Amazons of Libya
Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

The Amazons of Libya

This is the third post in my series about Amazons and Women in war. Again, the quote that follows is from The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest by Stieg Larsson.

The historian Diodorus from Sicily, second century BC (who is regarded as an unreliable source by other historians), describes the Amazons of Libya, which at that time was a name used for all of north Africa west of Egypt. This Amazon reign was a gynaecocracy; that is, only women were allowed to hold high office, including in the  military. Accord to legend, the realm was ruled by a Queen Myrina, who with 30,000 female soldiers and 3000 female cavalry swept through Egypt and Syria and all the way to the Aegean, defeating a number of male armies along the way. After Queen Myrina finally fell in battle, her army scattered.

But the army did leave its imprint on the region. The women of Anatolia took to the sword to crush an invasion from the Caucasus, after the male soldiers were all saughtered a a far-reaching genocide. These women trained in the use of all types of weapons, including bow and arrow, spear, battleaxe, and lance. They copied their bronze breastplates and armour from the greeks.

They rejected marriage as subjugation. So that they might have children they were granted a leave of absence, during which they copulated with randomly selected males from nearby towns.

Only a woman who had killed a man in battle was allowed to give up her virginity.

Queen Myrina seems to be an almost mythological character. All this took place a looong time ago, even before Greek culture solidified. I found a little more detail on Wikipedia, but it still comes from the same source, Diodorus.

Myrina, a queen of the Amazons. According to Diodorus Siculus,[1] she led a military expedition in Libya and won a victory over the people known as the Atlantians, but was less successful fighting the Gorgons (who are described by Diodorus as a warlike nation residing in close proximity to the Atlantians). During the same campaign, she struck a treaty of peace with Horus, ruler of Egypt, conquered several peoples, including the Arabians, the Tauri and the Cilicians (but granted freedom to those of the latter who gave in to her of their own will). She also took possession of several islands, including Lesbos, and was the first to land on the previously uninhabited island which she named Samothrace. The cities of Myrina (in Lemnos),[2] Mytilene, Cyme (Aeolis), Pitane (Aeolis) and Priene were believed to have been founded by her and named after herself, her sister Mytilene and the commanders in her army, Cyme, Pitane and Priene, respectively.[3] Myrina’s army was eventually defeated by Mopsus the Thracian and Sipylus the Scythian; she, as well as many of her fellow Amazons, fell in the final battle.

By the sounds of that, Myrina wasn’t from Libya, but rather was some kind of proto-greek. That means the title of this post is misleading. Oh well…

Two interesting linkages occurred to me. They don’t have anything directly to do with Myrina’s amazons, just random thoughts that popped into my head while working on this.

  1. The social structure was a gynaecocracy. I’ve never heard of any other society where women, and only women, were on top. I’ve heard of matriarchal cultures, of course. Here on the west coast of Canada most of the tribes were matrilineal. That means that lineage of a person was traced on the mother’s bloodline, not the father’s the way we do it. One interesting result of this is that they swapped children. Kids were raised by the uncles and aunts. Among the Haida, a boy would be sent to live with his mother’s brother.
  2. They regarded marriage as subjugation. In my mind, this ties together with the subject of mature relationships, ie how relationship structures can change after the kids are raised and gone. It also brought to mind something I heard about a growing women’s movement that started in Japan; women leaving their marriages and striking out on their own. This is a real social change, and of course has a special name and customs around it. If anyone can point me to sources that talk about this, please let me know. Its something that came across my radar a few years ago and I didn’t follow up because I was busy with other things.
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Category: Women in War
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