Published by: Pen & Sword Press
Publication Date: 20th March 2017
Paul Chrystal has written the first full length study of women and warfare in the Graeco Roman world. Although the conduct of war was generally monopolized by men, there were plenty of exceptions with women directly involved in its direction and even as combatants, Artemisia, Olympias, Cleopatra and Agrippina the Elder being famous examples. And both Greeks and Romans encountered women among their ‘barbarian’ enemies, such as Tomyris, Boudicca and Zenobia.
More commonly, of course, women were directly affected by war as non-combatant victims, of rape and enslavement as spoils of war and this makes up an important strand of the author’s discussion. The portrayal of female warriors and goddesses in classical mythology and literature, and the use of war to justify gender roles and hierarchies, are also considered. Overall it is a landmark survey of how war in the Classical world affected and was affected by women.
I was sent this book by the publisher in return for an honest review. My reviews are always honest, because as we all know I have no filter and tend to bluntness when I can be persuaded to speak at all.
I found this book a useful reminder of the universality of women as victims of war. Nothing ever changes. In the Illiad, the Trojan women knew what would happen when the Greeks won. Rape, and slavery, more rape. Humans as booty. It was a normal and expected part of warfare for women. The same theme runs through from Bronze Age Greece to late-Empire Rome, the time period covered by this book.
Women weren’t just victims of war, they fought. It was unusual for women to fight but it did happen. Those women were often vilified for it, even when they are mythologised, like the Amazons, Cleopatra VII, Boudicca or Zenobia. I am really not surprised that even two to four thousand years ago, men were scared of powerful women. Or women in general. Because glorifying the rape and murder of women and children who’s tribe you have defeated in battle (See Trajan’s Column) is really not the behaviour of someone with a healthy attitude to other human beings.
The book explores the representation of women at war in art and literature, as well as historical information. A discussion of women as gladiators is included, as is a discussion of Roman romantic/erotic poetry which describes the relationships between the poet and their love interest as a war.
The prose is readable and not overly academic but a passing knowledge of classical history is useful.