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Throughout history, most cultures have considered warfare to be the domain of men. It is only quite recently that female soldiers have participated in modern combat on a large scale.
The exception is the Soviet Union, which included female battalions and pilots during the First World War and saw hundreds of thousands of women soldiers fight in World War Two.
In the major ancient civilisations, the lives of women were generally restricted to more traditional roles. Yet there were some who broke with tradition, both at home and on the battlefield.
Here are 10 of history’s fiercest warriors who not only had to face their enemies, but also the strict gender roles of their day.
1. Fu Hao (d. c. 1200 BC)
The tomb of Fu Hao. Credit: Chris Gyford (Wikimedia Commons).
Lady Fu Hao was one of the 60 wives of Emperor Wu Ding of ancient China’s Shang Dynasty. She broke with tradition by serving as both a high priestess and military general. According to inscriptions on oracle bones from the time, Fu Hao led many military campaigns, commanded 13,000 soldiers and was considered the most powerful military leader of her time.
The many weapons found in her tomb support Fu Hao’s status as a great military power. She also controlled her own fiefdom on the outskirts of her husband’s empire. Her tomb was unearthed in 1976 and can be visited by the public.
2. Tomyris (fl. 530 BC)
Tomyris was the Queen of the Massaegetae, a confederation of nomadic tribes that lived east of the Caspian Sea. She ruled during the 6th century BC and is most famous for the vengeful war she waged against the Persian king, Cyrus the Great.
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Initially the war did not go well for Tomyris and the Massaegetae. Cyrus destroyed their army and Tomyris’ son, Spargapises, committed suicide out of shame.
The grief-stricken Tomyris raised another army and challenged Cyrus to battle a second time. Cyrus believed another victory was certain and accepted the challenge, but in the ensuing engagement Tomyris emerged victorious.
Cyrus himself fell in the melee. During his reign he had won many battles and defeated many of the most powerful men of his time, yet Tomyris proved a Queen too far.
Tomyris’ vengeance was not sated by Cyrus’ death. Following the battle, the Queen demanded her men find Cyrus’ body; when they located it, the 5th century BC historian Herodotus reveals Tomyris’ gruesome next move:
…she took a skin, and, filling it full of human blood, she dipped the head of Cyrus in the gore, saying, as she thus insulted the corpse, “I live and have conquered you in fight, and yet by you am I ruined, for you took my son with guile; but thus I make good my threat, and give you your fill of blood.”
Tomyris was not a queen to mess with.
“Tomyris Plunges the Head of the Dead Cyrus Into a Vessel of Blood” by Rubens.
3. Artemisia I of Caria (fl. 480 BC)
The Ancient Greek Queen of Halicarnassus, Artemisia ruled during the late 5th century BC. She was an ally to the King of Persia, Xerxes I, and fought for him during the second Persian invasion of Greece, personally commanding 5 ships at the Battle of Salamis.
Herodotus writes that she was a decisive and intelligent, albeit ruthless strategist. According to Polyaenus, Xerxes praised Artemisia above all other officers in his fleet and rewarded her for her performance in battle.
4. Cynane (c. 358 – 323 BC)
Cynane was the daughter of King Philip II of Macedon and his first wife, the Illyrian Princess Audata. She was also the half-sister of Alexander the Great.
Audata raised Cynane in the Illyrian tradition, training her in the arts of war and turning her into an exceptional fighter – so much so that her skill on the battlefield became famed throughout the land.
Cynane was the half-sister of Alexander the Great.
Cynane accompanied the Macedonian army on campaign alongside Alexander the Great and according to the historian Polyaenus, she once slew an Illyrian queen and masterminded the slaughter of her army. Such was her military prowess.
Following Alexander the Great’s death in 323 BC, Cynane attempted an audacious power play. In the ensuing chaos, she championed her daughter, Adea, to marry Philip Arrhidaeus, Alexander’s simple-minded half-brother who the Macedonian generals had installed as a puppet king.
Yet Alexander’s former generals – and especially the new regent, Perdiccas – had no intention of accepting this, seeing Cynane as a threat to their own power. Undeterred, Cynane gathered a powerful army and marched into Asia to place her daughter on the throne by force.
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As she and her army were marching through Asia towards Babylon, Cynane was confronted by another army commanded by Alcetas, the brother of Perdiccas and a former companion of Cynane.
However, desiring to keep his brother in power Alcetas slew Cynane when they met – a sad end to one of history’s most remarkable female warriors.
Although Cynane never reached Babylon, her power play proved successful. The Macedonian soldiers were angered at Alcetas’ killing of Cynane, especially as she was directly related to their beloved Alexander.
Thus they demanded Cynane’s wish be fulfilled. Perdiccas relented, Adea and Philip Arrhidaeus were married, and Adea adopted the title Queen Adea Eurydice.
5. & 6. Olympias and Eurydice
The mother of Alexander the Great, Olympias was one of the most remarkable women in antiquity. She was a princess of the most powerful tribe in Epirus (a region now divided between northwest Greece and southern Albania) and her family claimed descent from Achilles.
Despite this impressive claim, many Greeks considered her home kingdom to be semi-barbarous – a realm tainted with vice because of its proximity to raiding Illyrians in the north. Thus the surviving texts often perceive her as a somewhat exotic character.
In 358 BC Olympias’ uncle, the Molossian King Arrybas, married Olympias to King Philip II of Macedonia to secure the strongest possible alliance. She gave birth to Alexander the Great two years later in 356 BC.
A portrait of Olympias on a Roman medallion. Credit: Fotogeniss.
Further conflict was added to an already tempestuous relationship when Philip married again, this time a Macedonian noblewoman called Cleopatra Eurydice.
Olympias began to fear this new marriage might threaten the possibility of Alexander inheriting Philip’s throne. Her Molossian heritage was starting to make some Macedonian nobles question Alexander’s legitimacy.
Thus there is a strong possibility that Olympias was involved in the subsequent murders of Philip II, Cleopatra Eurydice and her infant children. She is often portrayed as a woman who stopped at nothing to ensure Alexander ascended the throne.
Following Alexander the Great’s death in 323 BC, she became a major player in the early Wars of the Successors in Macedonia. In 317 BC, she led an army into Macedonia and was confronted by an army led by another queen: none other than Cynane’s daughter, Adea Eurydice.
Cassandre et Olympias by Jean-Joseph Taillasson (1745-1809).
This clash was the first time in Greek history that two armies faced each other commanded by women. However, the battle ended before a sword blow was exchanged. As soon as they saw the mother of their beloved Alexander the Great facing them, Eurydice’s army deserted to Olympias.
Upon capturing Eurydice and Philip Arrhidaeus, Eurydice’s husband, Olympias had them imprisoned in squalid conditions. Soon after she had Philip stabbed to death while his wife watched on.
On Christmas Day 317, Olympias sent Eurydice a sword, a noose, and some hemlock, and ordered her to choose which way she wanted to die. After cursing Olympias’ name that she might suffer a similarly sad end, Eurydice chose the noose.
Olympias herself did not live long to cherish this victory. The following year Olympias’ control of Macedonia was overthrown by Cassander, another of the Successors. Upon capturing Olympias, Cassander sent two hundred soldiers to her house to slay her.
However, after being overawed by the sight of Alexander the Great’s mother, the hired killers did not go through with the task. Yet this only temporarily prolonged Olympias’ life as relatives of her past victims soon murdered her in revenge.
7. Queen Teuta (fl. 229 BC)
A statue of Queen Teuta with her stepson Pinnes. Credit:
Teuta was the Queen of the Ardiaei tribe in Illyria during the late third century BC. In 230 BC, she was acting as regent for her infant stepson when a Roman embassy arrived at her court to mediate concerns about Illyrian expansion along the Adriatic shoreline.
During the meeting however, one of the Roman delegates lost his temper and began to shout at the Illyrian queen. Outraged by the outburst, Teuta had the young diplomat murdered.
The incident marked the outbreak of the First Illyrian War between Rome and Teuta’s Illyria. By 228 BC, Rome had emerged victorious and Teuta was banished from her homeland.
8. Boudicca (d. 60/61 AD)
Credit: Boudicca astride her chariot. Her daughter can also be seen.Aldaron / Commons.
Queen of the British Celtic Iceni tribe, Boudicca led an uprising against the forces of the Roman Empire in Britain after the Romans ignored her husband Prasutagus’ will, which left rule of his kingdom to both Rome and his daughters. Upon Prasutagus’ death, the Romans seized control, flogged Boudicca and Roman soldiers raped her daughters.
Boudicca led an army of Iceni and Trinovantes and waged a devastating campaign on Roman Britain. She destroyed three Roman towns, Camulodinum (Colchester), Verulamium (St. Albans) and Londinium (London), and also all-but annihilated one of the Roman legions in Britain: the famous Ninth Legion.
In the end Boudicca and her army were defeated by the Romans somewhere along Watling Street and Boudicca committed suicide not long after.
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9. Triệu Thị Trinh (ca. 222 – 248 AD)
Triệu Thị Trinh.
Commonly referred to as Lady Triệu, this warrior of 3rd century Vietnam temporarily freed her homeland from Chinese rule.
That is according to traditional Vietnamese sources at least, which also state that she was 9 feet tall with 3-foot breasts that she tied behind her back during battle. She usually fought while riding an elephant.
Chinese historical sources make no mention of Triệu Thị Trinh, yet for the Vietnamese, Lady Triệu is the most important historical figure of her time.
10. Zenobia (240 – c. 275 AD)
Queen Zenobia’s Last Look Upon Palmyra by Herbert Gustave Schmalz.
The Queen of Syria’s Palmyrene Empire from 267 AD, Zenobia conquered Egypt from the Romans only 2 years into her reign.
Her empire only lasted a short while longer, however, as the Roman Emperor Aurelian defeated her in 271, taking her back to Rome where she — depending on which account you believe — either died shortly thereafter or married a Roman governor and lived out a life of luxury as a well-known philosopher, socialite and matron.
Dubbed the ‘Warrior Queen’, Zenobia was well educated and multi-lingual. She was known to behave ‘like a man’, riding, drinking and hunting with her officers.
10 Great Warrior Women of the Ancient World - History
YouTube Fearsome pirate Queen, Grace O’Malley.
Our world’s history is chock full of dynamic and influential women. Onljoan of arcy a select few, though, were known for their warrior spirit. Some of these 11 women warriors have been immortalized in plays and Hollywood movies, like Cleopatra. Others are unsung heroes whom you may never have learned about in history class, like Ana Nzinga.
But all of these women warriors fought back against a male-dominated world.
These powerful female fighters warred against the patriarchy through their physical and mental strength and ultimately showed that women are just as capable of leading armies and nations as men are. What’s more, women warriors can often do it better.
Indeed, before there was Wonder Woman, there were these 11 women warriors.
Boudicca (Boadicea): Woman Ruler of the Iceni
Boudicca is an iconic hero of British history. Queen of the Iceni, a tribe in East England, she led a rebellion against Roman occupation in about 60 C.E. Her story became popular during the reign of another English queen who headed an army against foreign invasion, Queen Elizabeth I.
10 Great Warrior Women of the Ancient World - History
A bust of warrior Queen Teuta.
Around 230 B.C., a powerful Illyrian tribe — a group native to what is now known as the Balkan Penninsula — was under the rule of the heavy-drinking and fearsome King Agron. His revelrous and raucous life eventually brought on his early death. But it was during this period following his rule that the Illyrians reached the peak of their power under the rule of his wife, Queen Teuta.
Queen Teuta continued her husband’s agenda of conquering foreign lands. She conquered Dyrrachium and Phoenice and continued their tribe’s expansion up the Adriatic coast.
Teuta’s powerful navy and fleet of pirates ships were forces to be reckoned with on the ancient seas. She had given her pirates free reign in the Mediterranean to plunder and pillage.
The pirates constantly attacked Roman merchant ships and after several complaints, the Roman government was forced to act against the Illyrian pirates. They tried to settle things with Teuta diplomatically at first but she refused. She instead ordered that the Roman ambassador’s ships be seized. Queen Teuta held one of them captive and killed the other.
Wikimedia Commons Queen Teuta (right, seated) orders Roman ambassadors to be killed.
As retaliation for Teuta’s actions against their ambassadors, the Romans declared war on Illyria. They gained control of Illyria and Teuta had to surrender to the Romans.
Rome eventually declared peace and allowed Teuta to continue to rule a small region but she had to recognize their ultimate sovereignty. Queen Teuta refused to accept that level of humiliation and stepped down from the throne.
Some accounts say that she lived quietly for many years after her surrender but others claim that she was unable to deal with the grief of her defeat and committed suicide. It’s said that she jumped from the top of a cliff in the Bay of Kotor which is in modern-day Montenegro.
Queen Teuta’s military conquests and her refusal to bend the knee to the Romans make her one of history’s most headstrong women warriors.
Boudica: Britain’s greatest warrior queenBoudica statue on the Thames Embankment in London. Thomas Thornycroft , CC BY-SA
The most iconic of the female warriors from antiquity has to be the Iceni queen Boudica. When Boudica led her rebellion against the Roman occupation of her land in c. AD60, the historian Cassius Dio remembered it thus:
All this ruin was brought upon the Romans by a woman, the fact which in itself caused them the greatest shame.
There is a visceral image that accompanies her name, with long red hair (although Dio says she was blonde) flowing behind as she charges forth in her war chariot. The ancient writers speak of her terrorising the Roman occupants of newly conquered Britannia with her tall stature and fierce eyes. Boudica was viewed by the Roman men who recorded her history as a woman wronged and hell-bent on vengeance.
Tacitus, our best source for Boudica’s rebellion, claims that the Celtic women of the British Isles and Ireland frequently fought alongside their men. And when wars were about the survival of a kingdom, a family or a home and children, women would fight if they had to, especially when the only other option was slavery or death.
So when women took to the field in battle in antiquity it was both astonishing and terrifying for the men who recorded the events and shameful to lose to them. It almost always occurred at times of political chaos and dynastic upheaval, when society’s structures loosened and women had to, and could, stand up for themselves. Ancient men did not like to think about having to fight women or having women fight – and it still seems to irk some people today.
Mighty Cartimandua, Queen of the Brigantes Tribe and Friend to Rome
Cartimandua was Queen of the Brigantes tribe, which occupied the region known today as northern England, said to be the largest tribe on the British Isles. When the Romans under the emperor Claudius invaded Britain in A.D. 43, the Brigantes tribe became a client kingdom of Rome, whose loyalty to the empire ensured its autonomy.
In A.D. 57, a quarrel arose between Cartimandua and her consort, Venutius. This resulted in a civil war when Venutius, angered by the capture of his brothers and relatives by Cartimandua, invaded her territory. The Romans decided to interfere by sending military aid, first auxiliaries, and then a legion, to their client. As a result, Cartimandua was able to secure her throne, and it seemed that the queen and Venutius were reconciled for the time being.
However in A.D. 69, Roman emperor Nero died and the Roman Empire was plunged into chaos. The time was ripe for Venutius to settle old scores, and Cartimandua had to act swiftly. Venutius led a revolt against Cartimandua. Once again, Cartimandua sought the Romans for help. This time, however, the Romans could only afford to send auxiliaries, as the legions were busy fighting in other part of the empire. Although she lost her throne, Cartimandua managed to flee to the Roman fort at Deva (modern day Chester). From that point on, the once mighty queen simply vanished from the historical records, her fate unknown.
Zenobia: Palmyran Queen And Conqueror
Zenobia’s last look on Palmyra by Herbert Gustave Schmalz , 1888, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
Zenobia was the third queen of Palmyra. She governed the country as regent of her son Vaballathus between 267 and 272.
She waged a military campaign and conquered much of Syria and Asia Minor, hoping to retain these territories by maneuvering between the Roman Empire and the Sasanian Empire. She suppressed an uprising in Egypt and declared herself the queen of Egypt by claiming to be an heiress of Cleopatra .
In the end, the Roman emperor Aurelian began a campaign against her forces and took over her kingdom in 272. Zenobia was captured during the year. She was taken to Rome in a gold chain.
There are various theories about her fate. Some believe that she died of starvation or was executed. However, according to most historians, Aurelian showed kindness to her and allowed her to spend the rest of her days in a villa in Tibur.
While the last theory is possible, Zenobia is known to have died just two years after her capture at the age of 34. Although the lifespan of people in the ancient world was shorter, it is highly unlikely that she died of natural causes at this young age.
The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women across the Ancient World
Amazons—fierce warrior women dwelling on the fringes of the known world—were the mythic archenemies of the ancient Greeks. Heracles and Achilles displayed their valor in duels with Amazon queens, and the Athenians reveled in their victory over a powerful Amazon army. In historical times, Cyrus of Persia, Alexander the Great, and the Roman general Pompey tangled with Amazons.
But just who were these bold barbarian archers on horseback who gloried in fighting, hunting, and sexual freedom? Were Amazons real? In this deeply researched, wide-ranging, and lavishly illustrated book, National Book Award finalist Adrienne Mayor presents the Amazons as they have never been seen before. This is the first comprehensive account of warrior women in myth and history across the ancient world, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Great Wall of China.
Mayor tells how amazing new archaeological discoveries of battle-scarred female skeletons buried with their weapons prove that women warriors were not merely figments of the Greek imagination. Combining classical myth and art, nomad traditions, and scientific archaeology, she reveals intimate, surprising details and original insights about the lives and legends of the women known as Amazons. Provocatively arguing that a timeless search for a balance between the sexes explains the allure of the Amazons, Mayor reminds us that there were as many Amazon love stories as there were war stories. The Greeks were not the only people enchanted by Amazons—Mayor shows that warlike women of nomadic cultures inspired exciting tales in ancient Egypt, Persia, India, Central Asia, and China.
Driven by a detective’s curiosity, Mayor unearths long-buried evidence and sifts fact from fiction to show how flesh-and-blood women of the Eurasian steppes were mythologized as Amazons, the equals of men. The result is likely to become a classic.
Awards and Recognition
- Winner of the 2016 Sarasvati Award for Best Nonfiction Book in Women and Mythology, Association for the Study of Women & Mythology
- 2015 Silver Medal Winner in the Independent Publisher Book Awards, World History category
- Selected for The New York Times Book Review’s “The Year in Reading” 2016
- Shortlisted for the 2014 London Hellenic Prize
- One of Foreign Affairs’ Best Military, Scientific, and Technological Books of 2015
- Selected for American Scientist’s Science Book Gift Guide 2014
"In her quest to separate reality from mythology, Mayor left few stones unturned, even examining the graves of women with war wounds and mummified tattoos. She skillfully presents her findings with wit and conviction in this superbly illustrated book"—Lawrence D. Freedman, Foreign Affiars
"Fluidly written and exhaustively researched, this fascinating book lit up my mind and my sense of humanity, not just with women in it, but under it, above it, flinging out constellations and atoms carving out grand canyons hand-in-hand with men and beasts and glaciers, too."—Neko Case, singer-songwriter, New York Times Book Review
"The Amazons is elegantly written, nicely illustrated and will no doubt excite a lot of attention."—Simon Goldhill, Times Literary Supplement
"Mayor specializes in connecting artifacts—paintings, sculptures, coins, bones, weapons, clothing, fossils—with the more diffuse evidence found in literature, lore and legend . . . in order to illuminate the lives of the ancient warrior women. . . . Impressive investigative work . . . fascinating."—James Romm, London Review of Books
"[A] fascinatingly detailed account."—Emily Wilson, Wall Street Journal
"Mayor (The Poison King) looks at ancient writings and archeological evidence to argue that yes, 'Amazons' were based on real nomadic women, though much different from the way ancient Greeks or contemporary audiences imagine them. . . . Mayor speculates on the origin of such misconceptions in ancient writings and art, smartly suggesting that, though Amazons are usually depicted heroically in Greek art and mythology, the male-centric Greeks perhaps struggled to understand a society based on equality between the sexes. . . . Her expertise shines throughout."—Publishers Weekly
"An encyclopedic study of the barbarian warrior women of Western Asia, revealing how new archaeological discoveries uphold the long-held myths and legends. The famed female archers on horseback from the lands the ancient Greeks called Scythia appeared throughout Greek and Roman legend. Mayor tailors her scholarly work to lay readers, providing a fascinating exploration into the factual identity underpinning the fanciful legends surrounding these wondrous Amazons. . . . Mayor clears away much of the man-hating myths around these redoubtable warriors. Thanks to Mayor's scholarship, these fearsome fighters are attaining their historical respectability."—Kirkus Reviews
"A must-read for anyone interested in either Amazonian myth or history."—Fred Poling, Library Journal
"No one before has ever marshalled the full sweep of evidence as Mayor does here. . . . The result is a book as erudite as it riveting, one that is surely destined to serve as the definitive work on the subject."—Tom Holland, Literary Review
"There are myriad myths surrounding the Amazons, but which are based on truth? . . . This is the question which Adrienne Mayor seeks to answer in her hugely informative and entertaining Encyclopaedia Amazonica."—Natalie Haynes, Independent
"[A] lively and engaging exploration . . . vivid, compelling and detailed . . . a rich compendium."—Lloyd Llewellyn Jones, Times Higher Education
"A beautiful book. . . . The Amazons by Adrienne Mayor is required reading."—Anna Meldolesi, Corriere della Sera
"Driven by a detective's curiosity, Mayor unearths long-buried evidence and sifts fact from fiction to show how flesh-and-blood women of the Eurasian steppes were mythologized as Amazons, the equals of men. The result is likely to become a classic."—Peter Konieczny, History of the Ancient World
"Mayor writes elegant, jargon free, frequently witty prose."—Barry Baldwin, Fortean Times
"If Adrienne Mayor had merely applied her rigorous scholarship and poetic charm to documenting the shifting image of Amazons in classical, medieval and post-Renaissance European culture, she would have written an important contribution to ancient history. But she has achieved much more. By painstaking research . . . she has broken down the often impenetrable walls dividing western cultural history from its eastern equivalents. . . . Mayor opens up new horizons in world storytelling and feminist iconography. . . . There may not be Amazon dolls in today's toyshops, but a good substitute would be to read this wonderful book with your children and show them its pictures."—Edith Hall, New Statesman
"For anyone who thinks Amazons were as mythical as centaurs or sphinxes, this pleasurable book proves that misconception is wondrously wrong. . . . Mayor's beautifully illustrated book, truly encyclopedic on all things Amazonian, reclaims the historic image of these dauntless figures in the heroic frame they deserve."—Fran Willing, Bust.com
"Mayor's book is popular history at its best. Much of her archaeological evidence is new — such as her descriptions of 'Scythian' female graves with horses and weapons. She chooses wonderful illustrations which makes the book enjoyable and easy to read."—Zenobia blog
"Clearly, with this clever, systematic and engaging work by Mayor, Amazons got their classic book. And it is a riveting read, too."—Ephraim Nissan, Fabula
"Mayor's fascinatingly readable book convincingly argues that many of their characteristics may have derived from real nomadic womenwarriors of antiquity. . . . It represents a remarkable scholarly breakthrough: no one will ever be able to discuss the Amazon myths again without taking into account the historical evidence she provides."—Tassos A. Kaplanis, Journal of Historical Geography
"Adrienne Mayor has written an ambitious 'Encyclopedia Amazonica' as she calls her book, a kind of compendium of information about the Amazons. . . . Her charming and seamless style can certainly provoke a reader's interest in the still distant and unknown terra incognita of the Black Sea and Caucasus regions and their nomadic life."—Eleni Boliaki, Bryn Mawr Classical Review
"I can't . . . begin to say how great it is to have a book like this, because it's exactly the kind of book I like. Not one that just dismisses old stories as being too tall or made up, but really gives them the benefit of the doubt and tries to correlate and reconcile them with hard evidence. This is brilliantly achieved in Amazons. . . . This in many ways is an exhaustive study, every facet that could be thought of has been included, and very little left out."—Adventures in Historyland
"Mayor writes well, and not without dry humour, and although hardly given to the sensational, the sheer depth and breadth of her research and discoveries carry you along. You won't devour this in a sitting, just as you wouldn't eat a whole gooey gateau at once, but each slice of book is appetising enough to keep you coming back for more."—Lynn Picknett, Magonia Review of Books
"Adrienne Mayor's Amazons . . . remains much the best guide to the Amazonian blend of fact and fable."—David Butterfield, Spectator
"[The Amazons] contains 400+ pages of fascinating evidence pertaining to the Scythian and Thracian women of ancient times, not to mention 100+ pages of source material at the end. There is no shortage of historical imagery depicting Amazons through different artistic medians from paintings to carvings."—GeedMom
"[Mayor's] skill as a narrator has produced an excellent addition to popular ancient history that ranks highly for its commitment to educating general readers and its interdisciplinary approach."—Ian McElroy and Thomas Figueira, The Historian
"The most complete piece of scholarship on this topic, relevant either for the classics researcher, student or the general public. It not only is an in-depth study of Amazons, but also a relevant book for the study of women in the ancient world."—José Malheiro Magalhães, Cadmo - Revista de História Antiga
"In her groundbreaking book, Adrienne Mayor has gone above and beyond all past works in making the Amazon women of legend real. The stories of who the Amazons were, how they really lived, and why they loved their lives with such timeless vivacity make the reader of this sensational work want to stand up and raise her sword to the sky to cheer! Never before has one author so seamlessly merged the iconic lives and lore of the Amazons with genuine images, facts, and research. With the depth of a textbook and the easy conversational style of a good friend, Mayor rapidly dispels myths about one of the strongest female cultures in history while uplifting the hearts of readers with dreams of strength and adventure. The Amazons is an absolute must-have for any person who yearns to learn about how women in the ancient world really lived and for those modern heroes and heroines who will surely be inspired by the rich, vibrant history of our world's cultures."—Virginia Hankins, actress-stuntwoman
"The Amazons is a stupendous achievement—a long-anticipated centerpiece in the great puzzle of humankind. The story of these forbidden women, silenced for so long by the rigidity of traditional scholarship, is as exciting and surprising as a bestselling murder mystery I simply couldn't put it down. Through scholarly brilliance and passion, Adrienne Mayor has opened the door to a forgotten world of gender equality, and her book ought to be required reading in every college history course."—Anne Fortier, author of The Lost Sisterhood: A Novel
"Nobody brings ancient history and archaeology to life like Adrienne Mayor. From the Russian steppes to China, and from Roman Egypt and Arabia to the Etruscans, she leads the reader on a breathtaking quest for the real ancient warrior women reflected in myths—their daring, archery, tattoos, fine horses, and independence from male control. The book's rich erudition, communicated in sparkling prose and beautiful illustrations, makes it a riveting read."—Edith Hall, author of Introducing the Ancient Greeks: From Bronze Age Seafarers to Navigators of the Western Mind
"Adrienne Mayor's inquiry into the myth—and surprising reality—of Amazon women begins with the fierce Greek huntress Atalanta, but takes us deep into the past and as far afield as the Great Wall of China. With the restless curiosity and meticulous scholarship that have become her hallmark, the author once again has found a gap in my bookshelf and filled it, admirably."—Steven Saylor, author of Raiders of the Nile: A Novel of the Ancient World
"Adrienne Mayor excels at demonstrating the truth that lies behind what seems simply storytelling, and there is no more exciting confrontation of myth and history than in the story of the Amazons. This is a great book—at once exhaustive, scholarly, thrilling, and imaginative, spanning the history, art, and imagination of ancient peoples from Italy to China."—John Boardman, University of Oxford
"One can only wonder at the courage and conviction of the ancient warrior women who dared to defy their peers, and who became such powerful inspirations that their memory lives on for millennia. We owe it to them to remember their stories. Adrienne Mayor's fabulous book illuminates a complex picture of ancient lives. It gives us the chance to understand these amazing female fighters, and to recognize their daughters in our midst, those who fight with courage and conviction for what they know is a better world."—Samantha "Swords" Catto-Mott, medieval long-sword champion and creator of special effects in film
"In this fascinating book, which combines flowing prose, a lively and engaging presentation, and wonderful illustrations, Adrienne Mayor brings the reader into the excitement of discovering the truth about the Amazons. She demonstrates quite convincingly that the Amazon traditions largely derive from the undeniable historical fact that nomadic, armed horsewomen existed on the fringes of the ancient Greek world. Mayor is the first to examine the evidence systematically and in detail and she makes a concrete and persuasive case."—William Hansen, author of Classical Mythology: A Guide to the Mythical World of the Greeks and Romans
"In this comprehensive account of the Amazons, Adrienne Mayor examines the subject in a way that no one else has done and presents overwhelming evidence that they were not entirely fictitious. Only Mayor has looked at the evidence from all the relevant fields to show how, together, they can solve what to each of them separately are complete mysteries. This will be the classic book on the subject for a very long time."—Elizabeth Wayland Barber, author of The Dancing Goddesses: Folklore, Archaeology, and the Origins of European Dance
The Mamluks, a Slave Warrior Elite
The Mamluks as a warrior elite came to the attention of the western world when Napoleon encountered them during his ill-fated campaign to Egypt in 1798. They Egyptian Mamluk caste owed its origins to an Ottoman need for a professional, non-aligned military formation to hold firm Egyptian loyalty once it had been absorbed into the Ottoman Empire.
The word Mamluk simply derives from the Arabic word for âproperty&rsquo or âownership&rsquo, taken from the root term âMalaka&rsquo, meaning âto possess&rsquo. All of this implies quite simply that Mamluk warriors were slave soldiers, owned by a master. They were captured mainly from the Turkic or Caucasian regions, and removed from their own ethnic backgrounds in order that they could serve in an environment uncomplicated by clan or family loyalties, and thus remain wholly obedient to their masters.
However, drawn from such diverse backgrounds, and thrown together as an armed force, it was somewhat inevitable that Mamluk would begin to develop a kinship and loyalty towards one another, and the group. In time, this internal cohesion developed into an elite mentality, sowing aspirations that rose beyond the status of mere slaves. The Mamluk enter the historical record on or about 977 CE, and the final Mamluk dynasty was that in Iraq which disappeared as late as 1831. The most famous dynasty, however, was probably the Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt, which was founded in 1250, and was overturned by Ottoman intervention in 1517.
So much for the Mamluk, but what exactly qualifies them as a great military society? Historians generally explain this as a sense of common, martial identity forged from the isolation of their captive background. In other words, having been once founded as a subjugated military caste, it would be inevitable that a military identity would predominate as the caste began to acquire independent military power, and thereafter political ambition.
Again, the story of the Egyptian Mukluk Sultanate is perhaps the most quintessential. Mamluk soldiers were introduced to Egypt as a force loyal to the Ottoman Empire, but under their own authority they imposed an independent sultanate within Egypt. They were not Egyptian, and they identified only as a ruling aristocracy, at which point their slave origins transmogrified from a badge of dishonor to one of exclusivity and distinction.
When Napoleon arrived in Egypt in the spring of 1798, Egypt was still informally governed by Mamluk Beys, and while the French were awestruck by lavish displays of military prowess, by the late 18th century, Mamluk military tactics were in fact long outdated, and the defenders of Egypt were therefore fairly easily defeated. Their traditional strength lay in light cavalry, and the sort of horsemanship common to the Caucasian races, but in the face of modern infantry tactics, they proved ultimately to be powerless. By the end, Mamluk military proficiency had become one of form over substance.
Harriet Tubman: I Can’t Die but Once
One of the more courageous American heroines was abolitionist Harriet Tubman. She proved to be one of the most effective conductors on the Underground Railroad. "Conducting" was an unsettling and dangerous job for anyone, let alone a female former slave. But her motto was simple: "I can’t die but once."