Hello, again, Persephoneers! I’m here to bring you another story about another awesome woman in honor of Women’s History Month. I came upon her story quite by accident last week while looking for information on lesser-known warrior queens. So without further ado, I bring you the Candace of Meroe.
According to a legend recorded by a writer called Pseudo-Callisthenes, in 332 BC, Alexander the Great headed south of Egypt planning to conquer the kingdoms in the region of Nubia, or Kush. His plans were thwarted, however, by the warrior queen Candace of Meroe. “She would not let him enter Ethiopia and warned him not to despise them because they were black for, ‘We are whiter and brighter in our souls than the rest of you.'”1 Alexander heeded her advice and headed for Egypt. But this is only a tale; Alexander never ventured into Nubia.
Candace was not really an individual queen; the word was a spelling of the word kentake, which means “queen mother,” and all queens bore this title. The kentakes held just as much, if not more, power than the kings; they were the ones who chose the king.1 They were rulers in their own right, and instead of being beholden to the king, they ruled alongside him. The height of their power lasted from 284 BCE to 115 CE. Meroe itself, in its glory days, was “a great center of iron smelting, agriculture, and trade. The iron industry of Meroe made the city as famous as its wealth, and, of course, contributed greatly to that wealth as the iron workers of Meroe were considered the best and [the] iron tools and weapons [they made] were much sought after.”2
Most information about the Candaces of Meroe comes from Roman records or archaeological finds. Pliny wrote that “the queens of the country bore the name Candace, a title that had passed from queen to queen for many years.”2 During Augustus’s reign, a Roman legion was sent to Nubia to quell a revolt led by Kentake Amanirenas and the king who ruled alongside her. The Nubians mustered their troops, as well, but instead of battling, the Meroites parlayed with the Romans. “It was then resolved that an embassy of the Meroites would be granted safe conduct to the Greek island of Samos, where Augustus was temporarily headquartered…..The Meroites and Romans signed a peace treaty….This was perhaps the first recorded instance…when diplomats representing an African ruler independent of Egypt traveled to Europe to effect a diplomatic resolution.”3 The Meroites no longer had to pay tribute to the Romans, and the Romans ceded most of Nubia back to the Meroites, and a borderline was created between Nubia and the land the Romans occupied.3
The Romans themselves were intrigued by Aminarenas, whom one source described as “a masculine sort of woman, blind in one eye.”2 Much like the Amazons of myth, she was a warrior queen who commanded her own soldiers in battle, something which many of them might never have seen before. While such a thing may have been commonplace in other kingdoms, to the Romans, it was something new. And a request to treat with Augustus himself no doubt earned Candace Aminarenas respect from the Romans; instead of engaging them in battle like other barbarians might have done, they commanded respect and gave it in return. As the Romans may not have expected this, so they might not have expected a queen outside of Egypt who ruled over such a wealthy and powerful kingdom.
The title of Candice lasted for 500 years, and the kingdom of Kush fell to invaders in 350 CE.3 Even though the kingdom no longer exists, there are remnants of the civilization, and those, along with the contemporaneous stories, give us a good idea of what badasses the Candaces of Meroe were.
1 “Candace of Meroe.” <www.blackhistorypages.net>
2 “The Candaces of Meroe.” <www.wysinger.homestead.com>
3 Mark, Joshuia J. “Meroe.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. 11Aug 2010. <www.ancient.eu.com>