The New International Encyclopædia/Amazons

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AM'AZONS, Amaz'ones (from Gk. Ἀμαζών, Amazōn). In early Greek legends, a race of war-like women, who either suffered no man to live among them, or held men in servitude for the continuance of the race. The earliest accounts place them in northeast Asia Minor, on the River Thermodon; later writers, farther to the north and west, in Scythia and the Caucasus; and finally we hear of Amazonas in Libya, at the south of the known world. Their expeditions, undertaken for war and plunder, led them into Scythia and Syria, but especially to the coast of Asia Minor, where we find them in conflict with Priam, Bellerophon, and other heroes. In this region they were said to have founded many cities, notably Ephesus, where they established the temple of Artemis, which furnished them a refuge when defeated by Hercules. They were daughters of Ares, and worshiped him and Artemis as their chief gods. They appear chiefly in three stories: (1) The killing by Achilles of their queen Penthesilea, who led her army to the relief of Troy; (2) the conflict with Hercules, which arose from his endeavor to secure the girdle of their queen, and led, according to some writers, to their annihilation; (3) the war with Athens, which began with the expedition of Theseus to carry off the Amazon queen, and ended with their invasion of Attica, attack on the Acropolis from the Areopagus, and total destruction by Theseus and the Athenians. The origin of these legends is not clear; but if we consider the localities in which the Amazons lived, and that in historic times the Greeks found tribes about the Black Sea in which the women held sway and took part in war, while in Caria, Lycia, and Lydia there is much evidence for descent traced through the mother, it seems not improbable that the Amazons embody a reminiscence of the people and civilization which preceded the Greeks on the east of the Ægean. Representations of the Amazons are very common in all periods of Greek art. At first they appear in the costume of Greek hoplites, but later assume the Scythian garb. They are armed with lance, battle axe, or bow, and usually carry a crescent shield. Among the chief ancient representations are the reliefs from Gyǒlbaschi, in Vienna, which seem to reflect the painting of Micon at Athens; and the friezes from Phigalia and the mausoleum at Halicarnassus, in the British Museum. Of the statues, three types go back to the best period of Greek art: the “Wounded Amazon,” in Berlin, probably by Polycletus; the “Wounded Amazon” of the Capitoline Museum in Rome, and the “Unwounded Amazon” in the Vatican. It was said that in order to be unimpeded in war, they burned off their right breasts; but no work of art shows them thus mutilated, and undoubtedly the story is merely an invention to explain a false etymology, as though the composition of the word Amazon were priv. and μαζός, mazos, breast. Consult: Klügmann, Die Amazonen in der attischen Litteratur und Kunst (Stuttgart, 1875), and Corey, De Amazonum Antiquissimis Figuris (Berlin, 1891).