Traditionally the ugly business of war has been left up to men, however, in extraordinary circumstances women have been known to take up arms and fight. Sometimes for freedom, sometimes to gain territory, women have occasionally dominated the battle field putting their male counterparts to shame. Here are five of history's greatest female warriors.
1. Boudicca (d. AD 60 or 61)
Boudicca was the queen of the Iceni tribe of East England in the 1st century AD and led a major revolt against the dreaded Roman army. Although many hated the occupying Roman force in Britain, some collaborated with them and the Iceni tribe under Boudicca's husband, Prasutagus, was one such 'client kingdom'.
However when he died the Romans saw no need to honour any agreements made with him and took full control of the area, When Boudicca protested, she was flogged and made to watch as her daughters were raped.
Boudicca gathered an army and was joined by other tribes who wanted rid of the Romans. She successfully defeated them in major battles at Colchester, London and St Albans before finally succumbing to the superior forces of the enemy. Boudicca, the Queen of the Iceni, is said to have poisoned herself to escape capture and the humiliation of being paraded through the streets of Rome before certain execution.
2. Agustina de Aragon (1786 – 1857)
Agustina de Aragon was a Spanish heroine known as the 'Spanish Joan of Arc' who fought in the Spanish War of Independence. While Napoleon's men attacked the city of Zaragoza on 15th June, 1808, Agustina was bringing apples to feed the troops. When she arrived on the scene, she saw a heavily outnumbered volunteer unit brake ranks and retreat from the French.
She immediately ran forward, loaded a cannon and lit the fuse, cutting down a wave of attackers.
Her actions inspired the fleeing men to return to their posts and, in the short term at least, the city was saved, only for the French to returned a few weeks later and take the city anyway. Despite this, Agustina became an inspiration to resistance against the French and in later years she has been seen as an iconic symbol of feminism.
3. Tomoe Gozen (c1157-1247)
Tomoe Gozen is one of the few examples of a female Samurai warrior and fought in the Genpei War (1180—1185). She was described as extremely beautiful, a strong archer "and as a swordswoman she was a warrior worth a thousand".
After her master was defeated at the Battle of Awazu, she was told to flee rather than commit hara kiri (suicide) to avoid capture as he would be ashamed to die with a woman. Much mystery surrounds what happened to Tomoe after that, some say she gave up fighting, others say that she fought a famous Samurai, Wada Yoshimori, and was defeated by him, then became his wife.
4. Ahhotep I (c1560-1530 BC)
Ahhotep I was an Egyptian queen who was probably a pivotal figure in founding the eighteenth dynasty. Considered a warrior queen, she led troops against the Hyksos and was buried with ceremonial weapons and three 'flies of honour', awarded for exceptional military service. An inscription on a stele devoted to her reads;
"She is the one who has accomplished the rites and taken care of Egypt… She has looked after her soldiers, she has guarded her, she has brought back her fugitives and collected together her deserters, she has pacified Upper Egypt and expelled her rebels".
5. Joan of Arc (1412-1431)
Joan of Arc is a patron saint of France and led an army against the English during the Hundred Years War (which was actually several separate wars that lasted 116 years).
When she was 12, Joan began to hear voices and believed them to be St. Michael, St. Catherine, and St. Margaret sent to her by God. The voices told her that it was her destiny to free her country from the English and help put the dauphin back on the throne. So as instructed, she cut her hair, put on a man's uniform and armed herself ready for battle.
After convincing a board of theologians of her calling, she was given the rank of captain and troops to command. Joan began to win battles straight away and her reputation as a general quickly grew. When she approached an English army at Patay, the commander, Sir John Fastolfe, and most of his men fled the battlefield when they realised it was her.
In 1430, she was captured and found guilty of witchcraft and the following year, at the age of 19, she was burned at the stake.