Female Viking warriors: truth or fiction?

Aug 2011
1,613
Sweden
I can easily picture a family with only dead males, where a sister/daughter have to take up arms to protect the neighborhood. In a larger conflict perhaps even one or two participating.
 
Jan 2015
2,863
MD, USA
I can easily picture a family with only dead males, where a sister/daughter have to take up arms to protect the neighborhood. In a larger conflict perhaps even one or two participating.
I can't. "Households" were usually more than just husband, wife, and 2.5 children. They included multiple generations, unmarried adults, servants/slaves/farmhands, etc. And houses were rarely isolated, but parts of communities. When military duty was required, those eligible and obligated *under law* to participate would have assembled, and their leaders would choose among them for that particular campaign, etc. There would still be a number of armed men available, plus men who normally did not serve due to old age, youth, moderate infirmaties, social status, lack of wealth, etc.

Warfare was almost never "Honey, I have to leave you alone here in this desolate place with our children while I travel several days over grim mountains to get on a ship and sail for weeks to raid some desolate monastary to capture some old book that I can sell for food. You stay here with the wood axe and defend the house against all the outlaws, raiders, migrating hordes, sneaky enemy armies attacking from the rear while all the men are away, trolls, orcs, dragons, teenage wargamers, etc." If you lived in an indefensible situation with no support in the face of deadly danger, you died.

Military systems always balanced the need for defense with the need for sending troops out on offense--if the troops were needed at home, they would not leave! The whole concept of ALL the men leaving, with the women banding together to fend off more attackers, simply didn't happen.

Matthew
 
Likes: aggienation
Feb 2011
13,513
Perambulating in St James' Park
I can't. "Households" were usually more than just husband, wife, and 2.5 children. They included multiple generations, unmarried adults, servants/slaves/farmhands, etc. And houses were rarely isolated, but parts of communities. When military duty was required, those eligible and obligated *under law* to participate would have assembled, and their leaders would choose among them for that particular campaign, etc. There would still be a number of armed men available, plus men who normally did not serve due to old age, youth, moderate infirmaties, social status, lack of wealth, etc.

Warfare was almost never "Honey, I have to leave you alone here in this desolate place with our children while I travel several days over grim mountains to get on a ship and sail for weeks to raid some desolate monastary to capture some old book that I can sell for food. You stay here with the wood axe and defend the house against all the outlaws, raiders, migrating hordes, sneaky enemy armies attacking from the rear while all the men are away, trolls, orcs, dragons, teenage wargamers, etc." If you lived in an indefensible situation with no support in the face of deadly danger, you died.

Military systems always balanced the need for defense with the need for sending troops out on offense--if the troops were needed at home, they would not leave! The whole concept of ALL the men leaving, with the women banding together to fend off more attackers, simply didn't happen.

Matthew
This is true for the Romans, they were also sexist in spite of there being female gladiators. For the Britons and the rest of the world there's no written sources until J.C. and his sunshine band came to invade. IIRC women were mentioned as being part of the Anglesey business, of course there's Boudicca and Cartimandua too, which suggests women did have enough authority to lead men in battle. Who knows what went on prior to that? I haven't studied the archaeological evidence tbh.

A few select quotes from Tacitus:

"54] They not only interposed to prevent the flight of their husbands
and sons, but, in desperate emergencies, themselves engaged in battle.
This happened on Marius's defeat of the Cimbri (hereafter to be
mentioned); and Dio relates, that when Marcus Aurelius overthrew the
Marcomanni, Quadi, and other German allies, the bodies of women in armor
were found among the slain."


"30 The enemy lined the shore : a dense host of armed and over-
men, interspersed with women clothed in black, like desperate
the Furies, with their hair hanging down, and holding '■'^^'^''^"'''^•

2 torches in their hands. Round these were the Druids,
uttering dire curses, and stretching out their hands
towards heaven. These strange sights terrified our
soldiers. They stood motionless, as if paralysed,

3 offering their bodies to the blows. At last, encouraged
by the General, and exhorting erxh other not to quail
before a rabble of female fanatics-, they advanced their
standards, bore down all resistance, and enveloped

4 the enemy in their own flames. Suetonius imposed
a garrison upon the conquered, and cut down the
groves devoted to their cruel superstitions : for it
was part of their religion to spill the blood of captives
on their altars, and to inquire of the Gods by means
of human entrails. "


Annals & Germania/Agricola

Full text of "The Annals of Tacitus .."

https://www.gutenberg.org/files/7524/7524.txt
 
"Raiding" never stripped an area of its entire fighting force, that's why it's called "raiding". In fact the whole Viking era began because rising populations caused a *surplus* of able-bodied men, and those were the bulk of those who went off a-viking. There were PLENTY of battle-worthy men still at home. Even large armies rarely used more than a small percentage of a population.

If women were a regular part of the military system, it should be easy to find documentation of that, among the plethora of laws, regulations, court proceedings, and other literature that survives. I haven't heard of that being turned up, though.



Again, tell us about these ladies! They should be pretty thick on the ground in literary sources. We DO see a few women fighting in extreme situations, certainly! But they are never treated as an integral part of the military system. That *I've* heard of, at least!

Matthew
Tell us about these ladies which I said were a rarity?

Tell you that I already said there were fighting men but when on raid season they wouldn't be at full strength and that women would help especially the shield maidens if that particular village had any?

All you've done here is parroted what I said ............ then asked me to explain it like I had said anything wildly different?

What point are you trying to prove here?

Also for you to say "there were plenty of fighting men still available" how the hell would you know? were you there? are you even considering the size of a particular raid party as in a small one or a grand invasion? are you taking into account the size of the village or Jarldom in particular? are you taking into account that saying "they had plenty" would completely be subject to the size of the force they would be facing in compared to what they had available? ................ no you haven't factored one iota of that.

So in that light how am I to address your question seriously?

As for you acting like women never took part in any battle at all I think is the height of ignorance, especially women from warrior cultures defending their homes.
 

rvsakhadeo

Ad Honorem
Sep 2012
8,924
India
She was born in 1828 so her age at death would have been 30 or 31. There are no contemporary accounts of the Rani having her adopted son tied to her clothing on the battlefield, and this idea can be dismissed as romantic legend.

As to Viking or Dark Age female warriors, we can not be sure until some female skeleton in unearthed bearing unmistakeable signs of weapon trauma. As far as I am aware, no such evidence has been found.
She was a teenager when she was widowed and hence ascended the throne of Jhansi as a ( dowager ) teenage queen. She gave a very good account of herself when Jhansi was besieged by Sir Hugh Rose. She escaped from the siege, fought some more battles and was killed in a skirmish with English cavalrymen. She had her adopted son ( whose adoption and being deemed to be an inheritor to the throne was set aside by Lord Dalhousie ) tied to her waist by some cloth when she received thrust of a sword blinding her and then killed by a second sword thrust into her chest. This is the account of her last fight as has been received down the centuries.
 
Nov 2008
1,285
England
She was a teenager when she was widowed and hence ascended the throne of Jhansi as a ( dowager ) teenage queen. She gave a very good account of herself when Jhansi was besieged by Sir Hugh Rose. She escaped from the siege, fought some more battles and was killed in a skirmish with English cavalrymen. She had her adopted son ( whose adoption and being deemed to be an inheritor to the throne was set aside by Lord Dalhousie ) tied to her waist by some cloth when she received thrust of a sword blinding her and then killed by a second sword thrust into her chest. This is the account of her last fight as has been received down the centuries.
She was not a teenager when she was killed, which is what your original post suggested. She would have been aged 30 or 31. This idea about her being blinded by and then killed by a sabre wielded by a cavalry trooper is romantic twaddle. We do not have any certain verifiable knowledge how she was killed actually. The one favoured by most historians is that she was wounded by a sabre cut from a trooper of the 8th Hussars. She fell from her horse, then shot at the trooper with her pistol, missed, and then despatched by the hussar firing his carbine. Another claim is that she was shot by Private Timothy Abbott of the 95th Foot regiment. Like the 8th Hussars, the 95th Foot was in the vicinity at the time of the Rani`s demise, and those facts can, indeed, be verified.

This idea that she had her nine years old adopted son tied to her when she was killed is just romantic balderdash, fanciful idealism dreamed up much later by people who want to idealize her. There are no contemporary stories of that happening. Furthemore, rvsakhadeo, a thread about Viking female warriors is not the place to discuss Lakshmi Bai, Rani of Jhansi. I suggest, if you want to discuss her, that you begin a thread elsewhere.
 
Aug 2011
1,613
Sweden
I can't. "Households" were usually more than just husband, wife, and 2.5 children. They included multiple generations, unmarried adults, servants/slaves/farmhands, etc. And houses were rarely isolated, but parts of communities. When military duty was required, those eligible and obligated *under law* to participate would have assembled, and their leaders would choose among them for that particular campaign, etc. There would still be a number of armed men available, plus men who normally did not serve due to old age, youth, moderate infirmaties, social status, lack of wealth, etc.

Warfare was almost never "Honey, I have to leave you alone here in this desolate place with our children while I travel several days over grim mountains to get on a ship and sail for weeks to raid some desolate monastary to capture some old book that I can sell for food. You stay here with the wood axe and defend the house against all the outlaws, raiders, migrating hordes, sneaky enemy armies attacking from the rear while all the men are away, trolls, orcs, dragons, teenage wargamers, etc." If you lived in an indefensible situation with no support in the face of deadly danger, you died.

Military systems always balanced the need for defense with the need for sending troops out on offense--if the troops were needed at home, they would not leave! The whole concept of ALL the men leaving, with the women banding together to fend off more attackers, simply didn't happen.

Matthew
Well, I can. More in sparsely populated lands in Scandinavia, than perhaps crowded places like England och France. There were many lonely farms out in the woods and the mountains in the Iron age. The the men were gone temporarily for war or raids I can assume that women were more to their own. If the war was lost from time to time and the men dead, a surplus of women must have been living around.

Not surprisingly then, the tale of Blenda in county Småland is such a story, which may have some grain of truth in it, even if the original historical background has been lost. She and her female followers were said to have finished off an invading force from Denmark, when their men were away on war.

Blenda - Wikipedia
 
Last edited:
Nov 2008
1,285
England
Not surprisingly then, the tale of Blenda in county Småland is such a story, which may have some grain of truth in it, even if the original historical background has been lost. She and her female followers were said to have finished off an invading force from Denmark, when their men were away on war.
I do not doubt this, or that women back then, or even now come to that, would actually take up arms in extremis to fight for their loved ones. There is plentiful evidence to support that. But there is no real evidence that there were trained bands of women approaching what we today would call a regiment or corps who actually marched of to war.
 
Feb 2018
202
US
Women rode with Scopias and helped kill Cyrus the great. When it's fight or die, women make as good a show of it as men. I am not a big fan of inclusion for political correctness' sake, but women have stepped up to the plate in history. I can't remember the name of the Turkish woman who rode at her father's side, but she refused to marry anyone who couldn't beat her.
This was Khutulun, the Mongol princess of Kaidu's domain. She, being the a beautiful and most desirable princess of the steppe, required anyone who wanted to marry her to bet horses that they would beat her in wrestling. None ever did, and she got very wealthy. Her exploits were so extraordinary that the Mongol men banned women and forced wrestlers to wear a garb that proved they were male.

There were no all-female Mongol units, but a European envoy noted that Mongol women were as skilled at horseback riding and archery as the men, and there are plenty of recorded instances of female soldiers in combat of nomads in general. Genghis Khan's mother even commanded a 1,000 man unit at the battle of dalan balzhut.

Going back 600 years to the Arab conquests, Khwala bint al-Azar was said to be mistaken for Khalid ibn al-Walid was a warrior, which seems to be about the highest compliment one could've had for that era.

Agreed that the current politically correct history over-prioritizes women, but there definitely are some standouts. Just imagine if a women became the UFC champ. That would be unthinkable.