The Island of Themascyra is a nation inhabited by amazons, a race of all-female (biologically) militants. These women train from birth to be warriors and are well trained in the ways of combat. However, they have no special abilities or powers, and are simply the pinnacle of the human form. Unfortunately for them, they have come into conflict with a powerful empire with a strong military. They have invaded the island and intend on either capturing or killing the inhabitants.

Regardless of how tough they are, the amazons would lose against the invading army if they face them head on, pound for pound. Men still have faster reaction times than women, can carry heavier loads, and have more endurance, which are all relevant to combat. I need to design the island's environment to give them the greatest chance against their enemies other than simply the home-team advantage. This war takes place in the ancient world with that level of technology being used on both sides. Assuming that the invaders have already gotten onto the island in full force, what kind of terrain should be designed for them?

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    $\begingroup$ The terrain is underground, and ceiling height is uniformly just below the average male's height. $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Jun 20, 2019 at 21:46
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    $\begingroup$ "Cliffs and caves" seems to be the answer. If you look into the city of Masada and how a couple dozen men, plus women and children bested three Roman legions holding siege. $\endgroup$ Jun 20, 2019 at 23:01
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    $\begingroup$ "They [...] are simply the pinnacle of the human form" vs "Men still have faster reaction times than women, can carry heavier loads, and have more endurance, which are all relevant to combat". Pitch any male user here against a female Olympian and just see the result. The predicate seems rather conflicting. They're badly outnumbered, maybe. But 1 for 1, pinacle of human form trumps sexual dimorphism. Besides, men have faster reaction time? Wasn't aware of that. (true question here) $\endgroup$
    – Nyakouai
    Jun 21, 2019 at 7:59
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    $\begingroup$ @Lupus They are not "just" fit, they're trained from birth to be soldiers. I took Olympian because it's the easiest exemple I had at hand, but from what is described: 1) Amazons are in peak physical condition and 2) Highly specialized in fighting (extent to be defined by OP). So it's rather "peak female elite soldier" against "trained average male soldier". (plus, there is quite a gap between a fit woman and the peak of female condition. I would try my luck against a fit girl. I wouldn't even try with a fighter at peak condition) $\endgroup$
    – Nyakouai
    Jun 21, 2019 at 9:30
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    $\begingroup$ From huns and mongols taking over the world to Belisarius mopping up the Vandals and Ostrogoths, small men have bathed themselves in the blood of their bigger, faster, stronger enemies all throughout History. Your amazones have more problems because of being outnumbered - which, by the way, they just can't be, if the enemy must come through the sea - than because of having to fight men. And I mean normal women, not even specially strong or fit for battle. $\endgroup$
    – Rekesoft
    Jun 21, 2019 at 11:45

10 Answers 10


I'd call a bit of frame challenge. It is actually disputable, how much males are better than females in hand-to-hand combat. Besides, we are speaking about melee using weapons here, not about a straight up brawling match. Despite what people may think, mass is less if an advantage in a fight with weapons than in hand-to-hand. Even muscle-powered weapons are a bit of equalizer, although to lesser degree than firearms.

Their problem thus is not of their individual weakness, but a simple problem of containing and defeating the invading army. There are a lot of variants how that can go.

Open fields and a lot of rivers

The females may actually be worse warriors, but better soldiers, with superior discipline, unit cohesion and field engineering. The exact nuances of the island's terrain are irrelevant - your Amazons are analogous to Caesar's legions pitted against Gauls, they construct defensible forts in the open fields overnight, have better road system and superior mobility, are able to ford rivers faster or even redirect rivers in the couple of days. The men, in contrast, may be physically superior, but with worse tactics and a tendency to treat a battle as individual confrontation.

Wide plains

The women may be technologically superior in some aspects. For example, they may have stirrups in what otherwise is technologically a Bronze age world. If their island has wide open plains, light cavalry archers may successfully lead a war of attrition against an infantry army.

Craggy and mountainous terrain

Or, moving in other direction, they may have superior fortifications and siege machines - their lack of upper-body strength is suddenly irrelevant if they are mostly firing scorpions from the walls at the male army.

Huge cities

Assymetrical warfare was already mentioned. It is actually a textbook technique of defeating the numerically superior and stronger army. Your women have an unexpected advantage in assymetrical warfare too - it's hard for an opponent to differentiate between combatants and civilians. Imagine your women living in big (for a Bronze age) and densely populated cities. Sure, those cities may fall to the conqueror fast, but holding them is quite another matter - you can't put all males to sword, because there are no males. Good luck trying to understand who of those innocent-looking women hides a knife under her tunic, ready to slit the soldiers throats.

  • $\begingroup$ I would argue with the last one. In that age, against an all-female nation, the sensible course would be to consider everyone as enemy. Capture or kill everyone. No pesky media and human rights organizations to shame you into inaction at the cost of your own troops lives. $\endgroup$
    – Lupus
    Jun 21, 2019 at 2:03
  • $\begingroup$ @Lupus I've thought of that too - it depends on both the population figures and on the reasons and goals of war. But total massacres were comparatively rare historically. $\endgroup$
    – Cumehtar
    Jun 21, 2019 at 9:06
  • $\begingroup$ All-female islanders were rarer, but yeah, you are right. However, I'm not sure if historically the occupied population behaved like you described, they wouldn't deal with it more brutally. Public beheadings, indiscriminate arrests,... until they cow the populace sufficiently. Or only the "sheep" remains. $\endgroup$
    – Lupus
    Jun 21, 2019 at 9:22
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    $\begingroup$ From experience as a medieval reenactor (12th Century with full contact in maille), the women I've fought with/against are typically on par with men. There are also a notable few who are significantly better, although whether that is a gender thing or just them being more noticeable as a minority is arguable. $\endgroup$
    – Kyyshak
    Jun 21, 2019 at 10:05
  • $\begingroup$ @Kyyshak from my HEMA experience there are two separate issues: 1) women come in less conditioned in general - but that is most likely a cultural thing, 2) women have a hard time to work to the absolute top in speed, endurance and reaction time (I'm speaking of almost professional-level trained people here, who do heavy endurance training up from four times a week). If we are speaking about male vs female with average training in HEMA, there is no appreciable difference, especially if fighting with feders, where pure arm strength is less of an issue. $\endgroup$
    – Cumehtar
    Jun 21, 2019 at 10:40

You should read "The Amazons" by Adrienne Mayor. This book is about how the Amazon legends seem to be based on the horse nomad tribes of the Eurasian steppe. In many of those tribes the women would get on horseback & fight alongside the men or even in all woman bands. I think the reason woman warriors were more common there is that being small is actually an advantage when you & your opponents are riding not particularly large horses. The horse carrying the smaller person can run faster & for longer. Greater arm strength for drawing a bow still helps the men, but the faster horse helps the women.

  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, I was going to mention the scythians, who seem to have helped inspire the amazon legends. Definitely not an island culture, and islands were not required in the original stories... $\endgroup$ Jun 21, 2019 at 9:30

The island is mostly built like southern England. High cliffs with limited areas where you can land and get inland.

This allows the Amazons to defend it more easily. Even with minimal fortification above the landing site(s) the Amazons would have a tremendous advantage over any attackers. If they put effort into building fortifications to safeguard these areas it can become virtually impossible to get a hold on the island.

If the island rises even more inland and has lots of hilltops you can make it even harder for the attackers. Bonus is that the attackers have to bring supplies and aren't likely to secure many landing sites. This allows the Amazons to use the landing sites they control to launch ships and attack supplies. They might even be able to make attacks to captured landing sites and destroy ships and supplies from high above.

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    $\begingroup$ I would add mountains with extensive cave systems and thick jungles deeper inland, in case they manage to destroy the fortifications and land. Also, if they are on island and don't trade, the nearby sea could be really hard to navigate with just below the surface reefs and treacherous whirlpools. $\endgroup$
    – Lupus
    Jun 20, 2019 at 22:39
  • $\begingroup$ +1 For WW2 reference to Dover, most of southern England is not quite like that though. $\endgroup$ Jun 20, 2019 at 23:58

I'll assume that the amazons are greatly outnumbered. However, I don't see from the question how being an all-female force actually matters. Unless we go into psychological stuff, how man hardwired to protect woman and so on. Or state that they are physically weaker, smaller, etc.

Some parts of my answer are invalidated by the edits in the question. I'll still leave them in, only ignore/skip them.

So, my answer will be weaker, defending force against stronger, attacking one.

Asymmetrical warfare. Since its their home turf, fortifications to prevent or at least inflict maximum damage during the landing. Build the fortifications to be easily abandoned and stealthily booby trapped, if the invaders want to occupy them.

Extensive tunnel systems, like the Vietnamese did. It provides undetectable movements for rapid attacks and retreats, or overall troop movements.

Guerrilla tactics. Don't attack their strength, attack their weaknesses. Supply lines, logistic, night raid on their camps from safe distance to wore them down. Destroying is easier than building. Torch their ships, if its an island, drill holes into them if they are exceptional divers.

Best examples, today's terrorists vs USA army.

After additional thoughts: (kudos to LSerni for bio warfare idea - not sure how to link his answer here)

Level 1: Mountains with extensive cave systems and thick jungles.

Level 2: Numerous, small, fast rivers which make advancement and troop concentration hard. The shallow parts are rare, tricky, making good ambush points. Alternative: deep valleys and narrow canyons.

Level 3: Hard to sail around the island. Reefs, whirlpools, storms, fog. Bermuda-Triangle.

Level 4: Harsh, changing temperatures. During day, scorching hot, high humidity, during night, freezing cold (don't go together with jungles though) The islanders adapted to these conditions. Thought its yet again, not about females.

Level 5: Bio warfare - Highly poisonous insects, plants, allergenic pollen in the air. The islanders either became immune/resistant over the years, or have the cure. This can be scaled, depending on the desired impossibility of the invasion.

Hell, even just after level 1, I would most likely decline to lead troops unless really want to squander them and have 1 to 1000 ratio with unlimited logistic supply. I would simply torch the hole place if possible and not even that would work for sure. Maybe siege, but from description they are plenty self-sufficient.

Thought it's not about the terrain, but if the amazons are well disciplined, have no easily distinguishable features from the Empire's populace and want to win:

Deploy squads who infiltrate the home country and sabotage them from within. No need for terror incidents, that's just antagonize the population. Information gathering, propaganda (poor, helpless woman needs help and will reward all assistance very warmly), assassination of key personnel (mostly those supporting the invasion), sabotage of supplies, turning their soldiers against them.


This is sort of a War of the Worlds in the Bronze Age...

Themascyra is mostly flat and humid, with vast swamps all around. It has been this way for very, very long. The climate ensures a fertile land, and lots of wildlife (predictably, spiders and snakes a nuisance and mosquitoes an absolute nightmare).

The powerful warriors from the mainland establish a beachhead, dig in and start deploying and reconnoitering.

They almost immediately observe a weird phenomenon - their few prisoners, as soon as they are brought in to the main camp for interrogation, are suddenly struck sick, they become weak, jaundiced, sleepy, nauseous, their urine turns brown or even black. After a very short time, even if no one touched them, they develop a fever and die.

About one week later, the invaders too - even those who never came anywhere near the prisoners, having always remained in ships anchored a little way out in the shallows - come down with a similar disease: they too run a high fever, their skin turns sallow, and they die within a few days. The few survivors are left weak, crippled and helpless. The prisoners recognize this as the island's disease. It was endemic many centuries before, but it has been disappearing and is now rather uncommon, and only the very weakest, mostly babies, ever die.

Since the legends say that in ages past the Amazons were both male and female, it stands to reason that it is the invaders' manliness that is now their undoing. Something in Themascyra really doesn't like men (except that female slaves and camp followers from the mainland also die just like the males, and they do so even faster).

Unable to find a solution or an explanation - they never heard of G6PDD or of P. falciparum themascyrensis - the invading army has to retreat, or be exterminated.

  • $\begingroup$ Oh, I like the bio warfare aspect even if unintentional on the defenders part. An aggressive wildlife, with poisonous insects which the amazons are either immune from long exposure or know the cure of(a local flower) could be an other, more mitigated version. $\endgroup$
    – Lupus
    Jun 20, 2019 at 22:44
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    $\begingroup$ @Lupus in that case you probably want a mutated form of Artemisia annua, which produces a molecule (the artemisinin) which is poisonous for the P. falciparum. The insects are not poisonous by themselves, but they carry the disease. $\endgroup$
    – LSerni
    Jun 21, 2019 at 13:22
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, will read up on it. $\endgroup$
    – Lupus
    Jun 22, 2019 at 4:21

The Amazons are excellent open water swimmers and divers.

Women are on average better distance swimmers than men.


This may be due to differences in body composition, upper vs lower body strength, or what have you. I have never heard of an army of swimmers but for this fiction I am asserting that is what the Amazons are. And the reason it works: they are on an island and the enemy must reach it by boat. More importantly, the enemy must also resupply by boat.

The Amazons free swim out to open water carrying tools and attack the ships, diving beneath them and scuttling them. It is difficult for people on a ship to attack an enemy in the water. Ships at anchor will be sunk.


One should also not Forgett, that a male Warrior might think less of a female opponent, thus underestemating her, maybe some of the foreign soldiers might be reluctant to figeht or kill Women. Regarding the underestimating Part, i would use this to decive the enemy and lure him in for example a valley, where your Women simply can trhwo Rocks and boulders on the Trapped army Or lure them in a seemingly Dry Riverbed where you build a makeshift Dam that you knock down and Drowm them. The feeling of Superiority has led many an Army to it's doom.

  • $\begingroup$ That's almost purely the psychological aspect. They dont have to feel superior to be led into traps, but certainly helps. I'm not clear about the dry riverbed. Even if they dam it, it wont dry out in a few days, maybe weeks... and after it does, the lack of vegetation, etc would alarm them about the tempering. Could you explain it in more detail? $\endgroup$
    – Lupus
    Jun 21, 2019 at 9:31

According to literature, male reproductive system is very sensitive to elevated temperature. High temperature environment is very harmful to the process of sperm generation.

So, a massive warm water pond that separates the male/female kingdom. The pond should be shallow that people can walk in it, but not deep enough for boats. In the long run, soaking in warm water will harm male warriors harder than female warriors.

I mean looooooong run.

  • $\begingroup$ Being overexposed to heat can indeed sterilize a male. But to obtain any long lasting effet, you need either a lot of warmth or a long time. If the pond is hot and large enough to cook the men eggs during crossing, you most certainly have other problems to make an army cross it. Moreover, it will just make them sterile. There is reported cases of young male becoming infertile from long term exposure to their laptop warmth - and they didn't know it. It is highly unlikely that it will hinder an army - even less harm them enough to make a difference (at least on short term). $\endgroup$
    – Nyakouai
    Jun 21, 2019 at 12:13

Possibly the best strategy for the amazons would be to negotiate with the empire and agree to provide enough soldiers at a time to the empire to assist the empire's expansion, while few enough soldiers at a time to not strip the island of defenders or exhaust the amazon population with too much fighting.


Deep valleys or ravines

If the Amazons could force the invading army through a ravine, it would reduce the effectiveness of their enemy’s likely superior numbers. Ideally you’d want spears or pikes as your opposition would not be able to flee and you’d have a significantly longer reach than they would. You may also want shields or shield bearers incase arrows were being fired at the Amazons.

These tactics combined with this terrain could be extremely effective as your enemy would have nowhere to run (the front lines would have thousands of men behind them so they cant just turn tail and run). The Amazons would simply march along the ravine and spear any solider they saw.

Amazons could also stand at the top of the ravine and either fire arrows down at the approaching soldiers or simply drop rocks and push boulders over the edge to crush them. (If the valley or ravine was angled enough and wide enough, you could also simply roll a large boulder down the ravine Indiana-Jones-style and kill all invading soliders currently marching through it.)

Open fields or grassy plains

Whilst pound-for-pound the invading force might be physically superior to the Amazons, they may not be as disciplined. I bring up discipline as its extremely important in the case of a cavalry charge.

A cavalry charge is essentially a game of chicken between the horses in the cavalry and the men being charged at. A horse will not willingly impale itself on a spear and soliders don’t want to be stabbed by a spear from horse back, either the horse will rear up when it gets too close to the spears or the men will flee.

Highly disciplined and well-trained soldiers know this and will stand their ground in a cavalry charge and the charge will fail. Less disciplined soldiers however will flee for their lives, when soliders see their peers turn and run, it makes them more likely to also run instead of risking being the only one standing there against the incoming cavalry. Eventually most, if not all, soldiers will turn and run, either due to being afraid of the cavalry charge or due to peer pressure and not wanting to be the only one left to deal with this charge - this is known as a rout and is what a cavalry charge aims to achieve.

If this invading force was fearful of cavalry charges or simply hasn’t been trained against them, they will likely rout when the charge happens and the Amazons can simply spear them in the back as they run or hit them with clubs and maces.

Swamps or Marshlands

An invading army is likely to be heavily armoured carrying supplies, weaponry and equipment with them, on their campaign. They may also have horses and wagons they’ve brought with them to make traversing long distances easier. Amazons on the other hand are more likely to be lightly armoured and have a camp or village nearby where they can store equipment or supplies.

If this invading army is forced to march through marshlands, their heavy gear is going to weigh them down and get them stuck in the marshes. Local Amazons however will know the paths through the marsh where there is more solid ground. As the invading force gets bogged down, Amazons may ambush them with archers and flank them with spear formations. The invaders would be stuck, unable to properly defend themselves as they are trudging through knee-deep mud and water.

Furthermore, after the Amazons have ambushed the soldiers, they may simply choose to flee. This may seem like they’ve retreated and like they have failed, but this would be part of their plan - that being to give the invading forces trenchfoot and frostbite. This would severely hamper the invader’s ability to effectively fight, giving the Amazons an advantage.


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