Khawlah bint al-Azwar خولة بنت الأزور – c.7th Century – Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia

Kawlah bint al-Azwar

Khawlah bint al-Azwar was a warrior like no other. Born during the 7th century, the daughter of a chief of the Bani Assad tribe, her family was amoung the first to convert to Islam, during the life of Mohammed.

Living during the times of the Muslim conquests, she clearly had some serious military training behind her. In fact, the first time we hear about Khawlah is in the heat of battle. She was working as a combat nurse during the Battle of Sanita-al-Uquab in 634 when her brother, Zirrar (sometimes Dhirrar), the commander of the Rashidun army, was wounded and captured by the Byzantine army.

Khalid ibn Walid, the leader of the Muslim forces, set off on a rescue mission, and Khawlah went with them. She dressed as an ordinary soldier in an attempt to blend in – but her bravery in singledhandedly fighting off the Byzantine rear guard made her somewhat conspicuous.  In fact, she so distinguished herself that the soldiers who saw her fight thought she must be Khalid himself.

When the Byzantines finally fled the battlefield, Khalid came to find the warrior he had heard so much about. He found Khawlah drenched in blood and asked her to lower her veil. Her identity revealed, Khalid ordered his army to chase the remaining Byzantine soldiers – led by Khawlah.

Khawlah fought alongside Khalid and her brother many more times. In another battle she was knocked off her horse and captured by the enemy. As a woman, she did not have the rights a male captured soldier had. She was the spoils of war.

But the enemy had sorely underestimated her. Imprisoned alongside other women captives, Khawlah got organised. She led the women as they tore the camp apart, using the enemy’s tent poles as weapons, killing thirty Byzantine knights as they escaped.

Today Khawlah is honoured in Saudi Arabia and throughout the Middle East as a heroine. The Iraqi all-women military unit is named the Khawlah bint al-Azwar unit, and the first military college for women in the UAE is called the Khawlah bint Al Azwar Training College.


References:

On Wikipedia:

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Chen Shuozhen 陳碩真 – d. 653 – Muzhou, China

Ancient China, China

Chen Shuozhen

China is no stranger to women warriors, but while Fu Hao, Mother Lü, Yuenü, and Princess Pingyang were all rabble rousers from noble houses, Chen Shuozhen came from more humble origins.

A peasant woman living in Muzhou, Tang dynasty China (modern day Chun’an, Zhejiang), we know very little about Chen Shuozhen’s background prior to the rebellion in 653. She would have lived through the last years of Emperor Taizong’s reign, during which there was likely a recession in China due to some large building projects.

Taizong’s successor, Gaozong, was seen as a weak ruler, and wars at the Chinese boarders during the early years of his reign caused further discontent among the common people.

Against this backdrop of general discontent and poverty Chen Shuozhen led a rebel army of more than 14,000 soldiers. Historical sources say that she rang bells and burned incense as she marched, leading some to believe that there were religious motivations behind the uprising.

She declared herself Emperor Wenjia – becoming the first woman in Chinese history to declare herself emperor (more than forty years before Wu Zetian) and took three cities before she could be stopped.

Though the rebellion lasted only two months, Chen Shuozhen’s name lived on in Chinese folklore as a hero and the first woman to claim the title of emperor.


References:

Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Women: Tang Through Ming, 618-1644 – Lily Xiao Hong Lee, Sue Wiles

On Wikipedia:

Princess Pingyang 平陽公主 – 598 – 623 – China

Ancient China, China

Pingyang

By single-handedly amassing an army of 70,000, Princess Pingyang was a key player in the destruction of the Sui dynasty and the foundation of the Tang dynasty – a golden age for China.

The daughter of a military commander, Li Yuan, and the wife of the chief of the imperial palace guards, Pingyang was a noble lady and a prominent figure at court. China had only recently been united under the Sui dynasty, and in the early 600s was under the control of Emperor Yangdi – an immensely unpopular ruler.

Yangdi spent China’s money on expensive invasions into surrounding Asia, dangerous construction projects like rebuilding the great wall (which caused millions of deaths) – and attempted to pay for everything through heavy taxation.

The imprisonment of Li Yuan was the final straw, and as soon as he was released he and Pingyang’s husband left the imperial palace to mount a rebellion. Pinyang stayed behind in a highly vulnerable position as the wife and daughter of two insurgents.

Pingyang was made of stern stuff, however, and eventually left the palace herself, heading for the safety of her family’s feudal lands in Hu county. Thanks to Yangdi’s oppressive policies, the people there were starving, having suffered a drought without being offered relief by the government. Pingyang flew into action, offering the people food from her own family’s stores and winning their loyalty.

Pingyang continued to work covertly to ally herself with other local rebel forces and so building her own army, which later became known as the Woman’s Army. She herself dressed in male military uniform, marching at the head of her troops like a general.

She was a strict leader, forbidding looting, raping or pillaging, in order to keep the rural people on her side. Wherever Pingyang’s Woman’s Army triumphed, they shared the food with the locals, and came to be seen as heroic liberators.

Eventually, thanks in part to Pingyang’s efforts, the Sui dynasty was defeated and Yangdi fled for his life. Li Yuan became the first emperor of the Tang dynasty, and Pingyang was given the title ‘Princess’. She was also given the rank of marshal, and conferred all the honours due to an imperial prince.

Princess Pingyang died very young, at the age of twenty three. Her grief stricken father ordered an elaborate military funeral. When advisors complained that it was highly irregular to have such an extravagant ceremony for a woman, he replied –

“She was no ordinary woman.”


References:

Notable Women of ChinaBarbara Bennett Peterson

Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Women: Tang Through Ming, 618-1644Lily Xiao Hong Lee, Sue Wiles

On Wikipedia:

Princess Pingyang

Galla Placidia – 388 – 450 – Ravenna, Italy

Ancient Rome, Constantinople, Italy

Galla Placidia

As the Roman Empire buckled and fell around her, Galla Placidia remained stalwart and dedicated to ruling by any means.

Early years:

The daughter of an emperor, Theodosius I, Placidia was an extremely precocious child. She was given her own household to manage and granted financial independence before she was even in her teens. She was given the title Noblissima Puella (most noble girl).

In 394 she moved to the royal court in Mediolanum (ancient Milan, northern Italy), where her father died early the following year. Theodosius was succeeded by Placidia’s half-brother Arcadius. Arcadius was considered a weak ruler, too much under the control of his domineering wife, Aelia Eudoxia and the General Rufinus.

Stilicho

Stilicho, Serena and their son (source)

Meanwhile, Galla Placidia spent much of her time in the care of her cousin, Serena, and her husband Stilicho the Vandal – a man of ambition.

Arcadius died in 408, leaving behind his seven year old son, Theodosius II as the Eastern Roman Emperor. Stilicho saw his chance and began preparing to head for Constantinople to act as the little emperor’s regent. He told the emperor of the Western Roman Empire, Honorius, Placidia’s other half-brother, not to join him. Honorius became suspicious when an officer called Olympius suggested that Stilicho might be planning to usurp the imperial throne.

Olympius and Honorius acted quickly, leading a military coup and having Stilicho executed. His death left Placidia (who was in Rome at the time) unattached to any household.

Rome under siege:

Stilicho’s death caused problems elsewhere. The foederati was a part of the Roman army made up  of northern European tribes, including the Franks, Vandals, Alans and the Visigoths. Following Stilicho’s fall, the foederati (who were seen as loyal to him) were targeted throughout Italy, their wives and children murdered en masse.

 

The foederati were understandably furious and baying for Roman blood. 30,000 men joined the army of Alaric I, King of the Visigoths, who led them across the Alps and attacked the city of Rome in the September of 408. The city would remain under siege for two years.

In 410, Rome was sacked by the Visigoths. Buildings were burned, statues torn down, palaces looted and captives taken. Among the prisoners of war was Galla Placidia herself.

Life with the Visigoths:

The circumstances around Placidia’s capture are unknown, but the historians Jordanes and Marcellinus Comes both mention that she was taken out of Italy to Gaul by the Visigoths in 412. Alaric I died and was succeeded as Visigothic king by Ataulf, who formed an alliance with Honorius.

Ataulf had executed two usurpers of the Roman imperial throne in 413, sending their heads directly to Honorius. The emperor was so pleased that he cemented the alliance with Ataulf by giving his consent to the Visigothic king marrying Galla Placidia.

Placidia and Ataulf were married in a roman ceremony in 414 and the couple travelled to Hispania (Spain) later that year. They had one child together, Theodosius, who sadly died in infancy.

Fall of Ataulf:

Ataulf was assassinated while in Barcelona in 415. A rival faction within the Visigoths proclaimed Sigeric, Ataulf’s enemy, as the new king. Sigeric lost no time in asserting his authority, murdering all six of Ataulf’s children (from a previous marriage). Placidia was once again a prisoner of war.

Historical accounts say that she was treated very poorly, forced to walk for miles on foot among Sigeric’s captives. This was shocking to the Visigoths, who eventually assassinated Sigeric himself and had him replaced with a relative of Ataulf. As the old king’s widow, a foreigner and with no children, Placidia was still in a precarious situation.

Fortunately, so was the new king of the Visigoths. Running out of food and getting desperate, he appealed to Honorius’ magister militum (master of soldiers), Constantius. The peace treaty included renewing the foederati status of the Visigoths and returning Galla Placidia to her brother.

Second marriage:

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Stilicho, Serena and their son (source)

No sooner than Galla Placidia had returned to Rome, Honorius forced her into marriage with Constantius. They had two children together, a daughter, Justa Grata Honoria, and a son, future emperor Valentinian III.

After everything she had been through, Placidia refused to retire quietly into domesticity. She expanded her influence at her brother’s court, involving herself in both court and church politics.

In 418, Placidia found herself on the losing side of a power struggle within the Church of Rome. Following the death of Pope Zosimus, two rival factions in the clergy elected their own popes, Eulalius and Boniface. The two popes threw Rome into religious and political turmoil.

Placidia was in favour of Eualius and petitioned the emperor on his behalf, personally writing letters summoning the African bishops to a synod in Italy. At first, Honorius did as his sister suggested and confirmed Eulalius as the legitimate pope. However, this did not stop the infighting in Rome, and while further synods were called in order to reach an agreement, Honorius demanded that both Boniface and Eulalius stay away from the city.

At Easter in 419, Eulalius went against the emperor’s orders and returned to Rome, attempting to sieze the papacy by force. He was repelled by the imperial army, and lost favour with Honorius. Boniface was proclaimed pope by April.

By 421, Honorius was thirty seven years old, unmarried and still without an heir. Constantius was proclaimed co-ruler of the Western Roman Empire – and Galla Placidia became the only Augusta (empress).

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Stilicho, Serena and their son (source)

Constantius died in 421, leaving Galla Placidia widowed a second time.

Move East:

Shortly after her second husband’s death, something happened which forced Placidia out of the west. Her reasons for leaving are unclear, some sources say that she argued with Honorius, others that she was in fact too close to her brother, and accused of scandalous behaviour with him which required her to create some distance.

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The Favorites of the Emperor Honorius, by John William Waterhouse, 1883 (source)

Whatever the reason, Placidia and her children arrived at the court of her nephew, Theodosius II, in 421, shortly after his marriage to Aelia Eudocia. In Constantinople, Galla Placidia’s title of Augusta was not officially recognised.

Two years after her arrival in the east, Honorius dropped dead, leaving a power vacuum in the western empire. In the scramble to find a suitable heir, Joannes, the head of civil service in Rome was proclaimed emperor by Castinus the Patrician.

Theodosius had other ideas, and began preparing Galla Placidia’s son, Valentinian (aged four at the time) for the imperial office. Joannes was overthrown in 425 and Valentinian proclaimed Augustus of the Western Roman Empire. Placidia would be his regent.

Beginning by pacifying her family’s enemies with a peace treaty, Galla Placidia’s twelve year regency over her son began to return stability to the western empire.

Upon Valentinian’s eighteenth birthday in 437, Placidia’s regency ended, though she continued to exercise political influence up until her death in 450 at the age of 62. Having lived through a siege, twice survived enemy capture, been a queen of the Visigoths, a prisoner of war and an empress of Rome, Galla Placidia had faced enough adventure and intrigue for ten lifetimes.

A pious Christian, Placidia built and restored many churches during her time in power. These included the Basilica of Saint Paul and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

The mausoleum of Galla Placidia in Ravenna is a UNESCO world heritage site.

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Mausoleum of Galla Placidia (source)


In literature:

  • Two stanzas in Alexander Blok‘s poem Ravenna focus on Galla Placidia’s tomb.
  • Louis Zukofsky refers to the mausoleum in his poem 4 Other Countries:

“The gold that shines/ in the dark/ of Galla Placidia,/ the gold in the/ Round vault rug of stone/ that shows its pattern as well as the stars/ my love might want on her floor…”

  • Carl Jung refers to Galla Placidia in his autobiography Memories, Dreams, Reflections.

In music:

  • Spanish musician Jaume Pahissa wrote the opera Galla Placídia in 1913.

On television:

  • Galla Placidia is played by Alice Krige in the 2001 American TV Miniseries Attila.

 


References:

Galla Placidia on romanemperors.org

Galla Placidia: The Last Roman Empress – Hagith Sivan

Galla Placidia Augusta: a biographical essayStewart Irvin Oost

On Wikipedia:

Xun Guan – 3rd Century – Xiangyang city, China

Ancient China, China

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Xun Guan was born at a time of turbulence and uncertainty for feudal China. Her father, Xun Song, was the governor of Xiangyang (also Xiangcheng) during the last years of the Western Jin dynasty (265 – 316).

She was thirteen years old and with her father when their city came under attack from the insurgent Du Zeng, who had amassed some 2000 troops and surrounded the city. Under siege and low on supplies, Xun Song found himself in a desperate situation. If he could just get word to Shi Lan, a general and ally in neighbouring Pinyang, then perhaps they could send supplies and reinforcements – but to do this someone would have to break through Du Zeng’s forces.

It was a dangerous mission, one that no one was willing to take. As food supplies dwindled further, Xun Song prepared himself to carry out the task himself. Xun Guan stopped him.

His young daughter was adamant that he must stay with his people, who needed his leadership now more than ever. Instead, she volunteered to lead a small party past the enemy line and go for help herself.

Though she was only thirteen, Xun Guan clearly had some military training and was a persuasive speaker, because her father allowed her to go. She waited for night to fall, when she knew that Du Zeng’s soldiers lowered their guard, and managed to escape the city unscathed.

From there, she headed straight to Pinyang where she pleaded to Shi Lan for help. She also wrote a letter on behalf of her father to General Zhou Fang in the south, asking for further reinforcements. Zhou sent 3000 men at once and the two armies fell upon the besieged city, forcing Du Zeng to retreat.

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Xun Guan (source)

Once the city was freed, Shi Lan commented to Xun Song:”You daughter is clever and brave. I am envious of you!”

Zhou Fang added:

“Xiangyang is no longer under siege and the people are saved. Respect and thanks to young Xun Guan!”


References:

Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Women: Antiquity Through Sui, 1600 B.C.E – 618 C.E. Lily Xiao Hong Lee, A. D. Stefanowska, Sue Wiles

Xun GuanCultural China

Zenobia – 240 – c.274 – Palmyrene Empire

Ancient Syria

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Syrian warrior queen Zenobia was another in a long line of women to cause trouble for the Roman Empire.

Born in Palmyra, her origins are mysterious – the Greeks called her Zenobia, her Roman name was Julia Aurelia Zenobia and in Arabic she is called al-Zabba (الزباء‎). Some historians describe her as having Jewish heritage, others that she was the daughter of a sheikh, or that her father was the Roman Governor of Palmyra.

Wherever she came from, Zenobia had no problem coming up with her own family history. She claimed to be a descendant of the Ptolemies – related to queen Cleopatra herself, as well as Dido, the legendary goddess-queen of Carthage.

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Coin featuring Zenobia (Source)

Her lineage is uncertain, but Zenobia definitely did speak the ancient Egyptian language, and may have learnt from her mother who is thought to have been part-Egyptian. Zenobia was also described as very beautiful and highly intelligent, just like Cleopatra. She was well educated and spoke Latin, Greek and Aramaic fluently. In addition, Zenobia was physically strong, being an accomplished horsewoman and huntress.

She was married to the king of Palmyra, Septimus Odaenathus when she was about eighteen. He already had a son from a previous marriage, and in 266 Zenobia gave birth to her own son, Vaballathus.

When Varballathus was only a year old, the king and his eldest son were assassinated. Zenobia became the sole ruler of Palmyra until her son came of age.

She lost no time in securing her power, and immediately began planning conquests to expand the limits of her empire. At this time, Zenobia had the full backing of Rome as a client queen. She was expected to protect her borders and the eastern empire from the neighbouring Sassanid Empire – so it was within her remit to attack on these fronts.

In 269, she went too far.

Queen Zenobia of Palmyra and her General Zabdas marched their army into Egypt, violently defeating the Roman forces. They captured the Roman Prefect in charge of the region and beheaded him, proclaiming Zenobia queen of Egypt.

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Zenobia’s empire shown in yellow (Source)

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Queen Zenobia’s Last Look Upon Palmyra by Herbert Schmalz (Source)

From there, she pressed on into Anatolia, then Palestine and Lebanon. These were all hugely important trade routes in the classical world, which the Roman Empire depended upon. Zenobia claimed them for herself and for her son.

Emperor Aurelian had finally had enough in 272. His forces clashed with Zenobia’s army in Antioch and defeated the Palmyrenes, who retreated to Emesa, where Zenobia had a treasury. Aurelian was hot on her heals and besieged the city, forcing Zenobia to escape with Varballathus on the back of a camel.

This last desperate attempt at escape failed, and Aurelian’s cavalry captured the Queen before she could get home to Palmyra. Zenobia’s Empire came to an end. She was taken back to Rome in chains and eight year old Varballathus is presumed to have died on the voyage.

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The Triumph of Aurelian or Queen Zenobia in front of Aurelian by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, 1717 (Source)

It’s not clear what happened next for this fierce ruler. One version of her story claims that she either committed suicide or was excecuted in Rome. Another that she happily married a Roman senator and became a prominent philosopher and socialite.


In fiction:

Geoffrey Chaucer gives a short version of the story of Zenobia in The Monk’s Tale.

A number of operas have been written about the life and exploits of queen Zenobia by various authors including: Tomaso Albinoni (1694), Leonardo Leo (1725), Johann Adolph Hasse (1761), Pasquale Anfossi (1789), Giovanni Paisiello (1790), Gioachino Rossini (1819) and Mansour Rahbani (2007).

Lebanese singer Fairuz performed a song called Zenobia in 1977.

Daughter of Sand and Stone by Libbie Hawker is a historical romance novel fictionalising the life of Zenobia.


 

References:

BBC’s In Our Time featuring a discussion on Zenobia.

Zenobia, Queen of the East, Or, Letters from Palmyra, Volume 2 – William Ware

Empress Zenobia: Palmyra s Rebel Queen – Pat Southern

On Wikipedia:

 

Lady Triệu – 225 – 248 – Vietnam

Vietnam

Lady Trieu

Almost two centuries after the rise and fall of the warrior sisters Trưng Trắc and Trưng Nhị, Vietman was still under Chinese rule. The native people continued to resist foreign domination, and uprisings were a regular occurrence.

It was time for another heroine.

Lady Triệu (also known as Triệu Thị Trinh) was a young woman who refused to go down without a fight. She ran away from her village into the forest, where she gathered an army to take on the Chinese.

Her brother tried to stop her and convince her to settle down, but she shook him off, assuring him that she was meant for better things:

“I’d like to ride storms, kill sharks in the open sea, drive out the aggressors, reconquer the country, undo the ties of serfdom, and never bend my back to be the concubine of whatever man.”

《欽定越史通鑑綱目》卷首This was a difficult argument to ignore, and her brother chose to join her.

Lady Triệu is described by Vietnamese sources as literally larger than life at 9 feet tall, with a voice like a ‘temple bell’. Like all good heroes she had stamina, and could walk 500 leagues in one day.

Historians describe Lady Triệu as riding war-elephants into battle and wearing yellow tunics, gaining the title ‘Nhụy Kiều Tướng quân’ – the Lady General clad in Golden Robes. Her gaze was supposedly so fierce that the Chinese soldiers were afraid to meet her eyes.

Sadly, like her predecessors the Tru’ng sisters, Lady Triệu’s rebellion did not last. Unable to gain enough support to grow her army, Lady Triệu was eventually defeated in 248. According to legend she was so brokenhearted at the loss that she killed herself.

However, a small thing like being dead would not stop her from being a nuisance to the Chinese, and legend says that her spirit haunted the Chinese general who had beaten her. Her memory continued to offer hope and support to the subjugated Vietnamese for centuries and today she is a celebrated national hero.

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Bà Triệu Temple

 


 

References:

The Oxford Encyclopedia of Women in World History: 4 Volume Set  Bonnie G. Smith

The Birth of Vietnam Keith Weller Taylor

On Wikipedia:


 

Image credits:

By 阮朝國史館(Quốc sử quán triều Nguyễn) – National Library of Vietnam, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6446560

View from outside of the gate of Bà Triệu Temple in Hậu Lộc District, Thanh Hóa Province By Mai Trung Dung – Own work, Public Domain

Empress Jingū 神功皇后 – c.169 – 269 – Japan

Ancient Japan

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The story of Empress Jingū is entrenched in legend. Until the early 20th century she was considered a historical figure and the 15th imperial ruler of Japan. Since then her historicity has been re-evaluated, and Jingū has been removed from the traditional order of succession.

The sources say that she was married to Emperor Chūai and acted as his consort until his death in 201. After this Jingū acted as Empress Regent to her son, Ōjin, until he took the throne in 270.

Many of the Japanese Emperors from this time period lack solid historical evidence, including Ōjin and Jingū. There are certainly aspects of Jingū’s story which seem fantastical to us today. She supposedly owned two divine jewels which gave her the power to control the tides, and used them to carry out a bloodless conquest of Korea.

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Empress Jingū. Woodblock print by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1880) – Source

While there is no evidence that Japan had conquered Korea during the timeframe given for Jingū’s rule, some sources do demonstrate Japanese presence in southern Korea by the 4th century. Korean and Chinese records also describe Japan (known then as Wa) as ‘the Queen’s land’.

The legend also states that Jingū conceived her son before her husband died, but did not give birth for three years while she completed her conquest. It could be simply that the calculations for the pregnancy were incorrect, or that Ōjin was only symbolically the son of Chūai, and his biological father was someone else.

Jingū has a specially designated tomb in modern day Nara and in 1881 became the first woman featured on a Japanese banknote.


References:

The Future and the Past: A Translation and Study of the Gukanshō – Jien, Delmer Myers Brown, Ichirō Ishida

Heroic with Grace: Legendary Women of Japan –  Chieko Irie Mulhern

On Wikipedia:

 

 

 

The Trưng Sisters – c. 12 – 43 – Jiaozhi, Vietnam

Vietnam

When the enemy is at the gate, the woman goes out fighting

(Old Vietnamese adage)

TrungSisters

Though they are sadly not as well-known as western warrior women like Boudica, the story of Vietnamese sisters Trưng Trắc (徵側) and Trưng Nhị (徵貳) and their rebellion against Imperial China is just thrilling and vivid.

Born in Jiaozhi, Northern Vietnam, the Trưng sisters were raised in a noble military household, where they learned martial arts from their father, a prefect of Mê Linh. They grew into intelligent and accomplished young women, and when a neighbouring prefect came to visit their father, his son, Thi Sách, could not help but fall in love with the elder sister, Trưng Trắc.

The pair were very happily married. However, this was no fairytale ending, as the two families were living under the Chinese Han dynasty, who had invaded and conquered Northern Vietnam some decades earlier.

The native Vietnamese were extremely unhappy by what they viewed as their oppression under Chinese rule, and there are many accounts of the Hans forcing the Vietnamese to assimilate to Chinese culture as they pushed further southwards.

The newly married Thi Sách chose to rebel, and was executed for his insurrection. Motivated by this cruel injustice, the Trưng sisters sprang into action, assembling an army of both men and women to drive out the Chinese.

The rebellion was immensely successful, taking back as many as 65 citadels and liberating Nanyue within months. Trưng Trắc and Trưng Nhị were appointed queens of Nanyue and held off the Han for over three years from 40 – 43 CE.

A memorial parade for the sisters in Ho Chi Min City

A memorial parade for the sisters in Ho Chi Min City

Unfortunately, nothing could keep the Han dynasty back forever, and the reign of the sisters was short lived. Both Trưng Trắc and Trưng Nhị were defeated in battle in 43 – some sources say they were executed, others say they committed suicide once they saw the battle was lost.

Whatever happened, the legacy of the Trưng Sisters remains revered in Vietnam. It was the first resistance movement against the Chinese after over 200 years of subjugation. There is a district in Hanoi named after the women, as well as many streets in large cities and several schools. In addition there are a number of temples dedicated to the Trưng Sisters and a yearly holiday is observed in February commemorating their deaths.

“All the male heroes bowed their heads in submission, Only the two sisters proudly stood up to avenge the country”

– 15th Century Vietnamese poem


References:

Postcolonial Vietnam: New Histories of the National Past Patricia M. Pelley

The Birth of Vietnam – Keith Weller Taylor

On Wikipedia:


Image credits:

On a sunny day in Saigon, national heroines of Viet Nam are honored with a parade of elephants and floats” by SAS Scandinavian Airlines – http://images.flysas.com.

Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Fulvia – c.83 – 40 BCE – Roman Republic

Ancient Rome

Content warning: Some swearing.

Politician, gang leader and general rabble rouser, Fulvia was not a woman you wanted as your enemy…

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The rise and fall of Fulvia is central to the end of the Roman Republic. An immensely ambitious woman, her power grew through her marriage to three of the most politically important men of her generation; Publius Clodius Pulcher, Gaius Scribonius Curio, and Marc Antony.

She was the first Roman non-mythological woman to appear on Roman coins.

First marriage: Pulbius Clodius Pulcher

15th Century Engraving of Fulvia

15th Century Engraving of Fulvia

From a wealthy family, Fulvia married aristocratic politician Clodius when she was 21. The marriage produced a son and a daughter as well as political stability.

Clodius was hugely popular with the common people of Rome, and he and Fulvia went everywhere together. However, their status was not without danger. The couple had a number of Roman gangs under their control and in 52 BCE Clodius was killed by rival Titus Annius Milo’s gang.

Fulvia grieved publicly for her husband, dragging his body through the streets of Rome – this incited an angry mob who took Clodius’ body and cremated it in the senate. As the widow of this popular man, Fulvia remained a symbol and reminder of him – transferring this power to her later husbands.

Second marriage: Gaius Scribonius Curio

Following the standard grieving period, Fulvia married her second husband, Gaius Scribonius Curio, in around 52-51 BC. Like the ill-fated Clodius, Curio was also very popular with the plebians of Rome, using Fulvia’s popularity and connection to her dead husband to gain favour with Julius Caesar.

Two years after marrying Fulvia, Curio had been elected as a tribune and sent to North Africa by Caesar to fight the army of King Juba I of Numidia. Unfortunately, Curio’s luck had run out and he was killed in battle.

Now a widow with three children (she had one son with Curio), Fulvia was once again on the marriage market.

Third marriage: Marc Antony

Fulvia meets Marc Antony

Fulvia meets Marc Antony

Fulvia’s final marriage was to Marc Antony a few years after Curio’s death. Antony himself was an established politician and military commander, while Fulvia had retained her wealth and gang connections. Together they were a force to be reckoned with.

Fulvia vocally defended Antony from attacks by the orator Cicero and gathered support for her husband using her marriage to Clodius as a draw. When Julius Caesar was assassinated, Antony suddenly became the most powerful man in Rome.

When Antony and Caesar’s nephew Octavian (later Augustus) formed their uneasy triumvirate with Marcus Aemillius Lepidus, Fulvia’s daughter Clodia was married to Octavian.

To further protect the alliance, Marc Antony sought out his long-time enemy Cicero and had him killed. One ancient source says that Fulvia pierced the tongue of the dead Cicero with one of her golden hairpins as revenge for all the things he’d said about her husband.

Fulvia With the Head of Cicero by Pavel Svedomsky

Fulvia With the Head of Cicero by Pavel Svedomsky

Later, Antony and Octavian left Rome to track down Julius Caesar’s assassins, leaving Lepidus in charge. Many sources say that as the most powerful woman in Rome, it was really Fulvia who ruled.

“She, the mother-in‑law of Octavian and wife of Antony, had no respect for Lepidus because of his slothfulness, and managed affairs herself, so that neither the senate nor the people transacted any business contrary to her pleasure.” – Cassius Dio

Opposition to Octavian

Eventually, the triumvirs distributed the provinces among themselves. Lepidus took the west and Antony went to Egypt, where he was to meet his fate in queen Cleopatra VII.

Octavian’s plans soon became clear once he returned to Rome in 41 BCE and divorced Clodia, accusing Fulvia of overreaching her power.

Thinking quickly, Fulvia gathered her children and began to tour the countryside meeting veterans, reminding them of their loyalty to Marc Antony. She gained an ally in Antony’s brother, Lucius, and began to promote her husband in opposition to Octavian.

Fulvia's coins

Fulvia’s coins

By 41 BCE Fulvia’s actions had escalated to war. She and Lucius raised eight legions, even occupying Rome for a short time, until Lucius had to retreat under siege to Perusia. It was known as the Perusine War, and Marc Antony was completely unaware.

During the siege, Octavian’s soldiers at Perusia began to sling bullets inscribed with insults directed at Fulvia personally and Octavian wrote a vulgar epigram directed at her in 40 BCE, referring to Antony’s affair with the courtesan Glaphyra:

“Because Antony fucks Glaphyra, Fulvia has arranged

this punishment for me: that I fuck her too.

That I fuck Fulvia? What if Manius begged me

to bugger him? Would I? I don’t think so, if I were sane

“Either fuck or fight”, she says. Doesn’t she know

my prick is dearer to me than life itself? Let the trumpets blare!”

The siege at Perusia lasted two months before Lucius surrendered. Fulvia fled to Greece with her children. By the time Marc Antony sailed back to Rome to deal with Octavian, Fulvia had died of an unknown illness in exile in Sicyon.

After her death, Antony and Octavian used it as an opportunity to blame their quarrelling on her.


References:

Encyclopedia of Women in the Ancient World Joyce E. Salisbury

Roman Women Augusto Fraschetti, Linda Lappin

On Wikipedia:


Image credits:

Fulvia Antonia” by Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. http://www.cngcoins.com.

Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Svedomsky-Fulvia” by Pavel Svedomsky (1849-1904) – [1].

Licensed under Public Domain via Commons

Glaspalast München 1891 088b” by S. Francisco Maura Montaner – Illustrierter Katalog der Münchener Jahresausstellung von Kunstwerken Aller Nationen im kgl. Glaspalaste 1891, 3. Auflage, ausgegeben am 24. Juli, München 1891 (Digitalisat der BSB).

Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Fulvia-Clodius” by Published by Guillaume Rouille (1518?-1589) – “Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum”.

Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons