A Valkyrie from Arthur Rackham's The Ring
EVEN the unusually war-like women of Germanic history and myth did not participate in battle as the fellow combatants of men. The Valkyrie of Norse myth chose heroes from the battlefield, designating who would live or die, and carried their slain bodies to Valhalla. The Valkyries honored heroes, they didn’t become heroes themselves.
In 98 A.D., the Roman historian Tacitus wrote of the real women of Germania’s tribes who accompanied men to the battlefield. They were there to encourage men, not to fight with them, an idea which would presumably have seemed preposterous given that women were much more desirable as hostages and could be easily overpowered. From Tacitus’s Germania:
A specially powerful incitement to valor is that the squadrons and divisions are not made up at random by the mustering of chance-comers, but are each composed of men of one family or clan. Close by them, too, are their nearest and dearest, so that they can hear the shrieks of their women-folk and the wailing of their children. These are the witnesses whom each man reverences most highly, whose praise he most desires. It is to their mothers and wives that they go to have their wounds treated, and the women are not afraid to count and compare the gashes. They also carry supplies of food to the combatants and encourage them. Read More »