Amanirenas: The Nubian queen who conquered the Romans
The Nubian people can trace their origins to the land of Kush in what is today known as Sudan. Their northern neighbours the Egyptians, referred to Nubia as, “Ta-Seti” which means the “Land of Bows”. This is because Nubian hunters and warriors were known to excel as archers.
Among the Nubian people, archery was not limited to men, as women too exhibited matching prowess. This gave rise to a number of women Nubian warriors and queens. The most famous of whom was, Queen Amanirenas of Nubia, conqueror of the Romans.
Queen Amanirenas ruled the area between the Nile and the Atbara River between 40-10BC. She was the second Queen of the Kush Kingdom, and was popularly known as Queen mother or Kandake, the title given to a ruling queen. Her reign coincided with that of Cleopatra and Marc Anthony who ruled in Egypt.
When Emperor Caesar Augustus of the Roman Empire defeated the Egyptians and made Egypt one of the provinces of the Roman Empire he decided to expand further south into the kingdom of Nubi.
The Nubian Queen’s husband had died during an earlier battle, leaving her and her son Prince Akinidad, to continue the fight. When Queen Amanirenas received the news of the impending Roman attack, she had to think swiftly and strategically because Kush was much smaller than the Roman Empire, which meant that it had a smaller army.
So, she decided to take the battle to the Romans by launching a surprise attack. Amanirenas led an army of about 30,000 Nubian soldiers, armed with swords, bows and arrows, to fight the Romans in Egypt.
Queen Amanirenas led her army from the front, with her son by her side. Her surprise attack was highly successful and she captured three major Roman cities. As a statement of their victory, her fighters went on to deface many statues of Emperor Augustus.
Augustus was extremely angered by this. Rome retaliated by invading Kush. The Romans destroyed its old capital and sold thousands into slavery. The Romans claimed victory for defeating Kush. But the war was not over yet…
Amanirenas counterattacked quickly and repeatedly, with what must have been terrifying war tactics. A historical painting depicts her with two swords feeding captives to her pet lion. Another narrative claims that she used war elephants on her enemies.
The battles between Kush and Rome continued. During one of them, Queen Amanirenas was blinded in one eye by a Roman soldier. After her wound healed, she went back to leading her army in several more fights against the Romans.
After three years of battle, a peace treaty, highly favourable to the Nubians, was signed.
Emperor Caesar Augustus agreed to take his army out of Egypt, give the Nubians back their land, and to cancel all taxes.
The Nubian Kingdom survived for another 400 years. In its history the legacy of Queen Amanirenas is assured. Later, during colonial domination some Nubian people were co opted into the British army and even fought in the second world war. Upon their return they were settled in Kenya’s capital city. That is why there is a significant Nubian population today in Kibra in Nairobi.
Queen Amanirenas's legacy lives on
The Nubian community of Kenya is composed of over 100,000 descendants of people originally from the territory of The Sudan.
They were brought in as conscripts into the British colonial army. On demobilization, the colonial authorities refused to allow Nubians to return to Sudan. Instead, they were settled in Kibera in Nairobi, and other parts of Kenya, where they still live today.
Ever since Kenya became independent from British rule in 1963, Nubians have been denied basic citizenship rights. Their status as British Protected Citizens combined with their Arab appearance and customs, meant the post-independence government viewed them as foreigners, a relic of the country’s colonial past, and have been made stateless.
Although Nubians have settled in Kenya for over 100 years and are counted as one of the 44 communities in Kenya, their citizenship has not been assured to date.
Queen Amanirenas: The White Nile Archeress (Nubi community) by Shujaa StoriesNational Museums of Kenya
Research field work was undertaken in Samburu and Marsabit (for Gabbra, Samburu, Rendille, Saakuye, Dasanach, Elmolo, Waayu a.k.a Waata, and Burji superheroes/heroines), Embu and Tharaka (for Aembu, Tharaka, Ameru and Mbeere superheroes/heroines), Mombasa ( for Boni, Swahili, Pokomo, Segeju and Bajuni superheroes/heroines)and Taita-Taveta/Voi (for Taveta superheroes/heroines) capturing all information about the heroes from the 40 selected ethnic groups/communities by Museum’s research team. The illustrations were done using digital media by Shujaa Stories Limited.
National Museums of Kenya - Contributors
Mzalendo Kibunjia (PhD) - Director General
Purity Kiura (PhD) - Director Antiquities, Sites & Monuments
Julias Juma Ogega - Senior Curator/Research Scientist
Njuguna Gichere - Research Scientist
Lydia Gatundu - Art of Curator
Emmanuel Kariuki - Exhibit Designer
Philemon Nyamanga - Curator/Research Scientist
Mercy Gakii - Curator/Research Scientist
Imelda Muoti - Curator/Archivist
Innocent Nyaga - Marketing Officer
Suzanne Wanjaria - Exhibits Designer
Ray Balongo Khaemba - Senior Collection Manager
Raphael Igombo - Education Officer
Eddy Ochieng – Photographer/Videographer
Shujaa Stories Ltd
Tatu Creatives Ltd
Shujaa Stories Ltd
Shujaa Stories Ltd – Contributors
Masidza Sande Galavu - Illustrator
Jeff Muchina- Editing
Martha Shavuya Galavu - Illustrator
Brian Kiraga – Research and Writing
Daisy Okoti - Editing
Shani Mutarura - Editing
Juelz Laval – Photography/Videographer
Linda Tambo - Photography
Nature Kenya- The East Africa Natural History Society (EANHS)