History's Warrior Women

Lucy Lawless as Xena: Warrior Princess

Lucy Lawless as Xena: Warrior Princess

I could fill dozens of books with the stories of female warriors and fighters. But it seems a common misconception that only men lay down their lives for their causes. This is maliciously untrue. Below are just a few of my favorite women warriors.

Tomoe Gozen (center) at the Battle of Awazu

Tomoe Gozen (center) at the Battle of Awazu


“Whenever a battle was imminent, Yoshinaka sent her out as his first captain, equipped with strong armor, an oversized sword, and a mighty bow; and she performed more deeds of valor than any of his other warriors.” from The Tale of Heike

Tomoe was a female samurai married to Yoshinaka of clan Minamoto. During this time there was a battle of clans called the Genpei War between clan Minamoto and clan Taira. Tomoe’s husband saw this as an opportunity to attempt a takeover of the Minamoto clan. He broke off and consolidated a group of rebels to fight against the Minamoto. Tomoe was the leader of the samurai in many of the battles during the rebellion. Word spread of this fierce female samurai and an enemy attempted to capture her at the Battle of Awazu. She evaded capture and killed the opposing samurai with her katana. She continued slaying and beheading her enemies until she was the last one standing. Her husband lay dying and told her to flee from the battlefield. It is unknown what happened to her after she fled.

Artist's depiction of Freydis Eiriksdottir.

Artist's depiction of Freydis Eiriksdottir.


"Why run you away from such worthless creatures, stout men that ye are, when, as seems to me likely, you might slaughter them like so many cattle? Let me but have a weapon; I think I could fight better than any of you." - Freydis Eiriksdottir to her fleeing allies.

In the 10th century, Leif Erikson was exiled from Iceland. Gathering his family and allies, he moved to settle West, into Greenland and Canada. With him, he brought his half sister, Freydis. When the group settled in Canada, they were attacked by Native Americans. The men of the village fled in terror, but Freydis came out of her tent, eight months pregnant, and berated the men for their cowardice. She picked up a sword of her fallen brethren. She exposed her breast to the attacking natives, beat it with a sword, and screamed a battle cry. Confused and frightened, the enemy retreated.

Artist's depiction of Sayyida Al Hurra.

Artist's depiction of Sayyida Al Hurra.


Sayyida Al Hurra means “noble lady who is free and independent; the woman sovereign who bows to no superior authority.”

Governor. Queen. Pirate. Sayyida Al Hurra was exiled from Granada as a child by Christian forces and forced to move to Morocco. She grew up and married a governor in Morocco. After the death of her husband, she ruled as governor instead. She later married the King of Morocco, but refused to leave her home and still intended to govern it. In order to seek revenge for her banishment from Granada, Sayyida Al Hurra took up piracy. She allied with Barbarossa of Algiers. Under their agreement, he controlled the Eastern Mediterranean and she controlled the West.

Claudia Kim's portrayal of Khutulun in the series  Marco Polo .

Claudia Kim's portrayal of Khutulun in the series Marco Polo.


“Sometimes she would quit her father’s side, and make a dash at the host of the enemy, and seize some man thereout, as deftly as a hawk pounces on a bird, and carry him to her father; and this she did many a time.” - Marco Polo.

Khutulun was the great-great-granddaughter of Genghis Khan, but she earned fame in her own right. One daughter amongst many brothers, she was the one who stood at her father’s side. She was his main military advisor and his choice for his successor. She was also an undefeated wrestler - no matter the size or gender of the opponent, she was always the victor. She claimed she would only marry a man who could defeat her in wrestling. As the daughter of the Great Khan, there were many suitors. These were the rules: if you defeated her, she would marry you. If she defeated you, you must give her 100 horses. After many matches, she ended up with 10,000 horses and no husband. 

Ai Keita's portrayal of Sarrounia (center) in the 1986 film  Sarraounia .

Ai Keita's portrayal of Sarrounia (center) in the 1986 film Sarraounia.


Sarraounia was the “panther queen” of Azna people. During the late 19th century, French ambassadors trumped through the region of Niger. They raped and pillaged, and burned the villages to ash when they finished. Sarranounia tried to ally with her former enemies to push them back, but was refused. Instead, her people defended their fortress until they, for an unknown reason, retreated. The French entered the city and found no people, no grain stores, and no animals. The French occupied the town, but Sarraounia and her people begin a guerilla war against them. Sarranounia led her people on nightly raids and disappeared without a trace. Her techniques were so effective she was called a sorceress queen. Many of the African conscripts in the French army deserted for fear of her. The French ambassadors were later killed by their own men.

Nancy Wake ca. 1944

Nancy Wake ca. 1944


Summed up by a male comrade as: “The most feminine woman I know, until the fighting starts. And then she is like five men.”

Nancy Wake was a secret agent during World War II, nicknamed “White Mouse.” She was a resistance leader with the French, working to defeat the Nazis. She quickly became the most wanted person by the Gestapo, with a 5 million francs bounty on her head. Wake described her tactics: "A little powder and a little drink on the way, and I'd pass their (German) posts and wink and say, 'Do you want to search me?' God, what a flirtatious little bastard I was.” She would also shoot through any roadblocks and installations as necessary. She delivered radio codes to the allies by biking 120 hours through Nazi checkpoints. To prevent a German guard from sounding the alarm on her troops’ presence during a raid, she killed him with a single judo chop to the neck.

For more warrior women, you can visit: http://www.rejectedprincesses.com/women-in-combat