This is an astounding collection of female fighters, from heads of state and goddesses to pirates and gladiators. Each entry is drawn from historical, fictional, or mythical narratives of many eras and lands. With over one thousand entries detailing the lives and influence of these heroic female figures in battle, politics, and daily life, Salmonson provides a unique chronicle of female fortitude, focusing not just on physical strength but on the courage to fight against patriarchal structures and redefine women’s roles during time periods when doing so was nearly impossible.
The use of historical information and fictional traditions from Japan, Europe, Asia, and Africa gives this work a cross-cultural perspective that contextualizes the image of these unconventional depictions of might, valor, and greatness.
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The Encyclopedia of Amazons
Women Warriors from Antiquity to the Modern Era
By Jessica Amanda Salmonson
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1991 Jessica Amanda Salmonson
All rights reserved.
Aba: (fl. 55 B.C.) Warrior daughter of Xenophanes, Aba ruled from the city of Olbê in the country of Tencer, supported in her campaigns by Cleopatra VII and Marc Antony. She was eventually overthrown, but the country remained in the control of her descendants. [Strabo]
Abra: According to medieval Spanish romance, Abra was the warrior queen of Babylon. She was joined by Queen Florelle and fifty thousand female archers to fight the invading hero Lisuart of Greece. [Kleinbaum]
Acca: "She Who Is a Maker." Closest friend and companion-in-arms to Camilla. In Camilla's final battle, Acca held her as she died on the battlefield and heard her last words. She is named for the ancestral goddess of Akkad. [Virgil]
Achillia and Amazon: A relief in the British Museum, from Halicarnassus, portrays two women gladiators fighting, and, according to Michael Grant, "inscriptions from the same era record female combatants named Achillia and Amazon." See under gladiatorial women.
Ada: A warrior-queen and sister of Artemisia. In 344 B.C. she was helped by Alexander to regain her throne from a usurping brother. She personally handled the siege of the capital's acropolis, ultimately regaining the whole of her city, "the siege having become a matter of anger and personal enmity." [Strabo]
Adadimo: An officer of the Dahomey Amazons met by traveler John Duncanin in the 1850s. "In each of the last two annual military campaigns she had taken a male prisoner, and the king awarded her with promotions and two female slaves." She was tall, slim, pretty, quiet, unassuming, and about twenty-two years old. [Loth]
Adea: See Eurydice, Queen of Macedonia.
Adelaide of Susa: (A.D. c. 931–999) Tenth-century Italian princess, Adelaide of Susa donned armor and fought in defense of the lands she was to inherit from her father, the Marquis Olderic of Turin and Susa. She married Otto of Savoy and was coruler during his life, and sole ruler as regent through her son when widowed. [Schmidt]
Adelita: Celebrated in Zapata's revolutionary song "Adelita," she was not merely a songwriter's romance, but an actual fighter in the revolutionary forces circa 1900. She was a "guacha," typical of the armed women in Zapata's (and, ten years later, Poncho Villa's) peasant armies, also called "soldaderas." At first, these women provided the water, fuel, and clothing for the men, some traveling alongside the men, others staying to the rear as camp followers, depending on rank. They formed their own internal organization, carried rifles and pistols, and very soon evolved into "warriors as fierce as the men."
Admete: "Untamed." In a battle with Heracles, Admete subdued the giant and indentured him into the service of Hera, the goddess who despised him. Robert Graves, however, thinks that this was a war of transformation, that Admete tried to defeat Heracles by taking the forms of a mare, the Hydra, a crab, a hind, and a cloud, but that finally he raped her. This seems less likely given that Heracles is afterward Admete's retainer and invaded Amazonia at her behest to obtain Hippolyte's girdle. The girdle was possibly a symbol of the priestess of Tauropolos, and Admete desired it for her own temple to Hera.
In an earlier battle against aborigines, Admete was driven out of Argos, and took refuge on the isle of Samos. Hera appeared to her in an epiphany and appointed her her priestess on the island. It may have been for this sanctuary that Admete sought the fabulous girdle as an important relic. She later spread the Argosian cult of Hera far and wide. [Kerényi]
Aëllo: "Whirlwind." An Amazon brave during the reign of Hippolyte, Aëllo was the first to attack Heracles, but because he had been awarded invulnerability from Olympus, her ax broke on his chest, and he cut her down.
Aëllopus: "Storm Foot," one of the Harpies battled by the Argonauts.
Aethelburg: British warrior-queen of Ine. She raised the stronghold of Taunton in A.D. 722. [Damico]
Aethelflaed: (A.D. 870–918) Having disliked her only experience of childbirth, Aethelflaed swore herself to chastity and took to the sword. She "retained a cordial friendship" with her husband, and they accompanied each other into battle until his death in 912. She continued on her own to assist Alfred the Great, whose eldest daughter she was, against the Danes.
Aethelflaed became the chief tactician of her time; she united fragmented Mercia and conquered Wales; she restored her nation's defenses against the Danes; and finally became de facto ruler of the Danes and Mercians. She fell in battle in June 918 at Tammorth in Statfordshire.
Her daughter, Aelfwyn, inherited the throne directly from her mother, but it was taken from her by force the following year by Aethelflaed's brother, who stepped in to become the "mightiest" English ruler of a land tamed and fortressed by a woman allowed by the historians only an occasional footnote. Had Aethelflaed not been the daughter of Alfred the Great, we might not have any knowledge whatsoever of the greatest military commander in medieval England! [Geis, Macksey, Hale]
Afra' Bint Ghifar al-Humayriah: An Arabian woman warrior who in the seventh century A.D. assisted Khawlah in the famous "tent-pole battle," which consisted of women fighting their Greek captors armed only with tent poles. [Miles]
Agave: "High born," a Maenad named for a Sea-goddess. At the height of revelry, Agave wrenched off the head of her grown son, Pentheus, thinking she was wrestling a lion. She strutted afterward, with the head held aloft, "in a victory of tears." She was said also to have slain her husband during another bacchanalia. Agave was also a Moon-goddess, presiding over the beer revelries predating the Dionysus wine cult.
In Euripides' Bacchae, Agave calls the thyrsus (Maenad staff tipped with a pine cone) both a "mystic wand" and a "weapon." Her captains were her sisters Ino and Autonoë. The soldiers who sought the Maenads fled them in terror, informing King Pentheus, "We by flight hardly escaped tearing to pieces at their hands," and described how the women ripped even fierce young bulls apart with the strength of "their knifeless fingers." Pentheus was killed for attempting to spy on the Maenads in transvestite disguise. He was fallen upon "by the mystic huntresses and torn to pieces, his mother being the first to begin the sacred slaughter."
The idea that the Maenads were "mad" and thought they were killing a lion seems to be a later rationalism or, conversely, the Maenads' own religious affectation. The lion was associated with the Great Goddess, and was considered as suitable a sacrifice as a bull or man. Pentheus was the declared foe of the Maenad cult, thus the calculatedly chosen victim. [Tyrell, Graves]
Agnes de Chastillon: Dark Agnes was created by Robert E. Howard in his two historical tales "Sword Woman" and "Blades for France," published posthumously as Sword Woman (1977) but written in the 1930s. Her great speech, leveled against a man who insulted her, was:
Ever the man in men! Let a woman know her place: let her milk and spin and sew and bake and bear children, not look beyond her threshold or the command of her lord and master! Bah! I spit on you all! There is no man alive who can face me with weapons and live, and before I die, I'll prove it to the world. Women! Cows! Slaves! Whimpering, cringing serfs, crouching to blows, avenging themselves by—taking their own lives, as my sister urged me to do. Ha! You deny me a place among men? By God, I'll live as I please and die as God wills, but if I'm not fit to be a man's comrade, at least I'll be no man's mistress. So go ye to hell, and may the devil tear your heart!
Agostina: See Augustina, the Maid of Saragossa.
Agrath: "Beating." Also called Agrat bat Mahlat. She and her mother Queen Makhlath were rivals of Queen Lilith for rule of the night. All three are dark avatars of Ishtar or Astarte. Agrath commands hosts of evil spirits and demons and rides a war chariot. [Rappaport]
Agrippina the Elder: (d. A.D. 33) Granddaughter of Augustus and mother of Caligula. In youth, she accompanied Germanicus into the Syrian war and gave birth to a daughter "amidst the excitement of war, in a Roman camp, on the shores of the Rhine." Horace has only praise for her: "You shall be described as a brave subduer of your enemies, on ship board and on horseback." [Hale]
Agrippina the Younger: (d. A.D. 60) Daughter of Agrippina and Germanicus. She was born in a Roman camp on the shores of the Rhine. As empress and wife of Claudius, she sat at the head of the Roman legions, though not all wives of Caesars were so public in their command. When Celtic captives were brought to Rome to give obeisance to the emperor, the defeated warriors of Britain (both male and female) automatically assumed Agrippina was the martial head of state and, ignoring the emperor, placed themselves directly in front of her throne. In their own land, Cartimandua was the warrior-queen.
Agrippina had sought to "rule the world," first through her husband Claudius, then through her son Nero. Therefore, in A.D. 59, Nero had her killed, not, however, before she had an opportunity to write her autobiography. [Assa, King]
Agrotera: Goddess of battle, an avatar of non-Olympian Artemis. She received sacrifices from the Spartans before the beginning of new campaigns.
Ahilyabai Holkar: (d. A.D. 1795) A fighting queen of Maratha in Indore State of India. [Rothery]
Ahotep: (fl. 1790 B.C.) Queen-regent of Egypt in the 17th Dynasty, ruling in behalf of her young son Kamose until his majority. After her husband fell in war, she continued the struggle against the Hyksos, occupational rulers from Palestine. An 18th Dynasty inscription says of her: "She assembled her fugitives. She brought together her deserters. She pacified her Upper Egyptians. She subdued her rebels." Ahotep and other famous Egyptian women, including Cleopatra VII, were descendants of the royal houses of Kush, and thus are part of the history of powerful black women. [Sertima]
Aife: Pronounced "EE-fah." Queen of Alba, today Scotland, said to be the most famous woman warrior of the Celtic heroic age, although Mebd of Ireland was her contemporary and is better remembered today. Aife led a troop of women warriors and was often in conflict with her sister, Scáthach of Skye, for they ran rival military academies. Cû Chulainn, the Celtic national hero, gained his military expertise from Aife and Scáthach.
There remain a few historians who habitually deny the likelihood of such women having existed outside of epics and fairy tales, though it requires lead-lined blinders to hold to such a belief in light of the evidence. There were fighting women among the Christian Celts as well as among the pagans, warring beside men with "as much gusto as any of the clansmen," according to Douglas Hyde. The first effort to exempt women from military service was in A.D. 590, through the influence of Columicille at the synod of Druim Ceat. The law proved useless. Women continued to fight when it served their purposes and that of their clans, for they had many rights over their personal property, including the right to defend it. A century later, Adamnam, who thought little of women, tried to enforce the law passed by the synod of Druim Ceat, perhaps with slightly greater success. [Chadwick, Goodrich]
Ainia: "Swiftness," an Amazon portrayed in a terra-cotta Amazonomachy as an enemy of Achilles, therefore a companion to Penthesilea. No literary source identifies her further. [Bothmer]
Ainippe: "Swift mare," an Amazon brave. She participated in the battle to avenge Hippolyte's murder, defeating Heracles' generals along the beach. She, or another Ainippe, also engaged Telamon in single combat during Heracles' war against Andromache. [Sobol, Bothmer]
Alcibie: One of Penthesilea's companions during the liberation of Troy. [Sobol]
Alcinoë: "Mighty Wisdom." One of Andromache's braves in the war against Heracles and Telamon. [Bothmer]
Alcippe: "Powerful Mare," an Amazon brave who lived during the reign of Hippolyte. She perished with others in the suicide-challenges against Heracles. [Sobol]
Alcithoë: "Impetuous Might," a Maenad. See Leucippe.
Alecto: "The Unresting," one of the Furies. In the Anaeid,Hera summoned Alecto and had her unleash war in Italy. See Tisiphone.
Aleksandrovna, Major Tamara: Commanded a Russian all-female airborne regiment on more than four thousand sorties and 125 combats, destroying thirty-eight enemy aircraft in World War II.
There were many similar heroines of World War II: Captain Budanova, air ace, downed eight aircraft in combat flights; Nancy Wake, a New Zealander, led combat raids into France in 1944; and Ludmilla Pavlichenko, a sniper, was credited with killing 309 Germans. [Macksey]
Alfhild: Daughter of Siward, king of the Goths. Alfhild dressed in male attire and went on viking raids against several nations' coasts, accompanied by her shieldmaiden Groa. With a band of like-willed women, Alfhild became a notorious "rover captain" and "performed deeds beyond the valor of women." [Saxo]
Alkaia: "Mighty One." Judging by her placement in certain Amazonomachies on black-figure vases, she was one of Andromache's most important generals in the war against Heracles and Telamon. In one portrait, she wears a highly unusual cap with bull's ears and tail attached. The white bull was one of the emblems of the Mother-goddess, but this unusual cap appears nowhere else in mythology or art. Alkaia may have been a Thracian bull dancer who immigrated to Amazonia with her torera's prizes made into a hat.
Allen, Alma: A Danish Resistance fighter in the early 1940s. She personally led men and women on a dozen missions against the Nazis, surviving many German traps. She joined British intelligence at war's end. Another Dane, Ruth Weber, was a machine gunner on a merchant vessel that ran the Nazi blockade. [Truby]
Allen, Eliza: In 1851, she self-published a remarkable memoir, The Female Volunteer; Or the Life, and Wonderful Adventures of Miss Eliza Allen, A Young Lady of Eastport, Maine. Such books were a veritable genre of the time. Born in Eastport in January 1826, she was refused permission as a teenager to marry a young man with whom she was in love. Her response was to disguise herself as a man and set off to wild adventures, including fighting and taking wounds in the war against Mexico. It was typical of young men of that era, upon experiencing some disappointment, to set off to the wars in Mexico and South America. Eliza Allen's memoir, which she called "An Authentic and Thrilling Narrative," shows that some women pursued the same route!
Alrude, Countess of Bertinoro: When Aucona was held siege by imperial troops in 1172, the Italian countess led an army to deliver the city. Her terrified foe was instantly broken and scattered. On her return route, she engaged the fragmented enemy at several points, defeating the ambushers each time. [Hale]
Alwilda: A medieval Swedish captain of a pirate vessel that terrorized ships in the Baltic Sea. [Truby]
Amage: Ruling as regent to a dissolute husband, this Sarmatian queen determined causes, stationed garrisons, and repulsed invaders. She sent a letter to a Scythian prince warning him against further incursions into one of her protectorates. He contemptuously continued his policies. Amage then rode with only 120 well-chosen men to Scythia, attacking the prince's guard and slaying them. Rushing into the palace, Amage engaged her foe and slew him while her soldiers killed his friends and family, saving only the life of his son, whom Amage allowed to rule in obeisance to her edicts. [Polyaenus]
Excerpted from The Encyclopedia of Amazons by Jessica Amanda Salmonson. Copyright © 1991 Jessica Amanda Salmonson. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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