SPEYER.- For the past three centuries, the exploits of the Amazon tribe have become the stuff of legend. These implacable female warriors are supposed to have battled before Troy and laid siege to Athens. To this day, scholars have searched the world for evidence of their true nature.
In a unique international historical and cultural exhibition with the title, The Amazons - Mysterious Warrior Maidens, the Historical Museum of the Palatinate seeks to cast some light on the Amazons in all their facets from antiquity to the present day.
You will see the spectacular graves of armed Scythian women along with sensational finds from the Altai mountains of Siberia. That is where the interment of a young female warrior was discovered under a burial mound - an archaeological sensation. Was this woman of antiquity an Amazon? Never before has anyone seen such a find complex of weapons, jewellery and elaborate horse harness outside of Russia.
Lenders to this splendid show include important museums of Europe and Asia as well as the British Museum London, the National Museum of the History of the Ukraine in Kiev, the Ny Carlsberg Glyptothek in Copenhagen, the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Basel Museum of Ancient Art.
Amazons, those legendary female warriors of antiquity, have continued to provoke fascination up until our times. Yet were they real or merely legendary? The people of Ancient Greece for their part were convinced of their existence; stories speak of these maiden warriors fighting at the gates of Troy, laying siege to the city of Athens, and even encountering Alexander the Great. As is often the case, these tales conflate reality and myth.
Are the Amazons, like the Centaurs, a product of imaginative Greek mythology, or is there a kernel of truth to their legend? Up until today scientists have been searching for evidence of the historical Amazons. Credible archaeological evidence supporting their actual existence has not been discovered, but perhaps there is some elusive trace that has yet to be unearthed that could help to explain this mystery.
An exhibition in the Historical Museum of the Palatinate in Speyer would concern itself with the exciting quest for these legendary warriors. Artwork from antiquity that feature these women warriors are numerous, and written testimonies many the stories of the Amazons are some of the oldest and most popular in all of Greek mythology. Homer reported their deeds in the Iliad in the 8th Century B.C. and their presence in the oral tradition extends even further into the past. If Heinrich Schliemann traced the ruins of Troy using Homers narrative as a guide, similarly, would it not be possible in the case of the Amazons to again use such an approach?
The Amazon legend
The source of the Amazon legend is hard to divine, yet various writings speak of their territory: the area of the Black Sea, with their legendary capital Themiskyra situated on the banks of the Thermodon in Turkey. Later in the 5th Century B.C., Herodotus reported that the Amazons, having been earlier besieged and vanquished by the Greeks and pushed into the Steppes northeast of the Black Sea to Don by Tanais (in Southwest Russia), had intermingled with the Scythians, giving rise to the Sarmatians.
Sensational Grave Finds
Archaeological excavations in the Scythian/Sarmatian territory in what is the modern day eastern Black Sea region of the Ukraine and the Steppes of southern Russia have yielded astounding finds. Kurgans, massive funereal mounds, were found to contain not only pompous male graves, but also female graves that bore a particular distinction. Aside from the usual items such as cosmetic accessories and jewellery, there was the surprising discovery of weapons: lances, swords, daggers, and most often of all, bows and arrows. Moreover, the female skeletons showed evidence of the wear and tear associated with frequent horse riding and archery.
A legend with a core of truth
Graves containing armed women are a phenomenon of the rider-nomad cultures who were active north of the Black Sea. The Sarmatians (in the Volga region) had a higher prevalence of such graves than the Scythians, with 20% of weapon burials associated with women. As of now 100 of such burials have been uncovered.
Research pertaining to these Amazon graves is still in its infancy. Possible connections between these burials and the Amazon legend are the source of heavy debate. It has been proven that in the nomadic culture of the Steppes between 600-300 B.C. there were women who fought with weapons in their lifetimes and were buried with them upon their death. Evidence suggesting an aggressive, male-hating collective of women or a gynocratic state has not been substantiated. It is possible however that contact with the Eurasian Nomads inspired the Greeks to develop the Amazon narrative. The credibility of Herodotus description of the Sarmatians is undeniably backed up by the inventory discovered in these graves. Furthermore, his remarks concerning the settlement of the Amazons in the Steppes northeast of the Black Sea suggest again that historical and mythological elements were intertwining:
We (the Amazons) shoot arrows and throw spears and live on horseback (
). Since then the Sarmatian women follow the same way of life. They ride to the hunt with or without the men, pull themselves off to war and wear the same apparel as the men.
(Herodotus IV, 114; 117)
The Amazons: the exhibition
The large special exhibition The Amazons will utilize ca. 2000m˛ to explore and present this continuously fascinating and multifaceted subject to the public. From the 22nd of May 2010 to the 23rd of January 2011, the myth of the Amazons will be brought to life in Speyer. High quality exhibits from Europe and Asia addressing the legend chronologically from its origins to present-day theses will be installed, while artwork and artefacts, deriving from findings from Greek, Etruscan and Roman times will be complemented with modern examples.
Precious exhibits and remarkable burial treasures
The most important point of emphasis in this presentation of the Amazon myth will be the artefacts and exhibits themselves, such as antique reliefs, sculptures, ceramic items and coins. Furthermore, attractive burial treasures from the Scythians and Sarmatians will display the dazzling synthesis that occurred along the borders of ancient Greece, where Greek high culture melded with the cultures of the Steppes. Furthermore, works from 18th and 19th century artists will also be included along with contemporary examples to show that the fascination of this myth persists.
The highlights of this exhibition will doubtlessly be the burial treasures of the female warriors from the Eurasian Steppes. For the first time these spectacular finds will be sent outside of Russia and the Ukraine respectively, and for the first time ever these finds will be presented to the public.
Amazonen an exhibition between myth and reality
The twin themes of myth and reality will be confronted in this exhibition so that the visitor can undertake an exciting search for the traces of these legendary women warriors. In order to accomplish this aim, the latest research results will be visualized and strikingly rendered using reconstructions, models, replicas and elaborate staging along with multimedia that will bring the subject to life. For example, the archaeological discovery of a female warrior grave will be staged, allowing for a glimpse into a freshly opened excavation site. A kurgan will be virtually reconstructed and the face of a Sarmatian will be reproduced, leading the visitor back into the legendary world of the Amazons. Documentary film footage concerning the excavations of Russian and Ukrainian graves will also be presented along with reports concerning the analysis of the discovered skeletal tissue.
Multifaceted diversity, never exhibited finds
The Amazons will be the first exhibition of its kind ever presented to deal not only with works of art from large-scale sculpture to miniature works pertaining to this subject, but also with the fundamental themes regarding the historical basis of this myth. Never before has the phenomenon of the Amazon graves of the Eurasian Steppes been presented to the public in the form of an exhibition. This unique and expressive exhibit will not only be of interest to the experts, but also fascinate visitors from all over Germany. The female warrior graves discovered in Russia and the Ukraine are an archaeological sensation that has remained largely unknown to the general public. This special exhibition in Speyer will help to alert the public and media of these marvellous finds.
The accompanying exhibition publication
Accompanying the exhibition will be an appealing and comprehensive publication that will convey the most up to date data of various research efforts concerning the topic, enrich the understanding of the world of the Amazons through the contributions of scientists specializing in this field, and include high-quality visual material to illustrate the subject. The publication will be interdisciplinary, with well-known Amazon experts joined by scientists from other domains such as philology, history, etc. In this manner, anthropologists who examined the bone material from the Amazon graves will be represented as much as psychologists and experts of gender history. Contributions from ethnologists, art historians and cultural studies experts will round out the fascinating subject of The Amazons. An international colloquium of renowned scientists devoted to the topic in question will take place parallel to the exhibition, and the results will be transcribed and published in a separate document.
A colourful accompanying program
A multifaceted and carefully targeted accompanying program of public lectures and other offers will be executed. For instance, a night will be devoted to the reading by an author of a relevant historical novel, a film night with intriguing documentaries germane to the subject will be held, public demonstrations of archery, as well as theatrical and even operatic performances, will effectively supplement this major exhibition of the Historical Museum of the Palatinate in Speyer, making it into a truly memorable experience.