Amazon EtymologyNaming the Legendary Warriors

Today, the term “Amazon” is used to describe a variety of strong and independent women. But where did the term come from? There exists no single, definitive derivation for the word; instead, many theories exist about its origins. Like so many aspects of Amazonian history, these theories are debated among scholars as new findings are uncovered. Exploring where the term came from and who created it requires delving headfirst into the myths of many cultures and a good deal of geographical travel.

 Beginning With Breasts

There is no archaeological evidence to suggest that Amazons actually cut off a breast.

The most commonly cited etymology is from ancient Greek, where the phrase a-mazos means “without a breast,” or “breastless.” In a legend common since classical times, the Amazons were said to sear or cut off the breast of a girl when she reached puberty in order to help her shoot arrows more accurately. There is no archaeological evidence of this practice and no artwork from the time the Amazons would have existed that depicts one-breasted Amazons. But female archers today often wear chest protectors; perhaps the Amazons did likewise.

A variation on the possible Greek origin is the root a-massos, meaning “not touching.” This theory suggests that it was men that the Amazons did not touch, which would make sense in view of their separatist lifestyle. This second derivation also ties in with Homer’s epithet for the Amazons, Oiorpata, or man-killers, and Aeschylus’ description of them as “man-hating” and “manless.”

Another possible Greek root is a-maza, meaning “without cereal,” which implies that the women were meat-eaters. This especially important because the diet of nomads at the time mainly consisted of meat. This name could have been used to distinguish the mobile women warriors from other women who stayed put to cultivate crops.

 Warrior and Moon Women

The “man-killers” show their stuff.

Most accounts of the Amazons came from the ancient Greeks, but the name “Amazons” could have come from other peoples in contact with the Greeks. In Persian, ha-mazon means “warrior.” The Amazons were often linked with the Persians in Greek art, which suggests that there was a connection between the two cultures, or at least that the Greeks viewed them as similar. The word could have slipped from Persian into Greek, perhaps through Persian slaves or prisoners.

The Greeks also interacted with traders on the Circassian coast. The Circassian word maza (moon) is another possible root, as it connects the race of women warriors with the Greek huntress-goddess Artemis and her Asian equivalent, Cybele, both of whom are associated with the moon. Along similar lines, the Sanskrit Uma-Soona translates as “daughters of Uma.” Uma is a goddess found in India and across central Asia, where the Scythians roamed. Scythian fighting women have been suggested as the possible inspiration for the Greek Amazons.

Another group that came into contact with the Greeks through trading were the Phoenicians, seafaring people who lived along the Syrian coast. In Phoenician, Am means “mother,” and Azon or Adon means “lord.” Thus the translation “mother-lord,” which identifies the Amazons with an androgynous mother-lord goddess found in some Indian, Hittite and Sumerian traditions.

While its exact origin may never be known, the word “Amazon” has always been associated with power and greatness. The largest river in South America, the Amazon, was reportedly named by Francisco de Orellana, a Spanish soldier who spotted tribeswomen with bows and arrows on the river’s banks in the 1540s. More than five hundred years later, the word made another auspicious debut with the launch of, one of the world’s largest online retailers. In general, “Amazon” is used as a descriptive term for a particularly strong woman.

Captivating society’s imagination for 2,500 years—from fierce women warriors of the ancient world and their modern counterparts, to the great river of South America and even to a leader of online revolution—the word “Amazon” endures in our everyday conversation today.

:: Lyn Webster Wilde

Amazon Etymology Selected Sources


© 2005–2006, Women of Action Media, LLC