International Review of the Red Cross

Women

Between Amazons and Sabines: a historical approach to women and war

Irène Herrmann and Daniel Palmieri*

Abstract

Today, war is still perceived as being the prerogative of men only. Women are generally excluded from the debate on belligerence, except as passive victims of the brutality inflicted on them by their masculine contemporaries. Yet history shows that through the ages, women have also played a role in armed hostilities, and have sometimes even been the main protagonists. In the present article, the long history and the multiple facets of women's involvement in war are recounted from two angles: women at war (participating in war) and women in war (affected by war). The merit of a gender-based division of roles in war is then examined with reference to the ancestral practice of armed violence.

Irène Herrmann is associate professor of modern history at the University of Fribourg and lecturer of Swiss history at the University of Geneva. Daniel Palmieri is historical research officer at the ICRC.

Footnotes

* The views expressed in this article reflect only the authors' opinions.