Ancient Texts

Homer Herodotus Diodorus Justinus

Homer, Iliad
The Iliad dates from about 800 BC. and is the most ancient European literature. It tells about the fights between Greeks and Trojans in front of the city of Troy. Last century Heinrich Schliemann could prove that this famous city really existed by discovering its ruins and treasures. So it is of great significance that Amazons are already mentioned in this most ancient source!
Book III, 184 - 190
Priam, King of Troy, remembering an encounter with Amazons when he was young.

I went to Phrygia once, the land of vines and galloping horses,
and learnt how numerous the Phrygians are
when I saw the armies of Otreus and King Mygdon
encamped by the River Sangarios.
I was their ally and I bivouacked with them
that time the Amazons, who fight like men, came up to attack.
But even they were not as many as these Achaeans with their
flashing eyes.

VI, 186
Glaukos , the leader of the Lykians, tells about the deeds of the hero Bellerophon in Lykia, in the Southwestern part of Turkey

And by way of a third task, he killed the Amazons who go to war like men.

The great Greek historian who lived in the fifth century BC., was called 'father of historic writing' by Cicero. So it is obvious that he was highly valued in ancient times. In his account he tells us about the fate of the Amazons after being defeated.
Book IV, 110-117 The origin of the Sauromatae people

The history of the Sauromatae is as I will now show. When the Greeks warred with the Amazons (whom the Scythians call Oiorpata, a name signifying in our tongue killers of men, for in Scythian a man is oior, and to kill is pata) the story runs that after their victory on the Thermodon they sailed away carrying in three ships as many Amazons as they had been able to take alive; and out at sea the Amazons set upon the crews and slew them. But they knew nothing of ships, nor how to use rudder or sail or oar; and the men having been slain they were borne at the mercy of waves and winds, till they came to the Cliffs by the Maeetian lake; this place is in the country of the free Scythians. There the Amazons landed, and set forth on their journey to the inhabited country, and seized the first troop of horses they met, and mounted on them they raided the Scythian lands.
The Scythians could not understand the matter; for they knew not the women's speech nor their dress nor their nation, but wondered whence they had come, and supposed them to be men all of they same age; and they met the Amazons in battle. The end of the fight was that the Scythians got possession of the dead, and so came to know that their foes were women. Wherefore taking counsel they resolved by no means to slay them as heretofore, but to send to them their youngest men, of a number answering (as they guessed) to the number of the women. They bade these youths encamp near to the Amazons and to imitate all that they did; if the women pursued them, then not to fight, but to flee; and when the pursuit ceased, to come and encamp near to them. This was the plan of the Scythians, for they desired that children should be born of the women. The young men, being sent, did as they were charged.
When the Amazons perceived that the youths meant them no harm, they let them be; but every day the two camps drew nearer to each other. Now the young men, like the Amazons, had nothing but they arms and their horses, and lived as did the women, by hunting and plunder.
At midday the Amazons would scatter and go singly or in pairs away from each other, roaming thus apart for greater comfort. The Scythians marked this and did likewise; and as the women wandered alone, a young man laid hold of one of them, and the woman made no resistance but suffered him to do his will; and since they understood not each other's speech and she could not speak to him, she signed with the hand that he should come on the next day to the same place bringing another youth with him (showing by signs that there should be two), and she would bring another woman with her. The youth went away and told his comrades; and the next day he came himself with another to the place, where he found the Amazon and another with her awaiting him. When the rest of the young men learnt of this, they had intercourse with the rest of the Amazons.
Presently they joined their camps and dwelt together, each man having for his wife the woman with whom he had had intercourse at first. Now the men could not learn the women's language, but the women mastered the speech of the men; and when they understood each other, the men said to the Amazons, "We have parents and possessions; now therefore let us no longer live as we do, but return to our people and consort with them; and we will still have you, and no others, for our wives." To this the women replied: "Nay, we could not dwell with your women; for we and they have not the same customs. We shoot with the bow and throw the javelin and ride, but the crafts of women we have never learned; and your women do none of the things whereof we speak, but abide in their waggons working at women's crafts, and never go abroad a-hunting or for aught else. We and they therefore could never agree. Nay, if you desire to keep us for wives and to have the name of just men, go to your parents and let them give you the allotted share of their possessions, and after that let us go and dwell by ourselves." The young men agreed and did this.
So when they had been given the allotted share of possessions which fell to them, and returned to the Amazons, the women said to them: "We are in fear and dread, to think how we should dwell in this country; seeing that not only have we bereaved you of your parents, but we have done much hurt to your land. Nay, since you think right to have us as wives, let us all together, we and you, remove out of this country and dwell across the river Tanais."
To this too the youths consented; and crossing the Tanais they went a three days' journey from the river eastwards, and a three days' journey from the Maeetian lake northwards; and when they came to the region in which they now dwell, they made their abode there. Ever since then the women of the Sauromatae have followed their ancient usage; they ride a-hunting with their men or without them; they go to war, and wear the same dress as the men.
The language of the Sauromatae is Scythian, but not spoken in its ancient purity, seeing that the Amazons never rightly learnt it. In regard to marriage, it is the custom that no virgin weds till she has slain a man of the enemy; and some of them grow old and die unmarried, because they cannot fulfil the law.

To get a detailed and comprehensive account of Herodotus, a ZIP-File, which is a compressed WORD-Document, is made available. Here you can read about Herodotus's life and his work, furthermore many commentaries and an abundant bibliography are included.
This paper was provided by Dr. Rafael Prata. To download this file click here.

Diodorus of Sicily
He lived in the first century BC. and dedicated his life to write an universal history. So he spent long time in Alexandria in Egypt, where he could use the most important library of antiquity. This famous library burned down at the end of the first century before Christ, so most valuable ancient literature was irretrievably destroyed. Therefore Diodor's universal history must be hold in high esteem, because he handed down the very ancient written traditions in his history. Fortunately he wrote about the Amazons in great detail.
Book II, 45,46 - General history of the Amazons

Now in the country along the Thermodon river, as the account goes, the sovereignty was in the hands of a people among whom the women held the supreme power, and its women performed the services of war just as did the men. Of these women one, who possessed the royal authority, was remarkable for her prowess in war and her bodily strength, and gathering together an army of women she drilled it in the use of arms and subdued in war some of the neighbouring peoples. And since her valour and fame increased, she made war upon people after people of neighbouring lands, and as the tide of her fortune continued favourable, she was so filled with pride that she gave herself the appellation of Daughter of Ares; but to the men she assigned the spinning of wool and such other domestic duties as belong to women. Laws also were established by her, by virtue of which she led forth the women to contests of war, but upon the men she fastened humiliation and slavery. Ans as for their children, they mutilated both the legs and the arms of the males, incapacitating them in this way for the demands of war, and in the case of the females they seared the right breast that it might not project when their bodies matured and be in the way; and it is for this reason that the nation of the Amazons received the appellation it bears. In general, this queen was remarkable for her intelligence and ability as a general, and she founded a great city named Themiscyra at the mouth of the Thermodon river and built their a famous palace; furthermore, in her campaigns she devoted much attention to military discipline and at the outset subdued all her neighbours as far as the Tanais river. And this queen, they say, accomplished the deeds which have been mentioned, and fighting brilliantly in a certain battle she ended her life heroically.
The daughter of this queen, the account continues, on succeeding to the throne emulated the excellence of her mother, and even surpassed her in some particular deeds. For instance, she exercised in the chase the maidens from their earliest girlhood and drilled them daily in the arts of war, and she also established magnificent festivals both to Ares and to the Artemis who is called Tauropolus. Then she campaigned against the territory lying beyond the Tanais and subdued all the peoples one after another as far as Thrace; and returning to her native land with much booty she built magnificent shrines to the deities mentioned above, and by reason of her kindly rule over her subjects received from them the greatest approbation. She also campaigned on the other side and subdued a large part of Asia and extended her power as far as Syria. After the death of this queen, as their account continues, women of her family, succeeding to the queenship from time to time, ruled with distinction and advanced the nation of the Amazons in both power and fame. And many generations after these events, when the excellence of these women had been noised abroad through the whole inhabited world, they say that Heracles, the son of Alcmene and Zeus, was assigned by Eurystheus the Labour of securing the girdle of Hippolyte the Amazon. Consequently he embarked on this campaign, and coming off victorious in a great battle he not only cut to pieces the army of Amazons but also, after taking captive Hippolyte together with her girdle, completey crushed this nation. Consequently the neighbouring barbarians, despising the weakness of this people and remembering against them their past injuries, wages continuous wars against the nation to such a degree that they left in existence not even the name of the race of the Amazons. For a few years after the campaign of Heracles against them, they say, during the time of the Trojan War, Penthesileia, the queen of the surviving Amazons, who was a daughter of Ares and had slain one of her kindred, fled from her native land because of the sacrilege. And fighting as an ally of the Trojans after the death of Hector she slew many of the Greeks, and after gaining distinction in the struggle she ended her life heroically at the hands of Achilles. Now they say that Penthesileia was the last of the Amazons to win distinction for bravery and that for the future the race diminished more and more and then lost all its strength; consequently in later times, whenever any writers recount their prowess, men consider the ancient stories about the Amazons to be fictitious tales.

Book III, 52-55 - History of the Libyan Amazons

But now that we have examined these matters it will be fitting, in connection with the regions we have just mentioned, to discuss the account which history records of the Amazons who were in Libya in ancient times. For the majority of mankind believe that the only Amazons were those who are reported to have dwelt in the neighbourhood of the Thermodon river on the Pontus; but the truth is otherwise, since the Amazons of Libya were much earlier in point of time and accomplished notable deeds. Now we are not unaware that to many who read this account the history of this people will appear to be a thing unheard of and entirely strange; for since the race of these Amazons disappeared entirely many generations before the Trojan War, whereas the women about the Thermodon river were in their full vigour a little before that time, it is not without reason that the latter people, who were also better known, should have inherited the fame of the earlier, who are entirely unknown to most men because of the lapse of time. For our part, however, since we find that many early poets and historians, and not a few of the later ones as well, have made mention of them, we shall endeavour to recount their deeds in summary, following the account of Dionysius, who composed a narrative about the Argonauts and Dionysus, and also about many other things which took place in most ancient times. Now there have been in Libya a number of races of women who were warlike and greatly admired for their manly vigour; for instance, tradition tells us of the race of the Gorgons, against whom, as the account is given, Perseus made war, a race distinguished for its valour; for the fact that it was the son of Zeus, the mightiest Greek of his day, who accomplished the campaign against these women, and that this was his greatest Labour may be taken by any man as proof of both the pre-eminence and the power of the women we have mentioned. Furthermore, the manly prowess of those of whom we are now about to write presupposes an amazing pre-eminence when compared with the nature of the women of our day.
We are told, namely, that there was once in the western parts of Libya, on the bounds of the inhabited world, a race which was ruled by women and followed a manner of life unlike that which prevails among us. For it was the custom among them that the women should practise the arts of war and be required to serve in the army for a fixed period, during which time they maintained their virginity; then, when the years of their service in the field had expired, they went in to the men for the procreation of children, but they kept in their hands the administration of the magistracies and of all the affairs of the state. The men, however, like our married women, spent their days about the house, carrying out the orders which were given them by their wives; and they took no part in military campaigns or in office or in the exercise of free citizenship in the affairs of the community by virtue of which they might became presumptuous and rise up against the women. When their children were born the babies were turned over to the men, who brought them up on milk and such cooked foods as were appropriate to the age of the infants; and if it happened that a girl was born, its breasts were seared that they might not develop at the time of maturity; for they thought that the breasts, as they stood out from the body, were no small hindrance in warfare; and in fact it is because they have been deprived of their breasts that they are called by the Greeks Amazons. As mythology relates, their home was an island which, because it was in the west, was called Hespera, and it lay in the marsh Tritonis. This marsh was near the ocean which surrounds the earth and received its name from a certain river Triton which emptied into it; and this marsh was also near Ethiopia and that mountain by the shore of the ocean which is the highest of those in the vicinity and impinges upon the ocean and is called by the Greeks Atlas. The island mentioned above was of great size and full of fruit-bearing trees of every kind, from which the natives secured their food. It contained also a multitude of flocks and herds, namely, of goats and sheep, from which the possessors received milk and meat for their sustenance; but grain the nation used not at all because the use of this fruit of the earth had not yet been discovered among them. The Amazons, then, the account continues, being a race superior in valour and eager for war, first fo all subdued all the cities on the island except the one called Mene, which was considered to be sacred and was inhabited by Ethiopean Ichthyophagi, and was also subject to great eruptions of fire and possessed a multitude of the precious stones which the Greeks call anthrax, sardion, and smaragdos; and after this they subdued many of the neighbouring Libyans and nomad tribes, and founded within the marsh Tritonis a great city which they named Cherronesus after its shape.
Setting out from the city of Cherronesus, the account continues, the Amazons embarked upon great ventures, a longing having come over them to invade many parts of the inhabited world. The first people against whom they advanced, according to the tale, was the Atlantians, the most civilized men among the inhabitants of those regions, who dwelt in a prosperous country and possessed great cities; it was among them, we are told, that mythology places the birth of the gods, in the regions which lie along the shore of the ocean, in this respect agreeing with those among the Greeks who relate legends, and about this we shall speak in detail a little later. Now the queen of the Amazons, Myrina, collected, it is said, an army of thirty thousand foot-soldiers and three thousand cavalry, since they favoured to an unusual degree the use of cavalry in their wars. For protective devices they used the skins of large snakes, since Libya contains such animals of incredible size, and for offensive weapons, swords and lances; they also used bows and arrows, with which they struck not only when facing the enemy but also when in flight, by shooting backwards at their pursuers with good effect. Upon entering the land of the Atlantians they defeated in a pitched battle the inhabitants of the city Cerne, as it is called, and making their way inside the walls along with the fleeing enemy, they got the city into their hands; and desiring to strike terror into the neighbouring peoples they treated the captives savagely, put to the sword the men from the youth upward, led into slavery the children and women, and razed the city. But when the terrible fate of the inhabitants of Cerne became known among their fellow tribesmen, it is related that the Atlantians, struck with terror, surrendered their cities on terms of capitulation and announced that they would do whatever should be commanded them, and that the queen Myrina, bearing herself honourably towards the Atlantians, both established friendship with them and founded a city to bear her name in place of the city which had been razed; and in it she settled both the captives and any native who so desired. Whereupon the Atlantians presented her with magnificent presents and by public decree voted to her notable honours, and she in return accepted their courtesy and in addition promised that she would show kindness to their nation. And since the natives were often been warred upon by the Gorgons, as they were named, a folk which resided upon their borders, and in general had that people lying in wait to injure them, Myrina, they say, was asked by the Atlantians to invade the land of the afore-mentioned Gorgons. But when the Gorgons drew up their forces to resist them a mighty battle took place in which the Amazons, gaining the upper hand, slew great numbers of their opponents and took no fewer than three thousand prisoners; and since the rest had fled for refuge into a certain wooded region, Myrina untertook to set fire to the timber, being eager to destroy the race utterly, but when she found that she was unable to succeed in her attempt she retired to the borders of her country.
Now as the Amazons, they go on to say, relaxed their watch during the night because of their success, the captive women, falling upon them and drawing the swords of those who thought they were conquerors, slew many of them; in the end, however, the multitude poured in about them from every side and the prisoners fighting bravely were butchered one and all. Myrina accorded a funeral to her fallen comrades on three pyres and raised up three great heaps of earth as tombs, which are called to this day 'Amazon Mounds'. But the Gorgons, grown strong again in later days, were subdued a second time by Perseus, the son of Zeus, when Medusa was queen over them; and in the end both they and the race of the Amazons were entirely destroyed by Heracles, when he visited the regions to the west and set up his pillars in Libya, since he felt that it would ill accord with his resolve to be the benefactor of the whole race of mankind if he should suffer any nations to be under the rule of women. The story is also told that the marsh Tritonis disappeared from sight in the course of an earthquake, when those parts of it which lay towards the ocean were torn asunder. As for Myrina, the account continues, she visited the larger part of Libya, and passing over into Egypt she struck a treaty of friendship with Horus, the son of Isis, who was king of Egypt at that time, and then, after making war to the end upon the Arabians and slaying many of them, she subdued Syria; but when the Cilicians came out with presents to meet her and agreed to obey her commands, she left those free who yielded to her of their free will and for this reason these are called to this day the 'Free Cilicians'. She also conquered in war the races in the region of the Taurus, peoples of outstanding courage, and descended through Greater Phrygia to the sea, then she won over the land lying along the coast and fixed the bounds of her campaign at the Caicus River. And selecting in the territory which she had won by arms sites well suited for the founding of cities, she built a considerable number of them and founded one which bore her own name, but the others she named after the women who held the most important commands, such as Cyme, Pitana, and Priene. These, then, are the cities she settled along the sea, but others, and a larger number, she planted in the regions stretching towards the interior. She seized also some of the islands, and Lesbos in particular, on which she founded the city of Mitylene, which was named after her sister who took part in the campaign. After that, while subduing some of the rest of the islands, she was caught in a storm, and after she had offered up prayers for her safety to the Mother of the Gods, she was carried to one of the uninhabited islands; this island, in obedience to a vision which she beheld in her dreams, she made sacred to this goddess, and set up altars there and offered magnificent sacrifices. She also gave it the name of Samothrace, which means, when translated into Greek, 'Sacred Island', although some historians say that it was formerly called Samos and was then given the name of Samothrace by Thracians who at one time dwelt on it. However, after the Amazons had returned to the continent, the myth relates, the Mother of the Gods, well pleased with the island, settled in it certain other people, and also her own sons, who are known by the name of Corybantes- who their father was is handed down in their rites as a matter not to be divulged; and she established the mysteries which are now celebrated on the island and ordained by law that the sacred area should enjoy the right of sanctuary. In these times, they go on to say, Mopsus the Thracian, who had been exiled by Lycurgus, the king of the Thracians, invaded the land of the Amazons with an army of fellow-exiles, and with Mopsus on the campaign was also Sipylus the Scythian, who had likewise been exiled from that part of Scythia which borders upon Thrace. There was a pitched battle, Sipylus and Mopsus gained the upper hand, and Myrina, the queen of the Amazons, and the larger part of the rest of her army were slain. In the course of the years, as the Thracians continued to be victorious in their battles, the surviving Amazons finally withdrew again into Libya. And such was the end, as the myth relates, of the campaign which the Amazons of Libya made.

Book IV, 16 - Heracles and the Amazons

Heracles then received a Command to bring back the girdle of Hippolyte the Amazon and so he made the expedition against the Amazons. Accordingly he sailed into the Pontus, which was named by him Euxeinus, and continuing to the mouth of the Thermodon River he encamped near the city of Themiscyra, in which was situated the palace of the Amazons. And first of all he demanded of them the girdle which he had been commanded to get; but when they would pay no heed to him, he joined battle with them. Now the general mass of the Amazons were arrayed against the main body of the followers of Heracles, but the most honoured of the women were drawn up opposite Heracles himself and put up a stubborn battle. The first, for instance, to join battle with him was Aella, who had been given this name because of her swiftness, but she found her opponent more agile than herself. The second, Philippis, encountering a mortal blow at the very first conflict, was slain. Then he joined battle with Prothoe, who, they said, had been victorious seven times over the opponents whom she had challenged to battle. When she fell, the fourth whom he overcame was known as Eriboea. She had boasted that because of the manly bravery which she displayed in contests of war she had no need of anyone to help her, but she found her claim was false when she encountered her better. The next, Celaeno, Eurybia, and Phoebe, who were companions of Artemis in the hunt and whose spears found their mark invariably, did not even graze the single target, but in that fight they were one and all cut down as they stood shoulder to shoulder with each other. After them Deianeira, Asteria and Marpe, and Tecmessa and Alcippe were overcome. The last-named had taken a vow to remain a maiden, and the vow she kept, but her life she could not preserve. The commander of the Amazons, Melanippe, who was also greatly admired for her manly courage, now lost her supremacy. And Heracles, after thus killing the most renowned of the Amazons and forcing the remaining multitude to turn in flight, cut down the greater number of them, so that the race of them was utterly exterminated. As for the captives, he gave Antiope as a gift to Theseus and set Melanippe free, accepting her girdle as a ransom.

Book IV, 28 - Theseus and the Amazons - the siege of Athens by the Amazons

While Heracles was busied with the matters just described, the Amazons, they say, of whom there were some still left in the region of the Thermodon river, gathered in a body and set out to get revenge upon the Greeks for what Heracles had done in his campaign against them. They were especially eager to punish the Athenians because Theseus had made a slave of Antiope, the leader of the Amazons, or, as others write, of Hippolyte. The Scythians had joined forces with the Amazons, and so it came about that a notable army had been assembled, with which the leaders of the Amazons crossed the Cimmerian Bosporus and advanced through Thrace. Finally they traversed a large part of Europe and came to Attica, where they pitched their camp in what is at present called after them 'the Amazoneum'. When Theseus learned of the oncoming of the Amazons he came to the aid of the forces of his citizens, bringing with him the Amazon Antiope, by whom he already had a son Hippolytus. Theseus joined battle with the Amazons, and since the Athenians surpassed them in bravery, he gained the victory, and of the Amazons who opposed him, some he slew at the time and the rest he drove out of Attica. And it came to pass that Antiope, who was fighting at the side of her husband Theseus, distinguished herself in the battle and died fighting heroically. The Amazons who survived renounced their ancestral soil, and returned with the Scythians into Scythia and made their homes among that people. But we have spoken enough about the Amazons, and shall return to the deeds of Heracles.

Justinus lived in the first century AD and bequeathed to us a historical work which is an abridgement of the History of the World by Pompeius Trogus. In this work there exists a ample account of the Amazons.
A detailed and comprehensive paper of Justinus' account is made available as ZIP-File, which is a compressed WORD-Document. Here you can read the history of the Amazons and the Scythians - how Justinus described it. Furthermore many commentaries and an abundant bibliography are included.
This paper was provided by Dr. Rafael Prata. To download this file click here.