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Amazon, Port. Amazonas (ämäzōˈnəs), world's second longest river, c.3,900 mi (6,280 km) long, formed by the junction in N Peru's Andes Mts. of two major headstreams, the Ucayali and the shorter Marañón. It flows across N Brazil before entering the Atlantic Ocean near Belém.

The Amazon carries more water than any other river in the world. The drainage basin is enormous (c.2,500,000 sq mi/6,475,000 sq km; c.35% of South America), gathering waters from both hemispheres and covering not only most of N Brazil but also parts of Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela. For most of its course the river has an average depth of c.150 ft (50 m). The gradient of the river is very low: Manaus, c.1,000 mi (1,610 km) upstream, is only c.100 ft (30 m) higher than Belém and is an ocean port; ships with a draft of 14 ft (4 m) can reach Iquitos, Peru, c.2,300 mi (3,700 km) from the sea. Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia have international shipping rights on the Amazon. In the lowlands stretching east from the Andes is the largest rain forest (selva) in the world—a wet, green land rich in plant life. The tropical climate is tempered by the heavy rainfall (exceeding 150 in./381 cm annually in parts of the upper and lower regions) and by high relative humidity; the average temperature at Santarém, 400 mi (644 km) upriver, is 78℉ (26℃).


Geologically, the Amazon basin is a sediment-filled structural depression between crystalline highlands of Brazil and Guiana. The riverbed (1–8 mi/1.6–12.9 km wide) is in a wide floodplain that is up to 30 mi (48 km) wide. For much of its course, the Amazon wanders in a maze of brownish channels amid countless islands, but is unobstructed by falls.

Its headstreams, however, arise cold and clear in the heights of the Andes. They descend northward before turning east to join and form the Amazon (which is, however, occasionally called the Solimões from the Brazilian border to the junction with the Rio Negro). Of the Amazon's more than 500 tributaries, the chief ones are the Negro, Japurá (Caquetá), Putumayo (Içá), and Napo, which enter from the north; and the Javari, Juruá, Purús, Madeira, Tapajós, and Xingú rivers, which enter from the south. The Casiquiare River, a natural canal, links the Amazon basin (through the Rio Negro) with the Orinoco basin.

Below the Xingú the river reaches its delta, with many islands formed by alluvial deposit and submergence of the land. Around the largest of these, Marajó, the river splits into two large streams. The northern stream is the principal outlet and threads its way around many islands. The southern channel, called the Pará River, receives the Tocantins River and has the important port of Belém. The awesome tidal bore (up to 12 ft/3.7 m high) of the Amazon is called pororoca; it travels c.500 mi (800 km) upstream. The river's immense silt-laden discharge is visible far out to sea.

Exploration and Development

The Amazon was probably first seen by Europeans in 1500 when the Spanish commander Vicente Yáñez Pinzón explored the lower part. Real exploration of the river came with the voyage of the Spanish explorer Francisco de Orellana down from the Napo in 1540–41; his stories of female warriors gave the river its name. Not long afterward (1559) the Spanish conquistador Pedro de Ursúa led an expedition down from the Marañón River. In 1637–38 the Portuguese explorer Pedro Teixeira led the voyage upstream that definitively opened the Amazon to world knowledge. The river continued to be of enormous importance to explorers and naturalists, among them Charles Darwin and Louis Agassiz.

There is archaeological evidence of clustered, densely populated pre-Colombian settlements in parts of the Amazon basin, but at the time of the early European explorations these settlements had already been wiped out, probably by smallpox and other diseases, The valley was largely left to its sparse remaining indigenous inhabitants (mostly groups of the Guaraní-Tupi linguistic stock and of meager material culture) until the mid-19th cent., when steamship service was regularly established on the river and when some settlements were made. In the late 19th and early 20th cent., the brief wild-rubber boom on the upper Amazon attracted settlers from Brazil's northeastern states, and in the 1930s Japanese immigrants began developing jute and pepper plantations. Until recently the area remained largely unpopulated, yielding small quantities of forest products (rubber, timber, vegetable oils, Brazil nuts, and medicinal plants) and cacao.

The establishment of a health service (chiefly by launch) in World War II was followed by the creation of a UNESCO research institute in 1948, and several developmental programs, both governmental and private, were set up in Brazil to foster the valley's development. In the 1960s the Amazon region began experiencing increased economic development brought on by tax incentives and construction of the Trans-Amazon Highway, the Belém-Brasília Highway, and two rail lines. Near Manaus and Amapá, factories make use of ample oil and manganese resources. In addition, a port at the Brazilian city of Macapá was connected by rail in the 1950s to the inland stores of manganese.

The Brazilian government implemented a “poles of development” policy in 1974 to plan for population increase. Since 1985 areas in the Amazon region have seen the exploitation of mineral deposits, land colonization, cattle ranching, large-scale farming, and urban development on an unprecedented scale. This has had mixed results, leading to environmental damage, including significant deforestation (some 20% of Amazon basin since 1970), and to the disruption of the original inhabitants' lives, and many settlers in the region do not have title to their land. In 2009 a law was passed that would permit settlers to acquire title, either through a grant or purchase, depending on the size of the plot. The destruction of large sections of the rain forest has threatened rare species of plants and contributed to the increase in the atmosphere's carbon dioxide and the consequent impact on global warming. Attempts in the 21st cent. to moderate deforestation, which were most successful under President da Silva, were reversed under President Bolsonaro, who took office in 2019.


See C. R. Marham, ed., Expeditions into the Valley of the Amazon (1859); R. Furneaux, The Amazon (1969); J. R. Holland, The Amazon (1972); B. Weinstein, Amazon Rubber Boom, 1850–1920 (1983); B. Kelly and M. London, Amazon (1985); J. T. Medina, The Discovery of the Amazon (2d ed. 1988); J. Hemming, Tree of Rivers: The Story of the Amazon (2008).


, in Greek mythology
Amazon (ămˈəzŏn), in Greek mythology, one of a tribe of warlike women who lived in Asia Minor. The Amazons had a matriarchal society, in which women fought and governed while men performed the household tasks. Each Amazon had to kill a man before she could marry, and all male children were either killed or maimed at birth. It was believed that the Amazons cut off one breast in order to shoot and throw spears more effectively. They were celebrated warriors, believed to have been the first to use cavalry, and their conquests were said to have included many parts of Asia Minor, Phrygia, Thrace, and Syria. Several of the finest Greek heroes proved their mettle against the Amazons: Hercules took the golden girdle of Ares from their queen Hippolyte; Theseus abducted Hippolyte's sister Antiope and then defeated a vengeful army of Amazons at Athens. A contingent of Amazons fought with the Trojans under Penthesilea.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(also Amazonas), a river in South America. It is the world’s largest river in terms of the volume of water carried, the size of the basin, and the length of the river system. The aboriginal Indians call the Amazon the Paraná-tinga (White River) and Paraná guazu (Great River). The area of the basin is 7.18 million sq km; the length from the main source, the Marañón River, is 6,400 km; and the length from another source, the Ucayali River, is more than 7,000 km. A large portion of the basin is located in Brazil, where the part of the Amazon between its confluence with the Ucayali and the mouth of the Rio Negro is called the Solimóes. The southwestern and western regions are located in Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia. The boundaries of the basin are the eastern slopes of the Andes, the southern slopes of the Guiana Highlands, the entire northern and central Brazilian highlands, and the Amazon basin, one of the largest lowland territories in the world.

The basic course of the Amazon is located between the equator and 5° S lat.—that is, in the region with the most abundant and even precipitation (1,500–3,000 mm per year). The main source, the Marañón River, rises in the eastern slopes of the western Cordilleras in Peru at an elevation of 4,840 m above sea level, flows in the mountains parallel to the ocean coast in a deep depression, and then turns east, cutting through the Andes to form 27 so-called pongos (deep, rocky, narrow gorges with nearly vertical walls). Beyond this the Marañón leaves the mountains and enters the Amazon lowlands and, joining the Ucayali River which comes in on the right, becomes the Amazon. Over the entire remaining distance, the Amazon flows across a plain which is frequently swampy and is covered by humid equatorial forests. The channel of the Amazon is bordered by low banks which descend to the river in three broad stages. The upper stage is terra firma, or the noninundated bank formed by the original valley wall, and it is 50 m or more in elevation. Below this stage stretches the floodplain. The middle stage, or várzea, is a part of the floodplain, which is inundated during major floods of the Amazon. The lower stage, the igapó, or swamp, is covered by water from the usual overflowing of the river. Below the confluence of the Rio Negro, the width of the floodplain reaches 80–100 km, narrowing somewhat only near the towns of Obidos and Santarém. The surface of the floodplain is cut by the channels of the numerous branches and streams and is dotted with lakes and old river beds. Low channel banks stretch along the shore. Some 350 km from the ocean, the Amazon forms a delta which is one of the largest in the world, encompassing an area of about 100,000 sq km. A major portion of the drainage travels along the northeastern channels, and a portion flows along the eastern channel of the Pará. Between this and the main channels lies one of the world’s largest river islands, Marajó.

The Amazon is fed by numerous tributaries, about 20 of which are large rivers some 1,500 to 3,500 km long. The most significant tributaries on the right are the Ucayali, the Juruá, the Purus, the Madeira, the Tapajós, the Xingu, and the Tocantins (which flows into the Pará). On the left are the Napo, the Içá, the Yapurá, and the Rio Negro. These tributaries rapidly increase the amount of water in the Amazon. Past the confluence with the Ucayali, the river’s width is about 2 km; in the middle of its course it reaches 5 km; in the lower part it is 15 to 20 km; and right before the mouth it is 80 to 150 km. The river’s depth is approximately 70 m in the middle reaches, 135 m near the town of Óbidos, and 15 to 45 m at the mouth. The Amazon’s tributaries differ not only in their sizes and amounts of water but also in the color of the water. The waters of the Rio Negro are basically dark, and the Rio Branco is a milky color. There are rivers with yellow, gray, greenish, and even reddish casts to the water. There is no other river in the world which has such an abundance of colored waters as the Amazon.

The Amazon has a complex and unique regime. It is in full flood all year. The right tributaries, with their basins lying in the southern hemisphere, and the left tributaries, with their drainage basins in the northern hemisphere, flood at different seasons because the rainfall occurs in different seasons. The right tributaries flood from October through March, which is the summer in the southern hemisphere, while the left tributaries flood from April through October, which is the summer in the northern hemisphere. In this way the seasonal fluctuations in the drainage are smoothed out. The southern tributaries carry more water; from May through July they cause the greatest rises in the water level and the highest floods on the Amazon. In August through September, their water levels are low. The maximum water discharges in the Amazon are 300,000 cubic meters per second (cu m per sec) and more. In the Atlantic Ocean, as far as 300 km offshore, a yellowish tint can be seen in the water. With low water levels, the discharge drops to 70,000–80,000 cu m per sec. The mean discharge is about 175,000 cu m per sec, with an annual drainage of about 5,520 cu km. The Amazon is responsible for 15 to 17 percent of the total annual drainage of all the world’s rivers. Each year, the Amazon carries an average of more than 1 billion tons of solid material out of its basin. In the lower reaches, the river’s regime is substantially affected by the tides, which extend 1,400 km up the river. At the mouth, the tides are accompanied by the so-called pororocas (“roaring waters”)—breaking waves sometimes as high as 4 or 5 m which rush up the river at high speed and with a great roar, inundating and destroying the banks. In one of the local Indian dialects the pororoca is called an amazunu. (Some geographers derive the name of the river itself from this.)

The plant and animal world of the Amazon is very rich. In the lakes and channels of the Amazon is found the Queen Victoria waterlily of the Nymphaeaceae family, the leaves of which reach enormous sizes. Among the mammals are the manatee (in the river’s mouth) and the river dolphins— Inia geoffroyensis and others. There are numerous fishes (approximately 2,000 species, or one-third of all the freshwater fauna in the world). The arapaima (approximately 4 m long) is of economic importance, and the piranha is characteristically a predator. Rays, eels, snakes, and crocodiles are also found.

With its tributaries, the Amazon forms the world’s greatest system of inland waterways, with a total length of more than 25,000 km. The main channel of the Amazon is navigable over a distance of 4,300 km (up to Pongo de Man-seriche gorge). Large ocean-going vessels go as far as Ma-naus, 1,690 km from the mouth. The main ports in the Amazon basin are Belém (Pará), Santarém, Óbidos, Manaus, and Iquitos. The Amazon possesses enormous power potential, estimated at nearly 280 million kilowatts; however, the hydropower utilization of the river is insignificant.

The mouth of the Amazon was discovered in 1500 by the Spaniard Vincente Yáñez Pinzon, who called the river Rio Santa Maria de la Mar Dulce or “The River of Saint Mary of the Fresh Sea.” (Scores of kilometers away from shore the water was still fresh.) The first voyage up the river was made in 1541 by the Spanish conquistador F. de Orellana, and the first scientific voyage was made by the French scientist La Condamine in 1743 and 1744. A survey of the region of the Amazon’s sources was mainly carried out by a German-Peruvian expedition in 1955.


James, P. Latinskaia Amerika. Moscow, 1949. (Translated from English.)
Lukashova, E. N. Iuzhnaia Amerika. Moscow, 1958.
Otkrytie velikoi reki Amazonok. Moscow, 1963.
Muranov, A. P. Velichaishie reki mira. Leningrad, 1968.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


female warrior. [Gk. Myth.: Parrinder, 18]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. Greek myth one of a race of women warriors of Scythia near the Black Sea
2. one of a legendary tribe of female warriors of South America


a river in South America, rising in the Peruvian Andes and flowing east through N Brazil to the Atlantic: in volume, the largest river in the world; navigable for 3700 km (2300 miles). Length: over 6440 km (4000 miles). Area of basin: over 5 827 500 sq. km (2 250 000 sq. miles)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005

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