Unit 1: Ancient Africa - The Cradle of Civilization
(200,000 B.C. - 476 B.C.)

Unit 1: Class 5: Ancient Nubia/Kush (6,000 B.C. - 320 A.D.) Part 2

“Neither Goddesses Nor Doormats: The Role of Women in Nubia” [Excerpt], by Tara L. Kneller cont.

Learning Objectives
After completing this lesson, students 
will be able to:

  • Recognize the cultural contributions of Ancient Nubian civilization, including those that predate Ancient Kemet/Egypt, and the Nubian-ruled 25th Dynasty.

  • Identify the Nile Valley region on a map including the Nile River and the major cities and religious sites of Egypt, Nubia, and surrounding African countries.

  • Understand the complex relationship between Nubia and Kemet/Egypt including trade, mutual cultural customs, and conquer.

Egypt was under the subjugation of Rome and the frontier of the Kushite/Nubian empire was seventy miles south of Syene (Assuan) (Keating, 71). The Nubians were constantly raiding their Egyptian neighbors. On one of these journeys, the Kandace Amanirenas went along. When confronted, she led her armies into battle and defeated three Roman cohorts. In addition, the Kandace defaced a statue of Emperor Augustus Ceasar; bringing the head back to Nubia as a prize. This head was buried in the doorway of an important building as a final act of disrespect (Keating, 70).

During battle, the Kandace lost an eye; but this only made her more courageous (Diop, 143). "One Eyed Candace," as then Roman governor Gaius Petronius referred to her, was chased by the Romans far into her own territory to Pselkis (Dakka) (Keating, 71). After a three day truce, the Romans struck back. The Kandace and her armies made another stand at Primis (Kasr/Brim), but they were soundly defeated. Although Rome destroyed the religious capital of Napata, there was still the danger of retaliation by the Kandace's armies. At this point, the leaders negotiated a treaty that she was to break in a few years (Simon, 10). A historian of the period remarked "This Queen had courage above her sex" (Strabo, qtd in Diop, 143). On a broader level, this is a telling example of a European civilization unprepared for the "fierce, unyielding resistance of a queen whose determined struggle symbolized the national pride of a people who, until then, had commanded others" (Diop, 143).

Furthermore, these queens of the Nubian/Kushite Empire were given the special distinction of assuming a priestly role in the divine succession of kings. In other societies of the period, the divine right of the king passed from god to ruler, there was no room for a maternal figure. However, Nubian queens are often portrayed at the event of the divine birth. A fine example of this is the representation of Queen Amanishakheto appearing before Amun. The Queen is pictured with a goddess (possibly Hathor - a goddess of fertility) and is wearing a panther skin. This signifies her priestly role in the birth of the successor to the throne (Wenig, 249). This piece is one of a series. In the first, the Queen is elected by god - this establishes her position as rightful ruler. Soon after, the divine child is conceived out of a meeting between the god and the Queen. Finally, the child, and heir to the empire, is delivered to the Queen by the god. This complex and important role does not seem to have an equivalent in other cultures (Wenig, 251).

Additionally, by the beginning of the twenty-fifth dynasty - the Egyptian dynasty governed by Nubian rulers - the Queen was given the additional role of being a priestess of Nut (Nuit) (Wenig, 55). This would place the Queen in the role of trusted servant to the goddess known as the eternal mother. Nut is also the mother of Isis, Osiris, Nephthys, and Set (Schueler, 22). The close association of the Queen with this figure is significant. Nut is, in the Nubian and Egyptian religions, the mother from which all the current gods and goddesses came. She plays the role of female initiator; the Queen is her trusted confidant on earth. 

Also at this time, the Queen is beginning to be represented in royal art with the cowrie shell. This shell was often used for currency and trade. In art, the shell was thought to symbolize the vulva and, by extension, verbal communication. The use of the cowrie shell, either real or representative, was reserved only for women and their ornaments (Wenig, 237). A possible explanation for this could be that women were allowed to speak freely (and often). In any case, it shows that the artisans of the period connected the art of verbal communication with the ruling Queens and other influential women of the period. 

Source:  Role of Women in Nubia University of Pennsylvania African Studies Center

Homework Assignment
Read/View the Following:

Map of Ancient Nubia and Kemet (Egypt)

Nubia: Ancient Kingdoms of Africa, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (pp. 25-59, 30-40 min)

“Neither Goddesses Nor Doormats: The Role of Women in Nubia” [Excerpt], by Tara L. Kneller (10-15 min)

Amanishakheto: Warrior Queen of Nubia, including video excerpt (15 min)

Supplemental Material



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