From Tomoe Gozen to Jeanne Hachette, these 10 badass warrior women have slashed their way into the history books, in this episode of History Countdown.
Biography highlights newsworthy personalities and events with compelling and surprising points-of-view, telling the true stories from some of the most accomplished non-fiction storytellers of our time.
Throughout history, women have had to fight to prove that anything men can do, they can do as well. For centuries, women have commanded armies, fought bravely, and often straight-up dominated their enemies in combat. These are the most badass warrior women in history.
Khutulun was a warrior, military adviser, and the great-great-granddaughter of Genghis Khan. But as skilled as Khutulun was at riding horses and with a bow and arrow, it was her wrestling prowess that made her the pride of the Mongol nation. Even Marco Polo commented on it in his writings. Khutulun’s clan placed great value in these wrestling matches, believing you were blessed by the gods if you won.
There were no weight classes in these contests. Anyone could wrestle anyone, and Khutulun never lost. She famously had a standing decree that she would marry any man who could defeat her, but he would owe her 100 horses if he lost. She ended up with 10,000 horses and zero husbands. Khutulun is honored in Mongolia to this day and the traditional Mongolian wrestling outfit is noticeably open chested to prove that the wrestler is not another wrestler princess.
The Trung Sisters
The Trung Sisters, Trung Trac and Trung Nhi, are two of the two most famous heroines in Vietnamese history. Many believe Vietnam wouldn’t exist today if it weren’t for them. In 40 C.E., they led a rebellion against the harsh rule of the Han Dynasty of China, who had been occupying Vietnam for many years. They gathered 80,000 people to oppose the mighty Chinese, performing feats of bravery to convince people to join their cause, once killing a man-eating tiger and then writing their proclamation of war on its hide.
They selected 36 women as generals, including their mother, and the army managed to drive their oppressors from Vietnamese land for three years before finally being overtaken. Before they could be captured, the sisters took their lives together by drowning. These warrior sisters are memorialized in poems, monuments, and are a source of pride to many women in Vietnam.
Tomoe Gozen is a legend in Japanese history: the archetypal samurai woman warrior who fought in the Japanese civil wars of the 12th century. She was known for her beauty, bravery, and battle skills, capable of dealing even with demons or gods. Armed with a strongbow and longsword, she was a lead commander of the samurai army and amassed a Hall of Fame battle résumé. In 1181, she defeated and collected the heads of seven warriors in a single battle. In 1184, she led 300 men to battle 6,000 and was one of only five to survive.
In the same year, when her commander and husband wanted to retreat, Tomoe rode straight into the offense, picked the worthiest opponent among them, and beheaded him. No one knows for certain what became of Tomoe after the war ended, but she is a prominent figure in modern Japanese culture in the form of monuments, the subject of plays, and in festivals.
As the kids say, Nakano Takeko was built different. At six years old, she was adopted by a master samurai swordsman who trained her in hand-to-hand combat for the next 15 years. Then, in 1868, a civil war broke out in Japan between the traditionalist samurai and modernists. Soon, the Imperial Army descended upon Nakano’s home of Aizu with 15,000 soldiers armed with guns to crush the last of the resistance.
Armed with her trusty naginata alongside 5,000 others with their bows and arrows, Nakano stood ready to fight, just like her idol Tomoe Gozen. Outnumbered and outgunned, they defended the castle for days. When soldiers finally broke through, 30 women, who Nakano had handpicked and trained, were the last line of defense. Nakano managed to dodge enough bullets to kill six soldiers before being fatally shot. In accordance with her wishes, her sister cut off her head for an honorable burial. Today, the Aizu region honors Nakano with an annual festival.
Queen Lakshmi Bai was not a typical woman in 1800s India. She could read, write, ride a horse, and wield a sword. In 1853, the ever-expanding British Empire attempted to annex the region of Jhansi, over which she ruled. After her attempts at diplomacy were ignored, Lakshmi recruited and trained her own coed army and eventually joined the Indian Rebellion of 1857.
There were several bloody battles, and she narrowly escaped the burning of Jhansi. British forces followed her to a nearby town, where Lakshmi disguised herself as a man and led her army into battle and was killed. It would take 90 more years for India to win its independence from Britain. Today, Queen Lakshmi of Jhansi has been immortalized in everything from popular culture, on street names and universities, and, most fitting, an all-female unit of the Indian Army was named in her honor.
Boudicca was a Celtic queen who led a bloody revolt against the Roman Empire in 60 C.E. Boudicca and her husband, Prasutagus, ruled the Iceni tribe, located in modern-day England. They were forced allies with Rome, but when Prasutagus died, the Roman Empire usurped Boudicca’s throne, publicly flogging her and raping her daughters.
Boudicca vowed vengeance. She recruited numerous tribes, her charisma convincing many tribes that wouldn’t have normally allied with the Iceni, and led a rebellion. Most Celtic women were trained as warriors, and Boudicca led the attack on two Roman cities, burning both to the ground, killing up to 80,000 people. The Roman historian, Tacitus, recounts… The Roman Army eventually quelled the rebellion and Boudicca and her daughters drank poison to avoid capture, but she is remembered as a national hero and an embodiment of the struggle for justice.
Jeanne Fourquet is proof that you don’t need years of combat training to be a total badass. She was just a butcher’s daughter in Beauvais, a city just north of Paris. But in June 1472, at the age of 18, she would become Jeanne Hachette. A rebel army of 80,000 soldiers was terrorizing French villages, and Beauvais was next. Men and women of all ages grabbed whatever they had– knives, stones, and axes– to defend themselves and poured boiling water and oil on soldiers climbing the walls.
Just as the townspeople were giving up hope, Jeanne raised her hatchet and attacked a soldier attempting to raise a victory flag. She flung him over the wall and into the moat, inspiring everyone to keep fighting. They held off the army for a month until they retreated. The king rewarded the town and Jeanne specifically for her bravery. The town has held a parade in her honor ever since.
Tomyris was the ancient queen of a group of tribes called the Massaegetae in central Asia. Her son, Spargapises, was the commander of her army. They fought side by side in battle. Their neighbor was Cyrus the Great of the Achaemenid Empire, who declared war on the Massaegetae, Cyrus not thinking much of an army led by a woman. In their first battle, Spargapises was captured.
fvEnter mama bear. Tomyris sent Cyrus a message demanding the return of her son, or else… Cyrus ignored the threat and Spargapises took his life. Enraged, Tomyris challenged Cyrus to a second battle that the ancient historian Herodotus described as… Cyrus was killed, and Tomyris took his head and dipped it in blood, fulfilling her threat. You know, badass mama bear stuff.
Laskarina Bouboulina was a naval officer and revolutionary integral to the Greek revolution against the Ottomans and considered the Greek Joan of Arc. By the time the revolution began in 1821, Laskarina was 50 years old with six children and twice widowed. Her second husband was a ship merchant and had been killed by pirates. Laskarina took over his fleet and grew it into a critical force to the resistance.
She was the first to raise the banner of revolution, smuggled food and weapons, and commanded her fleet in several sea battles and blockades. She was known for her bravery that bordered on recklessness. She was also a respected strategist, playing an equal role to her male counterparts in planning during the war and the formation of the Greek state. Just call her Admiral Badass.
Queen Amina was the queen of the province of Zazzau in what is modern-day Nigeria. Born in 1533, she was trained extensively in military strategy and combat from a young age and was named heir apparent to the throne and selected to the royal cabinet when she was 16. When Amina’s father died, her brother Karama assumed the throne. He entered many battles to expand the Zazzau territory, with Amina leading the charge every time, earning great respect amongst her male peers. When Karama died, Amina was quickly named queen. With her great leadership and battle skills, she led her 20,000-man army to conquer the largest territory the Zazzau would achieve. Not a fan of traditional marriage, after every battle, Amina would take a soldier from the defeated army as her “husband.” She would spend the night with him, then have him executed.
Born in 1780, Juana Azurduy de Padilla was a South American guerrilla military officer. After her parents died when she was a child, Juana was sent to a convent to become a nun. But Juana, rebellious in nature, was kicked out for being too rambunctious for even the nuns to control. She joined the military cause against Spain with her husband, Manuel Padilla, and eventually rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel.
She was so passionate about the cause that she once fought a battle while pregnant, delivered the baby, then returned to fight with the baby strapped to her back. Juana was honored for her bravery by military leader Manuel Belgrano. After Argentina won its independence, she retired. Rebellious even in death, a statue of Juana replaced one of Columbus at the house of the president of Argentina, causing great controversy. And there you have it: 11 of the most badass warrior women who slashed their own paths into the history books. Hopefully, you’re inspired to learn more.