Queen of Sheba & King Sundiata

45. Queen of Sheba, ruler of Ethiopia and Yemen (ruled 1005-955 BC)
One of the greatest women in world history

In and around Axum, the old Ethiopian capital, there are over 50 obelisks, many of them undecorated. Some are believed to be very old, but firm dates have not been established. Near to some of these obelisks, one kilometre from Axum on the road to the city of Gondar, is a massive building containing a drainage system with “finely-mortared stone walls, deep foundations and an impressive throne room”. Ethiopian tradition establishes this building as the palace of Empress Makeda, the fabled Queen of Sheba (1005-955 BC). Tradition also establishes one of the obelisks, carved with four horizontal bands, each topped with a row of circles in relief, as the marker of the Queen’s grave. It was probably due to this evidence that J. A. Rogers, the famous Jamaican historian, declared that: “A few years ago her tomb, as well as the ruins of a great temple and twenty-two obelisks of her period, were excavated at Axum”.

The Queen of Sheba was one of the most powerful women in history. She is named as Makeda in the Ethiopian chronicle, the Kebra Negaste, or Bilqis, in the Koran. She presided over Ethiopia and Yemen (Saba or Sheba) and thus controlled the Red Sea, a great trade route. The evidence of the tomb and the obelisks indicate that the Queen of Sheba was an Ethiopian. There are also obelisks that seem to be intermediate in date and style between those of the Makeda period and those of the early Christian era.

There is another theory, which is worthy of discussion, to the effect that the Queen was half-Ethiopian and half-Yemeni. Professor William Hansberry, master of the African-American historians, draws attention to a mediæval manuscript of Al-Hamdani. This Muslim scholar died in the Arabian city of Sana in the middle of the tenth century AD. His account portrays Bilqis as the daughter of Shar Habil, the king of Yemen, and Ekeye Azeb, an Ethiopian princess. Moreover, she was born in the Yemenite city of Marib, but spent her youth in Ethiopia. She returned to Marib just before her father’s death. The Yemenis of this period were Negroes and therefore the Queen was fully Black.

The Queen was famous as a trader. She established trading networks carried by 520 camels and 370 ships. Tamrin, her chief merchant, headed the operation. The Book of Ezekiel 27: 22-24 says: “The merchants of Sheba and Raamah were thy merchants; they traded in thy fairs with the best of all spices, and with all precious stones, and gold. Haran, and Calneh, and Eden, the merchants of Sheba, Asshur, and Chilmad were thy merchants. These were thy merchants in all sorts of things, in blue clothes, and embroidered work, and in chests of rich apparel, bound with cords, and made of cedar, among thy merchandise.”

Unlike some other personalities in African history, there is an abundance of documents surrounding Makeda. This has made it difficult to separate fact from legend. For example Josephus, the great Roman Jewish historian, portrays her as Queen of Ethiopia but also Egypt. Other sources give her sovereignty over parts of Syria, Armenia, India and Indonesia. We take the more prudent view that she ruled just Ethiopia and Yemen.

All of this information is extracted from the Book ‘When We Ruled’.
To find out more about this book CLICK HERE

46. King Sundiata of Mali (ruled 1230-1255 AD)
Founder of the Malian nation

In 1224 King Sumanguru led the Sosso in a devastating raid on the Malian capital of Djeriba. They razed the city and killed most of the ruling family. Eleven princes were put to death in the massacre, but Sumanguru spared one of them, a crippled boy called Sundiata. Six years later, Sundiata triumphed over his disability and became the ruler of the Malians. He surrounded himself with a private guard made up of the thuggish element of the kingdom, and began a guerrilla campaign against Sosso dominance. Sundiata’s first strike, however, was against Sangaran, a neighbouring kingdom. After this conquest, he campaigned against Labe and also the Niger Region. During these conquests he gathered an army recruited from among the defeated peoples to fight the Sosso. In 1235 he challenged the power of the Sosso at the Battle of Kirina. His armies defeated Sumanguru and destroyed the fortified and well-garrisoned capital of the Sosso. Five years later, Sundiata seized the city of Ghana and destroyed it. After these military actions, he returned to the ruins of his capital city, Djeriba, and received the sworn loyalty of the rulers of the conquered people at a triumphant and impressive ceremony. He allowed the Emperor of Ghana to retain the title of king. All the other former rulers were given new titles.

Sundiata never again took to the battlefield. Devoting his time to economic and social development of the empire, he turned his armies into farmers and encouraged a programme of agricultural expansion. The soldiers grew cotton, peanuts and grains, and were also encouraged to raise poultry and cattle. He founded a new capital city called Niani. It was located on the confluence of the Upper Niger and Sankarini rivers. There were other military actions, however, but Sundiata’s generals led them. They marched as far as the Atlantic, seized lands way to the east, subjugated the southern forest belt, and overpowered the desert regions of the north. These actions led to Malian control of the gold-fields of Wangara and created the trade route from there to the new capital of Niani.

All of this information is extracted from the Book ‘When We Ruled’.
To find out more about this book CLICK HERE