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Amazon warrior women

Scholars decipher names of Amazon warrior women from ancient pottery

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A new study published in the journal Hesperia claims to have deciphered the names of ancient warrior women from Greek pottery dating back 2,500 years. According to the National Geographic, linguists undertook a complex process to piece together ancient languages unspoken for millennia, revealing names such as ‘Don’t Fail’ and ‘Worthy of Armour’ ascribed to the warrior women of the Amazons.

Study lead author Adrienne Mayor and J. Paul Getty Museum assistant curator David Saunders managed to translate Greek inscriptions found on 12 ancient vases from Athens dating from 550 BC to 450 BC. The inscriptions appear next to scenes of Amazons fighting, hunting, or shooting arrows.

The inscriptions had long been a puzzle to researchers, as they were written with Greek characters but didn’t form any known words in ancient Greek. The researchers had a hunch that the Greeks may have been writing out foreign words phonetically, and sought to test out this theory.

To do so, they translated the inscriptions into their phonetic sounds, and then submitted the phonetic transcriptions to linguist John Colarusso of Canada's McMaster University in Hamilton, who is an expert on rare languages of the Caucasus.  Colarusso, who was not provided with any information regarding the source of the transcriptions, matched the phonetics to Scythian words and names, which mean ‘Princess’, ‘Don't Fail’, and ‘Hot Flanks’. There was also an archer named ‘Battle-Cry’ and a horsewoman named ‘Worthy of Armour’. On one vase, a scene of two Amazons hunting with a dog appears with a Greek transliteration for the Abkhazian word meaning "set the dog loose."

“Essentially, the ancient Greeks seem to have been trying to re-create the sounds of Scythian names and words on the Amazon vases by writing them out phonetically,” writes the National Geographic. “In doing so, the Greeks may have preserved the roots of ancient languages, showing scholars how these people sounded on the steppes long ago.”

Ancient Greek cup depicting an Amazon warrior

Ancient Greek cup depicting an Amazon warrior on a horse (510 BC).  Scholars suggest wording on the vase names the woman ‘Worthy of Armor’ in ancient Circassian. Credit: The J. Paul Getty Museum.

The 12 vases that formed part of the study are among more than 1,500 ancient Greek vessels that depict the Amazons, which reflects a long-running Greek fascination with the female warriors.

"Amazons were clearly exotic and exciting to the Greeks. Clearly there is respect and admiration mixed with ambivalence," said Mayor. "Women lived much more separate and unequal lives in the Greek world, so the notion of women who dressed like men and fought like them was pretty exciting to them."

The Amazons were a nation with female warriors that inhabited a region bordering Scythia in Sarmatia (modern-day Crimea). Legend has it that they were so dedicated to being warriors, that they cut off one of their breasts so that they would be better able to wield a bow. Amazons were thought to be solely mythological until archaeologists unearthed Scythian burials of real female fighters. Since then, scientists and historians have been working to piece together the dramatic lives of these mighty warriors.

Featured image: Amazon women were known as fierce warriors.

By April Holloway



What were the names of the Amazons that scholars were able to decipher?

If you want a modern example of this, transilteration from Chinese to English.
There are two versions (Wade-Giles and Pinyin) so far and both are at best approximations
Peiking Vs Beijing
Canton Vs Guangzhou
I honestly don't know if native Mandarin or Cantonese speakers would recognise these city names if they heard them being said out loud by an English speaker

It's a bit hard to believe that the Greeks would have been able to accurately transcribe words and names from languages they couldn't understand. You can find similar words and names in almost any language.

The Greeks usually exaggerated things. If a Scythian warrior surrounded himself with female companions who rode on horses and carried his weapons, the Greeks would jump to conclusions and start saying that Scythian women were savage warriors. Notice how the Greeks are the only ones to talk about Amazons. The truth is usually underwhelming. As with female gladiators, the Amazons were almost completely fictitious. The legend is probably the result of the Greeks taking some isolated cases of real women who were indeed warriors and exaggerating them to such a degree that what resulted was the myth of the Amazons.

The Greeks didn't lie: they just exaggerated and embellished real things and people. The best way to separate fact from fiction is to take away the fantastic elements. What's left is probably the real truth, more or less.

As for the strange words on those vases, they may be some unknown words from other Greek dialects or maybe some words from the non-Greek languages that were spoken in Greece (the language of the Helots, for example).

I just find it hard to believe that the Greek potters were able to correctly transcribe foreign names.

girl ancient iran or persian

‘Hot Flanks’ must have been a beauty!


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April Holloway is a Co-Owner, Editor and Writer of Ancient Origins. For privacy reasons, she has previously written on Ancient Origins under the pen name April Holloway, but is now choosing to use her real name, Joanna Gillan.

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