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Amazons of Black Sparta : The Women Warriors of Dahomey 0th Edition

13 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0814706787
ISBN-10: 0814706789
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Editorial Reviews


"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."


About the Author

Stanley B. Alpern worked as a sub-editor for the New York Herald Tribune and then as a foreign service officer of the United States Information Agency for twenty-two years, two of which were spent in West Africa. He lives on the French Riviera.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 280 pages
  • Publisher: NYU Press (December 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0814706789
  • ISBN-13: 978-0814706787
  • Product Dimensions: 8.8 x 5.7 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,732,976 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

53 of 54 people found the following review helpful By claudia burckard on September 5, 1999
Format: Paperback
This is truly a gem of a book for history buffs. It treats a heretofore unexplored topic in enlightening and fascinating detail. For professional historians also, Alpern's well-referenced history of the world's only known all-female fighting units is a singular contribution to the documentation of this unique combat force. Military aficionados should also consider this book essential reading for a more complete knowledge of the history of the world's fighting forces.
For more than 200 years the kings of Dahomey (in West Africa - now Benin) used large units of women warriors, under female command, as part of their regular troops in that nation's almost continuous annual conflicts with its neighbors. Although slow reading at first because of Alpern's meticulous adherence to detail, the book fairly races at the end as it describes the battles, triumphs, and ultimate defeat of the women troops by a modern French army. The author's research is all the more remarkable because of the utter lack of indigenous written records of these illiterate people. His glimpses into the history of the Dahomean Amazons had to be painstakingly extracted from records in several languages of various European visitors to that area of West Africa from the 17th to the early part of this century.
This book dovetails neatly with both African-American and women's studies. Not only were the Amazons of Dahomey fiercely independent and strong but much of the warfare conducted by the Fon (the people of Dahomey) was for the purpose of obtaining slaves for their own use and later to sell to European buyers for transport to the Americas.
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38 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Bill Belli on April 3, 2001
Format: Paperback
Amazons of Black Sparta is good reading whether your interest is military or ethnographic.
The first half of the book is arranged topically, laying a groundwork for the campaigns that follow. Each chapter presents an aspect of Amazon life and the culture that produced it. The chapters stand alone, although the topics build on one another to give a well-rounded image of this unique fighting force.
I found the cultural descriptions fascinating and, for the most part, well-researched particularly because I live and work among a people that were once a part of the Dahomey kingdom. Many of the things Alpern describes are still a part of daily life in rural Benin (formerly Dahomey); others have disappeared with history. The memory of the Amazons, however, is still very alive and elders still tell stories of the women who tore trees out of the ground to use as clubs. Alpern has done a good job drawing from a variety of sources to separate fact from fiction and to produce believable yet amazing history.
The second half of the book will be more interesting to the military-minded. The chapters are arranged more chronologically and give accounts of battles, tactics, and the eventual downfall of Dahomey as an independent kingdom. Many of these places are easy to find today and the oral tradition lives on, although there are no battlefield markers or museums to commemorate them.
Stanley Alpern's style is smooth, easy reading, neither too technical nor too simplistic. For those who want a taste of the culture and a good understanding of the Amazons this is an excellent introduction. For those interested in an unusual military phenomenon and an account of military cultures colliding, this will spice up your library.
In any case, this book was well worth the price and the time it took to read.
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35 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Chapulina R on November 5, 2000
Format: Paperback
The mythical Amazons of Greek legend were probably inspired by eye-witness reports of female cavalry soldiers of the ancient Russian steppe. But most historical record of those fierce Sarmatian, Sauromatean, and Scythian civilizations, except for some recently excavated kurgans, has been lost to time. Over a million women fought in the Soviet armed forces in World War ll. And Eritrean women have been fully integrated in combat for the past thirty years in that impoverished nation's civil war with Ethiopia. Most women warriors have fought in gender-integrated regiments under male command. None have been so thoroughly documented as the all-female regiments of Dahomey amazons. Author Alpern has done a remarkable job of translating those documents for a comprehensive history of this once-splendid African kingdom. As early as 1729, European traders recorded existence of the fighting-women of the Fon (Dahomey people) and their neighbors the Ashanti. Originally retained as an elite royal guard, Dahomey amazons held semi-sacred status as celibate warrior "wives" of the King. They prided themselves on their hardened physiques and highly-trained martial skills, and constantly strove to outperform their male counterparts. During two centuries of raids and wars against neighboring kingdoms, Dahomeyan women increased their reputation as merciless undefeatable opponants. By 1890 they comprised over 30 percent of the Dahomey fighting force. With considerable bloodshed, and at cost of some 2000 amazons' lives, the Fon were finally defeated by the French Foreign Legion in 1892.Read more ›
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