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Thursday, October 20th, 2011

Modern Amazons

Black Amazons

The Amazons of Black Sparta

This is the fourth, and probably final article about amazons. Unlike the other amazons I talked about in the previous articles, there is no doubt that these girls existed almost up till the beginning of the twentieth century.

Here’s the citation from The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest by Stieg Larsson:

Despite the rich variety of Amazon legends from ancient Greece, South America, Africa and elsewhere, there is only one historically documented example of female warriors. This is the women’s army that existed among the Fon of Dahomey in West Africa, now Benin.

These female warriors have never been mentioned in the published military histories; no romanticized films have been made about them, and today they exist as no more than footnotes to history. Only one scholarly work has been written about these women, Amazons of Black Sparta by Stanley B. Alpern (C., Hurst & Company, London, 1998), and yet they made up a force that was the equal of every contemporary body of male elite soldiers from among the colonial powers.

It is not clear exactly when Fon’s female army was founded, but some sources date it to the 1600s. It was originally a royal guard, but it developed into a military collective of 6000 soldiers with a semi-divine status. They were not merely window dressing. For almost 200 years they constituted the vanguard of the Fon against European colonizers. They were feared by the French forces, who lost several battles against them. This army of women was not defeated until 1892, when France sent troops with artillery, the Foreign Legion, a marine infantry regiment, and cavalry.

It is not known how many of these female warriors fell in battle. For many years survivors continued to wage guerrilla warfare, and veterans of the army were interviewed and photographed as late as the 1940s.

When Khadaffi set up his all-girl bodyguard, he was actually following tradition, not doing something radical. The amazons of Dahomey started out as a bodyguard. Eventually their numbers grew and they made up a third of the army. Wikipedia has a good article on the amazons of Dahomey. The book about these women warriors that was mentioned in the quote is available from, where else, amazon.

Although these female warriors were fierce on the battlefield, its probably incorrect to give them entire credit for Dahomey remaining independent for so long. The kingdom of Dahomey was the chief supplier of slaves to the transatlantic slave trade. This meant that it was more valuable to the european powers as a source of slaves than it was as a colony. Once slavery was abolished the fate of Dahomey was sealed. It took two years to achieve, but France conquered the kingdom in 1894 and kept control of it until 1958. The former kingdom of Dahomey is now known as Benin.

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Category: Women in War
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