Last night I watched an interesting program on the Discovery Channel, “Nubia, The Forgotten Kingdom”, and learned that the Romans were defeated in battle by the Nubians led by a powerful Queen in 23 B.C. during the reign of Augustus. I was totally unfamiliar with this episode of Roman conflict. I did a little research and found this interesting reference:
“Rome gained control of Egypt and all of the north African coastline and exacted tribute from Kush. Kush, called "Aethiopia" by the Romans (not to be confused with the present Ethiopia which was called Abyssinia by the Romans - see Axum), seeing Rome edge into lower Nubia, attacked and sacked the Roman outposts at Elephantine and Syene. the Romans retaliated and conquered the Kushite towns of Dakka and Premnis. Then Rome marched on Napata where the queen was in residence. She sued for peace and was refused. Rome then attacked Napata and razed it to the ground, making slaves of their captives. After that Rome fortified Premnis and kept it as their southernmost border while waging a three year war with Kush.”
”Finally, the Kandake marched upon Premnis and sued for peace, appealing to August Caesar. Impressed with the Kandake's appeal, and probably being aware that Rome had overextended itself at so distant a border, He accepted at about 20 BC. Kush was freed from further tribute, the borders were established at their Ptolemaic location, and Premnis was returned to Kushite control.”
I found more information at: http://www.internetpuppets.org/afrnubia.html
“Rome sent a legion, under the command of General Petronius (24 B.C. - 21 B.C.), to subdue Nubia and seize control of the gold trade. The Nubian army, led by Queen Amanirenas, smashed the Roman forces at Aswan, Philae, and Elephantine. The African army had stood against the most powerful state in the ancient world - Imperial Rome. This was Africa's finest hour. The Roman military had been stalemated and Nubia was divided into Lower Nubia (Roman) and Upper Nubia (Meroitic).”
”Meroitic history is filled with powerful Queen mothers. Women ruled with the same authority as men. The Meroitic alphabet has never been deciphered due to the lack of a translation key or Rosetta stone. The Nubians so disliked their Roman neighbors that a bust of Caesar Augustus was buried beneath a doorway to a temple.”
Strabo’s account of the action seems to downplay the Nubian’s successes:
Egypt was from the first disposed to peace, from having resources within itself, and because it was difficult of access to strangers. It was also protected on the north by a harborless coast and the Egyptian Sea; on the east and west by the desert mountains of Libya and Arabia, as I have said before. The remaining parts towards the south are occupied by Troglodytae, Blemmyae, Nubiae, and Megabarae Ethiopians above Syene. These are nomads, and not numerous nor warlike, but accounted so by the ancients, because frequently, like robbers, they attacked defenseless persons. Neither are the Ethiopians, who extend towards the south and Meroë, numerous nor collected in a body; for they inhabit a long, narrow, and winding tract of land on the riverside, such as we have before described; nor are they well prepared either for war or the pursuit of any other mode of life.
At present the whole country is in the same pacific state, proof of which is that the upper country is sufficiently guarded by three cohorts, and these not complete. Whenever the Ethiopians have ventured to attack them, it has been at the risk of danger to their own country. The rest of the forces in Egypt are neither very numerous, nor did the Romans ever once employ them collected into one army. For neither are the Egyptians themselves of a warlike disposition, nor the surrounding nations, although their numbers are very large.
Cornelius Gallus, the first governor of the country appointed by Augustus Caesar, attacked the city Hero?polis, which had revolted [in 28 B.C.], and took it with a small body of men. He suppressed also in a short time an insurrection in the Thebaïs which originated as to the payment of tribute. At a later period Petronius resisted, with the soldiers about his person, a mob of myriads of Alexandrines, who attacked him by throwing stones. He killed some, and compelled the rest to desist.
We have before related how Aelius Gallus, when he invaded Arabia with a part of the army stationed in Egypt, exhibited a proof of the unwarlike disposition of the people; and if Syllaeus had not betrayed him, he would have conquered the whole of Arabia Felix. The Ethiopians, emboldened in consequence of a part of the forces in Egypt being drawn off by Aelius Gallus, who engaged in war with the Arabs, invaded the Thebaïs and attacked the garrison, consisting of three cohorts, near Syene; surprised and took Syene, Elephantine, and Philae, a sudden inroad; enslaved the inhabitants, and threw down statues of Caesar. But Petronius, marching with less than 10,000 infantry and 800 horse against an army of 30,000 men, compelled them to retreat to Pselchis [former Maharraqa--now submerged beneath Lake Nasser], an Ethiopian city. He then sent deputies to demand restitution of what they had taken, and the reasons which had induced them to begin the war.
On their alleging that they had been ill-treated by the nomarchs, he answered, that these were not the sovereign of the country, but Caesar. When they desired three days for consideration, and did nothing which they were bound to do, Petronius attacked and compelled them to fight. They soon fled, being badly commanded, and badly armed; for they carried large shields made of raw hides, and hatchets for defensive weapons; some, however, had pikes, and others swords. Part of the insurgents were driven into the city, others fled into the uninhabited country; and such as ventured upon the passage of the river escaped to a neighboring island, where there were not many crocodiles on account of the current. Among the fugitives were the generals of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians in our time, a masculine woman, and who had lost an eye. Petronius, pursuing them in rafts and ships, took them all and despatched them immediately to Alexandria. He then attacked Pselchis and took it. If we add the number of those who fell in battle to the number of prisoners, few only could have escaped.
From Pselchis Petronius went to Premnis [the former Karanog--now also submerged beneath Lake Nasser], a strong city, traveling over the hills of sand, beneath which the army of Cambyses [king of Persia, and successor to Cyrus the Great] was overwhelmed by the setting in of a whirlwind. He took the fortress at the first onset, and afterwards advanced to Napata. This was the royal seat of the Candace; and her son was there, but she herself was in a neighboring stronghold. When she sent ambassadors to treat of peace, and to offer the restitution of the prisoners brought from Syene, and the statues, Petronius attacked and took Napata, from which her son had fled, and then razed it. He made prisoners of the inhabitants, and returned back again with the booty, as he judged any farther advance into the country impracticable on account of the roads. He strengthened, however, the fortifications of Premnis, and having placed a garrison there, with two years' provisions for four hundred men, returned to Alexandria. Some of the prisoners were publicly sold as loot, and a thousand were sent to Caesar, who had lately returned from the Cantabrians, others died of various diseases.
In the meantime the Candace attacked the garrison with an army of many thousand men. Petronius came to its assistance, and entering the fortress before the approach of the enemy, secured the place by many expedients. The enemy sent ambassadors, but he ordered them to repair to Caesar: in their replying, that they did not know who Caesar was, nor where they were to find him, Petronius appointed persons to conduct them to his presence. They arrived at Samos, where Caesar was at that time, and from whence he was on the point of proceeding into Syria, having already despatched Tiberius into Armenia. The ambassadors obtained all that they desired, and Caesar even remitted the tribute which he had imposed. . .