The Most Formidable Women in History that Made Men Cower Before Them
The Most Formidable Women in History that Made Men Cower Before Them

The Most Formidable Women in History that Made Men Cower Before Them

Khalid Elhassan - April 23, 2022

The Most Formidable Women in History that Made Men Cower Before Them
Tanukhid warriors. Steam

2. The Warrior Queen of the Tanukhids

Warrior Queen Mawia commenced her rule of the Tanukhid Confederation in 375 AD. Her realm was an agglomeration of Arab tribes whose range stretched from northern Arabia, through eastern Jordan, to southern Syria. In the fourth century AD, they became the first Arabs to serve as foederati, or allies, of the Roman Empire. The relationship soured, however, over a religious dispute. The Tanukhids were Orthodox Christians, but in 364 Emperor Valens, an Arian, ascended the throne. The doctrinal dispute between Arianism and Orthodox Christianity revolved around whether Jesus had always existed alongside God, and is thus his equal, or whether he was begotten by God, and is thus His subordinate.

To people today, that might seem like a trifling difference, but it mattered to people at the time – enough for them to kill or get killed over it. The Tanukhids asked Valens to send them an Orthodox bishop, but he insisted on sending them an Arian one instead. So Queen Mawia, who had recently ascended the throne, withdrew from her capital of Aleppo into the desert. There, she began to gather support throughout the region, and to form alliances with other Arab tribes in preparation for a revolt. In the spring of 378, she launched a massive uprising against the Roman Empire.

The Most Formidable Women in History that Made Men Cower Before Them
Queen Mawia. Pinterest

1. An Uprising That Shook the Roman East

The Roman east was badly shaken when Queen Mawia’s uprising commenced. Rufinus of Aquileia, a fourth-century monk, wrote: “Mawia, the queen of the Saracens, began to rock the towns and cities on the borders of Palestine and Arabia with fierce attacks“. A formidable warrior, she led her troops into the Roman province of Palestine until they reached the Mediterranean, then continued on as far as Egypt. Rufinus added that she despoiled Rome’s provinces, laid them to waste, and “wore down the Roman army in frequent battles, killed many, and put the rest to flight“. Mawia’s revolt was a kind of ancient world blitzkrieg, as she swept in with her forces, overran Roman territories, and left death and devastation in her wake.

Emperor Valens ran out of options, and was forced to sue for peace. Mawia demanded an Orthodox bishop, and insisted that a hermit monk named Moses, whom she admired, be made that bishop. The Arian Valens agreed, and Moses became the first Arab bishop of the Arabs. In return, the Tanukhids resumed their alliance with Rome, and joined Valens in a war against the Goths, which ended in a Roman defeat at the Battle of Adrianople. The renewed alliance proved short-lived, however, and the Tanukhids rebelled again in 383. This revolt was quickly put down, and it marked the end of the alliance. It is unknown whether Mawia led the second revolt. What is known is that she lived until 425 and died in Khanasir, a town east of Aleppo, where an inscription notes her death that year.

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Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

Amazing Women in History – Sayyida al Hurra, Islamic Pirate Queen

Ancient Egypt Online – Ahhotep I

Ancient Origins – Grace O’Malley: The 16th Century Pirate Queen of Ireland

Ancient Origins – Tomoe Gozen: A Fearsome Japanese Female Samurai of the 12th Century

Ancient Origins – Tomyris, the Female Warrior and Ruler Who May Have Killed Cyrus the Great

Atlas Obscura – The Chinese Female Pirate Who Commanded 80,000 Outlaws

Archaeology Archive – Mavia of Arabia

Cassius Dio – Roman History, Volume II, Books 12-35

Devries, Kelly – Joan of Arc: A Military Leader (2003)

Encyclopedia Britannica – Boudicca

Encyclopedia Britannica – Elizabeth Bathory

Encyclopedia Britannica – Matilda, Daughter of Henry I

Fordham University Ancient History Sourcebook – Herodotus: Queen Tomyris of the Massagetai and the Defeat of the Persians Under Cyrus

Hanley, Catherine – Matilda: Empress, Queen, Warrior (2019)

Historical Reflections, Vol. 8, No. 3, Women in China – One Woman’s Rise to Power: Cheng I’s Wife and the Pirates

History Collection – Women Who Inspired the World Despite Being Put Down

History Ireland, March/ April 2005, Volume 13 – Grainne Mhaol, Pirate Queen of Connacht: Behind the Legend

History of Royal Women – Fu Hao, Queen, General, and Priestess

Lacovara, Peter, and Maniaci, Gianluca, eds. The Treasure of the Egyptian Queen Ahhotep and International Relations at the Turn of the Middle Bronze Age (2022)

History Collection – Top 12 Fearsome Female Warriors

Love British History – 9 Times the Empress Matilda Was a Total Bad*ss

Odyssey – Feminist Muslim Warrior Series: Khawla bint al Azwar, the Muslim Mulan

Peterson, Barbara Bennett – Notable Women of China: Shang Dynasty to the Early Twentieth Century (2016)

Polybius – The Histories, Volume I, Books 1-2

History Collection – Women That Left Their Mark Throughout History

Rejected Princesses – Elisabeth Bathory: The Blood Countess

Richey, Stephen Wesley – Joan of Arc: The Warrior Saint (2003)

Roesch, Joseph E. – Boudica, Queen of the Iceni (2006)

University of Hawaii at Hilo, Hohonu 2015, Volume 13 – Women Warriors of Early Japan

Way of the Pirates – Sayyida al Hurra, Pirate Queen of Islamic West

World History Encyclopedia – Mavia

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