Kandake, kadake or kentake (Meroitic: 𐦲𐦷𐦲𐦡 kdke, 𐦲𐦴𐦲𐦡 ktke), often Latinised as Candace (Ancient Greek: Κανδάκη, Kandakē), was the Meroitic term for the sister of the king of Kush who, due to the matrilineal succession, would bear the next heir, making her a queen mother. She had her own court, probably acted as a landholder and held a prominent secular role as regent. Contemporary Greek and Roman sources treated it, incorrectly, as a name. The name Candace is derived from the way the word is used in the New Testament (Acts 8:27).
The Kandakes of Meroe were first described through the Greek geographer's Strabo account of the "one-eyed Candace" in 23 BCE in his encyclopedia Geographica. There are at least ten regnant Meroitic queens during the 500 years between 260 BCE and 320 CE, and at least six during the 140 periods between 60 BC and 80 AD. The iconographic portrayal of the Meroitic queens depicts them as women often alone and at the forefront of their stelae and sculptures and shown in regal women's clothing. Early depictions of Kushite queens typically do not have Egyptian elements making their appearance drastically different from their Kushite men and Egyptian counterparts. As seen in the Dream Stela of Tanawetamani, a large shawl was wrapped around the body with an additionally decorated cloak worn over the first; typically, a small tab-like element hangs below the hem touches the ground and has been interpreted as a little tail. The first association with this element of dress is with Tarharqo's mother during his coronation ceremony.
It was not until George Reisner excavated the royal cemeteries at El Kurru and Nuri that archaeological material became available to study the Kushite queenship. Additionally, a few royal tombs of Kushite women have been found at Meroe's cemetery and in Egypt at Abydos (Leahy 1994). At El Kurru, six pyramids belong to royal women of the XXV Dynasty and an pyramid for queen Qalhata of the Napatan period. At Nuri, the tombs of royal women are located on the west plateau with more inscriptional information available at the site, linking the roles that the kings' mothers played in succession and their importance during the Kushite dynasty.
The most important event that Kushite women participated in was kingship's ensured continuity, where royal women were mentioned and represented in the royal ceremony. The lunettes of the stelae of Tanawetamani, Harsiyotef, and Nastasen all provide iconographic and textual evidence of these kings' enthronement. In all of these stelae, the king is accompanied by a female member of his family, mother, and wife. The king's mother played an essential role in the legitimacy of her son as the king; textual evidence from Taharqo's coronation stelae represents inscriptional evidence suggesting that the king's mother traveled to her son's coronation. During the Kushite XXV Dynasty, the office that is known as God's Wife of Amun was established. The royal women in this role acted as the primary contact with the Kushite god Amun. They played a decisive role in the king's accession to the throne.
Evidence outside of Nubia that shows additional links to Kushite's queenship concept are found in Ethiopia. Ethiopia has a long dynastic history claimed to be over three millennia from before 1000 BC to 1973, the year of the overthrow of the last Menelik emperor, Haile Selassie. The Ethiopian monarchy's official chronicle of dynastic succession descends from Menelik I includes six regnant queens referred to as Kandake. The first is Nicauta Kandake (730 – 681 BC), with five subsequent Kandake-line queens comprising a matrilineal descendancy to the throne. Twenty-one queens are recorded as sole regent in the kingdom of Ethiopia until the 9th century CE. The conquest of Meroe by the Axumite King Ezana may well provide the historical fiction for the Ethiopian dynastic claim to the Nubian Kandakes and their kings. For example, Makeda, Queen of Sheba, in the Kebra Nagast, is also recognized as Candace or "Queen Mother".
Bas-reliefs dated to about 170 B.C. reveal the kentake Shanakdakheto, dressed in armor and wielding a spear in battle. She did not rule as queen regent or queen mother, but as a fully independent ruler. Her husband was her consort. In bas-reliefs found in the ruins of building projects she commissioned, Shanakdakheto is portrayed both alone as well as with her husband and son, who would inherit the throne by her death.
In 25 BC the Kush kandake Amanirenas, as reported by Strabo, attacked the city of Syene, today's Aswan, in territory of the Roman Empire; Emperor Augustus destroyed the city of Napata in retaliation.
Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, "Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." This is a desert place. And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship
He discussed with Philip the meaning of a perplexing passage from the Book of Isaiah. Philip explained the scripture to him and he was promptly baptised in some nearby water. The eunuch 'went on his way, rejoicing', and presumably therefore reported back on his conversion to the Kandake.
A legend in the Alexander romance claims that "Candace of Meroë" fought Alexander the Great. In fact, Alexander never attacked Nubia and never attempted to move further south than the oasis of Siwa in Egypt. The story is that when Alexander attempted to conquer her lands in 332 BC, she arranged her armies strategically to meet him and was present on a war elephant when he approached. Having assessed the strength of her armies, Alexander decided to withdraw from Nubia, heading to Egypt instead. Another story claims that Alexander and Candace had a romantic encounter.
These accounts originate from "The Alexander Romance" by an unknown writer called Pseudo-Callisthenes, and the work is largely a fictionalized and grandiose account of Alexander's life. It is commonly quoted, but there seems to be no historical reference to this event from Alexander's time. The whole story of Alexander and Candace's encounter appears to be legendary.
John Malalas has mixed the Pseudo-Callisthenes material with other and wrote about the affair of Alexander with Kandake, adding that they got married. Malalas also wrote that Kandake was an Indian queen and Alexander met her during his Indian campaign.
Kandakes of Kush
- Shanakdakhete (177 BC–155 BC) (earliest known ruling queen)
- Amanirenas (40 BC–10 BC)
- Amanishakheto (c. 10 BC–1 AD)
- Amanitore (1–20 AD)
- Amanitaraqide (22–41 AD)
- Amanikhatashan (62–85 AD)
- Maleqorobar (266–283 AD)
- Lahideamani (306-314 AD)
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