An Amazonian Custom in the Caucasus, by John Abercromby

 Karina Mezova

Karina Mezova (Circassian mountain climber) and the Caucasus Mountains. Credit: Magma Magazine

Folklore, Vol. 2, No. 2. (Jun., 1891), pp. 171-181.

One of the best known legends of classical authors relates to a fabled nation of warlike women, deprived of the use of one breast by a process of cauterisation and known as Amazons. According to a well authenticated custom, still current among the Cherkes or Adighé, the Abkhas, and to some extent among the Osets,[1] the growth of both breasts during maidenhood is artificially repressed by means of a leather corset. The object of this paper is to offer an explanation for the origin of the modern custom, and to show reason for believing it to be lineally descended from an older one anterior to the time of Herodotus, and having, therefore, a possible ancestry of twenty-five centuries.

In Asia, which at that period was separated from Europe by the river Don, the ancient Greeks knew of Amazons in two localities: on the banks of the Thermodon near Sinope, and on the isthmus north of the great chain of the Caucasus. It is probable they first became acquainted with those that lay nearest them, and accounted for those they heard of afterwards in the neighbourhood of the Caucasus by an imaginary migration, such as Herodotus relates. Some of the reports that may have been true of the Amazons of the Thermodon were very likely transferred without sufficient ground to the Amazons of the Caucasus. Whether there existed any nearer connection between the two groups than that both performed some operation upon the right breast, and had some customs in common, does not concern us here. We may, therefore, dismiss the legends referring to the westerly Amazons, and confine our attention to the easterly variety.

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