Women Warriors throughout history


Forum Staff
Oct 2009
In my studies of ancient and medieval history, I have come across quite a few references to women going to war. Granted, there is a lot of truth to the stereotype of the women staying at home while the men go off to fight, but pretty much every culture and historical army had at least a few women who threw their lot in with the guys - or even managed to find their way into a position of telling the guys what to do!

So, who are some famous warrior-women you can think of? They can be women who actually took up weapons and fought in the battleline alongside their menfolk, like Scythia's famous amazons, or they can be female commanders and war-leaders like that famous distressing damsel, Jeanne d'Arc.


Forum Staff
Oct 2009
I'll start off...

We've all heard of Boudica - famous rebel queen of the Iceni. But her contemporary Cartimandua, is not nearly as well known today.

Cartimandua - whose name means "Voluptuous Pony" (and that name is probably a story in and of itself) - was the queen of the Brigantes in northern Britannia. Even as late as the 150's AD, the Brigantian tribesmen were known for their hatred of Roman occupation, but paradoxially, Cartimandua was pro-Roman.

Cartimandua's husband Venutius was inferior to her in rank, but like her he was a major war-leader for the Brigantes. The couple apparently had a fight and divorced at some point in the late 60's AD - and Venutius came to lead an anti-Roman faction in the tribe whilst Cartimandua led the pro-Roman clan. Cartimandua then became the lover of a warrior named Vellocatus, further incensing her ex-husband because Vellocatus had once served as his charioteer.

In 51 AD, Cartimandua had famously betrayed the British patriot Caratacus to the Romans, and ever afterwards she had had Rome's support. Twenty years later, however, she and Venutius apparently fought a civil war that split the Brigantian people in half. Venutius managed to defeat and dethrone Cartimandua, but the Romans in turn inflicted a defeat on Venutius and re-installed Cartimandua as Queen.

A few years later, in the mid 70's AD, Venutius raised another revolt and again dethroned Cartimandua. In the violent anarchy that followed, Rome was unable to reenstate the Queen but a detachment of auxiliary cavalry did manage to save her from being captured or killed by the victorious rebel.


Forum Staff
Oct 2009
There have been a number of wars throughout history - including Rome's Marcomannic Wars (170's AD) and the First Crusade - in which the victors stripped the corpses of the enemy fallen to find the bodies of women who had joined their menfolk in disguise.


Forum Staff
Oct 2009
The Arab/Syrian historian Usamah ibn Munqidh, who lived 1097-1188, recorded several cases of women actively participating in warfare. On one occasion, a Bedhouin tribe was attacking ibn Munqidh's fortress of Shayzar, and the defenses were just barely holding. At the last minute, the defenders were joined by a contingent of mail-clad swordsmen who were noticeably shorter than the rest of the soldiers, but fought with just as much courage and desparation. After the battle, ibn Munqidh found that they were girls taken from his harem, under the command of his own sister! They had taken what was left in ibn Munqidh's armory before taking their place in the defense of their home - and thanks to their timely arrival, the desert raiders were beaten back.
Oct 2009
Ontario, Canada
Who was that African ruler who had a large unit of female bodyguards? Of course, they couldn't withstand the French army but the soldiers hesitated to kill woman and suffered some casualties. Started with a "D."

And there's Al-Ghadafi's female bodyguards.

I wonder if many of the women over the centuries that disguised themselves as men to enter combat had, what we call today, "gender identity dysphoria." I'm talking about women who went out of their way to put themselves into battle. Perhaps wanting to fight because combat was seen as an exclusively male activity and it would fulfill their need to possess a male gender identity.
Jan 2008
Chile, Santiago
Jeanne Laisné (or Fourquet) known as Jeanne Hachette who fought against Burgundians at Beauvais in 1472, she killed a Burgundian with an axe, this single act encouraged others women to participate in the defense and the city was saved.
They can be women who actually took up weapons and fought in the battleline alongside their menfolk, like Scythia's famous amazons,
In Europa [Capsule Laussel], Norman Davies notes that this story from Herodote was rejected as sheer invention until archeologist began to uncover the skeletons of female warriors in Sauromatian graves. A Sarmatian princess of a still later vintage, whose tomb was found at Kolbiakov on the Don, had been buried with her battle-axe.
Mar 2009
I wonder if many of the women over the centuries that disguised themselves as men to enter combat had, what we call today, "gender identity dysphoria

1801: Austrian army lieutenant Franziska Scanagatta is discovered to be a woman. She leaves the army.
[ame="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_women_in_19th_century_warfare"]Timeline of women in 19th century warfare - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia[/ame]

aslo there was even an mexican women inn 1800,that diguised as a male,frought against male emenies,she gott injured than wase dicoverd he was a she and she was force too leave the army.
i cant finde the link too this story though.


Ad Honorem
Sep 2009
Keumalahayati, The first women admiral. Her name Keumala means "a beautiful glowing stone that has many efficacy". Keumalahayati nicknamed the Lion of the Sea From Aceh Darussalam Sultanate.

Keumalahayati was the first woman in the world has ever become an admiral. She was born in the heyday of Aceh, precisely at the end of XV century. Based on historical evidence (manuscripts) that are stored at the University Kebangsaan Malaysia and dated 1254 H or around the year 1875 AD, Keumalahayati came from a noble family in Aceh. Historical records have not found the mention exactly when the year of birth and death year. It is estimated that her life around the end of XV century and the beginning of the sixteenth century.

Keumalahayati is the daughter of Admiral Mahmud Syah. Her grandfather, Admiral Muhammad Said Syah, son of the Sultan Salahuddin Syah who ruled the Sultanate of Aceh Darussalam circa 1530-1539 AD Sultan Salahuddin Syah is the son of Sultan Ibrahim Ali Mughayat Syah (1513-1530) who was the founder of the Sultanate of Aceh Darussalam.

If seen from the pedigree, Keumalahayati is a noble descendant of aristocratic family. Her father and grandfather had been a navy admiral. Maritime spirit father and grandfather owned the later influence on his personality. Although as a woman, she still wanted to be a brave sailor like his father and grandfather.

The story of her fight started from a war in Malacca strait, between Portuguese forces versus the fleet of the Sultanate of Aceh Darussalam led by Sultan Alauddin Shah al-Riayat Mukammil and assisted by two admirals. The battle happened in the Haru gulf and won by Aceh, although they had to lose two admirals and thousands of troops who died in battle. One of the admiral who died was Keumalahayati own husband who served as Commander of the Palace Protocol Darud-Dunia. After her husband died in the war, she promised revenge and determined to continue the struggle despite her husband alone.

To meet these objectives, Keumalahayati asked Sultan al-Mukammil to form a fleet of Aceh which all soldiers are women, widows whose husbands died in the Haru Gulf War. Keumalahayati's request finally granted. She was entrusted with the task of leading the fleet Inong Balee appointed as the Admiral. She is the first Acehnese woman reach admiral rank (admiral) in the Sultanate of Aceh Darussalam. Fleet strength was originally only 1000 people, but then strengthened again to 2000 people. Lamreh Krueng Raya Gulf used as military bases. Around this bay, She built Fort Inong Balee located in the hills.

After assuming the post of admiral, coordinate Keumlahayati troops on the sea, watching the various ports under the control port, and watch the Aceh Darussalam Galley. A Dutch ship captain who was a British, John Davis, said that during Admiral Keumalahayati's military leadership, the Sultanate of Aceh Darussalam has a fleet of equipment of which consists of 100 ships (galley) with a capacity of 400-500 passengers.

The story of her fight does not stop here. He has been involved in a battle against Dutch colonialism. The story, on June 22, 1586, Cornelis de Houtman led the first voyage with four Dutch ships anchored in the harbor and Banten. After returning to the Netherlands, on the second voyage, he led the Dutch merchant fleet is also equipped with warships. This was done to face contact with the weapon Sultanate of Aceh Darussalam on June 21, 1599. Two Dutch ship named de Leeuw and de Leeuwin, led by two brothers, Cornelis de Houtman and Frederick de Houtman, anchored in the capital of the Sultanate of Aceh Darussalam. At first, their arrival got good treatment from the empire because of the importance of trade relations.

However, in the further development of Sultan al-Mukammil not happy with the presence of the group and ordered to attack the Dutch. There were allegations that the sultan was heavily influenced by one's instigation Portuguese who became his translator. The attack was led by Admiral Keumalahayati. As a result, Cornelis de Houtman, and some of his men were killed, while Frederick de Houtman was captured and put in jail (for 2 years). Admiral Keumalahayati success is an achievement of truly extraordinary.

Keumalahayati was not only an admiral and the Navy Commander of the Sultanate of Aceh Darussalam, but he also has served as Commander of the Uleebalang (Royal Palace Guard). This position is an imperial task in the field of diplomacy and he acted as a negotiator in the affairs of foreign countries. She himself has shown his talent and carry out their duties well. He has the nature and character of firm and brave in facing various negotiations, both the Dutch and English. Even so, as a smart diplomat, she could be friendly and flexible in doing a lot of negotiations.

On November 21, 1600, a Dutch group led by Paul van Caerden come to the Sultanate of Aceh Darussalam. Before entering the harbor, this group sank a merchant ship in Aceh by first taking all of the pepper in it to their ship. After it came back the second Dutch national party led by Admiral Van Neck Yacob. They landed at the port of Aceh on June 31, 1601. They introduced themselves as a Dutch who came to Aceh to buy pepper. After knowing that they were the Dutch, directly Keumalahayati ordered his men to arrest them. The act was approved by Sultan al-Mukammil due as compensation for the actions of the previous Dutch group.

On August 23, 1601, reached the third Dutch group led by Commissioner Gerard de Roy and Admiral Laurens Bicker with four ships (Zeelandia, Middelborg, Langhe Bracke, and Sonne) in the Port of Aceh. Their arrival had been deliberate and on the orders of Prince Maurits. Both the leadership of the group received orders to provide a letter and some gifts to the Sultan al-Mukammil. Before the letter was given, in fact has happened between Admiral Keumalahayati negotiations with the Dutch two group leaders. The contents of these negotiations is to achieve peace between the Dutch and the Sultanate of Aceh, Frederick de Houtman, Dutch, and in return have to pay any losses due to Hijacked Aceh ship by Paul van Caerden (Dutch finally going to pay damages for 50.000 Golden).

After that the relationship between the Netherlands and the Sultanate of Aceh going pretty well. The presence of the Dutch nation is well accepted in the imperial palace, and they are allowed to trade in Aceh. As a continuation of good relations between the Netherlands and the Sultanate of Aceh, sent three people to meet Prince Maurits and Dutch Representatives Assembly. The third man was Abdul Hamid, Sri Muhammad (one of the naval officer under Admiral Keumalahayati), and Mir Hasan (nobility of the empire). Despite being at war against Spanish, the Dutch envoys were accepted by a state ceremony.

Admiral Keumalahayati diplomatic role continues. This stems from the British wanted to establish trade relations with the Sultanate of Aceh Darussalam. Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603 AD) sent a messenger to bring a letter to Sultan al-Mukammil. The delegation, led by James Lancaster, an officer of the British Navy, arrived at Aceh port on June 6, 1602. Before meeting with Sultan al-Mukammil, Lancaster hold negotiations with Admiral Keumalahayati. Lancaster told the British wanted to establish cooperation with the Sultanate of Aceh Darussalam. He also advised that Admiral Keumalahayati against the Portuguese and nice to British. Admiral Keumalahayati requested that this desire is made in text and on behalf of the Queen of England. After the letter was made, Lancaster was permitted to meet Sultan al-Mukammil.

Admiral Keumalahayati also plays a major role in completing the imperial intrigue. This stems from an important event concerning the succession of leadership in the Sultanate of Aceh Darussalam. In 1603, Sultan al-Mukammil put his eldest son as his companion. However, apparently the son of the betrayed his father and claimed the throne of Aceh with title Sultan Ali Riayat Shah (1604-1607 AD).

In the early days of his leadership, various kinds of disasters struck the Sultanate of Aceh Darussalam, such as prolonged drought, family bloody conflict, and the threat from the Portuguese. There is no strong desire of the Sultan Ali Riayat Shah to resolve the issue seriously. So much sense of disappointment arising from the courtiers, one of which is Darmawangsa Tun Pangkat, his own nephew. Darmawangsa was arrested and imprisoned on the orders of the Sultan.

In June 1606, the Portuguese attacked the Sultanate of Aceh Darussalam, led by Alfonso de Castro. When it Darmawangsa still in jail. He appealed to the Sultan Ali Riayat Shah so he can be released and can be fought against the Portuguese. With the support of Admiral Keumalahayati, Darmawangsa was finally released. They both fought with and eventually can destroy the Portuguese army.

Because of Sultan Ali Shah Riayat widely considered incompetent again lead the empire, the Admiral Keumalahayati maneuver by lowering Sultan Ali Riayat Shah from the throne of power. Darmawangsa finally selected as the title of Sultan of Aceh, Sultan Iskandar Muda (1607-1636 AD). At the time, the Sultanate of Aceh Darussalam reached the golden age.

Admiral Keumalahayati work is not in the form of books or various forms of writing. However, her struggle against colonialism may also be regarded as real work. Among the works referred to are as follows:
He has built Inong Balee Fortress with 100 meters high above sea level. Walls of the fort facing the sea with a width of 3 meters with holes muzzle cannon bay door leads to.

As promised
Jan 2009
Artemisia, the Queen of Caria, has Kaumalahayati beat by 2 millenia. :)

She was leading the Carian fleet in the Battle of Salamis 480 BC, as part of the Persian fleet, so I think this technically makes her an admiral.

Very nice story of Kaumalahayati, though. Indonesian history, well, the whole Southeast Asian history, tends to be overlooked at school (at least where I am from). I for one have no idea even when and how Indonesia became Muslim!
Nov 2008
Æthelflaed, Lady of the Mercians, daughter of King Alfred the Great, spent her adult life kicking Danish "ass" very successfully, and, on one occasion Welsh "ass".

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