History

The African Queen Who Defied the Roman Empire

Born in ancient Kush which is now modern-day Sudan, Amanirenas is considered to be one of the greatest female rulers in African history. Reigning from 40 B.C. to 10 B.C., her full name and title was Amnirense qore li kdwe li (“Ameniras, Qore and Kandake”). Although married to Teriteqas who was the Qeren (King), she was in fact the Queen-Mother – or the ruling queen. They had at least two sons, Kharapkhael and Akinidad.

Together Teriteqas and Amanirenas, reigned over the Kushite kingdom of Meroe through a tumultuous period of African history. During their reign, Egypt, which was ruled by Queen Cleopatra, was conquered by Rome. After subduing Egypt, Augustus Caesar started the process of converting the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire. Anxious to expand his territory, Caesar promptly turned his sites south towards Meroe – which was ripe with gold, and other natural resources.

Assuming Meroe was a meager tribal kingdom, the Romans ignored the centuries old boundaries between Egypt and Kush, moving through the land at will, exploiting the resources and taking Kushites as slaves. The Romans ultimately declared Kush as a vassal state of Rome and levied a tax against the inhabitants.  

Shortly afterwards, the Kushites responded with a military expedition to drive the Romans back into Egypt. The conflict eventually turned into a war that lasted for 5 years (27 B.C. to 22 B.C.). King Teriteqas and the eldest son Kharapkael were killed within the first year of the fighting. Kandake Amanirenas quickly organized a sizable force of 20,000 soldiers. Led by the Queen and her last surviving son Akinidad, the Kushites succeeded in pushing the Romans north of Aswan and back into Egyptian territory. In the process, they sacked Roman cities, toppled temples, tore down and defaced statutes of Caesar and took scores of prisoners.

Humiliated, Augustus appointed veteran commander Gaius Petronius as the new governor of Egypt and commissioned him to address the Kushite “rebellion” and their troublesome queen once and for all. At the head of two Roman legions (the III and the XXII), Petronius turned the tide of the war and drove the Kushites deep into their own territory, eventually sacking the sacred Kushite city of Napata. Prince Akinidad was killed in the process, leaving Queen Amanirenas as the sole leader of the Kushite forces. Although the Romans threatened to advance further and sack the capital city of Meroe, they opted not to because of the strategic disadvantage the terrain would present.

Amanirenas’ army suffered several more crushing defeats and was drastically reduced in number. In one battle, she was severely wounded and lost her left eye, after which the Romans began to refer to her as the “One-Eyed Queen of Kush.”

Despite the losses, Amanirenas managed to rally her people and regroup for yet another offensive. Her drive, determination and intelligence were enough to make Petronius reconsider Rome’s new foe. As a result, he encouraged her to take her grievances directly to Caesar himself. Amanirenas dispatched a delegation to meet with the new Roman Emperor sending with them a quiver of golden arrows. The exquisite gift was accompanied by a message that said the arrows could be viewed as tokens of friendship or symbols of war.

Determining Rome had overextended itself against a formidable foe, Caesar negotiated with the Kushites and agreed to reestablish and honor the traditional boundary between Egypt and Kush. In addition, he rescinded the tax against the Kushites and acknowledged their sovereignty. The terms were recorded in the Treaty of Samos, an agreement that remained in effect until the Kushite kingdom fell some 300 years later.

Amanirenas never remarried. After the Roman War, she embraced the role of Queen-Mother and dedicated herself to rebuilding the kingdom and making life better for her people. As a result, she was revered among her people and became an inspiration and symbol of hope for generations.

Amanirenas died in 10 B.C. Her pyramid is located next to that of her husband Teriteqas in the royal cemetery outside of Napata, near Mt. Gebel Barkal.

 
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