"Golden-shielded, silver-sworded, man-loving, male-child slaughtering Amazons." That is how the fifth-century Greek historian Hellanicus described the Amazons, and they have fascinated society ever since. Did they really exist? Until recently scholars consigned them to the world of myth, but Lyn Webster Wilde journeyed into the homeland of the Amazons, and uncovered astonishing evidence of their historic reality.
North of the Black Sea she found archaeological excavations of graves of Iron Age women buried with arrows, swords, and armor. In the hidden world of the Hittites, near the Amazons' ancient capital of Themiscyra in Anatolia, she unearthed traces of powerful priestesses, women-only religious cults and an armed bisexual goddess - all possible sources for the ferocious warrior women.
Combining scholarly penetration with a sense of adventure, Webster Wilde has explored a largely unknown field and produced a coherent and absorbing book in On the Trail of the Women Warriors: The Amazons in Myth and History, which challenges our preconceived notions of what men and women can do.
Pursuing her elusive subjects like a detective, Wilde exults in the process as well as in her discoveries, contending that the idealized Amazons of recent feminist lore are the real myth, and that they were actually capable of intense violence. Her book will no doubt cause significant controversy among anthropologists, archeologists and historians, many of whom argue that women warriors never existed. Yet Wilde, a broadcast journalist and filmmaker, writes with authority as she interviews archeologists, examines antiquities (e.g., sixth-century black-figure vases), myths and scholarly works to discover who the Amazons actually were. Traveling from the labyrinthine stacks of the London Library to the sites of former Greek colonies on the Black Sea and in the Ukraine, she delves into Greek and Anatolian myths, revealing that androgyny, gender bending and role reversal were also part of the Amazonian persona. Drawing on archeological grave digs in the Ukraine and Moldova that, she says, uncovered women warriors, Wilde theorizes that the Amazon myths, based on real female warrior groups, were part of an evolutionary process from a society oriented toward the Mother Goddess to a patriarchal one. She also explains how warrior women were revered as goddesses and priestesses by the Greeks, Sumerians, Hittites, Africans in Dahomey and others, even as women were subjugated in those same societies. Wilde's passionate, well-researched treatise on the Amazonian warriors of the classical Greek world illuminates myth and history. 16p b&w photos, 4 maps and 1 chart.