Amazons of Black Sparta: The Women Warriors of DahomeyStanley B. Alpern (Author)

This volume examines the “Amazons”, whose existence has been verified via documents and eye-witness accounts from battles for the West African kingdom of Dahomey in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Originally palace guards, the Amazons had evolved by the 1760s into professional troops armed mainly with muskets, machetes and clubs. Theoretically wives of the king and quartered in his palaces, they were actually sworn to celibacy on pain of death. In compensation they enjoyed a semi-sacred status and numerous privileges, including the right to own slaves.

By the 1840s their numbers had grown to 6000. The Amazons served under female officers and had their own bands, flags and insignia: they outdrilled, outshot and outfought men, became frontline shock troops and fought with ferocity and fearlessness till the kingdom’s final defeat by France in 1892. This text is based on years of detailed archival research and includes more than 20 line drawings and photographs. (Source:

From the Author

History’s only thoroughly documented amazons were African.
Amazons of Black Sparta is the first book ever published in English on the only thoroughly documented amazons in world history. They were the elite troops of the West African kingdom of Dahomey in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. No other group of women warriors, including those the Greeks dubbed amazons for their alleged lack of one breast, has ever been more than a myth.

Curiously, the female soldiers of Dahomey resembled those of Greek legend in many ways. The basic aim of both was to make war. From an early age, both groups were trained to handle weapons, to be strong and swift and hardy, to withstand suffering. They lusted for battle, rushed into it with blood-curdling yells, reveled in it, and fought with fury and valor, seemingly immune to fear. They terrified their neighbors. Men regarded them as worthy, implacable foes. In victory they were pitiless.

Besides fighting, both groups of women hunted, danced and played musical instruments.

But there were significant differences. The amazons of Dahomey never rode horses which, in fact, couldn’t last very long there because of the presence of the tsetse fly. Instead of bows, spears and axes, the main weapons of the black warrioresses were muskets, machetes and clubs, and they rarely used shields.

Their breasts were intact — there was no thought that removal of the right one would make it easier to shoot arrows or hurl javelins.

Unlike the amazons of Greek myth, they were vowed to celibacy (as nominal wives of the king) and so did not produce their own replacements.

They lived by themselves like their legendary counterparts, but in royal palaces, not off somewhere autonomously.

They had their own officers but fought in an army with a male majority (whom they always strove to outshine) and were ultimately ruled by men. They were completely devoted to their king, and would die for him, as many did.

After obscure origins in the eighteenth century, when the amazons of Dahomey paraded and fought topless, they evolved into a uniformed standing force, the shock troops of one of Africa’s most powerful states. They reached their maximum strength around 1850, when they numbered between four and six thousand.

They fought to the bitter end against the French invaders of their country in 1892, and the last surviving amazon veteran died in the 1970s.

A word about the title of my book. Dahomey has been called Black Sparta because of its militarism and subordination of the individual to the state. Sparta did not have female troops, but its women did practice sports and do other physical training like the amazons of Dahomey. The difference was that Spartan women kept in shape to breed male warriors, Dahomey’s amazons to kill them.

Amazons of Black Sparta came out first in England and has been praised by three leading British Africanists. John Fage rated the book “excellent, full of quite fascinating detail.” Paul Hair called it “a definitive study of this fascinating social phenomenon.” Christopher Fyfe said “Stanley Alpern…has written an impressively comprehensive study covering all aspects of this extraordinary military force…He has made an important scholarly contribution to the history of nineteenth century West Africa in which the Amazon achievement has until now been scarcely mentioned.” –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: C Hurst & Co Publishers Ltd (27 Oct 1998)
Language English
ISBN-10: 1850653623
ISBN-13: 978-1850653622
Product Dimensions: 21.2 x 13.8 x 1.8 cm