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The Top 10 Warrior Women

by nathanbloch   December 07, 2009 at 10:00AM  |  Views: 23,617

When most people think of war they think of Grant and Lee, or Henry V, or Napoleon – a lot of dead white dudes. But the truth is that there are a lot of women who also knew how to throw down in their day, and did so with gusto. Hell may have no fury like a woman scorned, but sometimes war has no commandos like a woman armed.  

Source: Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

10. Queen Zenobia


Source: Bridgeman/Getty Images

Queen Zenobia knew how to work what her momma gave her, and she was also pretty handy with an army at her disposal. In 258 A.D. she became the second wife of the King of Palmyra, Septimius Odaenathus (Palmyra is modern day Syria). Marital bliss didn’t last long as Odaenathus and his son (her stepson) were assassinated, and since Zenobia’s son – Vaballathus – was a year old, Zenobia named herself both Augusta and Augustus. Now there’s a ruler with the seal of legitimacy!

Between 267 and 274 she expanded the Palmyrene Empire, invading Egypt, Anatolia, Palestine, and Lebanon. She was, in short, a war-mongering woman on wheels. Once Zenobia started stepping on Roman toes, stealing Roman trade routes and taking tasty territories favored by the Empire, Emperor Aurelian finally took on this feisty queen and conquered her in 274.

But no one ever really conquered Zenobia. Shackled in chains that were literally made of gold, she was paraded through Rome and deemed by Aurelian too good-looking for prison. So he gave her a villa in Tivoli, Italy instead. She lived out the rest of her days high on the hog as a renowned philosopher, married to a wealthy Roman senator and, while Vaballathus didn’t survive the trek back to Rome, Zenobia had plenty of Roman babies, the descendants of which continued her royal lineage into the fifth century.

9. Martha Jane Canary, a.k.a. Calamity Jane


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Martha Jane Canary was born with a lot of names, but went down in history known simply as Calamity Jane. And for good cause. This is a lady who knew how to raise hell. Anyone who’s familiar with the HBO show Deadwood knows how badass she was, though the real Calamity Jane didn’t need David Milch to write her lines in order to kick butt. In fact, the real Jane was much more adventurous and fearless than the show would have us believe. She spends most of Deadwood careening from muddy stoop to stoop drunk as a skunk – Jane was, in fact, an alcoholic.

But she also was known to clean up very well, and when she wasn’t prostituting for a few extra dollars she was starting a fight. She was friends with Wild Bill Hickok and took part in many campaigns against Native American Indians. She claims she got her nickname from Captain Egan, after rescuing him from an ambush. After he was shot she turned her horse around, caught him as he fell from his, and galloped off with the captain in tow. She claimed that the Captain said, “I name you Calamity Jane, the heroine of the plains.”

Calamity Jane was more than a drinker and a fighter, though. She was a kind soul who cared for anyone in trouble, and even rescued a stagecoach from being attacked by Plains Indians. While living in Deadwood, she helped many people suffering from the smallpox recover. She was a true warrior healer.

8. Queen Sammuramat


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Probably the only queen of Assyria that people are still talking about, Sammuramat lived in the ninth and eighth centuries BC. While she was married to Menos, her husband summoned her during a battle. She used her inherent military talent to flank the opposing army and defeat them. This was not lost on King Ninus, who took her for his own wife, which led to Menos committing suicide.

Unfortunately for King Ninus, his wife was much more intelligent than him. Still smarting from the loss of her first husband, Sammuramat requested to be the ruler of Assyria for a day. Since Ninus was a moron, he indulged his wife’s request and crowned her.

Before she even had time to get hat hair from her new crown Sammuramat had Ninus summarily executed and proceeded to rule Assyria for the next forty-two years. The moral of the story? If you want to be happy for the rest of your life, get a woman much less intelligent than you, who isn’t plotting your murder, to be your wife.

7. Fu Hao


Source: Chris Gyford/Creative Commons

When Fu Hao died in 1200 BC, there was no one in the Shang Dynasty who had a higher rank in the military, or was more respected by King Wu Ding. The Shang were at war with the Tu-Fang for time immemorial until Wu Ding made Fu Hao one of his many wives. At some point Wu Ding saw fit to put Fu Hao in charge of the armed forces, and it was the smartest thing he ever did. In one crushing campaign Fu Hao made short shrift of the Tu-Fang, annihilating them in a single battle.

Even after Fu Hao died (archaeologists, grave robbers that they are, dug up her tomb in 1976 and found her buried not with her prized jewelry, but with every pointy weapon known to man, including girly baubles like battle axes), Wu Ding continued to sacrifice to her and implore her spirit for help in fighting the Gong. Like Obi-Wan, death didn’t really stop her from exerting a lot of influence on the world she left behind.

6. Queen Tamar of Georgia


Source:Parliament of Georgia/Public Domain

Queen Tamar of Georgia was a lot like Elizabeth I of England. She was made heir to the Georgian throne by her father, George III, in 1178, and from there she ushered in the golden age of her country as the first female monarch of Georgia.

It became clear pretty early on in her reign (from 1184-1213 AD) that Tamar would not shy away from a fight. In 1187 she promptly banished her drunken husband, Yuri, to Constantinople, then added insult to injury by accusing him of sodomy. Yuri did not take kindly to this and attempted a coup a couple of times, only to fail miserably.

Tamar also helped to found the Empire of Trebizond on the Black Sea. Taking advantage of the fact that the Fourth Crusade had gone badly for the Europeans fighting Saladin, she made her empire the Christian Mecca of the Middle East in place of the Byzantine Empire. From there she brought some of the most successful and prosperous years to her country and was revered by her people as the “Champion of the Messiah.”