Candace of Ethiopia, Kush   The palace of Queens and Kings of Ethiopia (Kush) in the ancient City of  Meroë

Forty generations of Kushite royalty are buried in pyramids at Meroë, the capital city of Kush.

Queen Candace of Ethiopia, or Kandake of Kush

Kandake (or kendake or kentake) means Great Woman

In his famous Church History, Eusebius mentions the biblical account of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch and notes, “Ethiopia even to the present day is ruled, according to ancestral custom, by a woman” (2.1.13 cf. Acts 8:27). I found this piece of information intriguing and so I went on a bit of a search to find out if there is some truth in his statement. As it turns out, there is.

Queen Candace of Ethiopia (Kush)There were several female rulers of Ethiopia, or Kush. (The ancient Kingdom of Kush, also known as Nubia, is often called Ethiopia in the Bible.) The region that once belonged to the Kushite kingdom lies mostly in modern-day Sudan, which is situated directly south of Egypt. (Modern-day Ethiopia is still further south.)

Kandake (or kendake or kentake), which means “great woman”, was used as a royal title or dynastic name for the queens of Meroë, the capital of Kush.[2] Some kandakes ruled in their own right. Others ruled with their husbands and seem to have had equal power with the king. At least one kandake was the ruler while her husband was her consort. Furthermore, some of these kandakes were warrior queens who led their armies into battle.

There were so many ruling queens that, like Eusebius, several other ancient writers assumed that Meroë was ruled mainly by women. Strabo, a geographer and historian (d. 24 CE), Pliny the Elder, a renowned natural philosopher (23–79 CE), Dio Cassius, a Roman consul and historian (155–235 CE), and others refer to some ruling kandakes in their writings,[3] but today we know of several more.

Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban writes, “Meroë claims at least ten regnant queens during the 500-year period between 260 BC and 320 AD, and no fewer than six during the 140-year period between 60 BC and 80 AD.”[4] The Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts chapter 8 may have been in charge of the treasury of the kandake Amantitere who ruled in 25–41 CE

The Meroitic state flourished at around the same time as the Greek Ptolemies and then the Romans (300 BCE–350 CE). There is a legend that in 332 BCE one kandake pushed back Alexander the Great, who was intent on advancing into Kush, so that he and his army had to retreat to Egypt. A more credible story is that Meroitic forces, led by the kandake Amanirenas, clashed with Roman forces in the first century BCE. In his Roman History (54.5), Dio Cassius provides an account of Amanirenas who revolted and waged war against the Romans but was eventually overpowered in 22 BCE by Gaius Petronius, the Roman prefect (or, governor) of Egypt. Even though the Kushites were overpowered, Rome made a peace treaty in 22 BCE that benefited the Meroites. This treaty lasted for three centuries.

Timothy Kendall, an archaeologist and expert in Nubian studies, describes the appearance of Amanirenas and some other kandakes.

Curiously, in the Roman account [of the peace treaty] it was noted that the Meroitic queen [Amanirenas] was “a very masculine sort of woman and blind in one eye.” This strange description is given substance by the even stranger portrayals of these ladies that appear in reliefs in their tomb chapels and temples. The successive Candaces Amanishakheto and Amanitore, for example, . . . are depicted as massive, powerful figures, enormously fat, covered with jewels and ornaments and elaborate fringed and tasselled robes. Their huge frames tower over their diminutive enemies, whom they are shown grasping brutally by the hair with one hand and dealing the coup de grace with the other. The social and aesthetic implications expressed by these reliefs are very different from those of Egypt, where women preferred to be portrayed as lithe and slim. This attribute, together with the facial scars worn by both the kings and queens of the Meroitic period, were the marks of physical beauty, common to central Africa . .

Kush, and other African nations such as Egypt and the “real” Ethiopia south of Kush,[8] were sometimes ruled by women. These women were formidable rulers and some were effective military leaders. In the Bible, we see a strong woman, Deborah, who led Israel and went into battle (Judges 4:6-9). Salome Alexandra was the reigning queen of Judea in the years 76–67 BCE. Both Deborah and Salome Alexandra were excellent leaders and the people of Israel prospered under their leadership. It seems that women in leadership, even as rulers of nations, is neither a modern invention nor just a recent phenomenon.