Friday, July 10, 2020

6 Badass Disabled Warriors in History: Proof That You Can Write A Disabled Protagonist

Did you know July is Disability Pride Month?

Well, it is!

That means that this month all of my blog posts and YouTube videos are going to be disability-centric (more so than usual, anyway). I am quite proud to be a disabled person, so I'm excited to share that with you all.

Today I wanted to give a list of incredible disabled warriors throughout history. I'm doing this because one of the main things I hear when people consider writing a disabled character (or see one represented on-page or on-screen) is that it is "unrealistic" for disabled people to be heroes. 

This is, of course, complete and utter garbage. Here's proof: 

6 Badass Disabled Warriors in History: Proof That You Can Write A Disabled Protagonist

Note: I chose examples of warriors from time periods that are typically depicted in fantasy stories, but keep in mind that there are many others out there spanning all time periods. 

1. Burial Site 223 

This is one of my absolute favorite examples. Archeologists were exploring the King Archaeological Site in Georgia, a protohistorical Native American site, when they discovered a warrior who had been buried in full honors. They originally assumed this warrior was male, given that the Coosa culture tended to have predominatly male warriors. However, it turns out that this person was actually what is known as a War Woman, a title given to female warriors. 

But it gets better. This War Woman was, in fact, physically disabled. Her bone structure indicates a crushed pelvis that would have made one of her legs largely useless, as well as probably very painful to walk on. And yet not only did she become a warrior, but she became such an excellent and respected warrior that she was buried with full honors along side her non-disabled male warrior counterparts. 

How completely badass is that? We sadly don't know anything else about this woman, but I would pay good money to learn her full story. 

2. Ivar the Boneless

This guy was a Viking leader who invaded Anglo-Saxon England. Despite his name, he did, in fact, have bones. However, due to some unknown disability, he was unable to walk. Did that stop him from winning many battles and vanquishing many foes? Absolutely not. Here's how: 

He was one of three Viking brothers who worked together to invade England. Ivar was an exceptional strategist and very well respected by his clan. During invasions and travels, his people would arrange to carry him with them either on a stretcher or on a shield. He would study villages and battlefields, decide upon the best plan of attack, and his brothers would then carry out his instructions. They won many battles and invasions this way. 

The cherry on top? Ivar was also an excellent bowman, so his brothers would prop him within shooting distance of the battlefield so that Ivar could assist in fighting from afar. 

3. Marcus Sergius

Meet the first documented user of a prosthetic hand. Sergius was a Roman Empire general in the Punic War who lost his right hand in battle. Instead of giving up his title of general, he fitted himself with an iron prosthetic hand that he used to hold up his shield. He then went on to lead many war efforts, including the capture of twelve enemy camps. 

But wait. There's more. 

He was captured by Hannibal. Twice. And escape on his own. Twice

Now look me in the eye and tell me that disabled warriors are "unrealistic."

4. King Alfred the Great

As his name indicates, this dude was pretty great. Not only was he a great warrior, but he was incredibly wise. He fought many battles against the Vikings and ultimately struck an agreement that led his country to (relative) peace. He pushed for the education of his people, had scripture translated into English, and worked very hard to change the infrastructure of his country to protect it from further attack....All before the age of fifty.

Impressed yet? It gets better. King Alfred achieved all of this while living with chronic pain. The is no clear diagnosis, but historians suspect he had a form of Crohn's Disease. 

I've heard it said that disability and pain clouds people's judgement and thus makes them unfit to lead. King Alfred's legacy begs to differ.

Shout-out to Grace Crandall for teaching me about this amazing person! 

5. Gaiseric

Ever wondered where the term "vandalism" comes from? Well, wonder no more. Gaiseric was king of the Vandals and was so fierce and brutal that the name of his people became synonymous with violence. 

Historical accounts state that he was "lame in consequence of a fall from his horse." While the word "lame" is currently a derogatory term because people associate lameness with worthlessness, Gaiseric is proof that this mindset is ableist garbage. Not only did he lead the Vandals in many battles, but he also brought together the Alans and Goths and took over a large portion of Roman Africa. But he didn't stop there. He successfully captured and plundered Rome itself, and later successfully defended his kingdom from multiple attacks by what was left of the Roman Empire. 

And that, my friends, is one of the many reasons why we should not use the world "lame" as an insult.

Many thanks to Beth Wangler for alerting me to this warrior's existence! 

6. Jan Žižka

This guy was the undefeated general of the Hussite War. Oh. And he was blind. Get ready for one of the most incredible life stories on the planet:

Žižka lost one of his eyes at a fairly young age, though exactly how this happened is unclear. He became well-versed in warfare and was known for wielding a mace, though he also knew how to use cannons and pistols (both of which were weapons that were not in popular use at the time). He was shot with an arrow and lost his other eye during battle, but continued to lead his troops to victory while horribly wounded

Now completely blind, he went on to not only direct military operations, but also personally lead his men through multiple battles. 

He continued to engage in raids, ambushes, and straight-up battles all the way through his 60s. He became sick with the plague and died an undefeated (and much feared) general. It was said that he was so mighty that no mortal could kill him, and thus could only be extinguished by God himself.

And there you have it! History is full of examples of incredible disabled warriors who overcame accessibility barriers and had a massive impact on the world around them. 

If you originally thought that writing a disabled warrior would be "unrealistic" or "too limiting," I hope this changed your mind. Disabled people can (and should) be more than background characters or sidekicks that hang back during action scenes. 

Do you have a favorite disabled warrior from history? I'd love to hear about them! 

Related articles: 
9 Tips for Writing Physically Disabled Characters in Fantasy
Writing Disabled Characters: What You're Doing Wrong

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  1. Excellent post, Hannah! This was really inspiring for one of my book ideas, which features a blind character as the main protagonist. I am in the midst of doing a lot of research on how to portray her realistically. She's an extremely skilled fighter and generally rad, and her story is one that I really am having fun figuring out. She unfortunately has to deal with a lot of people who underestimate her or cast her aside as unimportant at first glance, but turns out she helps win a war, so she proved them wrong pretty well, I think. (=

    I really enjoy reading your posts on the topic of disability. I am severely hearing impaired and may go deaf some years into the future, so it perks me up to watch you prove that disabled people can be boss, too!

  2. Thank you so much for this post. I've been (fairly recently) diagnosed with several chronic conditions, and posts like this are so encouraging (especially to a fellow writer!). :)

  3. This was such a cool post! I love how history is so full of amazing, half-forgotten stories like this. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Great job Hannah!I enjoyed every person's story. Ivar the Boneless is portrayed in Vikings on The History Channel. The guy was a real badass.

  5. Loved learning about these disabled warriors. Particularly liked Ivar the Boneless, going to have to research more about him. I have always enjoyed disabled characters (even before I became disabled myself). To me, it seems more likely for career warriors to be disabled, at least in a small way. To put yourself in battle after battle, especially in a time where all combat is pretty much close and personal, seems like it would lead to many disabling events. The best (and most realistic) war stories are filled with people who refuse to leave the front lines. Despite injury they are going to stay with their buddies and do their part. In my book, it's that mentality that defines someone as a warrior, more so than any strength or skill.

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    1. NOT an appropriate comment to make to someone...especially a Christian young woman...


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