Where does the word “amazon” come from and What does it mean?

Before the days of the Trojan War, according to the legendary tales of Homer, there was a tribe of fierce warriors living near the Caucasus Mountains.

They were ruled by a queen, it was said, and they had waged war against other tribes in Asia Minor and had even invaded Greece. But the peculiar thing about this tribe was that all its members were women; there mere no men among them.

Once each year they met a neighboring tribe of men, but any boys that might be born from such a union were either killed or sent over the hills to their fathers. The girls were kept and were trained for warfare and the hardships of military life.

These strange women were called Amazons, a name that the Greeks believed came from the two words, a, without, and mazos, breast, because, as Homer explained, in order that they might be more skilled in the use of bow and arrow, the right breast of each woman had been removed.

Many paintings and some statuary of this warlike race have been preserved which, though they do not support the explanation that was given for the origin of the name, do show that the Greek artists believed the Amazons to have been large and powerful women of noble proportions.

It is in this sense in which amazon is now used. The large river in South America received its name from the Spanish explorer, Orellana, who, in his first descent of the river in 1541, was attacked by a tribe of natives, among whom the women fought alongside the men.

He thought them to be another tribe similar to that known by ancient Greeks, and gave them the name Amazon.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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