Thursday, 24 May 2007

Angus and Amazons

I never saw any of the comics work of the illustrator Angus McBride, who died earlier this month (notices can be found on the Look and Learn, Bear Alley and Down the Tubes blogs). And while I would certainly have seen his illustrations for the educational children’s weekly Look and Learn - I didn’t only buy it for The Trigan Empire - I don’t think I knew his name then. But I have seen and enjoyed a lot of his military history illustrations, especially for Osprey publications. He had a rare knack of combining detailed accuracy with fluid and dynamic brushwork and composition.

So, with the Amazons still attacking DC’s version of the United States, I thought that I might post McBride’s reconstructions of the real thing.

(Sarmatian Amazon clashes with Graeco-Scythians, west of the River Don in the northern Caucasus foothills, fourth century BC.)

Herodotus, father of history (and father of lies) tells us that the Amazons were neighbours of the Scythians (or Skythians). His near-contemporary, the fifth-century BC writer Hippocrates, specifically identifies them with the Sarmatians.

The Scythians and Sarmatians were both stock-herding peoples who lived mainly in the steppe lands north of the Black Sea. They were noted for their skills with horses and bows. Their women seem to have ridden and hunted and probably even fought alongside their men. Certainly, archaeologists have found graves where female bodies were buried along with weapons, though it is possible that these were markers of status rather than actually used in battle.

(Amazon and Scythian horse-warriors attack Theseus outside Athens during their legendary invasion of Attica. [Based on] A fifth-century BC representation of possibly a Mycenean scene.)

Whatever, these steppe peoples were a marked contrast to the civilisation of Ancient Greece, which was so misogynist that Spartan men were mocked as hen-pecked for allowing their women-folk to actually speak in public. Even if the Scythians and Sarmatians did not give rise to the myth of the separatist tribe of Amazons, they must surely have contributed to the Greeks’ understanding of it.

(1. Sindo-Meothic nobleman, 5th C. BC
2. Scythian nobleman, 5th C. BC
3. [Centre] Scythian noblewoman, 4th C. BC)

So far as I know, the look of these “real" Amazons has never had any influence on the world of Wonder Woman. Maybe after the next Crisis and reboot?

Tim Newark Women Warriors: An Illustrated Military History of Female Warriors, colour illustrations by Angus McBride, Blandford, 1989

Men-at-Arms series, 137: The Scythians, 700-300 BC, text by Dr E V Cernenko, illustrations by Angus McBride from reconstructions by Dr M V Gorelik, Osprey Military, 1983

1 comment:

Walaka said...

Y'know, I often wondered about this very thing. WW gets all Hellenized, but the Amazons weren't Greek. It seems to me that even Xena, Warrior Princess got it closer to right.