Let’s get one thing out of the way: I am by no means a history buff. History is not one of my passions. I find most of my museum experiences to be less than memorable. But my interest was piqued when my aunt told me about Amanirenas. While history may not have been my strongest subject, I always made a point to learn about powerful women in history to remind myself of the strength and resilience my sex has. I never even knew Amanirenas existed until recently. It feels like a crime that I never learned about her in school. Her story is one of perseverance, determination, and overall badassery.
The Roman Empire was determined to conquer as much land as it could – until Amanirenas, the one-eyed queen of the African Kingdom of Kush, forced Augustus into submission. Augustus Caesar. You know, the ruthless emperor who has a whole month named after him. He was also obsessed with erecting statues of himself. Those will become relevant to the story later.
At this point in time, around 30 B.C., Augustus had taken over Egypt. Amanirenas realized that the power-hungry leader would continue pushing south into her kingdom. So, while Rome was preoccupied elsewhere, Amanirenas and her army struck first.
Even though Kush was a thriving kingdom, it was still much smaller than Rome. Queen Amanirenas knew she needed the element of surprise in order to beat Augustus. As the battles were waged, Amanirenas lost her husband. This left only her and her son to continue leading the Kushite army. Despite her loss, she captured many Roman soldiers and took over two major Roman cities, expanding Kush’s borders. The Kushites also beheaded and vandalized many of Augustus’s statues. Furious that the Queen of Kush delivered such a devastating blow, Augustus quickly reclaimed his cities, destroyed the capitol of Kush, and sold thousands of Kushites into slavery.
Rome assumed this was an indisputable victory. It was not. Queen Amanirenas counterattacked swiftly and violently. Historians have found carvings that illustrate Amanirenas wielding two swords while feeding captives to her pet lion. There is also evidence that she used war elephants in battle. I cannot imagine being a Roman soldier at this point, ready to go to battle, only to find out the army you’re fighting has massive, terrifying elephants ready to trample you.
Unsurprisingly, Augustus quickly agreed to permanent peace with the Kingdom of Kush. Queen Amanirenas defeated the Roman Empire so severely, they never tried to push south of Egypt again. Amanirenas changed the course of history for one of the most powerful empires in the world. Unfortunately, no one knows how Kush viewed their war with Rome because their hieroglyphs cannot be translated (yet).
The Kingdom of Kush died out about 400 years after the war. Their ruins were left untouched until the early 1900s. Archaeologists dug out a temple in 1914, where they found a piece of a statue. It was the best-preserved piece of its kind that has ever been found. The piece was the decapitated head of Augustus from one of his many statues.
His bronze head was found underneath the foot of a mummified Kushite ruler.
Queen Amanirenas’s legacy is unfortunately pretty obscure. Which is crazy to me, because once more, she defeated Augustus Caesar so badly he never tried to get past her land again. She changed the course of history. I hope you learned something new today, whether it was because of this article or not. Knowledge can be our most powerful weapon, especially now.