List of 16 Famous Female Warriors Throughout World History
Female warriors have existed in myths, legends, and actual history for thousands of years. While far outnumbered by their male counterparts, many historical women answered the call to battle.
The prevalence of female fighters varied depending on the time period and culture. Female military leaders were far more common, for example, in the ancient Mediterranean than they were during the European Middle Ages or Enlightenment.
Regardless of where you look in history, you are sure to find a few heroic examples of women on the battlefield.
This article highlights 16 intelligent, capable, and brave female warriors and leaders in world history. Our scope is not limited to a particular time period of region, so this list offers a diverse range of heroines faced with unique and historically significant challenges.
Read on to learn about warrior women from ancient China to World War II Europe.
1) Fu Hao
(died 1200 BC, China)
Fu Hao was one of the many wives of King Wu Ding. She lived during the Shang Dynasty and served in the unique role of female general.
While several female generals existed during the Shang Dynasty, Fu Hao stands out as especially powerful. She commanded 13,000 men, making her the most influential general of the period.
As a military leader, Fu Hao defeated the Tu-Fang, Yi, Qiang, and Ba peoples. Conflict between these groups had existed for years, but Fu Hao was able to conquer them in only a few battles.
We know about Fu Hao’s power as a general thanks to her well-preserved tomb. This archaeological playground contains hundreds of weapons that confirm Fu Hao’s influence.
Artifacts found in Fu Hao’s tomb include over 200 arrowheads, 130 bronze weapons, and 27 knives.
(c. 530 BC, Central Asia)
Tomyris was the Queen of Massagetae near the Caspian Sea. She was a widow who took on the role of queen and led her people against Cyrus the Great.
The famed conqueror made an enemy of Tomyris after asking for her hand in marriage. Tomyris saw this as a ploy to take her kingdom and refused Cyrus.
He decided to attack Tomyris’s kingdom and the first battle with the queen resulted in the death of her son. Enraged, Tomyris led a second great battle, which she ended up winning.
Tomyris’s army killed Cyrus the Great in 530 BC. According to contemporary accounts, Tomyris asked for Cyrus’s head to be presented to her.
While important in her own time, Tomyris became a popular reference in Renaissance art and literature. She can be seen in several paintings and is the subject of sculpture as well.
Tomyris is referenced in Shakespeare’s King Henry VI. She is also a national heroine of the country of Kazakhstan.
3) Artemisia I of Caria
(c. 480 BC, modern-day Anatolia)
Artemisia I of Caria was an important female figure of the 5th century BC. She served as the queen of Halicarnassus, a Greek city-state.
A ruthless strategist and intelligent leader, Artemisia allied with Xerxes I of Persia in the Battle of Salamis. This battle was the second Persian invasion of Greece.
Her performance in the battle earned her the praise of Xerxes. He rewarded Artemisia with a full suit of Greek armor. The praise of the king elevated Artemisia to a status that was almost legendary.
The contemporary historian Herodotus also praised Artemisia for her leadership abilities. Not everyone was as impressed by the female warrior, however. Thessalus, the son of Hippocrates, called Artemisia I a “cowardly pirate” for her role in the Battle of Salamis.
Today, Artemisia I of Caria is remembered for her intelligence and key role in the Battle of Salamis. She was most recently portrayed in the 2014 film 300: Rise of an Empire.
(357-323 BC, Macedon)
Cynane was the daughter of King Philip II of Macedon and the Illyrian Princess Audata. She was also the half-sister of Alexander the Great.
Cynane lived in Macedon in southern Europe. As a girl, she learned the arts of war from Audata. These fighting skills proved essential later in life, when she campaigned with Alexander the Great and the Macedonian army.
After becoming a mother, Cynane wished to gain more power in Macedonia. She schemed to marry her daughter to the puppet king of Macedonia, ensuring access to the throne.
Cynane gathered an army to fight for her daughter’s position and Cynane was killed. Her death angered her allies, who insisted that Cynane’s daughter become queen.
Cynane ultimately got her wish, even though she did not live to see it. She is also remembered as one of only three Macedonian women of the Hellenistic Period to fight on the front lines.
(reigned 231-228 BC, Illyria)
Teuta was the queen regent of Illyria, which is present-day Albania, Croatia, Bosnia, etc. She took over the throne after the death of her husband Agron.
Her policies of expansion and piracy in the Mediterranean brought her into conflict with the much larger and more powerful Roman Empire.
Queen Teuta faced off with the Romans in 229 BC after a Roman ambassador was killed by Illyrians. This First Illyrian War proved a disaster for the queen.
Although Teuta lost to the Romans, she is remembered as an ambitious female leader in the ancient Mediterranean region.
(reigned 40-10 BC, Kingdom of Kush)
Amanirenas ruled as queen of the Kingdom of Kush in modern-day Egypt and Sudan. This queen was one of the few African leaders who successfully resisted incorporation into the Roman Empire.
When Romans began encroaching on Amanirenas’s land, the queen responded with a surprise attack. She led an army of 30,000 against the much larger Roman Empire and managed to capture three of their cities.
Thanks to the intelligence and capabilities of Amanirenas, the Kingdom of Kush never had to pay taxes or give up land to the Roman Empire.
(1st Century, Britain)
Boudicca was the queen of the British-Celtic Iceni tribe, which lived in present-day Norfolk and neighboring counties. The Iceni were notable for their production and use of some of the first coins in British history.
As queen, Boudicca experienced several atrocities committed by the Romans and took up arms against them. After the death of her husband, the Romans ignored his will, which stated that his rule be shared between Rome and his daughters.
According to contemporary sources, the Romans flogged Boudicca and raped her daughters instead of respecting the father’s wishes.
In response, Boudicca led an uprising against the Romans in 60-61 AD. She destroyed three Roman cities that are modern-day Colchester, St. Albans, and London.
Boudicca ultimately committed suicide after her defeat by the Romans. Her rebellion is mentioned in Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People (731).
Boudicca’s story was revived in the 1500s and she became a cultural symbol of Britain.
(240-275 AD, Palmyra, Syria)
Zenobia ruled as the ‘Warrior Queen’ of Syria. She controlled the Palmyrene Empire and is most remembered for taking Egypt from Rome and expanding her influence despite being subordinate to the Romans.
As a queen, Zenobia ruled with tolerance for the diverse cultures and religions that made up her empire. She understood the rising influence of Christians and allowed them to practice their faith in peace.
Zenobia was highly educated and multi-lingual. This likely allowed her to rule her diverse empire with competence.
Zenobia’s successful reign as queen ended after declaring her independence from Rome and attempting to make herself and her son Empress and Emperor, respectively. This overreach resulted in her being taken captive by the Romans.
9) Tomoe Gozen
Tomoe Gozen was one of the most capable female warriors in Japanese history. She was a skilled horsewoman who could fight with both a bow and sword.
This warrior’s skills were put to the test during the Genpai War of the Minomoto and Taira clans. Tomoe Gozen served the general Minamoto no Yoshinaka during the war.
In 1182, Tomoe Gozen led an army of only 300 samurai to victory against over 2,000 Taira clan members. Another notable contribution during the war was her assassination of a Musashi clan leader.
Today, Tomoe Gozen is most popular as a character in online games. Her beauty and fighting skills make her the perfect muse for game designers and players, but she should also be remembered for her very real contributions during the important Genpai War.
10) Nzinga Mbande
Nzinga Mbande was the ruler of the Mbundu people in present-day Angola. A shrewd politician who cared deeply for her people, Nzinga forged important alliances with European powers to protect the interests of her nation.
After the Portuguese began encroaching on her territory, Nzinga peacefully forged an agreement that prevented the Portuguese from expanding their slave trade into the Mbundu region.
The Portuguese did not keep their promises, and Nzinga then allied with the Dutch to fight the Portuguese. After too many negative interactions with Europeans, Nzinga decided to move her people and create the new state of Matamba.
This powerful trading state was a sanctuary for runaway slaves and held its own against other influences.
Nzinga Mbande was a strong politician and ruler who led armies well into her 60s.
11) Queen Nanny
Queen Nanny earned her name by leading the Maroons of Jamaica against the British. A former slave herself, Queen Nanny was taken from Ghana to Jamaica as a child and eventually escaped to the Blue Mountains.
This region was home to the Maroons. This group of former slaves organized raids and ambushes against the British. Queen Nanny became the leader of the Maroons and taught them highly effective guerrilla tactics.
The Maroons were feared among the British, as Queen Nanny instructed her fighters to always keep a few British enemies alive. These survivors spread tales of the Maroons that kept the British on their guard.
The Maroons were skilled at camouflage and combat. They also had an excellent communications network thanks to their use of the abeng cow horn. This tool signaled to other Maroons the movements of the enemy.
Queen Nanny led many attacks and freed around 1,000 slaves during her time as leader. In 1740, a peace treaty between the Maroons and the British was signed, giving 500 acres to the Maroons and guaranteeing their freedom.
The Maroon village of Moore Town still exists today. In 1975, Queen Nanny was named a National Heroine of Jamaica.
12) Zheng Yi Sao
Zheng Yi Sao, or Ching Shih, was a female pirate leader who lived in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. She married a pirate and took over his Guangdong Pirate Confederation after his death.
During her career, Zheng Yi Sao commanded 400 ships and 40,000-80,000 men in the South China Sea. She came into conflict with the Chinese government, the Portuguese, and the British East India Company.
Zheng Yi Sao eventually accepted amnesty from the Chinese government and lived a peaceful and quiet life after her pirating days were over.
She is widely considered the most successful female pirate in history and one of the most successful pirates in general.
(1840-1889, American Southwest)
Lozen was an Apache warrior who resisted the American and Mexican governments until her eventual capture. She was the sister of the Apache chief Victorio and served her people as a warrior and prophet. According to legend, Lozen could anticipate her enemy’s movements.
She and her people were sent to the dismal San Carlos Reservation in the 1870s. In 1877, Victorio and Lozen made the decision to lead their people off the reservation. They would begin a life of raiding and evading the US cavalry.
Lozen proved to be a skilled fighter and horsewoman who prioritized the safety of the women and children of the tribe. She notably led them to safety across the Rio Grande, and at another time helped a mother and infant cross the Chihuahuan Desert.
After her brother’s death, Lozen teamed up with Geronimo to resist capture and fight for the freedom of the Apache people. She and the Apache were eventually taken into custody and died as a prisoner of war in Alabama.
14) Yaa Asantewaa
Yaa Asantewaa was the queen of the Asante people of present-day Ghana. As queen, she was also the protector of the sacred Golden Stool, which was the royal throne of the Asante.
After the British invaded her land in 1886, they demanded Yaa Asantewaa relinquish the Golden Stool. She refused and went to war against the British in 1900 in what is referred to as the War of the Golden Stool.
Yaa Asantewaa was captured and exiled to Seychelles. Despite her defeat, she is remembered as the only female war leader in Asante history.
15) Nancy Wake
(1912-2011, New Zealand, France, England)
Nancy Wake was born in New Zealand and served the French Resistance during World War II. She first worked as a nurse and journalist during the war before becoming a Special Operations Executive for the British government.
In France, Wake helped stranded Allied airmen evade the Nazis. She also served as a liaison between British and French groups. Wake was in charge of communications and airdrops of supplies for the French Resistance.
Her service earned her many medals of honor from Britain, America, and other Allied countries. Nancy Wake’s medals are displayed in the Australian War Memorial.
16) Lyudmila Pavlichenko
(1916-1974, Soviet Union)
Lyudmila Pavlichenko was born in Soviet Ukraine and learned to shoot as a child. Pavlichenko joined the 25th Rifle Division of the Soviet army rather than becoming a nurse and was one of only 2,000 female snipers to serve during World War II.
She participated in the Sieges of Odessa and Sevastopol. Her performances earned her the rank of senior sergeant in 1941 and lieutenant in 1942.
During her time as a sniper, Lyudmila Pavlichenko racked up 309 confirmed kills. She was known to the Germans as ‘Lady Death’ and was feared by the enemy.
Pavlichenko’s fighting days ended after she was hit in the face by shrapnel. She trained Soviet snipers after her recovery and went on tour in the United States to encourage Americans to enlist.
Like many veterans, Pavlichenko struggled with PTSD and alcoholism later in life. She died in 1974.