of the conquest of the Amazons being assigned to the two famous heroes of Greek mythology, Heracles and Theseus—who in the tasks assigned to them were generally opposed to monsters and beings impossible in themselves, but possible as illustrations of permanent danger and damage,—shows that they were mythical illustrations of the dangers which beset the Greeks on the coasts of Asia Minor; rather perhaps, it may be intended to represent the conflict between the Greek culture of the colonies on the Euxine and the barbarism of the native inhabitants.
In works of art, combats between Amazons and Greeks are placed on the same level as and often associated with combats of Greeks and centaurs. The belief in their existence, however, having been once accepted and introduced into the national poetry and art, it became necessary to surround them as far as possible with the appearance of not unnatural beings. Their occupation was hunting and war; their arms the bow, spear, axe, a half shield, nearly in the shape of a crescent, called pelta, and in early art a helmet, the model before the Greek mind having apparently been the goddess Athena. In later art they approach the model of Artemis, wearing a thin dress, girt high for speed; while on the later painted vases their dress is often peculiarly Persian—that is, close-fitting trousers and a high cap called the kidaris. They were usually on horseback but sometimes on foot. The battle between Theseus and the Amazons is a favourite subject on the friezes of temples (e.g. the reliefs from the frieze of the temple of Apollo at Bassae, now in the British Museum), vases and sarcophagus reliefs; at Athens it was represented on the shield of the statue of Athena Parthenos, on wall-paintings in the Theseum and in the Poikile Stoa. Many of the sculptors of antiquity, including Pheidias, Polyclitus, Cresilas and Phradmon, executed statues of Amazons; and there are many existing reproductions of these.
The history of Bohemia affords a parallel to the Greek Amazons. During the 8th century a large band of women, under a certain Vlasta, carried on war against the duke of Bohemia, and enslaved or put to death all men who fell into their hands. In the 16th century the Spanish explorer Orellana asserted that he had come into conflict with fighting women in South America on the river Marañon, which was named after them the Amazon (q.v.) or river of the Amazons, although others derive its name from the Indian amassona (boat-destroyer), applied to the tidal phenomenon known as the “bore.” The existence of “Amazons” (in the sense of fighting women) in the army of Dahomey in modern times is an undoubted fact, but they are said to have died out during the French protectorate. For notable cases of women who have become soldiers, reference may be made to Mary Anne Talbot and Hannah Snell.
AMAZON-STONE, or Amazonite, a green variety of microclinefelspar. The name is taken from that of the river Amazon, whence certain green stones were formerly obtained, but it is doubtful whether green felspar occurs in the Amazon district. The modern amazon-stone is a mineral of restricted occurrence. Formerly it was obtained almost exclusively from the neighbourhood of Miyask, in the Ilmen mountains, 50 m. S.W. of Cheliabinsk, Russia, where it occurs in granitic rocks. Of late years, magnificent crystals have been obtained from Pike's Peak, Colorado, where it is found associated with smoky quartz, orthoclase and albite in a coarse granite or pegmatite. Some other localities in the United States yield amazon-stone, and it is also found in pegmatite in Madagascar. On account of its lively green colour, it is cut and polished to a limited extent as an ornamental stone. The colour has been attributed to the presence of copper, but as it is discharged by heat it is likely to be due to some pigment of organic origin, and an organic salt of iron has been suggested. (See Microcline.)
AMBARVALIA, an annual festival of the ancient Romans, occurring in May, usually on the 29th, the object of which was to secure the growing crops against harm of all kinds. The priests were the Arval Brothers (q.v.), who conducted the victims—ox, sheep and pig (suovetaurilia)—in procession with prayer to Ceres round the boundaries of the ager Romanus. As the extent of Roman land increased, this could no longer be done, and in the Acta of the Fratres, which date from Augustus, we do not find this procession mentioned (Henzen, Acta Fratrum Arvalium, 1874); but there is a good description of this or a similar rite in Virgil, Georg. i. 338 ff., and in Cato's work de Re Rustica (141) we have full details and the text of the prayers used by the Latin farmer in thus “lustrating” his own land. In this last case the god invoked is Mars. The Christian festival which seems to have taken the place of these ceremonies is the Rogation or Gang week of the Roman Church. The perambulation or beating of bounds is probably a survival of the same type of rite.
AMBASSADOR (also Embassador, the form sometimes still used in America; from the Fr. ambassadeur, with which compare Ital. ambasciatore and Span. embajador, all variants of the Med. Lat. ambasciator, ambassiator, ambasator, &c., derived from Med. Lat. ambasciare or ambactiare, “to go on a mission, to do or say anything in another's name,” from Lat. ambactus, a vassal or servant; see Du Cange, Glossarium, s.v. ambasciare), a public minister of the first rank, accredited and sent by the head of a sovereign state as his personal representative to negotiate with a foreign government, and to watch over the interests of his own nation abroad. The power thus conferred is defined in the credentials or letters of credence of which the ambassador is the bearer, and in the instructions under the sign-manual delivered to him. The credentials consist of a sealed letter addressed by the sovereign whom the ambassador represents to the sovereign to whom he is accredited, and they embody a general assurance that the sovereign by whom the ambassador is sent will confirm whatever is done by the ambassador in his name. In Great Britain letters of credence are under the royal sign-manual, and are not countersigned by a minister. Ambassadors are distinguished as ordinary and extraordinary, which implied originally the difference between a permanent mission and one appointed to conduct a particular negotiation. The style of ambassador extraordinary is, however, now often given to a minister accredited to a court for an indefinite time and implies a somewhat more dignified rank.
By the protocol of the 19th of March 1815, afterwards embodied in the treaty of Vienna (1815) and confirmed by an instrument signed by the five great powers at Aix-la-Chapelle on the 21st of November 1818, it was finally determined that “ambassadors and papal legates and nuncios alone have a representative character,” i.e. in the most exalted and peculiar sense, as representing the person of the sovereign, or the head of a republic, as well as the state to which they belong. It follows that only states enjoying “royal honours,” i.e. empires, kingdoms, grand duchies, the great republics (e.g. France, Switzerland, the United States of America) and the Holy See, have the right to send or to receive ambassadors. By custom it has moreover been established that, as a general rule, only the greater “royal states” are represented by ambassadors, and then only when these are accredited to states esteemed, for one reason or another, to be of equal rank. Thus the promotion of the Japanese legations in Europe and the United States to the rank of embassies, and the corresponding change in the representation of the various
- Ambactus is explained by Festus (Paulus Diaconus ex Festo, ed. C. O. Müller) as a Gallic word used by Ennius and meaning servus. Caesar (De Bello Gallico, vi. 15) says of the Gallic equites, “atque eorum ut quisque est genere copiisque amplissimus, plurimos circum se ambactos clientesque habent.” Accepting the Celtic origin of the word, it has been connected with the Welsh amaeth, a tiller of the ground. A Teutonic origin has been suggested in the Old High Ger. ambaht, a retainer, which appears in a Scandinavian word amboht, bondwoman or maid, in the Ormulum (c. 1200).