Polyenus was a Greek orator best known for his book Stratagems of War, in which he collected tales and tactics of famous warriors for the edification of his emperor, Marcus Aurelius. The resulting work comprised eight volumes spanning from mythical times to his present day, containing about 1/3 useful strategy and 2/3 apocryphal anecdotes. (Research wasn't exactly crucial to historical writing in those days.) The second half of Book Eight is entitled simply Women — in it are stories of female commanders, spunky queens, bad-ass barbarians, tragic heroines, and other ladies with "manly spirit" in times of war.
|a young Spartan woman|
(source: Wiki Commons)
Queen Amage of the Sarmatians demanded the Scythian king stop pillaging one of her territories. When she was answered with derision, she gathered her posse, rode all night to the capital, killed the palace guards, and assassinated the king and his entire court. Another version says she killed the king after challenging him to a one-on-one duel.
When her city was facing war, the king decided to send the women into hiding for their safety. Princess Archidamis said eff that and personally led the women into battle. They dug trenches, carried ammunition, tended wounds, and fought bravely alongside their men, helping to drive off the enemy and save their city.
|a female Sarmatian soldier|
(source not credited)
General Artemisia, one of Xerxes' finest naval commanders, was renowned for her victories at sea. At the Battle of Salamis she outfought all the other Persian captains, leading to Xerxes' famous quote "My men have become women and my women have become men".
The half-sister of Alexander the Great was pretty great herself. A trained soldier famous for her military skill, she led her armies into battle against many enemies and trained her daughter to follow in her footsteps, but both were assassinated after Alexander's death.
After her city was defeated in battle, leaving most of the men dead, a young commoner named Telesilla called together all the women and led a defense of the city walls that worked so well, the enemy was forced to give up its invasion and leave the town. Oh yeah, and the enemy was Sparta.
Heather Domin is the author of The Soldier of Raetia, set in Augustan Rome, and Allegiance, set in 1922 Dublin. Her next two novels are due in 2013. She's been a reviewing member of the Historical Novel Society since 2007 and a contributor at Unusual Historicals since 2011.