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Archaeological Evidence backs Literary Evidences:

Iranian Women Warriors in Ancient Iran


06 December 2004



Iranian_Women_Warriors.JPG (336789 bytes)

 Ancient Iranian Women Warriors

Watercolour by Shapour Suren-Pahlav

(Click to enlarge)

Shapour Suren-Pahlav -- These days in Islamic Iran, Iranian women are fallen so low that they even not permitted to watch men compete on the football field, or they have to cover themselves from men under the backwards Islamic sharia law, but their ancestors in pre-Islamic era were carving the boys to pieces on the battlefield.

DNA tests on the 2,000-year-old bones of a sword-wielding Iranian warrior have revealed the broad-framed skeleton belonged to woman, an archaeologist working in the northwestern city of Tabriz said.

"Despite earlier comments that the warrior was a man because of the metal sword, DNA tests showed the skeleton inside the tomb belonged to a female warrior," Alireza Hojabri-Nobari told the Persian daily Hambastegi.

He added that the tomb, which had all the trappings of a warrior's final resting place, was one of 109 and that DNA tests were being carried out on the other skeletons.

Other ancient tombs believed to belong to women warriors have been unearthed close to the Caspian Sea



Women in Pre-Islamic Iran

The role of Iranian women in history can be traced back to the Avestan Period (ca. 1800 BCE) of Iranian history. Women in Avestan era hold an especial and even a venerated place.  

"We venerate the righteous woman who is good in thoughts, words, and deeds, who is well-educated, is an authority on religious affairs, is progressively serene, and is like the women who belong to the Wise God." (Holy Gathas - Aiwisruthrem Gah 9)


"It is these people who, with their actions, promote the world though righteousness." (Visparad 3.4)


The Zoroastrian rligion consideres total equality between men and women[1] as Ahuramazad, the name God in Avestan language, affirms such equality. The name is a compound of ahura- meaning lord (masculine) and -mazda from Avestan stem of mas- wisdom (feminine). Also three of the six Amesha Spentas (the divine attributes of God), Aramaity (serenity), Haurvatat (wholeness), and Ameretat (immortality) are of feminine.


In Avestan era's pastoralist-equestrian-warrior society, ancient Iranian women fought alongside their men - and not only they were held in an equal status with men, but also periodically they actually ruled them; this so called "upside-down society" both fascinated and horrified the male dominated Greek culture[2]. Later, the Romans expressed the same horror, when they encountered the Sasanian female warriors. During the Sasanian dynasty (224-651 CE) many of the Iranian soldiers captured by Romans were women which were fighting shoulder to shoulders of their male-countrymen.[3]


This incredible social equality, at such an early age, is irrefutably attested, not only by a host of classical writers, but also by a wealth of archaeological evidence; in many mound- burials in the former Soviet Union, it is by no means unusual to find remains of women warriors dressed in full armour, lying on a war chariot, surrounded by their weaponry, and significantly, accompanied by a host of male subordinates specially sacrificed in their honour; nonetheless, these young Iranian warriors, as evidenced by the archaeological remains of their costumes and jewellery, do not seem to have lost their femininity.


In latter dates during the Achaemenid dynasty (550-330 BCE), women continued to play an important role in everyday life. Noble Achaemenid women only have exercised an influence on affairs of state, but also the imperial female households possessed their own estates. Historical documents survive showing their active involvement in management, such as letters relate to the shipment of grain, wine, and animals to palaces from distant land-holdings. The Achaemenid empresses and their ladies-in-waiting are known to have played polo against the King of Kings and the courtiers[4]


The Persepolis cuneiform tablets discovered in 1930s, have revealed that Iranian women during the Achaemenid dynasty were employed and rations they received are based on skill and the level of responsibility they assumed in the workplace, rather than their gender - the new mothers and pregnant women received higher rations than everyone else. Many women employed as the head-workers and sometimes their wages were double of their male counterparts.


Fortification texts also revealed that royal women travelled extensively visited their estates and administered their wealth individually and at times with help from their husbands[5].


Such traditions continued into Parthian and Sasanian dynastic eras. Empress Purandokht, who were daughter of king Khosrow II (Aparvaiz) reigned Persian empire for almost two years before resigning.


Iranian women therefore, have respected the sanctity of women and their role in the society as evident from their role in future Iranian societies, and before the coming of Islam in 7th century.



[3] There are large numbers of historical accounts from Roman and Greek periods, regarding Iranian women warriors. In one account Zonaras XII reports: ".. amongst those who fell in the Persian army and were being stripped of their arms there are said to have been found women also, dressed and armed like men, and that such a women were also taken alive by the Romans..."; -- "..Persians enlisted the help of their women in the danger,.. (Libanius, LIX)"; and "So they [Persians] mastered all forces, every age, sex, and condition, and marched against us, men and mere boys, old men and crowds of women and slaves, who followed not merely to assist in the war, .." (see: Dodgeon M. H., and Lieu S. N. C., The Roman Eastern Frontiers and the Persian Wars (AD 226-363; A Documentry History, London (1991), pp. 24, 67, 184, 197 and 307.)

[4] Arthur Cotterell, From Aristotle to Zoroaster, 1998.



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