5 Amazon Queens Who Rocked the Ancient World

These Fierce Femmes Ruled the Mediterranean and Beyond

When you think of Amazons, the images of warrior women on horseback, bows drawn, probably come to mind. But do you actually know any of them by name? Perhaps one or two, like Hippolyta, whose girdle was stolen by, and was murdered by, the macho Heracles, or Antiope, lover of Theseus and mother of his ill-fated virgin son, Hippolytus.

But they weren't the only powerful ladies to rule the Steppes. Here are some of the most integral Amazons whose names you should know.

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Achilles murders Penthesilea on the battlefield
Achilles murders Penthesilea on the battlefield.

Leemage / Universal Images Group / Getty Images

Penthesilea was perhaps one of the most famous of Amazon queens, a warrior worthy of any of her Greek rivals. She and her women fought for Troy during the Trojan War, and Pentha was a standout figure. The late antique writer Quintus Smyrnaeus described her as one "athirst indeed for groan-resounding battle," somebody who was "the tireless War-god's [Ares's] child, the mailed maid, like to the Blessed Gods; for in her face glowed beauty glorious and terrible."

In his AeneidVergil detailed the Trojan allies, among them "Penthesilea in fury [who] leads the crescent-shielded ranks of Amazons and blazes amid her thousands; a golden belt she binds below her naked breast, and, as a warrior queen, dares battle, a maid clashing with men."

​As great of a warrior as she was (she almost got all the way to the Greek camps!), Penthesilea experienced a tragic fate. According to all accounts, she was killed by the Greeks, but some versions have Achilles, one of her possible murderers, falling in love with her dead body. When a guy named Thersites jeered the Myrmidon's possibly necrophiliac passion, Achilles smacked him and killed him.

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Head of Horus
Head of Horus, friend of Myrina.

Metropolitan Museum of Art / Wikimedia Commons / CC0 1.0

Another mighty Amazon was Myrina, whom Diodorus Siculus said rallied a huge army "of thirty thousand foot-soldiers and three thousand cavalry" to start her conquests. When conquering the city of Cernê, Myrina was as ruthless as her Greek counterparts, ordering all males from puberty upward killed and enslaving women and children.

Some people of a neighboring city were so freaked out that they automatically surrendered their land to the Amazons. But Myrina was a noblewoman, so she "established friendship with them and founded a city to bear her name in place of the city which had been razed; and in it,​ she settled both the captives and any native who so desired." Myrina once even tried to fight the Gorgons, but no one had luck until Perseus years later.

After most of her Amazons were killed by Heracles, Myrina traveled through Egypt, at which time Diodorus says the Egyptian god-pharaoh Horus was ruling. She allied herself with Horus and conquered Libya and lots of Turkey, founding a city she named after herself in Mysia (northwestern Asia Minor). Sadly, Myrina died in battle against some Greeks.

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The Terrifying Trio of Lampedo, Marpesia, and Orithyia

Lampedo and Marpesia march into battle, medieval-style
Lampedo and Marpesia march into battle, medieval-style.

Klatcat / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

The second-century writer Justinus told of two Amazon queens who ruled together after dividing their forces into two armies. He also reported that they spread rumors that the Amazons were daughters of Ares in order to propagate tales of their warlike nature.

According to Justinus, the Amazons were unparalleled warriors. "After subduing the greater part of Europe, they possessed themselves also of some cities in Asia," he said. A bunch of them stuck around in Asia under Marpesia, but were killed; Marpesia's daughter Orithyia succeeded her mother as queen and "attracted extraordinary admiration, not only for her eminent skill in war​ but for having preserved her virginity to the end of her life." Orithyia was so famous, Justinus claimed, that it was her, not Hippolyta, whom Heracles sought to vanquish.

Furious at the abduction of her sister Antiope and the murder of Hippolyta, Orithyia ordered a retaliatory attack on the Athenians, who had fought for Heracles. Along with her allies, Orithyia made war on Athens, but the Amazons were decimated. The next queen on the docket? Our beloved Pentha.

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Thalestris romances Alexander the Great
Thalestris romances Alexander the Great.

Fondation Calvet / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

The Amazons didn't peter out after the death of Penthesilea; according to Justinus, "a few only of the Amazons, who had remained at home in their own country, established a power that continued (defending itself with difficulty against its neighbors), to the time of Alexander the Great." And there Alexander always attracted powerful women; according to legend, that included the then-current queen of the Amazons, Thalestris.

Justinus claimed that Thalestris wanted to have a child by Alexander, the mightiest warrior in the world. Sadly, "after obtaining from Alexander the enjoyment of his society for thirteen days, in order to have issue by him," Thalestris "returned into her kingdom, and soon after died, together with the whole name of the Amazons." #RIPAmazons

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A replica of the statue of Artemis at Ephesus

De Agostini / G. Sioen / Getty Images

Otrera was one of the O.G. Amazons, an early queen, but she was super-important because she allegedly founded the famous Temple of Artemis at Ephesus in Turkey. That sanctuary was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and included an image of the goddess similar to the one here.

As Hyginus wrote in his Fabulae, "Otrera, an Amazon, wife of Mars, first founded the temple of Diana at Ephesus..." Otrera also had a profound impact on the Amazons because, according to some sources, she was the mother of our favorite warrior queen, Penthesilea.

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Silver, Carly. "5 Amazon Queens Who Rocked the Ancient World." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, thoughtco.com/amazon-queens-who-rocked-ancient-world-4012619. Silver, Carly. (2021, February 16). 5 Amazon Queens Who Rocked the Ancient World. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/amazon-queens-who-rocked-ancient-world-4012619 Silver, Carly. "5 Amazon Queens Who Rocked the Ancient World." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/amazon-queens-who-rocked-ancient-world-4012619 (accessed December 2, 2022).