Timeline of women in Ancient Warfare

Warfare throughout written history mainly has been portrayed in modern times as a matter for men, but women also have played a role. Until very recently, little mention of these exploits was included in retellings of history in most countries, aside from the Amazons.

Female deities, whose origins predate historical records, are present in most early cultures. Often they were portrayed as warriors, which signals a pervasive presence of women among such activities prior to a profound change in many human cultures after the adoption of agriculture as the typical sustenance (and which enabled protracted warfare with large armies).

Their influences, the roles of women rulers, and those of significant women warriors, were retained in many of these cultures so strongly that no layers of new legends, ideals, and myths were able to obscure them completely.

The following is a partial list of prominent women who participated in warfare, as well as the tales of many women warriors and their exploits, which was assembled from the fragmentary beginning of written records to approximately 500 AD Archaeological research provides more details and clues regularly.

Timeline of women in ancient warfare

17th century BC

  • 1600s BC – Ahhotep I is credited with a stela at Karnak for "having pulled Egypt together, having cared for its army, having guarded it, having brought back those who fled, gathering up its deserters, having quieted the South, subduing those who defy her."[1]
  • Ahhotep II is buried with a dagger and axe, as well as three golden fly pendants, which were given as rewards for military valor. However, it is debated as to whether or not they actually belong to her.[1]

13th century BC

  • 13th century BC – Lady Fu Hao consort of the Chinese emperor Wu Ding, led 3,000 men into battle[2] during the Shang Dynasty. Fu Hao had entered the royal household by marriage and took advantage of the semi-matriarchal slave society to rise through the ranks.[3] Fu Hao is known to modern scholars mainly from inscriptions on Shang Dynasty oracle bone artifacts unearthed at Yinxu.[4] In these inscriptions she is shown to have led numerous military campaigns. The Tu fought against the Shang for generations until they finally were defeated by Fu Hao in a single decisive battle. Further campaigns against the neighbouring Yi, Qiang, and Ba followed, the latter is particularly remembered as the earliest recorded large scale ambush in Chinese history. With up to 13,000 troops and the important generals Zhi and Hou Gao serving under her, she was the most powerful military leader of her time.[5] This highly unusual status is confirmed by the many weapons, including great battle-axes, unearthed from her tomb.[6]
  • 13th century BC – Deborah, Judge of Israel, traveled with Barak, who led her army, on a military campaign in Qedesh, according to Judges 4:6‑10.[7][8]
  • 13th century BC – Jael assassinated Sisera, a retreating general who was the enemy of the Israelites, according to Judges 5:23–27.[9]
  • 1200–1000 BC roughly – The Rigveda (RV 1 and RV 10) mentions a female warrior named Vishpala, who lost a leg in battle, had an iron prosthesis made, and returned to warfare.[10]

11th century BC

  • 11th century BC – According the legendary history of Britain, Queen Gwendolen fought her husband, Locrinus, in battle for the throne of Britain. She defeated him and became the monarch.[11][12]

9th century BC

8th century BC

  • 720 BC – Approximate time of the reign of Samsi, an Arabian queen who may have been the successor of Zabibe.[15] She revolted against Tiglath-Pileser III.[16]
  • 8th century BC – According the legendary history of Britain, Queen Cordelia, on whom the character in Shakespeare's King Lear is based, battled her nephews for control of her kingdom, personally fighting in battle.[17]

6th century BC

  • 6th through 4th century BC – Women are buried with weapons as well as jewelry on the Kazakhstan-Russia border at roughly this time.[18]
  • 530 BC – Historian Herodotus,[19] recorded that queen Tomyris of the Massagetae fought and defeated Cyrus the Great.[20]
  • 510 BC – Greek poet, Telesilla, defended the city of Argos by rallying women to battle with war songs.[21]
  • 506 BC – Cloelia, a Roman girl[22] who was given as a hostage to the Etruscans, escaped her captors and led several others to safety.[23]

5th century BC

4th century BC

  • 4th century BC – Amage, a Sarmatian queen, attacked a Scythian prince who was making incursions onto her protectorates. She rode to Scythia with 120 warriors, where she killed his guards, his friends, his family, and ultimately, killed the prince in a duel.[35][36]
  • 4th century BC – Cynane, a half-sister to Alexander the Great, accompanied her father on a military campaign and killed an Illyrian leader named Caeria in hand-to-hand combat.[37]
  • 4th century BC – Pythagorean philosopher, Timycha, was captured by Sicilian soldiers during a battle. She and her husband were the only survivors. She is admired for her defiance after capture, because while being questioned by the Sicilian tyrant, she bit off her tongue and spat it at his feet.[38]
  • 4th century BC – Chinese statesman Shang Yang wrote The Book of Lord Shang,[39] in which he recommended dividing the members of an army into three categories; strong men, strong women, and the weak and old of both sexes. He recommended that the strong men serve as the first line of defence, that the strong women defend the forts and build traps, and that the weak and elderly of both sexes control the supply chain. He also recommended that these three groups not be intermingled, on the basis that doing so would be detrimental to morale.[40]
  • 4th century BC – Roxana was captured during a battle by Alexander the Great. She eventually married him.[41]
  • 334 BC – Ada of Caria allied with Alexander the Great and led the siege to reclaim her throne.[42]
  • 233 BC – In the Battle of Issus, Stateira II and her family were captured by Alexander the Great, whom she eventually married.[43]
  • 332 BC – The Nubian queen, Candace of Meroe, intimidated Alexander the Great with her armies and her strategy while confronting him, causing him to avoid Nubia, instead heading to Egypt.,[44] according to Pseudo-Callisthenes.[44][45] However, Pseudo-Callisthenes is not considered a reliable source, and it is possible that the entire event is fiction.[46] More reliable historical accounts indicate that Alexander never attacked Nubia and never attempted to move farther south than the oasis of Siwa in Egypt.[47]
  • 330 BC – Alexander the Great burned down Persepolis, reportedly at the urging of Thaïs, a hetaera who accompanied him on campaigns.[48]
  • 320s BC – Cleophis surrendered to Alexander the Great after he laid siege her city.[49][50]
  • 318 BC – Eurydice III of Macedon fought Polyperchon and Olympias.[51]
  • 315 BC-308 BC – Cratesipolis commanded an army of mercenaries and forced cities to submit to her.[52]
  • Late 4th century BC through early 3rd century BC – Amastris, wife of Dionysius of Heraclea, conquered four settlements and united them into a new city-state, named after her.[53]

3rd century BC

  • Early 3rd century BC – Legendary Empress Jingu of Japan may have led an invasion against Korea at this time, however, the story is regarded as fictional by many scholars.[54]
  • Early 3rd century BC – Huang Guigu acted as a military official under Qin Shi Huang. She led military campaigns against the people of northern China.[55][56]
  • 3rd century BC – Berenice I of Egypt fought in battle alongside Ptolemy I.[57]
  • 3rd century BC – Spartan princess Arachidamia leads Spartan women in the construction of a defensive trench and in the aiding of the wounded in battle during the siege of Pyrrhus.[58][59]
  • 3rd century BC – Graves of women warriors buried at during this period were found near the Sea of Azov.[60]
  • 3rd century BC – Queen Berenice II participated in battle and killed several of her enemies.[57]
  • 3rd century BC – Laodice I fought Ptolemy III Euergetes.[61]
  • 3rd century BC – Queen Teuta of Illyria began piracy against Rome. She eventually fought against Rome when they tried to stop the piracy.[62]
  • 296 BC – Leontium, an Epicurean philosopher, obtained food for her fellow Epicureans during a siege of Athens by Demetrius the City-Taker, saving them from the fate of many Athenians, who starved to death.[21]
  • 279 BC – During the Gallic Invasion of Greece a large Gallic force entered Aetolia. Women and the elderly joined in its defense.[63]
  • 272 BC – When Pyrrhus attacked Sparta, the women of the city assisted in the defense.
  • 272 BC – Pyrrhus of Epirus, the conqueror and source of the term pyrrhic victory, according to Plutarch died while fighting an urban battle in Argos when an old woman threw a roof tile at him, stunning him and allowing an Argive soldier to kill him.[64]
  • 271 BC – A group of Gothic women who were captured by Romans while fighting in the same garb as their male peers, were paraded through Rome wearing signs that said, "Amazons".[65]
  • 217 BC – Arsinoe III of Egypt accompanied Ptolemy IV at the Battle of Raphia. When the battle went poorly, she appeared before the troops and exhorted them to fight to defend their families. She also promised two minas of gold to each of them if they won the battle, which they did.[66]
  • 205 BC – Sophonisba, a Carthaginian, committed suicide rather than be handed over to the Romans as a prisoner of war.[67]

2nd century BC

  • 2nd century BC – Queen Stratonice convinced Docimus to leave his stronghold, and her forces took him captive.[68]
  • 186 BC – Chiomara, a Gaul princess, was captured in a battle between Rome and Gaul and was raped by a centurion. After a reversal she ordered him killed by her companions, and she beheaded him after he was dead. She then delivered his head to her husband.[69]
  • 170 BC – Meroitic queen Candace Shenakdahkete ruled Nubia. A wall painting on a chapel in Meroe depicts her wearing a helmet and spearing her enemies.[70]
  • 2nd century BC – Hypsicratea, a concubine, fought in battles alongside of Mithridates VI of Pontus.[71]
  • 2nd century BC – Queen Rhodogune of Parthia was informed of a rebellion while preparing for her bath. She vowed not to brush her hair until the rebellion was ended. She waged a long war to suppress the rebellion, and won it without breaking her vow.[72]
  • 138 BC – The Roman, Sextus Junius Brutus found that in Lusitania the women were "fighting and perishing in company with the men with such bravery that they uttered no cry even in the midst of slaughter". He also noted that the Bracari women were "bearing arms with the men, who fought never turning, never showing their backs, or uttering a cry."[73]
  • 102 BC – A battle between Romans and the Teutonic Ambrones at Aquae Sextiae took place during this time. Plutarch described that "the fight had been no less fierce with the women than with the men themselves... the women charged with swords and axes and fell upon their opponents uttering a hideous outcry."[74][75]
  • 101 BC – General Marius of the Romans fought the Teutonic Cimbrians. Cimbrian women followed the men in battle, shooting arrows from mobile "wagon castles", and occasionally left the wagon castles to fight with swords. Marius reported that when the battle went poorly for the men, the women emerged from their wagon castles with swords and threatened their own men to ensure that they would continue to fight. After reinforcements arrived for the Romans, the Cimbrian men all were killed, but the women continued to fight. When the Cimbrian women saw that defeat was imminent, they killed their children and committed suicide rather than be taken as captives.[76]

1st century BC

1st century AD

  • 1st century AD – A woman was entombed with a sword in Tabriz, Iran. The tomb was discovered in 2004.[82]
  • 1st century – Agrippina the elder accompanies Germanicus to war.[83]
  • 1st century – Cartimandua, queen of the Brigantes, allied with the Roman Empire and battled other Britons.[70]
  • 1st century – Agrippina the Younger, wife of Emperor Claudius, commanded Roman legions in Britain. The defeated Celtic captives bowed before her throne and ignored that of the emperor.[84]
  • 1st century: The historian, Tacitus, wrote that Triaria, wife of Lucius Vitellius the younger, was accused of having armed herself with a sword and behaved with arrogance and cruelty while at Tarracina, a captured city.[85][86]
  • 1st century-5th century: Four women were buried in Phum Snay, Cambodia with metal swords. The graves date approximately from this time period, and were discovered in 2007.[87]
  • 9 AD – Thusnelda eloped with Arminius, triggering Arminius to begin an insurrection against her father when he accused him of carrying her off.[88]
  • 14–18 – A Chinese woman Lu Mu led a rebellion against Wang Mang.[89]
  • 21 – Debate erupted as to whether or not the wives of Roman governors should accompany their husbands in the provinces. Caecina Severus said that they should not, because they "paraded among the soldiers" and that "a woman had presided at the exercises of the cohorts and the manoeuvres of the legions".[90]
  • 40–43 – The Trung Sisters and Phung Thi Chinh fought against the Chinese in Vietnam.[91]
  • 60–61 – Boudica, a Celtic chieftain in Britain, led a massive uprising against the occupying Roman forces.[92] The Romans attempted to raise the morale of their troops by informing them that her army contained more women than men.[93]
  • 63 – Tacitus wrote in his Annals that women of rank entered the gladiatorial arena.[94]
  • 69–70 – Veleda of the Germanic Bructeri tribe wielded a great deal of influence in the Batavian rebellion. She was acknowledged as a strategic leader, a priestess, a prophet, and as a living deity.[95]

2nd century AD

  • 100 – Juvenal recorded a gladiator named Eppia who left her husband and children to pursue an affair with a fellow gladiator.[96]
  • 2nd century – Polyaenus described Queen Tania of Dardania, who took the throne after the death of her husband and went into battle riding in a chariot.[97]
  • 195 – Julia Domna accompanied her husband, Emperor Septimius Severus, in his campaigns in Mesopotamia.[98]

3rd century AD

  • 3rd century – Zenobia, the queen of Palmyra, led a revolt in the East against the Roman Empire.[99]
  • 248 – Trieu Thi Trinh fought the Chinese in Vietnam. Her army contained several thousand men and women.[91]
  • 3rd century: Two women warriors from the Danube region in Europe, described as Amazons, served in a Roman military unit and are buried in Britain. Their remains are discovered in 2004.[100]

4th century

  • 4th century – As military commander for the Emperor of China, Li Xiu took her father's place and defeated a rebellion.[101]
  • 375 – Queen Mavia battled the Romans.[102]
  • 378 – Roman Empress Albia Dominica organized her people in defense against the invading Goths after her husband had died in battle.[103]
  • 450 – A Moche woman was buried with two ceremonial war clubs and twenty-eight spear throwers. The South American grave is discovered in 2006, and is the first known grave of a Moche woman to contain weapons.[104]

See also


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