Amazon

This animation was created from a sixth-century BCE skyphos vase.

 

The story was developed by pupils from Maiden Erlegh  School, Reading.

about the animation

The story in this animation is very in-keeping with Greek stories about the Amazons.  The Amazon is brave and aggressive, and makes use of projectile weaponry.  But despite her efforts, the Amazon is eventually overpowered by her opponent, something very common to myths about Amazons.

In this story, the chariot advances from left to right, however, if you look at the shape of the chariot wheels and the proportionate length of the horses, you’ll see that the chariot’s intended path is to come out of the vase, rather than along.  The vase-painter was exploring the use of perspective and a 3-dimensional universe.

When you look at the original vase, you can’t see a charioteer.  The two figures on the vase are both Amazons, being scattered by the oncoming chariot.  The charioteer was created by taking the second Amazon and turning the body.  As most of her body was hidden, and as the white paint that indicates that she’s female had worn off, no further adjustments were needed.

In the storyboard, the Amazon begins her ambush by hiding behind one of the sphinxes.  In order to create enough room, when the camera zooms in, the sphinx moves to the left.  Similarly, the space between the sphinxes wasn’t wide enough for the chariot to charge along, so once the camera is zoomed in on the vase, the vase-width is extended on the left to three times its usual width.

about the myth

Ancient Greek culture had many myths about the warrior women they called the Amazons.  The Amazon women were represented as brave and tenacious fighters who lived in female-led communities and trained to fight with the weapons only men would use in normal Greek society – spears and shields, swords, and, especially from the classical period onwards, bows and arrows.

The Amazons weren’t a real people, they were a product of the ancient Greek imagination, although that constructed image may at some point have been influenced by stories of real warrior women living north of Greece in Russia (on which see the Centre for the Study of Eurasian Nomads).  In Greek culture, the Amazons played the role of an opponent who was very different from a normal Greek warrior.  As part of that image, they were always said to live at the edges of the world; often this meant the northern Black Sea region, (as in Aeschylus' Prometheus Bound 723-5, although some people made north Africa their home (e.g. Diodorus of Sicily, 3.53-4).

There are myths about almost all the major heroes going on adventures to find and fight the Amazons.  Straightaway this suggests that their role in myth was to provide an exotic enemy that heroes could defeat and thereby prove their expertise and bravery.

The Iliad (6.186) already includes references to the Amazons.  The Trojan ally, Glaucus, recalls how his ancestor, Bellerophon, was set three near-impossible tasks in an attempt to get rid of him– to kill the Chimaera monster, to fight the Solymi tribe, and to fight the formidable Amazons 'women who were the peers of men.’  These opponents were considered so challenging, that when Bellerophon defeated them (and warded off an ambush), it was enough to convince his persecutor to let him live.  The fifth-century poet, Pindar, also celebrated this tradition, singing of how Bellerophon 'with Pegasus, from the chilly bosom of the lonely air, once attacked the Amazons, the female army of archers.’ (Olympian Ode 13. 85).

The Amazons were also said to have fought in the Trojan War as allies of Troy.  In the 7th – 6th century BCE, an epic poet called Arctinus wrote the Aethiopis, which describes the deaths of the Amazon Queen Penthesilea, Thersites, Memnon (the mythical king of the Ethiopians), and Achilles.  Achilles is said to have fallen for Penthesilea just at the moment he killed her, when it was too late to save her.  That moment is captured in this superb vase by Exekias.

The travel-writer, Pausanias, tells us that Athens had a famous painting from the fifth-century BCE, which depicted Penthesilea carrying a bow and showing contempt for Paris (10. 31. 8)

The Athenians had a tradition that Athens had once been invaded by Amazons in the time of Theseus.  The episode is described by a range of authors, including Aeschylus (Eumenides, 685-690), Apollodorus (Epitome, 1.16), and Plutarch (Theseus, 26-7).

© The Trustees of the British Museum

BM 1836,0224.127

The Amazon invasion became associated with the Persian Wars.  In the 5th century BCE, the glamorous general Cimon commissioned a public painting to commemorate the Persian Wars and it included a scene of the mythical Amazon battle (see Pausanias, 1.15.2).  The orator, Isocrates, even used the myth of an ancient Amazon invasion to try and justify a new Persian War (e.g. Panathenaicus, 193).  When an attack on Persia was made, under the Macedonian Greek Alexander the Great, Alexander was quickly written into an Amazon myth (see e.g. Plutarch Alexander, 46.1-2).

The Amazons may not have been real, but they had an important place in the ancient Greek imagination.  The early stories suggest that they were associated with ideas about initiation and young people proving themselves before moving into more responsible roles.  This is probably why so many heroes are said to go on quests to fight them.  As time went on, the Amazons’ role seems to have shifted somewhat, taking on a greater importance for the ethnic identity of the Greeks.  But at Ephesus, in Asia Minor, the initiation aspect remained strong.  At a special festival, unmarried girls would dance like Amazons, with weapons and shields, switching gender roles before their transition to being fully adult women.

Black figure lekythos showing an 'Amazonomachy', or 'battle with Amazons'.

 Ure Museum (51.4.9), high archaic 525-500BCE

storyboard

This is the original storyboard, by pupils from Maiden Erlegh School.  The hand-to-hand fighting scene was left out of the animation because of time constraints, leaving the sling-shot attack and chariot charge as the main events.  Beneath it is a frame-by-frame comparison done with the revised version of the storyboard.

vase details

Attic, black figure skyphos vase (with white paint indicating female figures), depicting a chariot scattering Amazons, with a sphinx on either side (scene repeated on reverse).  Late archaic period, c.510-500BCE.  Ure Museum (Accession Number: 26.12.11).

music

The track on this animation is called Gaia.  It was created by ancient music specialist Professor Conrad Steinmann of Melpomen.  Find out more about ancient music through our blog post on the subject, and in interview with Prof. Steinmann.

© Ure Museum (26.12.11)

further reading

S. Nevin, 'Animating Ancient Warfare: The Spectacle of War in the Panoply Vase Animations’, in War as Spectacle: Ancient and Modern Perspectives on the Display of Armed Combat. A. Bakogianni and V. Hope (eds.) (Bloomsbury,  2015)

L. Hardwick, 'Ancient Amazons - Heroes, Outsiders or Women?’ in Greece & Rome, Vol. 37.1 (1990), pp. 14-36

A. Mayor, The Amazons:  Lives and Legends of Warrior Women across the Ancient World (PUP, 2014)

W.B. Tyrrell, Amazons – A Study in Athenian Mythmaking, (JHUP, 1984)

follow-up activities

1)  Ask your pupils to compare different depictions of Amazons on ancient vases and reliefs.  What are the similarities? What differences are there?

2)  Try using this animation as part of a class discussion about Heracles, Theseus, Bellerophon, or Achilles.  What do these heroes gain from fighting Amazons?

3)  Ask your pupils to storyboard an alternative story for this vase.

Fifth-century relief showing a hoplite soldier fighting an Amazon.

© Piraeus Museum, Athens.  Photo by S. Nevin

Ure Discovery

Ure Discovery was an innovative Arts Council funded project run at the University of Reading’s Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology in 2013.

Steve worked with staff and students at the University of Reading helping local secondary school groups interpret and respond to the Ure Museum collection.

The pupils created stories, storyboards, and other artwork based on a selection of vases and each storyboard was transformed into an animation made from images of the vase which inspired it.  Ancient art, digital artistry, and teenage imagination combine to retell ancient myths and present new stories.  The Ure Discovery and Ure View animations can be seen alongside their vases via a tablet trail that visitors can take around the museum.

Creative Commons License

Except where otherwise noted, content on www.panoply.org.uk by S.Simons & S.Nevin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.