Weird History
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History's Most Fascinating Female Assassins

Updated December 23, 2020 197.1k views15 items

We tend to think of assassins as being men, but there were plenty of historical assassins who were women. Women throughout history have held lower statuses than men, but that often gave them an edge in espionage or assassin work – few people suspected that women were capable of such things when they were looked upon as being inferior. But societal expectations didn't stop any of these women assassins, with many of them changing the course of history through a well-placed poisoning or strategic stabbing. Though some of their assassination strategies may have been bizarre, all of these women were effective in their mission to take someone – or more than just one – out.

Of course, not all female assassins in history were fighting for causes one could truly call noble. Some were downright nasty, and the people they killed were those who could have had a great positive influence on the world. Still, any person who resorts to killing others for political influence or social gain is a captivating figure, especially when so many deliberately used the fact that they were women to avoid suspicion or achieve their ends.

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  • Mistress Marcia Helped Murder A Roman Emperor

    Marcia was not solely responsible for the death of Emperor Commodus, an inept leader of ancient Rome, on New Years Day in 193 CE, but her actions as part of a murder plot proved important nonetheless. Commodus, believing himself to be the reincarnation of Hercules, planned to fight in the arena despite his advisors' urgings. He threatened to accuse them – including his mistress, Marcia – and add them to a list of people he wanted executed for subversion.

    Their response was to launch an orchestrated assassination attempt. Marcia slipped him poison in his wine, which failed to kill him as he vomited it up, but, in his weakened state, he was strangled by his fitness coach.

    • Photo: Vladimir Pchelin / Wikimedia Commons / CC0

      Fanny Kaplan Was A Revolutionary From A Young Age

      A member of the "Socialist Revolutionaries" in Russia, Fanny Kaplan was a political activist from a young age. She was arrested for her involvement with a bomb plot at just 16 years old. After serving time in a Serbian work camp, she lost most of her sight but not her desire to make change.

      Because of the conflict between the Socialist Revolutionaries and the Bolsheviks, she gained a great dislike for Vladimir Lenin. After a meeting at the Hammer and Sickle, Kaplan shot Lenin three times, with two of the bullets doing serious damage. He survived, and Kaplan refused to name any accomplices, leading to her execution in 1918.

      • Photo: Metaweb (FB) / Fair use

        Violet Gibson's Attempted Assassination Was Forgiven

        Unlike many assassins, Anglo-Irish aristocrat Violet Gibson's motivations remain something of a mystery. Gibson attempted to shoot Benito Mussolini, the fascist leader of Italy, after he finished a speech he'd made on modern medicine in Rome, Italy, in 1926. She fired twice, but the first shot only grazed him, and the second misfired.

        Some people believe that she was insane at the time of the shooting and that she had no clear motive, especially because she lived the remainder of her life in a mental asylum after her deportation for the attempted assassination. Mussolini himself requested that she be released without charge.  

        • Photo: Carlo Francesco Nuvolone / Wikimedia Commons / CC0

          Judith of Bethulia Killed A Man To Prove A Point

          Though the Biblical Book of Judith is generally considered to be a parable rather than a historical account, the titular Judith is still a fascinating example of a historical female assassin. Judith, who believed that God would save her fellow countrymen from their conquerors, set out with a maid to dispatch Holofernes, an enemy general.

          By promising to provide him with information, she gained his trust and entered his tent one night while he was passed out drunk. Judith cut off his head and returned it to her home, and the general's death caused the dissolution of the Assyrian army, saving her country from their occupation.