Women ruled in ancient Africa, and they did so with incredible strength and power.
In this post, we will meet a few of the most important of these queens. They had no qualms about fighting their enemies, making immeasurable sacrifices for their people, and being inspirational leaders through and through. These women have been immortalized for centuries for their incredible strength and power. Their legacies have inspired people around the world.
They were not just queens: but leaders and conquerors in their own right. Let us get started!
Queen Amanirenas was the ruler of the Kushite kingdom in Africa. She led her armies into battle against the Roman Empire, beginning a five-year war.
During the war, she lost one eye and became known as a one-eyed queen. She prevented the Roman invasion of her kingdom, which was something none of the previous rulers had done before.
According to the Greek historian Strabo, when he met her she had "courage above that of her gender." She built pyramids and temples at Wad Ban Naqa, where she was buried with vast treasures.
Queen Amina was a fearless warrior queen who ruled the Zazzau kingdom. She was the first woman to become a queen in a heavily male-dominated and patriarchal society.
She expanded her kingdom's territory, opened trade routes and initiated several other notable cultural changes that are still felt today. She ruled for a total of 34 years.
Fun fact, there is a 2021 film on Netflix based on queen Amina's life and how she uses military skills and tactics to defend her kingdom. The beauty of this film is that it was written, directed and acted by Africans. Watch the Amina trailer.
Hatshepsut was a pharaoh from ancient Egypt. She has an interesting and somewhat controversial story.
Hatsheput was a regent queen for her stepson, Thutmose III. During the first few years as the queen, she complied and was an entirely conventional regent. However, by the end of his regnal year, she had been crowned the king. This was against the norms because she was supposed to hand back power to her stepson, Thutmose III. Instead, she had taken it upon herself to crown herself as the king.
Hatshepsut and Thutmose III agreed to become joint rulers of Egypt, but Hatshepsut was the dominant king. She was the first female ruler in Egyptian history.
Though her reign was controversial, during it there was peace and prosperity in the kingdom. She undertook ambitious building projects: the most remarkable being the temple at Deir el-Bahri.
Queen Moremi was the remarkable and brave queen of the Yoruba tribe. Her story has been passed down over generations through folklore by the Yoruba people.
She was a princess from the town of Offa and was later married to king Oranmiyan. Oranmiyan ruled over Ile Ife in the 12th century. While she was a queen in Ife, the kingdom often experienced raids from the neighbouring tribe. During these raids, the raiders stole property, food, and domestic animals and took citizens away as slaves.
Moremi wanted to stop these attacks on her people, so she decided to take action. She devised a clever plan where she would act as a spy. She allowed herself to be taken captive as a slave during a raid. Queen Moremi was a beautiful woman, and her beauty caught the eye of the king of the neighbouring tribe. He took a liking to her and married her. With time, she gained the king's and people's trust. Queen Moremi gathered secrets of the enemies, including their army tactics. Once she had gained enough information, she escaped back to the kingdom of Ife and shared the intel she had gathered. When the raiders from the neighbouring kingdom came, the Yoruba people were prepared and defeated them in battle.
Queen Moremi's bravery, patriotism, wisdom, and sacrifice have been immortalized for generations. She was also honoured with the tallest statue in Nigeria and the 4th tallest in Africa.
Queen Moremi statue at the University of Lagos. Source: Wikimedia Commons
Queen Mother Idia
Idia, the wife of King Ozolua, was one of the most powerful women in the Benin Kingdom's history. When Ozolua died, his sons, Esigie and Arhuaran, fought over who would rule the kingdom.
Idia chose her son, Esigie's side in the war. She led the army into battle. She also advised him politically and provided military strategies during the war. In addition, Idia also used her knowledge of medicine and mystical powers to help him.
Illustration of queen Idia from our children's book, Idia of the Benin Kingdom.
Esigie was crowned king of the Benin kingdom after winning a war. Idia, his mother, was credited with her son's victory. Esigie created a new position, which was queen mother. This role gave Idia significant political privileges and power.
Queen Nandi, the mother of Shaka Zulu and a great African queen in her own right, has left an indelible mark on history.
Nandi and her son, Shaka, fled the Zulu tribe due to the ridicule and animosity they faced, particularly Nandi. Once Shaka came of age, he returned to the Zulu tribe to claim his rightful position as the head of the tribe. He appointed his mother as the queen of the Zulu people and his adviser.
Shaka's mother inspired him to create an all-female regiment that fought on the front lines of his army. In just 12 years, they expanded from just being a tribe to a formidable Zulu kingdom immensely. Nandi battled slave traders and trained Shaka to become a warrior.
Shaka loved his mother dearly and held her in high regard. She was a heroine who shaped the Zulu kingdom. He elevated her to the status of a goddess.
Last on our list is the incredible Queen Njinga, who ruled both the kingdom of Ndongo and Matamba.
She was a skilled negotiator and successfully negotiated with the Portuguese to stop the slave raids in exchange for opening up trading routes.
She was a clever diplomat; she changed religions as a show of good faith to the Portuguese, who were Catholics. She was baptized and even changed her name.
When the Portuguese failed to deliver on their end of the bargain, she led her people to war. She was a visionary military leader and fought off the Portuguese invasion for 30 years! While also ruling over two kingdoms.
Illustration of queen Njinga from our children's book, Njinga of Ndongo and Matamba.
There have been incredible African Queens from Ancient Africa. These women were rulers of kingdoms and leaders in their communities. Their courageous leadership, sacrifice and unbreakable spirit made them legends to their people and paved the way for future generations of queens!
If you enjoyed this post, we recommend checking out our other posts on African kingdoms, our compilation of African heroes and heroines, and fun ways to teach your kids about African history.