In late September 2018, the STEAM page of Creative Assembly’s Total War Rome II was severely bombarded by a great number of negative reviews within a short period of time. Most of the complaints arose as a result of female generals being able to be recruited by barbarian and Hellenistic factions, as well as the Kingdom of the Kushites. Now some of the reviews were outright lying: a number claimed that the Roman Republic can hire female generals when they cannot; while a spurious image of a fully female recruit pool has made the rounds among reactionary circles creating a tidal wave of anti-feminist and anti-leftist sentiment. From experience, a 100% female recruiting pool is impossible without exploits or deliberately killing off all your male generals. I can also safely testify from my own play-through that no woman has ever led an army of Epirus into the depths of Germania!
The spurious image in question.
Ignoring the obvious fact that some of these reviewers were brazenly lying about the game mechanics, there is an inaccurate assumption that women never took leadership roles in ancient warfare. Hence the accusations of attempting to rewrite history; some have charged this infraction with Marxism and Soviet-style communism. However, these assumptions are wrong. Yes, we can describe ancient society as largely patriarchal, but it wasn’t impossible for women march at the heads of armies, especially among the Hellenistic monarchies which developed combining Greek and Persian despotic practices. Since political power and legitimacy in the fall out of Alexander the Great’s death derived from the support of the troops as well as association with the man himself, princesses and queens could win the loyalty of Macedonian troops. Here’s a list of some Hellenistic queens who led armies:
- Cynane, sister of Alexander the Great fought the Illyrian queen Caeria.
- Olympias, mother of Alexander the Great, led an army to oust Philip III and Adea Eurydice.
- Adea Eurydice, Queen and wife of Phillip III, led an army against Olympias and Polyperchon.
- Archidamia, Queen of Sparta who defended the city against an attack by Pyrrhus of Epirus.
- Deidamia II of Epirus, last of the Aeacid dynasty, led an army to capture Ambracia.
- Stratonice of Macedon led a revolt against Seleucus II Callinicus at Antioch.
- Arsinoe III accompanied her husband Ptolemy IV at the Battle of Raphia in 217 BCE.
- Cleopatra II of Egypt led a revolt ousting her brother Ptolemy VIII in 131 BCE.
- Cleopatra VII, last queen of Egypt, led the Ptolemaic naval contingent at the Battle of Actium in 31 BCE.
The precedent for female generals in barbarian armies certainly also has evidence:
- Tomyris, a Scythian queen who killed Cyrus the Great in 530 BCE.
- Teuta, queen-regent of the Ardiei Illyrians who waged war against Rome. (Also included in the game as the starting monarch of the Ardiaei, to the chagrin of reactionaries)
- Caeria, an Illyrian queen who fought and allegedly personally died to Cynane in 344/43 BCE.
- Onomaris, a Galatian queen who led her displaced tribe on a migration across the Ister, defeating the local inhabitants during the 4th Century BCE.
- Amage, a Sarmatian queen who killed a Scythian prince who had raided her territory.
- Boudicca, the queen of the Iceni who revolted against Rome in 60/61 CE. Her daughters also marched alongside her.
I’m certainly not arguing that there was a 50/50 split between men and women commanders, or even that female generals were common, but only that it’s not historically inaccurate for a Hellenistic or ‘barbarian’ noblewoman to led an army. Neither did CA by the way, there’s only a 10-15% spawn chance for female generals in the actual game files. It’s also important to remember that we can’t concretely assume anything 100% in the ancient world. To do so is not only unwise, it is also arrogant. Thus I would advise anyone to be wary of taking such broad assumptions as objective fact. Just remember that there’s always one exception…or several over a few centuries.
Some readers may be wondering why I’m including this incident among the gaming community in a project intended to combat online fascism, yet fascists like to hide themselves within anti-SJW and anti-feminist backlashes such as this and Gamergate previously. Not everyone in these movements is a fascist or one of their sympathisers, but they are willingly sharing the same camp. Fascists like to hide amongst communities such as these so leftists can’t confront them without indicting the movement as a whole and thus being straw-manned as unrelentingly violent and toxic. As gamers mobilize to fight SJWs or anyone they feel is intruding into their hobby, there’ll be a fascist in the corner sharing Daily Stormer articles about ‘White Genocide’. But just because these commenters are only evidently anti-Marxist and/or anti-feminist does not exclude them from being fascists. Nor does it absolutely prove it. But when they’re saying that women leading ancient armies is Marxist revisionism, they are lying. And it suites their agenda when similar reactionaries and anti-SJWs in the political center repeat that false blanket assumption, because if enough people repeat it, it will eventually be assumed true by default. Argument ad Populum. Reactionary movements in gaming have been characterised by vitriol and abuse against female game critics and game developers. In a telling and unsurprising turn, ‘Integrity in games journalism’ quickly became an inside joke within the movement. Fascists and their sympathisers generally enjoy capitalising against the current hostility to online social justice activism to straw-man the whole left as trying to write a PC version of history with the aim of bringing forth Soviet-style communism. By making the apparently easy claim that only men could lead armies in antiquity, they’re setting up anyone who says otherwise as not only irrational, but subversive to Western history itself. CA introducing female generals is actually a god send to them since they can attack game developers for ‘shoe-horning’ social justice into games; and the fact that Rome II is a historical RTS is the cherry on top. But it’s not game developers or SJWs attempting to write out men from history, but reactionaries and the fascists hiding behind them who are doing so to female leaders in antiquity.
The Athenian Inspector