Women have played various roles in combat throughout the history of war. However, some women have risen above historical gender norms and left their mark on the battlefield. Whether leading troops into battle, strategizing, or sharpshooting, women across the world have helped their countries win decisive victories throughout history.
In honor of Women’s History Month, here are eight badass women warriors from military history.
Queen Artemisia I of Caria — Battle of Salamis
Artemisia I was the ruler of Halicarnassus, near present-day Bodrum, Turkey, and its neighboring islands, assuming the throne after the death of her husband. The territory was part of the Persian empire then ruled by Xerxes. When he decided to invade Greece, Artemisia — an excellent military strategist — brought five ships and helped Xerxes in the naval Battle of Salamis, according to Ancient History Encyclopaedia. A Greek bounty of 10,000 drachmas was placed on her capture, but no one ever managed to do it. Artemisia is credited also with convincing Xerxes to abandon the invasion when it proved detrimental to Persia.
Joan of Arc — The Hundred Years’ War
Joan of Arc was not only a French woman warrior, but also canonized as a saint in the Catholic Church. She was born around 1412 in the village of Domremy, France, during what would become known as the Hundred Years’ War. Though barely 18, she was a brilliant tactician whose strategy is still a part of French battle model today. She claimed visions of the Archangel Michael led her to approach France’s King Charles VII and assist in his efforts to overthrow the occupying English, according to Encyclopaedia Britannica. Frenchman loyal to the English, known as Burgundians, captured her in 1430, and despite several escape attempts and rescue efforts, Joan was put on trial by the English for heresy. Found guilty, she was burned alive at the stake.
Deborah Sampson — The American Revolution
Deborah Sampson was a woman who disguised herself as a man in order to serve in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. Enlisting in the spring of 1782, she managed to escape detection as a woman for nearly two years. During that time she served with a regiment from West Point, New York. At one point she was wounded in battle near Tarrytown and tended her own wounds so that her gender would not be discovered. Unfortunately, she was hospitalized for fever, and the doctor who was caring for her discovered that she was a woman. His actions led to her being honorably discharged from the Army at West Point on October 25, 1783, by General Henry Knox, according to the Sons of Liberty.
Juana Azurduy de Padilla — Bolivian Independence
Juana Azurduy was a Bolivian military leader during its fight for independence from Peru that ended in 1825. Born a mestizo, Azurduy married Manuel Padilla in 1802. She fought a guerrilla-style war against the Spanish from 1809 to 1825, according to a Bolivian history database. During that time she organized the Leal Battalion, which participated in the 1813 Battle of Ayohuma that led to the retreat of Argentine troops from Alto Peru. She was appointed to the position of commander of patriotic Northern Army of the Revolutionary Government of the United Provinces of the Rio de la Plata. She was so dedicated to the cause that she even fought while she was pregnant and gave birth to a daughter on a riverbank before quickly returning to the fight. At one point she commanded an army with an estimated strength of 6,000 men.
Col. Ruby Bradley — World War II, Korean War
Col. Ruby Bradley is the most celebrated woman in U.S. military history. She entered the Army Nurse Corps as a surgical nurse in 1934. In 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, she was stationed in a hospital in the Philippines and was captured. After two years, she was moved to the Santo Tomas Internment Camp in Manila where she cared for as many people as she could. While captive there, Bradley snuck equipment into the camp to treat prisoners, performing more than 230 operations and delivering 13 children, according to the archives in the Arlington Cemetery records. She was liberated in 1945, but didn’t retire. Instead, Bradley shipped out to the front lines of the Korean War. After three decades of service, she retired in 1963.
Lyudmila Pavlichenko — World War II
Born in Ukraine during World War I, Lyudmila Pavlichenko’s family moved to Kiev when she was a child. Russia was still the Soviet Union, and she, like many local youths, had participated in OSOAVIAKhIM, an organization that taught weapons skills and etiquette. When World War II broke out, she presented her marksmanship skills to a recruiter, who disregarded them and suggested she be a nurse. Still, Pavlichenko was persistent and eventually won the chance to prove herself. The Red Army gave her a rifle, and she effortlessly shot two downrange Romanian soldiers who were working with the Germans. Pavlichenko was then accepted into the Red Army’s 25th Chapayev Rifle Division. She became known as one of the deadliest snipers of all time with 309 confirmed kills, according to Smithsonian Magazine. That number is likely much higher, however, as those were the only kills witnessed by the required third party needed to confirm. After the war ended, she finished a master’s program at Kiev University and began a career as a historian.
Tomoe Gozen — Genpei War
Tomoe was a samurai who fought in Japan’s Genpei War, which lasted from 1180 to 1185. Gozen was purportedly a title of respect given by her master, shogun Minamoto no Yoshinaka. Despite the fact that women in the 12th century didn’t typically receive martial arts training, Tomoe was skilled with a bow and arrow, sword, and horseback riding. In a history book called “The Tale of Heike,” Tomoe is described as “a remarkably strong archer, and as a swordswoman she was a warrior worth a thousand, ready to confront a demon or a god, mounted or on foot.” Her skill earned her the privilege of leading men into battle. Her last was the Battle of Awazu, where Yoshinaka was killed. Having escaped, Tomoe was not heard from again after.
Malalai of Maiwand — Battle of Maiwand
Malalai was an Afghan warrior from a small village in Kandahar. She played a major role in the Battle of Maiwand during the second Anglo-Afghan war in 1880, following her father and her fiancé to the front lines. Though she began by tending to the wounded and providing water and weapons, her role quickly changed. The New York Times wrote, “Seeing her fiancé cowed by a volley of British cannon fire, she grabbed a fallen flag — or in some versions her veil — and recited the verse: ‘My lover, if you are martyred in the Battle of Maiwand, I will make a coffin for you from the tresses of my hair.’” This inspired the Afghan soldiers to fight harder. Malalai also sang a Pashto poem to encourage the Afghan soldiers who were fighting the British. Acting as a singing flagbearer, her words encouraged the fighters and as a result, the battle of Maiwand marked victory for the Afghans. Sadly, Malalai was killed in battle.