Adrienne Mayor: “The Amazons” | Talks at Google

Adrienne Mayor: “The Amazons” | Talks at Google


MALE SPEAKER: Good afternoon,
and welcome to Talks at Google in Cambridge,
Massachusetts to most of the people here in
the room, and to everyone joining us via live stream. Today, it’s my enormous pleasure
to introduce Adrienne Mayor. Professor Mayor is here to
discuss her landmark new book “Amazons: Lives and
Legends of Warrior Women Across the Ancient World.” This is the first comprehensive
account of warrior women in myth and history,
across the ancient world, from the Mediterranean Sea
to the Great Wall of China. Reading it, I’m not
sure which is more thrilling the stories of
the women she makes come alive for us, or the scholarly
rigor she brings to her work. This is really an
exceptional book, please buy it and read it. Professor Mayor is an
independent folklorist slash historian of science who
investigates natural knowledge contained in pre-scientific
myths and oral traditions. Her research looks at
the ancient folk science precursors, alternatives,
and parallels to modern scientific methods. She is Research Scholar,
Classics and History and Philosophy of
Science at Stanford. Stanford is lucky to
have her on faculty, and we are fortunate to
have her here with us today. Please join me in
welcoming Adrienne Mayor. ADRIENNE MAYOR: Thank you. Thank you. I’m really honored to be invited
to present my research here at Google, and I
want to thank women at Google for
sponsoring my talk, and everyone else who made
my visit possible today. Well, Amazons seem to be
everywhere these days. First, there was “Xena, Warrior
Princess,” then the animated films “Mulan,” “Brave,”
“The Hunger Games,” Atalanta in the recent Hercules
film, “The Shield Maidens and the Vikings,”
the powerful women in Game of Thrones, and now Marvel
Comics has actually introduced a female Thor war
goddess, and Wonder Woman is actually poised
to make a comeback. I hear that she’s going to
have our own movie in 2017. And meanwhile,
women of all ages, we’ve been talking about
this earlier today, are taking up bows and arrows
in unprecedented numbers, and horse women archers,
calling themselves Amazons, are competing around the world. These are a few of them, you
could actually take the lessons from these women to
learn to do this. Modern Amazons. At the same time, the
news from the Middle East is filled with images of
an estimated 10,000 women who are serving in the
Kurdistan Peshmerga fighting Islamic state in Syria. And they’re fighting
because their very lives depend on victory. So today, we’re surrounded
by images of warrior women. And some 2,500 years
ago, the Greeks also surrounded themselves with
stories and images of Amazons. The Greeks described Amazons
as the equals of men, independent, fearless,
foreign horse women who gloried in
hunting and warfare. And these are just some
examples of some Amazon images from Greek art. These are vases from
about 550 to 450 BC. And who were the ancient
Amazons in Greek mythology? They were fierce warrior
women of exotic lands, they weren’t Greek. They were as courageous
and as skilled in battle as the
mightiest Greek heroes. Amazons played a major role
in the legendary Trojan War, and every great Greek champion
from Heracles, to Theseus, and Achilles, they all
had to prove their courage by killing a formidable
Amazon queen. Greek historians never doubted
that Amazons had really existed in the
remote misty past. And many Greek writers
reported that women living the lives of Amazons
still dwelled in the lands around the Black Sea
and beyond the Black Sea in the immense territory
the Greeks called Scythia. Historians and archaeologists
still use that word. It’s a blanket term, and
I’ll be using it today. In classical
antiquity, Amazons were on view everywhere
you looked in Athens and other cities in Greece. They were featured in
monumental public sculptures, in mosaics, and in frescoes
on public buildings. Amazons wearing patterned
trousers and boots, riding horses, shooting
bows, hurling spears, swinging battle axes, and
dying heroically in battle were wildly popular subjects
in Greek vase paintings. More than 130 personal
names of Amazons still survive from antiquity. They are on statue
bases, they’re labels on ancient vases, and
they are in many ancient texts. Every Greek man,
woman, and child knew exciting Amazon
tales by heart. And little Greek
girls, we now know, even played with Amazon dolls. These are just two from the
collection in the Louvre. They have– some of
them have movable arms and legs like Barbie dolls. They could be dressed
in different costumes, and these were found
in little girls’ graves from classical Greece. So were Amazons real? Or were bold,
warlike women nothing but fantasy figures
invented by the Greeks? Were they simply the
ancient ancestors of Wonder Woman and
Katniss Everdeen? Do we have to say the
exhilarating world of Amazons was just an elaborate
fiction brought to life by the Greek
storytelling imagination? Until now, that is what modern
historians had been assuming. But now, thanks to spectacular
recent archaeological discoveries across what
was once ancient Scythia, we have overwhelming
proof that women fitting the descriptions
of Amazons in Greek art and literature really did exist. So there were
historical counterparts to the mythical Amazons. These women were
members of a network of diverse, but
culturally related nomadic tribes of
Eurasia and beyond. Each of those tribes
now, of course, they all have their own names, they have
their own dialects, languages, and their own histories, but
they became known to the Greeks as Scythians. And they– their
cultures were centered around archery
and riding horses. They were nomads. As nomads, The Scythians
left no written histories, so we have to rely
on their neighbors, and their descendants,
and on archaeology. Long before modern
archaeologists began excavating the graves
of real warrior women, the Greek writers had
already identified Amazons as Scythians. These warlike tribes have
no cities, no fixed abodes, wrote one ancient
Greek historian, they live free and unconquered,
and they are so savage, that even the women take
part in war, he wrote. Amazons, remarked others, were
as courageous and as fearsome as their Scythian husbands. The nomad women were
first described in detail by Greeks in about 470 BC by
the Greek historian Herodotus. He, and later authors,
accurately described the Scythian lifestyle
and preserved details of their burials
in mounds called kurgans on the steppes. And my talk today is going
to focus on the evidence from ancient Greek art
and modern archaeology. This is a Scythian kurgan. On the left, that’s
what they look like. They’re very large,
very complex burials. That one was
excavated last year. And you can see the
typical finds inside. Among these Scythian
nomads, girls learned to ride and handle
bows and spears along with their brothers. They knew how to
defend themselves. They knew how to
hunt, and they knew how to fight just like the men. The lives of those tough
nomadic girls and women were so very different from
the lives of Greek women in antiquity. In Greece, women and girls
were confined indoors to weave and mind children. And that difference
in the two cultures made a deep impression
on the Greeks. Rumors and descriptions of these
horse riding men and women, much feared for
their deadly arrows and their expanding
conquests across Eurasia, began to filter back to Greece,
perhaps in the Bronze Age, and the Greeks first
began to directly contact these people in the
seventh century BC. And that’s when the
Greek cities began to establish trading colonies
around the coast of the Black Sea. And it’s easy to
understand then, how genuine knowledge
mixed with garbled details, intriguing travelers reports,
curiosity, imagination, and a lot of speculation to
fill in the gaps, fired up the Greek imagination
and lead to an outpouring of exciting stories and
vivid pictures of Amazons. We now know about
these people because of archaeological excavations
of more than 1,000 ancient Scythian graves from
the Ukraine, southern Russia, the Caucasus region,
and Central Asia. Now before the advent
of DNA testing, it used to be taken for
granted that any time you find human remains
buried with weapons, it was assumed they
belong to a male warrior. And that was just taken for
granted, that was routine. But scientific
analysis is calling all of those assumptions
into question, and there have been some
spectacular reversals of previous discoveries
announced as male warriors. I’ll just give a few examples. In the 1960s, in ancient
Thrace, that’s now Bulgaria. Two grave mounds from
the fourth century BC, that’s the time when the
Greeks were telling stories about Amazons, those mounds
were discovered in the ’60s. And each mound had
many weapons, armor, they were filled with
gold and silver artifacts, and richly equipped horses. A pair of human skeletons lay
inside each of those mounds, and these remains were announced
as too powerful male warriors who were buried
with their wives. 50 years later, in 2010, DNA
tests were finally carried out, and the results
revealed that all four of the skeletons in those
two mounds belonged to women. Another stunning discovery
of a warrior woman was reported just last month. I think it’s in this month’s
issue of archaeology magazine. Since the 1970s, when the
magnificent tomb of Alexander the Great’s father, Philip II,
was excavated in Macedonia, archaeologists have
wondered about the identity of the mysterious second person,
another person’s remains, buried in other golden
casket next to Philip’s. You see the two caskets here. A pair of gilded
bronze greaves– greaves, leg armor, shin guards,
are shown on the right there. And there was a
fabulous golden quiver, you see the golden quiver on the
lower left, along with arrows, and parts of a bow. Those weapons posed a puzzle
to the archaeologists, because those weapons
are not Greek weapons, they’re not Macedonian weapons. Those are typical
Scythian weapons like those used by the
Amazons in Greek art. And even more curious, if you
take a look at those greaves, the shin guards,
they’re mismatched. They’re not the same size. Well, scientific analysis
of those mystery bones was just taken out,
taken a few weeks ago, and the analysis
revealed surprising news. The Scythian bow and the quiver
and those mismatched leg armor, they belonged to a woman. She was about 32 when
she died in 336 BC. Her bones showed the rigors
of constant horseback riding. One of her legs had broken
and had healed crookedly, leaving her with a–
probably with a limp, and the uneven
greaves had obviously been custom-made for her. Now, who was this
real life Amazon buried in the royal Macedonian
tomb with the King of Macedon? Theories about her identity
are being debated as we speak. We can go into that later
if you have questions. Now that DNA analysis is
available, it’s very expensive, but it is available now, we
have more than 300 graves of battle scarred women
buried with their weapons, and more being found every year. And archaeologists
are now going back to previously
discovered male warriors to see whether those
might be women. The biggest concentration
of warrior women’s burials are in Bulgaria, Romania,
Ukraine, southern Russia, the Caucasus, and
Kazakhstan, the very places that were identified as
prime Amazon territory by the ancient Greeks. In the Scythian kurgans,
warrior women were buried. They could be buried alone,
along with other warrior women, or with male warriors, they
were always buried as equals. Archaeology shows that
the Scythian women were laid to rest with the
same honors as the men. There was evidence of
large funeral feasts by the mourners, lots
of sacrificed horses, the women like the men were
buried with tools, weapons, golden treasures, personal
kits for smoking hemp, and food for the afterlife, a
cup of fermented mare’s milk, and a chunk of
horse meat impaled by an iron knife on
a wooden platter. Bioarchaeology and DNA can
reveal the sex, the health, the age at death with more
than 90% accuracy now. The DNA results tell us
that a substantial number, about 25 to nearly
40% of Scythian women were active warrior women
buried with their weapons when they died. Many of those armed
women had war injuries like the male warriors. The typical grave goods
of the women warriors in the heart of ancient
Amazon territory included iron spears, massive
armored belts, leather and gold quivers filled
with bronze arrows, bronze swords,
battle axes, shields, necklaces of beads
and animals claws, gold earrings,
and sometimes even clothing of wool,
leather, fur, silk, and hemp has been preserved. The youngest girl
warrior ever found here she is– oh, no, this is the
16-year-old– I don’t have a picture of the youngest
girl warrior ever found was about 10. This one was 16. The youngest ever found
was 10 when she died, and she was buried in iron armor
with two spearheads, evidence that young children, boys and
girls, were trained for battle. Also nearby, this
was in the Ukraine nearby, another
kurgan, or grave mound, held the remains of
three young girls. They were aged 10 to
15, and their arsenal included heavy cavalry items,
scaled armor, helmets, spears, shields, quivers full of arrows. And those girls also owned
tools, gold necklaces, and bronze mirrors. Three of the most ancient,
the earliest Amazon graves, were found in the
southern Caucasus region, a land
strongly associated with Amazons in antiquity. The women’s
skeletons were buried by their companions about
3,000 years ago in 900 BC. One woman was about
30 when she died, she was interred in
a sitting position with her bronze sword across
her knees, and a dagger and a spear at her feet. There’s the original
report on the left there. The jawbone of her horse
and her shield were nearby. The left side of her skull
has a wound from a battle axe that had begun to
heal before she died. The second woman in that kurgan
had an arrowhead embedded in her skull, and
the third woman wore a necklace of
lion or leopard claws. The scientific
studies of skeletons are yielding some very
striking results and details. Some women’s legs were bowed
from a lifetime on horseback. These were nomads, who traveled
great distances by horse. They suffered arthritis, they
had broken bones, probably from constant riding and falls. Some women’s hand
bones actually reveal evidence of repeated
heavy use of a bow. Typical battle wounds of
women buried with weapons include ribs slashed by swords,
arrowheads embedded in bones, and skulls punctured
by pointed battle axes. These are some examples. Pointed battle axes
are typical weapons of Amazons in Greek
vase paintings. By careful analysis
of the bones, bioarchaeologists
can often determine the direction of an
opponent’s attack. They can tell whether
the blows occurred while someone was fighting face
to face, on foot on the ground, or on horseback, whether
they were in motion when the blow was delivered,
and whether or not they tried to deflect the blow. Most combat injuries of
the women and the men are on the left side, indicating
that their adversaries were right handed. All of this
archaeological evidence points to a level
of gender equality unheard of among
the ancient Greeks. So it’s no wonder they were
fascinated and horrified by the barbarians
at the steppes. Their myths, we can see
them as a kind of exciting what if story, pitting
these daunting strong women against the Greek’s
mightiest heroes. Here’s Achilles
fighting and killing Penthesilea on the
battlefield at Troy. And on the right is
Heracles killing Hippolyta. He looks a little nervous
there in that picture. These images were incredibly
popular in antiquity, second only to
pictures of Heracles. Unlike the restricted lives
of Greek girls and women that I explained
before, being an Amazon was an option for
women on the steppes Why? Because of a series of
unique extremely successful Scythian technologies
and practices, innovations perfectly suited
to their time and place. The Scythian way of
life, with opportunities for women unheard of
in ancient cultures, other ancient cultures,
ensure that mounted nomad culture
flourished and dominated on the steppes sweeping over
a Millennium from Eurasia to China from about
700 BC to AD 500. In Scythia, young
girls were raised to ride horses and shoot
bows and arrows, just like their little brothers. And that made perfect
sense in a nomadic culture. Think about it. Small groups or bands, isolated
on the harsh dangerous steppes, they’re always on
the move, they’re always facing attack
from hostile enemies and other tribes. Everyone, male and
female, was a stakeholder. Young and old, male
and female, they’re all expected to
contribute, all expected to take part in defense
and raids and hunting. On the plane from San Francisco
yesterday, it occurred to me that Scythian way of life
might be of special interest to Google, and maybe
some of you will discern some parallels between
their world and your world. The Scythians forged an
extraordinary combination of sophisticated technologies
and unconventional tactics. They were based on agility,
flexibility, speed, innovation, shared capacity, shared
knowledge, equality, individual merit, also
cooperation, teamwork, within an extensive network
of loosely related groups of rivals as well
as potential allies. On the steppes, tribes waxed
and waned in size and power. Groups were free to split
off from the main unit and establish new
alliances on their own. Small bands of
survivors or rebels might be absorbed
into larger tribes or ally with another tribe. The stakes on the steppes
were extremely high. Some tribes were decimated,
some vanished forever, we have no trace them. Alliances alternated
with hostilities, former adversaries,
however, sometimes united to pursue larger
goals of conquest, control over territory,
resources, trade. Tribes often coalesced
to meet and defeat powerful invading enemies. The Scythians united, for
example, in the sixth century BC to defeat the huge
Persian army that was led by Darius the
first, and the Persian King, Cyrus the Great,
actually lost his life fighting the Scythians
beyond the Caspian Sea. And they were led by the
warrior queen, Tomyris. Two centuries later, even
Alexander the Great’s army failed to subdue the
Scythians and the step nomads of inner Asia. The eastern Scythians held
the upper hand over China for several centuries. I think some step
nomads innovations might have had enough magnitude
to qualify as moonshots. Do you still use
that word, moonshots? The first great leap forward was
the domestication of the horse. The Scythians, or their
ancestors– the ancestors of the Scythians– were the
first people to ride horses. First they domesticated it,
then they learned to ride them. Horses provided food,
drink, clothing, agility in battle, speed, and
endurance over vast distances. And riding horses required
the invention of trousers. Essential tailored
action wear that zoomed to success 3,000 years ago. Think about it, the
first tailored clothing. It’s interesting that the
ancient Greeks actually credited the Amazons with both
of those nomad discoveries. They said that Amazons
were the first ride horses and the first
to wear trousers. Another awesome new
technology struck terror into the hearts
of their enemies. The nomads of the
steppes perfected the small but powerful
re-curve Scythian bow. Scythian archers were feared
for their terrific aim, and their ability to shoot
arrows at incredible speeds. And then they even went on to
concoct sophisticated and nasty arrow poisons by mixing
viper venom with pathogens so that you didn’t even
have to have good aim, just a scratch would kill the enemy. The Parthian shot, the
feet of twisting backwards to shoot arrows as
one gallops away, was another notorious
Scythian skill. And they also used
a floating anchor, which is an innovation–
or not an innovation– but is known nowadays
and used by people like this modern Amazon
of instinctive archery. You don’t have a
fixed anchor point, you actually use
instinctive aim. So you have, it sounds
like an oxymoron, but they have a floating anchor. And we see that in the
vase paintings of Amazons. By now it might be obvious
that the crucial change with exponential advantages
for the Scythians was the combination of
the horse and the bow. The horse combined
archery, that was the great equalizer for
women on the steppes. Mounted archery was the catalyst
for women’s full participation in hunting and warfare and
all those other activities. Astride a horse with
a bow and arrows, a woman could be just as fast
and just as deadly as a man. So among the Scythians, women
could achieve the same skill sets as the men, and become
outstanding riders, hunters, and warriors, and rise
to leadership positions. According to the ancient
Greek historians, Scythian women typically
formed ad hoc bands. And these bands could either
be all women, or men and women, and they formed these
bands for adventure, for hunting, and war campaigns. We have the names of
historical Scythian women who rose to leadership roles,
and devised strategies, and commanded armies. I just mentioned
Tomyris was one of them. As the ancient Greeks
reported, and as archaeology seems to confirm,
young women and girls served as the active duty
warriors and raiders, while older women with
children could choose to continue that marshal
lifestyle or not, depending on what they
wished in the circumstances. But in emergencies,
because everyone had been trained
to same, everyone was capable of riding
out to meet the enemy. So whether by choice, or
compelled by circumstances, ordinary women of Scythia
could be hunters and warriors. In other words,
these foreign women could behave just like
ancient Greek men, glorying in physical
strength and freedom, roaming at will
outside, choosing your own sexual
partners, chasing game, and killing enemies. So archaeology,
as I mentioned, is shedding new light on the
ancient Greek narratives and the artistic
representations of Amazons, showing how some details
in ancient Greek literature and art that were once
dismissed as fantasy or just overlooked
altogether, now turn out to be accurate
representations of step nomad’s customs and their life. And the step nomads were
the historical counterparts of the mythic Amazons. We’re now learning how
much the Greeks actually knew, how much they got
right, maybe sometimes they were guessing, but
they knew a lot about real warrior
women of Scythia, and Scythian technologies
and practices. And I think I have time
for a few examples. As the Greeks learned more
and more about Scythians, they revised their
portrayals of Amazons, adding realistic details in
written accounts and art. In the fifth century BC,
for example, Herodotus, I’ve already mentioned
the Greek historian, reported that the Scythians
enjoyed the intoxicating smoke from burning hemp. As I mentioned earlier, personal
hemp smoking hits like this one are among the grave goods
of Scythian men and women buried in kurgans. Amazon clothing and
weapons are some of the most striking changes
for accuracy in Greek art. The earliest images of Amazons
appeared on vase paintings about 2,500 years ago. And those earliest most ancient
scenes show the women dressed and armed, or in the custom of
heroic nudity, as it’s called, they were dressed like
Greek hoplite warriors. They’re wearing Greek
helmets, armor, round shields, and they’re fighting
on foot with swords. The Greeks just portrayed
them as counterparts of their own heroes. But soon, as they got
more and more information about the Scythians,
the Greek artists began showing the foreign
Amazons with Scythian style clothing and weapons, and
they show them on horseback. And we can even see two types
of horses on the vase paintings. Some Amazons ride
tall, mean horses. Akhal Teke is the name
now for those horses, they were bred for
speed in the desert. And they also rode small
sturdy steppe ponies. Both of those types
of horses correspond to the two types of horses that
are found in Scythian graves. Some of them are
actually mummified by the permafrost
and dry conditions, as in these examples. Scythian riders rode bareback. They didn’t have stirrups. They had light, or
no reins at all. They guided their horses with
their thighs, knees, and feet, and voice commands. And many Greek
vases and sculptures depict Amazons writing
barefooted with heel and ankle guards against chafing. And this detailed vase
painting shows an Amazon tying on ankle guards or spurs. Greek artists began to equip
the Amazons with real Scythian weapons, just like those
found in Scythian burials. Amazons were now
shown as archers, and they were outfitted with
distinctive Scythian style re-curve bows and
decorated quivers with flaps that hung up
on belts at their waist instead of at the back
of their shoulders. And here’s another very
interesting realistic Scythian cultural detail of
Scythian style archery. It’s overlooked by
the art historians. When I showed vase
paintings of Amazon archers to some archery experts,
they immediately noted that the women are
using the nomad style thumb draw, and also instinctive
archery with no fixed anchor. The thumb draw is sometimes
called the Mongolian draw. They were using those techniques
with their small bows instead of the Mediterranean release
used by the Greek archers, using their bows
in vase paintings. You can see an example of
that in the upper left. And as we’ve already
seen, Greek artists illustrated Amazons twisting
around on their horses to shoot arrows backwards in
the notorious Parthian shot. That re-curve bow used
by Scythian archers was an equalizer, as I
mentioned, for women. And the bows’ curves
store a lot of extra force under compression
because of those curves. And that makes it
very difficult, impossible to string,
unless you know the trick. Instead of brute
physical strength, one has to learn the
special technique. To attach the string, you have
to brace the bow onto your knee while you’re
sitting or kneeling, and there are images
on ancient coins, as you can see above on
the left, and on vases showing Amazons and Scythians. But especially
interesting that they show Amazons stringing their bows
using this special Scythian technique. It can also be done
standing if you brace one foot against a
rock or a helmet as shown on this vase from the
Smithsonian on the right. Some Greek images
of Amazon archers have been misunderstood
by scholars until now. For example, there’s
a vase painting here that shows an Amazon archer
between two riders, one of them identified
as a Scythian, the other one is Greek. The archer is bending
very far backwards, seemingly aiming
randomly at the sky. The ancient vase specialists
and art historians have interpreted
this scene as quote, a dying Amazon
collapsing in battle. But in fact, the archers
stance is an accurate portrayal of flight archery, shooting
an arrow a very long distance. The Greek and the
Scythian on the horses appear to be observers of
a flight archery contest. And flight archery
contests were described by ancient Greek
historians, and we even have some of the record
distances recorded on an ancient inscription
on the Black Sea. The Scythians were
famous for their accuracy and their long
distance shooting. Amazons were shown on
Greek vases holding more than one arrow
while drawing their bows. That sometimes
puzzled art scholars, they thought it might be a
mistake by a careless vase painter. But instead of a
mistake, those images depict the proper technique
for speed shooting arrows. It allows an archer to
shoot in quick succession without having to
constantly reach for arrows from the
quiver at their waist. Scythian archers were also
famous for their speed shooting, and they could
probably estimate– estimates today are that they could
probably release an arrow every one to three seconds. They would be daunting enemies. Besides bows arrows,
Amazons were often shown with swords, battle
axes, and a pair of spears, the typical weapons
that are found in Scythian burials of men
and women as in these examples from vase paintings
and one mosaic there. And this is a rather
famous vase painting they’re using all of
the weapons at hand. A unique and beautiful
vase painting in the Metropolitan
Museum in New York shows an Amazon taking
aim with a sling. Her two spears,
you can notice, are stuck in the ground on the left. According to slinging
experts that I’ve talked to, her stance is quite accurate. Piles of sling pebbles have been
found among the weapons buried with Scythian women
in their kurgans. Several ancient Greek writers
describe step warrior women skills with the
lasso, and they told how they use them to rope
their enemies in battle, and then finish them
off with battle axes. So I was pretty delighted when
I came across this rare vase painting of an Amazon on
horseback twirling a lariat, just like Wonder
Woman’s golden lasso. That Amazon there is charging
toward a Greek warrior, you can’t see him, but he is
cowering underneath his shield, decorated with a snake
there, in the upper right. This action scene decorated
a Greek woman’s jewelery or cosmetics box. A lot of women’s objects
contained images of Amazons. This Amazon is wearing a
patterned tunic and leggings, as you can see, that kind
of sensible practical action wear invented by the nomads,
whose lives centered on horses. And the wild patterns, and
textures of the leggings and sleeves worn by Amazons
in Greek vase paintings match the textiles
in garments that have been recovered
from Scythian graves. Amazons in the
vase paintings are shown in long sleeved shirts
and trousers decorated with geometric
designs, and sometimes even griffins, lions, and
deer, as in the upper right. They wear high leather boots
if they’re not barefooted, and soft pointed
caps with ear flaps and spotted leopard skins. And all of those items are found
in the burials of Scythians. These are some artist
reconstructions of warrior women’s
garments from clothing that was found in
Scythian kurgans. The Greeks were fascinated and
appalled by Amazons trousers. That was something no Greek
man or woman would ever be caught dead in. Greeks wore simple
rectangles of cloth held in place with
pins, like most people around the Mediterranean. Trousers, as I
mentioned, were tailored. They were stitched together
from fitted pieces. And who invented trousers? According to the Greeks,
it was the Amazons. And in fact, trousers
were, as I mentioned, invented by the men and women
who first began riding horses. These are some
pictures of clothing that has been found
in Scythian graves. And you can see the
patterns, decorations, look very similar
to what is portrayed on Amazons in Greek
vase paintings. The earliest pair
of trousers were found preserved
in Scythian graves from nearly 3,000 years ago. I think I mentioned that
trousers were not just sensible and practical,
they were necessary for life on horseback. And they were equalizers. I think I have time for one more
example of an ancient artifact that demonstrates how
Greek artists incorporated realistic features
of Scythian culture and life in
illustrations of Amazons. This beautiful golden
ring was made in about 425 BC, classical Greece. You can see it on display
in the Museum of Fine Arts here in Boston. The full significance
of the scene has alluded
understanding until now. At the Boston Museum,
the museum text says it shows on Amazon
on a horse with her dog, hunting a deer. The Amazon is wearing a
belted tunic, as you can see, her hair and the cape or
cloak are blowing back to indicate speed and actions. She has the reins
choked up tight to control the
spirited horse as she is about to spear the
deer with her javelin. And the deer on this tiny ring
is so exquisitely detailed that we could even
determine the species. It’s a spotted fallow buck
with– they have broad palmate antlers. Her hunting dog is a type
of sighthound still used in Central Asia today. And it’s attacking
from the rear, you can see that the
deer’s left hind leg– I think it’s the left–
left hind leg is broken. And what about the large bird? What– why is that
included in the scene? The scholars just
ignored that detail. But I was looking at photographs
of traditional hunters on horseback in
Kazakhstan and Mongolia, when I suddenly realized the
significance of that bird on the ring in the
Museum of Fine Arts. This is Makpal
Abdrazakova of Kazakhstan, and she’s an eagle hunter. Falconry, training
raptors to hunt has very ancient roots
among the step nomads. I learned about a
discovery in Central Asia of a fully clothed mummy of a
horse woman in the Tarim Basin area, she lived when
this ring that I showed you was being
made in Greece. And she was buried with the
huge leather mitt on one hand, just like the one on this
modern female falconer’s arm. I also learned that the
bird perched on the arm is a golden eagle, and that
is the favorite bird of prey to train for traditional hunting
on the steppes by the nomads. They hunt rabbits, deer,
foxes, and even wolves with golden eagles. These are few more
young women who are eagle hunters or apprentices
learning the traditional skill again. So that bird hovering
above the deer’s head is not just a random decoration
as assumed by the scholars. It’s an eagle with a hooked
beak, spread wings and tail, it’s about to attack the deer. So this stunning golden ring
illustrates an Amazon eagle hunter on horseback
accompanied by a sighthound. All four, the Amazon, the
dog, the horse, and the eagle are focused on the prize. By training these three
animals, the nomads made the harsh,
unforgiving steppes into a land rich
with accessible game. The scene on the ring
is compelling evidence that the classical
Greeks had heard about, or maybe even
observed, horse women of Eastern lands who
trained eagles to hunt. Amazon figures may have
served many symbolic functions for the Greeks,
but archaeology now proves that warrior
women were not merely figments of the
Greek imagination, and the many examples
of naturalistic details and ethnographic features
in ancient artworks provide very strong evidence
that the Greek images and ideas of Amazons were
certainly influenced by real nomadic horse people. The Greeks interwove
threads of fact with imaginative
storytelling to create a panoramic world of Amazons. It seems fair to say
that Amazons as a dream and as a reality
have always existed. Sometimes they’re hidden or
suppressed, but at other times, the Amazons among us come
blazing into popular culture and history. And there are strong signs that
a powerful Amazon spirit may be awakening today, and as
the ancient Scythians would tell us, that just
makes good sense. Thank you. Happy to take questions
if anyone has one. AUDIENCE: So you explained
how popular the Scythians and Amazons were
with the Greeks. Did the Greeks
attempt to adapt any of the horse riding
or the trousers or the roles of women
in their fighting? ADRIENNE MAYOR: No. AUDIENCE: No, OK. But did they notice
that it was successful, or they said, that’s
just not for us? ADRIENNE MAYOR: The Greeks
had such a strong aversion to covering the arms and legs. They thought that was just an
outrageous and barbaric style of dressing. And they often mocked the
Persians for– the Persians actually did adopt the
Scythian way of dressing because they became
horse people. They copied the Parthians and
the other Scythian tribes. And the Greeks
mocked the Persians for wearing these
effeminate styles. Leg coverings and sleeves. A manly man wore a miniskirt. And it’s interesting that
Xenophon wrote a manual on horsemanship for the Greeks. And he does not– he’s a horse
rider– he does not– he’s in fifth century BC– and he
does not recommended Greek men wear trousers to ride horses. But he does say make
sure that you arrange your cloak under you
so that you do not, especially when you’re
getting onto the horse, so that you do not present
a shocking spectacle as you mount your horse. So even a horsemanship
manual could not bring itself to
recommend trousers. AUDIENCE: Excuse
me, did you come across any evidence
in your research that the tribes were either
matriarchal, or matrilineal, or was it simply
equal opportunity, and it is the female leaders
that we’ve heard about? ADRIENNE MAYOR: As I
mentioned, the Scythians didn’t leave any
history, so we have to go by what their neighbors
said and the archaeology and then also look at– you
can do comparative ethnography by looking at people
who are following a Scythian style of life on
the steppes in modern times, you can compare. So we don’t have any evidence
of matriarchal societies across the steppes. What we have is evidence of
equal opportunity, as you said. In that kind of lifestyle,
women could give counsel in making decisions,
and of course, they rose to leadership positions
because we have actually documented by the neighbors
that there were women leading armies against Persians, against
Egyptians, against Chinese. So we know that they did
have equal opportunity in leadership. We don’t have any
evidence for matriarchy. AUDIENCE: I guess my
question is slightly related. OK, so the Greek girls
have dolls of Amazons, the Greek women have
icons of Amazons. Is there any correlation
between– I mean, the way the Greeks treated
women was terrible, but it wasn’t
uniformly terrible– so is there any correlation
between how women were treated in different city-states
in different periods with the popularity of the
artifacts among the girls? ADRIENNE MAYOR: The popularity
of the Amazon images on women’s perfume bottles,
on their jewelry boxes, on some of their items
for sewing and weaving, I think that really points
to a mystery about Greek life that we don’t really–
we can’t explain. I mean Amazons were also a
popular, very popular, image on crockery that we
know was in a shape that was given to newlyweds. Why would you give newlyweds
pictures of Amazons? There’s something going on
there that we don’t know. It’s really very interesting. AUDIENCE: I mean, I know a
lot of feminists like to say, OK Wonder Woman is going to be a
great icon for girls to empower them, and I’m just
wondering, did that happen? ADRIENNE MAYOR: According
to most scholars, classicists have
argued and maintained that all of these
images of Amazons were like domestic propaganda
to discourage girls from taking up archery,
horseback riding and asking for equality. But the fact that the images
are so popular among girls and women, and it shows
them in such a powerful way, I don’t think that argument
has any traction anymore. Yes? AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE]
archeology question. So my question is,
has anybody examined the bodies of the people
whose tombs you talked about, and seeing if there’s
asymmetrical development on the long bones
of the upper body? Because I think we would
expect with archers to find one side more
developed than the other, and it would be a
way of determining who got these grave goods
because of their occupation, and who got it because of their
social status or their life cycle. ADRIENNE MAYOR: For one thing,
the modern mounted archers that I’ve spoken
to, the ones who are using the
instinctive archery technique and especially
the Parthian shot, they shoot both sides, they
can shoot with both arms. They can just switch. So we know that these
nomads on the steppes were practicing archery since
they were kids, little kids. So I don’t think
we would see that. But I did mention, I
didn’t call it out, but I didn’t mention that
they have found differences in hand bones of the women that
have sh– one hand might show heavy use of a bow– consistent
with heavy use of a bow. So I think that’s the kind of
evidence you’re looking for. AUDIENCE: Somewhat
similar question. So the name Amazon
comes from a-mazos, which is this myth that
Amazon women would remove the breast so they could
shoot arrows better. Is there any evidence of that? ADRIENNE MAYOR: No. AUDIENCE: OK. ADRIENNE MAYOR: But that
idea sticks like glue. It’s just like super glue. AUDIENCE: Is that a modern idea,
or did that trace all the way back to the Greeks? ADRIENNE MAYOR: It’s such an
interesting idea, wrong idea, that I devoted an entire
chapter to Amazon breasts. So quickly, the name
has absolutely nothing to do with breasts. It’s not a Greek word. The Greeks borrowed
the word Amazonis, and no one knows
where it came from. Most linguists
believe that it might be an ancient Iranian word that
derives from [INAUDIBLE], which simply means warrior. So that makes a lot of sense. But the Greeks had an obsession
with making non Greek words in their language into Greek
words for patriotic reasons. So there was an etymologist
in the fifth century BC– he was actually
an historian dabbling in etymology. And he said, well
let’s figure out what– this must
be a Greek word, and so it sounds a
little bit like a-mazos. Which, in Greek, would
sound a little bit like without, a, mazos, breast. But he was
immediately challenged by other historians of his day,
who said, that’s ridiculous of course not. There is not one
ancient representation of an Amazon with
only one breast. And as, if you watch
the Hunger Games, or you looked at any of
the pictures I was showing, it is physiologically
ridiculous. And yet the idea
just won’t go away. It’s the one thing everyone
knows about Amazons. Yeah. AUDIENCE: This is
fascinating, the combination of the archaeological evidence,
and the documentary evidence, the imagery and so on. So you’ve mastered art history,
and archaeology, Greek sources. But I’m going to ask
you if you’ve also looked at HIttite and
Persian and so on sources. And if they say anything,
or if there’s evidence that they need to be re-read in
the light of what you’ve found. ADRIENNE MAYOR: I haven’t
looked at Hittite sources, but there is a chapter on
Persian stories about Amazons in my book. The Persians did tell stories
about step nomad women, and we have them. They’re preserved for
us because of the Greeks who went to Persia and
preserved and recorded the stories told
by the Persians. There was a Greek
doctor named Ctesias who served as a physician
for the Persian King. He wrote a book about Persian
stories about step nomads. So we have his reports. We have the names of many
step nomad warrior Queens who fought Persians, and
we have their stories. So yes, other cultures
bordering Scythia who encountered step
nomads definitely had stories about warrior
women, Amazon like women. There was a papyrus
found recently, and then even more recently,
has been finally translated and it’s in tatters, but
you’ve got enough of the story to see that the title is The
Egyptians and The Amazons. And it’s about an
Egyptian prince who goes out to fight an
Amazon queen and her warriors. So many, many other
ancient cultures told stories about
warrior women. AUDIENCE: At what point do
the Amazons start vanishing from the historical record? Because I know the bow
eventually turns up in Mongolia and is used by the
Mongol– the Mongol horde to devastating
effect against the Chinese and much of Europe
at that point. And the Mongol women
also shot, but at what point do the Amazons
disappear from the record? ADRIENNE MAYOR: It’s
interesting that as you read the ancient Greek and
then the Latin, Roman sources, they tell an exciting story
about historical warrior Queens who are from Scythia, and
then they say, and then with her death, the
Amazons disappeared. And then the next
writer that you read says, but there were pockets
of them, there were vestiges, and they keep reappearing. So I don’t think
there’s any end point. As you say, the Mon– there’s a
book called The Secret History of the Mongol Queens that
is about Genghis Khan’s granddaughters
saving his empire. The story, my last
chapter is on China. And we have Chinese
chronicles about warrior women from those step tribes. What’s really interesting
is all of these other groups from antiquity who tell
about Amazon like women have a radically different
script for the stories. They want them as
lovers, as allies, whereas the Greeks
kill them all. All of the Greek mythic
script dooms them to death, whereas all these other
cultures say no, we want them on our side. So I don’t think there’s any
historical endpoint unless you get to the Arab conquest
and then Islamic era. But even then there are
stories in the Middle Ages about women who go to war,
and it goes all the way up through the Middle Ages. And now it’s back. OK, thank you.

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