Saturday, February 02, 2008

Frankish women warriors in Muslim Middle Eastern sources


People always want to know if there were any women warriors or knights in the Middle Ages. The answer is that there is some scattered evidence of uncertain reliability.

In Hillenbrand's The Crusades: Islamic perspectives, there is translated a bit more evidence of this sort. I'm just going to quote the sources she assembles, without giving full citations.

Pages 348-9, in a section called Frankish Women Warriors:

Imad al-Din:

Amongst the Franks are women knights (fawaris). They have coats of mail and helmets. They are in men's garb and they are prominent in the thick of the fray. They act in the manner of those endowed with intellect [i.e. men] although they are ladies.

... On the day of the battle some of them come forth in the same way as the (male) knights. Despite their softness there is hardness (qaswa) in them. They have no clothing (kiswa) other than coats of mail. They have not been recognised [as women] until they have been stripped and laid bare. A number of them have been enslaved and sold.
Ibn al-Athir on Saladin's siege of Burzay, 1188:

[There was] a woman shooting from the citadel by means of the mangonel and it was she who put the Muslims' mangonel out of action.
Ibn Shaddad recording the testimony of an old man who was at Acre in 1191:

Inside their walls was a woman wearing a green coat (milwata). She kept on shooting at us with a wooden bow, so much so that she wounded a group of us. We overpowered her and killed her and took her bow, carrying it to the sultan, who was very amazed about that.

Imad al-Din drawing a moral on the battlefield of Acre, 1190:

We saw a woman slain because of her being a warrior.
Page 464:
"...according to Usama, there were [Muslim] women fighting ...during the siege b y the Isma'ilis of his home citadel of Shayzar, but as they were wearing full armour the sex of these warriors was not known until after the fighting."

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