In the history of Nubia just like many other African cultures, Women were of great importance especially the Nubian royal women who were extremely powerful. Queens sometimes ruled Nubia own their own. Also, king was chosen not for being sons to previous kings but for being sons to the king’s mother or sister. According to (Simon, Spottswood, 9), in 750 BC when Nubia ruled Egypt, kings developed a culture of appointing their daughters as “God’s wife of Amun” to represent their lineage interests in southern Egypt. They served as administrators of large economic domains that were owned by the god of Amun (The oriental Institute of the University of Chicago). This just illustrates how women were held in high esteem in ancient Nubia.
Kingship was divine in ancient Nubia. The kings acted as mediators between the gods and the people due to the divinity of the office. Therefore, women closely associated with king like the king’s mother and wife also assumed important roles. The king’s daughters could also qualify to be queens but they lacked that iconography relationship that the mothers and wives had (Stacie and Josef, 14). Therefore it can be seen that women just like men in Ancient Nubia were indispensable although they acquired their fame pegged on their superior husbands or sons. Women played these major roles in leadership in ancient Nubia. They ruled with an iron fist with the interest of the society at heart just like the kings could. They commanded the respect that they deserved and earned it.
Ancient Nubian women fought to defend the interests of their empire. These were warrior queens. Worship of the queen of all the goddesses called Isis was mandatory. The cult associated with Isis was the most recognized religion in Nubia in as much as there existed Ra was the god of the sun. Many rulers paid homage to Isis as she was considered the “Queen of All Gods, Goddesses and women.” And because rulers were thought to be born of gods, it was only logical that the mother should be given such respect. The fact that great rulers’ men and women included could pay tribute to a goddess allied to women is another indication that women had a powerful say in the daily running and affairs of the ancient Nubian society. There were other cults for the gods Horus, Osiris and seith but Isis was the best of them and hence become the most popular cult in ancient Nubia (Milner, 9).
Because of the powerful influence of women figures in religion, a number of strong queens arose in ancient Nubia. To be specific, ten sovereign ruling queens are recognized and other six who ruled with their husbands are all considered influential in the Nubian history. The sovereign queens ruled by themselves just like kings simply because they were the king’s mother or wife and therefore inherited the throne. These queens were referred to as either gore to imply ruler and kandake to mean queen mother. Kandake was corrupted to English form Candace. Queens who ruled with their husbands derived the powers to rule by virtue of the positions of there husbands. While the sovereign Queens ruled by them without the presence of a male character that is the kings. Both of these types of queens were equally influential in the ancient Nubian society (Olson, 14).
The queen also played an important role in politics as seen from the kushite ancient tradition. Royal powers were passed onto the queens thus expanded the powers of the queen like Queen Amanirenas. She led a battle and defeated three roman cohorts. The Candace also defaced a statue of Emperor Augustus Ceaser and buried it as a sign of great disrespect (Kennedy, 4). A war led by a woman to defend her territory is very significant considering the fact that women are looked upon as weaklings. This also justifies the fact that women were entrusted with such enormous responsibility of ensuring safety. Candace had the courage and audacity to fight and even deface the statue of Emperor Augustus Ceaser. For a woman to be given such responsibility means the society had trust in them.
The Nubian queens were also given special distinction of assuming priesthood in the divine succession of kings while in other societies of the time there was no room for maternal figure in succession procedures. The queens were most commonly portrayed at divine births for example Queen Amanishakheto appearing before Amun. This queen is pictured with a goddess of fertility wearing a panther skin to symbolize her priestly role in the birth of the successor to the king (Robert and Georg, 121).
According to Gerald, (22), in the twenty-fifth dynasty of Egypt, the queen was given the additional role of priestess of Nut a goddess. This portrayed the queen as a trusted servant to the goddess called the eternal mother. Nut is the mother of Isis, Osiris, Nephthys and set. The close linking of the queen and this figure is of great significance because its from this goddess Nut that all the current goddesses and gods originated and plays the role of female initiator. The entrusting women as priestesses to a powerful goddess like Nut further elevates their status in society and earns the great respect and honor.
Almost at the same time, the queen began to be represented in royal art with the cowry shell that was mostly used for currency and trade. The shell was taken to symbolize the vulva and verbal communication. The cowry shell was reserved for women and their ornaments. This in essence symbolized the verbal communication with the ruling queens and other significant women of the period. This symbolism further illustrates how women were vocal in the leadership of the Nubian ancient society and the influence that they had (Budge, 16).
Women were allowed to engage in business, for example, they could manage, own and sell property including settling legal issues. This simply means women were given the right and privilege to be their own managers and bosses of their own affairs and not to depend on men for everything. Women were independent and self reliant because if someone own property then dependence becomes a gone case. This means that a woman had a right to a law suit in case she felt her rights were being violated on trampled upon. She also had the right for divorce (Adams, 187).
This paper has revealed that women in ancient Nubia were more represented in leadership and recognized as compared to other ancient societies like Greece and Athens where women were there to be seen not to be heard. The fact that women could rise to leadership positions as queens in ancient Nubia by virtue of their lineage was very significant Compared to other ancient societies, Nubian royal women could be associated with gods and goddesses. This really elevated the position of women in this society (Diop, 143). It is said that the king was the sign of leadership while the queen was the symbol. This means that there was a very small difference between the men and women of the ancient Nubia. Women in this society enjoyed privileges like one assuming queenship just because they were the king’s mother or wife. The structure of this society greatly favored women and especially the royal women.
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Olson, Stacie. Educational Guide: Ancient Nubia. Philadelphia: University Museum Education Department, 1992, pg 14.
Schueler, Gerald. Coming Into the Light. St. Paul: Llewellyn Publications, 1989. Page 22.
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Simon, Spottswood. “African King in Confederate Capital.” Negro History Bulletin. Volume 46, Number 1: January, February, March 1983, 9-10. Page 9.