In Greek mythology, a nation of women who suffered no men to remain among them, but marched to battle under the command of their queen. They held occasional intercourse with the men of the neighboring states. If boys were born to them, their either sent them to their fathers or killed them. But they brought up the girls for war, and burned off their right breasts, so that they would not be impeded in bending a bow. From this custom they received the name of Amazons, that is, "breastless." Such is the myth. It may have built up from the observation of armed priestesses among various races that the Greeks encountered. Some writers, however, have supposed the word Amazon to have some connection with the Circassian word "Maza" signifying the moon, as if the myth of the Amazons had taken its origin in the worship of the moon, which prevailed on the borders of Asia.
Three nations of Amazons have been mentioned by the ancients: (1) The Asiatic Amazons, from whom the others branched off. These dwelt on the shores of the Black Sea, and among the mountains of the Caucasus. They are said to have at one time subdued the whole of Asia, and to have built Smyrna, Ephesus, Cumae, and other cities. Their queen, Hippolyte, or, according to others, Antiope, was killed by Hercules, in fulfilling the ninth of the labors imposed on him by Eurystheus, which consisted in taking from her the shoulder-belt bestowed on her by Ares. On one of their expeditions, the Amazons came to Attica, in the time of Theseus. They also marched under the command of their queen, Penthesilea, to assist Priam against the Greeks. They even appear upon the scene in the time of Alexander the Great, when their queen, Thalestris, paid him a visit, in order to become a mother by the conqueror of Asia. (2) The Sythian Amazons, who in after-times married among the neighboring Scythians, and withdrew farther into Sarmatia. (3) The African Amazons, who, under the command of their queen, Myrina, subdued the Gorgons, marched through Egypt and Arabia, and founded their capital on the Lake Tritonis, but were then annihilated by Hercules.
The myth of the Amazons was a fertile subject in ancient Greek art, and their historical existence and locality are seriously discussed by rationalizing historians and geographers such as Arrian and Strabo. Even later than the middle ages they were believed to exist in Africa and America, and the name of the river Amazon is a memorial of this belief.
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