A new study published in the journal Hesperia claims to have deciphered the names of ancient warrior women from Greek pottery dating back 2,500 years. According to the National Geographic, linguists undertook a complex process to piece together ancient languages unspoken for millennia, revealing names such as ‘Don’t Fail’ and ‘Worthy of Armour’ ascribed to the warrior women of the Amazons.
Study lead author Adrienne Mayor and J. Paul Getty Museum assistant curator David Saunders managed to translate Greek inscriptions found on 12 ancient vases from Athens dating from 550 BC to 450 BC. The inscriptions appear next to scenes of Amazons fighting, hunting, or shooting arrows.
The inscriptions had long been a puzzle to researchers, as they were written with Greek characters but didn’t form any known words in ancient Greek. The researchers had a hunch that the Greeks may have been writing out foreign words phonetically, and sought to test out this theory.
To do so, they translated the inscriptions into their phonetic sounds, and then submitted the phonetic transcriptions to linguist John Colarusso of Canada's McMaster University in Hamilton, who is an expert on rare languages of the Caucasus. Colarusso, who was not provided with any information regarding the source of the transcriptions, matched the phonetics to Scythian words and names, which mean ‘Princess’, ‘Don't Fail’, and ‘Hot Flanks’. There was also an archer named ‘Battle-Cry’ and a horsewoman named ‘Worthy of Armour’. On one vase, a scene of two Amazons hunting with a dog appears with a Greek transliteration for the Abkhazian word meaning "set the dog loose."
“Essentially, the ancient Greeks seem to have been trying to re-create the sounds of Scythian names and words on the Amazon vases by writing them out phonetically,” writes the National Geographic. “In doing so, the Greeks may have preserved the roots of ancient languages, showing scholars how these people sounded on the steppes long ago.”
Ancient Greek cup depicting an Amazon warrior on a horse (510 BC). Scholars suggest wording on the vase names the woman ‘Worthy of Armor’ in ancient Circassian. Credit: The J. Paul Getty Museum.
The 12 vases that formed part of the study are among more than 1,500 ancient Greek vessels that depict the Amazons, which reflects a long-running Greek fascination with the female warriors.
"Amazons were clearly exotic and exciting to the Greeks. Clearly there is respect and admiration mixed with ambivalence," said Mayor. "Women lived much more separate and unequal lives in the Greek world, so the notion of women who dressed like men and fought like them was pretty exciting to them."
The Amazons were a nation with female warriors that inhabited a region bordering Scythia in Sarmatia (modern-day Crimea). Legend has it that they were so dedicated to being warriors, that they cut off one of their breasts so that they would be better able to wield a bow. Amazons were thought to be solely mythological until archaeologists unearthed Scythian burials of real female fighters. Since then, scientists and historians have been working to piece together the dramatic lives of these mighty warriors.
Featured image: Amazon women were known as fierce warriors.