Sandstone stele inscribed with Merotic cursive

Sandstone stele inscribed with Merotic cursive” by wallyg is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Full Name: Amanirenas

Birth Date: 60s/50s BC

Death Date: 10 BC

Location: Meroë, Sudan

Monument Type: Historic/Residence

While many people know about Cleopatra, few are aware of her contemporary, Amanirenas. Like Cleopatra, Amanirenas faced the encroaching Roman Empire led by Caesar Augustus. But, she was more successful in facing them than her Egyptian counterpart.

Amanirenas was born in either the 60s or 50s BC in the kingdom of Kush, located in modern-day Sudan, south of Egypt. The Kingdom was situated in an area called Nubia. Their Egyptian neighbors called Kush “‘Ta-Seti,’” or the “‘Land of Bows’” (artsandculture.google.com). Indeed, the kingdom boasted many skilled archers of both sexes. Kush was a prosperous kingdom which traded gold with Egypt before the Romans invaded. Historians do not know a lot about Amanirenas’ early life. She first became Kandake or Candace in 40 BC, the two titles translating to “‘Queen mother’” and “‘great woman’” (artsandculture.google.com; Blackpast.org). In the thousands of years the Kush kingdom reigned, there were only eight Kandake: one before Amanirenas and six after her. In the early years of her reign, she ruled alongside her husband Teriteqase.

Following the deaths of Cleopatra and Marc Antony, Caesar Augustus took over Egypt in 30 BC. Augustus then set his sights on the fertile land of Nubia, beginning to tax Kush’s capital city of Meroë. In 27 BC, the Kushites attacked the Romans in Lower Nubia as a result of their encroachment. As the Roman leaders were out of the country, this was the perfect time for the Kushites to strike. Amanirenas led over 30,000 soldiers to retake the Roman-held cities of Aswan, Elephantine, and Philae. The troops wreaked havoc on the cities, destroying statues of Augustus and enslaving many Romans. Sometime during these early attacks, Teriteqase died, leaving Amanirenas to lead her people as a sole ruler. During the battles, her son Prince Akinidad supported her before his own death in 24 BC.

Following Amanirenas’ attack, the Romans retaliated, ruining Meroë and enslaving Kushite citizens. Many more battles ensued in the following years. During one such battle, Amanirenas lost an eye, leading to her becoming known as a one-eyed queen. Despite this injury, Amanirenas dove right back into action. Ancient artwork of the queen depicts her ferocity during the battles, feeding her captives to lions. The fighting went on until about 21 BC when both sides had exhausted their sources. The Kandake sent diplomats to work out a peace treaty with the Romans. While the Kushites may not have gotten everything they wanted from the treaty, they did win some. They secured the end of taxation on Meroë and Rome’s removal from a section of the Nile River Valley. They also refused to give the Romans tribute, resources, and large swaths of land.

The Kushite Kingdom lasted for another four centuries. There is no doubt that Amanirenas’ bravery helped secure her people’s independence. Indeed, excavators found a statue head of Augustus left beneath the painted foot of the queen. Historians argue this highlights her strength over the emperor. Even more work can be done to discover more about the ancient queen and her great successes. Historians have gotten their information about her from Kushite art and Roman texts. Learning the Kushite side of the story through their texts can help us learn more about Amanirenas.

Rejected Princesses blog
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History.com Feature
BlackPast.org feature

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