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19 April 2007

The Legend of Power Women

This is the truly fascinating story of Queen Tomiris, who succeeded her dead husband - the former king of the Massagetae. It is said that she cut off her breast and rode into battle when her husband's head was brought back to her. It is said that she slayed Cyrus the Great (king of the Persians circa 5th century BC) by her own two hands. It is also said that she kept his head near her at all times and drank fine wine from it until the day of her death.

As leader of the Persian people, Cyrus conquered the Medes and unified the two separate Iranian kingdoms; as the king of Persia, he reigned over the new empire from 559 BC until his death. The empire expanded under his rule, eventually conquering most of Southwest Asia, much of Central Asia, and much of the region just bordering the powerful Indian empire to create the largest nation the world had yet seen.

During his 29-year reign, Cyrus fought against some of the greatest states of the early Classical period, including the Median Empire, the Lydian Empire, and the Neo-Babylonian Empire. Elated by his victories in Asia, Cyrus strove to conquer the Massagetae and venture into Egypt. However, Cyrus waged a war fatal to himself, fighting the Queen of Massagetae along the Syr Darya in 530 BC.

Not much can be deducted from the Babylonian tablets but the Greek historian Herodotus mentions:

"Of all the combats in which the barbarians (a term meaning non-Greeks which was not a derogatory term in those times) have engaged among themselves, I reckon this to have been the fiercest. The following, as I understand, was the manner of it: First, the two armies stood apart and shot their arrows at each other; then, when their quivers were empty, they closed and fought hand-to-hand with lances and daggers; and thus they continued fighting for a length of time, neither choosing to give ground. At length the Massagetai prevailed. The greater part of the army of the Persians was destroyed and Cyrus himself fell, after reigning nine and twenty years. Search was made among the slain by order of the queen for the body of Cyrus, and when it was found she took a skin, and, filling it full of human blood, she dipped the head of Cyrus in the gore, saying, 'I live and have conquered you in fight, and yet by you am I ruined, for you took my man with guile; but thus I make good my threat, and give you your fill of blood.' Of the many different accounts which are given of the death of Cyrus, this which I have followed appears to me most worthy of credit."

This tale has been the inspiration for the Amazons, an ancient nation of female warriors. A society dominated by women where no men were permitted to have sexual encounters or reside in Amazon country; but once a year, in order to prevent their race from dying out, they visited the Gargareans, a neighbouring tribe. The male children who were the result of these visits were either put to death, sent back to their fathers or left in the wilderness to fend for themselves; the females were kept and brought up by their mothers, and trained in agricultural pursuits, hunting, and the art of war. They lived in Pontus, which is part of modern day Turkey near the shore of the Black Sea, where they formed an independent kingdom under the government of another queen, named Hippolyta ("she lets her horses loose").

Now that's food for thought!

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