Friday, June 12, 2015

Amazons & Kurdish Women Warriors - A Tradition Continues

Amazons of Western Aryana in Ammanius Marcellinus' History
Roman soldier and historian Ammianus Marcellinus (c.320-c.390 CE), a native of Antioch, Anatolia (today's Antakya, Turkey, close to Kurdish enclaves), described the Amazons - legendary women warriors of Asia Minor. At one time in history, the Amazons of Asia Minor dwelt in lands that stretched from the south-eastern shores of the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea (Roman History of Ammianus Marcellinus 8.18-27) - lands that were once part of western Aryana and perhaps just north of and adjacent to the Kurdish lands of today. Let us know what you think of this article on our Facebook page.
Map showing the region inhabited by the Amazons:
from the SE Black Sea, the Thermodon River, S. Caucasus Mtns, to the SW Caspian Sea.
[For the origins of the name 'Amazon', » see the notes at the bottom of this page.]

Strabo on the Difference between History & Myth
In discussing the Amazons, geographer and historian Strabo (Geographia 11.5.3 etc.) draws a distinction between historical and mythical accounts. The famed tribe could not be found. That was likely because the Amazons were not so much a tribe exclusively of women but rather part of a community that saw women and men as equals - where the women were either part of exclusive or blended fighting units - as are today's Kurdish women's fighting units - and where the women (and men) rose at different times to become noteworthy and legendary leaders of the army and the entire community (unusual for others). In ancient times, the few outside recorders who came into contact with the 'Amazon' i.e., women fighting units led by women could well have embellished their stories to mythical proportions. Strabo gives us the example of fantastic myths that developed around Alexander of Macedonia. The personage is fact; the myths are false.

History records brave women warriors who rose to positions of leadership throughout the realms of Greater Aryana. For instance, Artemisia I who was queen or satrap (governor general) of Caria/Karka (anciently, the Hittite sub-kingdom of Arzawa) under Persian King Xerxes (486-466 BCE). Artemisia I (fl. 480 BCE) also served as admiral of her navy and in this capacity did battle with the Greeks. Then we have the example of Tomyris related below. Alexandrian historian Arrian (c.86-160 CE at 1.23.7) wrote that "it had been a custom in Asia (largely Greater Aryana), ever since the time of Semiramis, for women to rule men." We can myth-making at work in an exaggerated statement like this. But it was addressed to a Greek audience that decried women rising to power.

Herodotus: Woman Massagetae-Saka Chieftain Killed King Cyrus
This tradition prevailed in north-eastern Aryana as well (on the other side of the Caspian), where a woman Saka* chieftain named Tomyris (cf. Tahmina < Tahmiras < Tahmirath) had the distinction of either killing or mortally wounding Cyrus the Great (Herodotus, Histories, 1.205-214) - an object lesson of history. [*Pahlavans Rustam & Sohrab, champions and protectors of the Aryan/Iranian throne were also Saka as were the Parthava (Parthians)] (Also see » Zoroastrian Heritage's Cyrus page on his demise, » Herodotus' Histories, » the Cyrus pages on this blog and » 'Amazons in North-East Aryana' in the notes at the bottom of this page.)

Amazons & Turks
A 2002 paper written by the Amazon Research Subscriber Network states that even after the Amazons ceased to be an identifiable group in Greco-Roman literature, reports from the region record the important position of women in society and also the many women martyrs who died in battle against the invading foreign Turks. The report ends with these words: "The defence of the Ünye castle only some kilometres east of the Thermodon [River Terme today] against the Turks was commanded by a woman. The Turks were only capable of capturing this castle through treachery. The commanding woman committed suicide to escape her capture. A very similar story is reported from Lemnos (island in the northern Aegean Sea). A woman named Maroula defended the castle Kotsinas for a long period against the Turks. These medieval accounts seem to be the last aftermaths of the famous Amazons." "So we hear about many women as martyrs."

Amazons on the Darius Vase
The Darius Vase (320-340 BCE) close-up.
The Amazon battle scene is topmost.
The vase is actually a krater used to mix wine & water.
The Darius Vase (320-340 BCE).
The Amazon battle scene is on
the vase's neck (topmost).
An ancient vase/krater dating to 320-340 BCE vase found in the Apulia region of SE Italy (the region that forms the heel of Italy's 'boot' then part of Magna Grecia/Greater Greece) - called The Darius Vase - depicts the Amazons fighting Greek warriors. Greeks doing battle with Amazons (called Amazono-machy or Amazonomachia/Amazon battle) is a scene that frequently accompanied Greek-Persian battle scenes in fifth century BCE Greek art.

The Darius Vase depicts King Darius the Great being counselled to go to war with Greece. Playwright Aeschylus (c.525-c.455 BCE) in his play Persae (Persians) has Darius’ wife Atossa as saying that despite several provocations the great king decided against going to war with Greece. The inclusion of the Greeks attacking the Amazons at the top of the main body of the vase's motif, could be an indication that the Greek attack might have been one such provocation.
Amazonomachy scene on a lekythos (oil vase) like the Darius Vase c.420 BCE attributed to the so-called Eretria Painter
Patterned leggings and short tunics together with crescent shaped shields were considered as 'Persian'.
Image credit: Wikimedia
Valiant Kurdish Women & Men Freedom Fighters
The pen of history has not ceased to record the valiant deeds and heroism of the original people of the region. Kurdish women who together with Kurdish men, have risen to take up arms and defend their historic homeland, are reliving ancient and medieval history. An otherwise peace-loving and egalitarian people have been compelled to distinguish themselves once more in the battlefield.
Kurdish Woman freedom fighter. Image credit:
Brave Kurdish warriors near Makhmour, Iraq. Image courtesy of Joey L.
The Happy Dance - You Can't Keep a Good People Down
In good times... (photo credit: mustsweden at YouTube) 
...and bad times (at Qandil, Iraq). Photo credit: Sebastian Meyer
...and bad times after a vistory (at Derek, Syria). Photo credit: Erin Trieb
1. Origins of the Name 'Amazon'
There is a considerable amount of speculation and fantasizing (in the tradition of continual myth-making) regarding the origins of the name 'Amazon' which comes to us via the Greek Ἀμαζόνες = Amazónes (plural) & Ἀμαζών = Amazōn (singular). In our estimation, the most credible explanation is one of the oldest: the gloss provided by 4th century CE Greek grammarian Hesychius of Alexandria who compiled a lexicon of obscure Greek words [q.v. Xenia Lidéniana Lagercrantz (1912) 270ff, cited in Hjalmar Frisk's Greek Etymological Dictionary (1960–1970) and Wikipedia]. There we find ἁμαζακάραν· πολεμεῖν. Πέρσαι (amazakáran: polemeín. Pérsai) meaning "amazakaran: 'to make war' in (Old) Persian". We further read from our reference that 'Amazakaran' in turn may be derived from the Old Persian 'ha-mazan' meaning 'war' or 'warriors' and 'kar' meaning 'to do'/'to make'. While also lamenting the many fanciful explanations available, erudite A. Shapour Shahbazi (1942-2006) in his 1989 article posted on Iranica, notes that the word 'Amazons' was derived from Old Iranian '*maz-' [i.e. '(a)maz' meaning 'combat'] leading to the folk name or ethnonym '*ha-mazan' meaning 'warrior' [citing J. Pokorny in Indogermanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch (Bern) I, p. 1959]. What we learn from this etymology and further references (see below) is that the word and thereby the tradition is an integral part of Iranian/Aryan heritage. What also emerges from our research is that the 'Amazons' were not so much an ethic group or sub-group of the Aryans, but a tradition within an Aryan group such as one of the Saka groups (see below). Also see Who Were the Aryans on this blog.

2. Amazons in North-East Aryana
Shapour Shahbazi who we cited above adds, "The Greeks placed the Amazons on the edge of the world they knew: first, on the Thermodon in north-east Asia Minor and later on the Tanais; and on the Caucasus or even on the Jaxartes as [Greek] geographical explorations pushed “the East” further (Toepfer, ibid., cols. 1755f)." Further citing the mythology that developed around Alexander of Macedonia, " was on the Jaxartes [River Syr Darya in Tajikistan-Uzbekistan-Kazakhstan - Saka country] that an Amazon queen came to Alexander’s camp with 300 female warriors to beget children from him and his Macedonian notables (Arrian's Anabasis 4.15, 4, 7.13, 4; Curtius 6.5, 24f.; Plutarch's Alexander 46). Dionysus [mythologised by the Greeks as the god of wine] also conquered them on his Eastern campaign, a modification, it is claimed, of Alexander stories [W. R. Halliday in The Greek Questions of Plutarch (Oxford, 1928) p. 210f.]."

Strabo (at 11.5.4) states that in one account of the Amazonian queen Themiscyra (cf. Herodotus' Tomyris and Aryan-Iranian name Tahmina < Tahmiras < Tahmirath) came from the Caspian Gates (east of present-day Tehran) and another that they had intercourse for the purpose of breeding in Hyrcania i.e. Gorgan (NE Iran today and bordering Parthian Saka country).

Given the Central Asian origins of the Aryans as well as the connections of the Amazon tradition with the Saka, it is possible that the Amazons were part of a group with Saka-Aryan origins.

3. Amazons in Iranian/Aryan Culture
Shahbazi contd. "The Amazons have also found their way into Persian literature and romances through the Alexander-romance of the Pseudo-Callisthenes [The History of Alexander: being the Syriac Version of the Pseudo-Callisthenes, ed. and tr. by E. A. W. Budge (Cambridge, 1889) pp. 127f]."

Next: » Amazons, Troy & the Western Realms of Aryana (New)

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