Women have participated in warfare since prehistoric times. However, their involvement as active combatants has seldom been acknowledged in the same way as men’s. This is even truer for wargamers: How many historical miniature armies field warrior women? How many figures are there of historical women combatants? If we discard ‘adult’ novelty figures and unrealistic, fantasy-style miniatures like nude Amazons or Walkyries with horned helmets, there is not that much left.
Now some might say this is because there haven’t been many female warriors before the introduction of gender equality in some modern armies. There are military historians who think that the very idea of women in arms is a phantasy that never happened. However, recent research into this topic has yielded an astonishing number of women taking up arms and fighting during many historical conflicts. My aim with this project is to present selected examples and investigate their wargaming potential.
Don’t panic: While the articles will be firmly based on historical evidence, they are not going to be scholarly discussions. Instead, I want to show how women warriors can be made visible on the tabletop itself. Having been made invisible by chroniclers and historians who can’t stomach the idea of women fighting, it is time to give them back their place in history – and this, for the historical wargamer, means to give them the place they deserve in the miniature armies and on the miniature battlefield.
In the next installations of this series, I will present specific examples. This time, I want to outline some general options. How can warrior women be included in wargames? As we are dealing with miniature wargames here, it makes sense to only include individuals that can be represented by miniatures. Political leaders such as queens or stateswomen who instigated, started and carried through wars without being actually present on the battlefield are of little interest for us. There is not much point in painting up a figure of Queen Victoria or Margaret Thatcher (unless you want to play a steampunk or zombie game perhaps)!
However, that still leaves a plethora of possibilities. If we keep our goal, namely to play a wargame, in mind, they can be divided into two classes:
1. Leaders. The two single most famous historical female warriors belong to this category: The Iceni Queen Boudica, who led a revolt against the Romans in AD60/61, and Joan of Arc, the girl who claimed to fulfil an order given by God when she led the French against the English in the early 15th century. However, there were many more and I plan to present some lesser-known examples. Most wargame rules demand some sort of leader figure and this presents a convenient way of bringing warrior women unto the miniature battlefield.
2. Rank and file. Women have been fighting in the ranks of armies for a long time. From the female Scythian archers recently unearthed by archaeologists to the women fighting in the Hussites’ ranks, from the female rebels joining the fight against Napoleon’s troops on Haiti around 1800 to the fearsome ‘Amazons’ of the African Kingdom of Dahomey, there are lots of examples to be found – and this not only in obscure periods, but in the most popular gaming periods like World War II, where the wargamer can field the women volunteers of the Spanish Civil War as well as the female snipers of the Red Army.
That is to say: The wargamer could field them, could he or she only find figures! This is the reason why the project will include a resources section, containing not only a bibliography, but also a list of miniatures in 15mm and 28mm. My aim is to catalogue all available figures of historical warrior women. If you find figures that are not included in the list, please drop me an email!
Of course one option to deal with the lack of fitting figures would be to include a third class, namely crossdressers. There are many reports of women dressing up as men and joining armies, from the crusades through the Napoleonic wars up to relatively recent times. However, although an easy option for the wargamer – you can just declare this or that miniature to be a woman in disguise – it is perhaps not the most satisfying. Wargaming is a visual thing and wargamers strive to make history visible by enacting it on the tabletop. Fielding armies with discernible female fighters in their ranks or as their commanders certainly would contribute to raising awareness for a part of history that is too often forgotten or ignored.
Accompany me as I delve into the astonishing, sometimes curious, but always exciting history of warrior women! Hopefully, it will offer some inspiration and incentive for including female fighters in your miniature armies.