- This article is about the Roman prefect Petronius. For other uses of the name, see Gaius Petronius Arbiter and Petronius (disambiguation).
Gaius Petronius or Publius Petronius (born c. 75 BC; died after 20 BC) was the 2nd and then 4th Prefect of Roman Aegyptus.
Petronius led a campaign into present-day central Sudan against the Kingdom of Kush at Meroe, whose queen Imanarenat had previously attacked Roman Egypt. Failing to acquire permanent gains, he razed the city of Napata 22 BC to the ground and retreated to the north.
In 25 BC, the Romans were planning a campaign against both Nubia (Meroe) and Arabia – Augustus bragged about this in his Res Gestae “two armies were led at about the same time into Aethiopia and into the Arabia called Felix". Before the Romans had even tried anything, the Nubians attacked the Thebaid, and the Roman garrison at Syene. They enslaved inhabitants and pulled down Augustus’ statues. The prefect of Egypt, Petronius led 10,000 infantry against 30,000 Nubians, chasing them back to Nubia. He then sacked the seat of the Nubian queen – queen Candace (actually Queen Amanirenas, with title of “candace”) known from Nubian inscriptions. He enslaved the inhabitants (sending 1,000 to Augustus presumably for the games) and set up a Roman garrison nearby. However, after the change in imperial policy later in Octavian Augustus, the Romans gave up their ambitions to conquer Meroe. They instead treated it as a "client state". Strabo talks about the Nubian ambassadors making a treaty with Augustus.
Indeed, Strabo describes a war with the Romans in the 1st century BC. After the initial victories of Kandake (or "Candace") Amanirenas against Roman Egypt, the Kushites of northern Nubia were defeated and Napata sacked.
Remarkably, the destruction of the capital of Napata was not a crippling blow to the Kushites and did not frighten Candace enough to prevent her from again engaging in combat with the Roman military.
Indeed, it seems that Gaius Petronius attack might have had a revitalizing influence on the kingdom. Just three years later, in 22 BC, a large Kushite force moved northward with intention of attacking Qasr Ibrim. Alerted to the advance, Petronius again marched south and managed to reach Qasr Ibrim and bolster its defences before the invading Kushites arrived.
Although the ancient sources give no description of the ensuing battle, we know that at some point the Kushites sent ambassadors to negotiate a peace settlement with Petronius and possibly accept a status like "Client State" of Rome.
By the end of the second campaign after other years of fighting, however, Petronius was in no mood to deal further with the Kushites. The Kushites succeeded in negotiating a peace treaty on favourable terms. and trade between the two nations increased.
- Arthur E. Robinson, "The Arab Dynasty of Dar For (Darfur): Part II", Journal of the Royal African Society (Lond). XXVIII: 55-67 (October, 1928)
- Edwards, David N. (2004). The Nubian Past. London: Routledge. pp. 348 Pages. ISBN 0-415-36987-8.
- Leclant, Jean (2004). The empire of Kush: Napata and Meroe. London: UNESCO. pp. 1912 Pages. ISBN 1-57958-245-1.
- Roger S. Bagnall. Publius Petronius, Augustan Prefect of Egypt. In: Naphtali Lewis (Hrsg.): Papyrology (Yale Classical Studies XXVIII) (1985). S. 85–93.