Dating back to the 15th century, the Dahomey women are considered to be one of the most fearsome fighting regiments in military history, whose regiment struck fear for over 250 years. The Dahomey Amazons hailing from West Africa (modern day Benin) are known to be the only documented all-female front line combat unit in military history.
In the mid-17th century, King Houegbadja started the all-female group as a band of elephant hunters known as the gbeto. When Houegbadja’s son (Agaja) came to rule following his death, he turned this band initially into a group of bodyguard’s to protect the king, and then further developed them into a front-line militia to use in the conquest of neighbouring kingdoms, namely in their first triumph in the conquest of Savi.
The Dahomey women were mostly known for ferocious devotion to battle, and ruthless approach to combat, none more so than searching the woods for survivors following the sacking of a city and brutally executing them. The Dahomey were far from uncivilised in their military strategy, and continually devised tactics learnt from European engagements and applied them to their on close quarter combat strategy. They also applied modern arms strategy by bartering with European countries in exchange for commodities for modern weapons. At their height the Dahomey numbered around 6,000 soldiers.
The Dahomey came to light in the western world when France was undertaking their conquest of West Africa in the mid to late 19th century. In the first Franco-Dohemian war, the French Foreign Legion suffered many casualties in the early stages of the war at the hands of the Dahomey, mainly due to the French’s hesitation in facing a female force as well as the Dahomey’s renowned skill at close quarter fighting. By the end of the conflict the Dahomey were nearly all but wiped out mainly due to the Legion’s superior arms and size of their force. Many Legionnaire’s later came to praise the efforts of the Dahomey, for their courage, valor, and sheer audacity in battle.