Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Warrior Women

Recently in Australia women have been cleared to serve in combat. Whether you think this is wrong or right, agree or disagree it cannot be denied that women have a long history in the military. This post will focus on woman from ancient and medieval times as well as some mythological figures and gods. If you are interested, Wikipedia has pages on women in war in Ancient times, Medieval times, Early Modern times, 1750 - 1799, 1800-1899, 1900-1939, WWI, WWII, 1945-1999, and 2000-present.

The first historical record of a woman leading and fighting battles is the Egyptian regent Ahhotep I circa 1560-1530BC. She fought the Hyskos invasion and was buried with jewels, weapons and military honours.

Ahhotep I
*Please let me know if you have any lovely pictures of her.

Pallas Athene by Gustav Klimt, 1898.
Athene or Athena was the Greek god of wisdom and war. She was born from her father, Zeus's, skull fully armoured. Her male counterpart, Aries, is much more emotionally charged which is interesting when looking at later societies who categorised women as overly emotional and men as level headed.
The face you can see here on Athena's chest is the head of the gorgon Medusa given to her by Perseus.

By Alexander Zick.
Tomyris was the Queen of Massagetae in Central Asia in approx. 530BC. She is reported to have fought and eventually defeated the Persian Emperor Cyrus the Great.
"The queen [Tomyris], on hearing that Cyrus ignored her terms, engaged him in the field with all the forces she possessed... Finally, however, the Massagetae got the upper hand, the greater part of the Persian army was destroyed where it stood, and Cyrus himself was killed."
Herodotus, The Histories, 1.215.

Cloelia Passing the Tiber by Peter Paul Rubens, 1630-40.
Cloelia was a Roman girl given as one of many hostages to the Etruscan King, Lars Porsena in 508BC. Cloelia managed to escape the Etruscan camps and lead a number of other young female hostages across the Tiber and back to Rome. Porsena demanded that Rome return her and so they did, but he was so impressed by her that he let her choose other hostages to go free. She freed the young boys. The Romans paid tribute to Cloelia by erecting a statue of her on horseback at the top of the Sacred Way, an unprecedented honour. (Livy, The Early History of Rome, 2.13.)

The Lady of Yue, otherwise known as the Maiden of the Southern Forest, was a master swordswoman living during the reign of King Goujian of Yue (496-465 BC). She trained his generals and served him as an advisor.

Battle of Salamis by Wilhelm von Kaulbach.
In the battle of Salamis (480BC) between Greece and Persia, Artemisia I of Caria commanded five ships under Xerxes the king of Persia and also served as his advisor. She was the only advisor to warn him against the battles which eventually cost him the war.
During the battle of Salamis Artemisia was targeted by a Greek trireme (Hellenistic-era warship), but she attacked a Persian ship, causing the Greeks to believe she was on their side. However Xerxes believed she had sunk a Greek ship and was very pleased.

Wounded Amazon by Franz von Stuck, 1904-05.
The Amazons are a tribe of warrior women in Greek mythology. Accounts of their customs, homeland and actions vary, although there are archaeological findings that suggest an element of truth to the Amazon myth. There is a lot of interesting information available if you want to know more.

"When the Greeks were at war with the Amazons (whom the Scythians call Oiorpata, a name signifying in our tongue killers of men, for in Scythian a man is “oior” and to kill is “pata”), the story runs that after their victory on the Thermodon they sailed away carrying in three ships as many Amazons as they had been able to take alive; and out at sea the Amazons attacked the crews and killed them."
Herodotus, The Histories, 4.110.1
Hypsicratea and Mithridates Riding into Battle.
Hypsicratea was a concubine who became Queen of Pontus when she married King Mithridates VI (134-63BC). She followed her husband into exile, donning armour and training in warfare to better serve him. She fought with axe, lance, sword and bow and arrow.

Boudica by Georgie Furst.
Boudica (circa 25-62AD) was a Celtic ruler of the Iceni people who lead an uprising against the Roman occupying forces in Britain.

Trieu Thi Trinh
A Vietnamese warrior from the 3rd century AD, Trieu Thi Trinh liberated part of Vietnam from the Wu kingdom (one of the three competing Chinese kingdoms) and for a time successfully resisted their advances.

Queen Mavia
Some time in the 4th century AD Mavia ruled over the Saracens of Southern Palestine and Northern Sinai she fought and repeatedly defeated the Romans who eventually signed a peace treaty with her. Later they requested martial aid and she granted them a troop of cavalry. She was Christianized by later historians.

Kahina was a Berber, (In North Africa) religious and military leader although there seems to be some disagreement as to her actual nationality and faith (I'm no expert). Her actual name is Damiya (there are variations) but she was given the name al-Kāhina meaning female seer in classical Arabic.
In the 7th century AD Kahina lead the Berber tribes against the invading armies of the Umayyad Dynasty. While she withheld them for some time, the Berbers were eventually defeated..

Shield Maiden of Rohan

Shield Maidens are female warriors from Norse myth, though like the Amazons I personally believe there were likely a few female warriors fighting at the time giving rise to these legends. After all the best stories always have a grain of truth. And like the Amazons there are some historical accounts that support my belief. There were a lot of Shield Maiden pictures to choose from, some sexier than others, for some reason it seems common to believe they wore little other than their shields.

Tomoe Gozen by Kikuchi Yosai.
Tomoe Gozen was a 12th century female samurai. She fought in the Genpei war, was a skilled swordsman, archer, and rider, and was first captain to Minamoto, a samurai general.

Joan of Arc being burnt at the stake by Hermann Stilke, 1843.
 At seventeen Joan of Arc was the youngest woman to lead an entire nations army. She won many victories against the English, however, she also claimed to receive visions from God, which some people get sort of funny about. She was burnt at the stake as a heretic by the English but later she was made a saint.

Tamar of Georgia.
Tamar was the Queen Regent of Georgia from 1184 to 1213. She lead Georgia to its Golden Age and personally commanded her army.

Kunoichi by Yoshitaka Amano.
The Kunoichi were female ninjas trained in the arts of sabotage and assination among others. Ninjas were most apparent during the 15th century AD but possibly had antecedents as early as the 12th century AD.

Of course there are hundreds more I have not mentioned and millions we will never know about. I regret not including the Valkyrie and the Morrigan but no doubt will do a post on them specifically at some point. Please, if you have any favourite female warriors let everyone know about them in the comments.

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