This story is part of our November 2019 special issue of National Geographic magazine, “Women: A Century of Change.” Read more stories here.
The women in Pamela Toler’s new millennia-spanning history, Women Warriors, gallop into battle on horseback, hack off enemies’ heads, order executions, mount attacks from jungle cover, and command troops by the tens of thousands. “Women have always fought,” Toler says. “And we’ve tended to lose sight of it.” Modern tools such as forensic DNA testing, plus reexamination of burial artifacts and original documents, are giving historians like Toler new insight into the lives of women who fought with or without men alongside. These were leaders, Toler says, “for whom battle was not a metaphor.”