The word “royalty” often conjures images of kings, queens, princes and princesses of European and Asian blood line; the most popular being the British royal family. A July 2013 article on The Washington Post website lists 25 monarchies outside of the British monarchy, “a fascinating network of kings, queens, sultans, emperors and emirs who rule or reign over 43 countries in all”. Interestingly, this list includes monarchies from three (3) African countries: Lesotho, Swaziland and Morocco. It isn’t often you hear about royal families in African countries. However, kings and queens have reigned in Africa for centuries. For instance, African empires such as Benin, Kongo, Mali and Songhai had very powerful monarchies around this time, spanning centuries of sovereignty. Let us take a look at two (2) of these African sovereigns.
Pharaoh Amenhotep III
Considered one of the greatest pharaohs of Egypt, Amenhotep III served between 1538 BC and 1501 BC. Whilst his legacy did not include much military activity (in fact he was only called upon once to lead an army to quell a rebellion, he was highly regarded for his patronage of the arts. He was said to be the driving force behind the widespread artistic push during this reign, helping to set new standards of quality and realism in representation.
During his reign, Egypt flourished and enjoyed much prosperity and stability. This led to the construction of several great monuments and buildings including temples and statues. A few of his most grandiose constructions were the Temple of Luxor which contained hundreds of statues of himself and Amen-Ra (chief of the Egyptian Gods), and, his own mortuary temple which was said to be the largest of its kind ever built. He also built the first man-made lake outside of his palace in honour of his wife, Queen Tiye.
Amenhotep III and Queen Tiye also developed strong diplomatic ties and foreign policies. Egypt began to export her culture and goods throughout the Mediterranean and the Near East. Queen Tiye arranged diplomatic marriages and gave gifts of gold to Asians who in turn sold them semi-precious stones and cedar wood. Her husband frequently corresponded with the Babylonians, the Mitanni and the Arzawa.
Amenhotep III is arguably one of the most exemplary monarchs the world ever saw.
Queen Nefertiti was wife of Pharaoh Amenhotep IV, son of Amenhotep III. She is one of ancient Egypt’s most famous queens. The translation of her name is said to be, “The beautiful one is come”. This may explain why she is the Egyptian queen with the most surviving appearances on monuments and other artistic media.
Nefertiti played an important role in the religious and political structures of Egypt after her husband restructured them around the worship of the sun god Aten. Alongside Amenhotep IV, she served as the female element in the divine triad formed by Aten, her husband and herself. She is often depicted as being more powerful than any other queen in Egyptian history. This was substantiated by the many etchings in tombs and on walls of her, alongside her husband; this was not seen for any other queen. Her characteristic headwear was also similar to what the Pharaoh would wear. All this suggested that she was more of a co-ruler than consort and as such possessed a unique authority more than any other queen.
Mysteriously, she disappeared from historical records round about the 12th year of Amenhotep IV’s reign. However, a bust said to be of her was found in 1913 and is now on display in Germany at the Berlin’s Neues Museum.