Nightbringer | The Arthurian Online Encyclopedia


The name of a famous race of warrior women in Greek mythology. Medieval legend claimed they were, in origin, Goths who, under Marpesia, formed an army of women and travelled to Africa by way of the Caucasus.

It was only to be expected that they would surface from time to time in Arthurian romance. In the Italian I Due Tristani the queen of the Amazons forces herself by enchantment on Tristan, the son of Tristan and Isolde. Thus, Tristan the Younger later rescued their queen from the king of the Idumeans. They fought with Gawain and their queen was slain by the Cropeared Dog.

The Alliterative Morte Arthur says they were subjects of Arthur’s foe, Lucius. In Spenser’s poem The Faerie Queene their queen, Radigund, was killed by the warrior maiden Britomart. Finally, in Johnson’s Tom a’ Lincoln, an Amazon is briefly Tom a’ Lincoln’s lover.

Amazon’s in Greek Mythology

Origins and Society

The Amazons were said to reside in regions around the Black Sea, such as Scythia and Anatolia, in what is now modern-day Turkey. They were depicted as tall, strong, and skilled in various forms of combat, including archery, horseback riding, and hand-to-hand combat. Their origins and existence have been debated by historians and archaeologists, with some suggesting that they may have been based on real warrior societies or nomadic tribes in the ancient world.

Amazon society was often portrayed as matriarchal, with women holding positions of power and authority. They were believed to live independently from men and to use them only for procreation. According to myth, Amazon women would visit a neighboring tribe, the Gargareans, each year to conceive children. Male offspring were returned to their fathers, while female children were raised among the Amazons.

Name and Symbolism

The origin of the name “Amazon” is debated, with various theories suggesting it may derive from Greek words meaning “without breast” or “breasts like a mare” (referring to their reputation as horsewomen). According to myth, they would cut off one breast to better draw their bows, although this detail is not universally accepted. Some interpretations suggest that the Amazons were named after the River Amazon in South America, following encounters between Spanish explorers and indigenous female warriors.

Mythological Encounters

The Amazons feature prominently in Greek mythology as adversaries of Greek heroes such as Heracles (Hercules) and Theseus. They were often depicted as fierce opponents in epic battles and quests. Some myths describe individual encounters between Greek heroes and Amazon queens, such as Hippolyta and Penthesilea, which often resulted in conflict, alliances, or romantic entanglements.

Legacy and Representation

The legend of the Amazons has endured in Western culture and has inspired numerous works of art, literature, and popular culture. They have been depicted in ancient Greek art (vase paintings, scupltures, and literary works such as Homer’s Iliad and Herodotus’ Histories), Renaissance paintings, epic poetry, and modern novels, films, and comics.

The Amazons are often celebrated as symbols of female strength, independence, and defiance of traditional gender roles. Their legendary exploits continue to inspire feminist discourse and cultural movements advocating for women’s rights and empowerment.

See also
Amazons | Myths and Legends

I Due Tristani | 1555
Alliterative Morte Arthure | c. 1400
The Faerie Queene | Edmund Spenser, 1570-1599
Tom a Lincolne | Richard Johnson, 1599-1607