Has there ever been a women-only army?

The Ministry of Defence has long debated whether women should fight for the nation’s armed forces, but King Gezo of Dahomey had no such reservations, as historian Julian Humphrys explains…

Female warriors from Benin

The Kings of Dahomey (modern-day Benin) had used women as palace guards back in the 18th century, but by 1850, King Gezo had thousands of all-female regiments in his army. The Dahomeans were fighting enemies who greatly outnumbered them, so it was decided to bolster their forces with fierce female warriors, known as the Mino.

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They were skilled and deadly opponents, thanks in part to their often brutal training. The Mino climbed thorn hedges to get used to pain, and executed prisoners in order to hone killer instincts.

Although they were equipped with firearms, their speciality was hand-to-hand combat and they went into action wielding razor sharp machetes. Their last battles were in the 1890s, when they found themselves up against the French who were colonising West Africa.

The undoubted bravery of Dahomey’s soldiers, both male and female, was no match for the modern weaponry of the French and they were eventually, and bloodily, defeated.

Answered by one of our Q&A experts, historian and author Julian Humphrys

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This article was taken from the April 2015 issue of BBC History Revealed magazine