Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Levantine/Gulf/Persian Warrior Women?

I’m still reading Sarum, by Edward Rutherford, although I am nearing the end. I am still thinking back to a fictional character – I think she is fictional because when I Google’d her name, I got the name of an English queen, but not this particular Aelfgifu.

In Sarum, Aelfgifu is a warrior woman. As a young girl, she hangs out with all the guys, rides with them, hunts with them, and is accepted by them. When the Vikings raid, she fights them. The Vikings are astounded, and more than a little angry, to be fought – successfully – by a woman. Later, her father reluctantly allows her to ride with the men to counter another Viking raid – they need all the “men” they can get, and she is one of the best.

I am intrigued. History shows that these exceptional women pop up now and then, and usually just at the right time. Joan of Arc for the French, the Amazons, Apache women warriors in Native American lore, Chinese Tang dynasty warrior women, Masai warrior women in Africa. We have women in the US Army, and I often hear their commanders say “some of my best men are women.”

warriorwomen010.jpg

It was hard to find a good warrior women illustration which had women with their clothes on. Most of the illustrator, I guess, being men, they protray women warriors in scanty attire, and most of them have exaggerated breasts and hips, and tiny little wasp waists, and legs about twice as long as a normal woman. Sort of Barbie-doll in warrior women attire. *she snorts in disgust* Leaves a fighter a little vulnerable, don’t you think, fighting in a metal bra and tiny little loincloth? That metal would get uncomfortable in no time, and man, how can you ride a horse for very long without chafing your legs? But then reality wouldn’t sell the drawing, would it?

OK, OK, back to the real question – Warrior women pop up in all cultures. I think that is true, but when I think of the Arabian Gulf, or Persia, or the Levant, no one comes to mind, other than Sheherezad, but she triumphed by her wits, not her brawn, not her fighting skills. I remember hearing that nomadic women could be fierce; are there not legends of Bedouin women?

Is there a woman / are there women who were legendary fighters in Middle East culture? Are there women in Persian culture who fought, or held a castle, or were otherwise brave in the face of danger? Speak now!

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September 3, 2007 - Posted by | Adventure, Books, Cross Cultural, Iran, Kuwait, Middle East, Poetry/Literature, Saudi Arabia, Uncategorized, Women's Issues

34 Comments »

  1. There were so many women and princess warriors in the Levant and Arabia. Arabian women warriors flourished before and after Islam. Some major Islamic battles were led by women.

    Levant:
    Queen Zenobia of Palmyra
    Queen Mawia – Saracen Queen

    Arabia:
    Queen Shamsi of Arabia
    Khawla Beint Al Kindiyyah

    Egypt:
    Shagrat Al Durr – Sultana of Mamluk Egypt (overthrew her own husband because of his injustice towards the people)

    I know there are more. Especially in Jahliyyah (pre-islamic) Arabia and Levant.

    Comment by kinano | September 3, 2007 | Reply

  2. Holy Smokes, Kinano, how could I forget about Zenobia????? And I love all the others, lots of names to look up. Very cool, thank you!

    Comment by intlxpatr | September 3, 2007 | Reply

  3. Also there were specific battles during Islam where there was participation from the women, here is an exert;

    One of the most distinguished women who took part in the battle of Uhud was Nusaybah bint Ka’b al-Maziniyyah (May Allah be pleased with her). She was known as Um’Umarah.

    At the beginning of the battle, she was bringing water and tending the wounded, as the other women were doing. When the battle was going in the favor of the Muslims, the archers disobeyed the command of Rasulullah [sallallahu alayhi wa sallam] which immediately became a source of defeat, as Allah subhana wa ta’ala said;

    “Behold! You were climbing up the high ground, without even casting a side glance at anyone, and the Messenger in your rear was calling you back …” (3: 153)

    It was at this moment when Nusaybah went forward, with her sword unsheathed and her bow in her hand, to join the small group of archers as they were standing firm with Rasulullah [sallallahu alayhi wa sallam], acting as a human shield to protect him from the arrows of the idolaters. Every time danger approached Rasulullah [sallallahu alayhi wa sallam] she was there to protect him.


    pardon the long quote.
    Source: http://www.allaahuakbar.net/womens/heroic_deeds_of_muslim_women.htm

    You may also want to take a look at;
    http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0EXI/is_1_20/ai_98079155

    It starts of with a story about Kuwait’s occupation and then goes into detail about women’s experiences in war throughout time! Such an interesting read.

    Hope this information is useful! πŸ™‚

    Comment by N. | September 3, 2007 | Reply

  4. N. You are welcome to make long comments, and most certainly when they contain so much good information.

    I love your example. I love it.

    And here is a quote from the second source:

    “By looking at how Muslim women have participated in two contemporary conflict situations, in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, I hope to show, firstly, that women are not simply victims; and, secondly, some of the ways in which they are using their agency to tackle the issue of male violence.”

    Wow. I was thinking history, but not modern history. That second article is not an easy read – the content is difficult, brutal – but solid gold, too.

    Thank you.

    Comment by intlxpatr | September 3, 2007 | Reply

  5. Great question. A year ago I took a tour of ancient sites in Iran (yeah I know, pathetic. Even though I’m Iranian it took me over 32 years to visit the ruins of Persepolis) Anyway, when I was there I had 1 question: Where are all the females in the reliefs?!!! I knew that Cyrus (or was it Xerxes?) had many female generals and commanders in his army but how come the only female imagery depicted in the ancient sites/reliefs were of angels or goddesses. No generals!!!! I told myself to google. Thanks for reminding me to google it a year later ;p

    Anyway: here’s a picture of what a Persian female warrior might have looked like during the Achaemenid period: http://www.cais-soas.com/CAIS/Images2/General/Iranian_women_war.JPG

    Comment by Magical Droplets | September 3, 2007 | Reply

  6. i used to read about
    Khawla Bint al-Azwar
    http://hajeji.blogspot.com/2006/04/khawla-bint-al-azwar.html

    there are some people who claim its not true now , but these days you never know

    Comment by forzaq8 | September 4, 2007 | Reply

  7. Magical – love the image – the armor looks usable, but the arms still look very vulnerable!

    As for being pathetic – I am thinking you wanted to do something, and you made it happen! Many people die with regrets that they DIDN’T do something; you DID it! πŸ™‚

    Comment by intlxpatr | September 4, 2007 | Reply

  8. Forzaq8 – WOW. What legendary heroism! That is a great read, and thank you for looking it up and posting it here. I would name my daughter Khawla! both modest AND brave!

    Comment by intlxpatr | September 4, 2007 | Reply

  9. […] September 3, I wrote a post called Levantine/Gulf/Persial Warrior Women because I had just finished a section in Sarum that featured a warrior woman, and I asked if there […]

    Pingback by Post Warrior Thank You « Here There and Everywhere | October 2, 2007 | Reply

  10. Hi there, nice topic.

    I am an Iranian and I know that persia had many female generals and building engineers, but dont how any names right now.

    What I wanted to say that in your post you have used the incorrect term “arabian gulf”. The official and right term was, is and will always be “persian gulf”.

    Thank you πŸ™‚

    Comment by dariush | November 7, 2007 | Reply

  11. Dariush – πŸ˜‰ You know, no matter what I say, I am in a box here – I am going to offend someone!

    I just love that this topic was written by so many knowledgable people, and it continues to be one of my most popular posts ever, week after week. I think some people are using it as a jumping off post for papers. Woooo HOOOOOO! Great topic, and so much I didn’t know!

    Comment by intlxpatr | November 8, 2007 | Reply

  12. Hi intlxpatr. I am happy that your post has become so popular.

    But still, I don’t think writing the right name of the gulf would be offending to anyone, and if it is, that one has got a problem. You can check the net and see that I am right about the real name being the persian gulf.

    But afterall, this is your page, so you can write whatever you want. It is up to you.

    PS: I have got nothing against arabs. I just don’t understand pan-arabism.

    Comment by dariush | November 8, 2007 | Reply

  13. Dariush – if I were living in Iran, I would probably call it the Persian Gulf. In the Gulf countries, it is always called the Arab Gulf. Go figure!

    Comment by intlxpatr | November 9, 2007 | Reply

  14. It is not in all gulf countries they call it the arab gulf, in Iran which is a gulf country it is called the persian gulf, plus all over the world it is called the persian gulf.

    And even if you live in an arab country you don’y have to call it by its wrong name, unless you want to yourself.

    Comment by Dariush | November 10, 2007 | Reply

  15. OK! OK! Darius, Persian Gulf! Persian Gulf!

    Comment by intlxpatr | November 10, 2007 | Reply

  16. haha, thanks

    Comment by Dariush | November 10, 2007 | Reply

  17. Hi, I want to say something already stated here: There was a large quantity of warrior women in Persia, particularly during the pre-islamic period. Among the Achaemenids, Artemisia comes to my mind. Later, the Sassanid era left space for many women to take an important role in the army, being regular soldiers, knights, even generals and governesses. Some Roman sources described the Persian side of the battlefields after a fight, full of courpses of men and women equally, and that intriged them greatly. I can’t think of specific names right now, but works like the Shahnameh may show you some examples.

    Comment by Perszeusz | November 24, 2007 | Reply

  18. Welcome, Perszeusz – This has been one of my (unexpectedly) most popular posts. I think a lot of people come here looking for material for papers – and you have just helped them! Thank you!

    Comment by intlxpatr | November 24, 2007 | Reply

  19. If possible please fix a mistake in your writing please. You refered to the “Persian Gulf” as the “Arabian Gulf” where you said “…when I think of the Arabian Gulf, or Persia, or the Levant, no one comes to mind, other than Sheherezad…”
    Arabian Gulf is another name for the Red Sea, and I believe that’s not what you were referring to.

    Thank you

    Comment by Cyrus | December 20, 2007 | Reply

  20. How typical to turn a very interesting post – which poses very interesting queries- into an inane remarks about the name of a once bountiful body of water.

    As far as I’m concerned, this is an example of the avaricious, narrow-minded thought processes of some people living in this part of the world.

    Liberate your minds.

    The post asks for information about legendary Near Eastern women warriors which includes Arab countries and Iran.

    Comment by jewaira | January 2, 2008 | Reply

  21. Yeh, you are right! Open minded people call each other ignoring the original names, Jewaitala. Let’s face it, you can not look for historical facts like great women of our history, if you ignore the facts about great geographical entities of our region. Arabs are part of the Semite race, and the Semite race was a really great one at times of the Babylonians. Babylonians had access to the Mediterranean sea but not any other big body of water, except perhaps a small area where Tigris and Euphrates joined each other and reached the sea, and that was only at the time when Babylonians destryed Susa which was not far away from the sea then. At the time of Babylonian glory, no other Semites are traced in history. Contemporary to Babylonians, you’ll find the Elamite and Jiroft civilizations. They were the two nations living all along the Northern shores of the Persian Gulf and partially on the southern side. Later Elamites and Persians joined together and they called the sea Persian Gulf. I wonder if anyone can show a map more than 50 years old which would show Persian Gulf as named by any other name. Again, if you want to ignore history, please, shoot, but this is how we people of this region forget about what we were and what we are, and this is why we tend to forget that whatever will happen in this region, we will all be in it together.

    Comment by Ai Saf | January 14, 2008 | Reply

  22. dud its Persian Gulph. please correct your self.

    Comment by Daniel | January 27, 2008 | Reply

  23. Modern day air warriors in the Muslim world: The Pakistan Air Force is one of the few nations in the world to have female fighter pilots in its ranks. There are several female fighter pilots in service and more will be operational soon.

    Comment by Sam | July 18, 2008 | Reply

  24. A photo of two female fighter pilots serving the Pakistan Air Force.
    http://www.defence.pk/forums/military-aviation/10500-female-pilots-achieved-yet-another-landmark-f-p-report.html#post145139

    Comment by Sam | July 18, 2008 | Reply

  25. Forgot to mention that recently Pakistan began to recruit women for combat positions and the Elite Anti-Terrorist Force recently graduated women candidates to be Sky Marshals for Pakistan-based airlines. Pakistan is also the only Muslim country to have women Major Generals in the Army.

    Comment by Sam | July 18, 2008 | Reply

  26. I love this post. Almost a year later, it is still attracting comments that teach the rest of us something.

    Sam, thank you. I had NO idea there were female fighter pilots in ANY military. Way-to-go, Pakistan. I love the photo, Sam, it makes me want to cry. One fighter pilot in hijab, one without. Beautiful.

    So I had to Google USA women fighter pilots and learned the following:

    “Out of more than 12,000 Air Force pilots, only about 460 are women. Female fighter pilots are even rarer, with 46 Air Force-wide, according to the Air Force Personnel Center, Randolph Air Force Base, Texas.”

    You can read more about it at the original source at Spangdahlem AFB in Germany.

    If you hadn’t made those comments, I wouldn’t even know about the US women fighter pilots. Woo Hooo on us, too.

    Comment by intlxpatr | July 18, 2008 | Reply

  27. Sweet great Archery write up!

    Obviously this is a popular blog with great data so well done on your seo success..

    Comment by Kung Fu | August 21, 2008 | Reply

  28. well, I dont know how much you know of Persian mythology..but these is in particular this female warrior called “Gord Afarid” whose name and story is well described in “Shahname”..
    check this out “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordafarid”

    good blog btw, was googling for bookshops in Kuwait that i found it…

    Comment by Sahar | October 18, 2008 | Reply

  29. Sahar, you have found one of my very all time favorite posts. I had NO idea there was a female Persian warrior called Gord Afarid. I have yet to meet a Persian/Iranian woman who is not beautiful, so I imagine she was also a beautiful warrior. Thank you for your addition.

    This post gets hits week after week, I think a lot of people in schools use information they find here to compile reports. Pretty cool, huh, you have just helped!

    Comment by intlxpatr | October 18, 2008 | Reply

  30. Every judge and lawyer often refer to King Solomon; and we all know of a certain Queen who visited him more than once.
    Now, the battles and life story of the Queen of Sheba are unknown–why even her actual name is unbeknown to anyone–this is probably why she was overlooked in the above posts.
    There is also Jael, who delivered the deciding blow to King Sisera and helped delver Israel. Her background is also clouded, save this one act.
    These are important historical women from ancient Middle East. Yet, so little is known about them. Maybe, in the future, we’ll learn more.

    Comment by Silus | June 1, 2009 | Reply

  31. Silus, thank you so much for your input and contributions. I think this is my all time favorite post, because it is still growing, still gaining information, thanks you you.

    Comment by intlxpatr | June 3, 2009 | Reply

  32. There is no Arabian Gulf..
    IT IS PERSIAN GULF.And it will always remain PERSIAN GULF…………………………………………..

    Comment by banafsh | February 15, 2010 | Reply

  33. So many Ancient Persian warriors. One which you may have heard was Artemsia, a Persian navy commander during the battle of Salamis against the Greeks. King Xerxes has been quoted to say “my men have become women, and my women have become men”, as she had successfully tricked the Greeks in the battle, which led to the victory. Search up ” Women in Persia/Iran” by Kaveh Farrokh (not sure if it’s the exact title though, but google will assist you). Persia has had many female warriors. The Greeks and Romans were horrified to see women warriors in Persia (as we as Germanics and Celtics), they called the Iranian women warriors the Amazonian warriors.

    Comment by thelonelyjourneyer | April 25, 2015 | Reply

    • I have many women friends of Persian descent; they are awesome! They are women I want to have my back in a desperate situation! Thank you for your comment; this is still one of my favorite posts and one which gets readers year after year. I will look up the Persian women warrior book, thanks for a good recommendation.

      Comment by intlxpatr | April 25, 2015 | Reply


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