Woman warrior  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
list, heroine, Joan of Arc, Amazons, strong women, Girl Power, women's rights, female murderer, black widow, femme fatale

The portrayal of women warriors in literature and popular culture is a subject of study in history, literary studies, film studies, folklore and mythology, gender studies, and cultural studies.



In the older literature, the term "warrioress", following the author/authoress pattern, was sometimes used when describing women warriors. In terms of the archaeological record, in 1997 the earliest known women warrior burial mounds were excavated in southern Russia. They were buried with their swords, daggers, arrowheads and saddles. David Anthony states, "About 20% of Scythian-Sarmatian 'warrior graves' on the lower Don and lower Volga contained females dressed for battle in the same manner as men, a phenomenon that probably inspired the Greek tales about the Amazons."

In 2004, the 2,000 year old remains of an Iranian female warrior were found in the northwestern Iranian city of Tabriz.

Historical examples

Fu Hao was one of the many wives of King Wu Ding of the Shang Dynasty and, unusually for that time, also served as a military general and high priestess.

Tomoe Gozen is believed to have been a late twelfth-century female samurai warrior (onna bugeisha) who may have pioneered the two-sword style made famous in the 17th century by Miyamoto Musashi.

In terms of normal women fighting as part of a regular army, one of the earliest examples known is Nusaybah bint Ka'ab; the first female to fight battles in defence of Islam and Prophet Muhammad. After her, many others followed. She took part in the Battle of Uhud, the Battle of Hunain, the Battle of Yamama and was part of the battalion deployed which consequently negotiated the Treaty of Hudaibiyah. This was over a millennium before women took active roles in modern western armies.

The daughter of a Duke, Princess Pingyang raised and commanded her own army in the revolt against the Sui Dynasty. Later, her father would become Emperor Gaozu. Artemisia I of Caria was a tyrant of Halicarnassus allied with Xerxes and commanded five ships of her own in the Battle of Salamis; though her actions in the battle are questioned by some historians, it is said that Xerxes commented after the battle, a Persian loss, that "my men have turned into women and my women into men" in compliment to Artemisia's performance. The Spartan princess Arachidamia is said to have fought Pyrrhus (of the phrase "pyrrhic victory") with a group of Spartan females under her command, and killed several soldiers before perishing, though little else is known about her. The British Queen, Boudicca, led a revolt against the Roman Empire in 60 AD but was decisively defeated at at the Battle of Watling Street .

Emilia Plater was a Polish noblewoman who fought as a Captain in the November 1830 Uprising against Russia. The Roman Empire was known to sometimes have women fighting, called gladiatrix, in gladiator games.

Women leaders have not only played an important role in cultures where there is a direct analogy to the western concept of a "princess," but have also served their societies in indigenous tribal warfare and rebellion, as well. The Dahomey people, who live in western Africa also established an all female militia, who served as royal bodyguards to the king. With regard to Native American history, the majority of Native American tribes possessed respected and well established women leaders of their "militia". These female leaders determined the fate of prisoners of war among other tribal decisions. However, the Europeans and early American men refused to deal with Native American women on such matters and so their significance was not understood or appreciated until relatively recently.

In Vietnam the sisters [[Trung Trac]] and [[Trung Nhi]] led a rebel against the Han rule in 40 B.C. According to folk tradition, they were joined by many woman warriors and succeeded in establishing a short live independence. Another woman warrior called [[Lady Trieu]] rose up against [[Eastern Wu]] oppression in North Vietnam. An early modern example is the Tay Son General [[Bui Thi Xuan]] who led an army in the age of gunpowder.

In South Asia and the Indian Subcontinent, the concept of a "woman warrior" exists both in mythology and in history, and there are records of women who have led armies into battle. Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi was one of the leading figures of the Indian Rebellion of 1857 and was described by the British as "remarkable for her beauty, cleverness and perseverance", and that she had been "the most dangerous of all the rebel leaders". Unniyarcca was a famed warrior princess who lived in south Indian state of Kerala during the 16th century. Kittur Chennamma, queen of the princely state of Kittur led a rebellion against the British decades before the 1857 uprising.

Indonesia counts a number of female warriors among its National Heroines. Cut Nyak Dhien and Cut Nyak Meutia waged a nationalist war against the Dutch during the Aceh War at the turn of the 20th Century. Another Indonesian National Heroine, Martha Christina Tiahahu, joined a guerrilla war against the Dutch colonial government as a teenager, in 1817.

Somdet Phra Sri Suriyothai was a royal consort during the 16th century Ayutthaya period of Siam (now Thailand). She is famous for having given up her life in the defense of her husband, King Maha Chakkraphat, in a battle during the Burmese-Siamese War of 1548. For the movie, see The Legend of Suriyothai.

Lyudmila Pavlichenko was a Soviet sniper during World War II, and is regarded as the most successful female sniper in history.

Folklore and mythology

In Hindu mythology, Chitrāngadā, wife of Arjuna, was the commander of her father's armies.

The Amazons were an entire tribe of woman warriors in Greek legend. "Amazon" has become an eponym for woman warriors and athletes.

In British mythology, Queen Cordelia fought off several contenders for her throne by personally leading the army in its battles.

In his On the Bravery of Women the Greco-Roman historian Plutarch describes how the women of Argos fought against King Cleomenes and the Spartans under the command of Telesilla in the fifth century BCE.


Women warriors have a long history in fiction, where they often have greater roles than their historical inspirations, such as "Gordafarid" (Persian: گردآفريد) in the ancient Persian epic poem The Shāhnāmeh.

Various other woman warriors have appeared in classic literature: Belphoebe and Britomart in Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene, Bradamante and Marfisa in Orlando Furioso, and Camilla in the Aeneid. There is also an ongoing debate among scholars as to whether Grendel's mother from the poem Beowulf was a monster or a woman warrior.


Professor Sherrie Inness in Tough Girls: Women Warriors and Wonder Women in Popular Culture for example, focus on figures such as Xena, from the television series Xena: Warrior Princess, or Buffy Summers from Buffy the Vampire Slayer (who inspired the academic field Buffy Studies), or the title character Kim Possible, or Sam, Clover and Alex from Totally Spies, or the Charmed Ones (Prudence, Piper, and Phoebe Halliwell, and Paige Matthews) from Charmed. Zoe Washburne of Joss Whedon's Firefly is referred to by her husband as a "warrior woman" and is often in the thick of action with her captain Malcolm Reynolds. In the introduction to their text, Early and Kennedy discuss what they describe as a link between the image of women warriors and girl power.

See also

Related articles

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