9 Female Warriors Who Made Their Mark On History

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

They were mothers, sisters, daughters, and wives. But above all these women were warriors. All across time, and all around the globe, they brandished swords and guns, fought battles, and faced off with royalty. Though outnumbered by their bands of brothers in battle, these fearsome female fighters have each made an indelible mark on history.

1. ARTEMISIA I OF CARIA

Named after the Goddess of the Hunt (Artemis), Artemisia was the 5th century BCE Queen of Halicarnassus, a kingdom that exists in modern-day Turkey. However, she was best known as a naval commander and ally of Xerxes, the King of Persia, in his invasion of the Greek city-states. (Yes, like in the action movie 300: Rise of an Empire.)

She made her mark on history in the Battle of Salamis, where the fleet she commanded was deemed the best against the Greeks. Greek historian Herodotus wrote of her heroics on this battlefield of the sea, painting her as a warrior who was decisive and incredibly intelligent in her strategies. This included a ruthless sense of self-preservation. With a Greek vessel bearing down on her ship, Artemisia intentionally steered into another Persian vessel to trick the Greeks into believing she was one of them. It worked. The Greeks left her be. The Persian ship sank. Watching from the shore, Xerxes saw the collision and believed Artemisia had sunk a Greek enemy, not one of his own.

For all of this, her death was not one recorded in a great battle, but in a sexist legend. It's said that Artemisia fell hard for a man, who ignored her to his detriment. Blinded by love, she blinded him in his sleep. Yet even with him disfigured, her passion for him burned. To cure herself, she set to leap from a tall rock in Leucas, Greece, which was believed to break the bonds of love. Instead, it broke Artemisia's neck. She's said to be buried nearby.

2. JOAN OF ARC

Not just a legendary female warrior but also a Roman Catholic saint, Joan was but a girl when visions of the Archangel Michael drove her to approach the military of France's King Charles VII and offer to assist in his efforts to expel the occupying English in the later days of the Hundred Years' War. Though initially mocked by these men and soldiers, Joan was taken seriously once her influence ended the Siege of Orleans in nine days.

By age 17, she played a key role in commanding France's army, and her forte in the military seemed to be for strategy over slaying. The French owed much to Joan, and yet it was the Burgundians, Frenchmen loyal to England, that led to her demise. She was captured in 1430 and, despite several escape attempts and rescue efforts, Joan was put on trial by the English for heresy and cross-dressing. Her visions were now derided, and her armor called an atrocity. She was convicted, sentenced to death, and burned alive at the stake.

Even after her death, her strategies are said to have influenced the French battle model. More than 25 years later, the Catholic Church revisited Joan's trial for heresy, overturning the charges against her in a case of too little too late. It would be more than 460 years before Pope Benedict XV declared Joan a saint.

3. TRIỆU THỊ TRINH

Though described as the "Vietnamese Joan of Arc," Triệu Thị Trinh predated the French heroine by more than 1200 years. At 20 years old, Triệu (a.k.a. Lady Triệu) raised a following 1,000 strong, and urged her fellow Vietnamese to rebel against the Chinese forces that sought to conquer their homeland in the 3rd century. Her brother tried to dissuade her from revolt, but Triệu's response was as fearsome as she was on the battlefield. She retorted, "I only want to ride the wind and walk the waves, slay the big whales of the Eastern sea, clean up frontiers, and save the people from drowning. Why should I imitate others, bow my head, stoop over and be a slave? Why resign myself to menial housework?" From there, her brother joined her army.

Triệu cut a grand figure on the field, carrying two swords and wearing bright yellow robes while she rode a war-elephant. After liberating her territory and beating the Chinese back in 30 advances, she lost the war, and is believed to have committed suicide by 23. Despite this dark end, her legacy lives on. Stories of her suggest that she had a voice that sounded loud as a temple bell, and that she was 9 feet tall with breasts that were 3 feet long. These tall tales speak to the incredible presence this young woman, who inspired people past and present, possessed.

Her power to inspire is easy to imagine, considering her gift for words. Here's another gem of a Triệu quote: "I'd like to ride storms, kill sharks in the open sea, drive out the aggressors, reconquer the country, undo the ties of serfdom, and never bend my back to be the concubine of whatever man."

4. NAKANO TAKEKO

One of the only known onna-bugeisha (female samurais) in Japan's history, Takeko was educated in literary and martial arts before distinguishing herself in the Boshin War, a Japanese civil war that lasted from January 3rd 1868 to May 18th, 1869.

In the Battle of Aizu in the fall of 1868, she and other females who chose to fight were not recognized as an official part of the Aizu army. Nonetheless, Takeko led her peers in a unit that was later dubbed Jōshitai, which translates to the "Women's Army." Her weapon of choice was the naginta, a Japanese pole arm. But while it helped her earn glory, it would not safeguard her through the war.

Takeko was shot in the chest while leading a charge against the Imperial Japanese Army of the Ogaki domain. Fearing that her enemies would defile her body and make her head a gruesome war trophy, she asked her sister to cut it off and bury it. This was her final wish, and her head was subsequently buried beneath a pine tree at the Hōkai-ji Temple in modern-day Fukushima. Today, a monument to her stands nearby, where girls come each year to honor her and her Women's Army during the Aizu Autumn Festival.

5. TOMOE GOZEN

The most famous onna-bugeisha, however, pre-dated Takeko by about 700 years. Her name was Tomoe. Gozen was a title of respect bestowed on her by her master, shogun Minamoto no Yoshinaka. She fought alongside male samurais in the Genpei War, which lasted from 1180 to 1185. While a woman fighting among men was highly unusual, it seems Yoshinaka's high esteem for Tomoe and her fighting skills overcame prejudice.

In the history tome The Tale of Heike, Tomoe was described as "a remarkably strong archer, and as a swordswoman she was a warrior worth a thousand, ready to confront a demon or a god, mounted or on foot." She was also said to be beautiful, fearless, and respected.

Her hobbies included riding wild horses down intimidatingly steep hills. She regularly led men into battle and to victory. Her last was the Battle of Awazu, where Minamoto no Yoshinaka was killed. Tomoe escaped her enemies there, and gave up her sword and bowed to retirement. From there, some say she married. Years later, when her husband died, it's believed Tomoe became a nun.

6. QUEEN BOUDICCA

As wife of the king of the Celtic tribe Iceni, Boudicca was a queen—but it was widowhood that made her a warrior. Her husband Prasutagus's will demanded that his kingdom be given jointly to his daughters and his ally, the Roman emperor. However Rome only recognized a son's right to inherit. So, upon Prasutagus's death, Rome not only invaded, but tortured Boudicca tortured and raped her daughters. This would not stand.

Around 60 A.D., Boudicca called on her tribe as well as others to unite and push Rome out of their lands. With 100,000 at her command, Boudica toppled the Roman Capitol of Britain, Camulodunum (modern-day Colchester). From there, she rode her troops down through Londinium (London) and Verulamium (St. Albans), destroying cities and slaughtering between 70,000 and 80,000. Her victories forced Emperor Nero to consider pulling out of Britain completely. However, a Roman defeat of Boudicca's forces turned the tide. What became of her after this loss is a matter of debate. There's no record of her capture, so it is believed she died either by illness or suicide.

Despite the destruction she wrought there, Boudicca is still remembered favorably in London thanks to a resurgence of her legend in the Victorian era. In 1902, a bronze statue called Boadicea and Her Daughters was erected at the western side of Westminster Bridge. It shows this warrior queen riding a chariot into battle, pulled by two horses. Her daughters are on board beside her, as her arm reaches high into the air, her fist clutching a mighty spear. The front plinth reads: "Boadicea, Boudicca, Queen of the Iceni who died AD 61 after leading her people against the Roman invader."

7. GRACE O'MALLEY

For all those riled that she was left off our list of female pirates, let me make amends by sharing the story of the 16th century warrior woman/Irish pirate Queen also known as Gráinne Mhaol, a nickname derived from a tale of teenaged rebellion. When her mother refused to let Grace set sail with her father, claiming the girl's long hair would get tangled in their ropes, the firebrand promptly chopped off her locks, earning passage on the voyage as well as the name that translates roughly to "bald." This bold woman ruled over the Umaill kingdom of Ireland, being chieftain of the Ó Máille clan after her father. The ships she likewise inherited, she used for piracy.

Grace and her crews would board vessels that dared come too close to her shores or ships, and from them she'd take what she called a "tax" for passage. Resistance to pay would result in violence or death. She was said to be so fearsome that even the day after birthing a child upon her ship, she took up arms to defend it, scolding her men, "May you be seven times worse this day twelvemonth, who cannot do without me for one day!"

Yet Grace's greatest showdown was against Queen Elizabeth I. At a time when chieftains' power was being trounced by this monarch, a chieftain had the audacity to write to her directly demanding she be free to continue her piracy, as long as it was against the enemies of England. Soon letters led to the willful Grace sailing to England for a fateful face-to-face meeting that resulted in the queen releasing the pirate queen's captured son and brother, as well as returning properties confiscated by English forces. But above all, Elizabeth granted Grace permission to "fight in our quarrel with all the world." And she did until her retirement to Rockfleet Castle roundabouts 1603.

8. LOZEN

This Apache warrior is believed to have been in her 30s when she and her brother Victorio's tribe was forced into the San Carlos Reservation in 1870s Arizona. The place was described as "Hell's Forty Acres" because of its deplorable conditions. Around 1877, Victorio led a band—Lozen among them—out of the reservation, and together they raided the lands, striking awe and fear in the hearts of the settlers of New Mexico's Black Mountain, who had taken over the Apache land.

Lozen took pity on the women and children during one such raid, and, as recounted by James Kaywaykla, who was a child at the time, she led them to safety across the Rio Grande. "I saw a magnificent woman on a beautiful horse—Lozen, sister of Victorio. Lozen the woman warrior!" Kaywaykla recounted, "She could ride, shoot, and fight like a man."

Her brother is quoted as saying, "Lozen is my right hand ... strong as a man, braver than most, and cunning in strategy. Lozen is a shield to her people." Unfortunately, she could not be his shield when he most needed it. Victorio died in battle while Lozen was seeing a new mother and baby back to the reservation. Hearing of the battle and her brother's death, she set out to aid the survivors. From there she was a part of a vengeance-fueled rampage that streaked across New Mexico in 1881.

She later fought beside Geronimo, and legend has it she could sense the enemy's location and number just by reaching out her arms. After Geronimo's surrender, Lozen was captured. She died of tuberculosis while she was a prisoner of war. Her body was returned to the tribe so it could be buried in a place of honor according to Apache tradition.

9. ZENOBIA

Queen Zenobia's Last Look Upon Palmyra by Herbert Schmalz

Following the assassination of her husband and stepson in 267, Zenobia became the ruler of the Palmyrene Empire that lived in what is now Syria. Within two years of her ascent, she was battling back the advances of Rome and expanding the boundaries of her kingdom by force, invading Egypt and Anatolia. Though an accomplished rider, she also showed a kinship with her army by walking miles upon miles in step with her foot soldiers. She was truly their warrior queen.

Zenobia would go on to capture key trade routes before the Romans responded by laying siege to Emesa, where her treasury lay. She and her son Vaballathus escaped the siege, but were caught along the Euphrates River. They were taken as hostages, but Vaballathus seems to have vanished en route to Rome. He is presumed to have died along the way.

As for Zenobia, her reign was fierce but brief. It's said that her defeat was celebrated in Rome in 274, when she, bound in golden chains, was led through the streets as part of a military parade. From there, her final chapter is a matter of debate. Some historians believe she died in Rome, either through illness, hunger strike, or beheading. But happier accounts claim that Roman Emperor Aurelian, so in awe of her integrity and grace, granted her clemency and freedom. In this version, she married a Roman politician. From there, she became a philosopher and socialite with a fleet of daughters and a luxurious home.

10 Trailblazing Facts About Susan B. Anthony

Scewing, Wikimedia Commons // Public domain
Scewing, Wikimedia Commons // Public domain

When people think of the suffrage movement, Susan B. Anthony is one of the names that immediately comes to mind. Although she didn't live long enough to vote (legally, at least), her contributions to women’s rights were part of a chain of events that culminated in the Nineteenth Amendment. On the occasion of her 200th birthday on February 15, 2020, here are a few facts you might not know about Anthony’s life and legacy.

1. Susan B. Anthony was born into a family of abolitionists.

A large house
Susan B. Anthony's childhood home, photographed in 1897.
Internet Archive Book Images, Wikimedia Commons // No known copyright restrictions

Susan Brownell Anthony was born into a Quaker family in Adams, Massachusetts, on February 15, 1820. She was the second of seven children, and her entire family was full of activists. Anti-slavery meetings were eventually held at their farm every Sunday, and her father became friends with prominent abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison. These experiences shaped her views on equality, and some of her earliest activist work was in support of the abolitionist movement.

2. Susan B. Anthony was a teacher for 10 years.

Susan B. Anthony in her younger years
Susan B. Anthony in her younger years
Wikimedia/NYPL Digital Gallery // Public Domain

Teaching was one of the few professions open to women of Anthony's era. She taught from 1839 to 1849, eventually becoming principal of the girls' department at Canajoharie Academy in upstate New York. During her decade as a teacher, she spoke publicly about the need for higher pay for female teachers, as well as more professional opportunities for women.

3. Susan B. Anthony was BFFs with Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony
Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony in 1870

A mutual acquaintance, Amelia Bloomer, introduced Anthony to Elizabeth Cady Stanton in 1851. You could say it was friendship at first sight. Stanton later said of her first impression of Anthony, "I liked her thoroughly, and why I did not at once invite her home with me to dinner, I do not know." More than pals, they were also close collaborators with similar views. Together, they would eventually found the National Woman Suffrage Association and also start up a women's rights newspaper called The Revolution. Although their personal lives were very different, they found a way to use it to their advantage. Anthony, who never married or had children, was free to attend rallies and speaking engagements across the country. Stanton had seven children, so she wrote from home as a means of influencing the movement.

4. Susan B. Anthony's first public speech was about the dangers of alcohol.

Susan B. Anthony
Library of Congress/Wikimedia // No known restrictions

Anthony didn’t attend her first women's rights convention until she was in her thirties. Before that, she was active in the temperance movement, which advocated stronger liquor laws and preached the dangers of heavy drinking. She gave her first public speech at a Daughters of Temperance event, but when she was denied the right to speak at a Sons of Temperance convention a few years later, she and Stanton decided to form their own Women's State Temperance Society. They launched a petition to get the state legislature to limit the sale of liquor, but it was revoked because most of the signers were women and children. Anthony and Stanton realized they’d never be taken seriously until women gained the right to vote, so their priorities started to shift around this time.

5. Susan B. Anthony cut her hair and dressed differently to prove a point.

Amelia Bloomer in the outfit she designed, with
Amelia Bloomer in the outfit she designed, with "bloomers"
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Many activists and suffragists argued that women should be free to wear less restrictive clothes than the corsets and heavy underskirts that dominated in those days. To prove their point, many women wore trouser-like bloomers (named for Amelia Bloomer, who advocated them) under their skirts. Following in the footsteps of Stanton, Anthony cut her long, brown hair and started wearing bloomers, albeit somewhat reluctantly. She was ridiculed for her new look, and ultimately decided that the negative attention detracted from the message she wanted to convey. She reverted to her old ways after a year.

6. Susan B. Anthony believed that riding bicycles was one of the best ways to fight the patriarchy.

Women cyclists
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Bicycles were kind of a big deal for women in the 19th century. The machines gave women a sense of independence and mobility that they hadn't enjoyed before, allowing them to leave their houses without having to ask their husbands for a ride. As Anthony once put it, "I think [bicycling] has done more to emancipate women than any one thing in the world. I rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel. It gives her a feeling of self-reliance and independence the moment she takes her seat; and away she goes, the picture of untrammeled womanhood."

7. Susan B. Anthony opposed the Fifteenth amendment.

Susan B. Anthony
Susan B. Anthony circa 1890
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

One of the biggest criticisms lobbed against Anthony and Stanton is that they didn’t support the Fifteenth Amendment, which gave black men the right to vote. The pair were upset that the amendment didn't include women, so they splintered from other suffragist groups and formed their own National Woman Suffrage Association. "There was a battle among abolitionists … between having a Fifteenth Amendment that gave black men the vote or holding out for a suffrage amendment that granted the vote to all adult Americans," Lori D. Ginzberg, author of a biography about Stanton, told NPR. Anthony and Stanton opted for the latter, and their decision has been the subject of controversy ever since.

8. Susan B. Anthony was jailed for voting.

A monument at the site where Anthony voted, illegally, in the 1872 election
A monument at the site where Anthony voted, illegally, in the 1872 election

Anthony and 15 other women showed up at the polls to vote in the presidential election of 1872, which pitted Horace Greeley against the incumbent, Ulysses S. Grant. Considering that women were barred from voting at the time, this was a symbolic gesture as well as an act of civil disobedience. (But for what it's worth, Anthony voted for President Grant.) When Anthony was later politely asked by an officer to come down to the precinct to face arrest, she demanded that she be "arrested properly" in the same way a man would be arrested. This request was granted, but her trial wasn’t exactly fair. She wasn't permitted to testify, and the judge instructed the jury to find her guilty. Anthony was ultimately handed a fine of $100, which she refused to pay. Although her actions greatly influenced the suffrage movement, she never did have the chance to vote legally. The Nineteenth Amendment passed 13 years after her death.

9. Susan B. Anthony's face was almost carved into Mount Rushmore.

Workers construct George Washington's image on Mount Rushmore
Rise Studio, Rapid City, S. Dak, Wikimedia Commons // Public domain

In 1937 Congress considered adding Anthony's face to the famed mountain after the Washington and Jefferson portions were completed. However, that idea was scrapped after the House Appropriations Committee said the funds must only be used to complete the sculptures that were already underway (which, at that time, included the Lincoln and Roosevelt sections).

10. Susan B. Anthony was the first woman to appear on circulating U.S. currency.

Susan B. Anthony on the one-dollar coin
Alex Bergin, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The U.S. Treasury Department decided to set a new precedent by putting Anthony's face on a one-dollar coin starting in 1979. However, it looked a little too much like a quarter and cash registers didn’t have a designated space for them, so the coin wasn't widely circulated. Anthony may get a second chance, though, when she appears on the back of the redesigned $10 bill. (The timeline for the redesign, announced in 2016, is currently unclear.) Other influential women expected to appear on the redesigned $10 include Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Sojourner Truth, and Alice Paul.

8 Facts About Lupercalia—the Ancient Festival Full of Whippings and Ritual Sacrifice

Sex, violence, and drunkenness: For centuries, Lupercalia was a major Roman party, surviving well into the rise of Christianity. And pretty soon, someone on your Facebook feed is probably going to claim that this holiday gave rise to our modern Valentine’s Day. So what’s the true story behind the ancient Roman festival and its relation to candy hearts?

1. Lupercalia featured odd sacrifices.

Every year on February 15, the festival began by going to the Lupercal (the legendary site where Romulus and Remus were suckled) and sacrificing a dog and a goat. According to scholar Keith Hopkins, this was unusual in and of itself, because pigs, sheep, and bulls were most commonly used as sacrificial animals. The Oxford Classical Dictionary explains that next, the blood of these animals "was smeared with a knife on the foreheads of two youths (who were obliged to laugh), and wiped with wool dipped in milk."

2. Whippings were also on the menu.

After the blood/wool excitement, Lupercalia's main attraction was the runners. The sacrificed goat’s skin was cut into thongs and (possibly—see below) girdles to be worn by the athletes. Then two sets of runners (a third set would be added later) would make their way through the streets of the city, whipping whomever they met on their way. According to some accounts, women would volunteer to be whipped because it was believed to bring fertility and make the birthing process easier for them. But as the years passed, things changed; by the 3rd century, the voluntary nature of this ritual seemed to be less voluntary. Hopkins claims that a mosaic featuring a Lupercalia celebration features “two men forcibly holding a naked woman face upwards, while a third man, half naked, whips her thighs ... The men’s drunken hilarity is matched by the beaten woman’s obvious pain."

3. People may have been naked—or maybe not.

One long-standing debate about Lupercalia is the degree of nudity. There are definite references to nudus, but that doesn’t necessarily mean naked. It could just mean “having one’s main garment removed,” possibly in reference to the runners wearing goat skin loincloths. But other writers were explicit in mentioning nudity as part of the festivities. It remains an open question whether the festival was PG-, R-, or X-rated.

4. It’s not quite clear who or what the Lupercalia festival was celebrating.

Circle of Adam Elsheimer The Lupercalian Festival in Rome
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

According to the 1st century BCE scholar Marcus Terentius Varro, "the Luperci [are so called] because at the Lupercalia they sacrifice at the Lupercal … the Lupercalia are so called because [that is when] the Luperci sacrifice at the Lupercal." This incredibly unhelpful circular definition has led to centuries of debate about who, or what, the festival was actually celebrating.

Ovid suggested that it was for Faunus (a Roman pastoral god); Livy said it was Inuus (the god of fertility); and Varro said it was a wolf goddess named Luperca. Traditionally, the two sets of runners are related to the mythological founders of Rome—Romulus and Remus—who were suckled by a wolf. But confusingly, Livy says that the twins were ambushed by bandits while celebrating the Lupercalia, leading some scholars to suggest the festival predates Romulus and Remus.

As South African scholar P.M.W. Tennant observed while discussing Romulus and Remus and the Lupercalia, “most of the ideas put forward here are obviously highly conjectural—as all theories concerning the Lupercalia are bound to be."

5. Lupercalia is when Julius Caesar was offered the crown.

Today, Lupercalia is probably most famous for what happened on February 15, 44 BCE. That day a “ naked, perfumed, drunk ” Mark Antony was one of the runners while Julius Caesar watched the proceedings from a throne. Antony went up to Julius Caesar with a diadem (a type of crown or headband) and—in what later historians have said was almost certainly scripted—attempted to give it to Caesar and proclaim him king.

The crowd's initial response to this action was tepid, but when Caesar refused the crown they cheered. Antony tried again, Caesar refused again, and the crowd exploded. Caesar ordered the crown taken to the Temple of Jupiter because Jupiter was Rome’s one king. The purpose of this exercise has been debated. Some propose Antony did it on his own to either flatter Caesar or embarrass him, while at the time it was thought that Caesar orchestrated the stunt as a way to test the waters for whether the people would accept a king. Either way, it didn't really work out for Caesar; he was assassinated one month later.

6. A Pope criticized the festival.

One of Lupercalia's most remarkable features is how long it survived. We know this because circa 494 CE, Pope Gelasius wrote a letter criticizing Christian participation in it. He commented on how in the olden days nobles would run as Lupercali and strike naked matrons, and modern participants should be willing to similarly run naked. By Gelasius’s time this had become heavily altered, leading him to proclaim “your own bashfulness ought itself to teach you that the Lupercalia is a public crime, not salvation and the cult of the Divinity, regarding which no wise man would blush. Rather the Lupercalia is an instrument of depravity, which your mind, bearing testimony against itself, blushes to fulfill.”

The letter is interesting to historians for many reasons. First, because Gelasius flat-out describes many of the less seemly rites, and it also allows historians to analyze how Lupercalia changed with time and changed with the perception of the author. For instance, Gelasius indicated that by the 5th century lower classes were the runners, whereas important figures like Mark Antony participated in earlier events.

7. Despite what you've heard, Lupercalia probably has nothing to do with Valentine’s Day.

Many pop culture websites and books declare that Pope Gelasius replaced Lupercalia with a festival dedicated to St. Valentine of Rome (or possibly of Terni—the figure is mysterious) who had his feast day on February 14. But as British author Mark Forsyth once observed, "It is vitally important when writing about traditions to remember that there are only 365 days in the year ... Overlap is not significance."

Most medieval historians agree there’s no evidence that Pope Gelasius replaced Lupercalia with any festival whatsoever (a similar claim that Candlemas replaced Lupercalia is also without merit) with scholar Jack Oruch proclaiming “at no point does Gelasius speak of compromise or of adapting any pagan customs” and another professor telling History.com: "It just drives me crazy that the Roman story keeps circulating and circulating." Meanwhile, popular legends that Lupercalia featured girls writing their names on paper that would be drawn from a box by boys are likely an 18th-century invention.

Most mainstream historians instead propose that Valentine’s Day and romance became associated with each other only in the late 14th century, and specifically because of a Geoffrey Chaucer poem called "Parliament of Fowls" (or "Parlement of Foules").

8. Valentine’s Day might not even be on February 14.

In Chaucer’s poem, he proclaimed (in modern spelling) “For this was on Saint Valentine’s day / When every bird came there to choose his mate.” But some historians have noted that February 14 is still very cold in England and is unlikely to be a good bird mating season. In the 1980s some historians, led by Andy Kelly of UCLA, began proposing that the "Valentine" Chaucer was referring to was St. Valentine of Genoa, whose feast day occurred on May 2 or May 3 (sources differ), instead of Valentine of Rome. This is especially relevant because King Richard II and Anne of Bohemia concluded their marriage treaty on May 2, meaning Chaucer may have chosen Valentine by just picking out a random saint whose day fell on the correct day in May. Over the years, the association with May weakened and the day migrated to the more famous Valentine of Rome.

Other scholars objected, pointing out that there are many references to fertility rites and festivals in February—such as Lupercalia—and that Chaucer may have been discussing the more famous Valentine of Rome and February 14.

"In medieval studies there is neither consensus nor continuing debate on the question which St. Valentine Chaucer had in mind," Professor Steven Justice of the University of California, Berkeley, tells Mental Floss. "The evidence just hasn't supported any conclusive arguments one way or the other, and unless one is (a) convinced that the feast, whichever it is, identifies the historical occasion of the poem, if it had one, and (b) interested in that historical occasion, the question does not seem very consequential. One would like an answer just because one doesn't like unanswered questions, but it's not clear that much hangs on it."

One thing is clear: Today, whether you celebrate Lupercalia or St. Valentine of Rome’s day in February or St. Valentine of Genoa in May, it's best leave out the goat sacrifices and running naked through the streets.

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