Germanic Warrior Women

Logo_smallFor the Romans, ethnographic observations were often a by-product of campaigning. All the more is it noteworthy that Roman historians repeatedly delve into descriptions of the warlike nature of Germanic women.

The most common involvement of women in combat seems to have been in the defence of the wagon fort. Germanic tribes used laagers to protect their baggage and sometimes also as a defensive tactic in itself. For example, at the battle of Adrianople (378 AD), the Goths formed up behind a circular ring of wagons.

A Celtic Laager by Nick Speller and Simon Miller, made to be used for Simon's To The Strongest rules - visit his blog to find out more!
A Celtic laager by Nick Speller and Simon Miller, made to be used for Simon’s To The Strongest rules – visit his blog to find out more!

When an army was beaten and the enemy moved against the wagon fort, the women and sometimes even the children entrenched there often put up a fierce fight. Plutarch writes about one of Caesar’s battles against the Helvetians:

“After a long and hard struggle he routed the enemy’s fighting men, but had the most trouble at their rampart of waggons, where not only did the men themselves make a stand and fight, but also their wives and children defended themselves to the death and were cut to pieces with the men.” (Plutarch, Life of Caesar 18)

Scenes like this seem to have happened often, as they can be found in several sources. This of course if not surprising if one considers that surrender would have meant slavery at the best.

Apart from their role as a last-ditch defence, at least among some tribes women also seemed to have had an active role on the battlefield. Cassius Dio, in his Roman History, describes “women’s bodies in armour” found among the corpses of the “barbarians” after a battle Marcus Aurelius won against the Marcomanni, a Germanic tribe. Marcus Aurelius also had ten women in male armament, who had been captured among the Goths, in his triumphal procession.

Intriguingly, apart from written sources, we also have archaeological evidence for Germanic warrior women. In an overview of bog corpse finds, the archaeologist Alfred Dieck drew attention to several female bodies found with weapons. For example, among eight bodies found in a site in Germany and dated to around 350 BC, three were young women equipped with shield, sword, spear and bow. All of them had died of wounds that indicate combat injuries. Corpses of women dating to the Roman imperial period have been found which were dressed and armed like men and which had been killed by sword thrusts. Dieck relates another find of spear- and sword-carrying women killed in combat from the 3rd century AD to the Goths in Marcus Aurelius’ triumphal procession, providing archaeological corroboration to the historian’s description. All in all, Dieck’s list contains twelve such finds up to the 6th century BC – who knows how many more might turn up?

Lots of reasons to include women into the Germanic hoards and warbands that make such a colourful sight on the tabletop. Fortunately, figures are available in 28mm as well as in 15mm.


In 28mm, Warlord have a splendid back of female Celtic Warriors, containing eight figures in different poses and armed with spears and swords. Crusader Miniatures also has a pack of skirmishing women and children which would be very useful for defending that wagon fort. The Boudicca models offered by Bad Squiddo Games would make fine leaders.

In 15mm, the Warrior Women of Erin range of Trey Corbies Miniatures offers a good choice of appropriate figures. Some of the slave revolt figures from Donningon might also be useful to fill the ranks or to defend a wagon fort.


Bruder, Reinhold: Die germanische Frau im Lichte der Runeninschriften und der antiken Historiographie, Berlin, New York: Walter de Gruyter 1974.

Dieck, Alfred: “Germanische Kriegerinnen: Literarische Erwähnungen und Moorleichenfunde,” Archäologisches Korrespondenzblatt 5 (1975), 93-96.


Artemisia, a Greek Admiral

Logo_smallArtemisia was queen of Halicarnassus (today’s Bodrum in Turkey) in the 5th century BC. Her kingdom was subject to the Persian empire, so when Xerxes mounted his invasion of Greece, she contributed a squadron of five triremes (galleys with three tiers of oarsmen and a crew of about 200). Herodotus reports that Artemisia’s squadron was the second best of the fleet (after the Phoenician). There is no doubt that Xerxes held her in high esteem and valued her opinion as a military leader: “But when the counsels were reported to Xerxes, he was greatly pleased by Artemisia’s opinion. Even before this he had considered her of excellent character, and now he praised her much more highly.” (Herodotus, Histories 8.69)

A Greek trireme.
A Greek trireme.

She was the only commander speaking out against attacking the Greek fleet at Salamis, invoking sound reasons that show a thorough understanding of the tactical as well as the strategic situation. Xerxes, however, did not follow her advice. As we know, the battle of Salamis was a disaster for the Persians: Their squadrons were first caught in an ambush by Greek galleys bolting out from a bay on the Persian flank and than impeded by the choppy sea, which favoured the low-lying Greek triremes.

Relief of a trireme
Relief of a trireme

When the Persian fleet turned to flight, Artemisia’s way was blocked by several friendly ships belonging to Damasithymos, king of the Calyndians. Chased by Athenians, Artemisia was in a tight spot. There seems also to have been some quarrel between her and the Calyndian king, so Artemisia seized the opportunity and rammed and sank Damasithymos’ trireme. This had the double effect of throwing the Athenians off her trail – they thought she was one of their allies, having just wrecked a vessel of the Persian fleet – as well as earning her praise from Xerxes, who watched the scene and assumed that she sank an Athenian ship.

We should not interpret this story as depicting Artemisia as an especially ruthless and devious person. In fact, Herodotus reports that numerous collisions occurred between the Persian ships when the first line started to retreat while the second advanced:

“Most of the ships were sunk when those in the front turned to flee, since those marshalled in the rear, as they tried to go forward with their ships so they too could display some feat to the king, ran afoul of their own side’s ships in flight.” (Herodotus, Histories 8.89)

Whatever we make of her motivation, the story shows that Artemisia was a competent commander who could seize an opportunity and knew how to use her ships to best effect.

Most wargames of Artemisia’s naval actions would not necessitate a figure representing her personally – her ships would be sufficient. Fortunately, early Greek triremes of the aphract type (meaning that the oarsmen were only partially protected) are available in many scales. More on the skirmish side of things are the stately 1/300th models offered by Langton Miniatures as well as the 1/600th triremes produced by Xyston and Skytrex. Langton and Navwar offer 1/1200th triremes, which would perhaps be more practical for fleet battles. The same goes for the 1/2400th models by Tumbling Dice. For those who want to recreate the battle of Salamis in 1:1 without spending a fortune, there are also the tiny 1/3600th ships from Outpost Wargames.

If you desperately want a figure representing Artemisia in person, there isn’t really anything out there. You might convert one of the 28mm Greek civilians, such as those offered by Warlord Games. In 15mm, the Parthian queen offered by Xyston could be pressed into service. If you find one, you could put her in command of the 28mm galleys made by Scheltrum Miniatures or by Old Glory, or of the 15mm vessels offered also by Old Glory.


Herodotus, The Histories, ed. A. D. Godley (available online)

Nelson, Richard: The Battle of Salamis, London: W. Luscombe 1975 (contains not only historical background but also very useful ideas for wargaming the battle)

Strauss, Barry S.: Salamis. The greatest naval battle of the ancient world, 480 B.C., London: Arrow 2005


Female Gladiators

Logo_small“The same year witnessed shows of gladiators as magnificent as those of the past. Many ladies of distinction, however, and senators, disgraced themselves by appearing in the amphitheater.” – Tacitus, Annals 15.32

With Alex Buchel’s new game JUGULA all the rage, what would be more appropriate than to have a look at female gladiators? While today Roman gladiatorial games appear to be the epitome of manly combat, there were women who fought in the arena, as the citation by Tacitus attests.

The Halicarnassus relief, depiciting two female gladiators
The Halicarnassus relief, depiciting two female gladiators

Female gladiators (by the way, ‘gladiatrix’ is not a word used by the Romans, there was no special female form of ‘gladiator’) first appear in the sources in the late Republican and Augustan eras. We don’t know the number of women that fought in the arenas. In general they seemed to have been an unusual sight, though not as rare as one might expect. Descriptions of female gladiators are often used to illustrate the extravagant nature of an Emperor’s spectacles, such as in this citation from Sueton’s Life of Domitian:

“Besides he gave hunts of wild beasts, gladiatorial shows at night by the light of torches, and not only combats between men but between women as well.”

Some are used to comment on the depravation and excesses of Emperors, especially if noble women were fighting in the arena. It seems that what Romans found most offensive was not the confusion of gender roles – the authors had no problems with lower class women fighting as gladiators – but the upsetting of the social order. Anna McCullough has argued that the passage by Juvenal describing the training regime of a noblewoman aspiring to fight in the arena has to be understood in that light:

“What modesty can you expect in a woman who wears a helmet, abjures her own sex, and delights in feats of strength? […] See how she pants as she goes through her prescribed exercises; how she bends under the weight of her helmet; how big and coarse are the bandages which enclose her haunches; and then laugh when she lays down her arms and shows herself to be a woman!”

Noblewomen such as this wouldn’t join a ludi (school), as fighting for money would have been inappropriate for their status. However, lower class women might have entered contracts with a lanista (manager of a school) or sold themselves to a school because of debt.

What do we know about how they fought? Our only pictorial source is the Halicarnassus relief, which shows two women equipped as provocatores, a type of armament that was modeled after Roman legionaries. They have swords and shields, wear greaves and protective armour on the right arm, but have exposed breasts. The inscription says that the fight between ‘Amazon’ and ‘Achillia’ ended with a missio, which is something akin to a draw – both get a reprieve and may compete again. Furthermore, literary sources mention female venatores (fighters specialised in killing wild beasts) as well as swordfighters and even an essedaria, a female chariot driver.

A missio in a graffiti from Pompeji
A missio in a graffito from Pompeji

So there are plenty opportunities for including women in your miniature ludi. But what about figures?

There are quite a lot of female gladiators in 28mm out there. Foundry offers a broad range encompassing several types of female gladiators, as does Shadowforge. Both companies seem to prefer the topless look as pictured on the Halicarnassus relief. Old Glory have a small sample of different types (e.g. retarius and mirmillo) with more clothing, as does Black Hat. Steve Barber Models offers ‘Achillia’. The latter seem to be more on the side of true 25mm figures, so they might not mix with newer ranges. Recently Arena Rex had a Kickstarter funded for 35mm gladiators, some of them female, and although skimpy dress abounds they may very well fit in with the ‘official’ JUGULA range, which is also scaled at 35mm.

There exists an astonishing variety of 15mm gladiators. Mick Yarrow has several female ones. Highlander Studios has a female dimachaerus on offer and Rebel Miniatures has ‘Carolee’. A good resources for 15mm gladiators is the Irregular Wars blog, where you can also find useful comparison pictures of the figures.

For those preferring other scales, in 1/72 Pegasus has a pack of gladiators which also includes two female figures while in 54mm Irregular Miniatures has a selection of suitable figures.


Coleman, K.: “Missio at Halicarnassus,” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 100 (2000), 487-500.

McCullough, Anna: “Female Gladiators in Imperial Rome: Literary Context and Historical Fact,” Classical World 101 (2008), 197-209.

Vesley, M.: “Gladiatorial training for girls in the collegia iuvenum of the Roman Empire,” Echos du Monde Classique 62 (17) (1998), 85-93.