Female Military Historians
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Categories: Ancient, Medieval

Female Military Historians

soldiers in pleated kilts and helmets carry a beam, while others stand by chariots with spoked wheels
Detail from a New Kingdom relief of soldiers in the Museo Civico, Bologna. Photo by Sean Manning September 2018.

I have said that the ‘hoplite debate’ from 1989 to 2013 was an argument between people who were very similar to each other. One way they were the same was that they were almost all men. Is that because academic military history in general is male-dominated? That would not be a very good argument because military history is so marginal at universities that most people who do it have another research field. But more importantly, I can think of about two dozen 40 women who have made significant contributions to ancient and medieval military history. From my point of view, a doctoral dissertation, scholarly book, or several influential articles are enough to be significant.

Ancient (31)

Medieval (9)

Active Before 1950 (3+)

  • Elizabeth Hilda Lockhart Lorimer: “The Hoplite Phalanx with Special Reference to the Poems of Archilochus and Tyrtaeus” (1947), Homer and the Monuments (1950)
  • Marie Pancritius: a dissertation on Neo-Assyrian warfare (Assyrische Kriegführung von Tiglat-pileser I. bis auf Šamši-adad III diss. Königsberg 1904), a book on the Battle of Cunaxa (Studien über die Schlacht bei Kunaxa, 1906), and an article on the Stele of the Vultures (“Der Kriegsgeschichtliche Wert der Geierstele,” Memnon 3 (1908), pp. 155–179), summary of her career at https://medium.com/@johnwilee/can-you-name-a-woman-working-predominantly-on-greek-or-roman-military-history-before-1980-or-61c99460fc7b
  • Sargent (née Robinson), Rachel L.: “The Use of Slaves by the Athenians in Warfare,” Classical Philology 22.2 (1927), pp. 201–212

In the years before US entry into WW II, Fletcher Pratt’s naval wargame had a large and enthusiastic contingent of female players.

One reason why these names may not be familiar to people who followed the hoplite debate is that they often focused on topics like arms and armour, artwork, documents, and horses which were marginalized by the ‘California School’ (what some people used to call the ‘orthodoxy’).

I don’t think that the sex of researchers in the hoplite debate shaped their conclusions in the way that US politics or their identification with classical philology shaped their conclusions. But just as there are many military historians who are not Anglos, there are many military historians who are not men. The current phase of research into warfare in the Iron Age Aegean is being shaped by researchers who are archaeologists, researchers from outside the US and UK, and maybe researchers who are women. I look forward to learning what this more diverse community of researchers will come up with!

Do you have any names to add to this list? Add them in the comments or send me an email!

Help keep me making lists and sharing them with a monthly donation on Patreon or paypal.me or even liberapay

(scheduled 6 January 2022, outlined in late 2021)

  • Edit 2022-01-24: added two names suggested by Bret Devereaux
  • Edit 2022-01-25: added another name suggested by Todd F.
  • Edit 2022-01-31: added an archaeologist of early fortifications
  • Edit 2022-02-10: added Travis
  • Edit 2022-02-21: added Dickinson, Hoss
  • Edit 2022-02-25: added link to https://www.basiliscoe.com/ thanks to cite at https://www.karwansaraypublishers.com/mwblog/a-thank-you-to-kay-ruth-and-randall/
  • Edit 2022-03-05: added Erdmann and Schofield
  • Edit 2022-03-22: Added Stamatopoulou and Ueckelmann

14 thoughts on “Female Military Historians

  1. Anthony Clipsom says:

    You might add Prof Helen Nicholson of Cardiff University to your list for her work on the medieval Military Orders

    1. Sean says:

      Thanks! I will look her up.

  2. dearieme says:

    I realise that she didn’t write about the medieval period but would you classify C V Wedgwood as a military historian, or as a historian who happened to write about wars?

    1. Sean says:

      I did not know her! It sounds like she was a major historian of the English Civil War / War of the Three Kingdoms / whatever we are supposed to call it these days? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C._V._Wedgwood

      1. dearieme says:

        Her book on the Thirty Years War is a cracker. Dear God, the horror though!

        1. Sean says:

          The 17th century was a really unlucky time to live. From the Morning Wars in eastern North America, to sectarian wars and civil wars from Britain to Russia, to the fall of the Ming, and a lot of exciting epidemics and famines. I guess things were not too bad in Persia or India, and probably no worse than usual in Southeast Asia.

    2. Sean says:

      Also, military universities and staff colleges tend to pay for some 18th/19th/20th century military history. So the way those institutions work might shape who gets to be paid to do modern military history (I think both Sir John Keegan and Gwynne Dyer taught at Sandhurst, and Anthony Beevor was one of Keegan’s students). Whereas military history is so marginal in US / CA / UK history and classics departments that I don’t think there is an ‘old boys’ network’ in ancient and medieval military history, and certainly not one which can upset careers.

  3. Stephen Bennett says:

    Medieval – Sophie Thérèse Ambler
    13th Century England, especially First and Second Barons’ Wars. Currently researching the experiences and cultures of low-status combatants.

    1. Sean says:

      Thanks! I’m pretty out of touch with medieval historians and especially recent PhDs.

  4. russell1200 says:

    Past your time frame but Mary R. Habeck “Storm of Steel: The Development of Armor Doctrine in Germany and the Soviet Union, 1919–1939” 2014) is both ground breaking. Even as casual observer, I have seen frequently sited.

    1. Sean says:

      Interesting! I also see many references to “Absolute Destruction: Military Culture and the Practices of War in Imperial Germany” by Isabel V. Hull. I may review “Ivan’s War” by Catherine Merridale or “The Unwomanly Face of War” by Svetlana Alexovich at some point (they wrote oral histories of the Red Army).

  5. Sean says:

    Looking at some books for something else, I see that a Prof. Pamela Vaughn of San Francisco State University contributed a chapter to Hoplites: The Classical Greek Battle Experience in 1991. I don’t know of anything else she published on ancient warfare, and she seems to have been a language-and-literature specialist before her retirement.

    It does seem that in the late 20th century, researchers in California were very prominent in the study of early Greek warfare in the USA.

  6. Pavel Vaverka says:

    Thanks a lot for the list, it seems that I will have some new reading again:) I would recommend horsewoman https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ann_Hyland she is my favourite author and I still missing many of her books.

    Also amazing specialist for EIA Israel and Near East Deborah O’Daniel Cantrell https://www.eisenbrauns.org/books/titles/978-1-57506-204-4.html https://vanderbilt.academia.edu/DeborahCantrell

    Sarah C. Melville https://clarkson.academia.edu/SarahMelville/ her book about Sargon II is really good.

    I can’t find the proper website, yet Ann Nyland exists, she’s got super expensive book about recreation of Kikkuli’s manual, I own her translation of Xenophon The Art of Horsemanship https://www.worldcat.org/title/art-of-horsemanship-xenophon-and-other-classical-writers/oclc/650837078 https://www.worldcat.org/search?q=au%3ANyland%2C+Ann%2C&qt=hot_author I see she’s got more new books.

    May I be so annoying as usual and ask how to get that unpublished thesis about Mycenean warfare, Neo-Assyrian warfare? And above all, Studien Uber Die Schlacht Bei Kunaxa is on Amazon. Is there other way how to get it? I’m also curios for her thesis Assyrische Kriegsführung von Tiglat-pileser I. bis auf Šamši-Adad III.

    1. Sean says:

      You are right that I should have listed Carolyn Willekes’ academic nemesis! Thanks for telling me about the book by Sarah C. Melville.

      I scanned or photographed Pancritius’ article on the Stele of the Vultures when I was living in Austria. I may post it once I can find the PDF 😉 For the thesis, have you searched WorldCat (OCLC 251949658)? There is a review of her book on Cunaxa in Czech on JSTOR OCLC 5790497319 and the book was reprinted in 2013 OCLC 858997790

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