2,500-year-old 'Wonder Woman' found on Greek vase

© The University of Mississippi Museum and Historic Houses, David M. Robinson Memorial Collection

A 2,500-year-old predecessor of super heroine has emerged on a vase painting kept at a small American museum.

Drawn on a white-ground pyxis (a lidded cylindrical box that was used for cosmetics, jewelry, or ointments) the image shows an Amazon on horseback in a battle against a Greek warrior.

Much like the fictional warrior princess of the Amazons, the horsewoman is twirling a lasso.

"It is the only ancient artistic image of an Amazon using a lariat in battle," Adrienne Mayor, a research scholar at Stanford University's departments of classics and history of science, told Discovery News.

Mayor noticed the vase at the University of Mississippi Museum during research for her 2014 book

Created between 480 and 450 B.C. in Athens, the image is attributed to the Sotheby painter.

"The vase would have held a Greek woman's intimate make-up or jewelry. The images on the box suggest that women enjoyed scenes of Amazons getting the best of male Greek warriors," Mayor said.

According to the researcher, the suspenseful scene of a Greek male about to be lassoed by a powerful foreign warrior woman was exotic and also subversive, a surprising twist on traditional Greek women's roles.

The Amazon is portrayed in a dynamic action just before roping her victim. She looks back over her shoulder at the lasso she is swinging while the Greek man crouches under his shield with a spear.

"The rest of her rope, painted purple like her shoes, is coiled around her waist, and she correctly holds the lariat's loop near the knot," Mayor said. "Her technique is accurate for roping something straight ahead," she added.

She noted the Amazon has her battle-axe ready to dispatch her victim.

According to Mayor, the vase decoration is evidence that the painter and his audience were familiar with descriptions of horse-riding Scythian warrior women using lariats.

Ancient Greek and Roman historians describe Scythian mounted archers skillfully using lassos in warfare.

For example, Herodotus reported that 8,000 nomadic steppe riders armed with daggers and braided leather lariats joined the army of Persian king Darius in 480 B.C.

Several other sources told how Scythian skirmishers threw rope nooses and wheeled their horses around to entangle their enemies.

Roman geographer Pomponius Mela, who wrote around 43 A.D., also reported that warrior women of the northern Black Sea region were experts with the lasso.

David Saunders, associate curator at J. Paul Getty Museum's department of antiquities, found the pyxis fascinating for its shape and techniques of decoration, for the unusual image of the lassoing Amazon and for what it might have meant for the woman who owned it - and perhaps also whoever bought it for her.

"There's plenty to explore in terms of how the scene might relate to the arts of seduction, and more broadly regarding male and female attitudes to one another in ancient Athens," Saunders, who specializes in Greek vase-painting and iconography, told Discovery News.

"A vessel like this would probably have been used as a container for some sort of adornment - be it make-up, perfume, perhaps jewellery. Maybe we could think of its owner preparing herself as the Amazons did for battle," he added.