Cover image for Amazons of black Sparta : the women warriors of Dahomey
Title:
Amazons of black Sparta : the women warriors of Dahomey
Author:
Alpern, Stanley B. (Stanley Bernard), 1927-
Publication Information:
New York : New York University Press, [1998]

©1998
Physical Description:
xii, 280 pages : illustrations, maps ; 23 cm
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780814706770

9780814706787
Format :
Book

Available:*

Library
Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Status
Central Library UB419.B46 A48 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
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Summary

Summary

History is rife with tales of fighting women. More often than not, these stories prove more legend than history. Dating back to the amazons of ancient Asia Minor, myths of fierce, autonomous women of martial excellence abound.

And yet, the only thoroughly documented amazons in world history are the women warriors of Dahomy, an eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Western African kingdom. Once dubbed a "small black Sparta," residents of Dahomy shared with the Spartans an intense militarism and sense of collectivism. Moreover, the women of both kingdoms prided themselves on bodies hardened from childhood by rigorous physical exercise. But Spartan women kept in shape to breed male warriors, Dahomean amazons to kill them. Originally a praetorian guard, the Dahomeans developed into a force 6,000 strong and were granted semi-sacred status. They lusted for battle, fighting with fury and valor until the kingdom's final defeat by France in 1892.

Stanley B. Alpern has chronicled this remarkable history in depth for the first time. The product of meticulous archival research, Amazons of Black Sparta is defined by Alpern's gift for narrative and will stand as the most comprehensive and accessible account of the woman warriors of Dahomy.


Summary

History is rife with tales of fighting women. More often than not, these stories prove more legend than history. Dating back to the amazons of ancient Asia Minor, myths of fierce, autonomous women of martial excellence abound.

And yet, the only thoroughly documented amazons in world history are the women warriors of Dahomy, an eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Western African kingdom. Once dubbed a "small black Sparta," residents of Dahomy shared with the Spartans an intense militarism and sense of collectivism. Moreover, the women of both kingdoms prided themselves on bodies hardened from childhood by rigorous physical exercise. But Spartan women kept in shape to breed male warriors, Dahomean amazons to kill them. Originally a praetorian guard, the Dahomeans developed into a force 6,000 strong and were granted semi-sacred status. They lusted for battle, fighting with fury and valor until the kingdom's final defeat by France in 1892.

Stanley B. Alpern has chronicled this remarkable history in depth for the first time. The product of meticulous archival research, Amazons of Black Sparta is defined by Alpern's gift for narrative and will stand as the most comprehensive and accessible account of the woman warriors of Dahomy.


Reviews 2

Choice Review

The female warriors of Dahomey, now Benin, in West Africa have always been a curiosity to the European mind as a concrete twist on the familiar myth of the Amazons. Alpern, a former Agency for International Development official long-stationed in Africa and now an independent scholar, draws together the available material on this peculiar institution into an interesting and readable book. The author's meticulous literary and archival research indicates that these females were indeed formidable warriors in the turbulent 19th-century era of the slave trade and subsequent European colonial conquest. His discussion also includes details on the organization of this force and the culture of female militarism. In asides, however, Alpern indicates that this was no matriarchy. These thousands of women were also "wives" of the king, and at a later age they could also be parceled out to other males. Thus, from a comparative perspective, this particular Dahomian arrangement provided an example of "reproductive despotism," i.e., the accumulation and control over females by a powerful male to form a harem as much as a regiment. Despite a lack of a comparative analytical focus, Alpern's work is still an informative study. General readers; undergraduates. W. Arens; SUNY at Stony Brook


Choice Review

The female warriors of Dahomey, now Benin, in West Africa have always been a curiosity to the European mind as a concrete twist on the familiar myth of the Amazons. Alpern, a former Agency for International Development official long-stationed in Africa and now an independent scholar, draws together the available material on this peculiar institution into an interesting and readable book. The author's meticulous literary and archival research indicates that these females were indeed formidable warriors in the turbulent 19th-century era of the slave trade and subsequent European colonial conquest. His discussion also includes details on the organization of this force and the culture of female militarism. In asides, however, Alpern indicates that this was no matriarchy. These thousands of women were also "wives" of the king, and at a later age they could also be parceled out to other males. Thus, from a comparative perspective, this particular Dahomian arrangement provided an example of "reproductive despotism," i.e., the accumulation and control over females by a powerful male to form a harem as much as a regiment. Despite a lack of a comparative analytical focus, Alpern's work is still an informative study. General readers; undergraduates. W. Arens; SUNY at Stony Brook


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