In ancient times, the Roman Empire dominated and successfully got a hold of large territories around the Mediterranean Sea in Europe, North Africa, and Western Asia with emperors of solid military experience and the best equipped and mosr disciplined armies of the ancient world. Other empires and kingdoms found it difficult to resist Rome’s dogged determination when they were at war. However, from the years 25 to 21 BC, one queen stood and managed to do what others couldn’t. She was the queen of the Kingdom of Kush named Amanirenas, and she stood and did not allow her kingdom to be taken and controlled by the Romans.

Female Rulers

Long before women empowerment or feminism was given attention, Nubia had the long tradition of being led by women. For more than 3,000 years, the Kushite Kingdoms of Kerma, Napata, and Meroe were ruled by queens, that same time when other empires were being led by historical figures whose names we almost always hear, like Mark Antony of Rome. And although their neighbor, Egypt, overshadowed them, it turned out that the Kush civilization was advanced in their own ways, as far as language script, trade-based economy, archery, and the high levels of female participation in their society. In fact, after Amanirenas (more about her later), Amanishaketo and Amanitore followed her reign and continued protecting Nubia from invaders. Nubians were also formidable warriors, their armied comprised mostly of archers were highly prized as mercenaries serving in other countries.  The Egyptians called Nubia, “Ta-Seti” or “Land of the Bow” for thousands of years.

The Queen

The queen’s reign began when her husband Teiteqase died around 25 BC. At that time, the Romans had been occupying lower Nubia for five years. Before that, their kingdom heavily relied on and profited from the gold trade with Egypt, but Augustus seized control of Egypt from Mark Antony and Cleopatra, affecting Amanirenas’ kingdom. The Romans, to be specific, invaded the fertile lands of Nubia, a region just below Egypt. Apart from that, they imposed a high tax on the occupants of Meroe, which was Kush’s capital.

Dedicated to taking back the land, Amanirenas planned to attack the Roman forces and expel them from Egypt.

Under her command, 30,000 soldiers of the ancient Kingdom of Kush marched towards Nubia and fought the Romans who had advanced on her from Egypt. Amanirenas strategy involved striking with her army during a temporary withdrawal of the Roman soldiers for a campaign in Arabia. The Nubians successfully captured the cities of Aswan, Philae, and Elephantine that Romans previously occupied. There, they looted the cities and enslaved the Romans before going to El-Dakkeh, where the beginning of the four-year Meroitic-Roman war started.
The Meroitic-Roman war played an important part in both the histories of Nubia and Rome. While the Roman army eventually was able to create a stalemate, and both nations ended up agreeing to a peace treaty that granted concessions to the Meroe Kingdom. The first was for them to remove the high tax on the Meroe, and the second being for the Romans to withdraw from the Second Cataract to Maharaqqa, which was almost back on the border of Egypt, away from their lands. As it would turn out, this compromise hurt Rome’s political and economic standing in the world.  The great Roman Empire had been forced to accept terms from rebellious Nubia and it would make other provinces restless.

Augustus’ Head

After Amanirenas’ army looted El-Dakkeh, Petronius, who Augustus appointed to rule over Egypt, demanded that she return their loot. The Queen refused, which resulted in Petronius’ army of 10,000 men attacking Amanirenas in her royal residence in Napata.

Meroitic Stela found at Hamadab now in the British Museum (UdimuGPL, via Wikimedia Commons)

As it was discovered later on, in one of the raids against the Romans, Amanirenas’ troops broke off Augustus Caesar’s statue. They took his bronze head which was found buried beneath the steps of a temple that was made for the victory at the Kushite capital Meroe. This suggests that they placed it there as a reminder of their queen’s victory against the Romans.

The other details of what happened were still unclear but what we know was that the Kingdoms of Kush, after some time, weakened and became part of the Roman Empire. This was probably due to the influence of Roman trade and culture because we know at some point Nubia began to convert to Christianity. Regardless, her victory against the giant Romans was a legacy she left forever.