Whenever mighty warriors are mentioned, names of men like Hercules and Gaius Caesar come up, but this is not all there is. War, the domain of men, as believed for centuries has astonishingly been determined by women for many centuries. When women took up arms alongside men or even on their own, their armies were still very powerful. The stories of powerful ladies that took control of some of the bloodiest battles in history are actually very astonishing. Some of these badass female leaders saved the fates of mighty armies and nations where some of the men failed. With perfect strategy, bravery and ferocity of any warrior, they moved through battlegrounds and left a mark in history.
1. Ching Shih
She is popularly known as the princess pirate of China but before but controlling 1500 ships in the 19th century; she was a prostitute. Cheng a pirate in the South China sea proposed to marry her in 1801, and she accepted on the condition that they become partners in business. When the man died six years later, Ching took over his fleet and grew it to the size of any national Navy. She had a robust network with over 80,000 pirates working for her with her terror Reaching as far as Malaysia. The pirate army was organized with strict laws including forced monogamy on the penalty of death. She also made connections on land with farmers and traders to ensure a constant flow of food in exchange for protection.
The Hunt for Cheng took many years with both Chinese and Portuguese navies and bounty hunters looking for her. She was controlling what was the largest pirate network at the time posing a threat to all trade between Europe and Asia. She used violence, coercion, and bribery to run her network making her one of the smartest pirates that ever lived. The Chinese government finally decided to negotiate with her giving Amnesty to most of her men, taking others into military service and allowing her to keep her loot. She retired and went to live on land with her new husband before dying in 1844 of natural causes. The government, however, executed 126 of her men. Maybe those were just too evil!
2. Queen Zenobia of Palmyra
Zenobia was born in Syria in 240 CE and learned to ride horses while herding ship at an early age. She is described as one of the most beautiful women at the time, but even as a young girl, she loved to be in control and fight. She was a fighter well learned in Egyptian, Greek, Aramaic, and Latin. She was later married to Odaenthus, the Ruler of the Eastern province of the Roman empire who remained loyal by keeping the Sassanids of the famous Silk Road. Zenobia had a son Vaballathus but being a second wife, her son was not the heir, and so she is believed to have planned her husband’s assassination alongside his firstborn son Herodes. She then took power as regent to her son who was still a minor at the time but maintained her husband’s policies changing the palace advisors to intellectuals.
In The Third Century when Queen Zenobia came to power, The Roman Empire was undergoing a civil war as the generals fought for dominance. The Romans were too busy fighting that they didn’t notice as Zenobia changed policy slowly trying to create a powerful kingdom in the East. She started a revolution by a man called Temagenes in Alexandria before marching to Egypt to crash it and claim ancient Egypt to herself. She was a mighty warrior marching on foot for long distances alongside her men. She later convinced the Roman provinces of Levante and Asia Minor to join forces with her forming an empire that almost equaled the Romans themselves. She was still careful though; she printed coins with one side having her son and the other, emperor Aurelian. The Romans under Aurelian in 270BCE, however, got spooked and attacked her in a war that is remembered as one of the bloodiest in Roman history. She was later defeated, but her death is not documented.
3. Queen Amina of Zazzau
Zazzau is the great kingdom of the Hausa people of Nigeria which extended into modern day Algeria. Amina is the most famous of all the queens of the realm for her many victories and also for changing the name of the city from Zazzau to Zaria. She was born in a royal family around 1533, and her mother named her the heir allowing her to get military training. Initially, she fought alongside her brother Karama in four significant battles after refusing to get married and deciding to fight instead. Her brother died in 1576, and the nobles quickly installed her as the queen because she had proved herself as a great warrior. She resumed war immediately after her coronation forcing both the Southern and Northern kings to pay tribute to Zazzau. During her rule, the kingdom expanded immensely. She is remembered for fortifying Zazzau cities with many of the walls, now called Amina’s walls, still standing in the region. She is believed to have died in 1610 in battle.
4. Rudrama Devi
This is the only woman that ever ruled the Kakatiya empire and actually one of the few to ever rule on the Indian Subcontinent. She was the queen of the Kakatiya empire between 1262 or 1263 to 1289 or 1295. Initially, she ruled alongside her father king Ganapati deva who had created the kingdom by uniting all Telugu speaking tribes around the Deccan Plateau. His kingdom was however forced to recede territory to the Ganga Dynasty and the Yadavas.
He didn’t have a son, so he named Rudrama Devi his heir changing her name to Maharaja Rudradev for her to hold the position as a king. She loved wearing men’s clothes to fight off the male resistance even from within. After taking the throne, she decided to fight back the invaders. The first war with the Eastern Ganga Dynasty was fierce, but she beat them forcing them to move back from her territory. She later beat the Yadavas as well as establishing a vast kingdom that amazed even Marco Polo in the 1280s when he visited the Subcontinent. Marco Polo thought she was Ganapati Deva’s widow because he had never heard of a woman ruling in India.
5. Grace O’Malley
This was a warrior mother of 4 who went in history as one of the greatest Irish Chieftains ever and also the greatest female pirate off the Irish coast. Ireland and England have two different testimonies of the Irish Pirate queen Grace O’Malley. To the Irish, she was a great chieftain of the O’Maille clan that won many victories at sea and beat all odds of gender imbalance. The English, however, hated her as the fearsome pirate of the western Irish coast that made trading impossible with violent intimidation and extortion.
Grace still won the respect of both sides including Queen Elizabeth herself after she met her at Greenwich Palace and had “queen to queen” talks on her terms. Before retiring, she was a great fighter believed to have joined her men in a fight against Algerian pirates immediately after giving birth to her son. She encouraged her men and grew her fleet despite the political instability in Ireland and continued threats from the English. At one point, she negotiated a treaty with England to allow her to keep her pirate business as long as she didn’t attack their ships. She later retired and died at an old age of 74.
6. The Trung Sisters
The struggle for Vietnamese independence from China caused some of the bloodiest battles in history. The wars between 39 AD and 43 AD were however led by two sisters who wouldn’t give in to the empire. The two sisters were not rulers initially, but the oppression forced them to rise with an army of untrained peasants who still put up a fierce struggle. Trung Trac the eldest sister whose husband was assassinated by the Chinese for plotting a rebellion was the central figure in the aggression. She united with her sister alongside other aristocrats and marched on the Chinese Outpost of Lien Lau in 39AD forcing the Chinese Army to flee.
They continued fighting to force Chinese settlers from over 65 Citadels. They then declared independence from China and created an Autonomous kingdom extending from South China to Hue. However, their untrained army and lack of provisions took a toll on them weakening their military against the constant Chinese attacks around 42 AD. They were beaten in the battle of Lang Bac forcing them to recede to Hat Mon. By now, most of the peasants had lost faith leading to a weakened army which was beaten in 43AD by general Man Yuan. The two brave sisters are said to have committed suicide in the face of the defeat to avoid capture.
7. Queen Tomyris
The most shocking stories in history by Horedetus detail how Tomyris the queen of a small kingdom killed the Mighty Cyrus. Tomyris ruled an empire called Massagetae in Central Asia From the Caspian Sea Through Turkey, Afghanistan, Southern Kazakhstan and parts of Uzbekistan. Though expansive, the kingdom was smaller compared to the Persian empire ruled by the Great king Cyrus. Tomyris was, however, a great warrior believed to have fought alongside her son in many battles and won. Her battle against the Persians is the most documented because of her victories over Cyrus. Cyrus is the mighty king of the Persians that defeated the Babylonians believed to have ruled between 600 or 576 BC to 530 BC, and Tomyris’ kingdom was not a significant threat to him.
There are many stories regarding his death, but the great historian Herodotus agreed that Tomyris was his killer. Cyrus had defeated Tomyris in the first battle and took her son prisoner. Tomyris’ son committed suicide while under Cyrus captivity angering Tomyris. She gathered a stronger army and challenged Cyrus to a fight. Cyrus quickly accepted because he believed her kingdom was weak. He was however defeated and killed before Tomyris ordered his beheading and bathed his head in blood.
8. Queen Boudicca
Boudicca was the wife of Chief Prasutagus of the Iceni people in East Anglia. The Romans allowed the Iceni to rule themselves in AD 43 while their chief was alive. However, when Prasutagus died, the Romans invaded and confiscated the property of the Iceni people. They did not recognize an heir because Prasutagus didn’t have a son. In their invasion, they, however, angered Boudicca by stripping her and raping her daughters. They had just messed with the wrong woman because Boudicca became more famous among her people after these acts gaining the support of both the Iceni and other local tribes.
She later Rallied the Iceni alongside the other tribes to mount one of the fiercest rebellions ever faced by Roman Britain. She picked the right time to attack in AD 61 while the Roman governor Gaius Suetonius was fighting in Wales. They stormed the Capital of Roman Britain killing over 50,000 men forcing the capital to collapse. Boudicca continued to advance taking London and Verulamium and destroying both cities in which she killed thousands of Roman soldiers. She was later defeated in the battle against Paulinus. She poisoned herself to avoid capture.
9. Joan of Arc
This is the young girl that changed from a 16-year-old peasant girl to the savior of France in just three years. Joan of Arc was later canonized as the patron saint of France in 1920 by Pope Benedict XV. However, before becoming a saint, she was the mighty warrior that broke the Siege of Orleans and led to the coronation of King Charles VII in the face of English attacks. King Henry V was ruling France after declaring Charles Valois the prince of France as illegitimate and forcing him to abdicate the throne. Henry continued his rule and even put a siege on Orleans with the help of Burgundians who were his greatest allies in France.
Joan took an 11-day journey from her village to Prince Charles’ palace in Chinon. She told him that she would lead her army to victory against the English and crown him king of France. It was hard to believe because she was a 16-year-old with no military experience, but the prince entrusted her with an army anyway. She fought the Anglo-Burgundian forces back all the way to Paris. After Charles’ coronation, she continued to command a sizeable force until her capture by the English in 1430. The English accused her of witchcraft and Heresy for wearing men’s clothes in a bid to discredit King Charles. She was later burnt at the stake.
10. Queen Matilda of Tuscany
Matilda, the Countess of Tuscany, was a Church supporter in the medieval days remembered for her role in the talks between Pope Gregory VII and Emperor Henry IV. Her support for the church forced her to many fights with Imperial Germany rulers even though she was related to them by marriage. She became countess at a young age despite having an elder brother and solidified her claim through supporting the church; the locals also loved her. To retain her claim on her lands was forced into two political marriages but remained adamant to the threats from the male rulers of the time until 1115.
It was a tense time for Europe as the church and Imperial rulers fought for an upper hand. She was controlling the middle ground in Northern Italy which made her susceptible to Henry’s attacks. She beat Henry IV in one confrontation at Sobara while Henry was attempting to depose the pope. Henry who had a stronger army later beat her forces and deposed the pope in 1085 installing an antipope in Rome the same year. She continued to rule until 1115 engaging more in administrative roles before her death. Her body was later moved to St. Peters square in recognition of her strong support for the church.