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IAXS Project #08
Content © 1996 held by author
WHOOSH! edition © 1996 held by Whoosh!
3533 words

Xena was one bad warrior princess



[1] I wish to thank Kym Taborn and the Board of Directors of the International Association of Xena Studies without whose support, both financial and moral, this study of the most important known military engagement of the career of the Warrior Princess would not have been possible.


[2] Recent expeditions funded by the IAXS to the sites of the towns of Ancient Greece called Amphipolis and Potidaea have recently begun to reap rich dividends. New digging sites have unearthed tombs recently radio carbon dated to the eleventh or twelfth century Before the Common Era. The exploration and analysis of these tombs have yielded additional fragmentary writings of the unknown Bard-Historian who has written about a hitherto unknown military and political figure called Xena. The few fragmentary examples of the writing of this brilliant poet, easily the equivalent of the famous bards Homer and Hesiod, have concentrated on telling stories that have had titles such as SINS OF THE PAST and CHARIOTS OF WAR. These stories told of the exploits of a "Mighty Warrior Princess" who "had many skills". Up until recently, these writings, written in the highest style ancient Greek poetry, were considered to be just that---epic poems. The tombs at Amphipolis and Potidaea raises the strong possibility that like the works of both Hesiod and Homer, these mythic poems may have a large admixture of truth in them. Indeed the most important of the discoveries in these tombs may actually be the first oral history ever taken, preceding Herodotus by at least five hundred years.

[3] The tomb at Potidaea itself is cut out of living limestone in a hill about two kilometers from the primary dig site. Over the door was found the Greek alphabet equivalent of GA but weathering has sadly obscured the remains of the writing on the door and its supporting lintel. The interior had sadly been robbed thousands of years ago. On the walls are line after line of Greek script, but like the door, much of the inscription has been eroded away by water, tribesmen and robbers. The writings we are interested in were found on fragmented copper sheets which had been partially destroyed because old iron implements had been stored in the tomb by local farmers in the recent past and differential metal corrosion had occurred in the copper. The choice of copper as a writing medium is interesting because copper was used when the writing was intended to last through the ages. Indeed one of the most important of the Dead Sea Scrolls is written upon copper.

[4] There are two things that are fascinating about these copper scrolls. Most of what is inscribed upon the sheets are clearly a series of questions and answers. When this interview is read, it can clearly be seen that the document from later history that these scrolls most resemble is no less than Caesar's Commentaries on the Gallic Wars! Included are what appears to be detailed order of battle information and other details of military method concerning a great battle that apparently occurred outside of the ancient city of Corinth. The battle apparently culminated a conflict between the interviewee, (who's name is not mentioned on the easily readable sections) Corinth, Athens, and the King of a tribe of centaurs named Tyldus. The only conclusion that can be immediately, and tentatively, drawn is that the person who was interviewed for these scrolls was Xena herself. The events described on the sheets led me to a rereading of the Unknown Bard's poetry with an eye to try to fill out exactly what kind of figure this Xena was. This was greatly aided by the reading of the inscriptions on the tomb walls. I feel that I have been successful in large part in reconstructing the campaign, as well as confirming and solidifying the image of Xena that we have from the Unknown Bard's writings.

[5] This has led me to come to two fundamental conclusions: Xena did in fact exist, and she was a military leader of the prominence of Alexander the Great. Indeed, she used methods that were not used by the Greeks according to what is now known of Ancient Greek warfare. Xena's methods more closely resemble those of the Mongols of Ghengis Kahn and even those of the great Stonewall Jackson. Some of the attitudes and methods I have discovered remind me greatly of those of the first practitioner of total war, William Tecumseh Sherman as well. The modernity of this campaign, its sophisticated strategic conception, and its tactical implementation are extremely striking indeed, despite the fact that the battle itself ended in a bloody stalemate. These discoveries are unique because it is known beyond a doubt that Ancient Greek society was terribly misogynistic, yet here is evidence of a woman, apparently of Greek ethnicity, dominating her forces and those of her enemies by her physical and professional skills, intelligence, leadership ability and charisma. This kind of military dominance led to Xena becoming a tyrant that held sway over almost all of Greece along the Aegean coast from the Hellespont to the northern Peloponnese. All of these discoveries are perplexing in the extreme for Xena's career as a general apparently ends inexplicably not long after the fighting of the Corinth battle for reasons we have yet to clearly determine.

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[6] This study therefore will try to do:

  1. Introduce Xena and her military and political methods and objectives
  2. Lay out the political context that shaped the Corinth Campaign, as well as introduce supporting actors
  3. Illustrate and analyze the course of the campaign
  4. Offer a conclusion.

[7] Xena the Thracian, The Warrior Princess, The Lioness of Amphipolis, The Harpy, these are but a few names that this woman from Thrace has been called according to the unknown bard. She was described as very tall and athletic with black hair and striking blue eyes. The bard claims that her beauty rivaled that of the Goddess Aphrodite herself. Xena was expert in all of the well known Greek methods of unarmed combat. She was a master of many weapons. She was a capable surgeon and apparently knew the Chinese skill of accupressure. She was capable of fighting with skill and courage that had hitherto been only attributed to the well known heroes of the Greek Heroic age, such as Hercules and Theseus. Indeed the bard claims that Xena knew Hercules and was his intimate friend. Little more is known of this woman except that this Bard sings her praises. The discovery of tombs near the sites of ancient Amphipolis, in which Xena's name is prominently mentioned, brings this heretofore mythical figure into sharp relief.

[8] From what we have determined, Xena was an ethnic Greek of peasant descent. This is highly unusual for all other known Greek heroes were of aristocratic birth. Even more amazing was the fact that she was female and not a member of any of the Amazon tribes. She also apparently (although the evidence of this is very thin) took over the control of a MALE army by killing its commander in single combat. Xena then built this army into an overwhelming force that conquered nearly all of coastal Greece. Thus Xena nearly united the Greek nation into a single unit under a her suzerainty, an achievement not attained until the third century BCE by Philip of Macedon. On its face this seems impossible, but the evidence is clear.


[9] Historically, the role of women in Greek society was one of subservience to their men. They were traded by dowry between families and once the marriage took place they were expected to live at home, have babies and run the household. How then was this woman able to stay in the realm of Greek society and become a great soldier? We don't really know yet. The remaining record claims Xena was successful because she was a tremendously able person who was both brilliantly intelligent and energetic. According to the Bard, Xena became a warrior as a reaction to the sacking of Amphipolis, the town in which she was born to a professional soldier and his innkeeper wife. This lineage could account for how Xena acquired some of her considerable military skills but not all.


[10] Greece during the Heroic age was divided both geographically and culturally. Geographically, the Greek nation was an amalgam of different tribes many of whom were cut off from their immediate neighbors because of the mountainous nature of the local terrain. Each tribe was organized hierarchically with an aristocratic class and a peasant class. The people that didn't fit in either of the main divisions were either slaves, serfs or Aliens. Greek society depended for the large part on slave labor for many jobs that did not require knowledge of agriculture. Roles were assigned to people on the basis of their birth. The sons of the aristocratic class were expected to become warriors while the sons of peasants became agricultural workers and so forth. Xena apparently usurped an aristocratic position by dint of her ability.

[11] Politics of that day were equally divided. Indeed it is difficult to claim that the process that we now accept as politics even really existed during this period because of the divided nature of Greek culture. Eventually, trade developed along the extensive Greek coastline and roads were eventually built allowing the disparate tribes to gain easier contact with each other. The development of the early economy created a need for the distribution of goods and services forcing the creation of interests that had to be protected. The tribes involved in these new trading processes found that official relations had to be opened with their neighbors. This process led to the beginning of what is now known as international politics. Since these tribes had scarce commodities and other wealth to protect, military forces were necessary. The role of protecting this commerce fell to the traditional aristocracy. It is these customs that the rise of Xena so badly threatened.


[12] The divided nature of Greek society, the growing economy and increasing population often led to conflicts between the tribes. There was no overarching authority to enforce order, and there was a strong cultural attraction to fighting to prove a person's worth. Indeed this attraction to war ran throughout the culture. Petty jealousy, cattle theft, and political ideology all led to incessant conflict. The freebooter was a common person at sea and on land. Unemployed aristocrats, still longing for the war that they need to prove themselves, led to the creation of private armies which ran rampant throughout the Aegean area often engaging in the marauder's favorite pastimes---loot, pillage, rapine and enslavement.

[13] The earliest warfare in Greece was a very formal affair. Basically, what war amounted to was a series of duels between the highest ranking of the aristocrats of the competing tribes. There were armies, but the men in these forces were used pretty much in the roles they had when at home, service to the aristocratic class, animal care, housekeeping and the like. Their commanders were expected to do the fighting. Many times when combat did occur it would resemble a boxing match with the gilded leaders doing the fighting and the peasant-soldiers cheering them on. These customs applied often to the private armies as well.

Xena's ability to kick made it inevitable that she would either become a highly successful and vicious warlord
or a cheerleader for her local high school team

[14] When war broke out, often times after protracted negotiations entailing the exchange of deputations from the tribal leaders, heralds would precede the advance of an army bearing a challenge to the warrior class of the enemy tribe to come out and fight. If the challenge was accepted, a battlefield would be chosen and the aristocrats would come out and have at each other. According to the copper scrolls, and supported by the Bard's stories, Xena would have none of that. She trained her army to be a unified fighting force thereby massively increasing its combat power. If a town was to be taken she sent an ultimatum to the town, then attacked if the proper answer was not received. If confronted with an enemy in the field, Xena would violently maneuver to confuse the opposition, then strike from an unexpected direction using combined arms tactics thereby rolling up the opposing army without mercy. This disdain of the traditional methods of warfare terrorized Greece and earned Xena a reputation as a cold blooded murderer. In fact, nearly all of these methods of war would be adopted by the Greek city states in toto five hundred years later.


[15] According to the copper scrolls, Xena was ruthlessly efficient as a commander. She was a believer in leadership methods that echo that of Frederick the Great of Germany. Namely she made her troops fear HER more than they feared the enemy. However, she was wise enough to know that fear is not altogether effective in forging a successful fighting force. She deftly used rewards as well as punishments to gain the results she desired. Fear does make sense in Xena's command style because of the people she used to fill her personnel requirements. Most of her troops were forcibly conscripted from the territories she conquered. Several times she even used deception to gain the men that she needed. Without fear, these methods of recruitment would have lead to severe problems of desertion throughout her forces. A further discussion of Xena's personnel policies is necessary to explain how she was able to get these conscripts to fight for her.

[16] Whenever a town was taken, whether peaceably or not, Xena required that all men of military age be turned over for her inspection. This was a job that she did personally. It appears that Xena had a need to look a recruit in his eye to determine whether or not he was suitable. This style of inspection is repeatedly mentioned on the copper scrolls and it is confirmed by the wall inscriptions in both Potidaea and Amphipolis. If the village did not resist Xena's initial ultimatum, then the process went smoothly. If the village did resist, all the men that resisted actively that survived the resulting battle were immediately challenged to defend themselves then put to the sword, usually by Xena's own hand. Those who didn't resist were put through the recruitment process. A village's women and children were left alone, except when a village in a rival army's territory resisted bitterly. In that case, the village was destroyed and the women and children were driven out as refugees. This was done to clog up the roads the enemy might use, and put general pressure on her opposition. The men were then subject to compulsory enlistment.

[17] Like recruiters of today, Xena was most interested in the group between 16 and 20 years of age. This is a period in human development when mortality seems very distant and lack of experience leads to a belief in lack of limitations. Basically, boys in their late teens feel as if they are immortal. Also many of their basic attitudes are still under construction. This lack of experience allows military basic training to build up a recruit's confidence in himself to such an extent that the recruit feels that he is capable of anything. A master manipulator can mold such people's conduct into virtually any behavior desired. Xena was a master manipulator. This doesn't mean that Xena did not conscript older men. Many older men were conscripted, but these troops were saved for logistics operations, transportation, animal care, or the practice of whatever trade that they may have had prior to Xena's arrival. Many older peasants were allowed to continue their lives as agricultural workers. The young men were saved for the combat services.

[18] Xena was a master motivator and her methods were utterly unique in military history. She used every capacity she had as a woman to get her troops to remain loyal and effective. As far as can be determined, no military leader ever used the possibility of sex with the commanding officer as an inducement towards military performance. Generally, especially for the older recruits, a simple system of rewards and punishments was used to maintain discipline. The men were paid from the plunder of the army. Efficient work led to greater rewards. Families were allowed to stay together and may have even been helped with moving expenses if the soldier was transferred. Failure was of course punished, and these punishments could be harsh in the extreme. However, prospective combat troops were treated very differently indeed.

[19] To build fighting troops, Xena first manipulated the paternalistic beliefs of the teenage Greek boy. Many such recruits, besides being bitter about being inducted into an army in which they did not want to serve, could not believe that an army could be commanded by a woman. A group of suitable rookies would be assembled under guard in a flat area and then be made to wait. When the waiting had had a negative impact upon the morale of the recruits, Xena would then arrive in the most spectacular way imaginable, perhaps by doing the equestrian tricks for which she was famous followed by some acrobatics. She would be accoutered in the most eye catching uniform possible that was deliberately cut to be sexually provocative. She would then lecture the recruits upon the subject of what was expected of them while in her service. This lecture was verbally and physically abusive. Those who were intimidated would be shunted off to the training of lower level jobs. Those who were defiant had the pressure upon them increased.

[20] Xena would pick one man, usually the most sullen and rebellious, and act very sexually aggressively towards him. She would then berate him for his cowardice if he did not respond because she was a helpless woman and he failed to act upon his desire. If he did respond aggressively, Xena would strike him and push him off. This would inevitably provoke the recruit to claim that no woman would force him to go to war against his will, and Xena would taunt him further and give him a sword while she herself remained unarmed. Enraged, the recruit would take up the weapon and charge, whereupon Xena would defeat him easily. Those who showed cowardice after this point, Xena would kill. Those who fought until they could not continue were rewarded with motherly nurturing and the offer of someday attaining Xena's bed if the recruit continued to show such courage. This most prized event, a night with the Commanding General, quickly gained a nickname amongst the troops. It was called "The Squeeze". The name was derived from an obscene reference to Xena's physical abilities.

[21] This process had a galvanizing effect upon the young men. No one had been treated in such a manner before. The combination of rage, fear and common sexual desire welded the group into a unit that would die to a man to please their commander. Further physical and weapons training would reinforce this loyalty to the point of fanaticism. This system of discipline was used in battle also, with Xena lavishly rewarding those who performed well. The best performers received Xena's direct intimate attention. Even those men who quailed at their first meeting with the Warrior Princess found this policy a powerful inducement to obedience.

[22] On its face this method doesn't seem conducive to good order and discipline. An average woman placed in Xena's position and using Xena's methods could be expected to choose favorites that would lead to jealousy and drive apart unit cohesion. This was not true with Xena. She lived alone in Spartan reserve and lived up to her word to her men exactly. Not even her immediate subordinate commanders received greater private access. She was well guarded by a squad of powerful Eunuchs at all times; therefore, any attempt to assault Xena's person was dealt with immediately and brutally. Needless to say desertion and cowardice in the face of the enemy were capital offenses, and the execution of the offenders was left solely to Xena's hand.

[23] This method of training and discipline was reinforced with Xena's own conduct. She drove her army to the breaking point constantly, but she did the same with herself. She was renowned for going a week without sleep, living on the same food as the troops or starving with them and taking much greater risks than she ever expected of her men. She was always in front demonstrating her enormous physical courage. Her troops began to believe that she was in fact a goddess because she extracted herself and her troops from impossible situations time and time again. The greatest sealant to any leaks of her army's discipline was the fact that she gave the army victory every time---except for Corinth.

Continued next month in Part 2

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