When it comes to pitting warriors against each other on the battlefield, it's common to think of men. Yet there have been countless women warriors throughout history. From the ancient world through modern times, female fighters have exhibited great strength, skill, and intelligence - rivaling, and even besting, their male counterparts.
What would happen if some of the toughest female fighters of all time faced off? Who would win? And which one would you be most terrified to face?
When And Where: As the wife of King Prasutagus of the Iceni tribe in Britain, Boudica watched her husband become a client king of Rome. Prasutagus cooperated with Rome after the empire invaded in 43 CE, and he served as Rome's ally until his passing in 60 CE. When Prasutagus perished, the Roman administration took over Iceni land and brutalized Boudica and her daughters in the process. According to Tacitus, Boudica vowed "nothing is safe from Roman pride and arrogance. They will deface the sacred and will deflower our virgins. Win the battle or perish, that is what I, a woman, will do."
Her Great Achievements:
- Boudica first struck Camulodunum, modern Colchester. With support from the neighboring Trinovantes tribe, she attacked the Roman colony's inhabitants. With little resistance from the Romans (the governor was warring on the island of Anglesey), she then pushed onto Londinium, the location of modern-day London.
- After the Celtic queen sacked Verulamium, now St. Albans, Tacitus claims "unprecedented numbers" of Roman and Briton forces met on the battlefield.
- Boudica shocked the Romans with her ability to lead, destroyed several major Roman settlements, and slayed numerous Romans in the process.
How She Went Out: Boudica was defeated by Suetonius, which Tacitus termed a "glorious victory," for the Romans. The writer estimated "almost 80,000 Britons fell," compared to 400 Romans slain and "a slightly larger number" wounded. Following her defeat, Boudica drank poison to avoid capture.
When And Where: During WWII, Lyudmila Pavlichenko served as one of Soviet Russia's most dangerous snipers. Born in a small town near Kiev in 1916, Pavlichenko worked at an arsenal and practiced shooting at a local club before joining a paramilitary organization as a young woman. At the age of 24, Pavlichenko joined the Red Army - but only after they made her showcase her firing skills in an audition of sorts.
Her Greatest Accomplishments:
- Pavlichenko was sent into combat in August 1941, where she took down her first two enemy combatants. Over the subsequent two and a half months, she eliminated 185 more.
- By June 1942, she had recorded 309 kills with her Tokarev SVT-40 semi-automatic rifle.
- After being injured four times and experiencing what is now called post-traumatic stress disorder, Pavlichenko was sent on a press tour, and visited the United States.
- She met Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, received gifts from admirers at every stop, and, when she returned to Russia, was awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union distinction.
- She trained snipers for the rest of WWII, but never returned to combat.
How She Went Out: Pavlichenko went back to university at Kiev, where she had been studying history. She earned her degree and worked for the Soviet Navy Headquarters as a researcher. She passed in 1974, reportedly swearing like a sailor while her son held her in his arms.
When And Where: Born in County Mayo in western Ireland around 1530, Grace O' Malley (Grainne Mhaol Ni Mhaille) was a member of the seafaring O'Malley clan. After being told she couldn't work as a sailor because she was a girl and the daughter of a clan chief, O'Malley cut her hair, dressed like a boy, and took to the high seas.
At the age of 15, she married Donal O'Flaherty, the son of the chief of the O'Flaherty clan. She had three children with Donal, who passed away when O'Malley was 23. After her husband's death, she assumed control of his lands and ships before returning to County Mayo. She married again in 1566 and bore one son.
Her Greatest Accomplishments:
- In 1567, O'Malley supposedly led her crew to victory over Algerian pirates just one hour after giving birth to her fourth child, Tiobold (Theobold).
- With the passing of her father, O'Malley became the queen of her clan.
- Through raids and piracy, O'Malley amassed great wealth and power and held numerous castles throughout Ireland.
- In 1574, O'Malley fought off English raiders at her stronghold, Rockfleet Castle.
- She possessed between three and 20 ships, with 100-200 men under her command.
- When English governor Sir Richard Bingham seized her property, arrested her son and brother, and threatened to slay her family if she didn't cease pirate activities, O'Malley pleaded to Queen Elizabeth I for assistance. After receiving a questionnaire of sorts from the Queen, O'Malley sailed to London and demanded an audience with the monarch.
- When O'Malley met with Queen Elizabeth in 1593, she allegedly refused to bow. She considered herself to be an equal, not a subject. She presented her case so well that the Queen ordered O'Malley's son and brother to be released.
How She Went Out: O'Malley passed in 1603, the same year as Queen Elizabeth I, most likely at Rockfleet Castle.
When And Where: Born around 1840, Lozen was the sister of Victorio, the chief of the Chihenne Apache tribe. The name Lozen means "dexterous horse thief," denoting some skill with horses, but Lozen was also trained as a medicine woman. She fought alongside her brother, Victorio, who called her "strong as a man, braver than most, and cunning in strategy, Lozen is a shield to her people."
Lozen witnessed fighting between the Apache and the Mexican government throughout her life. Following the 1848 Treaty of Guadaloupe Hidalgo, she found herself under the authority of the United States.
Her Greatest Accomplishments:
- Lozen was raised with the same kinds of physical training as Apache boys, learning hunting and archery. She was said to have had such foot speed that she could out-race her male counterparts.
- After she reached puberty, she reportedly received supernatural powers to heal wounds and identify the location of enemies.
- In 1877, Lozen left the San Carlos Reservation with a group of Apache and was on the run for three years. Once Victorio and his band were destroyed by Mexican forces, she joined Geronimo's rebel group.
- She demonstrated her warrior and supernatural abilities by detecting enemies and fighting alongside her male counterparts.
- In the final escape from the San Carlos Reservation in 1885, she fought with Geronimo and fled after he negotiated a surrender.
How She Went Out: Ultimately forced to surrender to General George Crook and the United States military in 1886, Lozen was kept as a prisoner of war. Sent by train to Florida, she arrived in Alabama in 1888 where she passed of the "coughing sickness" (most likely tuberculosis) in 1889 or 1890.