King Houegbadja, the third King of Dahomey, is said to have originally started the group which would later become the Amazons, as a corps of elephant hunters called the gbeto.
Houegbadja's daughter Queen Hangbe established a female bodyguard. European merchants recorded their presence. According to tradition, her brother and successor King Agaja successfully used them in Dahomey's defeat of the neighbouring kingdom of Savi in 1727.
From the time of King Ghezo, Dahomey became increasingly militaristic. Ghezo placed great importance on the army, increasing its budget and formalizing its structure from ceremonial to a serious military.
In 1851, Seh-Dong-Hong-Beh led an all-female army consisting of 6,000 warriors against the Egba fortress of Abeokuta, to obtain slaves from the Egba people for the Dahomey slave trade.
Ghezo recruited both men and women soldiers from foreign captives. Women soldiers were also recruited from free Dahomean women, with some enrolled from as young as 8 years old.
In 1864, Captain Sir Richard F. Burton documented over two thousand tribeswomen serving as warriors and reported how two-thirds of them were maidens with passions and love between each other.
The First Franco-Dahomean War, which raged in 1890, was a conflict between France, led by General Alfred-Amédée Dodds, and Dahomey under King Béhanzin. The French emerged triumphant after winning the Battle of Abomey.
In 1890, King Béhanzin started fighting French forces in the course of the First Franco-Dahomean War. European observers noted that the women "handled admirably" in hand-to-hand combat, but fired their flintlocks from the hip rather than firing from the shoulder.
The Second Franco-Dahomean War, which raged from 1892 to 1894, was a major conflict between France, led by General Alfred-Amédée Dodds, and Dahomey under King Béhanzin. The French emerged triumphant and incorporated Dahomey into their growing colonial territory of French West Africa.
During a battle with French soldiers at Adegon on 6 October during the second war, the bulk of the Amazon corps were wiped out in a matter of hours in hand-to-hand combat after the French engaged them with a bayonet charge.The Dahomey lost 86 regulars and 417 Dahomey Amazons, with nearly all of those deaths being inflicted by bayonets; the French lost 6 soldiers.
The last survivor of the Dahomey Amazons is thought to have been a woman named Nawi. In a 1978 interview in the village of Kinta, a Beninese historian met Nawi, who claimed to have fought the French in 1892. Nawi died in November 1979, aged well over 100.
Dahomey Amazons were represented in the 1987 film Cobra Verde by German director Werner Herzog.
The Woman King is an American historical epic film about the Agojie, the all-female warrior unit who protected the African kingdom of Dahomey in the 19th century. The film stars Viola Davis as a general who trains the next generation of warriors to fight their enemies. It is directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood and written by Dana Stevens based on a story by Maria Bello and Stevens. The film also stars Thuso Mbedu, Lashana Lynch, Sheila Atim, Hero Fiennes Tiffin, and John Boyega. Production companies are TriStar Pictures, Welle Entertainment, JuVee Productions, Jack Blue Productions, and Entertainment One.