Women Warriors of Legend and History
Many of us have always thought that the ancient world was a time where women did not have any rights. Many of us believed that only men fought in wars , only men ruled and that women stayed in the homes and in the palaces but we thought wrong. Today I’ll discuss 5 different warrior women of legend and history, some that we know of like Boadicea, others we do not know and many that will surprise us example Olympias the mother of Alexander the Great.
History has been able to reveal that women have always been part of warfare; sometimes they were even the cause of it example in the Greek Legend of Helen of Troy but evidence have been brought up to show that they participated in wars and battles. Women in battle is not something that was invented in the 20th century, it has always happen. The syndicated television shows Hercules the legendary journeys and Xena the Warrior princess opened viewers to the warrior women of history and myth though they were not always accurate.
Boadicea a British tribal queen was anything but weak. She was strong and stood up to the Romans for their injustice when no body could. According to the New Encyclopedia Britannia Boadicea was the wife of Prasutagus who was king of a British tribe called the Iceni who lived near in what is now Norfolk. Prasutagus was one of those Roman client kings. He and Boadicea had no male children so when he died in AD 60 to protect his family he left some of his wealth to the Roman emperor at who was Nero and to his daughters he had two of them. The Romans being the conquerors of peoples decided to take was not theirs and stole all his land. They wanted to impose rule on this British tribe and took possession of the leading tribesmen property. Boadicea (Boudicca) was said to have been stripped naked and beaten while her daughters were violated sexually by the Romans. It is said that this caused widespread resentment for the Romans and their rule. Because of the treatment of Boadicea and her daughters and resentment to roman rule, the Iceni and other tribes that had joined them rebelled against the Romans in AD 60 or 61. This rebellion took place while the Gaius Suetonius Paullinus the Roman the governor of Britain was leading a campaign in Wales.
Boudicca and her warriors at the capital of Roman Britain not London but at Colchester destroyed it and the Roman Ninth Legion was defeated successfully. London and Verulamium what is now St Albans were also destroyed. Thousands of people were killed by Boadicea and her army. But the Roman army led by Gaius Paullinus defeated Boadicea and her army killing many Britons in the process. It is believed that Boadicea to avoid Roman capture poisoned. We have yet to know the site of Boadicea’s death or of the battle.
Boudicca or Boadicea the latter she is widely known as set precedence for other British queens. Boadicea leading an army of Britons must have inspired the British for they seemed to have accepted the female rulers though few in number they had (Victoria, Elizabeth, Anne, Mary, Elizabeth the second). Boadicea is proof that the ancient Celtic and British tribes were not sexists. This great British warrior queen is so popular that she has inspired a new generation. Her story has inspired the British singer Enya who sang her song entitled Boadicea, her life has been brought to the silver screen, in books and even the syndicated television show Xena warrior princess had an episode dedicated to her. The episode was called the Deliver and it’s interesting to note that in the episode Boadecia wins against the Romans and it is also worthy to note that the Roman leader in the show was Julius Caesar not Nero. I must state I prefer the series rewrite of the rebellion than the historical fact though the series was inaccurate.
Many of us have always thought of the ancient Greeks as male chauvinists for in many of their city states only men were considered citizens but some of their myths portray it differently. There were female goddesses of war, victory, hunt and they were female warriors like the amazons. The amazons are among the most popular female warriors of ancient mythology they have inspired television series and the Amazon River is most probably named after them. They were frequent characters on syndicated fantasy television shows such as The Adventures of Sinbad, Young Hercules and they were recurring guest characters on Hercules the Legendary Journeys and its sister show Xena Warrior Princess. In the Greek myths the amazons often took part in wars and were great warriors and were often equal to men.
According to Ron Leadbetter writer for the Encyclopedia Mythica, Homer in his great masterpiece the Iliad said the amazons were antianeri Greek for those who go to war like men. The great Greek Herodotus also called them another Greek word adroktones meaning killers of males. The amazons placed of residence was said to be in Pontus in the Asia Minor which is present day Turkey. There are many different opinions on how many Amazon tribes and nations there were. Pontus is the most famous and Themiscrya was their capital. It is said and believed that word Amazon was derived from the Greek amazoni which means breast less. In Greek mythology and legend it is said that the amazons removed their daughters’ right breast to facilitate the drawing of the bow and arrow. The bow and arrow is said to be the amazons’ main weapon of use in warfare. They also used the sword, double sided axe and they carried a distinctive crescent shaped shield. The amazons did most of their fighting on horseback. There are different versions from different writers from the ancient world as to where the amazons are from and to where they traveled. It is said that reached as far as Egypt. It is said in legend that the amazons with their queen occupied Gorgon and Libya and also they crossed Phrygia. In the Iliad the amazons with Penthesilea fought in the Trojan War to aid King Priam. Penthesilea in battle with Achilles was wounded in her right breast but Achilles fell in love with her beauty.
The great Greek hero Heracles (Hercules which he is widely known as) for his ninth labor went to the Amazon nation to obtained a symbolic symbol which was given to the amazons as gift by Ares god of war. Ares is said to be the father of the Amazon race along with his partner Otrera. Hippolyta was going to give him the girdle but Heracles deceived by Hera thought she betrayed him and he killed her. Theseus the Athenian hero abducted Antiope, took her back to Athens and married her. Antiope had fallen in love with Theseus but the amazons did not know this invaded Attica to get their queen back but the Athenians were victorious. The amazons are said to have worshipped many gods and goddesses including Athena and Cybele (the titian and mother of Zeus, Poseidon, Hera, Hesitia, Hades and Demeter Rhea) but their patron gods are Ares and Artemis. Some may want to know how the amazons multiple since they were a female nation, it is said in legend they met with men from other societies near to them and they chose a suitable partner and mate with them. When they gave birth and if it was a boy they would either it or cripple the baby. If the amazons did keep their male babies alive when they grew up they would use them as a supply of the male seed. If they won the battle they would keep male prisoners and use them for sex and would either kill them or kept them as their slaves.
The amazons portrayed in pop culture and fictions are portrayed almost the same way they are portrayed in the myths. In the pop culture and fiction are portrayed as women warriors who have no use for men and are only using them to procreate. But in pop culture and fiction they are seen only worshipping Artemis. Another difference in how the amazons are portrayed is that while in the myths they killed or disfigure their male children pop culture have some of them caring for their male children as in the Xena Warrior Princess Character Ephinny who keeps her son. Whatever how they are portrayed the word Amazon is with us in the English language dictionary meaning a physically strong woman and the Amazon continues to fascinate us.
Another warrior woman of ancient legend or history is the Biblical judge and prophetess of the Hebrew Torah and The Christian Old Testament is Deborah. Deborah was a judge, prophetess and poet. According to the King James Bible Book of Judges Chapters 4 and 5. Deborah’s reign can be divided into three parts; 1: Judges 4:4-10 as a prophetess and judge, sat under a palm tree, where the children of Israel came to her for Judgment. She received a word from the Lord and called Barak to convey her God given battle strategy to defeat the Canaanites. At his request Deborah accompanied the military commander and his 10, 000 men into battle. Her plan from God led to victory for the Israelites who defeated the enemy commander Sisera and the Canaanites. 2: Judges 4-12-16 Deborah led the Israelites in one of their greatest victories, the Canaanites riding in Chariots fell under Barak’s sword. Only Siersa himself was left alive but he was killed by another Hebrew woman named Jael. And 3: Judges 4:23-24 after Barak led the Israelites to conquer the Canaanites, Deborah continued to lead her people. King Jabin of Canaan was subdued and Israel grew stronger. Many biblical scholars believed that most likely that Deborah composed the victory song she sang with Barak. This song was recorded in Judges chapter 5, the song describes the call of the people, God’s past deliverance, oppression in Israel, God’s Righteous acts, Deborah’s called, Israel’s response, the battle, Jael’s triumph and the anxiety of Sisera’s mother. With the Israelites’ heart now turned back to God, Deborah’s reign ended with rest “the land had rest for forty years” Judges 5:31. I am sure this biblical leader is an inspiration for Jewish and Christian women. Her battle is somewhat overlooked and she is overshadowed by the male leaders and warriors of the bible. I hope that now I have discussed her she would no longer be overlooked.
Another woman of legend and history that I would love to discuss is Olympia Alexander the great’s mother she is overlooked and overshadowed by her more famous son and husband King Philip of Macedonia. Olympias is the unexpected warrior woman; she only takes the role of the warrior woman after her son is dead. She is the reluctant warrior who becomes warrior queen only to make sure her grandson and his mother Roxanne was safe and that Alexander’s son not one of his generals become ruler of his empire. According to Jona Lendering Olympias (c.375-316) who was an Epirote princess was married to Philip of Macedonia 357 this was a marriage of political strengthening. The year after King Philip had a chariot during the Olympic Games which was victorious and therefore she receives the name Olympias and the same summer she gave birth to her first born Alexander. The Greek author Plutarch of Chaerona said these events took place the same time. In ancient times people believed that a great’s man’s birth was shown with signs or wonders.
“The night before the consummation of their marriage, Olympias dreamed that a thunderbolt fell upon her body, which kindled a great fire, whose divided flames dispersed themselves all about, and then were extinguished. And Philip, some time after he was married, dreamt that he sealed up his wife's body with a seal, whose impression, as be fancied, was the figure of a lion”( Plutarch of Chaerona Alexander 2)
She also had a daughter named Cleopatra not to be confusing with Cleopatra the 7TH the Egyptian queen who played an important part in the years after her brother’s death. Olympias after Philip’s marriage to a Macedonian princess went into voluntary exile along with her son Alexander and a few of his friends though Alexander returned to Macedonia. Alexander when king did keep in touch with his mother and their relationship was cordial but he did keep her out of politics. I’m not going to discuss Olympias life during her son’s life though this part of her life is very intriguing I’m going to discuss the events after his death which makes her a warrior woman. According to Jona Lendering on June 11th 323 Alexander the great died and the age of his successors began. Roxanne was pregnant with a son who was born five months later and he and Alexander’s mentally unstable brother who was unfit to rule were placed under the regency of Perdiccas. Perdiccas who tried to strength his position by a marriage to Antipater daughter but Olympias offered her daughter Cleopatra to him. Antipater was insulted and civil war broke out and he was victorious and he was the regent for the royal family but he died soon after. His successor was Polyperchon an old and weak general but Cassander Antipater’s son who had taken Alexander’s mentally unstable brother captive forced Polyperchon out of Macedonia. Polyperchon fled taking Roxanne and the baby with him. It was then Olympias who had refused to support any side in conflict decided to take sides because she had realized that if Cassander was to rule her grandson would lose the crown. She took the army of her cousin Aeacides who she was regent for joined the remains of Polyperchon's army and invaded Macedonia in 317. In October of that same year she captured Philip Alexander mentally unstable brother and had him executed and there were many of Cassandar’s supporters who were massacred. Cassandar however was approaching and besieging Olympias in Pydna a harbor town at the foot of MountOlympus (the legendary home of the Greek gods). Although Polyerchon and Aeacides tried to relieve her she was forced to surrender. Cassander promised to spared her life but had her executed and Roxanne and the her grand son were killed in secret.
It is said by many that Olympias was a cruel and evil woman but one must remember when Alexander died there was much bloodshed and political intrigue. One would except a woman of Olympias position to see to it that she survived. But Olympia unlike most of the leaders at that time was not only looking out for her self but she was looking out for grandson and his position. She was for fighting for not herself but for the legitimate dynasty. Olympias was not only a wife, a mother, a queen but she was warrior mother who tried to look after her own like a mother bear protecting her cubs.
Lastly not least but I will discuss a warrior woman of myth and legend the Greek goddess Athena. Athena is one of my favorite Greek gods. The goddess Athena according to the Encyclopedia Britannica “Zeus’ daughter who was born without a mother. She was a war goddess, goddess of the crafts and wisdom and was the city of Athens protector. In some myths it is said that Zeus produced her without a mother but in others he swallowed Métis the goddess of good consul while she was pregnant with Athena and Athena emerged fully armed from Zeus. She was Zeus’ favorite child and she had great power. according to Greek mythology Athena a remain a virgin had no consort and no offspring. Athena as a war goddess could not be dominated by other goddesses and as palace goddess she could not be violated. In the Ilaid she was on the Greeks side and fought alongside them. It is also worth to note that in the Iliad Zeus, specifically assigned the sphere of war to Ares god of war, and Athena. Athena's moral and military superiority to Ares derived in part from the fact that she represented the intellectual and civilized side of war and the virtues of justice and skill, whereas Ares represented mere blood lust. Athena also at peace times was the
Goddess of crafts and skilled peacetime pursuits in general. She was particularly known as the patroness of spinning and weaving. That she ultimately became allegorized to personify wisdom and righteousness was a natural development of her patronage of skill. Athena the goddess of war, wisdom and crafts was portrayed wearing body amour and a helmet and carrying a shield and a lance. Her symbol was the owl.
Athena like many of the warrior women I have mentioned has inspired art, literature and pop fiction. Her name is associated with the city of Athens the capital city of Greece. It is myths like the myths about Athena that we must rethink how the ancient Athenians viewed women.
There are other warrior women in the myths and history of the ancient world who are overlooked by historians and overshadowed by their male counterparts. I would have liked to discuss others but despite what we might have thought about the ancients views about women there are so many that one single paper would not be enough to talk about all them. Examples of other warrior women are biblical widow Judith, Artemisia, Zenobia and Tomyris. Those women whom we have looked showed strength and power in a time women were not suppose to that. They were not only beautiful but they were strong and wise. They inspired entire generations of women and men alike. Though it is true that the ancient world was male dominated we must not denied the presence of these warrior leaders, queens and mothers who men of their society feared and respect. Though the ancients might not have given women the full rights a and privileges to fight in wars or to lead a nation as women do today, we must think that they gave women more rights than we are lead to believe. These women warriors of history and legend are role models for women fighters everywhere.