The Greeks, Romans and other early civilizations wrote about or depicted the Amazons in their art. The name Amazon has survived through the ages as a generic term for women warriors. But until recently most of the historians who accepted these same ancient authors and artists as credible sources for information on other aspects of their society dismissed their descriptions of the Amazons as myth.
There is a growing body of evidence that the Amazons were as real as the civilizations who wrote of them. They governed large areas of Europe, Asia Minor and Africa. Cities named Amazonium were established on Pontus and the Island of Patmos and numerous ancient cities in Europe, Asia Minor and the islands of the Aegean Sea, including Smyrma and Ephesus, claimed to have been founded by Amazons. A number of these cities stamped coins commemorating their Amazon founders and built statues and temples in their honor.
According to historian Jessica Salmonson the Amazons were actually two different matriarchal empires founded, governed and defended by women. The earlier empire, the Hesperian or Gorgon Amazons, were Libyan women warriors who originated on Tritonia, an island off the African coast which was largely destroyed by volcanic eruption with the surviving portion forming the present day Canary Islands. Herodotus wrote of the Libyan Amazons military power as late as the sixth century BC.
yrene, the Gorgon Amazons greatest Queen, conquered parts of Syria, Egypt, Phygia and lands in the Mediterranean including the islands of Samos, Lesbos, Pathmos and Samothrace. She founded several cities which bore her name including the ancient city of Smyrna. A description of a North African battle in which she led a cavalry of 30,000 women is believed to be the earliest record of troops riding horses into combat. Some scholars have theorized that the Centaurs, the legendary half human / half horse warriors of Greek mythology were actually descriptions of Amazons on horseback.
After years of warfare the combined armies of the Thracian and Scythian empires retook part of Myrene's colonial conquest. When she died the Gorgon Amazons abandoned their remaining colonies and returned to their base in North Africa. Myrene was buried near Troy and was later named a Trojan ancestress by the Greeks.
Some areas of Asia Minor controlled by Myrene continued to be noted for their tribes of women warriors well into historical times while the tradition of African Amazons continued into the 20th century among the Dahomey Amazons and other tribes.
Centuries later the Thermodontine Amazons reconquered much of the same area Myrene had held. They were a matriarchal bronze age nation of allied city-states located on a plain by the River Thermodon near the Sea of Azov.
The nation was founded by Lysippe with Themiscyra as its capital and Lycastia and Chadesia as regional centers. Its sphere of influence extended from Sarmatia (now the Russian steppes) throughout the Tauric Mountains. Through its port of Anatolia knowledge of the Amazons, along with elements of their religious and cultural practices spread around the world.
Salmonson and other authors believe that Lysippe was originally from Scythia, where both men and women were trained for battle. Other sources state that Lysippe and her followers were originally Sarmatians. Graves of priestesses and warriors in ancient Sarmatian cemeteries have included the women's armor and weapons some of which are marked with even more ancient Scythian symbols. Whatever their origin the Thermodontine Amazons were Indo-European but may have included immigrants from other goddess-worshiping city-states.
Thermodontine Amazon government was decentralized with numerous Queens serving as tribal leaders, but by law throughout the empire only women could govern, or engage in warfare and agriculture. After Lysippe's death her daughter ruled the Amazons. Other notable Queens included Lampedo and Marpesia, who was one of the greatest of the Amazon empire builders.
Hippocrates wrote of the Scythian Amazons fighting battles in the fifth century BC, Soviet archaeologists date the earliest graves of women warriors discovered near the Sea of Azov to the third century BC which indicates that the matrilineal dynasty founded by Lysippe lasted longer than the combined empires of Cyrus, Charlemagne, Alexander and Napoleon.
The Thermodontine Amazon's primary divinities were the Thracian Artemis (Tauric Virgin) and the Artemis of Ephesus who derived from the Phygian and Cretan Great Mothers (Cybele and Rhea) of Scythian and Anatolian origin. This goddess was also worshiped in Sicily at Rhodes, in Pontus and Galatia and throughout North Africa. Her temple at Ephesus, whose site was chosen by the Amazons, was regarded as one of the greatest temples of antiquity. She is mentioned in the Bible as being worshiped throughout the world. The Apostle Paul tried to suppress her followers while Alexander the Great gained popular support by restoring her temple. Both Amazon goddesses predated the Greek Artemis and other Greek divinities by centuries.
Women Warriors of Ancient Greece and Rome
The Greeks also wrote of their own women warriors. Amastris, wife of Dionysius of Heracluria established her own city state by conquering and uniting 4 settlements.
Artemisia I, ruler of the Greek city-state of Halicarnassus and Cos and advisor to Xerxes the ruler of the Persian empire, assisted him in his attacks on the Greeks by commanding a force of warships in the naval battle of Salamis around 480 BC.
Telessilla, a 5th century BC warrior poet, rallied the women of the besieged city of Argos with war hymns and chants and led them in defending the city against the invading forces.
Arachidamia was one of a number of Spartan princesses who led female troops. She fought against Pyrrhus during the siege of Lacedemon in the 3rd century BC. The Princess Chelidonis captained women warriors atop the city wall during a siege of Sparta in 280 BC.
Roman women frequently accompanied the Legions and settled with their Legionnaire husbands, fathers and sons in the Empire's remote outposts. Agrippina the Elder, granddaughter of Augustus and mother of Caligula accompanied Germanicus during the Syrian war and gave birth to a daughter in a Roman war camp. Horace wrote of her, "You shall be described as a brave subduer of your enemies, on ship board and on horse back".
In the first century AD Triaria, dressed and armed as a knight, accompanied her husband, Emperor Lucius Vitellius, into battle and fought at his side.
There are also written records of Roman women gladiators. Tacitus in his Annals writes about Nero in 63 AD staging "a number of gladiatorial shows, equal in magnificence to their predecessors, though more women of rank and senators disgraced themselves in the arena". Tacitus did not approve of well born women competing as gladiators and wrote several indignant protests against the practice. Petronius' Satyricon mentions a circus which featured a female chariot fighter competing against men. The poet Statius wrote a poem about a gladiatorial contest staged by the Emperor Domitian in 88 AD which included, "Moors, women and pygmies". Women were also among the ranks of the venatores, (gladiators who fought wild animals in the arena), according to the writings of Martial and Cassius Dio. In 200 AD Emperor Alexander Severus issued an edict prohibiting women combatants in the arena, but if it was enforced its effect appeared to be short lived.
Women Warriors in the Middle East
Zabibi and her successor Samsi reigned as Arabian warrior queens from approximately 740 to 720 BC. Both commanded armies containing large numbers of women.
Septima Zenobia governed Syria from about 250 to 275 AD. She led her armies on horseback wearing full armor and during Claudius' reign defeated the Roman legions so decisively that they retreated from much of Asia Minor. Arabia, Armenia and Persia allied themselves with her and she claimed dominion over Egypt by right of ancestry. Claudius' successor Aurelian sent his most experienced legions to conquer Zenobia but it took almost 4 years of battles and sieges before her capital city of Palmyra fell and Zenobia along with nine other martial queens of allied provinces were paraded through the streets of Rome in chains. Aurelian exiled Zenobia to Tibur. Her daughters married into influential Roman families and her line continued to be important in Roman politics for almost three centuries.
Mavia, was Queen of the Bedouin Saracens from 370 to 380 AD. She led her troops in defeating a Roman army then made a favorable peace and married her daughter to the Roman commander in chief of the eastern Emperor Valens.
Kahula, an Arabian army commander in the battle of Yermonks (circa 600 AD) joined her forces with those of another female commander, Wafeira. Together they turned back the Greek army.
Salaym Bint Malham is described by Rosalind Miles as a war leader who, "with an armoury of swords and daggers strapped round her pregnant belly fought in the ranks of Muhammad and his followers".
An 8th century religious leader, the Kahina, united the Byzantine and Berber forces against the invading Arab army. She maintained an independent Berber monarchy for many years before her death in battle against the Arabs.
African Women Warriors
Matriarchal warrior tribes and matrilineal tribal descent are a continuing theme in African history and in some cases survived into modern times. One of the great African warrior queens of the ancient world was Majaji, who led the Lovedu tribe which was part of the Kushite Empire during the Kushite's centuries long war with Rome. The empire ended in 350 AD when the Kushite stronghold of Meroe fell to repeated Roman assaults. Majaji led her warriors in battle armed with a shield and spear and is believed to have died on the walls of Meroe.
The Egyptian warrior queens, descended from the royal house of Kush, included Ahotep, the 7 Cleopatras and Arsinoe II & III. They ruled Egypt and led her army and navy through Roman times. A succession of Ethiopian Queens and military leaders known as Candace were also descended from the Kush. The first Candace, leading an army mounted on war elephants, turned back Alexander's invasion of Ethiopia in 332 BC. In 30 BC Candace Amanirenas defeated an invasion by Patronius, the Roman governor of Egypt and sacked the city of Cyrene.
In 937 AD Judith, Queen of the Falash, attacked Axum, sacred capital of Ethiopia killing all the inhabitants including the descendants of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.
Through the 10th and 11th centuries the Hausa states (modern day Nigeria) were ruled by the Habe warrior queens: Kufuru, Gino, Yakumo, Yakunya, Walzana, Daura, Gamata, Shata, Batatume, Sandamata, Yanbamu, Gizirgizir, Innagari, Jamata, Hamata, Zama and Shawata. Centuries later Amina, daughter of Queen Turunku of the Songhai in mid-Niger ruled the Hausa empire from 1536 to 1573. She extended her nation's boundaries to the Atlantic coast, founded cities and personally led her army of 20,000 soldiers into battle.
Mbande Zinga was the sister and advisor of the king of Ngola (today Angola) and served a his representative in negotiating treaties with the Portuguese. She became queen when her brother died in 1624 and appointed women, including her two sisters Kifunji and Mukumbu, to all government offices. When the Portuguese broke the peace treaty she led her largely female army against them inflicting terrible casualties while also conquering nearby kingdoms in an attempt to build a strong enough confederation to drive the Portuguese out of Africa. She accepted a truce and then agreed to a peace treaty in 1635. She continued to rule her people and lived to be 81. When Angola became an independent nation in 1975 a street in Luanda was named in her honor.
Llinga, a warrior queen of the Congo armed with ax, bow and sword fought the Portuguese in 1640. Women warriors were common in the Congo where the Monomotapa confederacy had standing armies of women.
Kaipkire, warrior leader of the Herero tribe of southwest Africa in the 18th century led her people in battles against British slave traders. There are records of Herero women fighting German soldiers as late as 1919.
Nandi was the warrior mother of Shaka Zulu. She battled slave traders and trained her son to be a warrior. When he became King he established an all-female regiment which often fought in the front lines of his army.
Mantatisi, warrior queen of the baTlokwas in the early 1800s fought to preserve her tribal lands during the wars between Shaka Zulu and Matiwane. She succeeded in protecting the baTlokwas heritage although her son, who became King when she died, was eventually defeated by Mahweshwe.
Madame Yoko ruled and led the army of the fourteen tribes of the Kpa Mende Confederacy, the largest tribal group in 19th century Sierra Leone. At that time at least 15% of all the tribes in Sierra Leone were led by women, today approximately 9% have women rulers.
Menen Leben Amede was Empress of Ethopia. She commanded her own army and acted as regent for her son Ali Alulus. She was wounded and captured in a battle in 1847 but was ransomed by her son and continued to rule until 1853.
Seh-Dong-Hong-Beh, was a leader of the Dahomey Amazons under King Gezo. In 1851 she led an army of 6,000 women against the Egba fortress of Abeokuta. Because the Amazons were armed with spears, bows and swords while the Egba had European cannons only about 1,200 survived the extended battle. In 1892 King Behanzin of Dahomey (now Benin) was at war with the French colonists over trading rights. He led his army of 12,000 troops, including 2,000 Amazons into battle. Despite the fact that the Dahomey army was armed only with rifles while the French had machine guns and cannons, the Amazons attacked when the French troops attempted a river crossing, inflicting heavy casualties. They engaged in hand to hand combat with the survivors eventually forcing the French army to retreat. Days later the French found a bridge, crossed the river and defeated the Dahomey army after fierce fighting. The Amazons burned fields, villages and cities rather than let them fall to the French but merely delayed Dahomey being absorbed as a French colony.
In the late 19th century Mukaya, the leader of the Luba people of central Africa whose nation stretched along the rain forest from Zaire to northern Zambia, led her warriors in battle against enemy tribes and rival factions. Initially she fought alongside her brother Kasongo Kalambo, after he was killed in battle she assumed sole control of the empire and the army.
Nehanda (1862-1898) was a priestess of the MaShona nation of Zimbabwe. She became a military leader of her people when the British invaded her country. She led a number of successful attacks on the English but was eventually captured and executed.
Taytu Betul (1850-1918) was Empress of Ethopia. During her 14 year reign she established and named the modern capital of Addis Ababa, she led troops in battle and negotiated peace treaties. She retired from public life after the death of her husband.
Yaa Asantewaa (1850-1921) the Queen Mother of one of the Asante states of Ghana led her army in continuous battles against the British until her capture.
Asian Women Warriors
During the Shang Dynasty (1766 - 1122 BC) in China noblewomen known as fu held office, paid tribute to the Emperor for the lands they controlled, led armies, regulated agriculture and supervised religious activities. Fu Hao was a royal consort and general who led her armies in the Hunan province around 1199 BC.
In 529 BC, Tomyris, Queen of the Massagetae in southwest Asia, led her armies in defeating the invasion of Cyrus the Great of Persia.
In the first century the sisters, Trung Trae and Trung Nhi, led a revolt of Vietnamese peasants against Chinese rule. Both sisters led their troops in battle and both were noted for their heroism. In 40 A.D. they led an army of 80,000 peasants against To Dinh forcing him to flee to China and freeing Vietnam of Chinese domination for the first time in over 1,000 years. They took control of 65 fortified towns and trained 36 women, including their mother, as generals. When they were eventually defeated by the sheer numerical superiority of Chinese reinforcements they committed suicide rather than be captured. They became a symbol of Vietnamese nationalism and temples were built in their honor, one of which still stands in Hanoi. The anniversary of their suicide is a national holiday and the name Trung has the same connotation in Vietnam that Amazon has to the western world.
Trien Au (222-248 AD) was a Vietnamese resistance leader who raised an army to fight Chinese rule. When her forces were defeated after 6 months of battle, she along with Trieu Thi Tink (one of her female generals) committed suicide.
Pimiku, the first known ruler of Japan, held power from 197 to 247 AD. She led and participated in both land and sea battles throughout her reign.
Kogo Jingo, Empress of Japan was skilled with sword, bow and naginata. She conquered Korea in 201 AD, personally leading her navy who she prohibited from raping or plundering when they took cities. She governed for 70 years and was succeeded by her son Emperor Ojin. Among the tributes she brought back from her conquests was Japan's first written language.
In the mid-first century Hau Mu-Lan became one of China's most famous warriors when, disguised as a man, she took her father's place in battle for 12 years. She was celebrated in plays and poems. Her commanding officer was so impressed with her military skills that he offered his daughter in marriage to what he thought to be his greatest male warrior.
Empress Wu Chao, the daughter of a general, ruled China from 605 to 650. For the first 15 years she was the de facto power behind her Emperor husband, after his death she ruled alone. She ended China's long running war with Korea by leading her navy in a decisive victory at sea. She led her army in quelling numerous insurrections and survived several assasination attempts. She was considered by historians to be a ruthless but extremely effective leader of her country who insured decades of peace and prosperity.
Like their noble European counterparts Japanese women of the samurai caste were expected to protect their family's lands and castles when their male relatives were absent. They were trained in the use of weapons, especially the naginata and knife and taught to train and ride warhorses. In the Kamakura period (1192-1333) clan warfare was so widespread that women frequently took to the battlefield. Itagaki led a charge of 3,000 warriors of the Taira clan against 10,000 Heike soldiers in 1199. In the 12th century Fujinoye, wife of Kajiwara Genda Kagesuya defended Takadachi Castle killing at least two of the attackers in hand to hand combat.
Tamara of Georgia ruled for 24 years and was called "king" by the men she led into battle because she campaigned with them and shared the hardships of an ordinary soldier. Before her death in 1212 she had conquered those parts of Turkey, Persia, Russia and Armenia which bordered Georgia and ended the frequent invasions which had decimated her nation prior to her reign.
In 1600 Shen Yunying, the daughter of a Chinese army captain, took over his command when he was killed in battle. Later by special decree she was made a second captain so that she could legitimately succeed her father and command troops. Approximately 90 years later Chin Liang-Yu fought at her husband's side and after his death continued to lead her army to many victories in a civil war.
Ma Ying Taphan led the all female palace guard in 19th century Siam (now Thailand). Her troops were considered the best trained and most loyal of all the King's soldiers and were never defeated in battle.
Celtic Women Warriors
Among the ancient Celts women rulers and warriors were so common that when a group of Brigantian captives was brought to Rome in the reign of Claudius they automatically assumed his wife, Agrippina the Younger, was the ruler and ignored the Emperor while making their obeisance to her. In 51 AD the Brigantian Queen, Castimandua, allied herself with Rome as a client state after delivering to the Romans a rebel war-lord she had captured in battle.
Other well-known Celtic warrior queens include Aife of Alba (modern day Scotland) and her contemporaries Mebd of Ireland and Scathach of Skye. In 61 AD Queen Boudicca of the Iceni of Norfolk led a major rebellion against the Romans during which she sacked and burned modern day London and St. Albans.
The first recorded effort to bar women from military participation was a law passed in 590 A.D. at the synod of Druim Ceat. It proved to be unenforceable when the women warriors refused to lay down their arms and comply with it.
Aethelflaed, oldest daughter of Alfred the Great, was considered the chief tactician of her time. She united Mercia, conquered Wales and subdued the Danes becoming the de facto ruler of the Mercians and Danes. She was killed in battle in June 918 AD at Tammorth in Staffordshire.
In 1100 Maude de Valerie, a Welsh revolutionary, raised an army to rebel against the oppressive regime of King John. She was captured on the battlefield and died as his prisoner.
In the 15th century Maire o Ciaragain led Irish clans against the English and was known for her ferocity in battle.
In 1545, Lilliard led the Scots at the Battle of Ancrum in one of their last victories over the English forces. She killed the English commander but lost her own life later in the battle.
Graine Ni Maille (1550-1600) was an Irish princess who commanded a large fleet of war galleys which wreaked havoc on the English navy, shipping and coastal towns.
South American Women Warriors
From the time of Columbus' discovery of the "new world" reports of women warrior tribes were common. Gonzalo Pizarro wrote of "ten or twelve Amazons fighting in the front rank of the Indians" who killed many of his soldiers. Francisco de Orellana reported his expedition being set upon by a women's army near the Maranon River on the Venezuelan coast, which is known today as part of the Amazon River. Father Cristobal de Acuna gave an extensive account of tribes of warrior women in his, New Discovery of the Great River of the Amazons. Accounts by other South American explorers, conquistadores and priests in Brazil, Venezuela, Peru, Chile and Argentina mention first-hand encounters with women in battle or second-hand reports of women warrior tribes.
As with the ancient Amazons until recently many historians, who accepted these same sources as credible on all other details of the South American conquest, dismissed their reports of women warriors as fiction. However in the last 30 years anthropologists Robert and Yolanda Murphy and ethnologist Jesco von Puttkamer, among others, have documented a growing body of evidence which supports the reports that matriarchal women warrior tribes existed throughout the continent.
A few European women accompanied their explorer/conquistador husbands to the Americas. Marie d'Estrada, wife of Hernando Cortez, rode into battle with him during his 1519 expedition to Mexico. Dona Marina, known as La Malinche, also rode with Cortez and his Spaniards. An Aztec who had been sold to the Maya as a young girl, La Malinche interpreted for Cortez and is often credited with preventing battles through her diplomatic efforts.
European Women Warriors
Women accompanied all the Crusades. The First Crusade (1096-1099) included almost equal numbers of men, women and children. The Papal Bull of 1189 prohibited women from joining the Third Crusade but was widely ignored. Some noble women, nuns and abbesses took Crusaders vows, others simply accompanied the armies and fought when their company was attacked.
Among the Queens known to have participated in the Crusades were Eleanor of Aquitaine, Eleanor of Castile, Marguerite de Provence, Florine of Denmark and Berengaria of Navarre.
Guilbert de Nogent writes in his history of the Crusades of "a troop of Amazons" who accompanied Emperor Conrad to Syria and of women Crusaders in the army of William, Count of Poitiers. Pope Boniface VIII wrote several letters in 1383 in which he mentioned Genoese ladies who were Crusaders.
Women Leaders and Defenders
Throughout the middle ages noble women vigorously, and often successfully, defended their own or their male relatives, lands and castles.
Around 890 AD Thyra, Queen of Denmark, ruled in her husband's absence. She led her army against the Germans who invaded Sleswick and Jutland and over a 3 year period built the Danneverke, a great wall which was Denmark's major defense for centuries and portions of which still exist.
In 945 Igor of Russia was killed by the Drevelians during a tax revolt. His wife, Olga, raised an army which attacked Drevelian strongholds forcing them to cease their revolt and pay taxes.
In 1075 Emma, Countess of Norfolk held Norwich Castle against repeated attack and siege. When it became evident that the castle could not be taken the Countess was offered safe conduct for herself, her troops and her possessions to join her husband who had fled to France. She accepted and relinquished the castle.
Urraca, Queen of Aragon became sole ruler of Leon-Castile in 1094 when her husband died. She married Alfonso of Aragon in 1098 and spent the remaining 13 years of her reign at war with him to protect the inheritance rights of her son by her first marriage. Both she and her half-sister Teresa who ruled in Portugal personally led their armies into battle.
In Italy, Alrude, Countess of Bertinoro, led an army to break the siege of Aucona in 1172. She forced the Imperial forces to abandon the siege and engaged in several battles on her return to her castle.
Nicola de la Haye, was the daughter of Baron de la Haye, hereditary castellan of Lincoln. She successfully defended the town against several rebel raids and in 1216 was made sheriff of Lincolnshire.
Jeanne of Navarre (1271-1304) ruler of Navarre, Brie and Champagne and wife of King Philip the Fair of France led her army against that of the Count de Bar when he attempted to rebel against her. Although Philip was entitled by marriage to claim rulership over Jeanne's lands he never did so.
In 1334 Lady Agnes Randolph, wife of Patrick, Earl of Dunbar and March, held the castle of Dunbar against the forces of the Earl of Salisbury for more than 5 months.
During the wars of Brittany in the mid 1300's, several women defended their lands on the battlefield. One of the best known was Jane, Countess of Montfort, who personally led her troops in defeating Charles of Blois at Hennebonne. She later fought a sea battle off the coast of Guernsey. Charles' wife, Jeanne de Penthierre, took to the battlefield to free him after he was taken prisoner by the English. Jeanne de Belleville, whose husband Oliver III of Clisson was beheaded by Charles of Blois, led her troops in sacking several towns loyal to Charles. She later obtained 3 ships from Edward III of England which she used to sink French merchant and military vessels. She kept her two young children with her on her military campaigns until she eventually retired and remarried.
Phillippa of Hainault, queen of Edward III of England, was named regent while he fought the French. In 1346 she led an army of 12,000 soldiers against the invading Scots and captured David Bruce, their king.
Margaret of Denmark (1353-1411) became ruler of Denmark and nominal Queen of Norway on the death of her son Olaf II in 1387. Denmark, Norway and Sweden were at war and Margaret led her armies against key cities and fortresses, eventually forcing the Swedes and Norwegians to withdraw from Denmark. She was elected Queen of Norway in 1388. The following year she was offered the Swedish throne after she defeated the Swedish king and took him prisoner. She persuaded the Diets of the three countries to accept her grand-nephew, Eric of Pomerania, as heir to their thrones. In 1397 she forged the Calmar Union, uniting the three nations under a single monarchy and becoming the most powerful ruler in Scandinavian history.
Jacqueline of Bavaria, Countess of Holland, Hainault and Zealand (1402-1437) became ruler of her lands when her father died on May 13, 1417. Her most powerful vassal, the lord of Arkell, rebelled against the rule of a 15 year old woman and led a revolt to overthrow her, laying siege to the fortified city of Gorkum. Jacqueline led an army of 300 ships and 6,000 knights to relieve Gorkum. She personally led her reserve troops in a charge against the castle gate and defeated Arkell's forces.
In 1429 Isabella of Lorraine led an army to free her husband Rene, Duke of Anjou, who had been imprisoned by the Duke of Burgundy. She later took to the field to fight for Rene's recognition as King of Sicily. Her daughter Margaret of Anjou (1430-1482) married Henry VI of England and defended the Lancastrians during the War of the Roses. Leading her armies she defeated both the Duke of York and the Earl of Warwick. In 1471 she landed at Weymouth expecting to join her forces with those of Jasper Tudor, but his army was delayed and Margaret's greatly outnumbered forces were defeated at Tewkesbury. She fled the battlefield on foot carrying her infant son and eventually escaped with him to Flanders. She raised a new army and returned to England where she fought for a number of years before being captured by the Yorkists, who allowed Louis XI of France to ransom her after obtaining her oath that she would cease fighting.
Isabella I of Castile (1451-1504), wife of Ferdinand of Aragon and queen regent of Spain, who sponsored Columbus' voyage and brought the Inquisition to her country, led her armies into battle early in her reign to protect her succession. Later during the conquest of the Moors, she sometimes rode into battle or mounted sieges with and without Ferdinand, but she was better known as a genius at military tactics and supplying armies in the field.
In 1524 the King of France and the Constable de Bourbon were at war. The King's armies laid siege to Marseilles. Ameliane du Puget, the governor's daughter, led a troop of women who broke the siege. They dug a mined trench known as the Tranchee des Dames which became the modern day Boulevard des Dames.
Lady Ann Cummingham led a cavalry troop of men and women in the Battle of Berwick on June 5, 1639.
In 1643 during the English Civil War, Blanche the Countess of Arundel, defended Wardour Castle against a Parliamentarian army while Brilliana the Countess of Harley, who was pregnant at the time, defended Brampton Castle against the King's army.
Non-noble women also fought to protect their homes, towns, cities and countries.
In 1518 in Guienne, France, the Protestant Garrison, a group of 350 girls, were pressed into service to construct and defend fortifications in the wars against the Emperor Maximilian.
In 1568, two sisters, Amaron and Kenau Hasselaar, defended the Dutch city of Haarlem against a Spanish invasion. They organized and led a battalion of 300 women who fought on the walls and outside the gates.
In 1569 Marguerite Delaye lost an arm fighting in the battle which lifted the siege of Montelimar. A one-armed statue of her was erected by the grateful town.
In 1584 after the Spanish captured Ghent, Dutch and English volunteers liberated the city. Among them was a captain Mary Ambree who became the subject of a well known English ballad. When P.C. Wren wrote Sowing Glory in 1931, about a woman French Legionnaire who he swore really existed, he called her Mary Ambree to protect her identity.
In the late 18th century Despo Botssi, along with her 11 daughters and granddaughters were among the defenders of the Greek city of Souli. When it was obvious they would be overrun, the women blew up the powder rooms of the Castle of Dimoula killing themselves and the invading army. Lascarina Boubalina commanded four warships which she used to liberate costal towns from the Turks and engage Turkish ships at sea. Her sailors were forbidden to rape women or sack the towns they liberated.
In 1808 an army of 12,000 French soldiers besieged the Spanish city of Saragossa. Augustina, called the "Maid of Saragossa", refused to leave her cannon on the walls and rallied the other defenders. She was later offered both military and civilian honors but merely asked to retain her rank of artillery captain, along with it's pay and benefits and the right to continue to bear arms and wear her uniform. She was written about by Byron and Southey and painted by Goya and Wilkie.
Women Soldiers and Sailors
In 1428 a 16 year old peasant girl named Jehanne la Pucelle convinced the Dauphin of France to put her in charge of his army by promising to reclaim Orleans from the English and have him crowned at Riems. In May 1429 she led the army in the battle that returned Orleans to the French and two months later watched the Dauphin crowned Charles VII of France in the Cathedral of Reims. In May 1430 the girl who became known to the world as Joan of Arc was captured by the Burgundians during her attack on Compiegne and sold to the English. She was charged in an ecclesiastical court with heresy, blasphemy, idolatry, and sorcery. In May 1431 she was burned at the stake in the market place of Rouen as a relapsed heretic. Her relapse consisted of donning the men's clothing she had worn throughout her career and which she had earlier agreed to abandon in order to save herself from the stake.
There are accounts, verified by multiple official sources, of more than 20 women who dressed as men and served in the British Royal Navy or Marines from the late 17th to the early 19th centuries. In 1690 Anne Chamberlyne joined her brother's ship and fought in the battle against the French off Beachy Head. A tablet to her memory was placed in the wall of the Chelsea Old Church, London, along with other Chamberlyne family memorials. The English translation of the original Latin read, "In an adjoining vault lies Anne, the only daughter of Edward Chamberlyne, Doctor of Laws, born in London, the 20th January 1667, who having long declined marriage and aspiring to great achievements unusual to her sex and age, on the 30th June 1690, on board a fireship in man's clothing, as a second Pallas, chaste and fearless fought valiantly six hours against the French ...".
It was also not unusual for the wives of crewmen to live aboard both English and French warships. During battles they would deliver water and carry gun powder from the magazine to the cannons as well as assisting the ships' surgeon.
John Nichols, a seaman aboard the HMS Goliath wrote of the women aboard during the Battle of the Nile on Aug. 1, 1798, "There were some of the women wounded, and one woman belonging to Leith died of her wounds and was buried on a small island in the bay. One woman bore a son in the heat of the action; she belonged to Edinburgh." The names of four of the women aboard the Goliath during the battle were listed in the ship's muster book which stated they were,"victualed at two-thirds allowance in consideration of their assistance in dressing and attending on the wounded, being widows of men slain in the fight with the enemy on the first day of August."
In 1847 the British government decided that Queen Victoria would award a Naval General Service Medal to all living survivors of the major battles fought between 1793 and 1840. Mary Ann Riley and Ann Hopping, who had been aboard the Goliath during the Battle of the Nile, and Jane Townshend, who was aboard the Defiance at Trafalgar in 1805, applied and were originally approved by the Admirals reviewing the claims. They were later refused the medal on the basis that, "There were many women in the fleet equally useful, and it will leave the Army exposed to innumerable applications of the same nature." [Italics in original]. More than 20,000 men received the medal including at least one who was an infant at the time the ship he was on engaged in battle.
Kit Cavanagh, better known as "Mother Ross" was one of several women who served as dragoons in the British Army. She fought during the 1690's at first disguised as a man and later openly as a woman. She was wounded several times but survived and received a military burial when she eventually died of old age. Ann Mills was another British dragoon who fought on the frigate Maidstone in 1740.
Phoebe Hessel's gravestone in Brighton churchyard Sussex, tells of her having, "served for many years as a private Soldier in the 5th Reg't of foot in different parts of Europe and in the year 1745 fought under the command of the Duke of Cumberland at the Battle of Fontenoy where she received a bayonet wound in her arm. Her long life which commenced in the time of Queen Anne extended into the reign of George IV, by whose munificence she received comfort and support in her later years."
Marie Schellinck, a Belgian, fought for France in the Napoleonic Wars. She was wounded at Jemmappes, Austerlitz and Jena. She received the French Legion of Honor and a military pension in 1808. Virginie Ghesquiere who fought under Junot in Portugal and Angelique Brulon were two other women awarded the French Legion of Honor in the 18th century.
Angelique Brulon defended Corsica in seven campaigns between 1792 and 1799. At first she fought disguised as a man, by the time her gender was discovered she had proved so valuable in battle that she was allowed to remain in the military fighting openly as a woman. She commanded male troops at Calvi who later drew up a testimonial which read in part, "We the garrison at Calvi certify that Marie-Angelique Josephine Duchemin Brulon, acting sergeant, commanding the attack on Fort Gesco, fought with us with the courage of a heroine". They went on to commend her skill with a sword and in hand to hand combat. She was promoted to the rank of lieutenant in 1822 and personally presented the French Legion of Honor by Napoleon III.
Margaret Catchpole (1762-1869) was discovered disguised as a sailor on a British warship in 1797. She was sent ashore where she was later arrested for theft and sentenced to 7 years imprisonment. She escaped from her jailer and once again disguised herself as a sailor. She was arrested in 1801 and transported to Australia where she worked as a mid-wife and later became a successful business woman.
In 1807 Napoleon removed the French Legion of Honor from his own chest and awarded it to Ducaud Laborde, who fought openly as a woman with a troop of hussars at the battles of Eylau, Friedland and Waterloo. Although she was wounded at Friedland she continued to fight and captured 6 prisoners. At Waterloo her husband was killed and her military career ended when a cannon ball destroyed her leg.
Elizabeth Hatzler wore the uniform of a French dragoon and fought beside her husband in several battles in 1812. She carried him during the army's retreat after he was wounded in a losing battle against the Cossacks.
Sylvia Mariotti served as a private in the 11th Battalion of the Italian Bersaglieri from 1866 to 1879. She fought the Austrians in the Battle of Custozza.
The French Revolution
An estimated 8,000 women belonged to the women's brigades which served as "front line troops" during the French Revolution. They staged bread riots, marched on Versailles and returned with the King to Paris, joined in storming the Bastille and the Royal palaces and fought the King's troops armed with clubs, pikes and swords. They formed numerous women's clubs to further the goals of the Revolution.
The Committee for Public Safety eventually outlawed these organizations and ruthlessly suppressed women's involvement in all spheres of public life leaving women in the newly "free and equal" republic with less equality than they had under the monarchy.
Olympe de Gouges, a leader of the women revolutionaries, protested in 1791 by issuing her Declaration of the Rights of Women and of Citizenesses. She argued that if women could die on the scaffold they should be able to vote for the government in power. Robespierre proved her point by executing her in November 1793. In 1795 the government ordered Frenchwomen to return to their homes and prohibited them from attending political meetings, or gathering in groups of more than five.
Among the women who fought for the French Revolution was Rose Lacombe, a leader of a brigade of market women who armed themselves with pikes and swords and attacked the Hotel de Ville forcing the King to leave Versailles. Anne Joseph Theroigne de Mericourt, wielding a sword, led anti-royalist attacks on the Hotel des Invalids, La Force, Bicetre and the Bastille. She formed women's clubs and gave stirring speeches to the revolutionaries.
As in many revolutions women fought on both sides. Mademoiselle de la Rochefoucalt, a noted orator at age 18, rallied royalists and led guerrilla actions against the republican forces. She personally led cavalry charges and rallied her troops three times at Chollet. She died in battle.
In 1670 Alyona, a former nun, led a troop of rebels who took the Russian town of Temnikov. She was eventually captured by government soldiers and burned at the stake.
In Mexico both Zapata's and Pancho Villa's peasant armies included women revolutionaries called "soldaderas" who originated in the ranks of the camp followers who provided water, food, clothing and medical care for the troops. The soldaderas organized their own units, armed themselves with pistols and rifles and engaged in battle alongside the men. Adelita, heroine of the revolutionary song, fought with Zapata's forces. During the Mexican War of Independence in 1810 Gertrudis Bocanegra raised an army of women and led them in battle. She died in 1817 after being arrested and tortured.
Baltazara Chuiza led a revolt against the Spanish in Ecuador in 1778 ... Micaela Bastidas fought alongside her husband, Tupac Amaru in the Peruvian rebellion of 1780, leading troops of both men and women in battle ... In 1780 Manuela Beltran organized a peasant uprising to protest excess taxation in Columbia and led her forces against government troops ... Lorenza Avemanay, a South American Indian, led a revolt against the Spanish in Ecuador in 1803 ... Juana Azurduy was a guerilla leader in Bolivia in the early 1800s ... In 1825 Ana Monterrosso de Lavelleja was the leader of the "Thirty-three Orientales", a guerrilla force which fought the Spanish in Uruguay.
Louisa Battistati, an Italian patriot, defended the town of Milan for 5 days and afterward the nearby town of Bettabia, during the Revolution of 1848.
Mariana Braceti, a Puerto Rican revolutionary in the 1860's, led troops of men and women in battle and was known as the "golden arm" because of her skill with a sword.
Candelaria Figuerdo was 16 when she joined the Cuban revolutionary forces in 1868 and is said to be the first woman to fight in the ranks in defense of Cuba.
Mahal Hazrat, the Begum of Oudhad, was an Indian Muslim queen who defended Lucknow against the British during the Indian Mutiny of 1857-1858 ... Lakshmi Bai, the Rani of Jhansi, was another woman prominent in the Indian Mutiny. She was the regent for her infant son and the military advisor for the Jhansi army. When Jhansi was attacked by the British she called on all noblewomen to defy purdah and join her on the battlefield. She was killed in battle at the age of 22 ... Tarabai of Rajasthan led male and female troops into battle against the British during the Mutiny. She died on the battlefield after being stabbed in the back by a British soldier while trying to carry one of her wounded soldiers to safety ... There were a number of women in the Rajput Army included one all female cavalry troop.
Louise Clemence Michel, a leader of the Paris Commune, prevented General Franco's Nationalist from taking over the city through repeated guerilla attacks on his forces. In 1871 the women of the commune banded together, armed themselves and joined the fighting as an all female brigade.
Women’s March on Versailles, October 5-6 1789. Print. Women played a major role in the French Revolution. This picture shows the women's march on Versailles. On October 5, 1789, a rumour that the king had worn the white symbol of the Bourbons rather than the revolutionary tricolour sent Parisian women hurrying to Versailles. Faced with the crowd of angry women, Louis XVI agreed to accompany them back to Paris.
From Bibliothèque nationale de France