Sunday, July 12, 2020

Daughter Of Ares: Magic And War In Ancient Thrace




                                                 Orpheus in the forest, Roman mosaic

Before the rise of ancient Greece and throughout the history of that brilliant civilization were established ancient kingdoms bordering on the fringes of the Hellenic world. The Minoans flourished on the island of Crete in a time when the Hittite empire clashed with the armies of ancient Egypt, which itself bordered on the lands of Libya and Aethiopia in what was known as The Third Continent. To the northwest of the Grecian lands in the Balkan peninsula were the Illyrians, to the northeast of the Aegean were the realms of the fierce Thracians, beyond which were the steppes of the horse people of Scythia. It was in these archaic realms or through reference to them that many of the events and happenings read and recounted in the ancient Greek and Roman myths take place. When these tales came to be written down and preserved for all time by the bards and authors of Hellenic civilization, they became the repertoire of Greek and later Roman mythology. Welcome to the lost world of the mysterious Thracians, a fierce people believed to be descended from Ares the god of war. The classical Greeks thought of the Thracians as barely civilized, yet this culture produced some of the most finely wrought gold work in all of the ancient world. So excellent were their gold plates, cups and other objects that their craftsmen were thought have been taught by Hephaistos, the god of metal working. It was here in the land known as Thrax that he taught mortals the secrets of making the finest armor and weaponry, so they might imitate the gods in grandeur. It was in this ancient and mysterious land that many of the ancient world's most popular myths and legends originated.

The Magical Land Of Mountains And Forests
It was there, in old Europa in those forested mountains to the north of that great sea of Aegis that Ares, the god of war, was born. Sheltered from the Sun was he by the tall pine and fir trees that separated the land of men and the levels of the gods who did dwell in the stratosphere of heaven. It was these gods who ruled the cosmos and played their game of life and death with the men and women who had sprung up from the clay and the mud formed by the river deltas. Ares, granted the talent for war and battle, in this land did he dwell amid the songs of birds and under the careful watch of giant serpents, instructed by the wise old owls who slept by day and hunted at night. The wolves were his guides and his tutors. When men seek to make war, they invoke the mighty Ares, to be like him and to follow in his steps so as to gain immortality through the performance of daring deeds performed upon the field of battle. Fear and cowardice are unknown to the devotees of Ares.

This was a magical land, this place of forests and mountains where Orpheus the great musician and bard did dwell, he who could charm the beasts and the nymphs of the woods, the trees and the stones, with his song and music. It was here that Orpheus descended into the terrible underworld to save his wife Eurydice so as to return her to their idyllic dwellings, only to invoke the wrath of the wine god Dionysus who would one day be instigator of the bard's death. The realms of the spirit and matter, the beautiful and the terrible meet each other in our earthly existence, even here in this virtual paradise where nature and the soul are as one, inflicting on we mortals experiences that shape and mold us into what we are and who we will one day become.

                                  

                                               Forest Naead Seducing A Youth, by John William Waterhouse

Of Love And Lust
It was after a cold, hard winter when the snow finally melted and fell from the branches of the evergreen trees that the flowers of Spring once again pushed up through the ground to seek the light from the Sun's warm rays. Ares was walking among the hills of his homeland gazing upon the bright light which shone through the dark, tall trees of the dense forest. A dove landed upon a branch nearby and flying from tree to tree, followed Ares, who became curious as to its reason for being there. The dove then landed upon his shoulder and spoke, warning Ares to turn back and go no further into the forest. At that moment the dove flapped its wings and fluttered away, but mysteriously crashed head on into the trunk of a great hemlock tree, and the poor creature fell dead to the Earth. As Ares was wondering what kind of omen or sign this was, he came upon a most beautiful vision that caused him to quickly forget the death of the poor little dove. Visions of the otherworldly realms were common here in this lonely place untouched by the hand of men. Standing before him was the goddess Aphrodite in all her beauty, her skin shining and gleaming, perfect without a blemish, her naked figure shapely and firm upon which long chestnut colored hair fell. Her locks fell down her back and upon her chest, concealing each of her supple breasts. Ares was smitten with desire, his body sweating and trembling, his mouth at a loss for words. Unable to resist the call of his lust he pulled her towards him and had his way with this goddess of love and procreation. Aphrodite resisted not, for she was known to seduce men. Unfortunately that was she destined to be the wife of Hephaistos the god of metal working, he who forged the finest items of gold, silver and bronze, the most beautiful bowls and wine kraters as well as the finest armor to be worn by champions and heroes. He spent all his time crafting metal objects and had little time for his beautiful consort and when he did, the skin and hair of the old bearded god did wreak of fire, smoke, molten metal, coal and burnt wood and the nauseating scent of his furnaces. Aphrodite sought the company of handsome men by seducing them for a brief encounter. Then she would quickly leave them and be gone before her jealous husband would discover where she had been and seek to punish the young perpetrator who dared sleep with his beautiful bride. After an afternoon of lustful pleasure together with Ares, Aphrodite arose and bathed in a stream which ran nearby. She then told Ares that Hephaistos would not allow this act to go unpunished and that he should hide himself among his people and their herds. Ares could hear the voice of an angry Hephaistos mumbling in the distance, accompanied by the sound of stirring, suddenly startled birds, falling trees and snapping branches as he was smashing his way through the forest. Aphrodite disappeared in the distant mist, leaving Ares to his fate, who followed her advice and ran down to the valley disguising himself as a sheep dog, hiding among the flocks of sheep and cattle. Soon however, Hephaistos discovered the defiler of his consort. He seized him by the forelock and brought him to Olympus bound in heavy chains.

Upon their arrival to the house of Zeus, all the gods were present in the great hall where Ares would be tried and face judgement. The charge of committing adultery with the wife of Hephaistos was levied against him. As the investigation proceeded the beautiful Aphrodite entered the hall and interceded upon the war god's behalf. She complained to Zeus that Hephaistos ignored her for years on end and that it was her right to go out into the realm of men and seek a partner, for her unfair destiny was a loveless marriage to a god who smelled like burnt iron. This was Zeus' doing, she reminded him, and it was a cruel fate to bestow on so beautiful a goddess that she should be wed to an such an old and unsightly deity. To the astonishment of all, Aphrodite revealed she was pregnant now with child. Ares, ashamed of his actions, meekly sought forgiveness from the great Zeus, asking him if he himself could have resisted such beauty had it come upon him when he was young? He asked this of all the gods and they all agreed that Aprodite could entice any man. Zeus agreed that even he, the greatest of the gods. could not resist the temptation of such a beautiful creature. Eager to put an end to this embarrassing incident, Zeus announced his judgment for all involved. He decreed that Ares should be banished to his forest home forever, upon the promise that he would never seduce a goddess again. Aphrodite's child, when eventually born will never be allowed to inhabit the place of the gods upon Olympus but live out its days in the distant, forested land. For the neglect and abuse displayed to his consort for so long Zeus ordered Hephaistos to pledge to create the finest armor and weapons upon demand for the descendants of Ares for all time to come. Aphrodite was banished to her island of Cyprus where she would remain forever, never to steal away in the night again to seduce unknowing men or gods with her charm and beauty. She gave birth to a beautiful baby boy who was handed over to Ares, whom he named Thrax. The proud and delighted father sent the boy to the forested mountain kingdom which to this day bear the boy's name, and so named the people.

                                                    


Rise Of The Thracian Women
Ares returned from Olympus to his wooded mountains with his son Thrax. Each night as the god lay down to sleep he heard the prayers of a woman carried upon the wind enter his ears. It was the voice of one named Otrera, the daughter of the east wind. This maid of Thrace was married to an old and cruel husband who drank too much and ignored her for the most part, going out at night and seducing the wives and daughters of other men, causing much anger among the people which led to acts of revenge and blood feuds between families. He would return home in a drunken stupor and often beat Otrera, or sometimes left her out in the cold in the Winter as punishment for disobeying his commands or questioning his authority. In her life of drudgery she went to the fields and worked hard every day. While she was harvesting wheat the goddess of the hunt Artemis came along and told her that Ares had heard her supplications, and ordered she, Artemis, to instruct Otrera in the use of the sword and spear. Artemis would teach her to hunt animals with the use
 of the bow and arrow so as to become self sufficient. Otrera made an oath to Ares to train hard and she became proficient in the martial arts. Otrera's husband came home one night in his usual drunken state and for no reason began to beat her as he often did, but this time she grabbed his fist and arm and with her two hands and threw him into his bed. He stared at her a bit astonished at this sudden defiance but was too drunk to concentrate and he fell asleep instantly. That evening Otrera was awakened gently by Artemis, who placed her hand gently over Otrera's mouth as a sign to be as silent as possible. The two stepped gingerly out of the hut quietly so as to not wake up her sleeping husband, and went into the barley field. There, shining and reflecting the light of the full Moon was a gift from Ares- a golden breastplate, helmet, greaves and a shield fashioned by the hand of the god Hephaistos himself. As Artemis handed to Otrera a sword to complete the panoply, she informed her of her new life;

"On this day the god Ares has awarded you these gifts which you have earned with your dedication and steadfastness. On this day you will begin to realize your destiny. Go forth, brave woman". Otrera carefully wrapped the armor in sheepskins, hiding the suit in a hut where the cattle slept. When the time would be right she would know what to do. 
            
                                          
Soon, other women of the village heard about Otrera's relationship with Artemis. They complained to Otrera how they grew tired of their own abusive husbands, fathers and brothers, complaining how they would go about freely in the night to drink, gamble and have their way with the young mistresses then return home only to beat them while in a drunken stupor. Many of the women had the marks of that abuse on their scarred and bruised  faces. As a solution to this dilemma Otrera came up with a plan. First, she demanded all the women to make a pledge to stand together as one no matter what would happen, and to follow her every word. She would instruct the women secretly in the use of knives, swords, axes, the javelin and the bow. When the time was right, she would give the command to act on her plan to rid their community of the oppression of the patriarchs forever. The women of the village all took the solemn pledge.

Otrera's word was not long in  coming. On the evening of the Summer Solstice precisely at midnight the women of the village rose up together as one and slew their husbands- some as they came home in their usual drunken stupor, some as they slept, others as they were enticed to make love. Daughters killed their fathers and sisters slew brothers. The whole village became a place of death and bloodshed as the screams of the maimed and dying men drowned out the song of the nightingale and the call of the owls or the screeching of bats. 

             

                                                  
The very next day Otrera and her army of Amazons marched to the neighboring villages to liberate their sisters suffering there, encouraging the women folk in those hamlets to do as they did and join the newly formed band. The same bloodbath ensued as the women of the villages slew their men folk. Those husbands, brothers and fathers who did treat the women somewhat fairly were spared the death sentence but put on trial, whereby they were ordered to remain in their houses as servants and say nor do nothing without consultation as it was they, the women, who were the chieftains of the villages from this day forward. Only after proving themselves would men once again be allowed to be chosen as kings or leaders. Thracian society became known for a gender social equality unthinkable in other nations.


Birth Of A Nation
Otrera was now the leader of a large group of followers who lived off the land, attacking any village they so desired, liberating more women eager to learn the use of weapons and gain liberation from their abusive men. After much success Otrera was confronted by the god Dionysus, the protector of wine, who was on his way to India to battle a usurper god who thought himself greater than he. Dionysus was the god who held this land of forested mountains in contempt since his encounter and dealings with Orpheus the bard many centuries before. He asked Otrera and her force to join him and support his endeavor but she openly expressed her displeasure at the thought of serving a male-god, and in her rage and anger ordered her women to attack his personal guards. 
Dionysus called up the forces of the underworld and defeated Otrera's band, so she was forced to flee to the east to place called Sinope on the coast of the Pontus Euxinus, the great Black Sea. While there she prayed to Ares who by now fell in love with the independent minded Amazon. He commanded her to build a temple dedicated to Artemis and to pray and make sacrifices at that temple. After completing this task she was to return to the forested mountains of Thrax and await his arrival to take her as his wife and spend the duration of her living days with Ares as her husband. This she did and met him there to become the wife of Ares, the god of war. No one would dare attack her nation, as she and Ares were now as one, secure in their home deep in the forested mountains, in a nation where men and women were now equals and would fight side by side to protect that nation, and each other. The Thracians loved wine and used it in their rituals to invoke Dionysus in drunken stupors, forgiving the god of wine for his attack on Otrera and her band and warning him never to interfere in the life of Thrace ever again, lest he would anger Ares.  

Otrera bore Ares four daughters- Melanippe, Hipolyta, Antiope and Pentheselea, all of whom were taught the arts of fighting and war by their mother, strategy and tact by their father. Their older half brother by a generation, Thrax the son of Aphrodite, was already married and had children of his own, namely one Tyras who begat a son named Batavil. This son's daughters it is said became brides to the kings of far off Kush, Put and the tribes of the Canaanites, where the people of Thrace were known as the Teresh. The stream that ran in the heart of the wooded mountains, where Ares and Aphrodite bathed after their afternoon of love making came to be known as the river Atyras, the river of Tyras, the grandson of Ares himself, a stream which would become a place of pilgrimage and holy rituals in honor of Ares, the god of war and protector of this land. The many tribes- the Brygi, Bessi the Getae and Triballi, all would come once a year to the place to bathe naked in its waters and ask the god Ares for his blessing. After their devotions a great banquet was held with much drinking of wine to appease the anger of the god Dionysus, accompanied by lewdness and carnality expressed in wild dancing for the adoration of Aphrodite and her cult of fertility.                   
      

                                     
The Baptism Of Blood
Pentheselea became a warrior at a young age when she was barely fourteen, taking part in tribal feuds with other Thracian tribes or fighting against the unruly Illyrians who lived to the West. Once during a battle she faced a tall, powerfully muscled Illyrian warrioress named Hyllizi, or Black Star, so named because she covered her entire body from helm to ankle in a suit of blackened, bronze armor that fit her torso like a second skin. During their duel, every blow from Pentheselea's swift sword glanced harmlessly off the Dardanian princesses' armored torso, arms and calves as her body was rendered completely protected by her metal skin. Hyllizi had struck a powerful blow that caused an exhausted Pentheselea to fall to the ground on her back. With her foot upon her chest and smiling at her menacingly confident in victory, Hyllizi was ready to deliver the death blow and raised her sword. Pentheselea knew she had to act swiftly lest she be killed, and took advantage in the over confidence of her adversary. She thrust the tip of her sword into the open front of Hyllizi's leather shoe, cutting between her toes, causing her to react to the shock so that she would step back a bit and release the hold of her foot from Pentheselea's chest. The determined daughter of Ares thrust her sword upward into Hylizi's lower 
belly just under the body armor which protected her torso. Pentheselea wrenched her sword sharply left and right, cutting open the giant Illyrian's stomach as if opening a clam, her victim letting out a deep groan as her entrails spilled out. She sank to her knees Hyllizi giving Pentheselea a blank stare upon her grimaced face, then fell forward dead onto her adversary who now held her in her arms;

"Forgive me, my mighty warrior sister" whispered the victorious Pentheselea into the ear of her now deceased enemy. "If only I could be half the great warrior thou wert, and meet death half as bravely. Surely Dardania has lost its protector, its Sun, its brightest star this day".

She gently and respectfully lowered the body of Hyllizi on the ground, placing her on her back. The defeated warrior seemed glorious in her shining black armor and helmet, though splattered red now with gore from the gaping wound inflicted by the sword of Pentheselea. The glory and imagination of ancient war, the songs sung and the verses recited by bards in stanzas of profound beauty are always countered by the vicious and bloody reality of battle. As proof of her encounter and to honor her fallen foe, Pentheselea kept the Illyrian warrior's great helmet as a trophy.


                                        
                                                                                                 
 Hephaistos Keeps His Promise
After this encounter, it became clear to Pentheselea that she too would need body armor that would both protect and adorn her so as to be the envy of friend and foe alike. So impressive was the suit of bronze worn by the legendary Illyrian warrioress Hyllizi that Pentheselea too wanted to be regarded as a goddess when she took her place upon the battlefield, leading her warriors.  She spoke to her father Ares and asked him to intercede on her behalf with Hephaistos, who had promised Zeus to create arms and armor for the descendants of the war god for all eternity. Hephaistos worked on the armor for a full twelve moons, and crafted his metallurgy with such precision and care that even the gods upon Olympus were curious as to what he was up to. When the armor was ready it was presented to Pentheselea there at the holy place on the banks of the river Atyras. The suit was made of an alloy of molten, precious metals and bronze blended with pure gold, causing the armor to glisten and shine in the noon day sun. The breast and back plates were sculpted according to the athletic physique of the daughter of Ares while the great, crested helmet protected her head and face the openings for the eyes and for the purpose of breathing and giving commands to her trusted fellow warriors. The gleaming greaves she wore upon her long shins protected her powerful legs which seemed as on fire as she ran across the field of battle. Her sword and shield, fashioned for her alone complimented her panoply. When she sat mounted upon a horse bedecked with feathers and talismans she was likened unto a goddess as she was tall, fair and blonde. No warrior in all of Thrace looked finer than she, Pentheselea the daughter of Ares, the mighty god of war.


                                                                                                                       
                                                   
Knowing that the debt of Hephaistos was binding for all time to be bestowed upon the descendants of Ares when called for, Pentheselea herself petitioned the god of metal to create magnificent suits of armor for all her warriors, and to train the Thracian people in the art of metal working. Hephaistos promised to teach the Thracians to be the finest metal workers in the world. With her army fully armored now, the force she commanded was an army of moving metal, so that all throughout the ancient world the name 'Thracian' became synonymous with a heavily armed warrior. On the field of battle such an army standing shoulder to shoulder in their disciplined ranks seemed invincible as their armor reflected the bright rays of the Sun, blinding the opposing foes. When confronting a Thracian warrior, only the determined eyes, those windows of the warrior soul, could be seen peering out from under the great helmet they wore upon their heads. Pentheselea's battle experience with the Illyrian warrioress she slew affected and remained with her, as she desired an army of such mighty, invincible warriors under her command whose very sight would strike fear into the hearts of any enemy. This daughter of Ares admitted to her father that her battle with Hyllizi was the one and only time that she felt fear and terror within, and the experience remained and prompted her to learn from that event. Her enemies would know the apprehension she felt that day when she confronted a giant Illyrian wearing a skin of hardened metal. 

Pentheselea continued to gain recognition among her people for her martial skill and leadership abilities. She would set out on campaigns across the lesser Dardanian sea to seal a pact between Thrace and the rich, gold hoarding city of Troy, a city ruled by people with a culture and language akin to the Thracians. At the request of the Trojan king she traveled east to assist her Amazon sisters in Thermadon against the empire of the Hittites, who recently invaded and burned down the temple of Artemis built years before. After defeating the forces of that empire in a single, massive battle she assisted the Amazons in their northern expansion in Scythia, gaining valuable equestrian skills among the horse warriors of the steppe. She sometimes offered her services as a mercenary to the clans and tribes of the orderly Achaeans of the south who called themselves Hellenes, builders of fine temples and public buildings, if the amount of gold or silver offered was reasonable. She held these people in the utmost contempt, for they locked their women in their homes believing they were created for the sole purpose of rearing children and to serve their men folk whom, despite their penchant for raising gleaming architectural wonders, she considered as boastful and haughty beasts. Pentheselea pondered the idea that she might imitate her mother Otrera and rouse the Hellene women to rebellion, but her contempt and loathing for this nation choked such noble yearnings in her heart, and she was sure to thank the gods when she returned to her Thracian homeland where women as well as men could rule. Even if a bit crude and lacking in the realm of fine architecture and manners compared to the Hellenes to the south, the Thracians saw themselves as superior in ferocity, valor and military skill and prided themselves on their fine metal and gold work, which they used for trade and bartering, a craft they claimed they learned from Hephaistos himself, connected as he was with this land. With such a reputation of ferocity and skill in the art of war, Pentheselea and her Thracian nation held no worries about invasions from foreign enemies. The neighboring nations of that forested, mountainous land knew that to invade meant certain defeat and death. Never had a nation felt so sure and secure as Thrace did in these most remotely ancient of days.

Foreign Invaders From the Third Continent
Far way from Europa, across the Middle Sea in the place known as the Third Continent, beyond the shores of Cyrenica in the desert known as Libya a new paradigm had arisen. The Atlanteans who lived beyond the setting Sun and the Egyptians who built their empire along the banks of the mighty river Nile both paid tribute to a queen named Myrina, a tribal chieftain who unified her disparate desert tribes and set out to build an empire. The Libyans, like their neighbors the Nubians and the Kushites were a matriarchal people who followed the bloodline through the mother rather than the father. Among their many marriage traditions was one in which women would wrestle each other, or sometimes duel to the death for the hand of a handsome husband. It was quite common for women as well as men to become proficient in the use of weapons for the purpose of war. Just as Pentheselea held the Hellenes in contempt for their poor treatment of women, so Myrina and her people held nations such as the Egyptians and Aethiopeans in low esteem, for these were people who forbade their women folk from attaining positions in government or in the military, with perhaps one or two minor historical exceptions. After having united many tribes into a nation, Myrina and her legions marched through Egypt, then burst out of the Third Continent. She swept east and defeated he nomadic Arabians then marched north to subdue the rich cities of Akkad and Uruk between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates, then on to Syria defeating every force of every city or kingdom who dared to resist her. She was for all purposes an aggressive world conqueror for whom nothing could stand in her way and if it did, would face the mighty wrath of her heretofore undefeated armies. The Libyan warrior queen pushed on to the Sea of Aegis, across from the lands of the Achaeans and Minoans. From a shoreline city inhabited by shrewd Phoenician shipbuilders and merchants she built a fleet and landed upon an island in which she built a city named Mytilene after her dear sister. From there she sailed north and came upon an uninhabited island, which she claimed as her own. However, a lone fisherman pulled his boat up to her galley and informed her;

"This island belongs to Mopsus the king of Thrace, a kingdom to the north on the mainland of Europa that boasts heroic and fierce warriors proficient in the art of warfare, who claim descent from Ares the god of war and clad themselves in bronze armor created especially for them by the god Hephaistos."

The warning meant nothing to the aggressive Myrina. She treated the fisherman to food and wine, then told him to go and tell this Mopsus what he saw this day, hoping to frighten him into submission. She was ecstatic that she came so far in her conquests to yet another continent. The Libyan queen would add Europa to her domain and thus be the world ruler of three continents. Even though her generals advised caution based on what they were told by the fisherman, Myrina made plans to invade and conquer the land of the Thracians. 
           
 
                                                              
Prelude To Battle
When the Thracian king Mopsus heard about the invasion he rallied the warriors of his kingdom and prepared to repel the invaders. He sent a messenger to the lord of the Scythians who dwelled on the steppes in the north, asking him to send several squadrons of mounted cavalry. Pentheselea was recalled back to Thrax as she had been away visiting her sisters and praying in the temple of Artemis in Sinope. Stopping to rest in Troy while returning she was appraised of the invasions and many conquests of Myrina and her army from far off Libya who were now a threat to her homeland. When she arrived home she met with King Mopsus and together they readied for war.


Myrina's Libyan force, 30,000 strong, landed on the coast and marched inland, moving unopposed into Thracian territory. After a few days march, she found an open plain to do battle, and there she waited. Mopsus bought up his army and the two great forces faced one another. The Sun shone bright that day and the rays from that fireball of Helios the Sun glistened upon the armored ranks of the Thracians. Pentheselea herself was mounted upon her white charger, glorious in her golden armor, as her legions stood quite still in the customary orderly lines and ranks they formed, awaiting for the order to advance. Mopsus and Pentheselea could see that the army of Myrina, while numerous, lacked the armor of their own forces. Many Libyans wore some kind of helmet but only about one warrior in twenty donned some sort of breastplate or leather jerkin. An astonishing number of Libyans, especially the horse warriors, wore turbans and robes or simple loin cloths as the climate of their arid and hot country of origin hindered the wearing or use of heavier armaments. Most of the invaders did carry swords and spears of high quality. The leaders utilized bronze shields but the majority protected themselves with lighter shields made from wicker, wood or animal hides. Mopsus turned to Pentheselea and commented about her father Ares' pact with the god of metallurgy Hephaistos to forge the finest armor for his descendants. She herself knew this day how important was her own decision to provide well crafted quality armor to her Thracian warriors, men and women alike, who stood there in the ranks on this day confident and eager to test their armor and their martial skill against the weapons of the fierce, Libyans.  


                                     
The Armored Mass
Myrina stood upon a hill, a small but muscular woman who wore the emblems of her status and a golden, tiara upon her head which covered her braided hair, wielding a spear and carrying a hammered shield. Mopsus now ordered his 
Thracians to advance. They walked in step, slow and deliberate to the beat of a single drum towards the Libyan lines, who watched in awe as the mass of armored warriors came closer, seemingly moving as one menacing bronze entity with only their eyes visible through the slats in their helmets. The metal facets on their armor jingled eerily as they moved steadily forward. 
  



Battle
Myrina raised her spear, signaling her forces to attack. With conch trumpets blaring and the beating of tambour drums the Libyan army unfurled their war banners and shouted their war cry as one. Led by Myrina's sister Mytilene, the army of Africa rushed wildly to meet the Thracians who now stopped in their tracks and raised their shields and weapons to meet the oncoming attackers. The charging Libyans crashed into the bronze human wall and slashed with their swords but with minimal effect, as their weapons glanced off the armor of the Thracians who in turn counter thrust with their own swords and lances scoring many mortal blows against their lightly armed opponents. Thracian lances impaled the oncoming attackers, sometimes three at a time as they were packed so closely together. Heads were cut from bodies, limbs torn, abdomens ripped. Kushite archers unleashed arrows from their bows with lightening speed but the shafts glanced harmlessly off the breastplates and shields of their armored enemies while Thracian swords continued to slay the Africans with ease. Soon, heaps of half naked bodies began to pile here and there as the Libyans fell to the swords of the sons and daughters of Thrax, the light and thinner armor worn by the Nubians easily penetrated by the sharp weapons crafted by the students of Hephaistos. Pentheselea saw some of her Thracian comrades pulled from the ranks and surrounded by a half dozen Libyan warriors who struggled to remove the Thracian's armor, then proceeded to hack the unfortunate warrior to death with their swords and battle axes, only to be cut down in turn by an angry Pentheselea herself who leapt from her horse slashing mercilessly at the group, slaying them all in a matter of seconds. A giant armored Nubian, armed with a long spear which he wielded with both of his muscular arms, jabbed repeatedly with great force at Pentheselea's breastplate in an attempt to pierce it, but to no avail. With one swoop of her sword she decapitated the huge warrior and a fountain of red blood spurted from his headless torso which still quivered and shook with life from the blow as it fell. Myrina's sister Mytilene was impaled through the torso by a Thracian lance, her writhing body held aloft for all to see, then carelessly discarded like a bundle of hay. Now with their commander killed, Mopsus ordered his allied Scythian horse warriors from the steppes to charge, and they attacked from both flanks, left and right, and drove the Libyans back to their lines shooting at them with their short but powerful composite bows from the backs of their speeding horses, individually picking off the fleeing adversaries as if hunting a pack of wild boar. The Thracian infantry did not chase the enemy but rather banded together expecting a second attack. They had maintained their lines well this day, and the armor they wore crafted by the god Hephaistos proved itself worthy beyond all expectations.

The Challenge, Defeat And A Wish

Myrina never experienced such a reverse like this in all her career. She was astonished to see so many of her warriors dead or dying on the field  lying in mounds and heaps, while the casualties for the Thracians were comparatively light no doubt due to their fighting abilities but also to the excellent quality of their armor, the likes of which Myrina and her warriors had never confronted in battle before. Everywhere she looked upon that field her eyes were met with scattered mounds of Libyan dead while only here and there a Thracian casualty could be seen among them, distinguished by their armor. She then learned that her sister Mytilene was killed, which caused her to shake her fists to the heavens and curse the gods. Angry and in a fit of rage, she called out to King Mopsus in her loudest voice from across the field and demanded he send forth his champions to settle the matter of the battle once and for all in an armed duel. She ordered her two generals, Pitami and Cyme to go forth. Unanimously, the champion chosen to represent Thrax was none other than Pentheselea. Her sister Hipolyte wanted to go and meet these generals in armed combat as well but Pentheselea stayed her advance and ordered her to remain behind. She walked confidently out onto the field.

The Libyans, reeling from shock and disbelief, stared at the tall Thracian warrior who seemed as like unto a goddess in her golden armor and the great helm that rested upon her head, from which her blonde hair gently fell upon her well developed shoulders. Pitami attacked first. Donning a round helmet, her body clothed in leopard skins she was armed with a heavy blade and protected herself with a light wicker shield she held firmly on her arm. The two warriors approached each other and exchanged blows. Pitami's heavy sword glanced off of Pentheselea's helmet, who in turn struck with her own sword and split a sizable chunk of the Cyrenican's wicker shield. Pitami discarded the now useless buckler and attempted to crouch down gripping her blade with both hands so as to stab at Pentheselea's exposed inner thigh. The mighty daughter of Ares jumped up high to avoid her jab, then as she took advantage of the gravity brought all the force of her sword and body down upon Pitami's helmet, splitting it in the middle. The blow resounded with a great clang, opening her cranium. Pitami remained for a few seconds on one knee as she was, then fell over silently with her eyes wide open. The wily Cyme then charged emitting a wild animal scream, covered in but a short, red desert kaftan wrapped round one shoulder that extended only as far as her lower, naked waist. She attacked viciously and thrust at Pentheselea's breastplate grunting like a bear every time she thrust her spear, but was unable to penetrate this near magical metal handicraft of the god Hephaistos. Pentheselea stabbed with precision at the desert hyena, running her through in the throat, her sword protruding from the back of Cyme's neck, who emitted a gurgling sound as she choked on her own blood before joining the ranks of the slain.

Myrina the conqueror stood close by and watched the demise of her loyal generals. She had lost nearly a third of her army this day and swore to live by her motto which was "to me the garlands of victory or the hounds of hades". This was the first defeat of her career, and the most devastating. Knowing she could not turn back she turned to Pentheselea who by now removed her helmet to reveal her flowing blonde hair. Myrina walked up to her adversary and spoke, praising first her beauty and then her ability to defeat her forces where none was able to do so before;

"Today you shall slay me, and I am honored that I will be put to death by one as worthy as you, oh Pentheselea. To you, I grant this honor. My wish for you is that when death comes, and as surely as the day is long it will, may ye be slain only by one as worthy and as great a warrior as thou art".

With that, Myrina stood tall and opened her leather jerkin, baring her chest into which the daughter of Ares readily plunged her sword. Myrina grimaced, then relaxed the muscles on her face to a calm acceptance of her fate, and then fell silently to the Earth.

The survivors of Myrina's army- Libyans, Kushites, Nubians...were taken prisoner and divided among the Thracian nobles who sold them as slaves to the royalty of neighboring kingdoms. None would ever see their home again, and without a leader to maintain the conquered dominions the empire of Myrina fell apart, as the formerly conquered subject cities and nations revolted and reclaimed their territory from Myrina's domination. Many legendary empires of the past are lost and become a myth or a story to be told and recounted, inspiring the listener of the tale to wonder if indeed the story is based on historical fact. Such was the way of fate in these ancient days, as champions and empires seemingly sprout from the Earth like Spring grass, only to be cut down in the inevitable harvest of time. 

           

                                          
Pentheselea The Immortal Legend
Pentheselea would indeed go on to live a glorious and indeed, immortal life. She would move permanently to Thermidon on the coast of the Black Sea where she was chosen to be the queen of all the Amazons, and lead that nation of warrior women founded by her mother Otrera to victory after victory in Scythia, Colchis and in the land of Turan. She would prove herself to be a capable commander defeating many armies and subduing many nations, carrying on the tradition of liberating women which her mother had started decades before, gaining a reputation as the slayer of men and the conqueror of patriarchs and kings.  

                          

                                           
Strangely, the conqueror Myrina's last wish that she, Pentheselea, would die a noble death at the hands of one worthy of she as an equal warrior would come to pass. For ten years the Achaean Greeks whom Pentheselea despised in her youth for the poor manner in which they treated their women had surrounded the city of Troy and attempted to conquer it. It is said that they came to Troy because the son of the Trojan king, Paris had stolen the beautiful Helen, the wife of the king of Sparta named Menelaus, and held her as his captive. Some claim that Helen actually desired Paris and eloped with him rather than remain with her commanding and abusive husband. Whatever the explanation, the Greek king Agamemnon, longing for the riches of the fabled city swore to bring the queen back to Sparta and for ten years now was warring with the Trojans, locked in a stalemate as neither side could gain a victory. King Priam of Troy asked for allies to defeat the invaders and Penthselea, her heart full of sheer contempt for the patriarchal besiegers who treated their women as little more than slaves gave her oath that she would come to the aid of the city with her army of Amazons. She recently had accidentally killed her sister Hipolyte while hunting, mistaking her for a deer, and this act may have saddened her into a deep depressive state as it was considered an evil omen. She loved her sister so much that when told she would be fighting the greatest warriors of their time and could easily be killed, she brushed off the danger by saying "we all die, but I never believed that my dear sister could, my Hipolyte, so let me join her then!" She killed many Greeks on the day she fought a great battle, then faced the invincible Achilles, the greatest of all the Grecian champions, who did acknowledge her beauty and grace as well as her martial skills. It was on this day that the prayer and wish of Myrina unfolded, as Pentheselea was indeed slain by one as worthy as she, a great warrior and champion who was in fact the greatest of his time, none other than Achilles himself, whom the Trojans called in their language Aspetus, the Quick Paced One. After a long duel in which it seemed Pentheselea would carry the day, Achilles gained the upper hand and pounced upon his exhausted foe driving his spear into her collar, just above where her armored breastplate exposed her neck. Red blood gushed upward on Achilles' deadly lance and oozed down, staining her golden armor as the Achaean champion mercilessly pushed the shaft further and deeper into Pentheselea's body. He pulled his spear forcefully and she closed her eyes as more blood now spurted from the wound. The queen's body fell limp as her soul passed on to the next world.  Achilles paused for a moment and silently contemplated her beauty as she lay on the ground dead, still glorious in her golden but now blood splattered armor, and for a moment felt affection and love stirring in his breast. When an old comrade named Thersites came along and threatened to cut out the dead woman's eyes, Achilles swiftly killed him with his sword, warning his fellow myrmidons to keep their distance. Truly, he thought of her as a champion, his equal. Pentheselea and her Amazons could not save Troy as they faced defeat and were all slain that day, along with an allied force that came to save Troy, ironically led by king Memnon of Aethiopia in the Third Continent. Troy would fall at last. The tales of the Amazons as well as the legend of Troy was told and retold and became the stuff of myth and memory. Pentheselea attained immortality though the pen of the poet, through the verses of the bards and through the hands of sculptors and the painters of vases and wine kraters. She may be the most famous warrior woman ever known, this mighty queen from antiquity. 

                                                       

                                                         Vase by Ezekias Achilles & Penthesilea, British Museum
   
Epilogue

A new world emerged after Troy fell, and chaos ensued as desperate peoples seeking sustenance and an escape from the convulsions of the Earth and nature migrated en masse, sacking cities and established new kingdoms. It is said that the ash and dust from the many volcanic eruptions clouded the sky for years causing the crops to cease growing.  Humans grew tired of the gods and as a result of their being ignored, they simply began to vanish and ceased to exist. The fires of the furnaces of Hephaistos were no longer being stoked. From continued disuse they exploded, creating ever new volcanoes, thus manifesting the rage of the gods. The ancient knowledge, the stories and the personalities of the distant past became the mythologies and the religions of the inheritors of the past, inspiring their virtues and their ethics. The old gods lived on, in memory and in transcended and mutated forms, but the essence of the past remained with new civilizations then as as it remains with us today. Empires and nations rise and new destinies are sought or created but those immortal champions, like the lost lands and realms they inhabited who live on in our stories and our myths, are always with us, to remind us of what is possible for the ordinary mortal seeking immortality. Pentheselea is one such immortal being, queen of the Amazons and daughter of Ares the god of war, born and raised in the long forgotten realm of Thrax, that magical land of forested mountains and shining streams where Orpheus sang to the birds and the stones, that land which has become known to us as the ancient land of the Thracians. 

                 
Fine Thracian gold work


Posed photos by H. Arifi



                                                    



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