The role of women in ancient warfare differed from culture to culture. 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.
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."
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.
13th century BC – Lady Fu Hao consort of the Chinese emperor Wu Ding, led 3,000 men into battle 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. Fu Hao is known to modern scholars mainly from inscriptions on Shang Dynastyoracle bone artifacts unearthed at Yinxu. 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. This highly unusual status is confirmed by the many weapons, including great battle-axes, unearthed from her tomb.
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.
660 BC - Lady Xu Mu is credited with saving the state of Wey from military invasion with her appeals for aid. The Wey people remembered her for bringing supplies, getting military aid and rebuilding the state. She is also the first recorded female poet in Chinese history.
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.
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.
4th century BC – Chinese statesman Shang Yang wrote The Book of Lord Shang, 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.
339 BC - Mania became of satrap Dardanus.Polyaenus described her as going into battle riding in a chariot, and as being such an excellent general that she was never defeated.
334 BC – Ada of Caria allied with Alexander the Great and led the siege to reclaim her throne.
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., according to Pseudo-Callisthenes. However, Pseudo-Callisthenes is not considered a reliable source, and it is possible that the entire event is fiction. More reliable historical accounts indicate that Alexander never attacked Nubia and never attempted to move farther south than the oasis of Siwa in Egypt.
3rd century BC – Queen Teuta of Illyria began piracy against Rome. She eventually fought against Rome when they tried to stop the piracy.
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.
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.
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".
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.
2nd century BC – Queen Stratonice convinced Docimus to leave his stronghold, and her forces took him captive.
Late 2nd 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 himself. She allowed his son to live on the condition that he obey her.
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.
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.
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."
102 BC – A battle between Romans and the TeutonicAmbrones 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."
101 BC – General Marius of the Romans fought the TeutonicCimbrians. 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.
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".
60–61 – Boudica, a Celtic chieftain in Britain, led a massive uprising against the occupying Roman forces. The Romans attempted to raise the morale of their troops by informing them that her army contained more women than men.
63 – Tacitus wrote in his Annals that women of rank entered the gladiatorial arena.
378 – Roman Empress Albia Dominica organized her people in defense against the invading Goths after her husband had died in battle.
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.
^Gender in Pre-Hispanic America, edited by Cecelia F. Klein, 2001 p.309
^Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt By Margaret Bunson, p.161
^Peterson, Barbara Bennett, editor in chief; He Hong Fei; Wang Jiu; Han Tie; Zhang Guangyu; Associate editors (2000). Notable Women of China: Shang Dynasty to the Early Twentieth Century. M.E. Sharpe Inc., New York. p. 13. ISBN0-7656-0504-X.
^Mills, Watson E.; Roger Aubrey Bullard (1990). Mercer Dictionary of the Bible. Mercer University Press. p. 779. ISBN0-86554-373-9.
^Howard, David M. Jr. and Grisanti, Michael A., editors (2003). Giving the Sense: Understanding and Using Old Testament Historical Texts. Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI. p. 88. ISBN0-8254-2892-0.
^Watson E. Mills, Roger Aubrey Bullard (1990). Mercer Dictionary of the Bible. Mercer University Press. p. 779. ISBN0-86554-373-9.
^Gera, Deborah (1997). Warrior Women: The Anonymous Tractatus De Mulieribus. E.J. Brill, Leiden, the Netherlands. p. 69. ISBN90-04-10665-0.
^Salmonson, Jessica Amanda. The Encyclopedia of Amazons, p.229
^Cooper, W.R. (1876). An Archaic Dictionary: Biographical, Historical, and Mythological, from the Egyptian, Assyrian, and Etruscan Monuments and Papyri. Samuel Bagster and Sons, 15 Pater Noster Row, London. p. 484.
^Weinbaum, Batya (1999). Islands of Women and Amazons:Representations and Realities. University of Texas Press. p. 59. ISBN0-292-79126-7.
^Meyers, Carol, general editor.; Craven, Tony and Kraemer, Ross S., Associate editors. (2000). Women in Scripture: A Dictionary of Named and Unnamed Women in the Hebrew Bible, the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books, and the New Testament. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York. p. 397. ISBN0-395-70936-9.Cite uses deprecated parameters (help)