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‘With Loosened Hair’
The Aeneid of Virgil, Book 1, Part 14
[the hero observes his city’s demise]
The figure of his hero his slain friend
His sire supplicant to his killer
Himself smiting the Greek
In the bloody battle reek
Dark Memnon arms in hand
His pompous crest and his Indian band
.
Penthesilea with haughty grace
Leads to the wars an Amazonian race
Casting darts with their right hand
Warding crescent shield in left hand
Her golden belted breast
Provokes in the battle press
Chaste bitch of war
Against men a harrowing whore
End 14
Notes
The figure of Penthesilea, Queen of the Amazons, ally of Troy, butchered by Achilles, may well have a historic basis. A sister of hers was said to be robbed and slain by Herakles, another abducted and raped by Theseus, and another amazon, Atlanta lost a wrestling match to Achilles’ father, Peleus. These various myths certainly reflect the near constant warfare between Scythian nomads, who apparently permitted women some martial duties, and the more southerly Hellenes.
There is essentially no chance that entire units of females of a nomadic group—who had low population densities, would ever take the field. However, that same low population density and the necessity that nomad women had a high level of ability in horse handling, and would be lighter in the saddle and serve as horse wranglers and chariot operators for more heavy and heavily armed men, is very probably for the period from the Bronze Age Collapse [1200 B.C.] to the time of the ultimate composition of the Iliad [circa 750 B.C.] as that was the period when horses were becoming large enough for men to ride, which would have placed a temporary value on female horse wranglers and missile troops. Note that the armament of the Amazons is exactly that used by the Thracians and other peltasts and would be the most practical kit for women who did fight, as it was how male youths not yet strong enough for line service were typically armed in Republican Roman service. Also, the dart, unlike the javelin and bow, required less strength. Such troops operating in Homeric combat, would serve to screen advances and retreats, provide remounts, operate chariots and recover casualties.
If the poetics entertain the notion of women under arms at some point in antiquity, they also chart their demise, at most marking a transitory flirtation with female military service.  
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