Africa Feminism History Uncategorized

The Amazons

I will not be an excellent admirer of badass women and/in history if I do not write about the Amazons so here I go! If you should know something else about me, it is that I like love these righteously ‘hard and cold’ as I like to call them women.

Foremost, Amazon literally means ‘without a breast’ though it has also been suggested that the ‘a’ in Amazon does not mean without but the opposite and thus Amazon means ‘big-breasted women’. Great thinkers such as Hippocrates and Galen believed that excising the breast removed hindrance to the use of weapons and diverted nourishment to a woman’s right arm thus strengthening it. It must be mentioned that to the Greeks the idea of this island of Amazons was one of a topsy-turvy world. It was unnatural, disorderly, barbaric and ultimately doomed because the women were not playing out their ‘natural role’…I have since lost all the teenage admiration I had for the ancient Greeks.

The story of the wonderful island of wild no-breasted (or big-breasted) women starts with the expulsion of two Scythian princes from their homeland. These princes were exiled with their families and followers, they migrated to the Caucasus region where they proceeded to subdue and oppress the local people. Naturally, the local people rebelled and killed all the Scythian males. Thus the Scythian women took up arms to defend themselves and they formed a manless, militaristic nation.

These Scythian women renounced marriage and servitude. Every 2 months of the year were taken off to couple with the men of a neighbouring tribe at random and in the night. The catch with this is that only the women who killed in battle were allowed to lose their virginity. If the Amazon had a male child, he was either given away, crippled, made a slave, or sacrificed to some goddess I presume.

It is possible that the original Amazons could have actually been Hittites as opposed to Scythians. Another possible story of origin; Hittite army off fighting the Assyrians, the Greeks invaded, the Hittite women defended themselves. Goooo Amazons! I say why can’t both accounts be valid? Badass women have existed for years.

Now onto Africa! Because we all know that there had to be African Amazons. (And since I am me, I will also include some Asian Amazons!) African women warriors include women like Candace (Kandake) of Meroe and Nzingha from Matamba.

Now Nzingha we all know (and if you do not, be very ashamed of yourself), she enjoyed fighting and even dressed as a man. Before battles, she danced in animal skins with a broadsword suspended from her neck, an axe stuck to her belt and a bow and arrows in her hands. She also used male prisoners as sacrifice, beheading one before battle and taking a swig of his blood. Nzingha is also reputed to have kept a harem of men.

Regarding the Candace of Meroe, the term ‘kentake’ designated warrior queens, queen mothers and queen regents. ‘Kentake’ is the root of ‘Candace’ and has its origins in the Meroitic ktke or kdke which means ‘queen mother’. The title of Candace existed for 500 years and in those days (think around 300B.C) they controlled what is now Sudan, Ethiopia and part of Egypt. Unlike the queens of ancient Egypt, these women ruled independently and did not gain power from any man. According to legend, Candace of Meroe refused the let Alexander the Great enter her kingdom. Whether or not it is true, Alexander the great wanted to invade the area under the Candace’s rule. So the Candace of Meroe went out to meet him, ready for battle with her painted elephant and her magnificent army. When Alexander saw the might of her army, he backed off.

There were also Ethiopian Amazons who had no right breast and were constantly armed. These women were expert archers and devoted their lives to war and hunting. They fought on bullback. Unlike the prototype Hittite or Scythian Amazons, they got married however the babies once weaned were given to the men. In Monomotapa the Amazons had no left breast. There were female legions who were known for their courage. The emperor gave them lands where they lived alone. These legions were standing armies for the emperor.

Trung Trac and Trung Nhi were Vietnamese sisters who led uprisings against China in 39AD during Chinese occupation of Vietnam. They were daughters of prefect Me Linh and his wife Mah Thein. As daughters of a prefect, they grew up studying the art of warfare, weaponry and fighting skills. After the execution of her husband by Chinese officials due to their outspoken criticism of the forced cultural assimilation by the Chinese Han officials, Trung Trac swore revenge.

Foremost, I will avenge my country,
Second, I will restore the Hung lineage,
Third, I will avenge the death of my husband
Lastly, I vow that these goals will be accomplished. Read more…

With the help of her sister Trung Nhi, Trung Trac rounded up a 80,000 man-and-woman strong army and led a rebellion. They succeeded in keeping Chinese power out of Vietnam for two years and reigned as co-queens. However by 43AD, the Chinese army retaliated and this time won. The sisters committed suicide rather than submit to their conqueror.

I cannot mention the Trung sisters without mentioning their fabulous general, Phung Thi Chinh who went to the battlefront pregnant! There were 36 female generals and apparently one of them was Trung Nhi and Trung Trac’s mother. She even gave birth in the battlefield and immediately after giving birth strapped her baby onto her back and continued fighting. In other accounts she had a baby in one arm and a sword in another. When Phung Thi Chinh learnt that the Trung sisters had committed suicide, she killed herself and her baby.

I am thinking of turning this into a ‘series’ as there are many blood-thirsty, power-hungry, kind-hearted when necessary, cold-hearted when necessary, war-ready, revenge-fulfilling, soamazinglybadassshewilltearyouanewoneandyouwn’tevenknowit women in history. I do this because people do not know much about women in history but we must!

Recommended reading
Amazons of Black Sparta: The Women Warriors of Dahomey by Stanley B. Alpern.


  1. I love Amazons. These are the stories I wish more people heard growing up. I practically avoided books that DIDNT have lead characters like them 🙂

  2. Alice, i love them too. yeah i agree with you. with the internet at least some things will not be lost. i wish i was more assertive with my book pickings, i didn't start till last year!

  3. I'm doing my African history paper on the Amazons of Dahomey. The were superior to men, highy traines et cetera, et cetera. I'm loving the research!

  4. Ladi, I have heard about these Amazons of Dahomey! I am not particularly interested in them as such because I read they worked for a king who had the audacity to forbid them from having sex. Maybe you can confirm this for me?

  5. Hi. I've been reading up of Dahomey but not the Amazons in particular. I *think* that they were forbidden from having sexual relations with men and yes they worked for the King. As far as I can remember the logic was to do with the fact that a Dahomey man was never supposed to refuse a woman who was offered to him. Lots of people tried to gain a connection to the King by shoving female relatives at him and rather than be one of a gazillion wives some of these women opted to be a sort of personal guard. Which expanded over the decades. They were…….considered to be sorta married to the King I think or at least in his custody. If they could marry they probably needed his permission much like his daughters would have.Another interesting thing, they had about twelve systems of marriage in Dahomey, at least one of which made no distinction as to whether the husband was male or female. Women were not only independantly wealthy but encoraged from an early age to become so and were known to inherit whole compounds. In fact with a decent social background (ie not being born a slave) and enough determination a Dahomey woman could rise high in virtually any part of society. I think that reading Fa was (and perhaps still is?) exclusively male, but religion, government, business, the army were all open. (This is mostly Herskovits btw)Also while I'm rambling, do you happen to know what Ashe (Axe) means?

    1. yes the Amazons were forbidden from having sexual relations with men. the history of Dahomey really amazes me. it’s so interesting, i have no idea about the twelve systems of marriage. ‘Ashe’ in my language sort of translates to ‘Amen’ but then again it depends on context and pronunciation (intonation). i’m Yoruba and while i do know there are Yorubas in Benin (where Dahomey was located in the past) today, i’m not sure if ‘ashe’ means the same thing in both places.

Comments are closed.