Amazons to Fighter Pilots entry:

ARZAMASSKAIA, Alena (born ? Volga region, Russia, died 1670) also known as “Temnikovskaia.” Soldier and leader, Russia, peasant revolts 1670-71.

Two centuries after the death of Joan of Arc, in Russia rather than France, another peasant girl put on men’s clothing and led soldiers in battle. Like Joan, she was executed at the stake, partly for her heretical defiance of church rules regarding proper clothing for women. Unlike Joan, Alena Arzamasskaia did not fight for a king, but in rebellion against one.

Arzamasskaia was born to a peasant family in the Volga region of Russia in the mid-17th century. After an early marriage, she entered the Nikolaevskii Monastery as a nun, but was unhappy with the strictly regulated life of the convent. In 1669 she ran away, cut her hair, donned a male disguise, and joined the peasant revolt led by Cossack Stepan (“Stenka”) Razin. Razin’s revolt was initially successful in southern Russia. Arzamasskaia claimed to be a (male) Cossack commander and began rallying forces for Razin; eventually she led as many as 6000 soldiers. Her troops subjugated the fortress city of Temnikov and held it for two months. Arzamasskaia’s leadership was affirmed by local rebels, and Arzamasskaia was acknowledged as an intelligent leader and excellent archer. In 1670 she was captured by tsarist forces and tortured, but refused to name other peasant leaders. She was legally condemned not only for her rebellion against the tsar but also because she committed the crime of dressing like a man. Arzamasskaia was burned at the stake; an eyewitness reported that she showed no fear and made no sound when she died.

Bibliography: Pushkareva, Women in Russian History, 1997 82-83; Smirnov and Chistiakova, Alena Arzamasskaia-Temnikovskaia, 1986.

— Reina Pennington