Learning to thrive in the new life Jesus offers us – 2 Corinthians 5:16-17

Queen Candace of Ethiopia

Or, Kandake of Kush

Queen Candace of Ethiopia (Nubia or Meroe)

Over forty Meroitic kings and queens were buried in pyramids at Meroë.
(Image of Meroitic pyramids sourced from Wikimedia Commons.)

In his famous Church History, Eusebius mentions Philip the evangelist and the Ethiopian eunuch, and he wrote: “Ethiopia even to the present day is ruled, according to ancestral custom, by a woman” (2.1.13 cf. Acts 8:27). I found this piece of information intriguing and so I went on a bit of a search to find out if there is some truth in his statement. As it turned out, there is.

Queen Candace of Ethiopia (Kush)There were several female rulers of Ethiopia or, more precisely, Meroë. Meroë was the capital city of the ancient Kingdom of Kush. Kush (also known as Nubia) was often called Ethiopia in the Bible.[1] The region that once belonged to the ancient Kushite kingdom lies mostly in modern-day Sudan, which is situated directly south of Egypt. (Modern-day Ethiopia is still further south.)

Kandake (kendake or kentake), which means “great woman”, was used as a royal title or dynastic name for the queens of Meroë. Kandake is sometimes translated into English as “Candace” (e.g. Acts 8:27). Some of the kandakes ruled in their own right. Others ruled with their husbands: these queens were not merely consorts, they seem to have had equal power with the king. At least one kandake was the ruler while her husband was consort. Furthermore, some kandakes were warrior queens who led their armies into battle.

There were so many ruling and warrior queens that, like Eusebius, several other writers assumed that Meroë was ruled only by women. (Source) Strabo, a geographer and historian (d. 24 AD), Pliny the Elder, a renowned natural philosopher (23–79 AD), Dio Cassius, a Roman consul and historian (155–235 AD), and others refer to a few ruling kandakes in their writings, but today we know of several more.[2] “An impressive series of Nubian warrior queens, queen regents, and queen mothers, known as kentakes . . . are only appearing to the light of history through the ongoing deciphering of the Meroitic script.”[3]

Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban writes, “Meroë claims at least ten regnant queens during the 500 year period between 260 BC and 320 AD, and no fewer than six during the 140 period between 60 BC and 80 AD.”[4][5] The Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts chapter 8 may have been in charge of the treasury of Amantitere Kandake, who ruled in 25–41 AD. (Source)

The Meroitic state flourished at the same time as the Ptolemies and the Romans (300 BC–350 AD). There is a legend that in 332 BC one kandake of Meroë pushed back Alexander the Great who was intent on advancing into Kush, so that he and his army had to retreat to Egypt. A more reliable account relates that in 22 AD Caesar Augustus clashed with Meroitic forces who were led by another kandake. He later made a peace treaty with them, one that benefited the Meroites. This treaty lasted for three centuries.

Timothy Kendall describes the appearance of some of the kandakes.

Curiously, in the Roman account [of the peace treaty] it was noted that the Meroitic queen was “a very masculine sort of woman and blind in one eye.”[5] This strange description is given substance by the even stranger portrayals of these ladies that appear in reliefs in their tomb chapels and temples. The successive Candaces Amanishakheto and Amanitore, for example, . . . are depicted as massive, powerful figures, enormously fat, covered with jewels and ornament and elaborate fringed and tasseled robes. Their huge frames tower over their diminutive enemies, whom they are shown grasping brutally by the hair with one hand and dealing the coup de grace with the other. The social and aesthetic implications expressed by these reliefs are very different from those of Egypt, where women preferred to be portrayed as lithe and slim. This attribute, together with the facial scars worn by both the kings and queens of the Meroitic period, were the marks of physical beauty, common to central Africa . . . (Source)

Kush, and nations in other parts of Africa, such as Egypt[6] and the “real” Ethiopia south of Kush,[7] were sometimes ruled by women. These women were formidable rulers and some were effective military leaders. In the Bible, we see a strong women who led Israel. Deborah led Israel in the years 2654–2694, according to the Hebrew calendar, and went into battle (Judges 4:6-9). Queen Salome Alexandra was the reigning queen of Judea in the years 76–67 BC (in the intertestamental period.) Both Deborah and Salome Alexandra were excellent leaders, and the Israelites prospered under their leadership. It seems that women in leadership, even as rulers of nations, is neither a modern invention nor just a recent phenomenon.


[1] In the Bible, “Ethiopia” refers to the region in Africa immediately south of Egypt. Its boundaries have shifted over time, but the northern boundary has always begun at modern-day Aswan. (Numbers 12:1 states that Moses’ second wife came from this region (i.e. Kush). Could she have been a kandake as some suggest?)

[2] Strabo’s account of a “one-eyed kandake” is in his Geography (17.1.54). Dio Cassius in Roman History (54.5) writes that a kandake revolted and waged war against the Romans and was overpowered by Gaius Petronius, the governor of Egypt, in 22 BC. Pliny the Elder tells us in Natural History (6.35) that a queen was ruling Meroë at the time of Nero’s reign. He also writes that “kandake” was the name of the queens in that country, “that name having passed from queen to queen for many years.”

[3] David E. Jones, Women Warriors: A History (Brasseys: 2000) (source)

[4] Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban, Nubian Queens in the Nile Valley and Afro-Asiatic Cultural History, a paper presented at the Ninth International Conference for Nubian Studies (August 20-26, 1998) 2. (Source)

[5] The following list of kandakes of Meroë who ruled alone is taken from here. (Cf. the Wikipedia article on the Kandakes of Kush here.)

  • Shanakdakhete (c. 177–155 BC) Earliest known ruling queen. She is shown in reliefs as wearing armor and wielding a spear in battle. Her husband was her consort and not a king.  Her son inherited the throne on her passing.

  • Amanirenas (c. 40–10 BC) In 23 BC the Roman governor of Egypt, Petronius, invaded Nubia in response to her attack on southern Egypt, pillaging the north of her territory and razing Napata to the ground (c. 22 BC)

  • Amanishakheto (c. 10 BC–1 AD)  Known for defeating the Roman invasion of Nubia by Roman Caesar Augustus and arranging a favorable peace treaty with Rome. Augustus bragged in his The Deeds of the Divine Augustus that “a penetration was made as far as the town of Napata, which is next to Meroë.”

  • Amanitore (c. 1–20 AD)

  • Amantitere (c. 20–49 AD) Most probably the kandake of Acts 8:27.

  • Amanikhatashan (c. 62–85 AD)

  • Maleqorobar (c. 266–283 AD)

  • Lahideamani (306–314 AD)

[6] Cleopatra VII Philopater (70/69–30 BC) is the best known female pharaoh who ruled Egypt in her own right. Historians know of fifteen women in all who ruled as pharaohs, some of these were co-rulers with their brother-husbands.

[7] In her paper on Nubian Queens, Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban writes, “Three of the Ethiopian queens were central to significant turning points in dynastic history: 1) Makeda [Queen of Saba, hence “Sheba”] who founded the Menelik dynasty that ruled until the overthrow of Haile Selassie in 1974; 2) Queen Ahywa (regal name Sofya), who made Christianity the official religion of the Ethiopian kingdom in 332 A.D.; and 3) Gudit, the Jewish queen who founded the rival Zagwe dynasty, 933–1253 CE until the Amhara Solomonic line was restored (Quirin 1992, 12-19).” (Nubian Queens, 3)  Ethiopians and Yemenies (both are descendents of the Sabians) claim that the Queen of Sheba who visited Solomon was their queen. (Nubian Queens, 2) (Source) (Here is a link to an interesting video on the Queen of Sheba.)

Queen Candace of Ethiopia (Kush)

Relief of Amanitore Kandake, who rule c. 1–20 AD, found in Wad ban Naqa, a town of Meroë.
Now housed in the Egyptian Museum of Berlin. (Wikimedia Commons)

Related Articles

The (Im)propriety of Bible Women with Authority
Three Obscure Old Testament Women with Clout
Bible Women with Spiritual Authority
What’s in a name? Deborah, Woman of Lappidoth
Deborah and the “no available men” argument
A Sympathetic look at Bathsheba
Philip’s Prophesying Daughters

A five minute lecture by Craig Keener, All about the African empire that the official in Acts 8:27 was from, is here.

Posted January 24th, 2015 . Categories/Tags: Church History, Equality and Gender Issues, ,

Unkind, judgemental, bizarre, and off-topic comments will be deleted.

20 comments on “Queen Candace of Ethiopia

  1. heidi bright says:

    Thank you so much for digging this out and posting it. I have been wondering about the eunuch’s queen of Ethiopia for many years. This gives greater clarity, along with a place to start doing more research.

  2. I’ve done some research on Candace (Kandake) Queens in Africa having been curious of women roles in Africa and women rulers in Ancient times. I mentioned Queen Amanitore in my blog under the post about gender stereotypes of women. Great study. God Bless.

  3. Danesba says:

    Really interesting. I had wondered about the Ethiopian in Act 8’s Jewish roots. The later part of Acts 8:27 says, “This man had gone to jerusalem to worship.” Also, after his introduction to Christ, and his Baptism into the Faith through Philip, and being a man of importance, being in charge of all the treasure of the Kandake (Acts 8:27), I wonder if he had a hand in the early church growth in Kush.

    A You cited that Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban wrote “Queen Ahywa (regal name Sofya), … made Christianity the official religion of the Ethiopian kingdom in 332 A.D.” Even though this is a few centuries later, I cannot help but to believe that the saving knowedge of Christ grew through the leadership of the kingdom because of this man’s conversion.

    Thank you for this posting.

    • Marg says:

      I believe the Ethiopian eunuch brought the gospel back to his own country, too. I am also certain that he didn’t travel alone and that some of his companions and/or servants may have heard Philip’s message and become Christians too.

      As you may know, the Ethiopians have had a long association with the Hebrews and Judaism, and there is a legend that Jeremiah sent the Ark of the Covenant to Ethiopia, so that it would not be desecrated when the gentile Persians conquered Judea.

      • birk says:

        Correction Mam Ethiopians are the Original Jews!
        Not Cossack Whites!

        • Marg says:

          Ummm, I have no idea why you mention Cossack Whites.

          I neither think nor state that Cossack Whites are “the original Jews.” Nor do I think that Ethiopians are Cossack Whites.

          Both Danesba and myself acknowledge the Jewish heritage of the Ethiopians. We’re taking about the Ethiopian eunuch taking the Christian gospel back to his homeland.

  4. Candace Bianchi says:

    I am very, very interested in learning all about the “Candace” name. Thank you so much for sharing your information. I been doing quite a bit of reading on this name/title and it’s association. Really beginning to unfold so many level of my wishes, desire, and who and what I am truly made of. There is so much true to all that I have read and understood. Love the part that a blogger stated the ark of the covenant was send to Ethiopia. I would like to learn more information, do you have more?


    • Marg says:

      Hi Candace,

      You certainly have a regal name. 🙂

      I watched a documentary which investigated whether the Ark of the Covenant was currently in Ethiopia. I found the testimony of people who said it was in Ethiopia unconvincing.

      If you google “Ark of the Covenant Ethiopia” you might find some good information.

  5. julla says:

    To clarify the matters in specific: The Ethiopian eunuch who is mentioned in the Bible was a Cushite, or from north Sudan, because in the ancient time Sudan was called Ethiopia. Ethiopia the modern country was called Abyssinia or Axum. Second there are no Candaces in the history of the modern Ethiopia, rather the Candaces are the Cushite queens in north Sudan, as they are called by people. Third, Meroe city is in north Sudan, so the eunuch man was a Cushite from Nubia, south of Egypt. Cushite or Nubian people in north Sudan received the message of Christ as first people in Africa ever in 37AD. Thanks.

    • Marg says:

      Thanks Julla. I think the article mentions most of this.

      The only thing I didn’t mention is that the present day country of Ethiopia was known as Abyssinia from around 1137 AD, and, before that, the kingdom of Axum.

      I agree, it is quite likely that the Nubian people in north Sudan were the first people in Africa to receive the message of Christ. 😀

      • Abinet says:

        The name Candace does exist in Ethiopian history it is referred to as ” .Hendoke” . Secondly when I visited Jerusalem some years ago I noticed the Palestinians used the name “!Kush” referring to Ethiopians . I am of the opinion a large area that included North Sudan to Yemen was probably one Kingdom.

  6. Aundrae says:

    He was not an eunuch, for not eunuch was allowed to worship in the Temple. The better Hebrew translation is “servant”.

    • Marg says:

      Hi Aundrae,

      The Ethiopian official is referred to in Greek as an εὐνοῦχος (eunouchos, i.e. a eunuch) no less than five times in Acts 8. (The New Testament book of Acts was originally written in Greek, not Hebrew.)

      Other Greek words are typically translated as “servant” in the New Testament but not εὐνοῦχος. This link has every instance of εὐνοῦχος in the New Testament: http://biblehub.com/greek/2135.htm

      As both a eunuch and a (presumably) gentile convert to Judaism, the man from Ethiopia would not have been permitted beyond the courtyard of the gentiles in the first century temple at Jerusalem.

      You can see the different courts in this illustration: http://www.bible-history.com/jewishtemple/JEWISH_TEMPLE00000018.jpg

      Furthermore, after the Babylonian captivity which ended in 538 BC, the laws of Deuteronomy 23:1-8 and Leviticus 21:18-20, which restricted eunuchs and gentiles, were relaxed. Read the wonderful words of the Lord in Isaiah 56:1-8 here: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Isaiah+56&version=NIV

      Here is Isaiah 56:7b where the Lord is speaking about people like the Ethiopian eunuch: “Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” This does not mean, however, that the eunuch himself was able to approach the altar.

      Here is a short article about the gathering of outcasts, including eunuchs, mentioned in Isaiah 56: https://www.enterthebible.org/resourcelink.aspx?rid=475

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