Meet the Trung sisters, warrior women of ancient Vietnam who led an uprising against Chinese invaders. Often depicted as a pair riding into battle on elephants, they attempted to kick out their imperial overlords in the late 30s and early 40s C.E.

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The Chinese had conquered what is now Vietnam in 111 B.C.E., but their overlordship didn't become oppressive until the first century C.E., when the Han dynasty came down hard on its colony in the form of taxes and labor demands. The Trung girls were aristocratic women from a spot near Hanoi. The elder of the two, Trung Trac, was supposedly widowed after her husband was killed while trying to uproot his Chinese overlords. Her loss was definitely romanticized in later literature, and it's possible that Trac's husband actually survived and participated in the rebellion.

Legend has it that Trung Trac decided she wouldn't don widow's weeds, refusing to acknowledge her loss, but instead put on rebel gear. She brought her sister, Trung Nhi, to the cause, and the pair booted out the Chinese governor of their province, re-conquering about sixty-five towns for the native Vietnamese. Their forces numbered over 80,000, said one account.

                  A procession in Hanoi honoring the Trung Sisters. Image via Việt Nam News. 

But the Trungs weren't content to remain humble rebel leaders: they became queens. According to a later chronicle, "the sisters installed themselves as Queens of Việt, ruling from Chu Diên, and took the surname of Trưng." A good number of their officers--36, in fact, including their own mother!--were women, showing sisters were doing it for themselves

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Of course, the Chinese emperor didn't take this sitting down. He banished his own conquered general and appointed new military leaders to take on the rebellious Vietnamese. Once they were cornered, the sisters fought back, leading their men and women into battle on elephant-back. But the Chinese soldiers stripped down in mid-battle, forcing the female soldiers to avert their eyes--and thus making themselves vulnerable. Or so legend has it.

Over time, the Trung sisters'  forces proved insufficient to combat those wielded by the Chinese general Ma Yuan. Sadly, the Trung ladies died; reports of how they passed vary from falling in battle or suicide to execution or drowning. Legend has them turning into stone statues and drifting downstream to combat enemy boats, or just disappearing into thin air. But their legacy lives on. Temples were built in the name of the Hai Ba Trung, and they were later dubbed "Chaste Divine Ladies."

Feature image via VNHelp.