The Kandakes of Kush were the African Warrior
queens of the Kingdom of Kush who ruled from the city of Meroe, some independently, in what is now Sudan. The title Candace is the Latinized version of the term Kentake or Kandake in Meroitic and may mean “Queen Regent” or “Queen Mother” but could also mean “Royal Woman”. Although the term seems to have originally referred to the mother of the king, it was also used to designate a female monarch who reigned independently. Prior to the rule of Kandakes, kings ruled Kush from Meroe but the king Ergamenes (also known as Arkamani I, r. 295-275 BCE) instituted a number of reforms and among these seems to be the elevation of royal women to the position of queen.
Shanakdakhe (170 BCE - 150 BCE)
Kandake Shanakdakhe was the earliest known ruling African queen of ancient Nubia, when the polity was centred at Meroe, who reigned from 170 BCE to 150 BCE. Under her rule, Kush flourished economically and culturally. She oversaw the construction of many monumental buildings and public works projects, including temples, palaces, and irrigation systems. Queen Shanakdakhe Kandake was also a fierce military leader who led her armies to victory against Rome in several battles. Even though her family antecedents remain obscure, in one of her carvings on a dorsal pillar she is shown adorned with an insignia of rank on the forehead and a crown, similar to the one worn by the reigning kings with decoration of a sun-disk and tall feathers. Shanakdakhete’s name is engraved as a royal queen in the Egyptian Meroitic hieroglyphs, where they found the oldest hieroglyphic inscriptions. Her pyramid in Meroe is one of the largest pyramids built by the kings of Kush.
Amanirenas (40 BCE–10 BCE)
In Meroe’s history, Amanirenas, one of the great queens’ royal palace was at Gebel Barkal. She ruled the area between the Nile and the Atbara rivers. Her husband was king “Tritkas” and she was his successor to the throne.
She is one of the most famous kandakes. The term Great Queen was attributed to the meaning of the royal title kandake because of her role in leading Kushite armies against the Romans in a five year long war between 27BC and 22BC. She is said to have lost an eye in the fighting, but she continued to lead her army and achieved several victories against the Romans. The Greek geographer Strabo wrote “the queen was very masculine and blind in one eye.” This description is consistent in terms of physical strength of Meroe’s queens that can be seen on the walls of their tombs and temples. Queen Amanirenas is buried at Gebel Barkal in Sudan.
Amanishakheto (10 BCE –1 BCE)
Amanishakheto was also a skilled Kandake who also defeated a Roman Army sent by the Roman Emperor Augustus after he had breached the Peace Treaty the Romans had concluded with Queen Amanirenas earlier. Besides her Military prowess, Kandake Amanishakheto was also a great Pyramid builder and her tomb at Meroë was one of the largest ever built. Queen Amanishakheto Kandake is also known for the Temple and Pyramid Complex she built at Wad Ban Naqa. Amanishakheto Kandake’s Palace is one of the largest treasures identified at Wad ban Naqa. Inside Amanishakheto’s grave, the Italian treasure hunter Ferlini discovered an amazing quantity of golden artifacts such as armlets, necklaces now on display at the Egyptian Museum of Berlin, and at the Egyptian Museum of Munich. There are several monuments of her and she is mentioned in the Amun Temple of Kawa. She built considerable pyramids and temples at “Wad Naqaa”, where she resided and where she was buried with great treasures.
Amanitore & Co-regent Natakamani (1–20 AD):
This Queen and Natakamani were the most famous couples in the history of Meroe although it has not been established whether they were husband and wife or whether she was his mother although she was often referred to as co-regent. She came to power during a time of great turmoil in the kingdom, when Kush was under attack by Roman forces.
Amanitore was a skilled military leader and strategist, and she quickly proved her worth by leading her troops to victory against the Romans. They created outstanding buildings and her royal palace which was at Gebel Barkal in modern day Sudan is now a Unesco world heritage site.
Other Kandakes included Amantitere (r. c. 25- CE - 41 CE), Amanikhatashan (r. . 62 CE - 85 CE), Maleqorobar (r. c. 266CE - 283 CE), Lahideamani (r. c. 306CE - 314 CE). The Kandakes had a profound impact on the course of Nubian history by ensuring that Nubia maintained its independence from Roman rule. Furthermore, by defeating the Romans, the Kandake’s also influenced world History by limiting Roman influence in Africa to Roman North Africa. In addition to their Military victories, the Nubian Kandake African Warrior Queens who ruled the Kingdom of Kush also oversaw the construction of many monumental buildings, including temples and pyramids.
For this reason, the reign of the Kandakes is considered a golden age for Nubian civilization.
Nubian Queens in the Nile Valley and Afro-Asiatic Cultural History - Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban, Professor of Anthropology, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston U.S.A, August 20-26, 1998
Necia D. Harkless, Nubian Pharaohs and Meroitic Kings: The Kingdom Of Kush (New York: Authorhouse, 2006)