10 of History’s Most Badass Female Warlords Ever

Hell hath no fury, or so they say. You do not need to search far and wide to discover heroes of war—and some of them were female. Women who took the badassery to whole new levels, from abused women who took back their lives and unleashed hell on their abusers to warriors who faced off against oppressors and lived to tell the tale. We all love a good story of victory against the odds, particularly one that has an anti-hero that defies convention and fights for what they believe in.

Popular culture and history are filled with stories of valor and heroes of war, and women have played an often pivotal role in shaping the future of countries and regions alike. Here are ten of the most badass female warlords ever.

Related: Top 10 Rulers Who Killed Their Wives

10 Artemisia I of Caria

While the overlord Xerxes was running things as lord of all the lands, he relied heavily on his warlords to keep things afloat while he was off conquering.

For his ancient district known as Caria, southwest Anatolia (today, it forms part of the Asian part of Turkey), he entrusted Artemisia I with the title of queen after the death of her husband. This made her the de facto ruler of Caria as regent for her young son Pisindelis. After ascending, she was in control of a strategically important region, and in a male-dominated world, her rule was complicated.

But it’s the fact that she distinguished herself in battle as well as a valued advisor to King Xerxes that she is best known for. Her role in the invasion of Greece and her involvement in the naval battle of Salamis in 480 BC is perhaps the battle she is best known for.[1]

9 Boudicca

You will not be hard-pressed to find real heroes who ultimately lost a battle, especially against the Romans. They made enemies everywhere they went, after all. But sometimes the important thing is how they fought and won, rather than the end.

Queen Boudicca (AD 30–AD 61) was a Celtic queen of the Iceni tribe who took up arms against Roman rule in ancient Britain around AD 60. A fierce warrior and leader who fought for freedom, she was stripped of her land (after agreeing to a truce with the Roman Governor of Britain, Suetonius), publicly flogged, and had her daughters raped by Roman soldiers.

Boudicca promised vengeance and began working on her comeback. While the Romans were fighting in Wales, the queen led a rebellion, defeating the Roman Ninth Legion. Her forces also destroyed Camulodunum, murdered a captain of the Roman forces, and massacred inhabitants. Then set her sights on London and Verulamium. In the end, Boudicca ended her own life with poison before someone else could, but not before killing some 70,000 Roman and Roman supporters.[2]

8 Trinh Trieu Thi (Lady Trieu)

When someone reaches a certain level of legendary status, the line between what actually happened and myths that developed out of sheer admiration becomes quite blurred. Lady Trieu (AD 226–AD 248) was one such legend.

In some versions of her tale, it has been suggested that when she was 19, she decided to form her own army to fight against Chinese oppression (against her brother’s best advice). Others say she fled to the mountains after murdering her abusive sister-in-law. Be that as it may, her past shaped the lady into the formidable force known by the Vietnamese people to this day.

Trieu led her army in victory over the Chinese forces in more than 30 battles, which meant her movement was placed on the radar of the Chinese as a rebellion to be taken seriously. The Wu Dynasty sent reinforcements, ultimately defeating the uprising. Still, by then, Lady Trieu had already made a name for herself. Trieu killed herself rather than succumbing to the enemy.[3]

7 Tomyris

In the sixth century BC, in the lands north of Persia and east of the Caspian Sea, there was one ruler: Tomyris (d. 520 BC). A fierce warrior woman among women who fought on horseback and ruled with ferocity.

When the Persian army, intent on expansion, attacked the Massagetae, a nomadic people with a far inferior army compared to the mighty Persians, Tomyris warned that it would only end in death. Cyrus the Great, ruler of the Persians, and his advisors devised a plan to lure out the Massagetae, faking a retreat and leaving out wine—a drink unknown by the Massageta. They captured and ultimately killed Tomyris’s son.

The death sent the queen into a blood rage, and she deployed her army, ruthlessly defeating the Persians in battle, killing Cyrus. She also ordered his body to be brought to her, then decapitated him and dipped his head in blood, giving him the bloodbath she promised she would.[4]

6 Joan of Arc

Perhaps one of the most famous warriors on the list, Joan’s story is as tragic as it is heroic.

Saint Joan of Arc is a national hero of France believed to have been acting under divine guidance. Fighting for the French army against the English threat, she led the army to victory in several battles, including the famous Siege of Orléans, which was a strategic victory in the Hundred-Year War that helped the French regain their country.

Joan ultimately met her downfall when she fell from her horse while retreating from battle and was captured by the English forces. At her trial, there were 70 charges laid against her, including charges of witchcraft, heresy, and wearing men’s clothes. After years of capture and continued defiance, Joan was burned at the stake.[5]

5 Queen Amina of Zazzau

Known as the first woman to ascend to the throne of Zazzau (modern northwest Nigeria), Queen Amina (1533–1610) reigned as sarauniya (queen) between 1576 and 1610.

A warrior woman herself, she introduced metal armor, iron helmets, and chain mail to her army. She led a campaign against their neighbors, expanding the Hausa people’s territory to its largest borders in history. It is believed that she delighted in the art of warfare and showed no interest in marrying as she fought her way to become the leading warrior of Zazzau.

After her ascendency to queen, she only spent three months on the throne before she made a comeback to the battlefield, leading military campaigns until her death at Agtagara in 1610. In the end, her rule lasted for 34 years, and her legendary status has been cemented in Nigerian history.[6]

4 Zenobia

From royal ancestry herself and the second wife of King Septimius Daenathus, Zenobia (c. AD 240–c. AD 274) became queen of the Palmyrene Empire after King Daenathushis’s assassination. She took matters into her own hands, had his killer executed, and became a ruler and powerful military leader.

Queen Zenobia took it to the Romans, attacking the Roman East and thereby expanding her empire. In a short few years, Zenobia and her forces had captured all of Syria, Palestine, Anatolia, and even Egypt (which was a fruitful part of the Roman Empire). She declared her independence from Rome with a sword in hand.

Eventually, she came undone when Emperor Aurelian sent his armies to defeat her—and at Antioch, Emesa, and Palmyra, they did just that. They also captured Zenobia as she attempted to flee. Historians claim that Zenobia starved herself to death as a prisoner on the route to Rome.[7]

3 Bouboulina

Laskarina Pinotsi (1771-1825), commonly known as Bouboulina, has been a subject of folk songs ballads, and plays for many years, and it’s easy to understand why.

From early childhood, Bouboulina was exposed to the ways of the sea. She learned from her father, who was an experienced sea captain, and her second husband, who owned a small fleet of vessels. When her husband passed away after the uprising against Turkish rule, she took control of the fleet, becoming part of the revolutionary forces of the Greeks.

Bouboulina raised the Greek flag onboard her largest ship, the Agamemnon. She started blockades against the Turks, fought until the Fort of Nafplion fell, and also took part in the blockade of Monemvasia. After the Turks fell, she returned to Spetses, where a family member shot her in a feud.

Posthumously, she became the first woman to be awarded the rank of Admiral by the Russian Navy. She is known today as a hero without whom the Greeks might have never gained their independence.[8]

2 Rani of Jhansi

Lakshmi Bai (1828–1858), more commonly known as Rani (queen) of Jhansi, refused to cede Jhansi to British rule (particularly the East India Company). As regent and ruler of Jhansi, she fought to the bitter end.

When the revolt of 1857 broke out, Rani was ruling over Jhansi as regent for her minor son. British forces arrived at the Jhansi fort, demanding the city surrender to them, but Rani refused. For two weeks, they fought. Rani ultimately lost the battle but managed to escape on horseback. She regrouped and along with other rebels, she captured the fort of Gwalior.

The British attacked Gwalior, and Rani led a countercharge, clad in the attire of a man. She died in battle. The violence left many dead and wounded and prompted the British government to dissolve the East India Company over concerns about its aggressive rule, bringing India under the control of the crown.[9]

1 Fu Hao

King Wu Ding was a king of the Chinese Shang dynasty who ruled the central Yellow River valley around the second half of the 13th century BC. Oh, and he had 64 wives, of which Fu Hao (d. 1200 BC) was one. Still, she climbed the ranks to become the second most powerful of all his wives, filling the role of high priestess and military general.

As a powerful player in the king’s army, she led the armies to battle on the king’s behalf, commanding 13,000 soldiers to battle against their neighbors, Qiang, which was the largest military activity recorded in inscriptions.

Leading from the front, Fu Hao also fought at the head of her troops, helped the wounded, and inspired morale, defeating the Tu Fang. She then went on to rout the cavalry of the Qian Fang tribe. Exhausted, she was forced to lead a third force against the Yi Fang and was again triumphant. Her fourth and final campaign was against the Ba Fung tribe, sharing command of the army and fighting alongside her husband. Fu Hao managed to trap their forces and came out victorious. She was hailed as the most outstanding military leader in the country.[10]

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