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we grow up, the history we learn about is largely determined by whatever our teachers happen to tell us at school. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but schools tend to focus on the big events and neglect the lives of some truly remarkable people.

Indeed, history is full of individuals who deserve more attention. The five women discussed in this article aren’t well known at all, but it’s impossible to deny their stories are fascinating.

1. Timoclea

An illustration of Timoclea killing the captain by Matthäus Merian, c. 1630 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

In 335 BC, Alexander the Great attacked the Greek city of Thebes. Soldiers rampaged through the streets, ransacking the houses and abusing the citizens.

Timoclea lived in the city at the time, and she was set upon by a group of soldiers. The captain of this group was particularly aggressive and raped Timoclea before asking her if she had any hidden wealth.

Hungry for revenge, Timoclea told the captain she had some treasure hidden in her garden. She led him outside and said the treasure was at the bottom of the well. As the captain peered inside, Timoclea pushed him over the edge. She finished the job by throwing large stones down at the captain until he was dead.

The other soldiers dragged Timoclea away from her home and took her to their leader. Alexander the Great admired Timoclea’s courage. And rather than forcing her into slavery, he allowed her to walk away as a free woman.

2. Ching Shih

An illustration of Ching Shih by an unknown artist, 1836 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Ching Shih was one of the greatest pirates who ever lived. Born in 1775 on the coast of the Guangdong province, Ching originally worked as a prostitute. One day, she met a notorious pirate called Zheng Yi.

Zheng asked Ching to be his wife, and she accepted. Ching became Zheng’s second-in-command, and when he died in 1807, she was made the new leader of the mighty Red Flag Fleet.

Ching was now in command of 70,000 pirates operating in the South China Sea. Rules were established, and if you didn’t follow them, you could be decapitated or thrown overboard with weights attached to your ankles.

This brutal level of discipline was crucial to Ching’s success. Her fleet attacked fishing villages, markets, towns, and cities. They took valuable commodities and established financial hubs on the coastline. Ching even had an accountant who worked out the value of the plundered resources.

The Chinese officials were desperate to stop the Red Flag Fleet, and eventually, they reached an agreement. Ching spent the rest of her life in Guangzhou, keeping herself occupied with two business ventures: a brothel and a gambling house.

3. Sophie Blanchard

A portrait of Sophie Blanchard during a flight in Milan by Luigi Rados, 1811 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Jean-Pierre Blanchard rose to prominence in the late eighteenth century. He was a famous aeronaut who was known across Europe for his spectacular balloon shows. But in February 1808, he suffered a heart attack during a performance and fell fifty feet. His injuries were severe, and he died a year later.

His wife, Sophie Blanchard, took up the mantle instead. Before long, she was renowned for her fantastic displays and was known as the most famous balloonist in the world.

The “fiery star” was her signature move. Sophie would ascend into the sky and set off a series of fireworks that created a sparkly spectacle of gold, silver, red, blue, and green. Emperor Napoleon was a big fan of Sophie’s performances and invited her to fly over the Champs de Mars in honor of his marriage to Marie-Louise of Austria.

But Sophie’s career did not end the way she intended. On the 6th of July 1819, she ascended into the air above the Tivoli Gardens in Paris. A spark from one of the fireworks caused a fire to erupt. Sophie drifted above the buildings of the Rue de Provence, collided with a rooftop, and fell onto the street below.

The fall was fatal, and for several days, France mourned the loss of a legendary performer.

4. Sonya Golden Hand

A depiction of Sonya Golden Hand by an unknown artist, c. 1870 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Due to the nature of her work, parts of Sonya Golden Hand’s life remain a mystery. Luckily, historians have still managed to piece together a vivid account of this woman’s fascinating criminal career.

Sonya was born in the Warsaw district of the Russian Empire in the middle of the nineteenth century. Even as a child, she liked to cause mischief. She often stole items from stores, and she was also expelled from school for stealing books.

As an adult, Sonya took her crimes to the next level. Having grown into a beautiful young woman, she made her way in life by charming the aristocracy of the Russian Empire. She would arrive in major cities disguised as a rich member of the upper class and pickpocket the men she encountered. She was so beautiful that men sometimes gave her their possessions willingly.

Sonya soon became a legend within the criminal underworld of the Russian Empire. Her reputation grew considerably in the 1880s, and she was the only woman to be accepted into the vorovskoi mir (the world of thieves).

But Sonya couldn’t evade justice forever. She was captured in 1895 and sentenced to hard labor on Sakhalin Island. During an escape attempt, she collapsed from exhaustion and died soon after.

5. Lyudmila Pavlichenko

A photograph of Lyudmila Pavlichenko by Israel Abramovich Ozersky, 1942 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Lyudmila Pavlichenko was born in 1916 and grew up in a Ukrainian village. When she was a child, she heard one of her neighbors bragging about his skills with a rifle, so she decided to join the local shooting club and prove girls could do it too.

Lyudmila was a natural. She had the perfect balance of coordination, steadiness, eyesight, and patience. When the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, she wanted to use her skills to fight back.

Soviet snipers had a life expectancy of just two weeks, but Lyudmila was never even captured by the enemy, let alone killed. From the moment she started her military career, she surpassed all expectations. And during the Siege of Odessa and the Siege of Sevastopol, she shot down hundreds of Nazis.

Before long, Lyudmila had a formidable reputation as one of the deadliest soldiers in the Soviet Army. But her career came to an end when she was hit by a piece of shrapnel in the summer of 1942. Though she was unable to fight, Lyudmila continued to aid the war effort by training other snipers for the Red Army.

To this day, Lyudmila still has the highest number of registered kills for any female sniper in history.

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