Amanishakhete (r. c. 41–12 BCE)

views updated

Amanishakhete (r. c. 41–12 bce)

Influential queen of the kingdom of Meroe who negotiated peace with the Roman Empire after an ill-conceived raid into Egypt brought a Roman punitive expedition upon Meroe. Name variations: Candace. Born in Meroe, an extensive kingdom ranging from just south of Aswan and the First Cataract of the Nile in the north to well into modern Ethiopia in the south.

Amanishakhete's "reign" in Meroe (whatever precisely that may have meant in her kingdom) is most often set between 41 and 12 bce. Little is known about her except that literary and archaeological sources imply that she was one of four major figures to dominate the kingdom of Meroe shortly before the onset of the Christian era. The other attested major figures of her time include another woman, Amanirenas , and two men, Akinidad and Teriteqas. These four probably can be thought of as having constituted Meroe's royalty in the second half of the 1st century bce, but their exact relationships with one another cannot be established on current evidence.

During Amanishakhete's day, Meroe was an extensive kingdom ranging from just south of Aswan and the First Cataract (meaning "falls") of the Nile in the north to well into modern Ethiopia in the south. Thus, the heartland of Meroe was the modern Sudan. Its capital city, Meroe, lay between the fifth and sixth of the Nile's cataracts, and its ruins today give testimony to the kingdom's once extensive authority. Meroe at the end of the 1st century bce was no military match for the Roman Empire, which had annexed Egypt in 30 bce. However, when Roman attention to Egypt's southern frontier flagged for one reason or another, raids frequently could and did sweep out of the south as Meroe sought booty. The first official contact between Rome and Meroe came in 29 bce when the Roman praefect of Egypt, Gaius Cornelius Gallus, briefly campaigned to the south of the First Cataract where he seems to have established diplomatic contact with the rulers of Meroe. However, Gallus immediately thereafter campaigned in Arabia, taking with him some of his Egyptian garrison. When this occurred, a Meroan raid struck north and plundered southern Egypt (among the booty then claimed seems to have been a statue of Augustus, which archaeology has unearthed at Meroe).

There followed in 23 bce under Gallus' successor, Publius Petronius, a punitive expedition that ravaged the Meroan countryside at least as far south as the Meroan city of Napata (a city that apparently hosted Meroan royalty for at least a part of the year, and which the Romans razed). As a result of this show of strength, in 21 or 20 bce a weathered, "manly," and one-eyed "candace" (meaning "queen mother") of Meroe—probably Amanishakhete—made her way to the Aegean island of Samos where she negotiated with Roman emperor Augustus a more permanent peace between Meroe and Rome. Satisfactory terms between the two powers were arranged, frontiers were established, and garrisons withdrawn from their forward positions. In short, a fairly stable arrangement resulted, which permitted the establishment of a more profitable relationship between the states based on the trade of exotic products.

Archaeology has uncovered at Meroe Amanishakhete's palace, as well as her funeral pyramid, the latter being one of the most imposing to have been constructed in this ancient capital. In addition, we know that Amanishakhete was actively involved in the construction of temples, with a particularly impressive dedication to Amun-Re being perhaps the most important of these to have been rediscovered. Hence, Amanishakhete's status within her kingdom is made manifest.

But exactly what was the nature of that status? Meroan epigraphy makes it clear that Amanishakhete bore at least two official titles during her ascendancy: those being qere and candace. The second of these seems to have been the most traditional for royal Meroan woman, for the term means "queen mother." Thus, it is likely that Amanishakhete was married to an acknowledged king, and that she bore another. This hardly does her status of candace justice, however, for it seems most probable that the kingdom of Meroe was a matriarchy, with royal legitimacy passed down from generation to generation through the candaces whose religious potency seems to have legitimized the eventual accession of their sons. Although a king normally exercised political and military sovereignty, it seems that he achieved legitimacy not through his father but through his mother, the candace. Moreover, the practice of matriarchy in Meroe is complicated and made all the more interesting by the fact that it seems to have been customary for the sitting candace to adopt as her "daughter" the wife of her son, thus setting that woman up as the candace of the next generation, although she was not necessarily of any blood relation to the candace who preceded her.

Above and beyond her status as a candace, Amanishakhete also was referred to in inscriptions as a "qere," a title, which implies more than religious potency and political succession. A qere appears to have been a ruler in the position of actually exercising political sovereignty. Since even in Meroe this seems to have been a status normally held by a king, it would be interesting to know by what process Amanishakhete came to be so honored. Perhaps the disaster brought upon Meroe in 23 and Amanishakhete's successful diplomacy in bringing peace to the northern frontier tipped the domestic scales against the perpetrator of the original Meroan raid of Egypt in Amanishakhete's favor. Regardless, Amanishakhete seems to have been recognized as a qere from some point in her adult life until the time of her death, for the pyramid erected in her honor implies that her people remained grateful to her memory even in death.

William S. Greenwalt , Associate Professor of History, Santa Clara University, Santa Clara, California