Our movement is inspired by the Rani of Jhansi, but there are so many Warrior Queens AAPI women can look up to throughout history. From Mulan to Mavia and Zenobia in the Middle East, Asian women have stood up to powerful forces on behalf of their values. Read on to be inspired by these ancestors and their bravery.
Tomyris of Central Asia, 6th Century BCE
As the archrival of Cyrus the Great, King of Persia, Tomyris ruled the Massagetae. They were, like many at the time, a nomadic people living in Central Asia. A widow herself, like our Rani of Jhansi, Tomyris had to be aware of deception and threats to her people. Cyrus came to Tomyris wanting to marry her, but she wisely saw his desire for conquering her tribes drove his proposals. He made many attempts to woo and conquer the Massagetae, including a slaughter at a feast reminiscent of Game of Thrones’ Red Wedding where Cyrus murdered Tomyris’s child. Following this event, Tomyris led her warriors against Cyrus’s army, besting them and taking Cyrus’s head.
Artemisia I of Modern Turkey, 5th Century BCE
An ally to famed Persian Xerxes, Artemisia was Queen of Caria in Asia Minor. In contrast to Xerxes, during the Battle of Salamis Artemisia didn’t watch her troops fight from shore or afar. She sailed in with her five ships against the Greeks on behalf of the Persians, narrowly missing disaster when she was trapped between the two powerful armies. As a result of her astute strategy, Xerxes made her a key advisor.
Zenobia of Palmyra, 3rd Century CE
Queen of Palmyra in modern Syria, Zenobia rose to become one of the Roman Empire’s biggest enemies. The wife of Odaenathus, she was widowed (again, like our Rani) following his and his son’s death in battle. Similarly to the Rani of Jhansi as well, Zenobia was left with a state that had historically been subordinate and allied to Rome. That arrangement no longer worked for her or her people following Odaenathus’s death. After conquering her lands in Syria, expanding in Egypt and other areas of Asia Minor, she declared herself independent of Rome in 269 CE. Palmyra’s independence was short-lived however, when Roman Emperor Aurelian defeated Zenobia in 274, destroying Palmyra. The Emperor captured Zenobia and her son, taking them back to Rome where Zenobia was either killed or committed suicide.
Mavia of Arabia, 4th Century CE
Mavia was another queen leading nomadic tribes in modern-day Syria a century after Zenobia. Following the common theme, Mavia rose to power after her husband died, and refused to cooperate with the Roman rulers who wanted to conscript her people. In response to Emperor Valens’ demand for auxiliaries, Mavia instead began conquering neighboring cities and towns. Her military dominance had the Romans fleeing her troops in their strongholds like Egypt. Her political prowess eventually aligned her empire with the Emperor Valens following the appointment of her favorite monk over her home territory. The record is lost soon after, but we know that eventually the alliance ended.
The Trung Sisters of Vietnam, 1st Century CE
These brave sisters fought against the Chinese who dominated their country in the 0030s and 0040s CE. Vietnam was occupied by the Chinese for decades, and the Han Dynasty cracked down on their subjects during the time the sisters lived. The elder sister, Trung Trac was widowed in the violence. Along with Trung Nhi, they rebelled against their Chinese governor and won, declaring themselves joint Queens of their land. However the forces they had compiled and trained were not strong enough to withstand further attacks by the Chinese. They were eventually defeated in battle, and similarly to the Rani of Jhansi, it is rumored they drowned themselves rather than being captured or killed.
Queen Seondeok of Korea, 7th Century CE
Queen Seondeok was a Warrior Queen in the Silla region of Korea, reigning from 632-647 CE. She was the first woman ruler in the region, and only the second woman to rule in East Asia at the time. She rose to power after demanding her father, King Jinpyeong, allow her to fight for the position against the son-in-law the King had been considering. As the first woman to reign, Queen Seondeok has to prove herself to gain the trust of her people. Once she did, she made her priority the well-being of the people of Silla. Her rule was questioned by many, including the two other kingdoms in Korea at the time. Despite the threats, Queen Seondeok used her enviable diplomacy skills to ally her nation with the Tang rulers in China. She also deployed her army to fight her rivals. She eventually arranged marriages that would lead to the unification of the three kingdoms on the Korean peninsula. Toward the end of her life, she defeated a challenge from a nobleman who declared that, “women rulers cannot rule the country.” The conspirators were captured and executed shortly after the queen’s own death from an unidentified illness.
Pingyang of China, 7th Century CE
Pingyang was the daughter of a military commander and wife of the leader of the emperor’s palace guard. The emperor Yangdi was largely viewed as incompetent and greedy. After arresting Pingyang’s father on false charges, and eventually releasing him, Pingyang and her family conspired to kill the emperor. She traveled back to her family’s homeland, recruiting her people to form the Army of the Lady. Her Army would eventually grow to 70,000 and she prohibited them from looting, raping and pillaging under a strict code of conduct. They fed the locals on their march to defeat Yangdi, making them liberators rather than an invading force. Yangdi dismissed Pingyang at his own peril because she was just a woman. Her troops eventually joined those of her father’s and husband’s, defeating Yangdi and creating the Tang Dynasty.
Hua Mulan of China, 5th Century CE
Despite the Disneyification of Mulan, not much is known about the Warrior Queen outside of a famous poem, “The Ballad of Mulan.” During the Sui Dynasty in China, Mulan took her father’s place when the elderly man was conscripted to the Imperial Army. Dressing as a man, she fought alongside her regiment in battle and showed such bravery that the emperor himself offered her a position when her service ended. However, she returned to rejoin her family in the countryside. According to the legend, some of her army comrades came to her home to visit and were shocked to discover their battle-hardened friend was a woman. Her legacy has inspired many stories and a style of Kung Fu called Mulanquan – “quan” literally translates to “fist.”
Tomoe Gozen of Japan, 12th Century CE
Tomoe Gozen was an exceptionally beautiful woman who fought alongside men during the Genpei War from 1180-1185. She was a skilled swordswoman, rider and archer. She became the first captain to Minamoto no Yoshinaka in the war, and fought to control the shogunate (a powerful position appointed by the Emperor) with 300 samurai against their enemies the Taira. Tomoe Gozen’s fate is a mystery, much like the Rani and Trung Sisters. Some say she fought and died, while others say she got away and disappeared. There are even rumors that she escaped, married and became a nun upon being widowed.
Yamakawa Futaba of Japan, 19th Century CE
Yamakawa Futaba was the daughter and eventually the wife of shogunate officials in Japan in the mid-1800s. She was trained to fight, and defended the Tsuruga Castle against the Emperor during the Battle of Aizu in 1868. During the month-long siege of the castle, Yamakawa Futaba’s region of Aizu surrendered to the emperor. While the samurai were captured as prisoners of war, Yamakawa Futaba survived. She was instrumental in calling for improved education for women and girls in Japan.
Warrior Queens through history have been born, risen to meet the moment, and widowed into their positions. What they all have in common is a strong drive to prove themselves and protect their people. But they’re not just historical! Watch our Instagram page and website for modern Warrior Queens fighting for their countries and people. Know a Warrior Queen who shows bravery and heroism in the armed forces? DM us on Instagram with their nomination!