According to Brookings, only 16% of the U.S. military today is female. Until 1948, in fact, women couldn’t join the armed forces per se, only serve in auxiliary positions – and it wasn’t until the Obama administration that all combat roles were opened to them.
For many centuries, around the world, patriarchal leadership disdained the idea of women in a military role. Yet history records the exploits of queens who broke the mold, emerging at the helm of great battles and leading their armies to victory. (Male rulers sometimes took to the battlefield themselves, of course. Here are some warrior kings who led their own armies.)
To identify the queens who led their own armies, 24/7 Tempo consulted a variety of sources including Military History Now, Black Past, Ancient Origins, the Female Soldier, National Geographic, and the Warrior Queen Project, as well as encyclopedia sources such as Britannica, as well as encyclopedia sources such as Britannica, and other publications.
Eight of the warrior queens on our list lived in Europe, eight lived in Asia, and four lived in Africa. A number of these monarchs had a common enemy, though at different periods: the Romans. The empire was a significant foe for Amanirenas of Kush, Zenobia of Palmyra, Teuta of Illyria, Queen Boadicea of the Celts, and Mavia of present-day Syria
Whoever they were fighting, these queens faced many challenges. On top of military decision-making, they had to meet the additional challenge of trying to lead societies who believed women were not equipped to make important decisions, much less order men around on the battlefield. (These are the greatest women in military history.)
How did warrior queens rise to military leadership in predominantly patriarchal environments? Many were able to do so only after their husband – the king or emperor – had perished, or a male family member had died, passing power along to them. However they may have come to be in charge, though, they all showed courage and determination, leadership ability, and a grasp of military tactics. They were formidable foes.
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