The Greatest Women Warriors Of The Ancient World

While war history focuses on men, many courageous women warriors have had significant political and historical impact despite the laws and obstacles that tried to silence them.

Jul 19, 2020By Vladislav Tchakarov, BA History
battle of alexander
Battle of Alexander versus Darius by Pietro da Cortona, 1644-50, Musei Capitolini, Rome


The archetype of the beautiful warrior is firmly rooted in world culture. We see them in movies, we see them in books but we know very little of the great women warriors that lived thousands of years before our time. 


History remembers not one or two great men who won memorable victories on the battlefield. However, there are also women who have become legendary because of their incredible courage and determination in battle. 


From Europe through Africa to Asia, there have been women who left their mark in history despite the laws and common ancient beliefs that women should not interfere with power and politics. Here are 8 of the greatest women warriors of the Ancient world. 


Trung Trac & Trung Nhi: Sisters And Rebellious Women Warriors 

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The Trung Sisters leading their army against the Chinese by Nguyen Huy Sam, 2001, Asian Civilisations Museum, Singapore


The Trung sisters are national heroines in Vietnam. The pair led an uprising in the first century AD to overthrow the Chinese slavery which had continued for over a thousand years. It all began after the husband of the elder sister, Trung Trac, was assassinated. 


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Her husband was part of a plot to overthrow the Chinese and paid the price with his life. From then on, his wife and her sister took it upon themselves to start the uprising and free the nation of their enslavers.


Trung Trac, along with her younger sister Nhi, quickly assembled an army consisting mainly of women warriors, and in a few weeks expelled the Chinese from the expanses of their native land. Later on, her armies were joined by the forces of freed lords along the way but there was one curious detail – it is said that all men were dressed as women warriors as a sign of respect. 


The armies of the Trung sisters successfully crushed the Chinese legions and established a short-lived kingdom in North and Central Vietnam. Legend has it that they were fearless warriors. It is said that they entered the battles completely naked to embarrass the enemy soldiers. 


Eventually, after nearly two decades of fighting with China, their kingdom was unfortunately crushed. The sisters committed suicide so as not to be captured alive, which was the dream of the Chinese emperor.


Artemisia I Of Caria: Commander Of Ancient Halicarnassus

battle of salamis

Battle of Salamis by Wilhelm von Kaulbach, 1868, Stiftung Maximilianeum, Munich 


Artemisia I was the queen of Halicarnassus around the end of the 5th century BC. It was a city of the Dorian Greeks and Carians in the Achaemenid satrapy, Caria and Kos. When the death of her husband came, she took over and was distinguished by courage and heroism.


Artemisia was the only one of all commanders who advised the Persian king Xerxes not to engage the Greeks in battle at sea. Despite her advice, she took part in the Battle of Salamis during the second invasion of Greece in September 480 BC and fought on the side of the Persians. Of the women warriors, she was the only one to command an army during this war and had a total of 5 ships under her command. 


Xerxes, watching the battle from the distant hills, is said to have been proud of the bravery of Artemisia. According to Herodotus, Xerxes said these famous lines: “My men became women, and women became men.” In fact, it is said that Artemisia was Xerxes’ most favored commander during his reign. 


Later on, Artemisia was given the task of caring for the sons of Xerxes I in Ephesus. In return, she received favorable terms from the alliance with the Persians.


Ahhotep I: Military Leader And Egyptian Pharaoh

golden flies necklace ahhotep

A Golden Flies necklace given to Queen Ahhotep I by her sons, 1560-30 BC, The Luxor Museum


In 1500 BC, the Hyksos invaded ancient Egypt. They settled down in the region of Nile’s delta and later dominated the surrounding territories which led to an economic decline for Egypt. 


Queen Ahhotep’s brother and husband, Pharaoh Seqenenre Tao, was executed by the tribes but since there was no heir of age to sit on the throne, Ahhotep became queen regent of her son Ahmose I who, allegedly, was not more than 3 years old.  


In addition to ruling Egypt, she personally gathered her husband’s soldiers to fight the Hyksos. After this feat, she was rewarded with military orders, only given to the highest Egyptian generals. As you probably guessed, such titles were rarely given to women warriors in ancient times, no matter the country or culture. 


Ahhotep died at the age of about 90 and was buried with great honors. Historians often claim that Ahhotep paved the way for the future great female leaders of Egypt such as Hatshepsut and Nefertiti. 


Fu Hao: China’s First Female General 

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Late Shang Dynasty Bronze Cast Square Gui Food Container found in Fu Hao’s tomb, 1100 BCE, National Palace Museum, Taipei


Fu Hao remained known in history as the first female general in China. She was one of the many wives of Emperor Wu Ding who broke the ancient Chinese traditions. In the ages before her rule, women of her status served only as high priestesses, and there were no women warriors and military leaders


Nevertheless, she is known to have controlled an incredible army of over 13 000 troops and is said to have won countless battles. Ancient inscriptions tell that she was the greatest military leader in her time. 


When she died, the emperor buried her in a magnificent tomb which was discovered in 1975 and is open for visitors in Yinxu. Besides the hundreds of jewels and precious items found in the tomb, there were over a hundred weapons that are unusual for a woman’s grave and further prove her military status. 


Zenobia: Palmyran Queen And Conqueror

zenobia palmyra painting
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. 


Olympias & Eurydice: Women Warriors Of Macedonia

zeus olympias seduced

Jupiter seducing Olympias by Giulio Romano, 1526-28, Sala di Psiche, Palazzo del Tè, Mantua


Olympias, one of the seven wives of Phillip II of Macedonia, is often regarded as a terrible person by historians. She was ruthless, violent, and ambitious but can she compare to her husband and son, Alexander the Great, who stood behind the deaths of countless souls. 


The truth we believe in is that Olympias is one of the greatest women warriors and leaders in Ancient history. Defying most major Greek laws, she was actively participating in the politics of the Greek peninsula. Not to mention that she gave birth and raised one of the greatest rulers in history. 


Now that you have a little bit of insight on Olympias, who is Eurydice and why did we put them side by side? 

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Alexander the Great Founding Alexandria by Placido Costanzi, 1736, The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

As you can probably guess, Phillip II had many children. Adea Eurydice was the daughter of one of his daughters from another mother, Cynnane, or in other words, his granddaughter. 


Many years later, she would have a grand role in the legendary Wars of the Diadochi that were fought between the generals of Alexander the Great after his passing. The purpose of this civil war was the throne. 


Olympias was alive at the time of Alexander’s death in 323 BC. and she became one of the key players in the following war for succession. 


Olympias and Eurydice had no love for each other prior to the conflict, but the climax in their relationship came when Olympias invaded Macedonia in 317 BC with the idea to reclaim the throne, and she was confronted by Eurydice’s armies. 


Not only did this conflict change history as it was the first that had two armies, led by women warriors, face each other in Greek history but the battle ended without a single death. 


As you may have heard, Alexander the Great was loved by his people and foremost, by his soldiers. As soon as Eurydice’s armies saw that it was Olympias who they were fighting against, they defected and joined the forces of the mother of their beloved leader. 


Eurydice was captured along with her husband, Philip Arrhidaeus, and was kept in miserable conditions before Olympias ordered Philip to be murdered in front of his wife’s eyes. 


It was on Christmas day in 317 BC. when Olympias gave her hostage a choice of death – she was to be killed by the sword, hanging, or poison. Her choice was the noose. 


Despite her victory, Olympias ruled for not more than a few months before Macedonia was overrun by another one of Alexander’s generals – Cassander. She was captured and soon murdered in revenge by people who despised her. 

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By Vladislav TchakarovBA HistoryVladislav Tchakarov is a History student at Sofia University in Bulgaria and a contributing writer at TheCollector. Originally from Bulgaria, he moved to the Netherlands to work and study Business Management before realizing that his passion for history is too great which lead to his return to Bulgaria and the beginning of his History studies.