Battle between Lapiths and Centaurs, Greeks and Amazons

Unidentified artist
3 min
Photo: Annar Bjørgli / Nasjonalmuseet



Ancient Egyptian pharaohs, French and Italian dukes, power and people, war and peace. The human body captured in movement and at rest, real men and women, mythological creatures and gods coiled around each other. In here, we see it all.  

A plaster cast of a classical Greek frieze from the Temple of Apollo, originally carved in marble, also hangs here.  

Its scenes illustrate stories told by the Ancient Greeks about wars between civilizations, between humans and gods, between Greeks and Amazons, between the Centaurs and the Lapiths.  

According to Greek mythology, the Centaurs and the Lapiths had shared ancestry, as each race was descended from one of two brothers. One of the brothers mated with mares, resulting in children that were half-horse and half-human: the mythological creatures known as Centaurs. But who were the Amazons?  

Thea Selliaas Thorsen, who is Associate Professor of Classical Studies at NTNU – Norwegian University of Science and Technology, can tell us more: 

Thea Selliaas Thorsen: 

The Amazons are female warriors, horsewomen from regions north of Greece, perhaps from the steppes of Central Asia, who have many interactions with the Greeks. For example, they side with the Trojans to fight against the Greeks – and they are pretty scary. They allegedly invented the double-headed battle axe, and it’s also said that they killed or abandoned their male children, and that they had sex only once a year and otherwise banished all men. But I should also say that we have a clear sense that these women existed in real-life; they were women warriors.   

To the Ancient Greeks, the Amazons were a real people. And this is also what researchers believe today, basing their theories on archaeological findings in the graves of nomadic peoples, where DNA testing has shown that there actually are female warriors buried there, fully equipped for battle and with battle scars on their bodies, so it is easy to believe that these actually are Amazons. And if we believe this, today, then actually we have something in common with the Ancient Greeks.   


The Amazons gained iconic status in Western culture and are the obvious inspiration for a contemporary fictional superhero, Wonder Woman, well-known from cartoons and movies.   

And up there, in the frieze from the ancient Temple of Apollo, they do battle: the ancient warrior women who perhaps lived not only as characters in ancient mythology, but actually galloped over the steppes, fighting on horseback and falling in battle, side by side with the men.