In his classic work “Histories”, Herodotus first described a race of warrior women, the Amazons, who were to fire the imagination of the western world. He claimed that they made their home in Pontus near the shore of the Sea of Euxine, where they established an independent kingdom under the leadership of their Queen, Hippolyta ("She Lets Her Horses Loose"). According to “Histories” the Amazon capital itself was located in Themiscyra on the banks of the river Thermodon. From here, he said that they undertook numerous warlike adventures, including expeditions to Scythia, Thrace, the coasts of Asia Minor and the islands of the Aegean Sea, and they were said to have penetrated Arabia, Syria and Egypt as well. In addition the Amazons were credited with founding many towns including Smyrna, Ephesus, Sinope, and Paphos.
In the Iliad, the Amazons were called the Antianeira ("those who fight like men") and Herodotus labeled them the Androktones ("killers of men"). The Amazons also made their appearance several other Greek legends. For example, they figure in the tales of Bellerophon, who defeated them when they invaded Lycia (Iliad, vi. 186). Also, according to Diodorus, the Amazon Queen Myrine led her women in a victorious battle with the Atlanteans and they were chronicled as allies to the Trojans in the fabled Trojan War, where their Queen Pentheselea was ultimately slain by Achilles. (Quint. Smyr. i.; Justin ii. 4; Virgil, Aen. i. 490).
According to these stories, no men were allowed to live in Amazon territory; but that once a year, to perpetuate their race, they reportedly visited a neighboring tribe, the Gargareans to pair with their males. In addition, it was said that male children who came from these unions were either put to death or sent back to their fathers, and that any females that were conceived were kept and brought up by their mothers who trained them in agriculture, hunting, and war (Strabo xi. p. 503). Herodotus also wrote that the Amazon women observed the custom of cutting or burning off their right breasts in order to enable them to shoot the bow more effectively.
But the question remains, were the Amazons real?
To date, no archeological proof exists that supports the reality of the Amazons as Herodotus or anyone else has described them. However, other evidence, recently uncovered, firmly supports the existence of ancient warrior women who played a vital role in the nomadic, horseback riding cultures of the regions surrounding the classical world, and these same women may have been the inspiration behind the Greek tales of the Amazons. In the Altai region of Siberia for example, tombs of warrior maidens have been discovered. The following is a description of two such burial sites (from "Did the Amazons Really Exist?" by Lyn Webster Wilde);
“…On her ears had been large silver earrings, round her neck a chain made from bones and glass beads, on her arm a bronze bracelet. Next to her lay a bronze mirror, a clay loom-weight and iron plates upon which food gifts had once been placed. To her left at the head end lay two iron spear points, underneath them a smooth square plate which had been used as a whetstone; further down they found the remains of a brightly painted quiver made of leather and wood and forty-seven bronze three-flighted arrowheads, and two iron knives. Next to the head were two so-called 'sling-stones'….the woman had many of the classic female accoutrements - weaving and spinning tools are almost never found in male graves - but also possessed a bow, knives and spears."
And, “…One was a young woman with weapons, a bow and some arrow-heads, and this little child lying on her arm. The two fingers of her right hand which would have had heavy use from pulling a bow showed clear signs of wear and tear. It was very moving. So you see these women warriors did have children, and they may have led perfectly normal married lives together with their families and husbands. They only fought when they had to, to defend their settlement, or if there was some particularly ferocious fighting going on. They used the bow - it's a good weapon for a woman because you don't need brute strength to use it, all you need it to be fast and flexible. We know they rode horses. Defensive weapons tend to be heavy, but even so we've found mail-shirts and armor in women's graves, so we know they used them. And some skeletons show signs of being wounded in battle…”
The historical record also supports the existence of warrior women in other geographic locations. The Indian Emperor, Chandragupta Maurya had a personal guard of “giant Greek women” and female royal guards are also mentioned as the protectors of the Nizams of Deccan and Hyderabad. And on Sri Lanka, the royal family had a guard composed of female archers while the Kingdom of Siam utilized the services of female spear throwers, who served them in a special battalion as late as the 19th century.
In Europe, the ancient Celts and Germanic tribes were known to include women in their fighting forces, and they battled along side their husbands. And the Roman, Tacitus reported that Boadicea had more women than men in her army. A more contemporary account from Africa tells us that the Kingdom of Dahomey (now Benin) employed some 6,000 warrior women as the royal guard from the 16th to 19th centuries and that they had a fierce and bloodthirsty reputation. Ultimately, the French defeated them, but their memory remains.
(Image from left to right: A Dahomey Amazon, The Amazons invading Athens, an Amazon warrioress on horseback)
From Wikpedia: “Penthesilea (Greek: Πενθεσίλεια) or Penthesileia was an Amazonian queen in Greek mythology, the daughter of Ares and Otrera and the sister of Hippolyta, Antiope and Melanippe. Quintus Smyrnaeus explains more fully than pseudo-Apollodorus how Penthesilea came to be at Troy: Penthesilea had killed Hippolyta with a spear when they were hunting deer; this accident caused Penthesilea so much grief that she wished only to die, but, as a warrior and an Amazon, she had to do so honorably and in battle.’
“She therefore was easily convinced to join in the Trojan War, fighting on the side of Troy's defenders. She is said to have been killed by Achilles, "who fell in love with the Amazon after her death and slew Thersites for jeering at him". The common interpretation of this has been that Achilles was romantically enamored of Penthesilea (a view that appears to be supported by Pausanias, who noted that the throne of Zeus at Olympia bore Panaenus' painted image of the dying Penthesilea being supported by Achilles).”
In the “Sisterhood” series, Penthesilea is mentioned in several instances; she is named for the Isis class starship, the USSNS Penthesilea and also featured as the centerpiece sculpture in the Métropol Musé de Arte in Thermadon.
From Wikepedia:”In Greek mythology, Hippolyta, Hippoliyte, or Hippolyte was the Amazonian queen who possessed a magical girdle she was given by her father Ares, the god of war. The girdle was a waist belt that signified her authority as queen of the Amazons. She figures prominently in the myths of both Heracles and Theseus.’
“In the myth of Heracles, Hippolyta’s girdle was the object of his ninth labor. He was sent to retrieve it and Hippolyta…was so impressed with Heracles that she gave him the girdle without argument, perhaps while visiting him on his ship. But then (according to Apollodorus) the goddess Hera, making herself appear as one of the Amazons, spread a rumor among them that Heracles and his crew were actually abducting their queen. So the Amazons attacked the ship. In the fray that followed, Heracles slew Hippolyta, stripped her of the belt, fought off the attackers, and sailed away.’
“In the myth of Theseus, the hero joined Heracles in his expedition, or went on a separate expedition later, and was actually the one who had the encounter with Hippolyta. Some versions say he abducted her, some that Heracles did the abducting but gave her to Theseus as spoils, and others that she fell in love with Theseus and betrayed the Amazons by willingly leaving with him. In any case, she was taken to Athens where she was wed to Theseus, being the only Amazon to ever marry. In some renditions the other Amazons became enraged at the marriage and attacked Athens. This was the Attic War, in which they were defeated by Athenian forces under Theseus or Heracles.’
In the “Sisterhood” series, the huge MSH (Mobile Space Hangar) Ship the USSNS Hippolyta, which is stationed over Rixa naval base, has been named in her memory.