The story of warfare throughout the ages is inextricably linked with the story of royalty and rulers. Many of the most battles of history are tales of courageous kings and mighty monarchs who fought bravely for their kingdoms or causes.
Throughout the ages, war and military accomplishment has been a male-dominated affair, so it’s not surprising that the vast majority of the historical records and tales of famous battles are populated by male characters and rulers.
Given the nature of warfare and military action, particularly during the Middle Ages, these tales largely featured male monarchs – the famous warrior kings, emperors, kaisers, and tsars. These include legendary royal warriors such as the great kings Richard the Lionheart, William the Conqueror, Alexander the Great, and infamous emperors such as Genghis Khan, Julius Caesar, and Napoleon.
Yet, alongside these conquering kings were a smaller cast of royal women who left their mark on military history. Again, given the nature of warfare and the roles of gender throughout medieval times and the Renaissance, women played a much smaller role than men in the famous battles of their time, but there are rare stories of female warriors who proved themselves in battle and secured their place in the history books.
These famous female warriors were usually from the higher echelons of society, for example, the famous queens who fought bravely for their lands and their people. The Celtic Queen Boudica is perhaps the most legendary of warrior queens. While the Queen of England during the 16th century, Elizabeth I, was also renowned for her military accomplishments and courage on the battlefield. (Though her presence was more inspirational than leading the charge in person.)
On rare occasions throughout history, non-royal women would achieve notable military achievements, for example, the legendary Joan of Arc, who is possibly one of the most famous female warriors of all time.
Aside from the famous warrior queens, and the rare peasant women who rose to military legend, the most common class of female warriors was that of the Warrior Princesses. There have been many more princesses than queens throughout the ages, and given their proximity to kings and conquerors, either as wives or daughters, along with their position at the most powerful levels of society, it’s not surprising that some of these courageous women found their way to military legend and made a name for themselves as famous female warriors.
Here are some of the most famous warrior princesses who, despite the odds stacked against their gender, proved themselves in the male-dominated realms of military conflict and the many historical battles for power, supremacy, and glory.
Olympias is perhaps one of the most historic warrior princesses, whose legend endures even many centuries after her life and military accomplishments.
Born into royalty as the daughter of a king of Ancient Greece in the 4th century, Olympias is perhaps most well known as the mother of Alexander The Great. Her influence on the men in her life, in particular her legendary son, granted her great esteem within military circles during her lifetime.
Yet her own courage in the battles she waged on behalf of her son after his death proved her own capability for war and victory. More than a mere female advisor, Olympias secured her place in history as a famous warrior within her own right.
Cynane is again perhaps most well known for her role as a famous mother, in this case as the mother of Eurydice, the 4th-century Macedonian Queen famous for her military accomplishments. Yet, Eurydice was a product of her mother’s devoted training in the arts of war, schooling she had herself received and excelled in.
Legend has it that Cynane was a rarity of the women of her time. Although her military training was not uncommon in the cultural tradition of her people, she is cited as being one of very few females to see fighting close hand, being present on the front line of military action. Her legend even goes so far as to claim that she was one of the only women of ancient times to have killed an enemy in battle.
Regardless of her official record on the field of battle, Cynane is widely regarded as an inspirational, courageous and powerful female warrior – esteemed both during her lifetime and within her own culture, as well as lauded by history in the many centuries since her appearance on the world stage.
Khutulun was the daughter of a powerful ruler of the Mongolian Empire in the 13-century. Her father, a cousin of the great Mongolian Emperor Kublai Khan, encouraged his daughter’s training and development in military excellence, and included her in his own adventures on the field of battle, praising her unique skill and abilities.
Her accomplishments were noted even beyond her own family and country, with the famous Venetian explorer Marco Polo describing her as ‘a superb warrior’. Her physical prowess and affinity for conflict is evidenced by her criteria for a potential suitor – that he be able to beat her at wrestling. Clearly, she valued athletic victory, as well as her own ability to defeat her opponent in close combat.
In recent times, Khutulun’s legend in the wider world may have taken on more genteel characteristics, the folklore and history of her Mongolian homelands hold her in high esteem for her notable courage and success as a bold warrior princess.
While a great many of the princesses of history may have played pivotal roles alongside the famous military kings and emperors, their achievements and influence were not recorded in the history books, and so their talents and contributions remain lost to the mists of time.
So, it is heartening to see that a number of courageous women did break the conventions of their time and make a name for themselves on the field of battle. While a degree of military accomplishment was often expected from the great queens of history, less was generally expected from the princesses, who were often regarded solely as advisors to the great men in their sphere of influence, or relegated to the roles of royal wives and mothers.
Perhaps this is what makes the tales of the most famous warrior princesses such an inspiring and unusual thread within the classical stories of war throughout the ages.