Historic Heroines: Ancient Warriors (All BC-400AD)
Posted on November 6, 2020
by Jozlyn H and Stefani H
Female ancients are not the easiest individuals to research. However, we have uncovered a number of Ancients, warriors in particular, who made a name for themselves in the history books. One of Jozlyn’s personal favorites is Boudica; she is often depicted with wild red hair and spear in hand while riding in a double horse-drawn chariot. Stefani is particularly excited to share the story of Zenobia.
Please enjoy exploring the following resources with summaries below!
Fu Hao served many roles in her life during the Sheng Dynasty. She was a priestess, general and wife to the emperor. Evidence about her life has come largely from excavation of her tomb, and it shows a life with great military importance. She successfully led soldiers in campaigns against invaders and won many important victories. While there isn’t a wealth of information documenting her life, Fu Hao was certainly a strong warrior.
Hatshepsut was such a successful Pharaoh that her predecessor (driven by jealousy and insecurity?) attempted to erase her reign from the public consciousness. Most striking about Hatshepsut’s leadership was the skill with which she leveraged her position. During her reign, she oversaw the rebuilding of trade relationships, may have led military campaigns, orchestrated large building projects and more. She expanded trade around the Horn of Africa and into the Sinai Peninsula, which increased Egyptian culture’s holdings and wealth. In addition to enlarging her own burial complex she oversaw the building of several temples, the erection of obelisks and commissioned an extensive amount of statuary. However, when the reign of Thutmose III, her predecessor, started, he took great pains to erase her accomplishments.
Nefertiti was one of few women to serve as an Egyptian Pharaoh. She served as the Great Royal Wife of Akhenaten (previously known as Amenhotep IV). In this position she accumulated a great deal of power, as evidenced by the way she is depicted both on buildings erected during their lifetimes and via tombs. Upon her husband’s death she assumed the title of Pharaoh herself until Tutankhamen assumed the throne. During her leadership she restored worship of the full Egyptian pantheon and returned the capital from Armana to Thebes. Although much of her life is still shrouded in mystery, she is still one of Egypt’s most famous Pharaohs.
Tomyris was queen of a group of Iranian peoples known as the Massagetea. The Massagetea are recorded to have been a fierce warrior people and had cannibalistic tendencies (they purportedly ate stew made from their elderly for strength). Tomyris fought alongside her commander, her son Spargapises. Many Greek historians cite her as having been the one to defeat a famous Persian king, Cyrus the Great. After his death, she had his head removed from his body. It is said that afterwards she uttered, “I promised I would quench your thirst for blood.”
Famed Naval Commander to the Ancient Greeks, Artemisia commanded her own fleet. She brought her fleet to aid Xerxes I, King of Persia, when they invaded Greek city states. After knowing Artemisia, Xerxes declared that, “My men have become women, and my women men!” Even Herodotus featured her in his work, The Histories. Check out Eva Green’s portrayal of her in 300: Rise of an Empire.
The famous Queen of the Nile and last pharaoh to rule Egypt, Cleopatra was renowned for her intellect and her beauty. She used both to her advantage. She secured alliances with Rome and also declared that she was the reincarnation of the goddess, Isis. Fortunately for us, many resources, both fictional and non-fictional, have been published that offer a wide, and thorough, interpretation of this well-known figure.
Warrior queen of the Icini Tribe, Boudica lead her people in revolt against Roman occupation. While her effort at rebellion did not succeed, she left a wake of 80,000 dead and burned three major cities to the ground, including what is now London. Her legacy lives on and is a common and very well-known name to British school-age children.
Zenobia was married to the Roman-chosen leader of Syria and Palestine. After her husband was killed in battle, Zenobia wasted no time in claiming power for herself. She started asserting her military might by building an empire to include parts or entireties of areas including Syria, Mesopotamia, Palestine, northern Arabia, Egypt and a large part of Asia Minor. The Roman Empire eventually engaged her military and captured her. She was paraded in Rome as a defeated queen and lived out the rest of her days in that Roman capital.
Trưng Trắc and Trưng Nhị were born in rural, northern Vietnam. Their father ensured that they both became highly educated. Together, they lead 80,000 soldiers against the new, foreign rule of the Chinese Han Dynasty. Many historians believe that without the sisters, what we know as modern-day Vietnam would not exist and would, instead, be known as another region of China. Trưng Trắc was the first female Vietnamese Monarch and only queen regent in Vietnamese history. Side note: the sisters lead the armies into battle on war elephants!
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