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Cleopatra One-Upped! Nubian Queen Trounced Romans, Evaded Taxes

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After several more years of skirmishes and battles, during which her son, prince Akinidad, was killed, Amanirenas and the Roman general tried for a negotiated peace. With her envoys, Amanirenas traveled to the Greek island of Samos, where Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus planned to spend the winter. In 21 B.C., the two sides hammered out an agreement called the Treaty of Samos.

For their part, the Romans agreed to withdraw all their military forces from Meroe lands. Queen Amanirenas agreed to a new border with Egypt at Aswan. The mind-boggler clause, however, was a firm Roman promise to refrain from taxing Amanirenas and her people. No taxes, no tribute to pay, ever! Writer and historian Strabo, a contemporary of Amanirenas, noted this stunning development in his book with more than a touch of envy.

This admirable peace between the literate, artistic Meroe empire and Rome remained in force for three more centuries, the legacy of a sterling leader to her people.

Eventually, like the Kandake queens and kings before her, Amanirenas was laid to rest around 10 B.C. beneath the "tombstone" of a slender, reddish-brown, sharply pointed pyramid, the signature architecture of Meroe. Her body, it's thought, occupies a secret niche deep beneath a pyramid at Gebel Barkal, pictured in the aerial below. Her life and military campaigns are also documented on the Teriteqas Oval Stela. Nubian queens received the same burial honors as kings. There were four royal cemetery sites, the most important one being in Meroe.

Nearly 20 Kandake queens are known by name now; and more than 200 pyramids still stand, clustered in archaeological sites around The Sudan.

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Who were the Nubians, anyway?

From a long line of hereditary Kandake queens, Amanirenas ruled Upper and Lower Nubia, including the fertile green lands along the Nile between the first and the sixth cataracts, the shallow rapids of the great river. Her ancient homeland, first called Kush by the Egyptians, was referred to as Nubia or Meroe in Roman times. It was also known more poetically as Ta-Seti, "Land of the Bow," for its superb archers. To add to the confusion, Roman and Greek writers often called the place "Ethiopia." And the term "Meroe" referred to both the region and the capital city in Amanirena's time.

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(Ta-Seti-Meroe-Ethiopia-Kush-Nubia is known today as The Sudan, a country that now provides us with a stark example of what wars and climate change can do to a once-fertile land.)

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Vicki Leon, author of over 35 nonfiction books on women's history, ancient history, and travel, along with pictorial books for younger readers on wildlife and earth's fragile habitats, lives on the California coast but often returns to her favorite (more...)

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