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A marble block with a relief design featuring a battle scene.
Frieze block from the tomb of King Mausolus

SOPHIA: What you’re looking at is called a frieze – which is basically a flat panel that’s had a scene carved into it.

Now, look at the figure at the far left of the frieze. I want you to think of 3 words to describe it. Ready? Go.

First word. You can do it.

And second word.

And third word. Great!

Now, obviously I don’t know what you said – let’s face it, I’m a recorded voice in your ear – but there’s a chance you might have thought of words like ‘warrior’, ‘strong’, ‘fighting’ and ‘fierce’. You may have also thought of ‘woman’, which is a key thing about this object.

If you thought ‘octopus sandwich’, you’re just being silly. That’s 2 words!

This scene shows 2 mortal enemies locked in combat!

It’s the Greeks (the men) versus a legendary race of warrior women known as the Amazons. Who do you think is going to win? I’d bet a million bucks those hardcore Amazons would totally kick butt!

This is only one panel out of a bunch that were carved onto the Mausoleum at Halikarnassos. This was a huge building built by Queen Artemisia as a tomb for her husband, King Mausolus in the area we now know as Turkey. It was so immense and astounding that it’s been named one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

The Mausoleum itself no longer exists, but its foundations, columns, lots of pieces of sculpture and frieze panels like this one have survived.

Take a look at the Amazon’s hands. We think they were holding something – maybe something metal, maybe something painted. What do you think they could have been holding?

And, if you say ‘octopus sandwich’, you’re still just being silly.

Have you heard of the word ‘Amazon’ before? Maybe you’ve heard of the Amazon River, or bought something online from Amazon.

But a very popular superhero is also based on the Amazons. Can you think of a fierce warrior woman? A really famous superhero?

No, it is not an octopus sandwich! How could that be a superhero? Seriously! Sigh.

There are lots of great female superheroes now, but one of the very first was Wonder Woman! Her creator imagined what might happen if an Amazon came to live in the world of regular humans, just like the Ancient Greeks believed the Amazons really existed in their world.

These legendary superwomen have been inspiring people for thousands of years.

Disclaimer and Copyright notice
This is an edited transcript typed from an audio recording.
The National Museum of Australia cannot guarantee its complete accuracy.

© National Museum of Australia 2007–21. This transcript is copyright and is intended for your general use and information. You may download, display, print and reproduce it in unaltered form only for your personal, non-commercial use or for use within your organisation. Apart from any use as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) all other rights are reserved.

Date published: 17 December 2021

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