Kandake Amanirenas: Leading the Kushites Against the Romans

Kandake Amani: Leading the Kushites Against the Romans

Kush was a kingdom in northern Africa, in the region corresponding to modern-day Sudan, which flourished between c. 1069 B.C. and 350 A.D. It was known for its wealth, advanced culture, and military strength, often challenging the influence of its northern neighbor, ancient Egypt.

Kushite kings became pharaohs of Egypt's 25 dynasties; Kushite queens, known as kandake, received military training and were revered as goddesses; Kushite priests were so powerful they could decide when it was time for the king to die.

The people of Kush were mostly farmers growing wheat and barley… they also grew cotton to make clothing. Valuable goldmines were present in the Kush region.

Queen Amanirenas was probably born between 60 and 50 B.C. She was the second of the eight kandakes of the Kingdom of Kush.

Her reign focuses on a conflict that began in 30 B.C., shortly after the first Roman Emperor, Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus, occupied Egypt. Queen Amanirenas ruled during the timet of Cleopatra in Egypt and Mark Antony in Rome, until they were deposed by Caesar. Her ascension to the throne began with the death of her husband Teriteqase in late 25 B.C.

The Romans had encroached on Nubia and enforced high taxation on the people of Meroë—the capital of Kush. The former capital was Napata, 150 miles to the north.

Under Amanirena’s command, some 30,000 soldiers of the ancient Kingdom of Kush took to arms and fought back the Romans, who had advanced from Egypt, at the kingdom’s northern border.

Armed with swords, bows and arrows, Queen Amanirenas, waged a terrible war against them from 25 to 22 B.C., halting their southward expansion in Africa.

After a successful surprise attack, she captured three major Roman cities. One of the main pieces of evidence for the Meroitic raids against the Romans is a bronze head of Augustus Caesar found buried beneath the steps of a temple dedicated to the victory at Meroë.

The location of the head, which was excavated in 1910 for the first time, suggests it was broken off a statue and deliberately placed at the feet of its captors as a constant reminder of the queen’s victory over the Roman ruler.

Queen Amanirenas remains one of the most famous Meroitic queens because of her role in leading the Kushite army against the Romans in a war that lasted three years. This war is largely responsible for halting Rome’s southward expansion in Africa. By the end of 24 B.C., she had lost her son in the war to thwart Roman expansion and ensure Kush’s sovereignty.

While Amanirenas may have been unique in her military success against the Romans, her role as female ruler was not unusual in the region at the time. For more than 3,000 years, three Kushite Kingdoms— Kerma, Napata and Meroë—ruled the Middle Nile Valley of Nubia, and for long periods of this rule, women were in charge.

The main written account of the war is a text completed around 21 A.D. called Geographical Sketches by Greek historian Strabo. In it, Strabo describes Amanirenas as a “masculine woman with one eye destroyed.” The native language of the Kingdom of Kush, Meroitic, is still undeciphered and remains an enigma.


Like this post? Stop by and read 5 Inspirational Women of Ancient Civilizations." The number of men and women in the world is roughly equal, yet they don’t always enjoy equal rights in civil, political, economic, social and cultural matters.

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1 comment

  • William "Bill" Nix

    Powerful Message and inspirational during Women’s History Month. All of our children and adults need to hear about Queen Amani!! Thanks for sharing

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