What do you call an amazon?


Other than just what she tells you to, that is. Now we have some evidence of the names of the women warriors of the Scythians — Greek pottery illustrating Amazons seems to have had some phonetically translated Scythian words attached to the images.

To do so, they translated the inscriptions into their phonetic sounds, and then submitted the phonetic transcriptions to linguist John Colarusso of Canada’s McMaster University in Hamilton, who is an expert on rare languages of the Caucasus.  Colarusso, who was not provided with any information regarding the source of the transcriptions, matched the phonetics to Scythian words and names, which mean ‘Princess’, ‘Don’t Fail’, and ‘Hot Flanks’. There was also an archer named ‘Battle-Cry’ and a horsewoman named ‘Worthy of Armour’. On one vase, a scene of two Amazons hunting with a dog appears with a Greek transliteration for the Abkhazian word meaning "set the dog loose."

OK, most of those I get as appropriately battle-worthy…except for “Hot Flanks”. I suppose it could be stretched to fit a situation on the field, but it still sounds like a double-entendre.

I would have liked to have seen the original sounds of those names written out, though.


  1. says

    Hot Flanks could relate to being known as a great horseback rider.

    I have been obsessed with Scythian art for years now. A depiction of a Scythian coiled panther is my avatar all over the internet.

  2. sawells says

    Dammit, I don’t have the right credentials to get the download. Could you transcribe the other names maybe?

    The Nat Geo article linked from the ancient-origins piece mentions a few more interesting details:

    ‘To find out, Mayor first asked Colarusso, an expert on rare languages such as Circassian, Abkhazian, Ossetian, and Ubykh, to translate nonsense inscriptions on a vase that didn’t have images of Amazons. “I had goosebumps when I realized we were really deciphering sounds perhaps 3,000 years old,” Colarusso says now. The goosebumps came, in fact, from the New York Goose Play Vase, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The vase, dating to 400 B.C., depicts a scene involving a policeman and a dead goose in a basket. On the vase, some characters speak decipherable Greek phrases, but the policeman says something that sounds like “noraretteblo,” meaningless in Greek. Colarusso, blind to the scene on the vase, translated the phrase into “This sneak thief steals from the man over there” in ancient Circassian. Remarkably, Athens is thought to have employed Scythian constables in the era of the lost play depicted on the vase, suggesting the Greeks depicted foreigners they were familiar with.’


  3. jockomofeenaneh says

    Dang it, Chris beat me to it, but for anyone who can’t access the paper in Hesperia, there’s an earlier working draft of what I believe is the same paper at http://www.princeton.edu/~pswpc/pdfs/mayor/071202.pdf

    At least in the draft paper, “Hot Flanks” (Kepes) is interpreted as meaning “Enthusiastic Sex”, not a reference to literal horse-riding. There’s also Gekhgoukh (“Noble Warrior”), Khekhgiokhekhoge (“The One Chosen From Among the Brave”), and Pkpupes (“Worthy of Armor”). The paper adds that, since Athens imported many slaves from “Scythia” (including Athens’s police force of 300 Scythian archers), their speech was familiar enough that Scythians were mocked in Greek comedies for their harsh accents. A name like Khekhgiokhekhoge would have sounded like gargling razor blades to the average Athenian-on-the-street. Nonetheless, there were enough speakers of Caucasian languages in Greece that it’s not surprising that names and some words made it onto vase paintings.

  4. says

    My former mother-in-law, who was a marine, used to say, “because I’m a lady-marine you can call me by my first name, which is ‘sargeant'”

  5. Holms says

    “Worthy of Armour” Seems to imply that unless it is specifically indicated, Amazonians are not worthy of armour by default. At last, the origin of the chainmail bikini is revealed.

  6. says

    Small world time: John Colarusso (among others) taught me linguistics. We used to kid one another about him offering us endless morphology (the one big course I took from him) examples in Bzub Abkhaz, his particular favourite Caucasian language, and a bit of a nightmare of vowel-less tonguebreakers. And inevitably, despite my polyglottous nature, I don’t remember a bloody word of it.

    But he’s a good scholar, for all his faults as a lecturer, and I’m glad to see him getting a bit of recognition for that.

    Hot Flanks is an awesome name for an Amazon.

  7. says

    A few of the names are in this book: http://www.amazon.com/Amazons-Legends-Warrior-across-Ancient-ebook/dp/B00M4MXAU4/ref=la_B001HCZZ0A_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1429561074&sr=1-1

    I got the audiobook, so I heard some pronunciations, but I don’t trust them… the reader’s Greek pronunciation was inconsistent, so it’s tough to trust the Abkhazian.

    If you don’e have that kind of time there’s also a really good interview with the author from Science for the People: http://www.scienceforthepeople.ca/episodes/amazons

  8. NitricAcid says

    @#14. Hilarious. But just think- this warrior’s name is remembered 2500 years later. How many of us will that statement apply to?

  9. AlexanderZ says

    I wonder if Kepes was an ancient Valley girl with attitude, like Elvira: Mistress of the Dark. Gogiwiki was like “we ride into battle!”, and Keun was like ” it is a good day to die!” and Kepes was like “whateva`…”

    It’s probably sleep deprivation, but I like Tepes the most out of the lot.
    Gogiwiki: This was a good raid. We’ve gathered much loot and many puny Greek slaves. I’ll take mine to the pits to be sacrificed to my gods.
    Keun: I’ll take mine to the salt mines where they’ll toil till they die.
    Kepes: I’ll take mine on a date!
    Keun: Seriously?
    Gogiwiki: All of them?
    Kepes: You’re right… They’ll probably need to rest first.

    And thus many myths were born.

  10. carpenterman says

    Some of those remind me of the handles used by roller derby players, the ancient Scythian equivalent of The Terminatrix and Reck ‘n Roll.

  11. madscientist says

    Some of those would appear rather sexist if we put ’em on t-shirts. What I’d like to know is if the Scythians invented themed mugs/vases or if such things are even older.

  12. =8)-DX says

    OK, most of those I get as appropriately battle-worthy…except for “Hot Flanks”. I suppose it could be stretched to fit a situation on the field, but it still sounds like a double-entendre.

    Well maybe back then raping and pillaging wasn’t just a “guy thing”, shouldn’t a warrioress also be known by her prowess on the field of battle? (sounds more like a horseriding thing to me as Jafafa @1 says: beating the horse’s flanks during a charge, i.e. Hot-Flanks = eager to charge/among the formost riders)

  13. busterggi says

    I’ve got to call my daughter who is expecting, a granddaughter named Hot Flanks would rock!