Movie Myths

Wonder Woman’s fantastical Amazons are based on these real-life warriors

Themiscyra is pure fiction, but its inhabitants are closer to reality.

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We don’t look to Superman for historical accuracy.

Superheroes can provide inspiration, empowerment, and escape, but archaeological evidence is low on the priority list.

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But for some superheroes, close ties to history invest their stories with more power, showing that real people may be closer than we think to larger-than-life heroes.

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In the comics, the TV series, and the recent films, Wonder Woman breaks the mold of male-dominated superhero stories, and it turns out she’s not too distant from a famous historical group of warrior women.

The Amazons

appear in Wonder Woman, as well as other art from the ancient world to the modern day, but it’s long been debated whether this martial culture actually existed or was dreamt up by the likes of Herodotus.

Jacques Mossot

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Recent research shows that the fierce warrior women Greek historians described as dominating the Eurasian steppes on horseback were flesh and blood, based on the Scythian culture.

The historical Scythians were a nomadic people who ranged over a wide swath of land near the Black Sea. Because they didn’t have a written language, everything we know about them comes from archaeological artifacts and writings by non-Scythians.

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Those records tell us a few crucial details about the Scythians, and explain how they became Amazons in the eyes of the Greeks. Their warrior reputation was well-earned — Scythian grave sites show both men and women buried with weapons, often bearing the evidence of battle wounds.

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The mythical Amazons are a women-only warrior society. The real-life Scythians instead seemed to hold men and women in equal regard. It’s not hard to see how one turned into the other in the imagination of the ultra-patriarchal ancient Greeks.

As in the Greek legends, Wonder Woman’s Amazons live completely apart from men. While that doesn’t reflect the real-life Scythians, other parts of Themiscyra’s culture match up.

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Scythian graves found in the ‘90s show girls as young as 13 being trained as warriors, much as Diana herself is shown training as a child.

Peter Paul Rubens

Adrienne Mayor, author of The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women across the Ancient World, tells Inverse’s Tara Yarlagadda Themiscyra’s range of ages, body types, and ethnicities was also a component of Scythian culture.

“[Scythians] were extremely robust, athletic, and ethnically diverse, ranging in age from teenagers to grandmothers.”

Adrienne Mayor, author of The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women across the Ancient World

Jean-Pol Grandmont

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So you may not get away with calling watching Wonder Woman historical research, but its society of powerful warrior women isn’t entirely off the mark either.

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Like the most memorable myths, Wonder Woman blends fact and fiction, turning an overlooked ancient society into modern-day heroes.