From Marco Polo to Neil Armstrong, there’s no shortage of amazing adventurers with astounding exploits. Start flipping through a history book or scrolling through an online article though, and you’ll notice that famous explorers are nearly all men. But history has quite a few women that set out to explore new vistas and embark on adventures. Here are just a few of the badass women that set out and made their mark.
Tomyris “the killer of Cyrus”
Era: 500 BC
Queen Tomyris ruled over the semi-nomadic Massagetaes in areas of what today is Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. Tomyris was fearsome and, like most ancient exploits, things get bloody.
Tomyris’ most famous act was defeating and killing the king of Persia, King Cyrus. One ancient historian reports that Tomyris decapitated Cyrus and then shoved his head into a wineskin filled with human blood, reportedly saying: “I warned you that I would quench your thirst for blood, and so I shall.”
However things went down, Tomyris’ adventures were astounding enough to carry her memory through history and today, Tomris is a popular female name in Central Asia and Turkey.
Era: Late 1800s
A wild and free sole, Eberhardt moved to North Africa in the late 1800s and preferred to live with the locals instead of in the stuffy European developments. She wrote prolifically about North Africa’s people and religions and converted to Islam. Her writings had an anti-colonization bent and they became popular after her death.
Eberhardt had quite a few quirks that made her an outcast in European circles. She dressed like a man, smoked marijuana and drank alcohol and had several lovers. Her odd behavior made the French government believe she was a spy for Algeria and they conducted an assassination attempt. She survived and continued to live life on her terms until her untimely death at the age of 27 in a flash flood.
Era: Late 1880s to early 1900s
T.E. Lawrence gets all the recognition (and a cool nickname) but Gertrude Bell was just as influential in supporting the Hashemite dynasties in, what is today, Jordan and Iraq.
Bell had an appetite for adventure. She mountaineered in Europe, conquering many mountains and recording new paths. She taught herself many languages and could fluently speak Arabic, Persian, French and German as well as some Italian and Turkish. Most of Bell’s travels were throughout the middle east.
Bell traveled to Palestine and Syria, and photographed famous towns including Damascus, Jerusalem, Beirut, Antioch, Cairo and Babylon. She also wrote vividly about the places she visited, creating a buzz about the Middle East back home in England.
When World War I rolled around, the British government turned to Bell because of her extensive knowledge. She was tasked by British Intelligence with getting soldiers through the deserts and from then until her death, she shaped Britain’s policies in the Middle East.
Bell’s adventures in the Middle East could fill several books but, throughout them all, the British government often refused to give her a true position even as she literally crossed deserts for them. Her colleges respected her however and her legacy lives on in films, books and museum exhibits.
Nationality: Belgian and French
Era: Early 1900s
A Buddhist and spiritualist who wrote anarchist papers, David-Néel was a hippie before that term existed. David-Néel told her husband that she would return home after 19 months of travel to bear children. The couple did not see each other for 14 years. (They did, however, keep a close relationship through letter writing.)
David-Néel traveled extensively throughout India, Tibet, China, Japan, Korea and Mongolia, seeking out holy sites and religious centers. She met the Dalai-Lama at a time when British authorities forbade it and she snuck into China’s Forbidden City, disguised as a beggar and a monk.
Throughout her travels, David-Néel translated religious texts and cultivated relationships with religious leaders. She even crossed China from east to west. David-Néel lived a long life, living to be 100 years old. Wanderlust stayed with her, even into old age. A few months before her death, she had sent in her application to renew her passport.