Friday, July 1, 2011

The Amazons

Throughout human history civilizations have risen and fallen.  The Romans, Greeks, Huns, and Mongols are all examples for large and well developed ancient societies that had periods of expansive growth.  In the end though, all these cultures inevitably retracted back to close their original sizes.  Due to the size and scope of these, and many other, culture's influences it is no great challenge for someone to simply open an atlas or do a web search and find where said societies originated and how far they had expanded, but not all cultures are like this.  There have been many cultures that have developed, then matured, and even expanded, only to dissipate without a whisper of verifiable archaeological evidence.  Legends and myths persist about these cultures, usually written by their neighboring societies.  Many times these societies / cultures are termed "Lost Civilizations".  When people use this term the stories of Atlantis, Shangri-La, Lemuria, and until recently, Troy, would come to mind.  I say until recently in regards to Troy due to the fact that for hundreds (100s) of years the stories that encompassed it were considered fiction (see The Trojan Horse), but all of that changed in eighteen sixty-five (1865).  In 1865, English archaeologist Frank Calvert excavated trial trenches in a field he had bought from a local farmer at Hisarlık, and in 1868 Heinrich Schliemann, wealthy German businessman and archaeologist, also began excavating in the area after a chance meeting with Calvert in Çanakkale.  These excavations have led to the dicovery of what many consider the site of the historical Troy.  So, as you can see, sometimes the legends of myths of the path are more than just that, sometimes they are more like shadowy echoes of the past and with hard work, and a lot of luck, we find that once was fiction is actually fact.

This leads us to another even more elusive culture that to this day still echoes in popular culture, the Amazons (see Wonder Woman).  The Amazon's were a matriarchal race that on numerous occasions waged war on ancient Greece.  The stories of their military exploits ring though in Homer's Illiad.  Now, having a culture that is devoid of men would not do well for the longevity of a society as eventually, especially in a warring state, the number of citizens would dwindle down to a point where either it would be absorbed, or overrun, by one (1) of its neighbors.  The Amazonian's get around this by once a year, in order to prevent their race from dying out, they visited the Gargareans, a neighbouring tribe. The male children who were the result of these visits were either killed, sent back to their fathers or exposed in the wilderness to fend for themselves; the females were kept and brought up by their mothers, and trained in agricultural pursuits, hunting, and the art of war. In other stories when the Amazons went to war they would not kill all the men. Some they would take as slaves, and once or twice a year they would have sex with their slaves.  So with all the legends and myths we should know precisely where there civilization resided, right?  Wrong.  To date archaeologists have yet to determine where they originated from.  Some stories speak of historical Scythia and Sarmatia in line with the account by Herodotus, but some authors prefer a comparison to cultures of Asia Minor or even Minoan Crete.  Below is a map I generated using Google Earth, some overlays, and a bit of research.  Hope this helps in visualizing the possible locations of this great, and mysterious people.

In the above map you can see the where Greece, Sarmatia and Scythia are located in the world.  It is approximately a thousand (1000) mile ride from the modern Ukraine (Sarmatia) and fifteen hundred (1500) mile ride from Kazakhstan (Scythia) to Greece, ancient or otherwise.  Additionally both of these proposed locations would require travelling around the Black Sea.

In the above map you can see a blow-up of Greece from the original map.  You can clearly see the island of Crete at the bottom of the map, another location where the mythical Amazonians may have originated from.

In this final map you can get a idea on where Libya is in proximity to Greece.  As you can see, if the Amazonians originated in Libya they would have to have either sailed across the Mediterranean sea, a five hundred (500) mile voyage, or traveled around the "Med", conservatively a two thousand (2,000) mile land route.

In the end, I think the classicist Peter Walcot may have summed it up best when he wrote, "Wherever the Amazons are located by the Greeks, whether it is somewhere along the Black Sea in the distant north-east, or in Libya in the furthest south, it is always beyond the confines of the civilized world. The Amazons exist outside the range of normal human experience."

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