Thursday, March 26, 2015

Mavia, (ماوية‎, Māwiyya) an Arab warrior-queen

Mavia was a Tanukh ( تنوخ‎), An Arab tribe that had migrated northwards from the Arabian peninsula because of the growing influence in Iran in the area. She married al-Hawari, the last king of the semi-nomadic Tanukh confederation in southern Syria in the latter half of the fourth century. When he died in 375 CE Mavia rose to rule the confederation.

After al-Hawari's death, death in 375 AD, the Roman emperor Valens, disregarded the requests of the Arabs and appointed them an Arian bishop. This sparked an uprising, and Mavia withdrew her people from Aleppo and moved into the desert, were she formed alliances with desert Arabs, and gained support throughout much of Arabia and Syria. 


In the spring of 378 CE Mavia began to fight a guerrilla style war against the Romans, moving about the desert on horseback and striking Roman forces whenever the opportunity presented itself. It was during her military exploits that she met an ascetic monk who so impressed her that she converted to Orthodox Christianity, and her conditions for any truce with Rome, was this monk's appointment as bishop over her people.

Her forces were difficult for Rome to deal with. The Tanuhk had fought side by side with Roman soldiers for over a century, since they assisted in quelling the uprising by Zenobia a century earlier.  The Tanuhk cavalry was faster, and their lances longer, and they had the advantage of their knowledge of the terrain.   Furthermore, the Tanuhk had no home base, giving the Romans no target to aim at.  

The Arab Warrior Leading a Charge, Adolf Schreyer (1828-1899) German

Rome had to call on it’s finest soldiers; lead by the Commander in Chief of the Eastern Roman military himself.  But that didn't stop Mavia or her men, who defeated the reinforcements, killing their commander in the process.  Without additional troops to call upon for assistance the emperor was forced to sue for peace, allowing Mavia to choose the bishop of her people; a man named Moses, of Saracen birth who had lead an especially pious life in the desert, earning their respect as a people.

As part of the truce agreement, Mavia sent her forces to Thrace to help the Romans fight the Goths at the Battle of Adrianople. Her forces proved less effective outside of their native territory and the Goths pushed the Romans back to Constantinople, even killing the emperor. 

Mavia's forces returned home, badly bruised and depleted in number. The new emperor, Theodosius I, favored the Goths, giving them many positions within the Roman establishment, at the expense of the Arabs. After having demonstrated their loyalty to Rome, the Arabs felt increasingly betrayed and mounted another revolt in 383 CE. This revolt was quickly put down and the Tanukh-Roman alliance ended for good, as Rome courted another Arab tribe, the Salih.

To solidify the peace, Mavia married her daughter to Victor, a prominent military official under Valens. Marriage to Victor was a was a big plus, because that suddenly put her in the center of the Roman-Byzantine administration.

Mavia died in Anasartha, east of Aleppo in the heart of the Tanukh tribal territory, where there is an inscription recording her death there in 425 CE.

More at:  Wikipedia INSCMedia, Archaeology Magazine

Monday, March 23, 2015

Khawla bint Al-Azwar was a Muslim Arab warrior

Khawla bint Al-Azwar, who lived in 7th Century Arabia, was the daughter of a powerful chief of the Bani Assad tribe. As a young girl Khawla learned swordsmanship and literary from her brother  Zirrar, a well-known local warrior-poet. Zerar, as the son of the chief, had been trained from birth in the art of literature and war. 

Khawla and her brother were early converts to the religion of Islam, in the early 600s, and participated in the entire Islamic Conquest, as the sons of the Prophet conquored most of the Middle East civilizations. She served as a nurse and a healer, and fought as a front-line warrior.  

Traveling with general Khalid bin Walid in Palestine, Syria and Jordan, Khawla was one of a team responsible for patching together gaping sword wounds, bringing water to dying men, and replacing bandages and cleaning out wounds. 

One of the most important events in that period was the famous battle near the Yarmouk River in August 636, in which the Arabs completely crushed Byzantine army.

One day, during a battle against the Byzantine Empire outside Jerusalem, Khawla was watching the battle from a ridge when she saw her brother Zerar get knocked from his horse and dragged off by Byzantine troops as a prisoner. Rather than sit back and weep about over her brother, Khawla ran to the supply tent, grabbed a suit of armor, threw on a black robe with a green sash, turned a black strip of cloth into a mask that concealed everything on her face except her eyes, and rode out into battle on horseback carrying a heavy spear and a scimitar.

by Maciej Kuciara

Stories written down from people who were there claimed that they just saw a knight in a black hood blasting into the Byzantine lines, swinging around a spear that dripped blood, and massacring everything in the way. One man mentioned that he thought this warrior fought with such fury that it must have been Khalid himself. 

When the real Khalid arrived, he saw this one worrior wasting an entire battalion singlehandedly, and ordered all of his men to attack; he even sent a trusted member of his personal bodyguard out to ensure that the worrior made it through the battle alive. 

In the battle that ensued, the Byzantines were driven from the field. Khawla had not only helped turn the tide of the battle, but as the Byzantine army was routing she led a small detachment that rode down their ranks, found her brother (and the other Muslim prisoners), slew the guards, and brought all of the POWs back to friendly lines.

At the end of the battle, Khalid tracked down this mysterious black-clad knight and demanded her to reveal his true identity. Once she revealed herself as a woman Khalid really didn't seem upset, but told her that while she may have started the battle standing with the women, now she was going to fight like a man. From that point on, she continued to serve throughout the campaign, battling on horseback with sword and spear in battles across Palestine, Syria and Jordan, including one fight when she personally rallied a routed Muslim force, re-organized them, and led them in an all-out counter-attack.

Khawla served the rest of the war, eventually married a powerful Arab prince, and is now remembered as one of the greatest female warriors in the Muslim world. 

Found on