Warrior Women: Despite what Gamers Might Believe, the Ancient World was Full of Female Fighters

Warrior Women: Despite what Gamers Might Believe, the Ancient World was Full of Female Fighters


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Eve MacDonald / The Conversation

One of the great things about computer games is that anything is possible in the almost endless array of situations on offer, whether they are realistic or fantasy worlds. But it has been reported that gamers are boycotting Total War: Rome II on the grounds of historical accuracy after developers introduced women generals, apparently to please “feminists”.

But while it’s true that the Romans would not have had female soldiers in their armies, they certainly encountered women in battle – and when they did it created quite a stir. The historians of the ancient world recorded tales of impressive female military commanders from across many cultures.

In the ancient world, when women did go to war, it was usually reported as a complete reversal of the natural order of things. The ancients believed, as Homer’s Iliad claimed, that “ war will be men’s business ”. In the eyes of the (male) contemporary historians, female warriors were aberrations and often remembered as embodiments of the mythical one-breasted Amazons . These legendary warriors were usually portrayed as slightly unhinged women who behaved unnaturally, and symbolised – to ancient men at least – a world turned on its head.

Achilles slaying Amazon queen Penthesilea in combat. British Museum, (CC BY-NC 4.0 )

Yet the star-crossed tale of Achilles and the Amazon warrior queen Penthesilea fascinated the ancient chroniclers. Penthesilea, who led her troops to the support of Troy, was the mythical daughter of Ares, the god of war. She was killed in combat by Achilles who then mourned her, falling in love with the warrior queen for her beauty and valour. The moment is captured on a famous 6th-century BC vase now in the British Museum and was represented in text and imagery across classical Greece and Rome.

When Artemisia of Caria commanded ships on the side of Persians at the battle of Salamis in 480BC she fought so well that the Persian king Xerxes exclaimed: “My men have become women and my women men.” It was a world turned upside down according to the Greek historian Herodotus – but the soldiers who willingly followed Artemisia into battle could not have thought that way. She must have been skilled and competent and inspired those she commanded.

Cleopatra’s warlike family

In the Hellenistic period – which is generally held to be the period between the death of Alexander the Great in 323BC and the conquest of Egypt by Rome in 31BC – women with real power and agency appear in numerous kingdoms across the Eastern Mediterranean. These extraordinary and influential queens often held the keys to power, had personal armies and would not hesitate to go to war.

They were the mothers, daughters and sisters of the kings and generals who succeeded Alexander the Great. The fabulous Cleopatra VII – best known for her affair with Julius Caesar and marriage to Marc Anthony – was the last of a long line of impressive Egyptian queens who went to war. The role of fighting queen had already been well established by her namesakes including Cleopatra Thea and Cleopatra IV.

Coin of Cleopatra Thea.

The indomitable Cleopatra Thea held her own in the ruthless world of Hellenistic dynastic chaos as the queen to three Hellenistic kings, while Cleopatra IV, when divorced from one husband, took a personal army with her to her next husband as dowry.

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Palmyra’s warrior queen

Centuries later, Zenobia, queen of Palmyra, took advantage of a period of upheaval in the Near East in the late 3rd century AD to carve a kingdom for herself and her city – and it was no coincidence that she connected her ancestry back to the fighting traditions of the Hellenistic Cleopatras.

Queen Zenobia's Last Look upon Palmyra by Herbert Gustave Schmalz (1888)

When Zenobia led her armies she did so in the name of her son and took on the Roman emperor Aurelian to protect her city, her region and the interests of her realm. According to the Greek historian Zosimus, Zenobia commanded her troops in battle and people from across the region flocked to her side. Ancient writers were scandalised at the idea of a woman dominating Roman power but she remained a legend across the Middle East in Classical and early Islamic histories.

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Boudica: Britain’s greatest warrior queen

Boudica statue on the Thames Embankment in London. (Thomas Thornycroft/ CC BY SA 2.5 )

The most iconic of the female warriors from antiquity has to be the Iceni queen Boudica. When Boudica led her rebellion against the Roman occupation of her land in c. AD60, the historian Cassius Dio remembered it thus :

“All this ruin was brought upon the Romans by a woman, the fact which in itself caused them the greatest shame.”

There is a visceral image that accompanies her name, with long red hair (although Dio says she was blonde) flowing behind as she charges forth in her war chariot. The ancient writers speak of her terrorising the Roman occupants of newly conquered Britannia with her tall stature and fierce eyes. Boudica was viewed by the Roman men who recorded her history as a woman wronged and hell-bent on vengeance.

Tacitus, our best source for Boudica’s rebellion, claims that the Celtic women of the British Isles and Ireland frequently fought alongside their men. And when wars were about the survival of a kingdom, a family or a home and children, women would fight if they had to, especially when the only other option was slavery or death.

So when women took to the field in battle in antiquity it was both astonishing and terrifying for the men who recorded the events and shameful to lose to them. It almost always occurred at times of political chaos and dynastic upheaval, when society’s structures loosened and women had to, and could, stand up for themselves. Ancient men did not like to think about having to fight women or having women fight – and it still seems to irk some people today.


According to legend, Carthage was founded by the Phoenician Queen Elissa (better known as Dido) sometime around 813 BCE although, actually, it rose following Alexander&rsquos destruction of Tyre in 332 BCE. The city (in modern-day Tunisia, North Africa) was originally known as Kart-hadasht (new city) to distinguish it from the older Phoenician city of Utica nearby. The Greeks called the city Karchedon and the Romans turned this name into Carthago. Originally a small port on the coast, established only as a stop for Phoenician traders to re-supply or repair their ships, Carthage grew to become the most powerful city in the Mediterranean before the rise of Rome.

Movements in the Battle of Zama, 202 BCE.


Cleopatra&rsquos warlike family

They were the mothers, daughters and sisters of the kings and generals who succeeded Alexander the Great. The fabulous Cleopatra VII &ndash best known for her affair with Julius Caesar and marriage to Marc Anthony &ndash was the last of a long line of impressive Egyptian queens who went to war. The role of fighting queen had already been well established by her namesakes including Cleopatra Thea and Cleopatra IV.

The indomitable Cleopatra Thea held her own in the ruthless world of Hellenistic dynastic chaos as the queen to three Hellenistic kings, while Cleopatra IV, when divorced from one husband, took a personal army with her to her next husband as dowry.


Warrior Women: Despite What Gamers Might Believe, the Ancient World Was Full of Female Fighters

World Wide (Conversation) – One of the great things about computer games is that anything is possible in the almost endless array of situations on offer, whether they are realistic or fantasy worlds. But it has been reported that gamers are boycotting Total War: Rome II on the grounds of historical accuracy after developers introduced women generals, apparently to please “feminists”. But while it’s true that the Romans would not have had female soldiers in their armies, they certainly encountered women in battle – and when they did it created quite a stir. The historians of the ancient world Read More


Historic England's Pride of Place project will recognise locations of LGBTQ value

Historic England said it had listed, upgraded or updated listings for six locations across England which are of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) value.

Listings which have been updated to reflect LGBTQ heritage include West Yorkshire&rsquos Shibden Hall, the former home of Anne Lister, described as the &ldquofirst modern lesbian&rdquo, and the home playwright Wilde lived in with his wife at 34 Tite Street, in Kensington, London until his trial for gross indecency in 1895.

Benjamin Britten&rsquos former home has been recognised under the scheme (Laurence Harris/AP)

The site where Amelia Edwards, an Egyptologist and advocate for women&rsquos rights, is buried beside her long-term partner Ellen Braysher in St Mary&rsquos Churchyard, Bristol, has newly been granted Grade II-listed status.

&ldquoAt a time when historic LGBTQ venues are under particular threat, this is an important step. The impact of the historic environment on England&rsquos culture must not be underestimated, and we must recognise all important influences.&rdquo

Other sites that have been recognised include The Red House, in Aldeburgh, Suffolk, where composer Benjamin Britten lived with his partner, tenor Peter Pears, a London memorial which commemorates, among others, the 18th-century French transgender spy Chevalier d&rsquoEon and the 1930s home of stockbroker Gerald Schlesinger and landscape architect Christopher Tunnard.

The public can nominate their own places of LGBTQ significance (Screengrab/Heritage England)

Heritage minister Tracey Crouch said: &ldquoIt&rsquos so important when we protect our heritage that we recognise all of the communities that have influenced and shaped our history.&rdquo

The Pride of Place project has seen members of the public use an online map to pinpoint places of LGBTQ significance.

Professor Alison Oram, lead researcher at Leeds Beckett University, said: &ldquoQueer heritage is everywhere, and we hope that Pride of Place will lead to more historic places being publicly valued and protected for their important queer histories.&rdquo


Warrior Women: Despite what Gamers Might Believe, the Ancient World was Full of Female Fighters - History

A New Study Reveals Queens Were MUCH More Warlike Than Kings

Scientists have proven historical queens were “38.8%” more likely to declare war than kings.

When Canadian cognitive psychologist and author Steven Pinker claimed men instigated “almost all the world's wars and genocides” US researchers formally tested whether there was indeed more peace under female rulers , but their results showed the very opposite: that female rulers “caused wars” much more often.

In myths, legends, folklore, and fairy tales strong male kings are portrayed as declaring and fighting in great wars and it has long been projected that women were less conflictive and more likely to maintain peace than go to war. But a new study reveals that queens waged war over the centuries a shocking 39% more than kings.

Tipping Stereotypes On Their Heads A working paper by political scientists Oeindrila Dube, of the University of Chicago, and S. P. Harish, of McGill University, analyzed a selection of mostly European kings and queens who reigned between 1480 AD and 1913 which covered 193 rulers in 18 countries. A Daily Mail article says the 400 years of European history included female rulers such as Catherine the Great , who made Russia a waring nation in the 18th century, Britain's Elizabeth I , who defeated the Spanish Armada in 1588, and Isabella I of Castile , who led Spain to dominate the world in the 15th and 16th centuries.

Portrait commemorating the defeat of the Spanish Armada, depicted in the background. Elizabeth's hand rests on the globe, symbolizing her international power. (Shakko / Public Domain )

Over 193 reigns the researchers found that states ruled by queens were 39% more likely to wage war than those ruled by kings. Not only did the team of researchers find that states ruled by queens were more likely to fall into conflict and war than those led by kings, but females were also more likely to gain territory and were attacked more often. Co-author Oeindrila Dube told The Times that there’s this general stereotype that men are greatly responsible for wars and genocides and that women are natural peace-makers, but “our research turns this stereotype on its head”.

Marriage Mattered Little It is a common social perception that because women are (on average) physically weaker than men they are therefore less violent and more peaceful. But the authors say their findings “contradict” these misconceptions. They played with the idea that queens, more so than kings, had to show that they were not weak but they concluded that this was “unlikely” because queens were not only war-thirsty at the beginning of their reigns when a greater need to show strength existed, but also throughout the duration of their reigns.

Catherine the Great came to power following a coup d'état that she organized—resulting in her husband, Peter III, being overthrown. (Magnus Manske / Public Domain )

The study also shows single queens were attacked more than single kings, probably because threatening foreign powers perceived female rulers as a “soft touch” and that their territories were more vulnerable. However, according to Sputnick News , at the same time, married queens were also more likely to attack than married kings and this was partly because they would “enlist their husbands to help them rule” while kings would rarely turn to their spouses to handle this responsibility.

Were Males Pushing the Queens into War? The authors of the new paper explained that queens often put their spouses in charge of the military or fiscal reforms and this greater spousal division of labor might have enhanced the capacity of queenly reigns, “enabling queens to pursue more aggressive war policies”. The roles of male advisors pushing queen’s foreign policies towards war wasn’t factored in and the researchers said that this male influence on war should be “even larger among monarchs who acceded at a younger age” since they were more likely to be influenced by their male advisors. However, the paper says, “we do not observe this type of differential effect”.


When Isabella I of Castile ascended to the throne in 1474 there already several plots against her and war broke out. (Zumalabe / Public Domain )

Violence Stats Change On The Street Putting this new paper in perspective, while the study proves historical queens were more violent than kings, on the street, quite the opposite is and has always been the case. A quick glance at the statistics tell that today men commit much more acts of violence than women and in 2007 the U.S. Department of Justice sponsored a National Crime Victimization Study that found “75.6% of all offenders” were male and only 20.1% were female. Therefore, when not wearing a crown, men commit violent crimes more than three times as often as women.

Even taking into account the possibility that many crimes in which a woman commits violence go unreported, this disparity can't be ignored and it would take thousands of unreported violent acts to balance up these numbers. But are men really hardwired to be violent? It looks like the answer might be “no” and that woman have the same blood-thirsty tendencies when they get crowned.>


Stories of the Amazons

There are a great many stories about the Amazons – mostly about their four queens, and always told so many times by so many authors that there are a dozen different versions. But favourites have a tendency to survive, and these three tales are some of the best. Each is woven around the tale of a Greek hero, as that was the main context of the Amazons’ myths.

Penthesilea and Achilles

Achilles and Penthesilea, 1st c. AD

Penthesilea is the sister of Hippolyta, Antiope and Melanippe, the leaders of the Amazon women and mighty daughters of Ares.

In this tale, Penthesilea had killed her sister Hippolyta when the pair were out hunting, and Penthesilea struck her with a spear. She was horrified by this accident, and spent a long time wishing to die for it – but the only honourable death for an Amazon warrior is in battle. So, when the Trojan War was taking place, Penthesilea led her Amazons in battle to support King Priam.

Penthesilea fought like an animal, taking down many of her enemies in a swirl of murderous activity. When he saw this, Achilles couldn’t help but fall in love with her as he fought opposite her.

So the famous hero fought his way towards the queen, cutting down enemies in his path. Finally he reached her, but he was the enemy, and so Penthesilea fought him as she’d fought the others – furiously and without mercy.

But Achilles was the greatest warrior of his time, and he killed the warrior queen with his sword. Achilles gently laid her body down (in other stories, it is only at this point, as he takes off her helm, that he sees and falls in love with her – but I definitely prefer the other version).

The warrior Thersites mocked Achilles for his gentleness and stabbed out Penthesilea’s eyes. For this, Achilles killed him immediately, and he allowed Penthesilea’s body to be returned to her people for proper burial.

Theseus & the abduction of Hippolyta

This is one of the most varied myths in Greek mythology – every ancient writer and playwright has provided a different version, changing characters, events, motivations, etc.

But in one of the main versions of the tale, Theseus was seeking a wife with whom to rule Athens. He set off for the island of the Amazons, and there he found Hippolyta, the beautiful young warrior queen.

The Amazon women invited Theseus and his friends with open arms, throwing them a great feast. And at this feast, Theseus asked the queen to marry him. But Hippolyta was a warrior, fiercely free and uninhibited, and she had no interest in being anyone’s wife. So she thanked him for the honour and declined.

However, Theseus was really taken with her and clearly wasn’t used to not getting what he wanted. So, as his hosts slept, he kidnapped Hippolyta, carrying her off and setting sail for Attica!

When they woke up the next morning, her people realised that their queen… and their honoured guest, were gone. Realising she’d been abducted, the Amazons immediately set sail for Athens themselves, refusing to lose their queen to Theseus. They arrived at night, and Theseus was to be wed to Hippolyta at dawn. And there they ambushed the Athenians, beginning the fabled Attica War.

Now, here’s where the stories diverge most. In some tales, the Amazons took back their queen, sailed back to their island, and were much more wary of visitors in the future. In others, Hippolyta had fallen in love with Theseus during their journey, and fought alongside him, betraying her Amazons and dying at her sister’s sword. In another, she turned on Theseus and it was he who killed her. And in yet another, she is unharmed and marries Theseus, and the Amazons return to their island in the Black Sea.

Herakles and the magical girdle

Herakles fighting the Amazons, Attic red-figure kantharos, ca 490–480 BC

Herakles’ ninth labour (of twelve, which he accomplished as penance for King Eurystheus and Hera) was to steal the girdle. The girdle, which Ares had gifted to the queen of the Amazons, Hippolyta. It was a sort of leather belt which Hippolyta wore across her chest and carried her sword and spear in, and King Eurystheus wanted it as a gift to his daughter.

So Herakles and his friends sailed to the land of the Amazons, prepared to battle Hippolyta and her Amazons for their prize. When they arrived, Hippolyta walked down to meet them, and asked what brought them there. When Herakles told the young queen, she agreed to simply give him the girdle.

But the goddess Hera did not like for Herakles’ labours to be so easy. So she disguised herself as an Amazon and walked among them, telling them that Herakles had come to carry off the queen and take them for fools. Enraged, the Amazonian warriors geared up and charged the ship, demanding their queen back.

Herakles feared that Hippolyta had betrayed him. So he kissed her briefly, and stabbed her. Ripping the girdle off her lifeless body, they hastily set sail and narrowly avoided her avenging warriors.


Unique Roman town discovered where homes are being built

Archaeologists believe they have discovered the most south-westerly Roman town in Britain at a Devon site where 25 new homes are being built.

Local teams are working with developer Redrow on the housebuilder’s Romansfield development in Okehampton.

AC archaeology has found the foundation trenches and post-holes of some 25 timber-constructed buildings situated either side of a well-preserved Roman road extending eastwards from a military fort.


Dear Baltimore City State&rsquos Attorney Marilyn Mosby

Baltimore City State&rsquos Attorney Marilyn Mosby
120 East Baltimore Street, 9th Floor
Baltimore, MD 21202

Dear Baltimore City State&rsquos Attorney Marilyn Mosby,

Your office has stated that among its top priorities is &ldquobuilding the public trust in law enforcement and running a transparent and accountable administration.&rdquo We are saddened and frustrated that you have not made this a priority in your handling of the case against Keith Davis Jr. You are instead violating the public&rsquos trust by supporting Baltimore Police Department&rsquos false imprisonment and attempted murder of Mr. Davis.

On June 7th 2015, Mr. Davis was unjustly pursued, shot, and left to die in an enclosed garage by 4 Baltimore Police officers that you later chose to protect when your office declined to charge any of them, ruling it a justified shooting even before collecting all the details of the case.

Now, it has been over four months and your office has interviewed witnesses, collected evidence, and obtained reports that all clearly show Mr. Davis never should have been pursued, much less shot at 44 times, and imprisoned. Instead, as your evidence clearly indicates, the people who should actually be on trial are Officer Catherine Filippou, Officer Israel Lopez, Sgt. Alfredo Santiago, and Sgt. Lane Eskins.

You commended residents, community organizers, faith leaders and political leaders in Baltimore for their courage and willingness to stand for justice in Freddie Gray&rsquos case. Where is your courage and your willingness to stand for justice now?

Keith Davis Jr. should be FREE. Rather than releasing him and refusing to pursue a prosecution you know to be unjust, you have sat by while he has been incarcerated and struggling with health issues stemming from being shot in the face by the same Baltimore Police officers that you declined to charge.

As the chief prosecutor for Baltimore City, you have promised &ldquoto treat every individual within the jurisdiction of Baltimore City equally and fairly under the law.&rdquo You made a fiery speech about the Freddie Gray case just 6 months ago in which you said you take seriously this duty and your administration&rsquos commitment to &ldquocreating a fair and equitable justice system for all.&ldquo Surely your commitment to justice hasn&rsquot dissipated in just half a year, and your ability to stand for justice hasn&rsquot disappeared along with the cameras and media presence in Baltimore. The citizens of Baltimore believed you were speaking in good faith when you addressed those cameras.

Your own evidence shows that Keith Davis Jr. was unjustly pursued, cornered, shot, arrested and indicted, and yet you are pursuing criminal charges against this man who is in fact the victim of the only crime that took place in that garage: an attempted homicide.

Mr. Davis has suffered physically and mentally. He has lost his job, precious time with his family, and other opportunities to better himself while incarcerated. Please separate yourself from this miscarriage of justice and direct your energy toward the officers who fired 44 shots at one man inside of an enclosed garage. We implore you to remember the words you spoke about the &ldquotremendous responsibility&rdquo you have to this community.

We demand that you immediately drop the baseless charges against Keith Davis Jr., release him from incarceration, and apologize for your role in the attempted destruction of this young man&rsquos life.


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