HBO Max’s best superhero movie resurrects an ancient warrior myth

War has been a constant. Throughout human history, however, most of the classic stories we read focus on men.

Maybe that’s why 2017 Wonder Woman it was a huge success: audiences clearly yearn for more female representation in the superhero genre. But it turns out that the story of Diana, an Amazon destined to save the world from the war god Ares, may have borrowed more from real life than fantasy.

The Amazons of Greek mythology were probably more than just legends. Recent archaeological discoveries reveal that they may actually have been ancient warrior women.

reel science it’s a Reverse series that reveals the real (and fake) science behind your favorite movies and TV shows.

Who were the Amazons in Greek mythology?

Diana, the heroine of Wonder Womanshe is a mythical Amazon, but recent archaeological evidence suggests that the Amazons were more rooted in fact than fiction.Warner Bros photos

as author of The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Women Warriors in the Ancient World, Adrienne Mayor is well equipped to separate fact and fiction when it comes to Wonder WomanAmazon society.

“In Greek mythology, Amazons were fierce foreign women who gloried in battle, inhabiting lands around and beyond the Black Sea,” says Mayor. Reverse.

Greek mythological heroes such as Achilles and Heracles “proved their worth” by defeating fierce Amazons in battle, including Queen Hippolyta and her sister Antiope, who appear in Wonder Woman as Diana’s mother and aunt, respectively. The Greek poet Homer described the Amazons as “equal to men.”

Countless ancient Greek sculptures and paintings depict these women as athletic fighters riding horses, wearing pants and boots, wrestling and shooting arrows.

“On horseback, a woman with a bow is just as deadly as a man,” says Mayor.

Greek historians such as Herodotus believed that women like the Amazons existed in the real-life nomadic communities of the Scythians, whom the Greeks first encountered in the 7th century BC. C. when they began to colonize areas around the Black Sea.

“On horseback, a woman with a bow is as deadly as a man.”

The tribal Scythians, who lived in the steppes, a grassland ecosystem in Eurasia, were famous for their exceptional skills in horseback riding and archery. Based on the Scythian nomadic lifestyle, which involved much hunting and fighting with warring tribes, it is natural that women and girls also learned to fight.

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“In myth, the Amazons enjoyed a vigorous outdoor life, sexual freedom, hunting, and warfare, paralleling what the Greeks knew about the peoples who roamed ‘Scythia,’ the vast territory stretching from the Sea Black to Mongolia”, adds Mayor.

It has long been debated whether the Amazons were merely mystical figures in the imaginations of Greek historians or based on real-life women, but recent research and scientific discoveries seem to have put that debate to rest.

“Thanks to the groundbreaking work of Adrienne Mayor, it is now indisputable that the myths of the Amazon are based on the Greeks’ observations of real-life female warriors,” said Connie Skibinski, Ph.D. candidate at Newcastle University, has Reverse.

Skibinski, who researches archaeological evidence of female warriors and the depiction of Amazons in Greco-Roman mythology, believes that the mythical Amazons are “based on historical reality” that mixes with Greek folklore.

Who were the Amazons in real life?

The burial of an Amazon with a precious metal headdress, discovered in the Don archaeological expedition whose findings were published in

Recent scientific evidence has come out in favor that the mythical Amazons were modeled on the real-life Scythian amazon-archers who lived on the steppes.

“There is strong ancient evidence to support this claim, such as Scythian cavalry warrior burials where men and women are buried alongside horses and weapons,” says Skibinski.

Over the past thirty years, archaeologists have unearthed graves of female warriors around the Black Sea. 2014 Smithsonian Magazine The article reports on a joint US-Russian archaeological team that found 150 graves of the Sauromatians, the descendants of Greek-Scythian unions, near the border with Kazakhstan in the 1990s. Within this burial site , researchers found the tombs of unusually tall female warriors carrying daggers and quivers filled with arrows; some of them had arrowhead wounds.

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Mayor says more than 300 such graves have been found, mostly in southern Ukraine and Russia, of “former fighters” aged between 13 and 45. These women were buried with the same arms and honors as the men of the time.

“The lifestyle, horses, clothing, and weapons of the Amazons described in the literature and art of ancient Greece turn out to match the clothing, equipment, and weapons now recovered from the burials of Scythian women. ”, adds Major.

A more recent archaeological expedition from 2019 offers even more evidence of the ancient Amazons, who were highly respected in their time.

“An evacuation led by Valerii Guliaev in the Russian city of Voronezh uncovered a burial mound containing four female warriors, one with a gold crown on her head that suggests a very high social position,” says Skibinski.

Adds Mayor: “The Amazons of ancient myth are finally gaining historical credibility.”

How do the Amazons get in? Wonder Woman compare with real life?

The high status of women in Wonder Woman it matches the respect accorded to Scythian female warriors in real life. Warner Bros Pictures

“The Amazons are portrayed as an exclusively female society that functions as a polar opposite to the patriarchal Greek state,” says Skibinski.

The mythical representation of the Amazons is not very far from the society that we see in Wonder Woman. Led by Amazon queen Hippolyta, the all-female society rigorously trains its female warriors in a variety of combat to prepare for the war that may one day come. In that sense, both the historical Scythians and Wonder WomanThe Amazons were skilled fighters. Mayor compares young Diana’s combat training in the film to the real-life training of Scythian girls, who learned to ride horses and “wield weapons alongside their brothers.”

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“We know from injuries found on skeletons in Scythian tombs that they were certainly well trained with weapons, and are commonly buried with swords or arrowheads,” says Skibinski.

In the film, the women are in complete control of Themiscyra, an independent city-state cut off from the outside world on an island. There are no men in sight until the American captain, Steve Trevor, washes off the island and is rescued by Diana soon after.

Skibinski enjoyed the film’s portrayal of Amazons, stating:

I particularly liked that they are depicted as powerful cavalry warriors, which aligns with their depiction in Greco-Roman mythology and also the archaeological evidence of actual female warriors.

but how Wonder WomanDoes Scythian society compare to Scythian culture? Since we have no recorded literature of the Scythian cultures, we have to imagine how they lived based on archaeological evidence. The real-life Scythians were tribal nomads, so their lives were different from those of the movie Amazons who took up permanent residence on an island.

According to Mayor, the Scythian way of life, combining horses and archery, fostered gender equality. The idea of ​​women being equal to men “shocked and impressed the Greeks and inspired a lot of legends about the Amazons,” Mayor says.

“Literary evidence shows that Scythian male and female warriors had extremely similar burial customs, further suggesting a sense of equality,” adds Skibinski.

Unlike their film counterparts, Scythian women were not isolated from men, but instead enjoyed greater egalitarianism with men compared to women in Greek society. Women and men were frequently buried together, says Skibinski, suggesting that the two lived together “in harmony.”

Mayor adds that the diverse portrayal of Amazons in the film, including the diversity of body types, ages, and skin color, matches our knowledge of Amazons in real life.

“This fits with what we now know of real, flesh-and-blood Scythian women, some with battle wounds, buried with their horses and weapons: they were extremely robust, athletic, and ethnically diverse, ranging in age from teenagers to grandmothers.” says the mayor.

In the end, director Patty Jenkins may have combined fact and fiction, just like the ancient Greeks did. Skibinski says Wonder Woman it deftly takes elements of ancient female fighters and blends them with the superhero genre, “just as the Greek myths inserted the Amazons into their pre-existing mythical tales.”

Wonder Woman is streaming now on HBO Max.

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