Is there any evidence of armies enrolling women in fighting roles in significant number in antiquity or the middle ages?

Is there any evidence of armies enrolling women in fighting roles in significant number in antiquity or the middle ages?


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Most sources I find seems to portray women's participation in warfare, as leaders and or soldiers, as more of an exception than the rule during antiquity and the middle ages.

Is there any source that gives evidence of women in fighting roles during this period? Were there armies known to enroll women in significant numbers?


SHORT ANSWER

In antiquity, the Scythians (Eurasian nomads) and the Sarmatians (nomads of Iranian origin who moved westwards, gradually overwhelming the Scythians) had significant numbers of female warriors. Estimates based on archaeological discoveries range from 15% to over 30% of women who were warriors. The precise role of these fighters remains unclear, as do the reasons why these related cultures had female warriors while other, similar, cultures apparently did not. Note:'Scythians' is sometimes used to include 'Sarmatians' while at other times it refers only to the people west of the Don River. This, as Wikipedia notes, has led to a fair amount of confusion.

MAIN ANSWER

Archaeological finds, with the aid of science, over the last 25 years have provided an increasing amount evidence that Scythian women and those of their eastern kin the Sarmatians (among whom the Sauromatae are most frequently mentioned) fought in significant numbers, and that the writings of Herodotus and other ancient historians on this subject have at least some basis in fact. Earlier finds have also been reassessed as it was previously assumed that any grave containing weapons belonged to a male. Deborah Levine Gera, Professor of Classics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in Warrior Women: The Anonymous Tractatus De Mulieribus asserts:

The presence of… Scythian women warriors in the pages of Herodotus and Ctesias reflects some kind of historical reality, for there is evidence that some Scythian women rode on horseback, used bows and arrows, and went into battle. Archaeological remains indicate that there were female Scythian warriors, chiefly - but not solely - among the Sauromatae,…

This Sarmatian female warrior tomb "was found with more than 100 arrowheads, a horse harness, a collection of knives and a sword". Source: ZME Science

In The Scythians 700-300 BC by the archaeologist Dr. E. V. Cernenko, the author asserts:

Almost the whole of the adult population of Scythia, including a large number of the womenfolk, fought on campaign.

What evidence is there for the above, other than Herodotus? For the archaeological evidence, the Smithsonian article The Amazon Women: Is There Any Truth Behind the Myth? from 2014 relates the following from the early 1990s:

… a joint U.S.-Russian team of archaeologists made an extraordinary discovery while excavating 2,000-year-old burial mounds-known as kurgans… outside Pokrovka… near the Kazakhstan border. There, they found over 150 graves belonging to the Sauromatians and their descendants, the Sarmatians. Among the burials of “ordinary women,”… There were graves of warrior women who had been buried with their weapons. One young female, bowlegged from constant riding, lay with an iron dagger on her left side and a quiver containing 40 bronze-tipped arrows on her right. The skeleton of another female still had a bent arrowhead embedded in the cavity… On average, the weapon-bearing females measured 5 feet 6 inches, making them preternaturally tall for their time.

The last sentence is interesting as it deals with the perception that women are physically much less well equipped to fight compared to men; these women seem to have been an exception. It is also worth considering that a child, male or female, brought up from a young age to ride horses and use a bow and arrow, is likely to become a formidable adversary.

The Smithsonian article continues with

In recent years, a combination of new archaeological finds and a reappraisal of older discoveries has confirmed that Pokrovka was no anomaly.

According to Kathryn Hinds in Scythians and Sarmatians, the Pokrovka graves were those of "ordinary people" (not royalty), and following figures give an idea of the percentage of female warriors, at least within one community:

The vast majority of the men - 94 percent - were buried with weapons…

15 percent of the women were warriors, buried with arrowheads and other weapons.

Other discoveries suggest a higher percentage. This article from the Irish Times seems to refer to a more recent find:

A team of archaeologists investigating 2,400-year-old burial mounds built by the Scythian people on the upper reaches of the river Don has found that five of 21 graves contained the bodies of young women, accompanied by their weapons.

The article also quotes Dr Valery Gulyayev, of the Russian Institute of Archaeology:

"Usually such women are found in large kurgans, buried with the same rituals as for men,"… "They are buried with womanly things - mirrors of silver and bronze, necklaces of gold, glass or clay, earrings. But alongside these they are buried with weapons - a quiver, bow and arrows, and, often, two throwing spears.

The National Geographic article Amazon Warriors Did Indeed Fight and Die Like Men cites archaeological finds of Scythians which have been subjected to scientific testing:

Archaeologists have found skeletons buried with bows and arrows and quivers and spears and horses. At first they assumed that anyone buried with weapons in that region must have been a male warrior. But with the advent of DNA testing and other bioarchaeological scientific analysis, they've found that about one-third of all Scythian women are buried with weapons and have war injuries just like the men. The women were also buried with knives and daggers and tools.

Unfortunately, the article doesn't say which specific find the above relates to, but there is again some evidence here of 'significant numbers'. The New Yorker article The Real Amazons, citing Adrienne Mayor, research scholar in the Classics Department at Stanford University, says:

… in some archaeological digs in Eurasia, as many as thirty-seven per cent of the graves contain the bones and weapons of horsewomen who fought alongside men. (“Arrows, used for hunting and battle, are the most common weapons buried with women, but swords, daggers, spears, armor, shields, and sling stones are also found,” Mayor writes.)

In the light of the archaeological evidence, there has unsurprisingly been some reassessment of ancient sources. Further, it should be noted that Herodotus was not the only writer to refer to female warriors; there is also Ctesias, Hippocrates (see the passage cited here) and - as J Asia mentioned in his comment - Diodorus. They have embellished in parts and got some details badly wrong, but the archaeological evidence seems to support the assertions of a significant number of female warriors among some of the Scythians and some of their kin, perhaps most notably the Sauromatians.


Role of female warriors

The precise role of female warriors is unclear but it is most likely that they (1) defended the community while the main body of fighting men were away, and (2) were 'called up' and fought alongside men in times of great need, such as the Persian invasion under Darius I (ruled 522 to 486 BC). Their involvement in the army may well have gone beyond these, but archaeology has yet to conclusively prove this.


Reasons for significant number of female warriors

Also unclear is why these two cultures had significant numbers of female warriors while others around them apparently did not. None of the sources cited here deal with this directly, but several suggest that the prominent role women played as rulers is significant. For example, one archaeological dig found that over 70 % of the central graves (i.e. those of highest status) had female remains.

David W. Anthony, in The Horse, the Wheel and Language, notes an interesting point about the Scythians and the Yamna people "dating to 3300-2600 BC" who were there much earlier,

About 20% of Scythian - Sarmatian "warrior graves" on the lower Don and lower Volga contained females dressed for battle as if they were men… It is at least interesting that the frequency of adult females in central graves under Yamnaya kurgans in the same region, but two thousand years earlier, was about the same. Perhaps the people of this region customarily assigned some women leadership roles that were traditionally male.

This, though, is only the beginning of an answer, but we can also consider the prominent role played by archers on horseback where physical strength (though not unimportant) plays less of role than it would in close-quarters combat (as suggested by orangesandlemons in his comment). We should also not forget that in any society, there are always some women who are physically stronger than some men. A further point worth mentioning is that there may have been much less gender distinction in the division of labour than in other cultures; this is in evidence among modern Kazakh nomads where boys and girls compete directly "in riding exercises and games" (DNA testing showed that one girl had the same common ancestor as a 5th or 4th century BC female warrior buried at Pokrovka).


All-female society and Thracian female warriors

Two further points worth commenting on are first, the claims (particularly in Herodotus) concerning an all-female warrior society and second, claims that there were significant numbers of female Thracian warriors. On the former,

As yet, Davis-Kimball (2002) notes that there is no archeological evidence linking all the storied versions (e.g., no excavated settlement suggests that women warriors lived in societies without men).

On the latter, there is a lack of sufficient evidence, as demonstrated in Fingerprinting the Iron Age (Nicolae Popa, Simon Stoddart, eds.). However, Women in Antiquity (Stephanie Lynn Budin, Jean Macintosh Turfa, eds.) does cite one interesting discovery.


Other sources:

Hamid Wahed Alikuzai, A Concise History of Afghanistan in 25 Volumes, Volume 14

Jeannine Davis-Kimball, Warrior Women of Eurasia (abstract) in Archaeology, A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

The Cambridge History of Early Inner Asia, Volume 1


The excellent answer above by Lars Bosteen details a significant exception to the case outlined below. Perhaps additional exceptional instances remain to be uncovered in the historical and archaeological records.


Let's start by parsing the question actually asked; rather than imagining a different question that might appeal.

Is there any evidence of armies enrolling women in fighting roles in significant number in ancient history and middle ages?

Note a few key phrases here:

  • enrolling

  • fighting roles

  • significant number

  • ancient history or middle ages

To answer this question in the affirmative, it will be necessary to satisfy the criteria specified by these key phrases: That evidence exists that armies enrolled women, in fighting roles, in significant number, during the period of ancient history or the middle ages.

To take these key phrases out of order:

1. ancient history or middle ages

A common end-date for the middle ages is 1500. That works for me. It also roughly marks when warfare (in Europe, which would soon dominate the world for several centuries) becomes dominated by firearms and artillery rather than melee weapons.

The Zulu don't exist as a nation until the late 18th century (and very little is known of the Nguni people prior to 1500) so mentions of 19th century Zulu amazons are irrelevant to the question. So are the (relatively sparse but existing) accounts of women participating in the Napoleonic Wars, including accounts of Massena's mistress. The relevant time period here must approximate 3000 B.C.E. to 1500 C.E. to satisfy the question.

2. significant number

A normal measure of significance is 5%, or one in twenty. That's a lot of women, to comprise 5% of your fighting roles with them. There is simply no evidence in any historical record of 5% of soldiers being women. Such evidence is in fact conspicuous by its absence. This does not mean that no women ever participated in combat; it means that there is no record, anywhere in the relevant historical record, of cases where women were 5% or more of deliberately enrolled combatants.

3. enrolling

Satisfying this criteria requires that the relevant armies had a proactive policy of recruiting suitable women, in significant number, for combat roles. Again, the entire relevant historical record is absent of any such evidence.

Let's also distinguish between armies and garrisons. From Troy to the Alamo, the fate of besieged once a breach is made has generally been a sad tale of fire, rape, murder and pillage. Of course every breathing adult has been armed to the teeth, in hope of taking as many besiegers to the grave as possible. That does not count as enrolling in an army combat role - it's just desperation.

4. fighting roles

This eliminates camp followers whose primary task is logistical in nature, whether wife, mistress, cook, nurse, etc. We are talking tooth and claw end of the army here, not its tail. Again, no evidence in the historical record to satisfy this.

What evidence do we have for women in combat during this period? A few, notable in their rarity:

  • Boudicca - who certainly commanded but may not have actually fought.

  • Jeanne d'Arc - who certainly did fight as well as command.

Several more examples of Warrior Queens are given here in the eponymous section about 3/4 down, the bulk of whom were NOT actual combatants.

Undoubtedly a number more, who are not coming to mind right now. But the very fact that we know all their names speaks to the extreme rarity of their occurrence; and in no instances was there ever an enrolment process for women into combat roles in these armies.


Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence…

… but if you are looking for modern Western type of politically correct army, you are not going to find it in antiquity. No nation at that time would send child-bearing young women to be slaughtered in a role that ill suited them. Unlike us, ancients were not so deluded to pretend that upper body strength and overall mass do not count in warfare. And remember, these were the times of archers and lancers.

However, there is some evidence for female rear guard troops…

… not very glamorous duty, but when every available male had to go to war, often woman would have to protect rear areas. Scythian warrior women were never equal to men (except in modern feminist propaganda :) ) but they did have significant role as auxiliary troops :

"Yes, there probably was an obligation on the women to serve as warriors," he said. "But it seems likely that when the men left the settlements to pasture their herds, they left the women on guard. These young women and girls on horseback were in the role of lightly armed troops. They were guarding the hearth and the homestead."


African women have a long legacy of being rulers of nation states, generals of armies, warriors, and leaders of rebellions for thousands of years; several examples include Hatshepsut, pharoah of Ancient Egypt (1507-1458 B.C.E.); Amanirenas, Kandake of the Meroitic Kingdom of Kush (60-50 B.C.E.-10 B.C.E.); Queen Nanny of the Maroons (c. 1686- c. 1755; born in Ghana; a Jamaican National Hero); Amazons of Dahomey (c. 1685-1892, Kingdom of Dahomey (1600-1892), present day Republic of Benin, "they numbered between 1,000 and 6,000 women, about a third of the entire Dahomey army"; see Seh-Dong-Hong-Beh "In 1851, she led an all-female army consisting of 6,000 warriors against the Egba fortress of Abeokuta, to obtain slaves from the Egba people for the Dahomey slave trade"); and in recent history Harriet Tubman (c. 1822-March 10, 1913).


Ten Powerful and Fearsome Women of the Ancient World

A quick perusal of the Forbes ‘World’s Most Powerful Women’ list for 2017, will reveal female politicians, heads of industry and billionaire philanthopists at the top of the list. The likes of Angela Merkel, Theresa May and Melinda Gates top the list for the influence their actions have on the modern world. However, when it comes to the Forbes 2018 Worlds Most Powerful People list, there are only 3 women in the top 50 positions. In a similar vein, in most civilizations of the past, it was mainly the men who were engaged in the bloody business of winning power through war… but not always. There have been female figures throughout history who held powerful roles or played significantly influencial parts too. Throughout history there have been many powerful women who have led nations or guided armies into war, renowned not only as fearsome fighters, but also as cunning strategists and inspirational leaders. There were others who made a name for themselves in a domain traditionally held by men and whose stories, carried forward over the centuries, continue to be told today.


Chapter Eight: Religious and Political Transformations (300-600)

East Asia | Rome, Europe and the Byzantine Empire | South Asia 220-280: Three Kingdoms period 235-284: The Third Century Crisis 265-317: Western Jin period 317-589: Northern and Southern Dynasties period 320-550 Gupta Empire 325: Council of Nicaea 395: Permanent division of Roman Empire into Eastern and Western portions 410: Roman army abandons Britain 476: Ostrogothic general Odavacar deposes last Western Roman Emperor 496: Frankish king Clovis converts to Christianity 500s: Anglo-Saxon migration into Britain

597: Christian Missionaries dispatched from Rome arrive in Britain

Introduction

This chapter tracks the development of the states that “anchored” Afro-Eurasa in the early centuries of the common era, the Roman Empire in the west and the Han Dynasties in the east. As we saw, in the 220s, the Han dynasty collapsed and China entered an age of disunity. Beginning around the same time, leaders of the Roman Empire began to innovate new methods of governing such a large state. One of these innovations was the division of the empire—a development that would contribute to the growing fracturing of the Roman state. In both of these regions, as well as in South Asia, new or developing religious traditions would have an impact and, to some degree, serve as a stabilizing factor as political systems went through periods of chaos and change. In particular, Christianity in the west and Buddhism in China would have a lasting influence in these areas.

Questions to Guide Your Reading

  1. What were the problems that the Roman Empire faced during the third-century crisis, and how did Diocletian attempt to resolve these?
  2. What changes did the Roman Empire experience in the fourth century CE, and what were the causes of these changes?
  3. How did the Church provide a sense of legitimacy to the kings of the Franks?
  4. In what ways could the Gupta period be described as a “classical” age?
  5. How did Buddhism become a major religious tradition in China?

Key Terms

  • Augustine, City of God
  • Bhagavad-Gita
  • Body of Civil Law/Justinian Code
  • Byzantine Empire/Byzantium
  • Chandragupta I (Gupta Empire)
  • Constantine
  • Constantinople
  • Council of Nicaea
  • Dharma (Buddhist and Hindu)
  • Dharma Scriptures
  • Gupta Empire
  • Hagia Sophia
  • Northern and Southern Dynasties
  • Ostrogoths
  • Ramayana
  • Three Kingdoms period
  • Vandals
  • Visigoths
  • Yellow Turbans

The Late Roman Empire and the Post-Roman West

Early Christianity in the Context of the Roman Empire

If you recall from Chapter 7, Pliny was a Roman governor who wrote many letters to the Emperor asking for guidance in various political difficulties. One of the problems that arose in Bithynia during Pliny’s time as governor in 111 – 113 CE involved procedural questions on how to treat Christians in the province. Pliny does not seem to have much knowledge about them but is struck by what he describes as their stubbornness in clinging to their faith even when threatened with death. As he points out in his letter on the subject to Trajan, he has judged this stubbornness alone sufficient to merit punishment, presumably because it showed a dangerous level of disrespect towards Roman rule. Pliny’s perspective is one of the earliest non-Christian sources about the new religion and shows how quickly it had spread over the Empire. But how and why did the new religion spread so rapidly over the Empire, and why was it so attractive to different populations? After all, quite a number of different cults and self-proclaimed prophets periodically appeared in the Roman world, yet none had the long-term impact of Christianity, which just two centuries after Pliny’s day became the religion of the Roman emperor himself.

Early Christianity is, in some ways, an ancient historian’s dream: for few other topics in Roman history do we have so many primary sources from both the perspective of insiders and outsiders, beginning with the earliest days of the movement. The New Testament, in particular, is a collection of primary sources by early Christians about their movement, with some of the letters composed merely twenty-five years after Jesus’ crucifixion. It is a remarkably open document, collecting theological beliefs and stories about Jesus on which the faith was built. At the same time, however, the New Testament does not “white-wash” the early churches rather, it documents their failings and short-comings with remarkable frankness, allowing the historian to consider the challenges that the early Christians faced from not only the outside but also within the movement.

The story of the origins of the faith is explained more plainly in the four Gospels, placed at the beginning of the New Testament. While different emphases are present in each of the four Gospels, the basic story is as follows: God himself came to earth as a human baby, lived a life among the Jews, performed a number of miracles that hinted at his true identity, but ultimately was crucified, died, and rose again on the third day. His resurrection proved to contemporary witnesses that his teachings were true and inspired many of those who originally rejected him to follow him. While the movement originated as a movement within Judaism, it ultimately floundered in Judea but quickly spread throughout the Greek-speaking world—due to the work of such early missionaries as Paul. (Visit this link to view a map of Paul’s missionary journeys ).

It would be no exaggeration to call the early Christian movement revolutionary. In a variety of respects, it went completely against every foundational aspect of Roman (and, really, Greek) society. First, the Christian view of God was very different from the pagan conceptions of gods throughout the ancient Mediterranean. While in traditional Roman paganism the gods had petty concerns and could treat humans unfairly, if they so wished, Christianity by contrast presented the message that God himself became man and dwelt with men as an equal. This concept of God incarnate had revolutionary implications for social relations in a Christian worldview. For early Christians, their God’s willingness to take on humanity and then sacrifice himself for the sins of the world served as the greatest equalizer: since God had suffered for all of them, they were all equally important to him, and their social positions in the Roman world had no significance in God’s eyes. Finally, early Christianity was a religion with a clearly defined eschatological viewpoint (eschatology is the branch of theology concerned with the ultimate fate of humanity and the earth). Many early Christians believed that Jesus was coming back soon, and the eagerly awaited his arrival, which would erase all inequality and social distinctions.

Christ as the Good Shepherd in a Third-Century CE Catacomb Painting

By contrast, traditional Roman society, as the conflict of the orders in the early Republic showed, was extremely stratified. While the conflict of the orders was resolved by the mid-Republic, sharp divisions between the rich and poor remained. While social mobility was possible—for instance, slaves could be freed, and within a generation, their descendants could be Senators—extreme mobility was the exception rather than the rule. Furthermore, gender roles in Roman society were extremely rigid, as all women were subject to male authority. Indeed, the paterfamilias, or head of the household, had the power of life or death over all living under his roof, including in some cases adult sons, who had their own families. Christianity challenged all of these traditional relationships, nullifying any social differences, and treating the slave and the free the same way. Furthermore, Christianity provided a greater degree of freedom than women had previously known in the ancient world, with only the Stoics coming anywhere close in their view on gender roles. Christianity allowed women to serve in the church and remain unmarried, if they so chose, and even to become heroes of the faith by virtue of their lives or deaths, as in the case of the early martyrs. Indeed, the Passion of the Saints Perpetua and Felicity, which documents the two women’s martyrdom in Carthage in 203 CE, shows all of these reversals of Roman tradition in practice.

The Passion of the Saints Perpetua and Felicity was compiled by an editor shortly after the fact and includes Perpetua’s own prison diary, as she awaited execution. The inclusion of a woman’s writings already makes the text unusual, as virtually all surviving texts from the Roman world are by men. In addition, Perpetua was a noblewoman, yet she was imprisoned and martyred together with her slave, Felicity. The two women, as the text shows, saw each other as equals, despite their obvious social distinction. Furthermore, Perpetua challenged her father’s authority as paterfamilias by refusing to obey his command to renounce her faith and thus secure freedom. Such outright disobedience would have been shocking to Roman audiences. Finally, both Perpetua and Felicity placed their role as mothers beneath their Christian identity, as both gave up their babies in order to be able to be martyred. Their story, as those of other martyrs, was truly shocking in their rebellion against Roman values, but their extraordinary faith in the face of death proved to be contagious. As recent research shows, conversion to Christianity in the Roman Empire sped up over the course of the second and third centuries CE, despite periodic persecutions by such emperors as Septimius Severus, who issued an edict in 203 CE forbidding any conversions to Judaism and Christianity. That edict led to the execution of Perpetua and Felicity.

Most of the early Christians lived less eventful (and less painful) lives than Perpetua and Felicity, but the reversals to tradition inherent in Christianity appear clearly in their lives as well. First, the evidence of the New Testament, portions of which were written as early as the 60s CE, shows that the earliest Christians were from all walks of life Paul, for instance, was a tent-maker. Some other professions of Christians and new converts that are mentioned in the New Testament include prison guards, Roman military officials of varying ranks, and merchants. Some, like Paul, were Roman citizens, with all the perks inherent in that position, including the right of appeal to the Emperor and the right to be tried in Rome. Others were non-citizen free males of varying provinces, women, and slaves. Stories preserved in Acts and in the epistles of Paul that are part of the New Testament reveal ways—the good, the bad, and the ugly—in which these very different people tried to come together and treat each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. Some of the struggles that these early churches faced included sexual scandal (the Corinthian church witnessed the affair of a stepmother with her stepson), unnecessary quarrelling and litigation between members, and the challenge of figuring out the appropriate relationship between the requirements of Judaism and Christianity (to circumcise or not to circumcise? That was the question, as were the strict Jewish dietary laws). It is important to note that early Christianity appears to have been predominantly an urban religion and spread most quickly throughout urban centers. Thus Paul’s letters address the churches in different cities throughout the Greek-speaking world and show the existence of a network of relationships between the early churches, despite the physical distance between them. Through that network, the churches were able to carry out group projects, such as fundraising for areas in distress, and could also assist Christian missionaries in their work. By the early second century CE, urban churches were led by bishops, who functioned as overseers for spiritual and practical matters of the church in their region.

Third Century Crisis: Diocletian and Late Antiquity

While the second century CE was a time when the Empire flourished, the third century was a time of crisis, defined by political instability and civil wars, which ultimately demonstrated that the Empire had become too large to be effectively controlled by one ruler. Furthermore, the increasing pressures on the frontiers, which required emperors to spend much of their time on military campaigns, resulted in the decline of the importance of the city of Rome. By the end of the third century, an experiment with dividing the empire showed a different model of rule, one which lasted, albeit with some interludes, until the last Western emperor, Romulus Augustulus, was deposed in 476 CE. While the political narrative of the third century and Late Antiquity could be described as a story of “the decline and fall of the Roman Empire” (as the British historian Gibbon famously called it), nevertheless, it was a period in which culture, and especially Christian culture, flourished and replaced the traditional Roman pagan mode of thinking. Far from being culturally a time of “decline and fall,” Late Antiquity, rather, was looking forward to the world of the Middle Ages. It was also the period of Roman history that produced some of its most influential leaders, most notably, Constantine.

Although composed during a time of prosperity in the Empire, Apuleius’ novel Metamorphoses showed tensions in the provinces, indicative of the failure of Empire to govern all portions equally effectively. While not visible in the larger urban centers until the third century CE, these tensions manifested themselves clearly during the third-century crisis, a period of almost fifty years (235 – 284 CE) that was characterized by unprecedented political, social, and economic upheaval across the Empire. In effect, the third-century crisis was the year 69 CE repeated, but this time it stretched over half a century. The same secrets of power that 69 CE revealed for the first time— that armies could make emperors and that emperors could be made outside of Rome—were now on display yet again.

Map of the Roman Empire during the Third-Century Crisis

Author: User “Wanwa” Source: Wikimedia Commons License: CC BY-SA 3.0

In 235 CE, the emperor Severus Alexander was assassinated by his troops on campaign, who then proclaimed as emperor their general Maximinus Thrax. Over the subsequent half-century, twenty-six emperors were officially recognized by the Roman Senate, and a number of others were proclaimed emperors but did not live long enough to consolidate power and be officially accepted as emperors by the Senate.

Most of these new emperors were military generals who were proclaimed by their troops on campaign. Most of them did not have any previous political experience and thus had no clear program for ruling the empire. The competing claims resulted in the temporary breaking away from the Roman Empire of regions to the East and the Northwest. The political instability that resulted was not, however, the only problem with which the Empire had to contend. In addition to political upheaval and near-constant civil wars, the Empire was also dealing with increasing pressures on the frontiers, a plague that devastated the population, a famine, and rampant inflation. Roman emperors, starting with Nero, had been debasing the Roman coinage, but not until the third-century crisis did the inflation hit in full force.

The third-century crisis showed that a single emperor stationed in Rome was no longer equipped to deal with the challenges of ruling such a vast territory. And, indeed, so recognized the man who ended the crisis: the emperor Diocletian. Born to a socially insignificant family in the province of Dalmatia, Diocletian had a successful military career. Proclaimed emperor by his troops in 284 CE, Diocletian promptly displayed a political acumen that none of his predecessors in the third century possessed. Realizing that, as the third-century crisis showed, a single emperor in charge of the entire empire was a “sitting duck,” whose assassination would throw the entire empire into yet another civil war, Diocletian established a new system of rule: the Tetrarchy, or the rule of four. He divided the empire into four regions, each with its own capital.

It is important to note that Rome was not the capital of its region. Diocletian clearly wanted to select as capitals cities with strategic importance, taking into account such factors as proximity to problematic frontiers. Of course, as a Dalmatian of low birth, Diocletian also lacked the emotional connection to Rome that the earliest emperors possessed. Two of the regions of the Tetrarchy were ruled by senior emperors, named Augusti (“Augustus” in the singular), and two were ruled by junior emperors, named Caesares (“Caesar” in the singular). One of the Augusti was Diocletian himself, with Maximian as the second Augustus. The two men’s sons-in-law, Galerius and Constantus Chlorus, became the two Caesares. Finally, it is important to note that in addition to reforming imperial rule, Diocletian attempted to address other major problems, such as inflation, by passing the Edict of Maximum Prices. This edict set a maximum price that could be charged on basic goods and services in the Empire. He also significantly increased the imperial bureaucracy.

Map of the Roman Empire under the Tetrarchy

Author: Coppermine Photo Gallery Source: Wikimedia Commons License: CC BY-SA 3.0

State Column of the Tetrarchs

Author: Nino Barbieri Source: Wikimedia Commons License: CC BY-SA 3.0

In a nutshell, as some modern historians have described him, Diocletian was the most significant Roman reformer since Augustus. Diocletian’s political experiment was most clearly successful in achieving one goal: ending the third-century crisis. The four men were able to rule the empire and restore a degree of political stability. A statue column of the Tetrarchs together displays their message of unity in rule: the four men are portrayed identically, so it is impossible to tell them apart. Showing their predominantly military roles, they are dressed in military garb, rather than the toga, the garb of politicians and citizens, and each holds one hand on the hilt of his sword and hugs one of the other Tetrarchs with the other. While it succeeded in restoring stability to the Empire, inherent within the Tetrarchy was the question of succession, which turned out to be a much greater problem than Diocletian had anticipated. Hoping to provide for a smooth transition of power, Diocletian abdicated in 305 CE and required Maximian to do the same. The two Caesares, junior emperors, were promptly promoted to Augusti, and two new Caesares were appointed. The following year, however, Constantius Chlorus, a newly minted Augustus, died. His death resulted in a series of wars for succession, which ended Diocletian’s experiment of the Tetrarchy. The wars ended with Constantius’ son, Constantine, reuniting the entire Roman Empire under his rule in 324 CE. In the process, Constantine also brought about a major religious shift in the Empire.

From Constantine to the Last Pagans of Rome

While traditional Roman religion was the ultimate melting pot, organically incorporating a broad variety of new cults and movements from the earliest periods of Roman expansion, Christianity’s monotheistic exclusivity challenged traditional Roman religion and transformed Roman ways of thinking about religion in late antiquity.By the early fourth century CE, historians estimate that about ten percent of those living in the Roman Empire were Christians. With Constantine, however, this changed, and the previously largely underground faith grew exponentially because of the emperor’s endorsement. The emperor’s conversion must have seemed nothing short of miraculous to contemporaries, and a miracle is told to explain it in contemporary sources. Before a major battle in 312 CE, Constantine reportedly had a dream or a vision in which Christ himself told Constantine to place the Greek letters X and P (Chi, Rho, the first two letters of Christ’s name in the Greek alphabet) on his soldiers’ shields in order to assure victory.

Constantine’s Military Standard | Reconstruction of Constantine’s Military Standard, Incorporating the Chi Rho letters

Author: Nordisk Familjebok

Grateful for his subsequent victory, Constantine proceeded to play a major role in the government of the church over the course of his rule, although he was not baptized himself until he was on his deathbed. Constantine, for instance, summoned the First Council of Nicaea in 325 CE, which gathered major bishops from all over the Empire. The Council settled, among other issues, the question of the relationship of God the Father and God the Son, declaring them to have been one being from the creation of the world, thus affirming the doctrine of the Trinity.

The Council set a significant precedent for communication of bishops in the Empire. It ended up being merely the first of seven major ecumenical councils, the last of them being the Second Council of Nicaea in 787 CE. The councils allowed the increasingly different churches of the Eastern and Western parts of the Roman Empire to work together on key doctrines and beliefs of the church. Last but not least, Constantine’s rule marked the end of the city of Rome as the capital of the Roman Empire. Upon reuniting the Empire in 324 CE, Constantine established his capital at the old location of the Greek city of Byzantium, but renamed it Constantinople. The location had strategic advantages for the Empire at that stage. First, it had an excellent harbor. Second, it was close to the Persian frontier, as well as the Danube frontier, a trouble area that required attention from the emperor. Finally, building this new city, to which he also referred as “New Rome,” allowed Constantine to send the message that his rule was a new beginning of sorts for the Roman Empire, which was now to be a Christian empire.

With the Emperor’s backing, Christianity seems to have grown exponentially over the course of the fourth century CE, much to the chagrin of Julian the Apostate, Rome’s final pagan emperor, who tried hard to restore traditional Roman paganism during his brief rule (361 – 363 CE). Finally, the Emperor Theodosius gradually banned paganism altogether by 395 CE. Thus a mere eighty-three years after Constantine’s initial expression of support for Christianity, it became the official religion of Rome. Paganism continued to limp on for another century or so, but without state support, it slowly died out.

The Decline of the Empire: Looking Forward while Looking Back with Augustine and Last Pagans of Rome

Imagine that you are a citizen of the greatest empire on earth. In fact, you reside in the greatest city of the greatest empire on earth. You feel protected by the pact that was made between the founders of your state and the traditional gods. The pax deorum, or peace with the gods, struck a clear bargain: as long as you and your state worshipped the gods and maintained peace with them, they would make it prosper. And prosper it did! Starting out as a tiny village on the marshes of the Tiber, the Roman Empire at its height encircled the entire Mediterranean, extending to Britain and the Rhine and Danube frontiers to the north, and including a wide strip of North Africa in its southern half. But something went so terribly wrong along the way, testing the gods’ patience with Rome. A new sect started out in Judaea in the first century CE, one which followed a crucified Messiah. Spreading outward like a wildfire to all parts of the empire, this sect challenged and gradually replaced the worship of the traditional gods, bringing even the emperors into its fold, starting with Constantine in the early fourth century CE. This outright violation of the thousand-year old pact between the Romans and their gods could have only one outcome: the ultimate punishment would come from the gods upon this rebellious state.

And come it did in 410 CE, the unthinkable happened. The city of Rome, untouched by foreign foe since the early days of the Republic, was sacked by the Goths, a Germanic tribe, led by the fearsome Alaric. How could something so terrible happen? And how could the Roman Empire recover from it? Such was the thought process of the typical Roman pagan, and especially the pagan aristocrat, as few of those as were left by 410 CE. And it was in response to these questions that Augustine, veteran theologian, philosopher, and bishop of Hippo in North Africa, wrote the final magnum opus of his career, the monumental twenty-two-book effort that he appropriately titled De Civitate Dei Contra Paganos, or On the City of God against the Pagans.

It is no coincidence that Peter Brown, the scholar credited with creating the academic field of study of Late Antiquity, began his career as a researcher by writing a biography of Augustine. Indeed, no other figure exemplifies so clearly the different culture that emerged in Late Antiquity, a culture of rethinking the Roman past, with an eye to a future in which Rome no longer existed as the capital of the Roman Empire. Born in North Africa in 354 CE, Augustine was educated in Rome and Milan, and, after a wild youth—about which he tells us in his Confessions—he rose to the post of the Bishop of Hippo in 396 CE. A famous figure by 410 CE, he was ideally suited to address the tragedy of the sack of Rome and the concerns that this event inspired in Christians and pagans alike.

Fresco Painting of Augustine, Sixth Century CE

In his book, Augustine presented an argument that challenged the core of Roman traditional beliefs about the state. Challenging the fundamental Roman pagan belief that Roman success was the result of the pax deorum, Augustine effectively argued that there was nothing special about Rome. It only prospered in its earlier history because God allowed it to do so. Furthermore, argued Augustine, obsession with Rome, emblematic of obsession with the earthly kingdom and way of life, was the wrong place for turning one’s attention. The City of God was the only place that mattered, and the City of God was most definitely not Rome. By turning away from this world and focusing on the next, one could find true happiness and identity as a citizen of God’s kingdom, which is the only city that is everlasting and free from threat of invasion or destruction.

Augustine’s message would have made the Republican hero Cincinnatus weep. For Cincinnatus, nothing was more valuable than Rome. For Augustine, however, nothing was less valuable than Rome.

From Late Antiquity to the Middle Ages

After the death of the Emperor Theodosius in 395 CE, the Roman Empire became permanently divided into Eastern and Western Empires, with instability and pressures on the frontiers continuing, especially in the West.

The Eastern and Western Roman Empires in 395 CE

The sack of Rome by the Goths in 410 CE, which so shocked Augustine’s contemporaries, was followed by an equally destructive sack of Carthage by the Vandals in 439 CE, as well as continuing raids of Roman territories by the Huns, a nomadic tribe from Eastern Europe, the Caucasus region, and south-eastern China. The Huns experienced an especially prolific period of conquest in the 440s and early 450s CE under the leadership of Attila. While they were not able to hold on to their conquests after Attila’s death in 453 CE, their attacks further destabilized an already weakened Western Roman Empire. Finally, the deposition of the Emperor Romulus Augustulus in 476 CE marked the end of the Roman Empire in the West, although the Eastern half of the Empire continued to flourish for another thousand years.

Map of the Roman Empire in 477 CE

The fall of the Roman Empire in the West, however, was not really as clear and dramatic a fall as might seem. A number of tribes carved out territories, each for its own control. Over the next five hundred years, led by ambitious tribal chiefs, these territories coalesced into actual kingdoms. Rome was gone, yet its specter loomed large over these tribes and their leaders, who spoke forms of Latin (albeit increasingly barbaric versions of it), believed in the Christian faith, and dreamed of the title of Roman Emperor.

Successor Kingdoms to the Western Roman Empire

The Germanic peoples who had invaded the Roman Empire over the course of the fifth century had, by the early 500s, established a set of kingdoms in what had been the Western Empire. The Vandals ruled North Africa in a kingdom centered on Carthage, a kingdom whose pirates threatened the Mediterranean for nearly eighty years. The Visigoths ruled Spain in a kingdom that preserved many elements of Roman culture. In Italy, the Roman general Odavacar had established his own kingdom in 476 before being murdered by the Ostrogoth king Theodoric, who established a kingdom for his people in Italy, which he ruled from 493 to his death in 526. Vandal, Visigoth, and Ostrogoth peoples all had cultures that had been heavily influenced over decades or even centuries of contact with Rome. Most of them were Christians, but, crucially, they were not Catholic Christians, who believed in the doctrine of the Trinity, that God is one God but three distinct persons of the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit. They were rather Arians, who believed that Jesus was lesser than God the Father. Most of their subjects, however, were Catholics.

The Catholic Church increasingly looked to the bishop of Rome for leadership. Over the fifth century, the bishop of Rome had gradually come to take on an increasing level of prestige among other bishops. Rome had been the city where Peter, whom tradition regarded as the chief of Christ’s disciples, had ended his life as a martyr. Moreover, even though the power of the Western Roman Empire crumbled over the course of the 400s, the city of Rome itself remained prestigious. As such, by the fourth and fifth centuries, the bishops of Rome were often given the title of papa, Latin for “father,” a term that we translate into pope. Gradually, the popes came to be seen as having a role of leadership within the wider Church, although they did not have the monarchial authority that later popes would claim.

The Roman Empire and Barbarian Europe 500 CE

License: © Ian Mladjov. Used with permission.

In the region of Gaul, the Franks were a Germanic people who had fought as mercenaries in the later Roman Empire and then, with the disintegration of the Western Empire, had established their own kingdom. One key reason for the Frankish kingdom’s success was that its kings received their legitimacy from the Church. In the same way that the Christian Church had endorsed the Roman Emperors since Constantine and, in return, these emperors supported the Church, the Frankish kings took up a similar relation with the Christian religion. King Clovis (r. 481 – 509) united the Franks into a kingdom, and, in 496, converted to Christianity. More importantly, he converted to the Catholic Christianity of his subjects in post-Roman Gaul. This would put the Franks in sharp contrast with the Vandals, Visigoths, and Ostrogoths, all of whom were Arians.

In none of these kingdoms, Visigothic, Ostrogothic, Frankish, or Vandal, did the Germanic peoples who ruled them seek to destroy Roman society—far from it. Rather, they sought homelands and to live as the elites of the Roman Empire had done before them. Theodoric, the king of the Ostrogoths (r. 493 – 526), had told his people to “obey Roman customs… [and] clothe [them] selves in the morals of the toga.” 1 Indeed, in the generations after the end of the Western Empire in the late 400s, an urban, literate culture continued to flourish in Spain, Italy, and parts of Gaul. The Germanic peoples often took up a place as elites in the society of what had been Roman provinces, living in rural villas with large estates. Local elites shifted their allegiances from the vanished Roman Empire to their new rulers.

But even though the Germanic kings of Western Europe had sought to simply rule in the place of (or along with) their Roman predecessors, many of the features that had characterized Western Europe under the Romans—populous cities a large, literate population a complex infrastructure of roads and aqueducts and the complex bureaucracy of a centralized state—vanished over the course of the sixth century. Cities shrank drastically, and in those regions of Gaul north of the Loire River, they nearly all vanished in a process that we call ruralization. As Europe ruralized and elite values came to reflect warfare rather than literature, schools gradually vanished, leaving the Church as the only real institution providing education. So too did the tax-collecting apparatus of the Roman state gradually wither in the Germanic kingdoms. The Europe of 500 may have looked a lot like the Europe of 400, but the Europe of 600 was one that was poorer, more rural, and less literate.

The British Isles: Europe’s Periphery?

In many of the lands that had been part of the Roman Empire, the Germanic peoples who had taken over western Europe built kingdoms. Although not as sophisticated as the Roman state, they were still recognizable as states. This situation stood in sharp contrast to Britain. To the northwest of Europe, the Roman Army had abandoned the island of Britain in 410. The urban infrastructure brought about by the Roman state began to decay almost immediately, with towns gradually emptying out as people returned to rural lifeways that had existed prior to Rome’s arrival.

At nearly the same time that the Roman Army withdrew from Britain, a group of Germanic peoples known as the Anglo-Saxons were moving into the island from the forests of Central Europe that lay to the east, across the ocean. Unlike the Franks, Visigoths, and Ostrogoths, each of whom had kingdoms, the social organization of the Anglo-Saxons was comparatively unsophisticated. They were divided up among chiefs and kings who might have only had a few hundred to a few thousand subjects each.

Over the period between about 410 and 600, the Anglo-Saxons gradually settled in and conquered much of southeastern Britain, replacing the Celtic-speaking peoples and their language. The island of Britain was one that was completely rural. All that remained of the state-building of the Romans was the ruins of abandoned cities.

And yet, it would be England (called England because the name is derived from the word Anglo- Saxon) and the island of Ireland to its west that would lead to an increase of schools and literacy across Western Europe. In the fifth century, Christian missionaries traveled to Ireland and converted many of its peoples. In the early 600s, Pope Gregory the Great sent missionaries to the island of Britain. The English peoples adopted Christianity (usually under the initiative of their kings) over the course of the next several decades, which in turn led to the founding of monasteries. These monasteries would usually have attached schools so that those seeking to live as monks could have access to the texts of the Bible, the liturgy, and the writings of other churchmen. English churchmen like Benedict Biscop (c. 628 – 690) traveled south to Rome and returned to England with cartloads of books. English and Irish monks would often copy these books in their own monasteries.

Manuscript of Bede’s History of the English Church and People

Author: User “Apex infinity”

Indeed, England saw not only the copying of older books, but also the composition of original literature, which was rare elsewhere in Western Europe of this time. The English churchman Bede (672 – 735) composed a history of England’s people. He wrote this history to show how the Anglo-Saxons had adopted Christianity. Within a few decades of the island’s peoples converting to Christianity, English and Irish monks were traveling to Western Europe, either to establish monasteries in lands already Christian or to serve as missionaries to those still-pagan peoples in the forests of central Europe.

Byzantium: The Age of Justinian

An observer of early sixth-century Italy would have thought that its Ostrogothic kingdom was the best poised to carry forward with a new state that, in spite of its smaller size than the Roman Empire, nevertheless had most of the same features. But the Ostrogothic kingdom would only last a few decades before meeting its violent end. That end came at the hands of the Eastern Roman Empire, the half of the Roman Empire that had continued after the end of the Empire in the West. We usually refer to that empire as the Byzantine Empire or Byzantium.

Mosaic of Justinianus I from the Basilica San Vitale

The inhabitants and rulers of this Empire did not call themselves Byzantines, but rather referred to themselves as Romans. Their empire, after all, was a continuation of the Roman state. Modern historians call it the Byzantine Empire in order to distinguish it from the Roman Empire that dominated the Mediterranean world from the first through fifth centuries. The Byzantine Empire or Byzantium is called such by historians because Byzantium had been an earlier name for its capital, Constantinople.

By the beginning of the sixth century, the Byzantine Army was the most lethal army to be found outside of China. In the late fifth century, the Byzantine emperors had built up an army capable of dealing with the threat of both Hunnic invaders and the Sassanids, a dynasty of aggressively expansionist kings who had seized control of Persia in the third century. Soon this army would turn against the Ostrogothic kingdom of Italy.

The man who would destroy the Ostrogrothic as well as the Vandal kingdom was the emperor Justinian (r. 527 – 565). Justinian had come from the ranks not of the aristocracy of the Eastern Roman Empire, but rather from the Army. Even before the death of his uncle, the emperor Justin I (r. 518 – 527), Justinian was taking part in the rule of the Empire. Upon his accession to the imperial throne, he carried out a set of policies designed to emphasize his own greatness and that of his empire.

He did so in the domain of art and architecture, sponsoring the construction of numerous buildings both sacred and secular. The centerpiece of his building campaign was the church called Hagia Sophia, Greek for “Divine Wisdom.” His architects placed this church in the central position of the city of Constantinople, adjacent to the imperial palace. This placement was meant to demonstrate the close relationship between the Byzantine state and the Church that legitimated that state. The Hagia Sophia would be the principle church of the Eastern Empire for the next thousand years, and it would go on to inspire countless imitations.

This Church was the largest building in Europe. Its domed roof was one hundred and sixty feet in height, and, supported by four arches one hundred and twenty feet high, it seemed to float in the diffuse light that came in through its windows. The interior of the church was burnished with gold, gems, and marble, so that observers in the church were said to have claimed that they could not tell if they were on earth or in heaven. Even a work as magnificent as the Hagia Sophia, though, showed a changed world: it was produced with mortar rather than concrete, the technology for the making of which had already been forgotten.

While Justinian’s building showed his authority and right to rule which came from his close relations with the Church, his efforts as a lawmaker showed the secular side of his authority. Under his direction, the jurist Tribonian took the previous 900 years’ worth of Roman Law and systematized it into a text known as the Body of Civil Lawor the Justinian Code. This law code, based on the already-sophisticated system of Roman law, would go on to serve as the foundation of European law, and thus of much of the world’s law as well.

Although the Justinian Code was based on the previous nine centuries of gathered law, Roman Law itself had changed over the course of the fifth century with the Christianization of the Empire. By the time of Justinian’s law code, Jews had lost civil rights to the extent that the law forbade them from testifying in court against Christians. Jews would further lose civil rights in those Germanic kingdoms whose law was influenced by Roman law as well. The reason for this lack of Jewish civil rights was that many Christians blamed Jews for the execution of Jesus and also believed that Jews refused out of stubbornness to believe that Jesus had been the messiah. A Christian Empire was thus one that was often extremely unfriendly to Jews.

As Byzantine emperor (and thus Roman emperor), Justinian would have regarded his rule as universal, so he sought to re-establish the authority of the Empire in Western Europe. The emperor had other reasons as well for seeking to re-establish imperial power in the West. Both Vandal Carthage and Ostrogoth Italy were ruled by peoples who were Arians, regarded as heretics by a Catholic emperor like Justinian.

During a dispute over the throne in the Vandal kingdom, the reigning monarch was overthrown and had ed to the Eastern Empire for help and protection. This event gave Justinian his chance. In 533, he sent his commander Belisarius to the west, and, in less than a year, this able and capable general had defeated the Vandals, destroyed their kingdom, and brought North Africa back into the Roman Empire. Justinian then turned his sights on a greater prize: Italy, home of the city of Rome itself, which, although no longer under the Empire’s sway, still held a place of honor and prestige.

In 535, the Roman general Belisarius crossed into Italy to return it to the Roman Empire. Unfortunately for the peninsula’s inhabitants, the Ostrogothic kingdom put up a more robust fight than had the Vandals in North Africa. It took the Byzantine army nearly two decades to destroy the Ostrogothic kingdom and return Italy to the rule of the Roman Empire. In that time, however, Italy itself was irrevocably damaged. The city of Rome had suffered through numerous sieges and sacks. By the time it was fully in the hands of Justinian’s troops, the fountains that had provided drinking water for a city of millions were choked with rubble, the aqueducts that had supplied them smashed. The great architecture of the city lay in ruins, and the population had shrunk drastically from what it had been even in the days of Theodoric (r. 493 – 526).

The Aftermath of Justinian

Justinian’s reconquest of Italy would prove to be short-lived. Less than a decade after restoring Italy to Roman rule, the Lombards, another Germanic people, invaded Italy. Although the city of Rome itself and the southern part of the peninsula remained under the rule of the Byzantine Empire, much of northern and central Italy was ruled either by Lombard kings or other petty nobles.

Map of The Roman Empire and Barbarian Europe 565 CE

License: © Ian Mladjov. Used with permission.

But war was only one catastrophe to trouble Western Europe. For reasons that are poorly understood even today, the long-range trade networks across the Mediterranean Sea gradually shrank over the sixth and seventh centuries. Instead of traveling across the Mediterranean, wine, grain, and pottery were increasingly sold in local markets. Only luxury goods—always a tiny minority of most trade—remained traded over long distances.

Nor was even the heartland of Justinian’s empire safe from external threat. The emperor Heraclius (r. 610 – 641) came to power in the midst of an invasion of the Empire by the Sassanid Persians, who, under their king Khusrau (see Chapter Eight), threatened the Empire’s very existence, his armies coming within striking range of Constantinople itself. Moreover, Persian armies had seized control of Egypt and the Levant, which they would hold for over a decade. Heraclius thwarted the invasion only by launching a counter-attack into the heart of the Persian Empire that resulted, in the end, in a Byzantine victory. No sooner had the Empire repelled one threat than another appeared that would threaten the Empire with consequences far more severe.

Under the influence of the Prophet Muhammad, the tribes of the Arabian deserts had been united under first the guidance of the Prophet and then his successors, the caliphs and the religion founded by Muhammad, Islam (see Chapter Nine). Under the vigorous leadership of the first caliphs, Arab Muslim armies invaded both Sassanid Persia and the Byzantine Empire. At the Battle of Yarmouk in 636, although the Byzantines and Arabs were evenly matched, the Byzantine field army was badly beaten. In the aftermath, first Syria and Palestine and then Egypt fell from Christian Byzantine rule to the cultural and political influence of Islam.

The seventh century also saw invasions by various semi-nomadic peoples into the Balkans, the region between the Greek Peloponnese and the Danube River. Among these peoples were the Turkic Bulgars, the Avars (who historians think might have been Turkic), as well as various peoples known as Slavs. The Avars remained nomads on the plains of central Europe, but both Bulgars and Slavs settled in Balkan territories that no longer fell under the rule of the Byzantine state. Within a generation, the Empire had lost control of the Balkans as well as Egypt, territory comprising an immense source of wealth in both agriculture and trade. By the end of the seventh century, the Empire was a shadow of its former self.

Indeed, the Byzantine Empire faced many of the social and cultural challenges that Western Europe did, although continuity with the Roman state remained. In many cases, the cities of the Byzantine Empire shrank nearly as drastically as did the cities of Western Europe. Under the threat of invasion, many communities moved to smaller settlements on more easily defended hilltops. The great metropolises of Constantinople and Thessalonica remained centers of urban life and activity, but throughout much of the Empire, life became overwhelmingly rural.

Even more basic elements of a complex society, such as literacy and a cash economy, went into decline, although they did not cease. The Byzantine state issued less money and, indeed, most transactions ceased to be in cash at this time. The economy was demonetized. Even literacy rates shrank. Although churchmen and other elites would often still have an education, the days of the Roman state in which a large literate reading public would buy readily-available literature were gone. As in the west, literacy increasingly became the preserve of the religious.

Map of The Roman Empire and Barbarian Europe 750 CE

License: © Ian Mladjov. Used with permission.

Perspectives: The Post-Roman East and West

In many ways, the post-Roman Germanic kingdoms of Western Europe and the Byzantine Empire shared a similar fate. Both saw a sharp ruralization, that is, a decline in the number of inhabited cities and the size of those cities that were inhabited. Both saw plunges in literacy. And both saw a state that was less competent—even at tax collection. Moreover, the entire Mediterranean Sea and its environs showed a steady decline in high-volume trade across the ocean, a decline that lasted for nearly two and a half centuries. By around the year 700, almost all trade was local.

But there remained profound differences between Byzantium and the Germanic kingdoms of Western Europe. In the first place, although its reach had shrunk dramatically from the days of Augustus, the imperial state remained. Although the state collected less in taxes and issued less money than in earlier years, even in the period of the empires’ greatest crisis, it continued to mint some coins and the apparatus of the state continued to function. In Western Europe, by contrast, the Germanic kingdoms gradually lost the ability to collect taxes (except for the Visigoths in Spain). Likewise, they gradually ceased to mint gold coins. In Britain, cities had all but vanished, with an island inhabited by peoples living in small villages, the remnants of Rome’s imperial might standing as silent ruins.

Disunity in Post-Han China

The situation of some of the successor states of the Han Dynasty, in which an invaders took up a position as the society’s new warrior aristocracy, was analogous to that of Western Europe as the Barbarian successor states replace Roman control. However, in many ways, the post-Roman world stands in contrast to post-Han China. Although the imperial state collapsed as it had in Rome, in China, literacy never declined as drastically as it had done in the Roman Empire, and the apparatus of tax collection and other features of a functional state remained in the Han successor states to an extent that they did not in either Rome or Byzantium.

The Introduction of Buddhism to China

Aside from the shifting configuration of kingdoms, perhaps the most notable development during the Period of Division was the introduction of Mahayana (“Great Vehicle”) Buddhism into China (for the development of Mahayana Buddhism, see Chapter Six). Beginning from the second century CE, at the end of the Han Dynasty, Buddhist merchants and monks from India and Central Asia brought their faith and scriptures to China by the Silk Roads and maritime trading routes.

Expansion of Buddhism | This map shows how Buddhism spread to China and the rest of East Asia via land-based routes in Central Asia and maritime routes.

Author: Gunawan Kartapranata

The impact was immense and can be compared to the Christianization of the Mediterranean region and spread of devotional forms of Hinduism in South Asia during this same period of time. Historians estimated that by the time the Sui Dynasty reunited China four centuries later, China had approximately 33,000 Buddhist temples and two million monks and nuns. Buddhism had become a large-scale religious organization with these temples, clerics, and scriptures, as well as a widespread popular faith capturing the imagination of common people and rulers alike.

Historians have also hypothesized why this spread occurred. First of all, Buddhism clearly met a spiritual need. During the Period of Division, turmoil from rapid political change and constant warfare brought much suffering and instability to people’s lives. Now, here was a religion that explained their suffering with notions of karma and rebirth and also offered hope with paths to salvation and enlightenment. Buddhism placed the world amidst visions of multiple hells and heavens where merciful Buddhas and Bodhisattvas worked for the salvation of all beings.

Buddhism appealed to people in different ways. For scholarly elites living in capital cities or as hermits in mountain retreats, Buddhist doctrines about the nature of reality, self, and enlightenment were appealing because they seemed similar to concepts in Daoist philosophy. Both philosophies questioned the reality of ordinary understandings of the self and world, emphasized that our desires create an illusory world, and offered techniques for achieving liberation. Nirvana, for instance, was compared to the Dao (Daoist “Way”).

For rulers, Buddhism served political purposes. Since the faith became so popular, rulers who took vows and sponsored temple construction and the ordination of monks looked good because they were upholding the dharma, that is, the Buddhist law. Some even went so far as to have monks recognize them as incarnate Buddhas. Lastly, Buddhist monks–whether foreign or Chinese–were some of the most educated people at their courts and could assist rulers with mundane matters, like international relations, but also esoteric ones, such as spells and divination. Monks won support by promising that their rituals and incantations had magical potency.

Lastly, for most people, Buddhism was a devotional religion. Buddhas and Bodhisattvas were merciful beings to be worshipped because their good karma redounded to the bene t of all beings. By going to a temple and burning incense or praying and making offerings before a Buddha statue, the faithful might have a simple wish granted: an illness cured, loved ones helped, or a better rebirth ensured.

The Three Kingdoms Period (220-260)

During the second century CE, a combination of factors led to massive rebellions against the Han Dynasty by lower classes living in the countryside. Many once thriving, independent farmers who fell on hard times lost their land to powerful local families who used their political connections to amass large estates. A series of floods and droughts and the famines and epidemics they caused only worsened these farmers’ plight, and the government was ineffective in providing relief. During the later Han, government revenue had fallen because local magnates kept their growing estates off the tax rolls. Also, many later Liu emperors were mere youths dominated by quarreling factions of imperial in-laws and eunuchs, so the quality of governing declined.

Desperate to escape poverty and starvation, many villagers ed their homes or joined roving bandit gangs. Some rallied behind individuals who promised the dawn of a new age, thereby becoming part of large, militarized religious societies with political goals. One was the Yellow Turbans, a society named after the yellow cloth members wrapped around their heads. The founder, Zhang Jue [jawng joo-eh], claimed he was a devoted follower of the legendary Daoist philosopher Laozi, who had by this time been deified and envisioned living in a Daoist heaven. Zhang accrued a following of disciples by instructing them in faith healing, establishing a rudimentary organization, and prophesying an impending apocalypse. He led his followers to believe that the apocalypse would be followed by an age of peace when the sky would turn yellow and all would be equal. The movement grew into the tens of thousands. Some followers proclaimed 184 CE was propitious, daubing the characters for that year in mud on the gates to government offices. The Yellow Turbans rebelled, and unrest spread across north China. Other similar millenarian religious movements followed.

The Han Dynasty was in crisis but lacked the strong leadership of earlier rulers like the founder Liu Bang or Emperor Wu. Youthful emperors were forced to rely on generals who commanded permanent standing armies around the empire as if they were private possessions. But by empowering military strongmen to suppress rebellions, Han rulers sealed the fate of the dynasty. Generals feuded amongst each other and competed to impose a military dictatorship on the court. Eventually, in 220 CE, one general deposed the Han emperor, but he failed to unite the realm because by that time the country had been divided up by three kingdoms and their rival warlords.

Within their realms, each warlord sought to strengthen his hand against the others by restoring order and establishing a functioning state. After all, they needed fighting men and revenue. Cao Cao (155 – 220 CE) was the most e ective in achieving these goals. He was the adopted son of a Han court eunuch and eventually entered the military. As a commander, he earned his spurs leading Han armies against the Yellow Turbans. As the dynasty fell apart, he gained control over it and established a dictatorship in northern China. It was his son who removed the last Han ruler and established the Wei [way] Dynasty (220 – 265 AD), one of the Three Kingdoms.

Map of the Three Kingdoms | These took shape as the Han Dynasty ended. Cao Cao was the founder of the northern state of Wei.

License: © Ian Mladjov. Used with permission.

By this time, as a result of the rebellions and civil wars, much land in north China had gone to waste. So Cao Cao turned it into huge state farms where he could settle his soldiers, landless poor, and, most importantly, tribes of nomadic herders from the steppe lands to the far north who had served him as he came to power. Thus, Cao rulers created colonies of farmers who supplied tax revenue and, as hereditary military families, soldiers for Wei armies. Such state- owned land and hereditary soldiers became the mainstays of warlord dynasties throughout this time.

The two other kingdoms, Wu and Han, were located in the south. Over the course of decades, the ruling warlords of all three states fought each other in campaigns involving much treachery and stratagem. In 263 CE, the Han kingdom fell to the invading forces of Wei commanders. But then, just two years later, a powerful Wei family–the Sima– usurped the throne and changed the kingdom’s name to Western Jin [jean] (265 – 317 CE). The Western Jin conquered Wu in 280 BCE, thereby bringing to an end the Three Kingdoms period.

The Western Jin (265-317)

The Western Jin had reunified China, but that unity wasn’t to last. The policy of settling tribes of non-Chinese nomads in north China backfired. Among them, rebel chieftains rose up, carved out kingdoms of their own, and expanded their power all across the north. One Xiongnu chieftain, Liu Yuan [lee-oh you-anne], even declared he was a descendant of a Han Dynasty imperial princess and therefore had the right to restore the Han Empire. His son descended on the Western Jin court at Luoyang and eventually, in 317 CE, forced it to flee east to Jiankang [jee- an cawng] (today’s city of Nanjing).

The Northern and Southern Dynasties (317-589)

China during the Northern and Southern Dynasties | The Eastern Jin was the first of the southern dynasties, all of which had Jiankang as their capital. The north was divided up among shifting kingdoms established by non-Han chieftains. The names of these ethnic groups are indicated on the map.

License: © Paul Noll. Used with permission.

China was again divided up among competing dynasties, a state of a airs that would persist until 589 CE, during a time referred to as the Northern and Southern Dynasties (317 – 589). Six successive Southern Dynasties were all located at Jiankang, and had as their base of power the Yangzi River basin. But their rulers were usually militarily weak and lacked revenue, due to southern China’s comprising a colonial frontier dominated by powerful families with large estates and private armies. These families highly valued their pedigrees, intermarried, and saw themselves as the heirs to Confucian civilization. At the southern court, they dominated high offices, thus constituting a hereditary aristocracy. The ruling family was always limited in power by their influence. The situation was even more complex in the north during those three centuries.

The kingdom established by Liu Yuan along the Yellow River was just one of numerous short-lived Northern Dynasties established by non-Chinese chieftains of different ethnicities. The Liu rulers, for instance, were Xiongnu, while others were of Turkic ancestry. At times, the north was divided among numerous, rival regimes, while, at others, it was unified. But all of these kingdoms shared similar characteristics. They were ruled by military dynasts who wanted to restore the Chinese empire. Their armies consisted of an elite, heavily armored cavalry drawn from aristocratic military families that was supplemented by Chinese foot soldiers. They employed educated Chinese to serve as civil officials and administer their territories.

Terracotta figurine depicting a Northern Wei soldier on horseback | The Northern Wei was one of the Northern Dynasties

Author: Guillaume Jacquet Source: Wikimedia Commons License: CC BY-SA 3.0

The Northern and Southern Dynasties came to an end in 589 CE after Yang Jian [yawng gee- an], a general hailing from the ruling clan of a northern kingdom, first established control over all of north China and then defeated the last southern dynasty. He ruled his new Sui [sway] Dynasty as Emperor Wen [one]. China was once again united under one dynasty, as we will seeing Chapter 9.

South Asia: The Transformation of Hinduism and Rise of New States

Hinduism into the Common Era

Hinduism also saw new developments during this period and throughout the first millennium CE. In fact, many scholars see these centuries as the time during which Hinduism first took shape and prefer using the term Vedic Brahmanism for the prior history of this religious tradition. Vedic Brahmanism was the sacrifice-centered religion of the Vedas where, in exchange for gifts, Brahmins performed rituals for kings and householders in order to ensure the favor of the gods. It also included the speculative world of the Upanishads, where renunciants went out in search of spiritual liberation.

But something important happened during these later centuries. An additional religious literature was compiled and shrines and temples with images of deities were constructed, pointing to the emergence of new, popular forms of devotion and an effort to define a good life and society according to the idea of dharma. With this transition, we can speak more formally of Hinduism. One important set of texts is the Dharma Scriptures, ethical and legal works whose authority derived from their attribution to ancient sages. Dharma means “duty” or proper human conduct and so, true to their title, these scriptures define the rules each person must follow in order to lead a righteous and devout life and contribute to a good society. Most importantly, these rules were determined by the role assigned to an individual by the varna system of social classes, the caste system, and gender. For example, for a male, dharma meant following the rules for their caste and varna while passing through four stages in life: student, householder, hermit, and renunciant. In his youth, a man must study to prepare for his occupation and, as a householder, he must support his family and contribute to society. Late in life, after achieving these goals, he should renounce material desires and withdraw from society, first living as a hermit on the margins of society and then as a wandering renunciant whose sole devotion is to god.

A woman’s roles, on the other hand, were defined as obedience to her father in youth and faithful service to her husband as an adult. For this reason, historians see a trend in ancient Indian history whereby women became increasingly subservient and subordinate. Although women were to be honored and supported, the ideal society and family were de ned in patriarchal terms. That meant men dominated public life, were the authority figures at home, and usually inherited the property. Also, women were increasingly expected to marry at a very young age—even prior to puberty—and to remain celibate as widows. In later centuries, some widows even observed the practice of burning themselves upon the funeral pyre of the deceased husband.

Famous Indian epics also illustrated the theme of duty. The Ramayana(“Rama’s Journey”) tells the story of Prince Rama and his wife Sita. Rama’s parents—the king and queen—wished for him to take the throne, but a second queen plotted against him and forced him into exile for years. Sita accompanied him, but was abducted by a demon-king, leading to a battle in consequence. With the help of a loyal monkey god, Rama defeated the demon, recovered his wife, and returned with her to his father’s kingdom, where they were crowned king and queen. In brief, throughout this long story, Rama exemplified the virtues of a king and Sita exemplified the virtues of a daughter and wife. They both followed their dharma.

A similar theme dominates the Bhagavad-Gita(“Song of the Lord”). This classic of Hindu scripture is included as a chapter in another Indian epic, the Mahabharata (The Great Bharata). It tells of wars between cousins who are fighting over the title to their kingdom’s throne. As a battle was poised to commence, one of these cousins—Prince Arjuna—threw down his weapons and refused to fight because he did not wish to harm his kinsmen. But Krishna, his mentor and charioteer, delivered a speech on the nature of duty for a warrior like himself, one that illustrated the religious basis for observing dharma. Arjuna was thus moved to action.

Religious texts and temples also signal the rise of a powerful devotional Hinduism centered upon a few supreme deities. Stone temples were erected for the purpose of housing representations of a god or goddess.

An early Hindu temple in Deogarh, India

This temple was erected to worship Vishnu during the Gupta period, c. 500 CE. Ruins from earlier temples dating to the period 200 BCE-300 CE are not well preserved.

Source: Wikimedia Commons License: CC BY-SA 2.0

Peoples of all classes could go to the temple to view the deity, pray, and offer fruits and flowers. By so doing, they showed their love for this lord and their desire to be saved by his or her grace. The most popular deities were Shiva and Vishnu.

Growing up, devotees of these supreme deities would hear countless myths and legends about their origins, exploits, and powers from Brahmins at the temples or story-tellers in their hometown. Vishnu preserves the universe and watches over it in times of unbridled evil, he assumes the form of an avatar to remove it and return the world to righteousness. King Rama of the Ramayana and Krishna of the Bhagavad-Gita are in fact two such incarnations of Vishnu. Shiva is both benevolent and protective but also destroys all things. Whereas Vishnu preserves the universe, Shiva destroys it at the end of a cycle. A third deity, Brahma, then recreates it. Combined, this Hindu trinity— Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer—represent different facets of the one divine reality behind the great cosmic cycles and also life and death. They each have female counterparts. Shiva’s wife Parvati, for instance, is a goddess of love and devotion.

Relief of Shiva and his wife Parvati in a rock-cut Hindu cave-temple (c. 800) | This relief also dates to a later age but well captures traditions of iconic representations of Hindu deities dating back to the early centuries CE.

Author: User “QuartierLatin1968”

In sum, during this period and the first millennium CE, several elements come together to make up the religion outsiders later labeled Hinduism. These elements include the sacrificial religion of the Brahmins, the renunciants’ spiritual pursuit of Self and divine reality (atman and brahman), a social order shaped by the varna and caste system, notions of law and duty embodied in each individual’s dharma, and devotion to supreme deities and their avatars. Hinduism thus thoroughly shaped the social and spiritual life of the peoples of India and of Indian society. Therefore, the rulers of ancient India supported the Brahmins, built temples, upheld the varna system, and assumed titles declaring their devotion to the supreme deities. Hinduism became part of the king’s dharma, and fulfilling that dharma brought the approval of his subjects.

The Gupta Empire and India’s Classical Age

The Gupta Empire in the third and fourth centuries CE | Most territorial expansion occurred during the reign of Samudragupta, although many local rulers were left in place as subordinate kings.

Author: User “Javierfv1212” Source: Wikimedia Commons License: CC BY-SA 3.0

The pattern of regional states characteristic of post-Mauryan times and the early centuries of the Common Era will persist in India until the sixteenth century. At any one time, India had many kings. But on occasion, one king might forge a substantial regional power and assume grand titles that elevated him over others. The political scene, therefore, consisted of not only a mosaic of royal powers but also a political hierarchy. Some rulers held power over others, making for a pattern of paramountcy and subordination among kings and princes of many different dynasties across the land. These paramount powers could then take advantage of the stability they established and the wealth they accrued to patronize the arts and promote a cultural renaissance. The Gupta Empire is the pre-eminent example of such a power during the period 300 – 600 CE indeed, some historians see the time during which they dominated northern India as a classical age.

As is the case for so much of India’s ancient political history, details concerning Gupta rulers have been reconstructed largely from coins, inscriptions, and seals. The dynasty begins in obscurity with two kings of a minor state located along the Ganges River, but then explodes on the scene with the next two kings: Chandragupta I (c. 320 – 335) and his son Samudragupta (c. 335 – 375). Through conquest and marital alliances, Chandragupta I forged a larger empire in the old Ganges heartland. A gold coin provides some of the evidence detailing the Gupta Empire. This coin displays Chandragupta standing next to a certain Queen Kumaradevi. He has taken the title “Great King of Kings,” which signifies imperial power, while she is identified as the princess of a powerful neighboring kingdom.

Gupta period coin depicting Chandragupta I and Queen Kumaradevi | This coin evidences a marital alliance between the Guptas and a powerful neighboring state. Author: User “Uploadalt”

Source: Wikimedia Commons License: CC BY-SA 3.0

During his forty-year reign, Samudragupta made the empire great, a feat most forcefully evidenced by a royal eulogy inscribed on one of the old edict pillars of King Ashoka. This eulogy, which describes Samudragupta as “conqueror of the four corners of the earth,” tells of how he subdued dozens of kings across the subcontinent. Closer to home, along the Ganges, many rulers were slain and their territory was annexed, while farther out across northern India and to the southeast, others were “captured and liberated.” These captured and liberated kings were recognized as “servants,” which meant they could continue to rule their own lands as subordinates, on the condition that they paid tribute and homage. Gupta rulers thus directly administered a core territory along the Ganges River while adopting a model of tributary overlordship for the rest. The Gupta imperial court in effect presided over a society of tributary rulers.

After Samudragupta’s time, two more Gupta rulers enjoyed long reigns of forty years, with the empire reaching a peak of power and prosperity. But in the sixth century, decline set in. A series of weaker rulers faced internal dissension at home and foreign invasion from abroad. A great nomadic power known as the Huns emerged out of Central Asia and invaded the northwest, destabilizing Gupta rule. Subordinate rulers then began to break away, and smaller kingdoms replaced the empire. After the sixth century, India entered a new stage in its history.

But there is more to these centuries than high politics. Again, the Gupta era is often labeled as a classical age for India. A period in the history of a civilization’s being labeled as classical generally means it was a time of artistic and intellectual excellence, with its having attained standard-setting achievements in a number of fields. Classical also suggests a certain level of maturation for a civilization. It should be noted, however, that some scholars question the use of this term because all ages produce great works, and sometimes choosing one period as classical simply represents the biased judgment of a later time.

Yet, during the Gupta era, India did produce important scientific discoveries and works of art and literature. The exquisite sculptures of the Buddha portraying his serene enlightenment and teaching were the epitome of the classical achievement in art.

Gupta period coin depicting Chandragupta I and Queen Kumaradevi | This coin evidences a marital alliance between the Guptas and a powerful neighboring state.

India also saw an outpouring of literary masterpieces. Kalidasa is one of India’s greatest Sanskrit poets and playwrights. His play The Recognition of Shakuntala, a world masterpiece, tells the story of a girl who lived in a hermitage in the countryside after being abandoned by her parents. One day, a king was out hunting and chanced upon her. They fell in love and married. But then he hurried back to his palace and when she later came to him he no longer knew her because he had been cursed. The only solution for her dilemma was for her to present a ring he had left her. Unfortunately, it had slipped off her finger. The play tells of how this love story concluded, along with the involvement of many higher powers.

In the field of medicine, Ayurveda matured as more complete editions of ancient medical texts were compiled. Ayurveda (meaning “knowledge for longevity”) is India’s ancient medical science. It provides a systematic effort to explain the origins of diseases in dislocations of bodily humors (substances) and to prescribe cures for them. India also saw advancements in the fields of astronomy and mathematics. Aryabhata (476 – 550 CE), for instance, was the first astronomer to propose that the earth rotated on an axis and a scientific explanation for eclipses. He calculated pi to 3.1416 and the solar year to 364.3586805 days. His work demonstrates the contemporary use of a sophisticated system of decimal notation, which was also an ancient Indian discovery.

Works Consulted and Further Reading

Rome, the Byzantine Empire, and Europe

Brown, Peter. Augustine of Hippo: A Biography. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013.

———. The World of Late Antiquity: AD 150 – 750. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1989.

Cameron, Alan. The Last Pagans of Rome. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Harper, Kyle. From Shame to Sin: The Christian Transformation of Sexual Morality in Late Antiquity. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013.

Meeks, Wayne. First Urban Christians: The Social World of the Apostle Paul. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003.

Ostrogorsky, George. History of the Byzantine State. Translated by Joan Hussey. Revised ed. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1969.

Potter, David. Constantine the Emperor. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Rautman, Marcus. Daily Life in the Byzantine Empire. London: Greenwood Press, 2006.

Stark, Rodney. The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries. San Francisco: Harper, 1997.

Wickham, Chris. The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages, 400 – 1000. The Penguin History of Europe 2. New York: Penguin, 2009.

Wilken, Robert. The Christians as the Romans Saw Them. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003.

Lewis, Mark Edward. China between Empires: The Northern and Southern Dynasties. Cambridge: Harvard

Robinet, Isabelle. Taoism: Growth of a Religion. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997.

Basham, A.L. The Origins and Development of Classical Hinduism. Edited and Completed by Kenneth G. Zysk. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.

Knott, Kim. Hinduism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Links to Primary Sources

Rome, the Byzantine Empire, and Europe

From Berger, Eugene Israel, George Miller, Charlotte Parkinson, Brian Reeves, Andrew and Williams, Nadejda, “World History: Cultures, States, and Societies to 1500″ (2016). History Open Textbooks. Book 2. http://oer.galileo.usg.edu/history-textbooks/2

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


3.Ezana of Axum

Ezana of Axum ruled the kingdom of Aksum in the 4 th Century AD. The kingdom was vast and covered current day Northern Ethiopia, Yemen, some parts of southern Saudi Arabia, northern Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea, and some regions of Sudan. He inherited the role from his father, who died while Ezana was still a child.

He is notable for being the first king of Aksum to convert to Christianity. He was a kind ruler and he cared deeply about the happiness of his people. He was a monument builder, erecting a number of obelisks and stelae during his reign. Despite this, he is best remembered today for his Christian faith and he is regarded as a saint by the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahado Church.

Solomon and The Queen of Sheba, legendary African Ruler, mentioned in the Bible . (Shakko / Public Domain )

She was purportedly extremely wealthy and archaeological excavations at Aksum in 2012 discovered evidence of an enormous ancient gold mine which would have been a very legitimate and abundant source of wealth for the queen. Further excavations in 2015 discovered two female skeletons , both of which were buried in a regal style with extremely valuable jewelry. This tangible evidence that the legend may be real is further backed up by the fact that 90% of Aksum is unexcavated – with legends about the Queen being confirmed already, it’s highly likely there will be further confirmation that she really did exist as further work is completed at the site.


What was warfare like in Ireland during the middle ages and how were different units equipped? Also, when were firearms introduced/ how frequently were they used and how effective were they?

I've played Medieval II: Total war on the Britannia campaign and I know about the basic gallowglasses and kerns but what were their exact roles?How was siege equipment used or cavalry employed and what kind of ranged units were there? Also were there any Irish involvement in the crusades?

Gallowglasses did not really arise till the 14th century or so when Scots started crossing over to serve as mercenaries.

Gallowglasses served as heavy infantry and bodyguards, but as I recall they were relatively few in number.

The Irish mostly fought as light troops: kerns were essentially skirmishers and Irish cavalry were lightly equipped. One of the most common ranged weapons was javelins.

As I understand there was little to no siege equipment. The Irish style of conflict was based on raids and ambushes. This served them well fighting against other Irish, but when the English rolled in with castles, heavy cavalry and heavy infantry they really couldn't do anything to stop them.

Here is some visual sources on Irish equipment and warriors:

Another disadvantage was that the Irish were divided into clans and kingdoms and, in true Celtic tradition, never let an invasion by a conquering neighbor stop them from trying to kill people from over the next village. There was no unified front, so the English made alliances with some lords and subdued others.

Early Medieval Irish warfare was based mostly around quick raids by light infantry, sometimes supplemented by light cavalry. Around this time period, viking mercenaries would also have been common, but I would not trust the Total War campaign for historical accuracy IIRC Brian Boru is still alive when the campaign starts, when in reality he had died in battle a few centuries earlier.

"Kern" is the phonetic pronunciation of the Gaelic ceithearn, which basically means a "troop". Kerns were the backbone of Irish medieval warfare until the Plantation era, and possibly even sometime after that. Kerns were mostly independent farmers and landowners, because in Gaelic society the ability to bare arms was a significant symbol of social status. The ceithearn were classified in two types the buanna who served as mercenaries in Ireland and abroad, and the farmers I mentioned earlier, called upon by their lord during campaigning season. As ByzantineBasileus mentioned, gallowglass were a later introduction, and were mostly hired by nobles as permanent bodyguards.

Warfare was pretty endemic in early Medieval Ireland, but not on the same scale seen on the continent or even in Britain there were many small kingdoms, some united into larger groups through family relations like the Uí Néill. Kings would wage war (mostly small raids)for various reasons sometimes on cattle raids or because of blood feuds with other families, sometimes to show they weren't going to be a pushover in the case of newly crowned kings, and sometimes in much larger conflicts such as those waged between the Uí Néill and Brian Boru in the early 1000's, and between the Gaelic Irish and the Norse settlers earlier than that. The organization and strategy of Irish warfare probably remained relatively the same for centuries, until the Tudor reconquest and widespread introduction of gunpowder during the late medieval period, the Irish formed their own units of pike and shot, musketeers and swordsmen mixed into units of pikemen based on continental strategy. During that time period, the Irish actually used gunpowder weapons on a larger scale than the invading English, sometimes including "full reliance on firearms".

The bulk of Irish infantry would have been unarmoured and lightly armed, in comparison to contemporary European warriors. Gerald of Wales, in the 12th century, writes that the Irish went into battle with short spears, axes and darts (a throwing spear like a javelin). Kerns had boys carry their weapons and shields into battle, serving almost like the squires of other European military forces they were likely the children of the warriors learning the trade of warfare firsthand. An Englishman during the Tudor reconquest of Ireland wrote that kerns were

". a kind of footman, slightly armed with a sword and target [a small shield] of wood, or a bow and shief of arrows with barbed heads, or else three darts, which they cast with a wonderful facility and neatness. "

Kerns would have worn a belted saffron coloured tunic, because in Gaelic Ireland the colour of clothing people could wear was restricted by their social class. They were light raiders, almost like guerrilla fighters, and when the Irish could ambush an English army on the march or in camp, they almost always won. In pitched battle, the Irish frequently lost the kern lost their effectiveness if the enemy held their ground. Similar to Gallic strategy from earlier antiquity, the Irish would create a huge and terrifying din of war cries and horns (later bagpipes), then charge the enemy line, throwing their spears and engaging hand-to-hand combat with their swords or long daggers. If the kerns failed to break the enemy formation, the gallowglass in their mail armour with heavy axes would be waiting in the rear.

As Fergus Cannan writes "when it came to ambushes, raiding, reconnaissance work and the murky, scrappy techniques of inter-clan warfare, the ceithearnach was absolutely first rate." The English by the 16th century recognized how effective kerns were in raiding and skirmishing, and even raised their own bands of Kerns aside from hiring Irish mercenaries.

Sources and further reading:

Fergus Cannan, "Hags of Hell: Late Medieval Irish Kern," History Ireland, Vol. 19, No. 1, pp 14-17

G. A. Hayes-McCoy, "Strategy and Tactics in Irish Warfare, 1593-1601", Irish Historical Studies, Vol. 2, No. 7 (Mar. 1941), pp 255-279.

K. Simms, "Gaelic Warfare in the Middle Ages", A Military History of Ireland (Cambridge, 1996) 99-115


Women Of Color Still Pushed Against Roadblocks To Their Education In The 20th Century

After the 19th century set the ball rolling, women's college education in America in particular began to slowly snowball in the 20th century. It's been pointed out that, as conceptions of acceptable female roles began to change, college courses for women began to adapt from vocational to purely educational, particularly after World War II. A lot of this, particularly the spike in college enrollments among women in the 1960s and 70s, appears to have been down to the influence of second-wave feminism. As female education became more accepted and highly-educated women entered the workforce, the setting was created for the phenomenon we see now: women enrolling in college in higher numbers than men.

Despite all of this, there were still many roadblocks when it came to women's education, particularly women of color. For example, though Yale University began admitting women to its graduate school in 1892, and though Yale Law School graduated its first African-American student, Edwin Archer Randolph, in 1880, Jane Bolin, the first African-American woman to receive her degree from Yale Law, only graduated in 1931 — showing the double burden women of color often had to deal with when pursuing an education (Bolin went on to become the first African-American woman to join the New York City Bar Association and the first African-American woman to serve as a judge in the U.S.).

And it was only in 2016 that Oxford, one of the world's most ancient universities, appointed a female Vice-Chancellor, effectively the head of the university, for the first time. Vice-Chancellor appointments of women are on the rise, but in 2016 they still only made up 29 percent of new appointments in the UK. Still, with schools from Harvard to McGill and Brown being led by women in the past or present, it's not too much to hope that the future of leadership in universities is, in fact, going to be very female.


Women and Politics in the Era of the American Revolution

Historians once assumed that, because women in the era of the American Revolution could not vote and showed very little interest in attaining the franchise, they were essentially apolitical beings. Scholars now recognize that women were actively engaged in the debates that accompanied the movement toward independence, and that after the war many sought a more expansive political role for themselves. Moreover, men welcomed women’s support for the war effort. If they saw women as especially fit for domestic duties, many continued to seek women’s political guidance and help even after the war ended.

Granted, those women who wanted a more active and unmediated relationship to the body politic faced severe legal and ideological obstacles. The common law system of coverture gave married women no control over their bodies or to property, and thus accorded them no formal venue to express their political opinions. Religious convention had it that women, the “weaker sex,” were the authors of original sin. The ideology associated with “republicanism” argued that the attributes of independence, self-reliance, physical strength, and bravery were exclusively masculine virtues. Many observers characterized women as essentially selfish and frivolous creatures who hungered after luxuries and could not contain their carnal appetites. Nevertheless, some women carved out political roles for themselves.

In the lead up to the war, many women played active, even essential roles in various non-consumption movements, promising to refrain from purchasing English goods, and attacking those merchants who refused to boycott prohibited goods. Some took to the streets, participating in riots that periodically disturbed the tranquility of colonial cities. A few published plays and poems proclaiming their patriotic views. Those women, who would become loyalists, were also active, never reluctant, to express their disapproval of the protest movement.

During the war, many women demonstrated their loyalty to the patriot cause by shouldering the burdens of absent husbands. They managed farms and businesses. First in Philadelphia, and then in other cities, women went from door to door collecting money for the Continental Army. Some accompanied husbands to the battlefront, where they tended to the material needs of soldiers. A very few disguised themselves as men and joined the army, exposing as a lie the notion that only men had the capacity to sacrifice their lives for the good of the country. Loyalist women continued to express their political views, even though doing so brought them little more than physical suffering and emotional pain. African American women took advantage of wartime chaos to run away from their masters and forge new, independent lives for themselves.

After the war, women marched in parades, lobbied and petitioned legislators, attended sessions of Congress, and participated in political rallies—lending their support to particular candidates or factions. Elite women published novels, poems, and plays. Some hosted salons where men and women gathered to discuss political issues. In New Jersey, single property-owning women voted.

By the end of the century, however, proponents of women’s political rights lost ground, in part because new “scientific” notions of gender difference prepared the way for the concept of “separate spheres.” Politics became more organized, leaving little room for women to express their views “out of doors,” even as judges and legislators defined women as naturally dependent. Still, white, middle class women in particular took advantage of better educational opportunities, finding ways to influence the public sphere without demanding formal political rights. They read, wrote, and organized benevolent societies, laying the groundwork for the antebellum reform movements of the mid-19th century.

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The Meaning of Political Activity

Until recently, historians equated political activity with the right to vote, and thus characterized American women as having no political voice until the mid-19th century, when a few brave souls demanded (among other things) the franchise. Politics, citizenship, and voting were so linked in the minds of then modern Americans that few imagined disfranchised women as political actors. The Declaration of Independence may have proclaimed that “all men are created equal,” but few scholars suggested that women believed Jefferson’s soaring rhetoric applied to them. Beginning in the 1980s, however, historians began to re-examine their understanding of what it meant to be a political person, or, in the era of the American Revolution, to be a patriot or a loyalist. Instead of simply assuming that views of political activity were the same in the 18th century as they are modern times, scholars looked at the past anew, defining political activity within a distinctly historical context. The results of that endeavor—which remain open ended and contested—introduced historians to a world that was profoundly different from their own.

No one denies that women before, during, and after the Revolution faced severe limits to their ability to act as political beings. Nor does anyone deny that even the most self-consciously public-spirited women defined their relationship to the state in ways that differed from the experiences of men. Indeed, white women were actually losing political power throughout the 18th century. In the 17th century, social standing, not gender identity, was the key determinant for the distribution of political rights. In England, under certain circumstances, aristocratic women could vote and hold office. In America, no one questioned the right of an elite woman to express her opinions on political issues and to exercise authority over lower class men. By the 18th century, gender had become more important than status. Any woman, however well born, was deemed “naturally” unfit for the public or political realm. In virtually every arena, women, simply by virtue of their sex, were excluded from formal—and even informal—political activity. 1

Legally, married women were enmeshed in the system of “coverture,” a common law doctrine that denied them any independent civic identity. The husband represented his wife to the outside world. He controlled her work and her body, made all political decisions, and controlled any property his wife brought to the marriage. Because the ownership of property was the prime requisite for political rights at the time, if a woman had no property, she had no political existence. A wife’s loyalty was to her husband, not to the state. He might exercise his power with a light hand, discussing politics with his wife and even listening to her views, but the decision to do so was his alone. Legally speaking, at least, women had only one right, the right to choose a spouse. Having “freely” made that choice, they were subject to the benevolence of their husbands.

It was not the law alone that relegated white women—even if they were single—to a non-political status. Convention questioned women’s ability to participate in the political process on a variety of fronts. Many continued to use the story of Eve to prove that women were enslaved to their passions and their sexual desires. They were fickle and frivolous, and above all irrational, and thus not suited to make the decisions that a healthy polity required. “Republican” ideology emphasized propertied independence, self-reliance, physical strength, and bravery—all framed as manly characteristics, as “virtue”—as the essential requisites for political rights. At least some men could sacrifice their own interests to support the public good. But virtually all women, many insisted, “naturally” spent too much on luxuries, driving their husbands into debt, and weakening the entire social fabric. How then could women call themselves patriots if they were too weak to resist their penchant for luxuries, even when the national interest demanded it?

The evidence nevertheless indicates that, despite the limitations they faced, women seldom ignored the political issues of the day. This was especially true in the era of the American Revolution. But in what ways were women “political”? In what sorts of political activities did they engage? What activities remained closed to them? What, if anything, changed? Did women’s understanding of their relationship to the state alter in some fundamental way as a result of a movement founded upon profoundly egalitarian principles?

Clearly the answers to those questions vary. Elite, white women (like their male counterparts) were more likely to reap the benefits of revolutionary change than were lower class white or African American women, especially in terms of their ability to influence the male political world. Urban women had more options than their counterparts in rural America. Quakers accorded women more authority than did other denominations. New England women were, as a whole, more literate and had more access to education than did their southern sisters.

Scholars who focus on women’s formal political activity have good reason to argue that the American Revolution did not alter women’s roles in any meaningful way. The vast majority still could not vote. Those few who were enfranchised quickly lost that right. Nor were women able to hold political office, even at the local level. Nevertheless, they were never divorced from the world outside the home, and they often expressed their views publicly. Even post-war women who had no interest in politics defined themselves as members of the republic, as rights-bearing citizens who were proud to be patriotic actors.

It is possible, moreover, to broaden the definition of “the political,” to view the social and sexual in political terms. If, as one scholar argues, “the family, in its patriarchal structure and values is a microcosmic representation of ‘the state’,” domestic concerns are the purview of political historians. 2 Women applied revolutionary rhetoric to their own circumstances. Some declared their independence from abusive husbands, pursuing their own versions of happiness. Others took control of their bodies, limiting the number of children they brought into the world. White, middle class girls attended the growing number of female academies, asserting that they were rational beings who were able to make reasoned political decisions. They read, they wrote, they published, they formed literary societies, improving their own lives as well as the lives of less fortunate members of society. Elite women hosted salons where they discussed the political issues of the day, creating a sociable environment that softened the rough edges of cantankerous politicians. If, as feminists in the 1970s argued, “the personal is political,” then these women were acting politically. Whether they cared about “high” politics, saw themselves as “republican mothers or wives,” laid claim to “domestic citizenship” or membership in “civil society,” these women’s lives were profoundly affected by the American Revolution. 3

The Coming of the Revolution

Men and women alike were engaged in the debate over America’s relationship to England in the decade preceding the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Colonial women surely cared about public affairs. They had opinions about the Great Awakening, the French and Indian War, and the political quarrels that erupted over local issues in individual provinces. They were interested, as wives, mothers, daughters, even as humans, in the world outside the home. But this time it was somewhat different. This time, a political structure controlled by men appealed directly to women for support, giving them a role to play in the drama that led to the American Revolution. Some women supported the protest movements that led ultimately to independence. Others opposed those same movements, remaining loyal to the King, fearing the chaos and disruption they believed would result if the ties binding the Empire together were broken. In either case, many women were becoming engaged in the public issues of the day.

Granted, nothing in the run-up to independence altered women’s political, social, or legal status. Nevertheless, once colonial leaders decided to employ non-consumption as the best device for securing their ends, they realized that they needed women’s support. Women made most household purchases. Thus they had to be persuaded to refrain from indulging in English luxury items and depend instead on their own spinning and weaving to produce homespun for their families. They would not, of course, engage in formal political activity, but the choices they made in the domestic realm would, by definition, become political.

Women responded to the challenge. Especially in New England, those who supported the protest movement gathered in public to take part in spinning bees, proudly exhibiting their womanly talents, feeling, as one young participant noted, “Nationly” into the bargain. 4 Throughout the colonies, women of every social status signed non-consumption agreements. In 1774 , fifty-one women in Edenton, North Carolina went even further, signing such an agreement, specifically claiming to do so in the name of the public good, thus declaring that they understood and cared about the implications of the political debates swirling about them.

Single women acted still more forcefully. In 1765 , five Philadelphia women shopkeepers signed a non-importation agreement, signaling their opposition to the Stamp Act. As single property owners they were legally able to act politically—not as producers of cloth or consumers of manufactured goods, but as members of the mercantile community. A few already had some political authority. If none could vote at the colony level, in Philadelphia, they were “freemen,” who could help elect council members. They also could lobby lawmakers and could sign the same petitions and make the same political decisions made by their male counterparts. 5

Other women, perhaps more circumspect, perhaps simply putting their talents to good use, entered the public realm by becoming a part of the republic of letters. Quaker poet Hannah Griffits supported the boycott in defiance of the Townshend Duties in 1768 , saying,

Women might not be able to vote, but they did have a “negative.” And they could use it whenever merchants refused to do their patriotic duty.

Mercy Otis Warren, sister of James Otis and wife of James Warren, also picked up her pen to support the patriot cause. Her first published play, The Adulateur , ( 1772 ) viciously attacked Massachusetts’s governor, Thomas Hutchinson, portraying him as a tyrant bent upon destroying the liberties of innocent Americans. The play urged colonists to be on their guard against a leader who would stop at nothing to achieve his ends.

Not every woman signed a petition, wrote a poem, or spun cloth for the good of the “nation.” Even those women who did express themselves politically did not challenge traditional gender norms. No one denied that a married woman’s obligations were to her family, or demanded the franchise for women. Nevertheless, if many women were—like their male counterparts—indifferent to the issues dividing England and America, many others began to think politically. Some disdained the movement toward independence, refusing to sign non-consumption agreements, defiantly drinking British tea, and declaring their continued loyalty to the Crown. Others made sacrifices for the rights of colonial Americans, even if they did not seem to recognize that their own rights were very limited.

According to Republican ideology, willingness to sacrifice one’s life for the public good proved one’s patriotism. If citizens were to demand rights, they had to perform the duties that accompanied those rights. From this perspective, women were excluded from any claims to citizenship, for no one expected a woman to pick up a musket to fight for the King or to defend American liberties. Nothing divided men from women more than the onset of war. War reinforced gender differences, reminding everyone that the battlefield was a male preserve, an arena in which men risked everything and thereby earned the adulation of their countrymen.

Women, too, made sacrifices throughout the war, but their sacrifices were taken for granted and seldom noticed. They lost husbands and brothers, fathers and sons. They fended for themselves when men left home to fight. White, middle class women, in particular, made ends meet at a time when inflation put the barest necessities out of reach. They struggled to manage family businesses and farms, fending off creditors, disciplining recalcitrant slaves or servants, and making financial decisions. Many floundered, failed, and ended up living off the charity of family or friends. Even those, like Abigail Adams, who discovered a talent for business, longed for a time when life would return to “normal.” 7 Still, at least, some women grew more confident in their ability to handle traditionally male affairs, as they made independent decisions that were every bit as rational as those their husbands would have made.

Many African American women seized upon wartime activity to declare their own independence, running away from their masters, fleeing either to the British army, to Canada, or to American cities where they could blend in with the free black population. They were clearly taken by the language of liberty and equality that white patriots used in their fight against the British, using that language for their own purposes. Phillis Wheatley, an African American slave from Massachusetts, published poems that explicitly used white Americans’ demands for their own liberty to challenge the institution of slavery.

Women took an active part in the Revolutionary struggle, whether they wanted to or not. A war fought in America, where the lines between the “battlefront” and the “home front” were blurred or non-existent, disrupted the lives of many women at one time or another. Some, especially those who lived along the coast, fled to the interior, where they hoped to be safe from marauding Redcoats. Benjamin Franklin’s sister, Jane Mecom, was one of thousands of women who abandoned Boston in 1775 , living a peripatetic existence for years as she sought refuge from the ravages of war. 8 Others did not, or could not, leave their homes. South Carolina’s Eliza Wilkinson, for example, endured more than one “day of terror” at the hands of British soldiers who entered her home, confiscated her clothes and her jewelry, and implicitly threatened her life. 9 Loyalist women endured even more traumatic hardships because of their political views. Ostracized by their neighbors, they watched as the families’ property was confiscated by the state, and they were often forced into exile.

Some white women, especially those of lower status, had little choice but to accompany their husbands to the battlefront, where their services to the Army were invaluable. They washed clothes and bedding, cooked and sewed, tended to the sick and wounded, and occasionally picked up a musket and fired at the enemy. 10 These women never won much praise, even when they put their lives in danger, challenging the assumption that men were brave and public spirited, while women were weak and selfish.

Women usually performed their patriotic duties as wives and mothers. Few, even those who accompanied their husbands to war, abandoned their domestic role. Some, however, took a more active and less “womanly” approach. In 1780 , for instance, Esther DeBerdt Reed of Philadelphia published a broadside, The Sentiments of an American Woman, to argue that America’s female patriots should act as citizens, not simply as women, in the service of their country. She urged women to sell their jewels and ornaments and to donate the proceeds to the Continental Army. Thirty-six Philadelphia women—all elite—responded. Not only did they sell their own luxury items, but they also went door-to-door, collecting money from strangers and friends, from rich and poor. Such “unfeminine” activity was shocking to some, admired by others. In Philadelphia alone, they amassed over $7,000 in specie. Significantly, the Philadelphia women organized their counterparts in other cities, proving that women were capable of unmediated patriotism.

Women were also spies, often employing gender stereotypes to their own ends, convincing the enemy that a “mere woman” knew nothing about war or politics. A few defied gender conventions altogether, joining the Continental Army disguised as men. None was more successful in this regard than Deborah Sampson, who enlisted after the Battle of Yorktown and kept her identity secret for seventeen months. The response to the revelation that “Robert Shurtliff” was indeed Deborah Sampson is revealing. The New York Gazette praised Sampson for her “virtue” as a “female soldier,” emphasizing her “chastity,” her aversion to liquor, and her patriotism. Apparently a woman could be a “patriot” even as she maintained her purity and gentility. In fact, Sampson probably enlisted so that she could get the bounty offered to all volunteers. Still, if some observers believed that a woman was capable of military virtue, they were implicitly admitting that the lines dividing humans along gender lines were becoming blurred. 11

Women of the Republic

At war’s end, Americans faced a world where, at least temporarily, the old verities seemed open to question. The traditional order did not collapse. Racial slavery survived the Revolution, even if it began to disappear in some parts of the country. Men with no property remained disenfranchised, although the link between property and the vote was becoming obsolete. Some Americans began to question traditional definitions of gender, participating in a transatlantic conversation about gender identities and roles, as they wondered how Americans could justify the legal, economic, and social dependence of women in a nation founded upon the premise of equality. Granted, none of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence intended to relinquish their domestic authority, nor did they envision a world where women would be truly equal or independent. Still, arguments about women’s political rights filled the air. Now that the new nation was composed of citizens instead of subjects, some questioned the relationship of white women to the state. Could women be citizens? And if so, did they experience citizenship in the same way that men did? The answers to those questions varied, but they did reveal that gender definitions were in flux.

Female Politicians

Many patriot women came out of the Revolution with a sense of worth and political importance. They had been praised for their patriotism in the days leading up to the war they had sacrificed for the cause. Some had run businesses, operated farms, and taken care of their families, proving that they need not be dependent upon their husbands. They had followed the political debates before and during the war, and continued to do so at war’s end. Thus they could be excused for assuming that they were citizens who might not be equal to or the same as men, but who nevertheless had some political rights.

Nor did all men disagree. Men praised women for their loyalty. A few even admitted that there was no rationale for excluding property-owning women from the vote. Virginia’s Richard Henry Lee, for instance, had no answer to his widowed sister when she complained that she was being taxed without representation. While he thought women did not really need to vote, he promised he “would at any time give my consent to establish their right” to do so. 12 In New Jersey, single women worth fifty pounds actually voted between 1776 and 1807 . Some scholars argue that the decision to enfranchise women was neither an accident nor an anomaly. Rather, they insist, New Jersey “simply stood at the cutting edge of the political continuum, and its laws represented the furthest reach of possibilities for female citizenship,” taking “Revolutionary doctrine to its furthest—but logical—extreme, at least for white women.” 13 The state’s lawmakers accepted the implications of revolutionary rhetoric, welcoming white, property-owning women into the body politic, even courting them at election time. They withdrew their support only when the men in power began to see women’s votes as a liability rather than an asset.

If most women did not vote, few saw women’s exclusion from the franchise in exclusively gendered terms. Many white men, even those who had served in the Continental Army, did not meet the property qualifications for voting. Increasingly, however, with the expansion of the franchise to all white men, it became apparent that women could not vote simply because they were women. Even single, property-owning women were seen as dependents at a time when independence was accorded the highest value, and dependence was framed in pejorative terms. 14

That never meant that women were not citizens. The Constitution made it clear that, while slaves were only three fifths of a person, white women were fully counted in the census, thus helping determine how many representatives each state would have in Congress. As one historian points out, “In some clear, if unspecified way, women were members of political society in ways that slaves simply were not.” 15 Women, moreover, expected to enjoy many of the same rights as men. They were not excluded from the protections offered by the Bill of Rights, and they assumed that their property was protected under the law.

Post-war women were not simply passive recipients of the government’s protection. They expressed their views on the political issues of the day in a variety of ways. Lower class women could be found in the streets, participating in celebratory rituals that gave patriotic meaning to their connection to the new nation. They marched in parades, attended public festivals, and marked election days with demonstrations for their favorite candidates. Independence Day commemorations were especially inclusive. Many towns even called upon women to make speeches to “promiscuous” audiences in honor of the nation’s birthday. 16

Women of the middling sort and the elite also participated in these celebrations. Others performed their political roles more circumspectly, remaining at home, but imbuing their ordinary domestic duties with political meaning. Some saw themselves as “republican mothers,” who raised their sons to be virtuous citizens, thus doing their part to keep the new nation from sliding into decay. 17 Others emphasized their roles as “republican wives,” whose influence on their husbands was essential to the survival of the republic. 18 In either case, women used their newfound importance to demand more and better education for their daughters. Young women throughout the country attended the growing number of women’s academies, gaining confidence in their ability to think rationally and to express their opinions on public affairs.

Some elite women were political actors in more rarified ways. If they lived close to the center of government—in New York, Philadelphia, or ultimately in Washington City—they hosted or attended salons, where men and women gathered to discuss political issues. Martha Washington held regular levees in New York, serving as a broker between formal politics and the domestic realm. New Jersey’s Annis Boudinot Stockton and Philadelphia’s Anne Willing Bingham were only two of those women who helped bridge the division between public and private, providing an informal setting for political conversations. Their contributions were accepted because women emphasized their traditionally feminine attributes as sociable human beings who were adept at cultivating civility and reforming the manners of the men who in fact ruled the world. Moreover, they could “speak to power, but they could not exercise it.” 19 Still, they saw themselves as political beings. In Washington, they attended sessions of Congress and arguments before the Supreme Court. 20 To be sure, they mattered only because of their relationships to powerful men. They were simply engaged in the “family business—in this case, however, the family business was politics.” 21 Some, like Margaret Bayard Smith, privately resented the “‘limited circle which it is prescribed for women to tread’” and longed for the “‘unlimited sphere of man.’” Even if women did not demand the vote, many envisioned an active role for themselves in the new republic. 22

Women of Letters

Some women used their pens to directly challenge the gender conventions of the day. In their own minds, they were acting politically, even as they maintained their respectability. They wrote in the privacy of their own homes, yet they were part of the “public sphere,” that fictive space between the formal world of politics and the domestic realm. They were disembodied voices speaking to a disembodied audience. Actress, novelist, and playwright Susanna Rowson was a partial exception to that rule. Not only did she write plays extolling women’s virtues, but she also appeared on stage, forthrightly exhibiting her sexualized body to the audience. At the conclusion of her play, Slaves in Algiers, she stood before the audience proclaiming:

Most women writers were not so bold—or so desperate to make money. They carefully guarded their reputations, even as they argued that women were reasonable creatures who had a political role. Many combed the history books, seeking examples of political women in the past, to make their case. They often wrote about queens, not because they saw monarchs as representative women, but because queens provided examples of real women who had successfully exercised political power. They studied educated women for the same reason, pointing out that women could be as rational and erudite as any man. They looked, above all, to the classics—especially to the Roman Empire, for examples of women who were both virtuous and patriotic. They extolled the “Roman Matron” who influenced public events through connections to their husbands. They admired the women of Sparta, who bore strong sons and prepared them for the battlefield. 24

Massachusetts’s Judith Sargent Murray was especially adept at using history to support the argument for women’s political rights. Proud to proclaim her affinity for English feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, Murray was at the forefront of those who claimed that women were intellectually equal to men. In “Observations on Female Abilities,” which appeared in her three-volume “miscellany” The Gleaner ( 1798 ), she argued that women were naturally rational, intelligent, brave, and patriotic. History proved, she insisted, that women were capable of leading armies, ruling kingdoms, and contributing to the intellectual life of the nation. If they failed to do so, their environment, not their nature, was at fault. According to Murray, women were “circumscribed in their education within very narrow limits, and constantly depressed by their occupations.” She insisted, “The idea of the incapability of women is, we conceive, in this enlightened age, totally inadmissible.” Given half a chance, she cried, the “daughters of Columbia” could soar to the loftiest heights. 25

Even Murray pulled her punches. She never asked for the vote. Although she longed to be taken seriously, she desired influence, not power. Consequently, while she argued that women could hold office or lead armies, she did not believe they should do so, unless they had no other choice. Nevertheless, she made a case for women’s political abilities that could probably not have been made in pre-Revolutionary America.

Murray’s argument was based on her belief that men and women were essentially the same, at least where important (intellectual) matters were concerned. She claimed that “the mind has no sex,” and thus she sought to blur gender differences. Mercy Otis Warren, who published her History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution in 1805 , justified her entry into the republic of letters on quite different grounds. She did not deny that women were different from men. Rather, she argued that because women were different they had a “valuable perspective” on political matters that the new nation would ignore at its peril. Women, she said were especially religious and morally perceptive, nor were they so wedded to military values as men were. Women, in essence, could be political because of their unique characteristics, not in spite of them. In essence, Warren was helping to prepare the way for the notion of “separate spheres.” 26

Toward Separate Spheres

Judith Sargent Murray was by no means the only person in the late 18th century—male or female—who thought that men and women were intellectually alike. Few challenged coverture directly, but neither did many people automatically dismiss the notion that women could be patriotic citizens with views of their own. Nevertheless, fears of “disorderly women” always lurked just beneath the surface. The French Revolution exacerbated those fears, leading many on both sides of the Atlantic, to adopt the language of a new scientific discourse linking women’s bodily and emotional traits. They argued that men and women were not only different, but opposites. Because women were naturally—essentially—weak, emotional, and irrational, they belonged in the home. Their involvement in the increasingly vituperative and dirty business of politics would undermine the nation. While some argued that women remained equal, even if they occupied a separate sphere, others sensed that the egalitarian promise of the Revolution was disappearing. 27

Mary Wollstonecraft’s fall from grace was both a symptom and a cause of the growing hostility toward women’s political rights. Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman ( 1792 ) received a largely positive response when it first appeared on American bookshelves. Not everyone viewed the work with approbation, but many women saw Wollstonecraft as a kindred spirit. All that changed in 1798 . Wollstonecraft died in childbirth, and her husband, William Godwin, rushed his Memoirs, a tribute to his wife, into print. Godwin described Wollstonecraft’s three-year affair with Gilbert Imlay, portraying his wife as a passionate being who followed her heart rather than submitting to the strictures of convention. Overnight, Wollstonecraft’s detractors used her story as proof of the dangers of what passed for feminism in the 18th century. The equality of women, which had once been open to debate, was now characterized as “unnatural.”

Less than ten years later, New Jersey women lost their right to vote. If the actual motive for that loss had everything to do with partisan politics, the rationale for the decision partook of the rhetoric of gender difference. Thus, men argued that even single, property-owning women, were, by definition, “persons who do not even pretend to any judgment.” The mere idea of women voting, said one New Jersey observer, was “disgusting” and contrary to “the nature of things.” 28

Courts throughout the nation reinforced the notion that all women were dependents, incapable of making their own political decisions. In Massachusetts, James Martin appealed to the Supreme Judicial Court, demanding the return of properties confiscated from his mother’s estate. Anna, James’s mother, had married a British soldier, and had accompanied him when he fled to New York during the war. The state viewed husband and wife as loyalists, and confiscated their property. Throughout the war, political leaders had told women to act politically, even to “rebel” against their husbands if those husbands chose the “wrong” side. They had assumed, in other words, that women had an independent voice and could—indeed should—use that voice to support the Revolution. In 1801 , the Massachusetts court decided differently. It maintained that a wife had no choice but to follow her husband’s wishes. Indeed, for a woman to rebel against her husband would be unnatural, and destructive of all social order. Women, claimed Judge Theodore Sedgewick, had no political relationship to the state. In effect, the court “chose common law over natural law,” indicating that the doctrine of coverture had survived the Revolution unscathed. 29

Everywhere the signs of a backlash against women’s political activity became apparent. In Philadelphia, sexual behavior that had once been tolerated became criminalized and racialized. 30 Also in Philadelphia, single, property-owning women were increasingly viewed as anomalous—even though their numbers actually increased. Tax officials “wrote women out of the polity,” either assessing them at lower rates than they should have paid, or excusing them altogether. 31 When Congress passed the Embargo Act during the Jefferson administration, and Americans were once again urged to forego English goods, no one asked women to spin, to weave, to be good patriots. The Embargo act was controversial, but the controversy was played out in a male political arena. Women’s views were irrelevant. Only the opinions of men mattered. 32 As politics became more organized, politicians had less need to turn to the “people out of doors,” where men and women could make their views known in informal and porous settings, thus closing off yet another venue for women to express their opinions. Ironically, the more white men’s power expanded, the more egalitarian male society became, and the more white women were marginalized. As Andrew Cayton points out, white men, often as not, used their power “to deny citizenship to millions on the basis of an essential identity created by the nature of their bodies. An American citizen in the early republic was a white man remarkably uninterested in the liberty of anyone but himself.” 33

Granted, as some historians have pointed out, women continued to be interested in the world outside the home. White, middle class women organized same-sex benevolent clubs and literary societies, employing their skills to improve society without venturing into the formal political arena. If they generally exercised their power over other women—the poor, the orphaned, the sexually deviant—they were nevertheless preparing the way for the reform movements of the antebellum era. 34 If the premise of the Revolution was not realized for women, neither did it go completely unfulfilled.

Discussion of the Literature

Until 1980 , historians generally viewed early American women as apolitical. Women did not vote (everyone ignored the single women of New Jersey who briefly exercised the franchise), and thus they had no political rights. Two path-breaking books, Mary Beth Norton’s Liberty’s Daughters and Linda Kerber’s Women of the Republic laid that perspective to rest. Norton documented the many ways that women engaged in political debates throughout the Revolutionary era. Less optimistically, Kerber emphasized the challenges that women continued to face, even as she pointed out that the Revolution did lead some to struggle with the contradiction between the Revolution’s egalitarian ideals and the reality of women’s lives. Since 1980 , historians have mined the sources, examining women’s political engagement during the last half of the 18th century.

Some historians remain skeptical about claims that the Revolution fundamentally changed women’s lives. Joan Hoff Wilson insists that women were actually worse off after the Revolution, and that the decline in women’s economic and political position was not a direct result of the Revolution, but rather the consequence of trends long in the making. Women, she claims, were so far removed from political affairs, so lacking in anything approaching a consciousness of themselves as women, that for them, the Revolution was simply irrelevant. A few asked for privileges, not rights. Even they “could not conceive of a society whose standards were not set by male, patriarchal institutions.” 35 Elaine Foreman Crane points out that demands for women’s educational opportunities, and notions of “republican motherhood” and “companionate marriage” had intellectual roots stretching back to the 17th century and beyond. 36 Joan Gundersen argues that women declined in political importance after the Revolution. Before the war, “dependence” was the lot of virtually everyone—men as well as women. After the war, however, independence took on a new importance, while dependence acquired a pejorative, and gendered meaning. 37 Laurel Thatcher Ulrich maintains that those New England spinning bees that made one young woman feel “Nationly” were often conducted to support churches and ministers, not the non-importation movements. 38

Nevertheless, other historians continue to emphasize the way in which the Revolution allowed women a political voice they had not previously enjoyed. They have approached the subject in two general ways. Some have emphasized the explicitly political, even partisan, role women embraced after the Revolution. Rosemarie Zagarri has spearheaded that approach, offering compelling evidence that women imbibed the “rights talk” pervading America in the wake of the Revolution. 39

Alternatively, scholars have taken their cue from Jurgen Habermas—significantly modifying his original analysis—pointing to new ways to look at women’s political activities. 40 They talk in terms of a “public sphere” that was neither formally political nor exclusively domestic. In particular, they have analyzed the world of print and the creation of a salon culture in terms of the ways in which at least some—white, elite—women behaved politically without transgressing the strictures of gentility. Arguing that a “republican court,” similar to the salon culture of late 18th-century France, existed in post-Revolutionary America, historians such as David S. Shields and Fredrika J. Teute have led the way in blurring the lines between public and private, political and domestic in the New Republic. 41

While historians have advanced the study of early American women in ways that scholars in the early 1980s could scarcely have imagined, much remains to be done. A cursory glance at the biographies of individual women says a great deal in this regard. These monographs have focused on elite, white, women. Very few historians have analyzed the experiences of “ordinary” women. Alfred F. Young’s story of Deborah Sampson, Ulrich’s depiction of Martha Ballard, and David Waldstreicher’s study of African American poet Phillis Wheatley are fine exceptions to this rule. 42 Significantly, these historians do not focus directly on the relationship between gender and the Revolution. Sampson is more interested in monetary reward than politics or patriotism. Martha Ballard seems to ignore politics altogether. Wheatley’s focus is on the institution of slavery rather than on women’s rights.

Nevertheless, these monographs indicate that it is possible to bring the lives of lower class and minority women into the political narrative. Young’s brief comments in his “Afterward” to Beyond the Revolution offer historians an excellent place to start. 43 Susan Klepp and Clare Lyons have mapped out an alternative approach, expanding the meaning of the political for ordinary women. They suggest that women’s willingness to divorce their husbands, bear fewer children, and challenge patriarchy in any way expressed a new political consciousness that can be traced to the egalitarian rhetoric of the Revolution. 44

Further exploring the meaning of the “political,” expanding the purview of historical debate beyond white, elite women, and linking the Revolution explicitly to changes in women’s lives in the late 18th and early 19th centuries remain to be done.

Primary Sources

There are no historical societies or libraries that focus specifically on women’s history. The diligent scholar will have to do a great deal of digging to find useful sources, and will no doubt visit many institutions and go on many fishing expeditions to find the bits and pieces they will need to complete their work. In effect, there are no “must reads” as far as primary sources are concerned. The Massachusetts Historical Society, the American Antiquarian Society, the American Philosophical Society, the New York Historical Society, the University of Virginia Library, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, and the Library Company are all fine venues, housing a wide variety of sources. Not quite so rich, but nevertheless useful, are historical societies in Virginia, Maryland, and North and South Carolina. Both the Boston Public Library and the New York Public Library have surprisingly useful collections. Scholars interested in social history should consult the court records of each colony or state. The Library of Congress Manuscript Division has numerous relevant collections, as does the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts. Scholars focusing on loyalist women should consult the Loyalist Claims files at the National Archives in London. Transcripts are available at the New York Public Library.

For historians interested in literary women, possibilities are quite promising. The post-war period was known for the proliferation of journals, most of them short-lived, some of them actively encouraging women readers and writers. Most can be found on line, or attained on microfilm via interlibrary loan. A by-no-means-exhaustive list would include the Massachusetts Magazine, Gentleman and Lady’s Town and Country Magazine, The Boston Magazine, The New York Magazine, the Port Folio, and the Philadelphia Repository. Early American newspapers also grew exponentially in the post-war era, even though many died after just a few issues. They often included poems and essays that commented—positively or negatively—on women’s political activity. A thorough list of available newspapers can be found on the Library of Congress website, and again, many are available on line.

Educated people in the 18th and 19th centuries wrote letters, and while those letters were often performative, and thus not always “true,” they can be very revealing, nevertheless. Judith Sargent Murray kept copies of most of the letters she sent. The originals are available at the Mississippi Archives, in Jackson, Mississippi. They are also available on microfilm. Other elite women whose private writing is accessible include Mercy Otis Warren, Abigail Adams, Deborah Franklin, and Elizabeth Drinker. The Massachusetts Historical Society holds the originals of the Mercy Otis Warren Papers, which are also available on microfilm. Susanna Rowson’s papers are in the Waller Barrett Library of American Literature, Special Collections, at the University of Virginia Library. Elizabeth Drinker’s Diary is available in a beautifully edited print edition. 45 Virtually all of Abigail Adams’s letters are in print, either in books devoted to Abigail, herself, or in the Adams Papers, available on microfilm at the Massachusetts Historical Society. 46 Similarly, Deborah Franklin’s letters to her husband are in the Franklin Papers. 47

Women also wrote for public consumption. Their novels, in particular, are easily accessible. See in particular, Susanna Rowson’s Charlotte Temple, Hanna Foster’s Coquette, and Tabitha Tenney’s Female Quixotism. 48


Do there need to be other "adventurers?"

Is there a reason you need there to be a whole social class of adventurers, though? I mean, were superhero stories worse when Superman was a special snowflake instead of a card-carrying member of a superhero club?

It's a lot easier to fit a fantasy-game premise into a "realistic" world if you accept that the PCs are rare and extraordinary people. A single forlorn castle haunted with ghosts fits easily into almost any setting. A whole passel of them, and a special social class dedicated to plundering them — well, that requires jumping through all sorts of hoops and it's still likely to come off as nonsense when you're done.


Undergraduate Programs

The Department of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies offers five undergraduate programs — two majors, two minors, and a certificate.

All majors and minors complete an interdisciplinary introductory course, a research methods class, and a range of topically and theoretically related courses from across the College. Majors take additional courses and culminate their studies in an independent research project supervised in the senior capstone seminar.

Our new undergraduate certificate provides a focused investigation of issues in Gender, Law & Policy in a four course sequence designed to complement other major and minor programs in the liberal arts and professional schools.


5.10 THE CLASSICAL PERIOD

So far, the story of the Greek world in this chapter has proceeded from a narrative of the fragmented Greek world in the Dark Ages to the emergence and solidification of a Pan-Hellenic identity in the Archaic Period. The story of the Greeks in the Classical Period, by contrast, is best described as the strife for leadership of the Greek world. First, Athens and Sparta spent much of the fifth century BCE battling each other for control of the Greek world. Then, once both were weakened, other states began attempting to fill the power vacuum. Ultimately, the Classical Period will end with the Greek world under the control of a power that was virtually unknown to the Greeks at the beginning of the fifth century BCE: Macedon.

5.10.1 From the Delian League to the Athenian Empire

In 478 BCE, barely a year after the end of the Persian Wars, a group of Greek city-states, mainly those located in Ionia and on the island between mainland Greece and Ionia, founded the Delian League, with the aim of continuing to protect the Greeks in Ionia from Persian attacks. Led by Athens, the league first met on the tiny island of Delos. According to Greek mythology, the twin gods Apollo and Artemis were born on Delos. As a result, the island was considered sacred ground and, as such, was a fitting neutral headquarters for the new alliance. The league allowed member states the option of either contributing a tax (an option that most members selected) or contributing ships for the league’s navy. The treasury of the league, where the taxes paid by members were deposited, was housed on Delos.

Over the next twenty years, the Delian League gradually transformed from a loose alliance of states led by Athens to a more formal entity. The League’s Athenian leadership, in the meanwhile, grew to be that of an imperial leader. The few members who tried to secede from the League, such as the island of Naxos, quickly learned that doing so was not an option as the revolt was violently subdued. Finally, in 454 BCE, the treasury of the Delian League moved to Athens. That moment marked the transformation of the Delian League into the Athenian Empire.

Since the Athenians publicly inscribed each year the one-sixtieth portion of the tribute that they dedicated to Athena, records survive listing the contributing members for a number of years, thereby allowing historians to see the magnitude of the Athenian operation.

While only the Athenian side of the story survives, it appears that the Athenians’ allies in the Delian League were not happy with the transformation of the alliance into a full-fledged Athenian Empire. Non-allies were affected a well. The fifth-century BCE Athenian historian Thucydides dramatizes in his history one particularly harsh treatment of a small island, Melos, which effectively refused to join the Athenian cause. To add insult to injury, once the treasury of the Empire had been moved to Athens, the Athenians had used some funds from it for their own building projects, the most famous of these projects being the Parthenon, the great temple to Athena on the Acropolis.

The bold decision to move the treasury of the Delian League to Athens was the brainchild of the leading Athenian statesman of the fifth century BCE, Pericles. A member of a prominent aristocratic family, Pericles was a predominant politician for forty years, from the early 460s BCE to his death in 429 BCE, and was instrumental in the development of a more popular democracy in Athens. Under his leadership, an especially vibrant feeling of Athenian patriotic pride seems to have developed, and the decision to move the Delian League treasury to Athens fits into this pattern as well. Shortly after moving the treasury to Athens, Pericles sponsored a Citizenship Decree in 451 BCE that restricted Athenian citizenship from thence onwards only to individuals who had two free- born and legitimately-wed Athenian parents, both of whom were also born of Athenian parents. Then c. 449 BCE, Pericles successfully proposed a decree allowing the Athenians to use Delian League funds for Athenian building projects, and, c. 447 BCE, he sponsored the Athenian Coinage Decree, a decree that imposed Athenian standards of weights and measures on all states that were members of the Delian League.

Later in his life, Pericles famously described Athens as “the school of Hellas” this description would certainly have fit Athens just as much in the mid-fifth century BCE as, in addition to the flourishing of art and architecture, the city was a center of philosophy and drama.

The growing wealth and power of Athens in the twenty or so years since the Persian Wars did not escape Sparta and led to increasingly tense relations between the two leading powers in Greece. Sparta had steadily consolidated the Peloponnesian League in this same time-period, but Sparta’s authority over this league was not quite as strict as was the Athenian control over the Delian League. Finally, in the period of 460-445 BCE, the Spartans and the Athenians engaged in a series of battles, to which modern scholars refer as the First Peloponnesian War. In 445 BCE, the two sides swore to a Thirty Years Peace, a treaty that allowed both sides to return to their pre-war holdings, with few exceptions. Still, Spartan unease in this period of Athenian expansion and prosperity, which resulted in the First Peloponnesian War, was merely a sign of much more serious conflict to come. As the Athenian general and historian Thucydides later wrote about the reasons for the Great Peloponnesian War, which erupted in 431 BCE: “But the real cause of the war was one that was formally kept out of sight. The growing power of Athens, and the fear that it inspired in Sparta, made the war inevitable” (Thucydides, I.23).

5.10.2 The Peloponnesian War (431 – 404 BCE)

Historians today frown on the use of the term “inevitable” to describe historical events. Still, Thucydides’ point about the inevitability of the Peloponnesian War is perhaps appropriate, as following a conflict that had been bubbling under the surface for fifty years, the war finally broke out over a seemingly minor affair. In 433 BCE, Corcyra, a colony of Corinth that no longer wanted to be under the control of its mother-city, asked Athens for protection against Corinth. The Corinthians claimed that the Athenian support of Corcyra was a violation of the Thirty Years Peace. At a subsequent meeting of the Peloponnesian League in Sparta in 432 BCE, the allies, along with Sparta, voted that the peace had been broken and so declared war against Athens.

At the time of the war’s declaration, no one thought that it would last twenty-seven years and would ultimately embroil the entire Greek-speaking world. Rather, the Spartans expected that they would march with an army to Athens, fight a decisive battle, then return home forthwith. The long duration of the war, however, was partly the result of the different strengths of the two leading powers. Athens was a naval empire, with allies scattered all over the Ionian Sea. Sparta, on the other hand, was a land-locked power with supporters chiefly in the Peloponnese and with no navy to speak of at the outset of the war.

The Peloponnesian War brought about significant changes in the government of both Athens and Sparta, so that, by the end of the war, neither power looked as it did at its outset. Athens, in particular, became more democratic because of increased need for manpower to row its fleet. The lowest census bracket, the thetes, whose poverty and inability to buy their own armor had previously excluded them from military service, became by the end of the war a full-fledged part of the Athenian forces and required a correspondingly greater degree of political influence. In the case of Sparta, the war had ended the Spartan policy of relative isolationism from the rest of the affairs of the Greek city-states. The length of the war also brought about significant changes to the nature of Greek warfare. While war was previously largely a seasonal affair, with many conflicts being decided with a single battle, the Peloponnesian War forced the Greek city-states to support standing armies. Finally, while sieges of cities and attacks on civilians were previously frowned upon, they became the norm by the end of the Peloponnesian War. In short, Thucydides’s narrative of the war shows that the war had a detrimental effect on human nature, encouraging a previously unprecedented degree of cruelty on both sides. It is important to note, though, that as brutal as sieges could be during the Peloponnesian War, Greek siege warfare during the fifth century BCE was still quite primitive, as no tools existed for ramming or otherwise damaging the city gates or walls. Furthermore, catapults, so useful for targeting a city from the outside, first came into being in 399 BCE, five years after the war had ended.

Modern historians divide the Peloponnesian War into three distinct stages, based on the tactics used in each: the Archidamian War, the Peace of Nicias, and the Decelean War. The first stage, the Archidamian War (431 – 421 BCE), is named after the Spartan king Archidamus, who proposed the strategy of annual invasions of Attica at the beginning of the war. Beginning in late spring and early summer of 431 BCE, Archidamus led the Spartan army to invade Attica in order to devastate the agricultural land around the city. The Spartans thereby hoped to provoke the Athenians to a battle. Pericles however, refused to enter into battle against the Spartans, and instead ordered all inhabitants of Attica to retreat within the city. Pericles’ decision was wise, as the Athenians would likely have lost a land battle against the Spartans. His decision, though, had unforeseen repercussions. In 430 BCE, the crowded conditions within Athens resulted in the outbreak of a virulent plague which by some estimates killed as much as twenty-five percent of the city’s population over the following three years. Among the dead was none other than Pericles himself.

The plague had significant repercussions for Athens during the first phase of the war because of not only the loss of fighting men to disease and the consequent lowered morale in the city, but also the death of Pericles, the moderate leader. The subsequent leaders who emerged, such as Cleon, were known as war-hawks. Meanwhile, the Spartans continued their annual invasions of Attica until 425 BCE, when luck was finally on the Athenians’ side.

In 425 BCE, the Athenian fleet faced a new Spartan fleet in the Battle of Pylos in the Peloponnese. The Athenians won the battle and also managed to trap 420 Spartans on the tiny island of Sphacteria, just off the coast of Pylos. Sending shockwaves through the entire Greek world, the Spartans surrendered. By bringing the hostages to Athens, the Athenians put an end to the annual invasions of Attica. Finally, in 421 BCE, with the death of the most pro-war generals on both sides, the Athenians with their allies signed a peace treaty with Spartans and their allies. Named the “Peace of Nicias” after the Athenian general who brokered this treaty, it was supposed to be a fifty years’ peace it allowed both sides to return to their pre-war holdings, with a few exceptions. As part of the peace terms, the Spartan hostages from Pylos were finally released.

Despite its ambitious casting as a fifty years’ peace, the Peace of Nicias proved to be a short and uneasy time filled with minor battles and skirmishes. One problem with the treaty was that while Athens and all of its allies signed the peace, several key allies of Sparta, including Corinth and Thebes, refused to do so. Furthermore, Athens made the disastrous decision during this stalemate to launch the Sicilian Expedition, a venture that took much of the Athenian fleet to Sicily in 415 BCE.

Syracuse, however, proved to be a difficult target, and the expedition ended in 413 BCE with a complete destruction of the Athenian navy. That same year, the Spartans renewed the fighting, launching the third and final phase of the Peloponnesian War.

In the third stage of the Peloponnesian war, also known as the Decelean War, the Spartans took the war to Attic soil by occupying Decelea, a village in Attica proper, and transforming it into a military fort. This occupation allowed the Spartans to prevent the Athenians from farming their land and cutting off Athens from most supply routes, effectively crippling the Athenian economy for the remainder of the war. Losing the Sicilian Expedition and the challenge of the Decelean War produced a high level of resentment towards the democratic leaders in Athens. Therefore in 411 BCE, an oligarchic coup briefly replaced the democracy with the rule of the Four Hundred. While this oligarchy was quickly overthrown and the democracy restored, this internal instability highlighted the presence of the aristocratic element in the city as well as the dissatisfaction of at least the aristocratic citizens with the long war.

Remarkably, in a testament to the resilience and power of the Athenian state, the Athenians managed to rebuild a navy after the Sicilian Expedition, and even managed to continue to win battles on sea during this final phase of the war. In 405 BCE, however, the Spartan general Lysander defeated Athens in the naval battle of Aegospotami. He proceeded to besiege Athens, and the city finally surrendered in 404 BCE. For the second time in a decade, the Athenian democracy was overthrown, to be replaced this time by the Spartan-sanctioned oligarchy known as the Tyranny of the Thirty. The rule of the Thirty proved to be a much more brutal oligarchy than that of the Four Hundred. A year later, an army formed largely of Athenian democrats in exile marched on the city and overthrew the Thirty. The democracy thus was restored in 403 BCE, and the painful process of recovery from the war and the oligarchic rule could begin.

5.10.3 Athenian Culture during the Peloponnesian War

Because it drained Athens of manpower and financial resources, the Peloponnesian War proved to be an utter practical disaster for Athens. Nevertheless, the war period was also the pinnacle of Athenian culture, most notably its tragedy, comedy, and philosophy. Tragedy and comedy in Athens were very much popular entertainment, intended to appeal to all citizens. Thus issues considered in these plays were often ones of paramount concern for the city at the time when the plays were written. As one character in a comedy bitterly joked in an address to the audience, more Athenians attended tragic and comic performances than came to vote at assembly meetings. Not surprisingly, war was a common topic of discussion in the plays. Furthermore, war was not portrayed positively, as the playwrights repeatedly emphasized the costs of war for both winners and losers.

Sophocles, one of the two most prominent Athenian tragedians during the Peloponnesian War era, had served his city as a general, albeit at an earlier period thus, he had direct experience with war. Many of his tragedies that were performed during the war dealt with the darker side of fighting, for both soldiers and generals, and the cities that are affected. By tradition, however, tragedies tackled contemporary issues through integrating them into mythical stories, and the two mythical wars that Sophocles portrayed in his tragedies were the Trojan War, as in Ajax and Philoctetes, and the aftermath of the war of the Seven against Thebes, in which Polynices, the son of Oedipus, led six other heroes to attack Thebes, a city led by his brother Eteocles, as in Oedipus at Colonus. Sophocles’ plays repeatedly showed the emotional and psychological challenges of war for soldiers and civilians alike they also emphasized the futility of war, as the heroes of his plays, just as in the original myths on which they were based, died tragic, untimely deaths. Sophocles’ younger contemporary, Euripides, had a similar interest in depicting the horrors of war and wrote a number of tragedies on the impact of war on the defeated, such as in Phoenician Women and Hecuba both of these plays explored the aftermath of the Trojan War from the perspective of the defeated Trojans.

While the tragic playwrights explored the impact of the war on both the fighters and the civilians through narrating mythical events, the comic playwright Aristophanes was far less subtle. The anti-war civilian who saves the day and ends the war was a common hero in the Aristophanic comedies. For instance, in the Acharnians (425 BCE), the main character is a war-weary farmer who, frustrated with the inefficiency of the Athenian leadership in ending the war, brokers his own personal peace with Sparta. Similarly, in Peace (421 BCE), another anti-war farmer fattens up a dung beetle in order to fly to Olympus and beg Zeus to free Peace. Finally, in Lysistrata (411 BCE), the wives of all Greek city-states, missing their husbands who are at war, band together in a plot to end the war by going on a sex-strike until their husbands make peace. By the end of the play, their wish comes true. Undeniably funny, the jokes in these comedies, nevertheless, have a bitter edge, akin to the portrayal of war in the tragedies. The overall impression from the war-era drama is that the playwrights, as well as perhaps the Athenians themselves, spent much of the Peloponnesian War dreaming of peace.

While the playwrights were dreaming of the things of this world–most notably war–their contemporary, Socrates, was dreaming of difficult questions. One of the most prominent philosophers of the ancient world, Socrates has not left any writings of his own, but thoughts attributed to him survive in dialogues penned by his student, the fourth-century philosopher Plato. In Plato’s writings, Socrates comes across as someone who loved difficult questions and who was not above confronting any passers-by with such questions as “What is courage?” “What is moral?” “What would the ideal city look like?” Using what became known ever since as the “Socratic method,” Socrates continued to probe further every definition and answer that his conversation partners provided, guiding them to delve deeper in their reflections on the topics at hand than they had before. As a result of his love of such debates, Socrates was seen as connected to the Sophists, philosophical debate teachers, who (as Aristophanes joked) could teach anyone to convince others of anything at all, regardless of reality or truth. But Socrates radically differed from the Sophists by not charging fees for his teaching. Instead, as he himself is purported to have said, he was a pest-like gadfly that kept disturbing Athens from growing too content and encouraged all with whom he spoke to keep thinking and questioning.

5.10.4 The Fourth Century BCE

In 399 BCE, a seventy-year old Athenian was put on trial for impiety and for corrupting the youth, convicted, and speedily sentenced to death. The trial is especially shocking, since the man in question was none other than Socrates, the philosopher who had spent his life wandering the streets of Athens engaging in endless dialogues regarding the meaning of life. Why did the Athenians suddenly turn against this public teacher and judge him worthy of execution? The answer, most likely, is not the openly-stated causes of the trial, but rather the connections that Socrates previously had to oligarchic leaders. In particular, Socrates had taught Critias, who became one of the Thirty in 404 BCE. Fueled by their hatred of all enemies of the democracy and anyone who had associated with the Thirty, the Athenians condemned Socrates to death. This trial shows how deeply the scars went in the collective psyche and how difficult it was for the Athenians to forget the terrible end of the Peloponnesian War. And while, as usual, more information survives about how the Athenians— more than any other polis—dealt with the aftermath of the war, it is clear that for the rest of the Greek world, their life in the fourth century BCE was very much the result of the Peloponnesian War.

The early fourth century saw a power vacuum emerge in the Greek world for the first time since the early Archaic Period. Defeated in the war, Athens was no longer an Empire, while the winner, Sparta, had suffered a catastrophic decline in its population over the course of the Peloponnesian War. At the same time, Thebes had revamped its military, introducing the first two significant changes to the hoplite phalanx way of fighting since its inception: slightly longer spears, and wedge formation. The final key to the Theban military supremacy was the Theban Sacred Band, formed in 378 BCE. An elite core of 300 warriors, the band consisted of 150 couples, based on the assumption that the lovers would fight most bravely in order not to appear to be cowardly to their beloved. In 371 BCE, the Thebans demonstrated the success of their military reforms by defeating the Spartans at the Battle of Leuctra. They continued an aggressive program of military expansion over the next decade, a period known as the Theban Hegemony.

Sometime in the 360’s BCE, a young Macedonian prince stayed for several years in Thebes as a hostage. While there, he caught the eye of the military reformer, Epaminondas, who took the prince under his wing. Circa 364 BCE, the prince returned to Macedon, and, in 359 BCE, he ascended to the throne as king Philip II. Up until that point in Greek history, the Macedonians had largely been known for two things: drinking their wine undiluted, which had marked them as complete and utter barbarians in the eyes of the rest of the Greeks, and being excellent horsemen. With Philip at the helm, this estimation was about to change. As soon as he came to the throne, Philip began transforming the Macedonian military into a more successful image of what he had seen at Thebes. Philip further lengthened the already longer spears used by the Thebans, creating the Macedonian sarissa, a spear of about eighteen feet in length, double that of the traditional Greek hoplite spear.

He retained the Theban wedge formation but also added heavy cavalry to the line, thus incorporating the Macedonians’ strongest element into the phalanx. The results spoke for themselves, as over the next twenty years, Philip systematically conquered all of mainland Greece, with the exception of Sparta, which he chose to leave alone. Philip’s final great victory, which he shared with his teenage son Alexander, was at the Battle of Chaeronea (338 BCE), in which the Macedonian armies defeated the combined forces of Athens and Thebes. Philip’s conquest of the entire mainland was the end of an era, as for the first time, the entire territory was united under the rule of a king.

By all accounts, it appears that Philip was not going to stop at just conquering the Greek world. He did not, however, have this choice. In 336 BCE while on his way to a theatrical performance, Philip was assassinated by one of his own bodyguards. His son Alexander, then twenty years old, succeeded and continued his father’s ambitious program of conquests. Alexander’s first target was the Persian Empire, motivated in part by his love of Homer’s Iliad, and the perception among the Greeks that this new campaign was the continuation of the original, mythical war against Asia. Moving farther and farther East in his campaigns, Alexander conquered the Balkans, Egypt, and the territories of modern-day Lebanon, Syria, and Israel before he achieved a decisive victory over Darius III at the Battle of Gaugamela in 331 BCE.

Continuing to move eastwards, Alexander invaded India in 327 BCE, planning to conquer the known world and assuming that he was close to this achievement, since the Greeks of his day were not aware of China’s existence. His war-weary troops, however, rebelled in 326 BCE and demanded to return home (see Chapter 3). It appears that this mutiny was not the first that occurred in Alexander’s army indeed, over the course of his rule, Alexander had also been the target of a number of failed assassinations. However, this mutiny forced Alexander to give in. Leaving several of his officers behind as satraps, Alexander turned back. In 323 BCE, he and his army reached Babylon, the city that he had hoped to make the new capital of his world empire. There, Alexander fell ill and died at the ripe old age of thirty-three.

While Alexander’s rule only lasted thirteen years, his legacy reshaped Greece and the rest of ancient Eurasia for the next several centuries. A charismatic leader, albeit one prone to emotional outbursts, Alexander redefined what it meant to be king and general. His coinage reflects this reinvention. On one coin minted during his lifetime, for instance, appears Alexander dressed as the hero Heracles, while Zeus, whom Alexander alleged to be his real father, appears on the other side.

In addition, by conquering territories that were previously not part of the Greek world, Alexander spread Greek culture farther than had anyone else before him. At the same time, by marrying several non-Greek princesses and encouraging such marriages by his troops, Alexander also encouraged the creation of a “melting-pot” empire he further cemented this creation by founding new cities named after himself all over his new empire. In particular, Alexandria, the city that he founded in Egypt, became a center of Greek civilization—albeit with an Egyptian twist—was seen as a new Athens well into the Roman Empire. Alexander’s brief time in India produced a significant impact as well, as in 321 BCE, Chandragupta Maurya was able to unify India into a single kingdom for the first time, establishing the Mauryan Empire (see Chapter Three). Finally, in the Middle East, North Africa, and the Greek world, Alexander’s generals divided his conquests into several kingdoms that they and their descendants continued to rule until the Romans conquered these respective areas. It appears that Alexander’s melting-pot empire, burning up as a phoenix upon his death, actually allowed several new empires and kingdoms to arise from its ashes.


Community Reviews

The good first - this book was a solid example of scholarship that is accessible to the layperson, and Mayor does a good job of surveying the sources and information about Amazons and warrior women from Greece to China. Her writing is readable and while the archaeological catalogue of grave items can be exhausting, it is clear that Mayor knows a great deal about her subject.

That said - I cannot feel good about recommending this book casually, given the way Mayor lays fast and loose with aspects The good first - this book was a solid example of scholarship that is accessible to the layperson, and Mayor does a good job of surveying the sources and information about Amazons and warrior women from Greece to China. Her writing is readable and while the archaeological catalogue of grave items can be exhausting, it is clear that Mayor knows a great deal about her subject.

That said - I cannot feel good about recommending this book casually, given the way Mayor lays fast and loose with aspects of her scholarship. She seems too quick to me, for one, to dismiss the idea that Amazons or warrior women in general might be used in myth or folklore to do some kind of cultural work, for instance having to do with gender roles or the Other, in the service of her point that the "Amazons" were a historical reality. The archaeological evidence is indeed compelling that there were at one time women who fought in ancient warfare, but too often Mayor leaps from these discoveries (comprising a quarter of burials found) to equating myth with history. Mayor in general seldom distinguishes between myth or folklore and historical record, and does little examining of her sources or their factual reliability. Every ancient writing appears to have some basis in factual events. Mayor also seems to lump a large number of cultures together in this book, with little examination of how their differences might be relevant to the role of warrior women in their myth/history. (This is evident in the frankly lazy way Mayor conflates the terms "Amazon" and "Scythian" with modern ethnic groups.)

In short: Mayor's critical scholarship seems to have suffered in favor of overemphasizing her thesis that there were real women who were the equals of men. While a large and growing body of archaeological evidence supports her, Mayor stretches too far. In one particularly memorable instance, she lovingly imagines a romantic interlude between an Amazon and her lover, complete with tasteful fade to black.

Maybe I am too accustomed to academic classical scholarship, which constantly hedges its bets and comments on the unreliability of ancient writers. However, I do not feel that caution, and careful examination of source material, must be sacrificed for the sake of drama. Mayor's survey of records of warrior women is undoubtedly valuable. Where she falters is the conclusions she draws from these records. . more

This book was. quite frankly, it was amazing. I&aposve been trying recently to read more non-fiction that&aposs written by women and about women, because sometimes that can be difficult to find, particularly when you read predominantly history books. So this one, even though it cost me $40, seemed like it would fit the bill perfectly.

This book is completely fascinating and full of badass ladies. The first half is all about the nomadic peoples who lived on the steppes of Central Asia (and p This book was. quite frankly, it was amazing. I've been trying recently to read more non-fiction that's written by women and about women, because sometimes that can be difficult to find, particularly when you read predominantly history books. So this one, even though it cost me $40, seemed like it would fit the bill perfectly.

This book is completely fascinating and full of badass ladies. The first half is all about the nomadic peoples who lived on the steppes of Central Asia (and parts of Europe - these people lived basically from Ukraine through Azerbaijan and all the way across to Kazakhstan) and who the Greeks called Amazons.

It deals with the realities of their society and culture as well as Greek myths about them - no boobs were chopped off in order to shoot better, because their bows simply didn't work that way. It deals with archaeologists being predisposed to assume that graves containing weaponry belonged to men, and how DNA testing has proved that a significant number of graves containing swords and bows and daggers actually belonged to women. (And, similarly, how many graves containing combs and jewellery actually belonged to men!) Mayor argues that at a minimum, 20-25% of the warriors in Central Asian society were women.

It deals with representations of Amazons on Greek pottery and jewellery, as well as discussing Amazons in Greek myths and legends. And then finally, it talks briefly about warrior women in other ancient cultures around the world - Egypt, India, Persia, China. There's a brief mention of Boadicea, but the primary focus is on the Greek world through to Asia.

On the whole, it was very long and quite dense, but thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish. 10/10, would recommend. . more

5/5 — First I just want to thank Mayor for researching and writing this book. As women, it seems we have to fight to find our herstory. It is empowering to finally have evidence that in antiquity there were warrior women who were ‘the equals of men’. What a wonderful journey of discovery I’ve been on. These warrior women were respected, followed, feared, and desired. In the harsh conditions on the steppes, the boys and girls were raised the same, dressed the same, and fought the same.

“The archa 5/5 — First I just want to thank Mayor for researching and writing this book. As women, it seems we have to fight to find our herstory. It is empowering to finally have evidence that in antiquity there were warrior women who were ‘the equals of men’. What a wonderful journey of discovery I’ve been on. These warrior women were respected, followed, feared, and desired. In the harsh conditions on the steppes, the boys and girls were raised the same, dressed the same, and fought the same.

“The archaeological record proves beyond a doubt that hunter-warrior horsewomen were a historical reality across a great expanse of geography and chronology, from the western Black Sea to northern China, for more than a thousand years.” The horse was the equalizer as well as the Amazons weapons which “maximize the wielder’s strengths and compensate for weakness or smaller size.”

The word “Amazones” first shows up in The Iliad. I won’t go into the linguistics of the word Amazon but suffice it to say that it is covered in some detail. Mayor takes us through the evidence, the art, and the stories. Sharing that “Archaeological discoveries of armed women buried where the ancient Greeks located Amazons provide solid evidence that horsewomen warriors of steppe cultures really existed as contemporaries of the Greeks. These flesh-and-blood women were the Amazons described by Greek and Roman historians from Herodotus to Orosius.” . more

I have no hesitation whatsoever about recommending this book both to fellow history-lovers and my non-historian friends alike. Mayor covers just about every aspect that you’d ever want to know about the Amazons, from the most fantastical tales in myth to the practical artefacts of their real-life counterparts.

The evidence she presents is strong enough to convince me beyond reasonable doubt that there were real women behind the shroud of myth – though that does not mean that everything you’ve hea I have no hesitation whatsoever about recommending this book both to fellow history-lovers and my non-historian friends alike. Mayor covers just about every aspect that you’d ever want to know about the Amazons, from the most fantastical tales in myth to the practical artefacts of their real-life counterparts.

The evidence she presents is strong enough to convince me beyond reasonable doubt that there were real women behind the shroud of myth – though that does not mean that everything you’ve heard about Amazons in modern popular legend should be taken as true. They most likely originated from distorted retellings of nomadic Scythian tribes, where children learn to ride before they are five and men and women alike are needed to protect shifting tribal fortunes in battle. But lifelong chastity, women-only groups who seared their breasts and killed or maimed male infants belongs firmly in the realm of fairytales. I greatly appreciated the fact that, as well as presenting the copious archaeological evidence for female Scythian warriors who fought and died in battle, Mayor took the time to address and bust these pervasive and ridiculous myths.

Her foray into possible Amazon figures farther afield, in China, India, and Egypt, for example, is tangential and barely relevant, but admittedly interesting all the same. The one thing I really didn’t agree with her about was Alexander and Thalestris Mayor fails to question the credibility of the key writers, and I was disappointed with how in love with that particular story Mayor seemed to be, at one point descending into a purely fictional tryst scene which, for me, suggested a personal bias.

Nevertheless, fly in the ointment aside, Mayor’s book is smooth and engaging, which should appeal to the layman reader just as much as it did to this historian.

4.5 stars, but possibly 5 depending on what you use it for.

The Amazons was not what I expected. I expected a smattering of well-known folklore superficially retold in an anthology instead, Mayor put together a vividly detailed historical and cultural analysis on the origin and changing interpretation of tales of Amazons. The work is divided into four parts. In part one, Mayor lays out her thesis she asserts that tales of the Amazons were not merely cautionary tales the Greeks told themselves a 4.5 stars, but possibly 5 depending on what you use it for.

The Amazons was not what I expected. I expected a smattering of well-known folklore superficially retold in an anthology instead, Mayor put together a vividly detailed historical and cultural analysis on the origin and changing interpretation of tales of Amazons. The work is divided into four parts. In part one, Mayor lays out her thesis she asserts that tales of the Amazons were not merely cautionary tales the Greeks told themselves about the dangers of sexual equality (though they certainly were at that), but a distorted interpretation of existent cultures foreign to the Greeks—namely Scythian as well as other steppe cultures from Central Asia—that showed a marked degree of sexual equality. Essentially, Mayor argues that because of the practical necessities of life on the plains, there was greater participation among women in roles that the Greeks deemed the exclusive province of males, which included warfare and hunting. Mayor succinctly lays out her evidence for such a claim in this first section and it's based on a satisfying variety of factors that include interpretation of the Amazonian mythological geography, depictions of traditional Amazon costume on Greek pottery and its similarity to the traditional garb of steppe cultures, an examination of the osteological evidence (in particular, more recent evidence that as many as 40% of the tombs and barrows unearthed of "male" warriors in the Black Sea region were actually women), as well as linguistic and philological evidence of loan words the Greeks borrowed from Persian or other Central Asian sources. I think she proves her case more than satisfactorily.

Part two contains an analysis of themes from famous Amazon stories to assemble a sort of cultural analysis of the Amazonian culture - and a parallel analysis of Central Asian horse culture to further strengthen the arguments presented in part one. Here's where the analysis can become somewhat redundant. It almost feels as if Mayor is worried that her conclusions are going to be dismissed out of hand—and perhaps that's a legitimate fear, when challenging the accepted wisdom of Greek historical orthodoxy after centuries with a thesis that states that the Amazons were, in fact, quite real. Here Mayor takes great care to point out that the myths themselves aren't to be taken at face value and presents a sort of hybrid interpretation of the traditional stories in the Greek tradition while recounting historical studies of Central Asian cultures. For example, rather than asserting that a real society of dominant women with no males was the source of the tales, Mayor suggests that the high degree of equality, the confrontation of women warriors in armor and on horseback, the relatively liberal attitudes towards sex led the sexually conservative Greeks to use these cultures as a touchstone for imagining their wildest fears: women holding men in submission, women running society (shudder). Mayor explores fashion, drug use, tattooing, sex, politics, music, and, of course, warfare to show how stunned Greeks could draw such conclusions and place them in their mythology. Again, the analysis is thorough, but very repetitive in places (a problem I'll address later).

Part three is the catalogue of famous Amazon stories that I anticipated would be the bulk of the book. To my surprise in addition to a simple recounting of tales of women such as Hippolyte and Penthesilea, Mayor once again outdoes herself by recounting alternate versions of the tale and the evolution of the tales through time before providing a synthesized version that attempts to look for real historical roots. It's cleverly and exhaustively done and extraordinarily well sourced.

Part four is the icing on the cake as Mayor recounts Amazon-like tales from cultures other than the Greek, including tales from both China and Iran, that might once again pin down the truth and lift the mythological veil. The section is an added bonus I didn't expect.

There aren't many shortcomings here. The Amazons is a readable but academically rigorous study of the mythology and history that highlights the syncretism of Greek and Central Asian culture where they mingled along the edges of the Black Sea. Mayor herself admits in the introduction that she anticipates her work to be perused in pieces, with the reader choosing what interests them, like an anthology. I strongly suspect that's the major reason for her choice to repeat and weave the same essential facts throughout the narrative. She self-references copiously pointing to other chapters in-text to direct readers to other potential areas of interest and if I was reading this over a longer period of time or in pieces, I don't think I'd have found the repetition as tedious as I did trying to blast through it in a couple of sessions. That being said, I couldn't help but be impressed with the depth and breadth of Mayor's knowledge. Everything from osteological archeology to philology is covered in laborious, but fascinating detail. She's an expert and she's good at telling a tale and letting her enthusiasm for her subject shine through. I definitely plan to add this to my collection in the future. . more


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