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Women Warriors in Antiquity by Moogie

History overflows with the stories of heroes and warriors. They entertain and inspire us. As Amtgardians, we dream of being like them. Although most of the great fighters in history and legend are men, there are also many women warriors whose stories are no less inspiring. This is a brief overview of some of the women warriors of the past.

The Amazons

Probably the best known women warriors are from the stories of the Greeks: the Amazons. A warlike tribe of women, the Amazons appear many times in Greek legends, battling Heracles, sacking Athens, fighting with Penthesilea at the Trojan War. Their images are found often in Greek art. They are often represented fighting fiercely, sometimes with one breast bared, usually on horseback. Their city was rumored to be on the River Thermodon, on the edge of the Greek world. They are usually seen as a representation of the uncivilized world to the Greeks, although recent archeological discoveries have offered evidence of the existence of an Amazon-like tribe with warrior women in the Sarmation region, west of the Greek world.

Boudica -  Romano-Celtic Britain

The Celtic tribes of Britain were often led by great queens, who were also warriors. One the most famous revolts against the Roman occupation of Britain was led by a Celtic queen called Boudica, queen of the Iceni. In the first century A.D., after the death of her husband, Prasutagus, the Romans plundered her lands, flogging the queen and raping her two daughters. In revenge, Boudica led the Iceni and neighboring tribes in a revolt, sacking and burning Roman towns. The Celtic warriors first looted and burned the Roman town of Camulodunum, then turned towards Londinium and Verulamium, which they also burned. The revolt was put down at last by the Roman forces, but not before they had taken great losses at the hands of the Celtic tribes, led by their warrior queen.

Aethelflaed - Anglo-Saxon Britain

Another British warrior queen ruled later, in Anglo-Saxon Britain, in the early tenth century. A daughter of Alfred the Great, King of Wessex, Aethelflaed was married to Aethelred, King of Mercia. Mercia and Wessex were adjoining Saxon kingdoms at a time when the Saxons in Britain were threatened by Danish invaders. After Alfred's death in 899 A.D., Aethelflaed's brother Edward succeeded to the kingship in Wessex. In 911 A.D., Aethelred died, and Aethelflaed became queen of the Mercians. Coordinating their efforts, the sister and brother began a new strategy against the Danes, building a chain of fortifications across southern and midland Britain. In 916 A.D., the Welsh raided, and in a counter-attack, Aethelflaed captured a Welsh king's wife and 33 members of his court, leading to the Welsh king's submission to her authority. The next year Danish war-bands raided Mercia, and Aethelflaed and Edward planned a coordinated attack into Danish territory. Edward led an attack on Danish forts and forced their submission in Northampton and Huntingdon. In East Anglia, and Essex, the Danish army swore allegiance to Edward. Meanwhile, Aethelflaed led her army against Derby, taking it without a siege. She then moved on to Leicester and York, getting pledges of loyalty from both. As she moved her troops toward the remaining Danish forts, she became sick and died, in 918 A.D., at the height of her success. Edward took con- trol of her armies and conquered the last of the Danes. Aethelflaed's strategy and military support made the final victory for the Saxons possible. She was described by the historian William of Malmesbury, "This spirited heroine assisted her brother greatly with her advice, was of equal service in building cities, and whether through fortune or her own efforts, was a woman who protected men at home and intimidated them abroad."

Tomoe Gozen - Fuedal Japan

In feudal Japan in the 12th century, the society of the samurai was at its height. Though samurai society was dominated by men, women of samurai clans were trained in martial arts, especially in the use of the naginata. Heroic samurai women appear in epics of the period; chief among these is Tomoe Gozen. Tomoe Gozen was the wife of Minamoto Yoshinaka, a samurai at war with Minamoto Yoshitsune. At the fighting at the River Uji, she supported him in battle. When it was obvious that they were defeated, Yoshinaka and his few remaining warriors made a desperate charge against Yoshitsune's samurai. Tomoe Gozen insisted on remaining to face defeat with her husband, saying, "I want to fight the last glorious fight in front of you." The 'Heike Monogatori' records that, facing a powerful enemy, she "flung herself upon Onda, and, grappling with him, dragged him from his horse... and cut off his head." She told her husband that she would hold off the enemy long enough for him to commit seppuku, the samurai s ritual suicide in defeat, but he was struck by an arrow. Tomoe Gozen's fate after the battle is not known, but it is thought that she retired to a Buddhist convent.

These women warriors are just a few of the examples of fighting women who have enriched our history and legend and captured our imaginations. There are many more remaining to be discovered, each bringing her own unique insight on war, warriors, and women. Though men have primarily been the fighters in our history, many women through the ages have taken up the sword, for defense, for power and for glory. Their stories are with us in epics, legends and history books.

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This page last updated 3/8/00

This site is owned and maintained by Moogie of House Morrigan. All works copyrighted Laura Brashear 2000 unless otherwise noted. To request  permission to reproduce any works on this website please send email to moogie.