Author Topic: A Double-headed Axe from Horseback?  (Read 1887 times)

Andreas Johansson

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Re: A Double-headed Axe from Horseback?
« Reply #30 on: January 10, 2019, 12:28:02 PM »
Individual female warriors seem well attested out on the Steppes and down to the Black Sea, an organised Amazon state less so.

Is the warriorhood of these women based purely on grave goods, or is there other evidence, say of battle wounds or skeletal deformations attributable to habitual archery?
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Erpingham

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Re: A Double-headed Axe from Horseback?
« Reply #31 on: January 10, 2019, 12:44:03 PM »
The fact that the earliest Greek representations of Amazons show them in Greek garb, and that it is only later - only in the 5th century? - that they start showing up in Persian-Scythian clothing argues to my mind against their "Scythian" portrayal having any historical value. It seems to be a late grafting on to an older tradition.

Useful to know.  So, the assumption is Amazons started being shown in "Persian" style only after the Persian Empire became the main enemy and depictions of Persians themselves became common?  Unfortunately, it doesn't help with the axe because this is shown later with both Persian and Greek dressed Amazons.  Unless we have illustrations with Amazons pre-Persian style which have double-axes?
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Re: A Double-headed Axe from Horseback?
« Reply #32 on: January 10, 2019, 01:29:39 PM »
The fact that the earliest Greek representations of Amazons show them in Greek garb, and that it is only later - only in the 5th century? - that they start showing up in Persian-Scythian clothing ...

Actually a bit of checking suggests that Scythian clothing, at least, starts to be shown in the 6th century. Still not the earliest Amazons, though.
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Erpingham

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Re: A Double-headed Axe from Horseback?
« Reply #33 on: January 10, 2019, 01:57:56 PM »
Individual female warriors seem well attested out on the Steppes and down to the Black Sea, an organised Amazon state less so.

Is the warriorhood of these women based purely on grave goods, or is there other evidence, say of battle wounds or skeletal deformations attributable to habitual archery?

There are quite a few references to this in fairly reputable popular sources but the only academic piece I could easily find is this.  This comes down against female warrior burials in this cemetery except for one woman.  Others may have better information. This seems to be a recent example, again with arrowheads rather than other weapons.  Certainly, though, references to women's burials with weapons seem common enough not to dismiss the idea out of hand.   
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Re: A Double-headed Axe from Horseback?
« Reply #34 on: January 10, 2019, 02:29:17 PM »
This article mentions evidence of battle wounds:

Quote
Several head wounds were discerned on the skull of this woman, resulting from cutting blows, and one bronze arrowhead was found inside the knee joint (Rolle 1989: 29).

In the principal grave of kurgan 13, near the city Ordzhonikidze (Ukraine), the bones of a woman with a bronze arrowhead at the left knee were discovered. It was evidently a battle wound.
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Re: A Double-headed Axe from Horseback?
« Reply #35 on: January 10, 2019, 03:56:49 PM »

Is the warriorhood of these women based purely on grave goods, or is there other evidence, say of battle wounds or skeletal deformations attributable to habitual archery?

From Women in Antiquity: Real Women across the Ancient World
edited by Stephanie Lynn Budin, Jean Macintosh 2016

A fourth-century BC kurgan (Kurgan 16, Akkermen 1) on the Dniester River
(Ukraine) was excavated near ancient Tyras, a Greek colony (c.600 BC) in the
territory of the Tyragetae ("Getae or Thracians of the Tyras," Strabo 7; Ptolemy
3.525; Pliny 12.26). The grave belonged to a female warrior who died in combat
—a battle-axe had punctured her skull and a bronze arrowhead was still
embedded in her leg. A pair of iron lances were planted in the ground at the
grave's entrance (typical of Scythian warrior tombs) and two spear heads lay
near her, by a massive armored belt with iron plaques, a quiver, 20 bronze
arrows with painted wooden shafts, glass beads, pearls, silver and bronze
bracelets, bronze mirror, lead spindle-whorl, needle, iron knife, and a wooden
tray of food for the afterlife.
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Patrick Waterson

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Re: A Double-headed Axe from Horseback?
« Reply #36 on: January 10, 2019, 08:14:16 PM »
If you want to increase armour piecing ability and reduce 'wobble' you'd go for a 'spike' not a bigger blade. Having a big blade on the 'back' as an alternative for dealing with unarmoured enemies and adding weight against the armoured makes sense.
Having two big blades doesn't

Although the sagaris does become the Scythians' weapon of choice, this happens during the iron age. The Amazons are contemporary with Theseus and the Trojan War, so their axes would have been bronze.  A bronze weapon does not hold its edge quite as well as an iron one, and the kind of armour worn by Black Sea littoral cultures would not need a spike to pierce it, so having a second blade for when the first one dulled in battle seems like a good idea.

Interestingly enough, Aristarchus of Samothrace refers to Amazons using the sagaris.

Even if we assume Amazons existed (or even an Amazon state existed), our evidence is presented by classical artists.

Indeed.  The obvious question is whether they had any material to work with, or were just making assumptions and presenting Amazons in 'modern dress'.  This in turn leads to the question of just how much Scythian or related costume had changed over the intervening centuries: Scythians were great traditionalists, and what they wore in the 6th-5th centuries BC was probably not too different from what their forefathers (and Amazon offshoots) had worn a few huindred years earlier.  So whether their portrayals were a few centruries too young may not be a question of great significance.  Concerning weaponry, the Amazon double-headed axe is sufficiently persistent and sufficiently unique to suggest it was a characteristic weapon of the culture.

Quote
I would suggest they are using their artistic tropes for depicting people from the area the Amazons are supposed to have come from to do this.

They may well be.  Do we have any evidence that these 'tropes' are actually misleading, or any reason to suppose the same?

Quote
I'm willing to accept a double-headed axe unknown as yet to archaeology existed in this area, alongside the more commonly illustrated type.  This does not require anyone, ancient or modern, to have to think what is the most effective weapon for a woman to use in hand-to-hand combat.

Nobody requires us to think anything.  I am just pointing out that it would be a good fit for women warriors.

Quote
In another thread you may wish to deploy your evidence for the existence of an Amazon state (though the appearance of Egyptian chronology in the legendary past of Athens doesn't bode well).  Individual female warriors seem well attested out on the Steppes and down to the Black Sea, an organised Amazon state less so.

It does not need another thread to cover the exiguous yet significant evidence for an 'Amazon state' (tribe, really).  In addition to their 'legendary' invasion of Greece under Hippolyta in the time of Theseus and their participation in the Trojan war under Penthesilea, we have Herodotus IV.110-116 on the origin of the Sarmatians, which mentions the Scythian tradition about the Amazons, whom they called 'oior-pata', 'manslayers'.

A few Amazonian cultural aspects are described in Herodotus' passage.

"The Scythians could not understand the business; for they did not recognize the women's speech or their dress or their nation, but wondered where they had come from, and imagined them to be men all of the same age; and they met the Amazons in battle. The result of the fight was that the Scythians got possession of the dead, and so came to learn that their foes were women." - IV.111

It would seem that contra the Greek artists Amazons dressed differently to Scythians, unless what is meant is that dress was broadly similar but certain details were different and puzzling.  The fact that Amazons were not recognisable as women until the bodies were examined suggests clothing covering much of the person, in the Scythian and Median-Persian tradition.

"... the Amazons had nothing but their arms and their horses, and lived ... by hunting and plunder." - IV.112

This means they are unlikely to have left us any settlements.  Burial customs are not mentioned.

"Now the men [Scythians] could not learn the women's language, but the women [Amazons] mastered the speech of the men" - IV.114

They came from a different linguistic group to the Scythians.

"We shoot the bow and throw the javelin and ride ..." - idem

No mention of the axes which would seem de rigeur if Herodotus was just following a trope.

The Amazons in IV.110 et seq are three shiploads captured at Thermodon who were taken on board ship, overpowered the crews and landed in Scythian country.  The cultural details are interesting, but the evident nomadic habits bode ill for any hope of discovering an Amazon 'settlement'.  It may be more accurate to term the Amazons a tribe rather than a state, given that they had a queen but no cities; it may be more challenging to locate them, given that the Scythians prior to the incident mentioned by Herodotus had no knowledge of them and spoke a different language.  That the culture existed is well attested by Greek authors (and Dares the Phrygian); where is existed has yet to be pinned down, but interaction with Greece and Troy together with absence of interaction with Scythians (prior to Herodotus IV.110 et seq) limit the possibilities.
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Patrick Waterson

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Re: A Double-headed Axe from Horseback?
« Reply #37 on: January 10, 2019, 08:17:12 PM »
One might note in passing that Herodotus IV.116.2 may reflect upon warrior women such as the one found near Tyras.  Having related the tale of the origin of the Sarmatians from the shipwrecked Amazons, he adds:

"Ever since then the women of the Sauromatae have followed their ancient ways; they ride out hunting, with their men or without them; they go to war, and dress the same as the men."
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Dangun

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Re: A Double-headed Axe from Horseback?
« Reply #38 on: January 11, 2019, 04:13:12 AM »
I would suggest they are using their artistic tropes for depicting people from the area the Amazons are supposed to have come from to do this.  I'm willing to accept a double-headed axe unknown as yet to archaeology existed in this area, alongside the more commonly illustrated type.  This does not require anyone, ancient or modern, to have to think what is the most effective weapon for a woman to use in hand-to-hand combat.

I would agree that the idea of a double-headed axe is more likely to have come from a historical source - an actual 2-headed axe.

But I don't think we need to limit the source to only the geography that the Amazons were meant to have come from.
For example, it could have been any exotic or barbaric weapon from an exotic or barbaric place.
Or it could have come from a geography that we actually do know have archaeological finds of double-headed axes, like Crete.

Jim Webster

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Re: A Double-headed Axe from Horseback?
« Reply #39 on: January 11, 2019, 07:12:06 AM »
If you want to increase armour piecing ability and reduce 'wobble' you'd go for a 'spike' not a bigger blade. Having a big blade on the 'back' as an alternative for dealing with unarmoured enemies and adding weight against the armoured makes sense.
Having two big blades doesn't

Although the sagaris does become the Scythians' weapon of choice, this happens during the iron age. The Amazons are contemporary with Theseus and the Trojan War, so their axes would have been bronze.  A bronze weapon does not hold its edge quite as well as an iron one, and the kind of armour worn by Black Sea littoral cultures would not need a spike to pierce it, so having a second blade for when the first one dulled in battle seems like a good idea.

but is there any evidence for anybody other than Greek artists ever depicting one (other than Hittite gods) and has anybody ever found one?
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Re: A Double-headed Axe from Horseback?
« Reply #40 on: January 11, 2019, 10:25:30 AM »
but is there any evidence for anybody other than Greek artists ever depicting one (other than Hittite gods) and has anybody ever found one?

Oh yes.

The Wikipedia labrys article lays out the standard depictions:

In the Near East and other parts of the region, eventually, axes of this sort are often wielded by male divinities and appear to become symbols of the thunderbolt, a symbol often found associated with the axe symbol. In Labraunda of Caria the double-axe accompanies the storm-god Zeus Labraundos. Similar symbols have been found on plates of Linear pottery culture in Romania. The double-axe is associated with the Hurrian god of sky and storm Teshub. His Hittite and Luwian name was Tarhun. Both are depicted holding a triple thunderbolt in one hand, and a double axe in the other hand. Similarly, Zeus throws his thunderbolt to bring storm. The labrys, or pelekys, is the double axe Zeus uses to invoke storm, and the relative modern Greek word for lightning is "star-axe" (ἀστροπελέκι, astropeleki) The worship of it was kept up in the Greek island of Tenedos and in several cities in the south-west of Asia Minor, and it appears in later historical times in the cult of the thunder god of Asia Minor (Zeus Labrayndeus).

It also adds:

A link has also been posited with the double axe symbols at Çatalhöyük, dating to the neolithic age.

Çatalhöyük is the latest spelling of Catalhuyuk, the 7,000 BC city near Iconium.  Double axe depictions go back a long way.

As for finding them, Europe contributes surprisingly well, notably:

The double-headed battle axe is a shaft-hole axe from around 3400–2900 BC. It occurred mainly around Rügen in Germany and on Zealand in Denmark, as the Battle Axe culture established itself in the surrounding areas. The axe has a flared edge that became very prominent among the later types, which also gained a flared butt. The double-edged axes were always made from hard and homogeneous stones such as porphyry, and they were also finely polished.

The mention is from this site, Shaft Hole Axes section, just before the Battle Axe Culture section (and no, this was not one of women warriors!).

3rd century BC Babylonia gives us a ceremonial agate double axe head; not sure if this really counts, but it shows willing.

The Lacus Curtius securis entry shows a bronze bipennis (double-headed) axe from Italy.

So the bipennis seems to have been quite popular across Europe and Asia Minor; the latter apparently mainly for religion, the former for use.  Given this, and the apparent lack of interaction with the Scythians prior to Thermodon, it is tempting to suggest a European origin for the Amazons.
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Erpingham

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Re: A Double-headed Axe from Horseback?
« Reply #41 on: January 11, 2019, 11:14:57 AM »
Quote
So the bipennis seems to have been quite popular across Europe and Asia Minor; the latter apparently mainly for religion, the former for use.  Given this, and the apparent lack of interaction with the Scythians prior to Thermodon, it is tempting to suggest a European origin for the Amazons.

That's one small step for Patrick, one giant leap for archaeologists :)

The European cultures referenced are Neolithic and our earliest evidence of Amazons is Late Bronze Age at the earliest.  The axe evidence, such as it is, is Classical Greek.   I'd also query that we have evidence that the Neolithic axes are for "use" (whether forestry or warfare) rather than for symbol and status - it would need much more reading into the culture than a mention on wikipedia to know.

I think we are safer with either the theory that the weapon is introduced as an attempt to reflect a mythic or archaic element (perhaps related to the Labrys,with memories of its female associations) or it is based on a real axe variant, perhaps from Asia Minor, which existed alongside the Scythian style axe.

 
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Re: A Double-headed Axe from Horseback?
« Reply #42 on: January 11, 2019, 06:51:26 PM »
I'd also query that we have evidence that the Neolithic axes are for "use" (whether forestry or warfare) rather than for symbol and status

As did the scientists who examined 'Otzi'.  There was a lot of ink shed about his axe (a palstave, incidentally) being a 'status symbol' and that he might have been killed for it (an obviously weak conjecture as his body still had the axe), but upon examination it showed wear marks and replicas have proven well capable of cutting down trees.  This is not to say that axes were not used for symbol and status - they were - but rather one should not assume that a particular form of axe was employed exclusively for such purposes.

Quote
I think we are safer with either the theory that the weapon is introduced as an attempt to reflect a mythic or archaic element (perhaps related to the Labrys,with memories of its female associations) or it is based on a real axe variant, perhaps from Asia Minor, which existed alongside the Scythian style axe.

A small step for Anthony ... ;)

I think we tend to be keener on myth and archetype than were the Greeks themselves.  The labrys has female associations, but seemingly only on Crete (unless one counts the Amazons themselves and various present-day lesbian movements).  In Asia Minor, for example, it is associated exclusively with male deities of the thunderbolt-wielding persuasion.

Double-headed axes are well established in Europe as far back as the stone age.  Continuity of use thereafter may have suffered owing to the introduction of the sword as a close combat weapon.  The double-headed axe motif was present in Asia Minor as far back as the stone age.  My best guess would be that the double axe, which handles well in a fight, would have been used as a weapon, especially by mounted warriors, and with the transition from the bronze to the iron age would have been replaced by the sagaris, which fulfilled a similar role against better-armoured opponents.
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Jim Webster

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Re: A Double-headed Axe from Horseback?
« Reply #43 on: January 11, 2019, 06:51:46 PM »
but is there any evidence for anybody other than Greek artists ever depicting one (other than Hittite gods) and has anybody ever found one?

Oh yes.

The Wikipedia labrys article lays out the standard depictions:

In the Near East and other parts of the region, eventually, axes of this sort are often wielded by male divinities and appear to become symbols of the thunderbolt, a symbol often found associated with the axe symbol. In Labraunda of Caria the double-axe accompanies the storm-god Zeus Labraundos. Similar symbols have been found on plates of Linear pottery culture in Romania. The double-axe is associated with the Hurrian god of sky and storm Teshub. His Hittite and Luwian name was Tarhun. Both are depicted holding a triple thunderbolt in one hand, and a double axe in the other hand. Similarly, Zeus throws his thunderbolt to bring storm. The labrys, or pelekys, is the double axe Zeus uses to invoke storm, and the relative modern Greek word for lightning is "star-axe" (ἀστροπελέκι, astropeleki) The worship of it was kept up in the Greek island of Tenedos and in several cities in the south-west of Asia Minor, and it appears in later historical times in the cult of the thunder god of Asia Minor (Zeus Labrayndeus).

It also adds:

A link has also been posited with the double axe symbols at Çatalhöyük, dating to the neolithic age.

Çatalhöyük is the latest spelling of Catalhuyuk, the 7,000 BC city near Iconium.  Double axe depictions go back a long way.

As for finding them, Europe contributes surprisingly well, notably:

The double-headed battle axe is a shaft-hole axe from around 3400–2900 BC. It occurred mainly around Rügen in Germany and on Zealand in Denmark, as the Battle Axe culture established itself in the surrounding areas. The axe has a flared edge that became very prominent among the later types, which also gained a flared butt. The double-edged axes were always made from hard and homogeneous stones such as porphyry, and they were also finely polished.

The mention is from this site, Shaft Hole Axes section, just before the Battle Axe Culture section (and no, this was not one of women warriors!).

3rd century BC Babylonia gives us a ceremonial agate double axe head; not sure if this really counts, but it shows willing.

The Lacus Curtius securis entry shows a bronze bipennis (double-headed) axe from Italy.

So the bipennis seems to have been quite popular across Europe and Asia Minor; the latter apparently mainly for religion, the former for use.  Given this, and the apparent lack of interaction with the Scythians prior to Thermodon, it is tempting to suggest a European origin for the Amazons.

So looking at the links, the bipennis was either religious (Asia Minor, Crete,) or so far back in the early age of metals we genuinely haven't a clue what it was
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Patrick Waterson

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Re: A Double-headed Axe from Horseback?
« Reply #44 on: January 11, 2019, 07:01:40 PM »
So looking at the links, the bipennis was either religious (Asia Minor, Crete,) or so far back in the early age of metals we genuinely haven't a clue what it was

Except that it was, as Wikipedia puts it, "A common axe in the ancient world."  Interestingly enough, it was introduced to America in the 1800s and gave considerable impetus to tree-felling capability, being much preferred to the traditional single-bitted European woodsman's axe.

At any rate, we appear to have answered the original question about whether anyone other than Greek artists ever depicted one, and whether anyone has ever found one. :)
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