warriors were not merely figments of the Greek imagination. Combining classical myth and art, nomad traditions, and scientific archaeology, she reveals intimate, surprising details and original insights about the lives and legends of the women known as Amazons. Provocatively arguing that a timeless search for a balance between the sexes explains the allure of the Amazons, Mayor reminds us that there were as many Amazon love stories as there were war stories. The Greeks were not the only people enchanted by Amazons—Mayor shows that warlike women of nomadic cultures inspired exciting tales in ancient Egypt, Persia, India, Central Asia, and China. Driven by a detective's curiosity, Mayor unearths long-buried evidence and sifts fact from fiction to show how flesh-and-blood women of the Eurasian steppes were mythologized as Amazons, the equals of men. The result is likely to become a classic.

30 review for The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women Across the Ancient World

  1. 5 out of 5

    Elise

    The good first - this book was a solid example of scholarship that is accessible to the layperson, and Mayor does a good job of surveying the sources and information about Amazons and warrior women from Greece to China. Her writing is readable and while the archaeological catalogue of grave items can be exhausting, it is clear that Mayor knows a great deal about her subject. That said - I cannot feel good about recommending this book casually, given the way Mayor lays fast and loose with aspects The good first - this book was a solid example of scholarship that is accessible to the layperson, and Mayor does a good job of surveying the sources and information about Amazons and warrior women from Greece to China. Her writing is readable and while the archaeological catalogue of grave items can be exhausting, it is clear that Mayor knows a great deal about her subject. That said - I cannot feel good about recommending this book casually, given the way Mayor lays fast and loose with aspects of her scholarship. She seems too quick to me, for one, to dismiss the idea that Amazons or warrior women in general might be used in myth or folklore to do some kind of cultural work, for instance having to do with gender roles or the Other, in the service of her point that the "Amazons" were a historical reality. The archaeological evidence is indeed compelling that there were at one time women who fought in ancient warfare, but too often Mayor leaps from these discoveries (comprising a quarter of burials found) to equating myth with history. Mayor in general seldom distinguishes between myth or folklore and historical record, and does little examining of her sources or their factual reliability. Every ancient writing appears to have some basis in factual events. Mayor also seems to lump a large number of cultures together in this book, with little examination of how their differences might be relevant to the role of warrior women in their myth/history. (This is evident in the frankly lazy way Mayor conflates the terms "Amazon" and "Scythian" with modern ethnic groups.) In short: Mayor's critical scholarship seems to have suffered in favor of overemphasizing her thesis that there were real women who were the equals of men. While a large and growing body of archaeological evidence supports her, Mayor stretches too far. In one particularly memorable instance, she lovingly imagines a romantic interlude between an Amazon and her lover, complete with tasteful fade to black. Maybe I am too accustomed to academic classical scholarship, which constantly hedges its bets and comments on the unreliability of ancient writers. However, I do not feel that caution, and careful examination of source material, must be sacrificed for the sake of drama. Mayor's survey of records of warrior women is undoubtedly valuable. Where she falters is the conclusions she draws from these records.

  2. 5 out of 5

    K.

    This book was...quite frankly, it was amazing. I've been trying recently to read more non-fiction that's written by women and about women, because sometimes that can be difficult to find, particularly when you read predominantly history books. So this one, even though it cost me $40, seemed like it would fit the bill perfectly. And it did. This book is completely fascinating and full of badass ladies. The first half is all about the nomadic peoples who lived on the steppes of Central Asia (and p This book was...quite frankly, it was amazing. I've been trying recently to read more non-fiction that's written by women and about women, because sometimes that can be difficult to find, particularly when you read predominantly history books. So this one, even though it cost me $40, seemed like it would fit the bill perfectly. And it did. This book is completely fascinating and full of badass ladies. The first half is all about the nomadic peoples who lived on the steppes of Central Asia (and parts of Europe - these people lived basically from Ukraine through Azerbaijan and all the way across to Kazakhstan) and who the Greeks called Amazons. It deals with the realities of their society and culture as well as Greek myths about them - no boobs were chopped off in order to shoot better, because their bows simply didn't work that way. It deals with archaeologists being predisposed to assume that graves containing weaponry belonged to men, and how DNA testing has proved that a significant number of graves containing swords and bows and daggers actually belonged to women. (And, similarly, how many graves containing combs and jewellery actually belonged to men!) Mayor argues that at a minimum, 20-25% of the warriors in Central Asian society were women. It deals with representations of Amazons on Greek pottery and jewellery, as well as discussing Amazons in Greek myths and legends. And then finally, it talks briefly about warrior women in other ancient cultures around the world - Egypt, India, Persia, China. There's a brief mention of Boadicea, but the primary focus is on the Greek world through to Asia. On the whole, it was very long and quite dense, but thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish. 10/10, would recommend.

  3. 5 out of 5

    saïd

    How is Adrienne Mayor still being taken seriously by anyone 😭

  4. 4 out of 5

    Cat

    I feel like I am cheating to give a book a review when I didn't read the whole thing. I'm only about halfway through, and I am abandoning ship, or, perhaps better for a book about equestrian nomads, dismounting from this horse. I picked up this book because of this fabulous New Yorker blog entry by my friend Josh Rothman, interviewing the author about the "real" Amazons: http://www.newyorker.com/books/joshua.... This quick, pithy account of their lives, intoxicants, fashion, and prowess gives wh I feel like I am cheating to give a book a review when I didn't read the whole thing. I'm only about halfway through, and I am abandoning ship, or, perhaps better for a book about equestrian nomads, dismounting from this horse. I picked up this book because of this fabulous New Yorker blog entry by my friend Josh Rothman, interviewing the author about the "real" Amazons: http://www.newyorker.com/books/joshua.... This quick, pithy account of their lives, intoxicants, fashion, and prowess gives what was for me the perfect amount of information and drama to illuminate an aspect of the ancient world I had never thought of before and also to open up my conception of classical culture to include more geography and social roles than encompassed by Greece or Rome. Mayor does all of this in her book, and so if you are interested in reading more after the New Yorker blog post, I recommend reading her introduction and even perhaps her first chapter. This frames the classical literature and history that invokes the Amazons most prominently, the scholarship that tried to see them as a metaphor or a fantasy, and the exciting overlaps between archaeology discoveries (the tombs of nomads on the steppes) and the vision of gender equity and warrior ability that Amazonian allusions allowed the Greeks. In other words, she talks about how and why it's profitable to think of these nomad groups as the historical basis for the literary Amazons, and she even indicates how the Greeks might have misread their social structures and rituals. Mayor's chapters focus on inherently interesting things--what animals Amazons domesticated, what fashions they wore, what intoxicants they consumed, who they slept with and what kind of relationships these were, how they tattooed themselves--but they get supremely listy. She actually advises in the introduction that you not read straight through it, saying that she will contextualize all of her evidence with similar material. She's telling the truth. After a really captivating introduction and first chapter, the book devolved (for me) into lists of archaelogical finds, and since I am a lay reader, that just couldn't maintain my flagging interest. It seems to me like the book includes very compelling evidence and is doing important work linking together research on different regions of the classical world, reminding us that they made cultural, economic, and material exchanges, but I just don't have the patience for lists of every vase where an Amazon appears with a dog or a horse and everything we can learn from those vases.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Iset

    I have no hesitation whatsoever about recommending this book both to fellow history-lovers and my non-historian friends alike. Mayor covers just about every aspect that you’d ever want to know about the Amazons, from the most fantastical tales in myth to the practical artefacts of their real-life counterparts. The evidence she presents is strong enough to convince me beyond reasonable doubt that there were real women behind the shroud of myth – though that does not mean that everything you’ve hea I have no hesitation whatsoever about recommending this book both to fellow history-lovers and my non-historian friends alike. Mayor covers just about every aspect that you’d ever want to know about the Amazons, from the most fantastical tales in myth to the practical artefacts of their real-life counterparts. The evidence she presents is strong enough to convince me beyond reasonable doubt that there were real women behind the shroud of myth – though that does not mean that everything you’ve heard about Amazons in modern popular legend should be taken as true. They most likely originated from distorted retellings of nomadic Scythian tribes, where children learn to ride before they are five and men and women alike are needed to protect shifting tribal fortunes in battle. But lifelong chastity, women-only groups who seared their breasts and killed or maimed male infants belongs firmly in the realm of fairytales. I greatly appreciated the fact that, as well as presenting the copious archaeological evidence for female Scythian warriors who fought and died in battle, Mayor took the time to address and bust these pervasive and ridiculous myths. Her foray into possible Amazon figures farther afield, in China, India, and Egypt, for example, is tangential and barely relevant, but admittedly interesting all the same. The one thing I really didn’t agree with her about was Alexander and Thalestris; Mayor fails to question the credibility of the key writers, and I was disappointed with how in love with that particular story Mayor seemed to be, at one point descending into a purely fictional tryst scene which, for me, suggested a personal bias. Nevertheless, fly in the ointment aside, Mayor’s book is smooth and engaging, which should appeal to the layman reader just as much as it did to this historian. 9 out of 10

  6. 4 out of 5

    Chaitra

    4.5 Reading this book was quite a journey! And I absolutely enjoyed the whole experience! I mean, if you are someone who's into ancient Greeks and their civilization, myths and legends it's possible you definitely might have heard the name Amazons, the fierce warrior women who gave an incredible touch to the glorious stories of the Greek heroes and helped create a great Greek nationalism. There are many legends revolving around them where they actively involved in the famous Trojan war, their att 4.5 Reading this book was quite a journey! And I absolutely enjoyed the whole experience! I mean, if you are someone who's into ancient Greeks and their civilization, myths and legends it's possible you definitely might have heard the name Amazons, the fierce warrior women who gave an incredible touch to the glorious stories of the Greek heroes and helped create a great Greek nationalism. There are many legends revolving around them where they actively involved in the famous Trojan war, their attack on Athens, their encounter with the Argonauts and let's not forget that one of the twelve labours of Hercules is to get the golden belt owned by the Amazon queen herself, Hippolyte! Every so called myth has some kind of reality and historical base, at least the teeny bit. The same goes for the Amazons. The Amazons might not have been really there but the base for such idea on the fierce armies of women was definitely real in flesh and bones. And these, even the ancient Greek historians admitted, were the horse riding nomadic trible women (sometimes accompanied by men) of Sycthia. Hence the myth of the Amazons wasn't just a conjured up idea of warrior women who fascinated and intimidated the Hellenic cultures where women were rather expected to stay indoors and engage in domestic duties as well as gave posed 'equal' competition to the Greek heroes with whom the Amazons' stories entwined around the laces of romance and tragedy but very much real about whom the ancient Greeks heard from the travellers. This book lets you know and understand the nomadic horse rearing collective tribes of Steppes who were broadly called the Scythians of the Steppes who are the original idea behind the Greek mythical women called the Amazons. The author has done an extraordinarily marvelous job bringing this masterpiece. Backed with the archeological findings, demographical and lifestyles of the nomads of Steppes the author Adrienne Mayor has brought the history and the myth of warrior women called Amazons. So it's sure Amazonian women in the ancient times existed and they weren't just the entire idea that got birthed in the hellenic lands but also in the regions of Persia, Central Asia and even the Chinese histories extensively talk about these barbaric nomadic women. These (Saka-Samartians-Scythian etcetera) tribes fascinated the patriarchal Greeks so much that great a many people influenced their own ideas on them which led to the common misbeliefs and misconceptions that the Amazons were single breasted man hating warriors. This book takes us on a journey into the ancient world where the idea of women warriors, gender equality in warfare weren't just pondered and what more *suppressed* but in fact romanticised over such warrior women who wielded swords, raised armies and won wars. These women have led to the manufactures of so many legends and folklores. Here's the funny thing, most of these excavated bodies with their weaponry and sometimes horses across the steppes were initially assumed to be males have turned out to be females, thanks to the advanced technologies that help us understand the sexes. After giving the etymological and basics regarding the ideas, untangling the misassumptions regarding the Amazons in the first part the author in the next section gives us the most scientific evidences of the horse mounted warrior women across the Steppes. Later on the author presents the famous stories on the Amazons like Hippolyte, Antiope, Panthesilea, Thalestris (mentioned as one of the short term companion of Alexander, the great), Hypsicratea, the most beloved wife and warrior companion of the king Mithradates along with whom she posed a threat to the Romans, the Amazons involvement with and against the Greeks and Trojans. The final section seeks to see these warrior women beyond the greek world and it's apparent that the Persians and even Egyptians endorsed in the idea of the Amazonian women. The central Asians folklore and oral histories do have terms for such women phonetically similar to the word Amazons. She also mentions of the warriors of Indian women and states the involvement of the Amazons with the Indians Finally the author halts at the borders of China where the histories, ballads and legends glorified not just the Chinese women warriors but also the fierce women of the threatening nomadic tribes. The way the Greeks and the Chinese saw these barbaric horse riding women clashed and contrasted was beautifully speculated by the author. I felt like the author tried to blend the Amazonian women as well the other women warriors, especially the Indian and Chinese who seemed to strikingly share the features and similarities with the Amazons in the final section. It kind of felt like the author tried to bring them under the huge umbrella term of the Amazons, not as the mythical figures of the Greek legends but the huge broad word for every warrior women. In the end this is a must read book for everyone who would want to explore the realities of the women who were fierce and led armies. This book stays true to the histories and the legends and makes a nice blend. However it sometimes might get boring to the reader since for me it seemed to detailed (which is good, definitely) so I believe one can get the best out of this book if only the reader is ready to move through the plain parts which seem too long and boring. This book I believe should be read to seek knowledge but not just for the idea of reading this book. This might bore people who are not into historical nonfiction, there's a short TED Ed video narrated by the author which might help one understand the history behind the idea of the Amazons.

  7. 4 out of 5

    MangoLoverReads

    5/5 — First I just want to thank Mayor for researching and writing this book. As women, it seems we have to fight to find our herstory. It is empowering to finally have evidence that in antiquity there were warrior women who were ‘the equals of men’. What a wonderful journey of discovery I’ve been on. These warrior women were respected, followed, feared, and desired. In the harsh conditions on the steppes, the boys and girls were raised the same, dressed the same, and fought the same. “The archa 5/5 — First I just want to thank Mayor for researching and writing this book. As women, it seems we have to fight to find our herstory. It is empowering to finally have evidence that in antiquity there were warrior women who were ‘the equals of men’. What a wonderful journey of discovery I’ve been on. These warrior women were respected, followed, feared, and desired. In the harsh conditions on the steppes, the boys and girls were raised the same, dressed the same, and fought the same. “The archaeological record proves beyond a doubt that hunter-warrior horsewomen were a historical reality across a great expanse of geography and chronology, from the western Black Sea to northern China, for more than a thousand years.” The horse was the equalizer as well as the Amazons weapons which “maximize the wielder’s strengths and compensate for weakness or smaller size.” The word “Amazones” first shows up in The Iliad. I won’t go into the linguistics of the word Amazon but suffice it to say that it is covered in some detail. Mayor takes us through the evidence, the art, and the stories. Sharing that “Archaeological discoveries of armed women buried where the ancient Greeks located Amazons provide solid evidence that horsewomen warriors of steppe cultures really existed as contemporaries of the Greeks. These flesh-and-blood women were the Amazons described by Greek and Roman historians from Herodotus to Orosius.”

  8. 5 out of 5

    Nicholas

    4.5 stars, but possibly 5 depending on what you use it for. The Amazons was not what I expected. I expected a smattering of well-known folklore superficially retold in an anthology; instead, Mayor put together a vividly detailed historical and cultural analysis on the origin and changing interpretation of tales of Amazons. The work is divided into four parts. In part one, Mayor lays out her thesis; she asserts that tales of the Amazons were not merely cautionary tales the Greeks told themselves a 4.5 stars, but possibly 5 depending on what you use it for. The Amazons was not what I expected. I expected a smattering of well-known folklore superficially retold in an anthology; instead, Mayor put together a vividly detailed historical and cultural analysis on the origin and changing interpretation of tales of Amazons. The work is divided into four parts. In part one, Mayor lays out her thesis; she asserts that tales of the Amazons were not merely cautionary tales the Greeks told themselves about the dangers of sexual equality (though they certainly were at that), but a distorted interpretation of existent cultures foreign to the Greeks—namely Scythian as well as other steppe cultures from Central Asia—that showed a marked degree of sexual equality. Essentially, Mayor argues that because of the practical necessities of life on the plains, there was greater participation among women in roles that the Greeks deemed the exclusive province of males, which included warfare and hunting. Mayor succinctly lays out her evidence for such a claim in this first section and it's based on a satisfying variety of factors that include interpretation of the Amazonian mythological geography, depictions of traditional Amazon costume on Greek pottery and its similarity to the traditional garb of steppe cultures, an examination of the osteological evidence (in particular, more recent evidence that as many as 40% of the tombs and barrows unearthed of "male" warriors in the Black Sea region were actually women), as well as linguistic and philological evidence of loan words the Greeks borrowed from Persian or other Central Asian sources. I think she proves her case more than satisfactorily. Part two contains an analysis of themes from famous Amazon stories to assemble a sort of cultural analysis of the Amazonian culture - and a parallel analysis of Central Asian horse culture to further strengthen the arguments presented in part one. Here's where the analysis can become somewhat redundant. It almost feels as if Mayor is worried that her conclusions are going to be dismissed out of hand—and perhaps that's a legitimate fear, when challenging the accepted wisdom of Greek historical orthodoxy after centuries with a thesis that states that the Amazons were, in fact, quite real. Here Mayor takes great care to point out that the myths themselves aren't to be taken at face value and presents a sort of hybrid interpretation of the traditional stories in the Greek tradition while recounting historical studies of Central Asian cultures. For example, rather than asserting that a real society of dominant women with no males was the source of the tales, Mayor suggests that the high degree of equality, the confrontation of women warriors in armor and on horseback, the relatively liberal attitudes towards sex led the sexually conservative Greeks to use these cultures as a touchstone for imagining their wildest fears: women holding men in submission, women running society (shudder). Mayor explores fashion, drug use, tattooing, sex, politics, music, and, of course, warfare to show how stunned Greeks could draw such conclusions and place them in their mythology. Again, the analysis is thorough, but very repetitive in places (a problem I'll address later). Part three is the catalogue of famous Amazon stories that I anticipated would be the bulk of the book. To my surprise in addition to a simple recounting of tales of women such as Hippolyte and Penthesilea, Mayor once again outdoes herself by recounting alternate versions of the tale and the evolution of the tales through time before providing a synthesized version that attempts to look for real historical roots. It's cleverly and exhaustively done and extraordinarily well sourced. Part four is the icing on the cake as Mayor recounts Amazon-like tales from cultures other than the Greek, including tales from both China and Iran, that might once again pin down the truth and lift the mythological veil. The section is an added bonus I didn't expect. There aren't many shortcomings here. The Amazons is a readable but academically rigorous study of the mythology and history that highlights the syncretism of Greek and Central Asian culture where they mingled along the edges of the Black Sea. Mayor herself admits in the introduction that she anticipates her work to be perused in pieces, with the reader choosing what interests them, like an anthology. I strongly suspect that's the major reason for her choice to repeat and weave the same essential facts throughout the narrative. She self-references copiously pointing to other chapters in-text to direct readers to other potential areas of interest and if I was reading this over a longer period of time or in pieces, I don't think I'd have found the repetition as tedious as I did trying to blast through it in a couple of sessions. That being said, I couldn't help but be impressed with the depth and breadth of Mayor's knowledge. Everything from osteological archeology to philology is covered in laborious, but fascinating detail. She's an expert and she's good at telling a tale and letting her enthusiasm for her subject shine through. I definitely plan to add this to my collection in the future.

  9. 5 out of 5

    David Dinaburg

    Release yourself from expectation; powerful Amazons battling legendary Greek heroes; the Diablo 2 character class; Wonder Woman’s civilization. These cultural touchstones are why I came to The Amazons: Lives & Legends of Warrior Women Across the Ancient World but when the book touches on them, they are the least of it. The book shines when it supports its core thesis: real history. And it does this nearly every step of the way, staying true to its narrative with constant citation and support: Th Release yourself from expectation; powerful Amazons battling legendary Greek heroes; the Diablo 2 character class; Wonder Woman’s civilization. These cultural touchstones are why I came to The Amazons: Lives & Legends of Warrior Women Across the Ancient World but when the book touches on them, they are the least of it. The book shines when it supports its core thesis: real history. And it does this nearly every step of the way, staying true to its narrative with constant citation and support: The horse was the great equalizer of males and females on the steppes, probably one of the chief reasons for the nomads’ noteworthy gender equality. A skilled archer horsewoman could hold her own against men in battle. Riding horses liberated women, bestowing freedom of movement and an exhilarating, challenging life outdoors. Among the Greeks, only men enjoyed such physical independence in the open air; women were, ideally, confined indoors at home. On the steppes, men and women alike could travel vast distances with changes of horses bred for endurance. Horses leveled out difference in male and female strength, providing the mobility and muscle to transport riders and heavy gear, weapons, armor, household goods, plunder, and large game. Horse riding also demanded comfortable, convenient unisex clothes. Because girls could learn to ride, tame, and control horses, and shoot arrows just as well as boys, the steppe culture was the perfect environment for women to become mounted hunters and fighters. The isolated quote above does nothing compared to four hundred pages required to see the book’s true power. And I heartily recommend reading Amazons: not just selections, but the whole book. Here is why. There was penciled underlining in the prologue—academia seeping in—before the trail went cold at the start of Chapter One. Nearly a month passed and I had forgotten the vandal scribe when it picked back up again in Part 3: Amazons in Greek and Roman Myth, Legend, and History. Someone jumped the line, most likely, picking out the parts that seemed to be the most appealing or relevant to their coursework (or curriculum?). A fair move, acknowledged by the author: “Anticipating that some readers might skip ahead and turn directly to chapters of greatest personal curiosity or interest, I have included plentiful cross-references to relevant discussions.” This caveat raised my hackles, but fret not, it is no demurral for the padding standard in nonfiction anthologies. In fact, there were at least a dozen times when something was cited—“Archaeologist Polomak described a similar versatility for the long woolen skirt worn by the Ice Princess (chapter 6)”—and all i wanted was a refresher on who, exactly, the Ice Princess was and why her skirt was important. These coupled rationales—the lack of repetition between chapters and the prima facie uninteresting sections that turn out to be the most fascinating—are more important than the cool quotes I want to feed into this review. Out of context, though, the stories of Teuta pirating the Romans without mercy or the Maiden of Yue founding Chinese martial arts theory don’t land with the same impact. The history is important. Don’t skip around. The Amazons is a long book, but it is paced well. Each chapter builds on or toward a unified whole. Not many nonfiction books can say that.

  10. 4 out of 5

    ❆ Crystal ❆

    3 stars. I enjoyed reading about these brave, strong women. I think it's great that there are still archeological discoveries of these women with pieces of their history still intact. I found it amazing that burial sites in the past were thought to be male, but with recent DNA testing they found out they were women. I love that! It must have been quite a rugged life fraught with danger that they met head on. I think of the 10 year old warrior girl they found and just can't imagine what life woul 3 stars. I enjoyed reading about these brave, strong women. I think it's great that there are still archeological discoveries of these women with pieces of their history still intact. I found it amazing that burial sites in the past were thought to be male, but with recent DNA testing they found out they were women. I love that! It must have been quite a rugged life fraught with danger that they met head on. I think of the 10 year old warrior girl they found and just can't imagine what life would have been like for them as children. There's lot's of information with this book. I did enjoy reading and I loved hearing about all the new developments in science that gives more insight into these amazing women. It also tied in nicely with the last book I read... references to name/times/places that coincided. I enjoyed!

  11. 5 out of 5

    Bryn Hammond

    'Amazons' were Scythian women, simply. There has been nothing to approach this book before in its examination of every piece of evidence from the Greek world. Then, in a chapter wonderfully titled 'Amazonistan: Central Asia', she looks for the Amazons', or rather Scythians/steppe nomads', own sources. These were oral cultures, late written down, and she does slip into the middle ages, if that is as far back as we can go. It's pitched to a 21st century (wide) audience, and I felt it normalised towa 'Amazons' were Scythian women, simply. There has been nothing to approach this book before in its examination of every piece of evidence from the Greek world. Then, in a chapter wonderfully titled 'Amazonistan: Central Asia', she looks for the Amazons', or rather Scythians/steppe nomads', own sources. These were oral cultures, late written down, and she does slip into the middle ages, if that is as far back as we can go. It's pitched to a 21st century (wide) audience, and I felt it normalised towards that audience. I'd like more analysis of gender (what Greeks said about steppe nomad masculinity, too, for example). Most certainly recommended.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jessi

    Filed under Things I Wish I’d Learned in World History when we spent all that time learning about the Greeks and not the Scythians. I am astounded by everything I’ve learned from this book. And I really want to know what gender equality could have looked like if we’d been more influenced by (why couldn’t we have been more influenced by???) the nomadic steppe tribes instead of the Greeks and Romans. This book is incredibly well-researched and comprehensive. It includes the history, the myths and Filed under Things I Wish I’d Learned in World History when we spent all that time learning about the Greeks and not the Scythians. I am astounded by everything I’ve learned from this book. And I really want to know what gender equality could have looked like if we’d been more influenced by (why couldn’t we have been more influenced by???) the nomadic steppe tribes instead of the Greeks and Romans. This book is incredibly well-researched and comprehensive. It includes the history, the myths and legends, the archaeological and linguistic evidence—all of it. From Greece to the Central Asian steppes and even to China. In fact, I picked up this book for fun while reading books about women warriors which started with an interest in Mulan retellings, and on the last page, it says, “Thus with Mulan, an Amazon heroine of Chinese legend, we come full circle,” which really feels like a full circle moment for me as well. A++ phenomenal.

  13. 4 out of 5

    MrsJoseph *grouchy*

    So, anything can be an insult - it just depends on how you say it. I'm a rather tall woman. I'm not WNBA tall but I am close to 6 feet - I certainly hit 6 feet while in heels and if I'm wearing heels of 3+ inches I'm over 6 feet tall. Most of my friends and a lot of my family is short. I suffered the indignity of being called "Amazon Smurf" for years due to having short friends with mean boyfriends. My husband says that it is not an insult - that all men dream of an Amazon. I say HA! but would lik So, anything can be an insult - it just depends on how you say it. I'm a rather tall woman. I'm not WNBA tall but I am close to 6 feet - I certainly hit 6 feet while in heels and if I'm wearing heels of 3+ inches I'm over 6 feet tall. Most of my friends and a lot of my family is short. I suffered the indignity of being called "Amazon Smurf" for years due to having short friends with mean boyfriends. My husband says that it is not an insult - that all men dream of an Amazon. I say HA! but would like to make my peace with this word.

  14. 5 out of 5

    christina

    Really interesting read! (very well researched with a big bibliography in the back). This is definitely more of a history book rather than a mythology book, however, that is why I liked it. It introduced a lot of new archaeological information from the Scythian nomads. It was really interesting to read about the new technologies being used to test old remains; one of the biggest revelations was that up to 30% of warrior tombs that have been found in the area have been revealed to be women thanks Really interesting read! (very well researched with a big bibliography in the back). This is definitely more of a history book rather than a mythology book, however, that is why I liked it. It introduced a lot of new archaeological information from the Scythian nomads. It was really interesting to read about the new technologies being used to test old remains; one of the biggest revelations was that up to 30% of warrior tombs that have been found in the area have been revealed to be women thanks to new DNA testing. The author does a great job at weaving greek and other cultural myths with real history, and paints a good picture of who the "amazons" actually were in the real world and not just stories.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Amy Raby

    An amazing book which makes the case, quite persuasively, that the Amazon women of Greek myth were not fictional. They were female Scythian horse archers, and they were real. This is not a light or quick read, as a typical chapter presents some information about the Amazons and then backs up it with lots of evidence from archeology and ancient literature. But the content makes it well worth a close read. It turns out stories about the Amazons were told in many cultures, not just by the Greeks, so An amazing book which makes the case, quite persuasively, that the Amazon women of Greek myth were not fictional. They were female Scythian horse archers, and they were real. This is not a light or quick read, as a typical chapter presents some information about the Amazons and then backs up it with lots of evidence from archeology and ancient literature. But the content makes it well worth a close read. It turns out stories about the Amazons were told in many cultures, not just by the Greeks, so one can contrast and compare ancient accounts of them. Some tantalizing details backed up with archeological evidence: they were tattooed; they were expert mounted archers; they smoked cannabis; they may have been the first people to domesticate the horse, to work iron, and to wear trousers. They did NOT cut off one breast. If you have an interest in the ancient world, or in women warriors, you should absolutely read this book.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Diana C. Nearhos

    I had to put this down. There was too much cataloging and I gave up.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    Book of the year! (Even though it came out 4 years ago.) Mayor's fascinating story of the "real" Amazons, based on depictions of them in Greek art, myth, and history. She draws together these artistic depictions directly to archeological discoveries and artifacts. There's a dearth of ancient history that isn't Greco-Roman focused, so to learn of ancient Scythia and (though far too briefly) Persia and China was outright cool. Archeological evidence shows that women of the Eurasian steppe region ( Book of the year! (Even though it came out 4 years ago.) Mayor's fascinating story of the "real" Amazons, based on depictions of them in Greek art, myth, and history. She draws together these artistic depictions directly to archeological discoveries and artifacts. There's a dearth of ancient history that isn't Greco-Roman focused, so to learn of ancient Scythia and (though far too briefly) Persia and China was outright cool. Archeological evidence shows that women of the Eurasian steppe region (and beyond) were tattooed, legging-wearing, archery-skilled, bad-ass equestrian warriors. So 2018 has some good news after all---Wonder Woman was real and she had tattoos, is what I'm saying after reading this truly excellent book.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Beth

    Very interesting. Sections 1 and 2 could afford to be roughly half the length, as they tend to repeat the same point every few paragraphs. Things pick back up beyond the initial proposal (Amazons as nomadic horsewomen on the Eurasian steppes) in Section 3, and Section 4 is a light overview of non-Greek cultures. It is noticeable that Mayor's background is in Ancient Greek history, and the areas where she looks into other cultures often take large leaps to come to conclusions based more on the Gr Very interesting. Sections 1 and 2 could afford to be roughly half the length, as they tend to repeat the same point every few paragraphs. Things pick back up beyond the initial proposal (Amazons as nomadic horsewomen on the Eurasian steppes) in Section 3, and Section 4 is a light overview of non-Greek cultures. It is noticeable that Mayor's background is in Ancient Greek history, and the areas where she looks into other cultures often take large leaps to come to conclusions based more on the Greek evidence than the local evidence. Overall, a good read, and one I would probably use for an academic essay if I was still in university. I would recommend reading, but bear in mind that the early parts are a little repetitive and that a lot of the conclusions drawn are speculative. If using for academia, the notes for each section provide a good list of sources and I would advise checking these before taking the evidence presented here as fact.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Camilla

    A little drier than I thought it would be based on the super cool subject matter, but this scholarly book did cover some pretty incredible material for real-life Amazon women (who were many different tribes across the world and have only now been categorized as a titled group of Amazons, which is misleading and inaccurate). Basically, warrior women who rode horses without tack and could flip around in their seat to continue shooting bows and arrows while riding away from a fight, who most certai A little drier than I thought it would be based on the super cool subject matter, but this scholarly book did cover some pretty incredible material for real-life Amazon women (who were many different tribes across the world and have only now been categorized as a titled group of Amazons, which is misleading and inaccurate). Basically, warrior women who rode horses without tack and could flip around in their seat to continue shooting bows and arrows while riding away from a fight, who most certainly did NOT cut off their right breast to be better archers, who were fairly loose about their morality and not at all men-haters, and who died bravely and happily in warfare or old age, just like any other group of civilized people. They were so cool and they mystified other cultures with their behaviors and clothes and morality and I love them for it.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Margaret Sankey

    Mayor is a past master of excavating the kernel of fact from ancient beliefs, whether it is the cyclops coming from Greek encounters with mammoth skulls, to Roman propaganda about the Poison Master Mithradates. In this new book, she takes what is now known about the steppe people from their frozen burials (with DNA, bone analysis, animal genetics of their horses, diets, grave goods and the artistic themes of their tattoos and felted saddle blankets) and triangulates it with Greek Amazon mytholog Mayor is a past master of excavating the kernel of fact from ancient beliefs, whether it is the cyclops coming from Greek encounters with mammoth skulls, to Roman propaganda about the Poison Master Mithradates. In this new book, she takes what is now known about the steppe people from their frozen burials (with DNA, bone analysis, animal genetics of their horses, diets, grave goods and the artistic themes of their tattoos and felted saddle blankets) and triangulates it with Greek Amazon mythology to arrive at how crossing paths with nomadic people gave rise to such an enticing, enduring subversive view of women at the heart of classical Greek culture. The endnotes, as always, are a jackpot.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Justine

    4,5 stars I learnt so many things about women warriors!! I'm glad to know that Amazons were, in a way, real persons, and that they are still remembered in certain regions of the world. I also love that the author doesn't only speak about Greeks, but goes from Greece to China. The author presents myths, historical facts, archeology; there are some repetitions, but she warned the reader in the beginning, informing him that there would be indications as to what chapter alludes to another chapter. T 4,5 stars I learnt so many things about women warriors!! I'm glad to know that Amazons were, in a way, real persons, and that they are still remembered in certain regions of the world. I also love that the author doesn't only speak about Greeks, but goes from Greece to China. The author presents myths, historical facts, archeology; there are some repetitions, but she warned the reader in the beginning, informing him that there would be indications as to what chapter alludes to another chapter. The only thing this book is lacking is a conclusion! If only women could be treated like Amazons were by their male partners! Now I would like to own this book to go back to it regularly!

  22. 5 out of 5

    Rose

    Fascinating, accessible but still impecably documented. Many in text illustrations as well as a nice selection of color ones.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Eleni

    Great book just needs a concluding chapter. Detailed archaeological research with known mythology to verify amazon women existed throughout regions near and around the Black Sea.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    I really enjoyed this book! The best part was the section about the historical Scythian women, I could not put the book down reading through it. Mayor examines the archeology left behind by the people of the Steppes and beyond to try to create a vivid picture of their lives and how it could ostensibly translate into a source for the Amazons. The mythology section seemed a little less scholarly, but as with most myths and classical sources, it's hard to really feel 100% conclusive. The final sect I really enjoyed this book! The best part was the section about the historical Scythian women, I could not put the book down reading through it. Mayor examines the archeology left behind by the people of the Steppes and beyond to try to create a vivid picture of their lives and how it could ostensibly translate into a source for the Amazons. The mythology section seemed a little less scholarly, but as with most myths and classical sources, it's hard to really feel 100% conclusive. The final section was a good book ender - she looked at sources and peoples outside the Greek world, both for their perspective on the women of the steppes and for their own historical takes or folklore of warrior women. Overall a very fun and easy to read book.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Vaughn Roycroft

    Engaging. Thorough. Fascinating. Relevant.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Harmony Williams

    A fascinating, beautiful, and deeply researched account of Amazons in myth and fact. I highly recommend to anyone curious about these ancient women warriors!

  27. 5 out of 5

    Alenka of Bohemia

    This was truly fascinating and well written. Perfect if you want your feminist history to be well researched and argued.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Susan Pola Staples

    This is a scholarly book on the Amazon origin and how that influenced Greek mythology. The author shows that the Scythian origin of the word amazen and the its Greek equivalent and counterpart means equality. Both women and men fought in the Amazon culture. Ms Mayor traces the cross-cultural presence of female warriors not only in Scythian society but that of the Chinese steppe region and even India. Continued at later date

  29. 4 out of 5

    Chris Farrell

    The Amazons is a fairly in-depth look at the ancient mythological stories about Amazons and what they say about ancient Greek and other cultures, and also a fascinating look at the Scythian steppe tribes in which we now are pretty certain women served regularly as warriors - their horses and archery serving as a great equalizer between the sexes compared to the brute muscle-powered hoplite warfare practiced by the Greeks (and later perfected by the Romans). For me, the most interesting parts of t The Amazons is a fairly in-depth look at the ancient mythological stories about Amazons and what they say about ancient Greek and other cultures, and also a fascinating look at the Scythian steppe tribes in which we now are pretty certain women served regularly as warriors - their horses and archery serving as a great equalizer between the sexes compared to the brute muscle-powered hoplite warfare practiced by the Greeks (and later perfected by the Romans). For me, the most interesting parts of the book were the recent archaeological findings that have given us some insight into the Scythian tribes and their way of life. The preponderance of the evidence now is that prehistoric hunter-gatherer tribes were far more egalitarian, especially between the sexes, then cultures would become after agriculture and city-states. The Scythians were still fairly primitive at the time of the ancient Greeks and this book makes a pretty strong case that they probably retained a fairly egalitarian society in which women retained most of their autonomy and were at least sometimes, and possibly often, allowed to train as warriors. The Greeks had early contact with the Scythians in Asia Minor and around the Black Sea, and the book shows how the traditional Scythian dress and names found their way into Greek culture as depictions of Amazons. The Amazons has a bit of an academic feel, and for the amateur historian it can be a bit of a slog at times. But it's worth getting through for its terrific look at myth, legend, symbolism, and history, and where they collide. My knowledge of the ancient world and Greek and Roman culture is not insignificant, and I found a lot of this book totally new to me and incredibly fascinating. If you have an interest in this time period and these cultures I would highly recommend it.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Lipson

    Browsing book store shelves, I found myself in the History aisle, which I often do. Playing in my unconscious are always little questions. Being a person with a history degree and a comic book geek one of those questions was -- What is the reality behind Amazons? Lo and behold sitting on the shelf in front of my was this book and one other. As I compared the two, I put the other one on the shelf and ultimately walked out with Adrienne Mayor's The Amazons. I was not to be disappointed. Mayor, a lo Browsing book store shelves, I found myself in the History aisle, which I often do. Playing in my unconscious are always little questions. Being a person with a history degree and a comic book geek one of those questions was -- What is the reality behind Amazons? Lo and behold sitting on the shelf in front of my was this book and one other. As I compared the two, I put the other one on the shelf and ultimately walked out with Adrienne Mayor's The Amazons. I was not to be disappointed. Mayor, a long standing Stanford professor and authority on the subject of the ancient western world, presents the reading public with an extremely readable and well researched account of what could have contributed to the current Amazon myth so widely played with in popular fiction, comics, and movies. Through the reinterpretation of data, DNA analysis, she provides a fresh view that avoids maligning the previous male dominated theories. She simply provides a different and more compelling view to what has been before our eyes for a long time. Through her adapt writing style and no nonsense presentation of the new data in contrast to old schools of thought, she provides logical and complex arguments to where the Amazon myths of the globe have more than likely come from. For anyone curious about what is behind the concept of Wonder Woman and other older legends of the Amazons, I strongly recommend this book. The only weakness in it, I would dare say, is it does not have a strong conclusion to the book or summing up. But, I feel, Dr. Mayor has not said her last on the subject.

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