In history, particularly in ancient history the world saw men as the only ones with the power, intelligence and skill to rule the worlds empires this is especially true when it comes to tact, warcraft and battle. The ancient world in a majority of cases had men as the head of all societies and woman subservient to men with the exception of a few such as the Celtic people of Britain and Ireland and of course, Egypt, though there are records of other female leaders and rulers, unfortunately, in most cases these are short lived.
Triu Tri Trinh
Like many other women of the ancient word who were effective leaders and skilled warriors little is know about Triu Tri Trinh, arguably this is due to the fact that her enemies the Chinese Han did all they could to erase her from the history records because it brought great shame on them. This is also because though there are sources that do exist of Triu Tri Trinh they give differing accounts on who she was, but the single thread that is consistent in the differing views and that is her achievements and her origin.
In the year 43 AD South Vietnam had come under the rule of the Han Dynasty of China, the governing body that was tasked with the ‘civilising’ of the native Vietnamese people came under the authority of the Eastern Wu King. The Eastern Wu forces had controlled South Vietnam with brutality and oppression for nearly 200 years, when the Wu had mostly brought the Vietnamese to heel, there was some degree of peace but still, there also remained many rebellions that had to be subdued. Though there was still unrest in some places a majority of South Vietnam had come to accept there new masters and even began adopting some of the Han’s standards of civilisation. In 248 AD to put an end to the unrest the Han had sent an inspector from Jiazhou named Dan who had gained a lot of respect from the Vietnamese people which he had used to have them lay down arms, 30000 troops did as he requested but there were still, even then pockets of rebellious groups one of which Triu Tri Tranh had led and with great success fought against the Chinese.
Triu Tri Tranh was orphaned as a baby, when her parents were killed, after her parents deaths her brother, Triu Quoc Dat had taken care of her and raised her, her brother was also involved in the rebellions against the Chinese oppressors and so she had grown up with the rebellious spirit carried by the rebels. Triu Tri Trinh’s brother had married a powerful leaders sister and together they guided and raised Triu Tri Trinh through her adolescence but by the time she was 19 years of age Triu Tri Trinh had begun to fight against the Chinese. Triu Quoc Dat had become very concerned for his sister and had asked her to stop fighting and instead get married, to this it is said she had replied:
“I’d like to ride storms, kill sharks in the open sea, drive out the aggressors, reconquer the country, undo the ties of serfdom, and never bend my back to be the concubine of whatever man.“ (Nguyễn Khắc Viện (1913-1997), Vietnam, a long history, The Gioi Publishers, reprinted 2002, p. 22.)
Unsatisfied with her brother’s concerns Triu Tri Trinh had gathered 1000 fighters and headed to the mountains where she had trained with her warriors in preparation to keep fighting against the Chinese. Triu Tri Trinh’s men had led raids against enemies and won 30 battles with Triu Tri Trinh at the head of her army when atacking, Triu Tri Trinh was said to ride an elephant into battle in yellow clothing and pointed shoes. When Triu Tri Trinh 23 years of age after many successful battles she came across an enemy fortress and due to her lack of numbers and no siege weapons they were unable to besiege the fortress and could only battle against the enemy when they had exited it. The battle for the fortress had lasted for 6 months but eventually unable to sustain the supplies for her soldiers and to continue fighting she had lost the battle. It is noted that knowing that she had lost her battle, instead of accepting defeat and surrendering she left the battlefield and committed suicide by throwing herself into a river.
Triu Tri Trinh’s incredible leadership allowed her and her troops to fight against a superior army that was better funded and supplied with greater numbers so much so that her presence on the battlefield had struck fear in her enemies. Though there are few well documented facts that confirm her activities there is evidence of her role and presence recorded in the, then Chinese Governor’s records that do exist. What is evident in this is that despite her disadvantage Triu Tri Trinh was a major power against the Chinese and makes her an incredible woman of the ancient world despite the Male oriented tradition.
Many know of Alexander the Great and his incredible expeditions and the fact that he earned the title King of Conquerors but not many know that his mother was a political genius and an warrior Queen that would do anything in her power to support her son and his place as King.
Olympias was originally known by another name which was later changed to the name Olympias. Olympias was the daughter of the king of the Molossians, Neoptolemus which was one of the greatest tribes in Epirus. During the reign of her father the Molossians became more modernised and in 358 BC they became allies of the Macedonian King Philip II who reigned from 360-336 BC and was Alexander the Great’s father. A year after the Molossians became allies with Macedonia the King of the Molossians had given his daughter to Phillip II to strengthen the alliance through diplomatic marriage.
A year after the marriage between Olympias and Phillip II a chariot sent to take part in the Olympic Games by Phillip had won and the name Olympias was bestowed upon the Molossian princess. During the same year in that summer Olympias had given birth to their son Alexander. The two also birthed a daughter, Cleopatra, who had played a different role later in life. The fact that Olympias birthed not only an heir to the Macedonian throne but also a princess who could be used in a political capacity had arguably given Olympias a very strong political position within Macedonia.
In August, the year of 338 BC Phillip II married another woman, who was the daughter of a Macedonian aristocrat, whether to strengthen his position as king or not can not be certain but what is certain is that this move had created major tensions between the crown prince, Olympias and Phillip II. The tensions in Macedonia between the three parties had caused Olympias to go into voluntary exile, in which she had stayed in the Molossian court. Olympias’ brother Alexander was now king of the Molossians as he was appointed to the position by his brother-in-law prior, Olympias’ son Alexander (soon to be known as the great) was expelled from Macedonia at this time alongside his close friends Ptolemy and Nearchus, though the expulsion was short and they returned not much longer after. During this time Olympias’ was completely isolated from the Macedonian court, this isolation was soon intensified by the fact that Phillip II had offered to marry his daughter, Cleopatra, who was the only one to stay with her father during this time, to her uncle Alexander, effectively forcing Alexander to withdraw any of his support for his sister, Olympias. The marriage between Cleopatra and Alexander was supposed to take place in October 336 BC but fortunately for Olympias Phillip II was assassinated before the marriage could happen, some believed this was a move instigated by Olympias and used her son Alexander to do the deed, but this cannot be proven.
As Phillip II had no heir from his consummation with Cleopatra, the daughter of the Macedonian aristocrat, Alexander, the son of Olympias and Phillip II was now the rightful king of Macedonia and the territories under their control. Olympias’ position became safe again and was back in the position to make powerful political decisions within the Macedonian court, upon which her first move was to order that Cleopatra, Phillip’s second wife and their child be murdered. This move did little to endear her to her peers, but with her son the new King, she was safe to make such a move. During this time Alexander had began his campaign of the neighbouring territories and had claimed numerous successes due to his excellent leadership, charisma and battlefield knowledge, it has been noted that during the campaigns, Alexander had kept in contact with his mother. Though the relationship between Alexander the great and his mother was still strong Alexander did his best to keep his mother away from controlling the politics within his territories and instead entrusted the ruling to Antipater. Antipater was a close ally of his father Phillip II, a well known commander and diplomat in his father’s court. Antipater was also a very important person in the appointment of Alexander being crowned king after his father’s assassination. The appointment and responsibility granted to Antipater, instead of his mother, Olympias made it so that these two parties did not get along and they were said to not even be on speaking terms. After the death of Olympias’ brother, Alexander King of the Molossians, during his own campaign, Olympias had became regent of the Molossian people who were now under the rule of her cousin Aeacidus.
In 323 BC Alexander the Great had died somewhere in Babylon, the death of Alexander brought an age of unrest for the Macedonian Kingdom and its territories. The position of Antipater and the fact that Alexander’s son, to the Sogdian Princess Roxanne, was not born for a few more months, so could not rule and with the fact that Alexander’s brother Phillip Aridaeus was seen as unfit to rule the kingdom due to some mental health issues. This opened up the opportunity for some power play moves to claim sovereignty of the kingdom. The first move in the beginning of these power plays was made by Alexander’s vizier Perdiccas who had planned to strengthen his position by marrying himself to the daughter of Antipater however Olympias had offered her daughters hand to him, a full blood sister of the fallen king, instead, in an attempt to keep Antipater getting more stable control. Perdiccas had accepted the offer which had insulted Antipater, this move had led to a civil war which saw the defeat of Olympias, this victory was short lived as Antipater had died almost immediately after.
When Antipater had passed the successor was Polyperchon who was a traditionalist in the Macedonian way of life who had also opposed Alexander the Greats orientalist but was extremely loyal to the royal house. Polyperchon was opposed by Antipater’s son Cassander, who had moved to remove Polyperchon from the position of royal regent, taking with him Polycheron had taken Roxanne and Alexander the Great’s son Alexander with him. Cassander was now in a position to rise to the position of king, though originally Olympias did not side with either of the two parties she had realised that if Cassander had became king her grandson would never be, this forced Olympias to get involved. Olympias had joined up with her step son, Phillip Aridaeus’ army and led them to join the remnant of Polyperchon’s army in a counter offensive against Cassander’s army.
The army now united under Olympias had marched upon Macedonia and at first had been successful, Olympias’ army had managed to rescue Phillip Aridaeus but Olympias had him executed immediately, likely to prevent any chance of Aridaeus being in a position to contend for her grandsons throne. Olympias had also massacred the soldiers and supporters of Cassander, eventually at the base of the holy Mountain Olympus Olympias was cornered and besieged by the main body of Cassander’s forces in Pydna. Although Polycheron and close ally Aecidas had offered to relieve her of the position and in turn the responsibility of the army she refused them. Eventually Olympias was forced to surrender, Cassander had said he would spare her life but in actuality had her executed. Olympias’ grandson and Roxanne were also killed.
Despite not being a warrior, unlike the others in this article one could argue that Olympias’ political tact and ability to make difficult, and at times, questionable choices including the slaughter and execution of enemies of her family’s rule. In the past and even in the modern day, many people in power and rulers have made choices for selfish reasons, whether it was securing their own position of power or attempting to take another’s position for ones own sake. In this Olympias is very different and the things Olympias had done for her family, whether directly or indirectly, I believe makes her more than suitable enough and possibly even more so as her acts were, arguably, selfless and had taken actions and choices that would have one way or another affected the ones she was trying to protect into her own.
Fu Hao is one of the most interesting women of Chinese history she was a queen, a military general, a high priestess and a mother. Fu Hao was born to one of the rival tribes of the Shang Kingdom but the king of the Shang, Wu Ding had made it so that the Shang and Rival tribes could live in peace, by marrying a princess of each tribe ensuring allegiance of all the tribes. The king Wu Ding had over 60 wives, this was also the era in which the Shang Kingdom had reached it’s Zenith. Though Wu Ding had numerous wives he had only three queens, Fu Jing, Fu Zi and Fu Hao.
Fu Hao was born somewhere in 1000-1040 BCE the exact birth date is not known but many of her activities were recorded on oracle bone inscriptions that were found near Anyang, present day Henan Province. Fu Hao has been noted to carry out many religious and military campaigns on behalf of her King and husband, though many activities have been recorded on the oracle bones it is frustrating that the exact details of her activities are not recorded in there entirety as this would be an incredible source of information and allow us greater understandings of the events of the period in which she lived.
Though no detailed records exist what does exist gives us some insight as to the activities and a small picture of what Fu Hao had achieved and the incredible impact she had on the establishment of the Shang Kingdom. Some of the oracle bone inscriptions explain that Fu Hao had lead many campaigns against the enemies of the Shang such as the Tu, Ba and Yi tribes and was in such a prominent position as she also ordered Shang generals who would fight under her personal standard, including generals Zhi and Hu Gao. The king had so much faith in Fu Hao’s military prowess that he granted her, her own fiefdom which she would use to defend the borders of the Shang Kingdom and lead assaults against enemy tribes. Fu Hao’s military prowess was so incredible that the king had granted Fu Hao 13000 soldiers to battle the Tu in which she had defeated, decisively, through ambush and attack she had also defeated though not decisively other enemy tribes particularly the Ba tribe.
Though her military prowess affords her the title of first female military general, Fu Hao was also a High Priestess, during this era the king was the only one who was allowed to conduct ritualistic ceremony and offer sacrifices but the oracle bones believed to be left by the king had noted numerous times when the king would allow and even command Fu Hao to do these tasks. The faith and confidence the king had in Fu Hao is extremely evident in the inscriptions, rituals were extremely important political activities and to have another beside the king to reside and control the ritual was unheard of.
Fu Hao also birthed a child, Prince Jie not much is known about her child but the inscriptions show the immense concern of the populace and many others about Fu Hao’s health and child birthing. Fu Hao was well respected and loved by many, this made her a great leader in her own right and gave her the opportunity to exercise some political sway in the ruling of the Kingdom, the king had so much confidence in Fu Hao’s abilities that it could be argued that this is the reason why the Shang Kingdom had reached it’s peak under King Wu Dings rule.
Fu Hao had died sometime in 1200 BCE some time before King Wu Dings death in 1192 BCE, when Fu Hao had died the king ordered her tomb to be built in his capital of Yin, the tomb was built at the size of 18 ft by 13 ft which contained within it a smaller 16 ft by 11 ft grave and a wooden structure within that, the wooden structure had numerous sacrifices and large amounts of wealth which shows how much Fu Hao had been respected and loved, there were also many weapons found that attributed to Fu Hao’s military success. It was also noted that when the king was struggling with his enemies the Gong tribe, who were powerful enough to wipe out the Shang he had gone to Fu Hao’s tomb and completed many rituals and gave many sacrifices to request spiritual assistance from Fu Hao.
Tomoe Gozen is the latest warrior in this list, she was born in the 12th century and was a warrior of the early samurai era. Tomoe was a well respected and well affiliated person and wife of the then, Shogun Yoshinaka Minamoto. Tomoe gained much renown for her beauty as well as her military prowess, of course unlike much of the world at the time, in Japan females were trained in some martial way but not trained as an offensive measure but more defensive. Females were usually trained in archery and the use of the naginata (A pole weapon with a sharp blade at the end, much like a glaive) known as onna-bugeisha and though more common to have female warriors than most of the other world civilisations there were still few female samurai known as onna-Musha.
Onna-bugeisha were trained in the martial arts to defend the household, family and their own honour, though they were almost all nobility and trained most specifically in archery rather than close arms battle it was not unknown for them to aid their male counterparts, most times they were their lovers but sometimes it was to defend the honour of their clan or lord. The biggest difference between a woman who fought in defence of her household an onna-bugeisha and a onna-musha was quite simply the martial prowess of the onna-musha, the skill of the onna-musha matched and many times even surpassed that of the male samurai, the onna-musha were also allowed to command troops and gain renown in battle, not an opportunity presented for the household defenders.
Tomoe’s origins, like many legends is unknown but she was born into an age of major social upheaval and war the war know as the Genpei War, the Genpei War was a war between the two factions of the Taira and the Minamoto during the late Heian Period. The war was caused due to the accumulation of frustrations between the Taira and the Minamoto from decades before in which the Taira and the Minamoto had battled for dominance the starts of which originated in the Hogen Rebellion and the Heiji Rebellion. Prince Mochihito who was also known as Mochimitsu Minamoto and was the son of the 77th Emperor of Japan, Emperor Go-Shirakawa. Prince Mochihito therefore believed that he had the right to rule after Kiyomori Taira but he was denied his rightful place upon the throne when the ruling clan, the Taira’s Emperor, Kiyomori Taira had placed his grandson Emperor Antoku on the throne at the age of two. In the frustration of the situation Prince Mochihito allied with Yurimasa Minamoto to claim his rightful place. When the decision was made Yurimasa had sent out a call-to-arms to the Minamoto Clan and the Buddhist monasteries in 1180 this initiated the start of the Genpei War.
The beginning of the war saw much bloodshed and in late 1180 both Prince Mochihito and Yurimasa met their deaths, after the loss in the battle at the Bridge over the river Uji, Yurimasa had committed Seppuku (ritual suicide) and Prince Mochihito was captured and executed soon after by Kiyomori Taira. The fall of these two left the Minamoto armies in the charge of Yukiie Minamoto who also suffered defeat in 1181, though defeated, the Taira were unable to follow on their victory as Kiyomori Taira had passed away from illness. The loss of Kiyomuri saw a break in the conflict with few skirmishes around Japan but the Taira had reassembled their forces and began again in full their war with the Minamoto. In 1183 had decided to put an end to the Minamoto and had advanced their forces towards the cousin of Yukiie Minamoto, Yoshinaka Minamoto, this is when Tomoe Gozen made her first appearance.
By this time Tomoe Gozen was well into adulthood and by this time had already been accepted as Yoshinaka’s concubine, though Tomoe’s origins are largely unknown it is known that she must have been part of the noble families as it has been recorded that she was well-educated in literature, music, poetry and of course martial arts and the only record of her description is written in The tale of the Heike:
“Tomoe had long black hair and a fair complexion, and her face was very lovely; moreover she was a fearless rider whom neither the fiercest horse nor the roughest ground could dismay, and so dexterously did she handle sword and bow that she was a match for a thousand warriors, and fit to meet either god or devil. Many times had she taken the field, armed at all points, and won matchless renown in encounters with the bravest captains, and so in this last fight [i.e. the Battle of Awazu in 1184], when all the others had been slain or had fled, among the last seven there rode Tomoe” (iliad)
In 1182 Tomoe was left in charge of 300 of Yoshinaka’s samurai and was to battle against the odds of 2000 enemy warriors of the Taira clan at the battle of the Western Provinces, Tomoe claimed victory and six of the enemy cavalry leaders heads and presented them to her lord Yoshinaka, the victory allowed the Minamoto forces to march on to Kyoto at the time the Imperial capital of Japan. Tomoe had been in numerous battles but her greatest prestige came from the beheading of Murashige of the Musashi, who was the clan leader at the time and well known and renowned warrior, the feat was so great that Yoshinaka had claimed that she was the first general of Japan, Tomoe was also noted for the killing the General Ieyoshi Uchida, a strong warrior in the Taira army.
The final battle of Tomoe was the battle of Awazu in 1184, after the success of Yoshinaka’s forces, Yoshinaka believed that he was the one that should take control of Japan and claimed Kyoto for himself, this did not sit well with his cousin Yoritomo who was the leader of the clan at the time. Yoritomo had sent Yoshinaka’s brothers Yoshitsune and Yorinori, though Yoshinaka had a strong army he was not an adept leader and was defeated in battle and forced to retreat from Kyoto towards Awazu, the battle was hard fought but Yoshinaka had lost all of his soldiers and by the end of the battle only six were believed to have survived, Yoshinaka, his foster brother Imai Kanehira and of course Tomoe and a few soldiers. When Yoshinaka had realised he was to die he had ordered Tomoe to leave him as he would be shamed to die beside a woman. This is the most famous battle in which Tomoe is known for, though she was told to retreat she was said to have charged at the enemy as a show of loyalty to her lord and killed soldiers and officers as she made her retreat and accepted her order to leave. It is unknown what became of Tomoe after this battle but there are many differing beliefs, but it is clear that she was well respected and not through privilege but through action.