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 Vol. 3, No. 12 

Page 2

December, 2001

Candace, Queen of the Ethiopiansfountain pen

By Louis Rushmore

"And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert. And he arose and went: and, behold, a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for to worship, Was returning, and sitting in his chariot read Esaias the prophet" (Acts 8:26-28, the context continues through verse 40).

The name "Candace" appears but once in the Bible (Acts 8:27). However, Ethiopia is mentioned by that name 20 times in the Bible, as well as otherwise referenced (e.g., Cush). There is no controversy regarding the usage of the term "Candace" though there is some confusion regarding the location of the biblical Ethiopia. The following material defines "Candace," locates biblical Ethiopia for the Bible student and indicates the relationship of ancient Ethiopia to the antique world. Ethiopia, like other formerly obscure deceased empires that interacted with God's people, deserves some exposure to the student of Holy Writ.

Historically, kings rather than queens usually ruled kingdoms in antiquity. Typically, men ascended to thrones, led armies and were warriors. However, two notable exceptions ascribing regal rule to women appear both in the Bible and in secular history. "In the New Testament we read of the 'queen of the south,' i.e., Southern Arabia, Sheba (Matt. 12:42; Luke 11:31) and the 'queen of the Ethiopians' (Acts 8:27), Candace."1 Further, the Ethiopian queen also waged wars, leading armies into battle, which armies were in part comprised of female warriors. "Ethiopian monuments singularly confirm the prominence given to females as queens and armed warriors…"2 "Candace, Queen of the Ethiopians, 8:27. Strabo mentions a queen of Meroè in Ethiopia, under that name, which was probably, like Pharaoh, a dynastic title."3

Thus Pliny (Hist. Nat. 6:29) says that the centurions, whom Nero sent to explore the country reported "that a woman reigned over Meroe called Candace, a name which had descended to the queens for many years." Strabo also (p. 820, ed. Casaub.) speaks of a warrior-queen of Ethiopia called Candace, in the reign of Augustus, the same whom Dion Cassius (54:5) describes as queen of the "Ethiopians living above (upper) Egypt." In B.C. 22 she had invaded Egypt, and soon afterward insulted the Romans on the Ethiopian frontier of Egypt. Caius Petronius, the governor of the latter province, marched against the Ethiopians, and, having defeated them in the field, took Pselca, and then crossing the sands which had long before proved fatal to Cambyses, advanced to Premnis, a strong position. He next attacked Napata, the capital of Queen Candace, took and destroyed it; but then retired to Premnis, where he left a garrison, whom the warlike queen assailed, but they were relieved by Petronius. She was still later treated favorably by Augustus. She is said to have lost one eye (see Smith's Dict. of Class. Biog. s. v.).4

A curious confirmation of the fact of female sovereignty having prevailed in Ethiopia has been remarked on the existing monuments of the country. Thus, on the largest sepulchral pyramid near Assour, the ancient Meroe (see Cailliaud, plate xlvi), a female warrior, with the royal ensigns on her head, drags forward a number of captives as offerings to the gods; on another compartment she is in a warlike habit, about to destroy the same group. … Among the Ethiopians, says Strabo (p. 1177), the women also are armed.5

As already intimated above, the name "Candace" is a dynasty name or title rather than a personal name. In this, the term "Candace" was not unlike regal or family names of rulers in many other ancient dominions (e.g., Pharaoh, Caesar, Herod). "Candace. The common name of the queens of Meroe: a titular distinction, like Pharaoh in Egypt, or Caesar at Rome."6 "It is somewhat singular that female sovereignty seems to have prevailed in Ethiopia, the name Candace (compare 'Pharaoh,' 'Ptolemy,' 'Caesar') being a title common to several successive queens."7

…for some time both before and after the Christian era, Ethiopia Proper was under the rule of female sovereigns, who all bore the appellation of "Candace," which was not so much a proper name as a distinctive title, common to every successive queen, like "Pharaoh" and "Ptolemy" to the kings of Egypt, and "Caesar" to the emperors of Rome.8

CANDACE [KAN duh see] (Queen or ruler of children)-a queen of Ethiopia (Acts 8:27). Candace, a title, did not refer to a particular queen but to a line of queens.9

Candace. Not a proper name but the title of the royal office. The king of Ethiopia was thought to be the child of the sun and therefore too sacred to exercise the actual functions of governing. The queen mother, who was called Candace, exercised the rule.10

Under Candace queen of the Ethiopians. We learn from Pliny ('H.N.' vi. 29), who flourished during the reign of Vespasian, that this had for many years been the family name of the queens of Upper Egypt-like Abimelech, Pharaoh, Caesar, etc., and Eusebius (`E.H.' ii. 10) says that as in Sheba (South Arabia), so here, females were allowed to reign.11

Candace is said to have been the common name of the queens of Ethiopia, as "Pharaoh" was of the sovereigns of Egypt. This is expressly stated by Pliny (Nat. History, 7:29). His words are: "The edifices of the city were few; a woman reigned there of the name of Candace, which name had been transmitted to these queens for many years." Strabo mentions also a queen of Ethiopia of the name of Candace. Speaking of an insurrection against the Romans, he says, "Among these were the officers of queen CANDACE, who in our days reigned over the Ethiopians." As this could not have been the Candace mentioned here, it is plain that the name was common to these queens-a sort of royal title.12

Many secular monuments speak of the high honor paid to women in Ethiopia, and Candace (Acts 8:27) seems certainly to have been an official or dynastic name for a number of Ethiopian queens. One of the pyramids of Meroe was Candace's-her picture can still be seen at Kaga-and to her belonged the wonderful treasure of jewelry found in 1834 by Ferlini and now in the Berlin museum.13

So far, we have ascertained that Candace refers to a dynasty of female warrior queens of ancient Ethiopia. The preponderance of abundant evidence leads to this universally acknowledged conclusion. However, the location of this kingdom of long ago is not obvious, because there were two Ethiopias, neither of which was located precisely where the modern country of Ethiopia is on the globe. "There were two Ethiopias, one in Arabia, but that lay east from Canaan; it should seem this was Ethiopia in Africa, which lay south, beyond Egypt…"14 Presently, Ethiopia is situated two countries south of Egypt with the country of Sudan lying between Egypt and Ethiopia.

ETHIOPIA; CUSH Named Cush in the Hebrew Bible and Cash in the Egyptian sources, Ethiopia is first mentioned in Genesis (2:13) as the land encompassed by the River Gihon, which flowed from the Garden of Eden. Situated in the Nile Valley between the second and the fourth cataracts, it was identified from early times as Nubia.15

The quotation above refers to a broader area or an additional locale bearing the name "Ethiopia" besides the real estate specifically under our consideration and corresponding to Acts 8:26-28.

"Ethiopia" was one of the great kingdoms of Africa, part of which is now called Abyssinia. It is frequently mentioned in Scripture under the name of "Cush." But "Cush" comprehended a much larger region, including the southern part of Arabia, and even sometimes the countries adjacent to the Tigris and Euphrates. Ethiopia proper lay south of Egypt, on the Nile, and was bounded north by Egypt, that is, by the cataracts near Syene; east by the Red Sea, and perhaps part by the Indian Ocean; south by unknown regions in the interior of Africa; and west by Libya and the deserts. It comprehended the modern kingdoms of Nubia or Sennaar, and Abyssinia. The chief city in it was the ancient Meroe, situated on the island or tract of the same name, between the Nile and Ashtaboras, not far from the modern Shendi Robinson's Calmet.16

Abyssinia was an expansive 19th century empire in eastern Africa roughly approximating modern Ethiopia and including the sources of the Nile River. Nubia was an ancient kingdom in eastern Africa encompassing southern Egypt and present day Sudan. The biblical Ethiopia seems to have included both Nubia and Abyssinia or on the modern globe, southern Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia.

The location of the Ethiopia in which the Bible student is primarily interested pertains to Candace and is in Africa south of Egypt. Citations above already mentioned its chief or capital city by which sometimes the kingdom itself was identified by non-Ethiopians. Meroe was an island city in the Nile River system. Therefore, the Old Testament occasionally refers to these rivers when mentioning Ethiopia. "Woe to the land shadowing with wings, which is beyond the rivers of Ethiopia" (Isaiah 18:1). "From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia my suppliants, even the daughter of my dispersed, shall bring mine offering" (Zephaniah 3:10).

Isa 18:1 Which (is) beyond the rivers of Ethiopia. Meroe, the island between the "rivers" Nile and Astaboras is meant, famed for its commerce, and perhaps the seat of the Ethiopian government, hence addressed here as representing the whole empire.17

a man of Ethiopia-the name anciently given to Upper or Southern Egypt, of which Meroe-a rich island formed by two branches of the Nile-was the capital.18

CANDACE Queen of Ethiopia (the island of Meroe, in upper Nubia, between the Nile on one side and the Atbara on the other).19

Of Ethiopia. The name for the lands lying south of Egypt, including the modern Nubia, Cordofan, and Northern Abyssinia. Rawlinson speaks of subjects of the Ethiopian queens living in an island near Meroe, in the northern part of this district.20

CANDACE The country over which she ruled…was that region in Upper Nubia which was called by the Greeks Meroe.21

ETHIOPIA. Settled by the descendants of *Cush (Gn. 10:6), biblical Ethiopia (Gk. Aithiops, 'burnt face', cf. Je. 13:23) is part of the kingdom of Nubia stretching from Aswan (*Seventh) S to the junction of the Nile near modern Khartoum.22

Ethiopia -- country of burnt faces; the Greek word by which the Hebrew Cush is rendered (Gen. 2:13; 2 Kings 19:9; Esther 1:1; Job 28:19; Ps. 68:31; 87:4), a country which lay to the south of Egypt, beginning at Syene on the First Cataract (Ezek. 29:10; 30:6), and extending to beyond the confluence of the White and Blue Nile. It corresponds generally with what is now known as the Soudan (i.e., the land of the blacks). This country was known to the Hebrews, and is described in Isa. 18:1; Zeph. 3:10. They carried on some commercial intercourse with it (Isa. 45:14). Its inhabitants were descendants of Ham (Gen. 10:6; Jer. 13:23; Isa. 18:2, "scattered and peeled," A.V.; but in R.V., "tall and smooth"). Herodotus, the Greek historian, describes them as "the tallest and handsomest of men." They are frequently represented on Egyptian monuments, and they are all of the type of the true negro. As might be expected, the history of this country is interwoven with that of Egypt. Ethiopia is spoken of in prophecy (Ps. 68:31; 87:4; Isa. 45:14; Ezek. 30:49; Dan. 11:43; Nah. 3:8-10; Hab. 3:7; Zeph. 2:12).23

…the modern Meroe, at the great bend of the Nile at Soudan. This city was the royal residence, it is said, of Queen Candace (Acts 8:27). Here there are extensive and splendid ruins.24

For the extent of her kingdom, which probably centered in the region of Upper Nubia (Meroe) rather than in modern-day Ethiopia25

Cush or Kush  … : ancient country NE Africa in Nile valley S of Egypt26

Ethiopia itself was a much larger territory than the percentage of land agreeable for agriculture and sustaining a settled population. Like Egypt directly north of Ethiopia, Candace's realm depended on the Nile River for its survival.

Apart from natural resources a nation may boast, just where a country resides in relationship to the rest of the nations with which it interacts contributes to whether it benefits or suffers loss in trade transactions. For instance, the city of Corinth was situated on an isthmus that permitted it to facilitate land trade north-south in Greece and east-west by sea through sister harbors on either side of the isthmus. Palestine composed the land bridge for travel and trade between Africa, Arabia, Europe and Asia. In the case of Ethiopia, it was beyond the southern border of the civilized world and served as a kind of land port for Africa to the rest of the settled lands north of it.

Candace -- the queen of the Ethiopians whose "eunuch" or chamberlain was converted to Christianity by the instrumentality of Philip the evangelist (Acts 8:27). The country which she ruled was called by the Greeks Meroe, in Upper Nubia. It was long the centre of commercial intercourse between Africa and the south of Asia, and hence became famous for its wealth (Isa. 45:14). …her kingdom, which probably centered in the region of Upper Nubia (Meroe) rather than in modern-day Ethiopia...27

Although most of biblical history is centered on the tiny land of Palestine, the geographical references found in the Bible touch on three continents. Eastern and western boundaries for the range of biblical geography are given by Paul's reference to Spain (Rom. 15:28) and references to the Persian nation (Ezek. 27:10; 38:5). References to the Scythians (north of the Black Sea; e.g., Col. 3:11) and Ethiopia (e.g., Ezek. 38:5) show the north-south range.28

Regarding ancient kingdoms that interacted with God's people, it is important also to note when that nation flourished. Further, with whom such a kingdom interacted and under what circumstances helps one better understand the backdrop for biblical references to it. The biblical Ethiopia corresponding to Acts 8:26-28 was prominent after the close of Old Testament revelation through the period of the establishment of the church and for the first three centuries after Christ.

The country over which she ruled was that region in Upper Nubia called by the Greeks Meroe, where George Reisner identified pyramid tombs of reigning Candaces of Ethiopia constructed from c. 300 b.c. to a.d. 300.29

However, that the Jewish prophets (such as Isaiah) addressed Ethiopia as a contemporary country dates the nation back even father to at least 700 B.C.

Including the two biblical designations for Ethiopia, several biblical references variously ascribe numerous qualities to the people of Ethiopia or Cush. On one hand, Cush represented everything south and east of Israel and more narrowly referred to an area south of Egypt.

Petronius (24 BC) raided Ethiopia for Rome and stormed the capital, but Candace sent ambassadors to Rome and obtained peace. The "eunuch" who may have been the treasurer of this very queen was probably "no black proselyte but a Jew who had placed the business ability of his race at the service of the Nubian woman" (W. Max Muller). In the Old Testament Ethiopia is spoken of with great respect, and several Bible characters are named Cushi (2 Sam 18:21 the King James Version; Jer 36:14; Zeph 1:1); even Moses married an Ethiopian wife (Num 12:1), and Ebed-melek the Ethiopian is helper to Jeremiah (Jer 38:7). It is a great land situated beyond the frontiers of the civilized world (Ezek 29:10), yet with Jews in its farthest district (Zeph 3:10). It is very rich (Job 28:19; Isa 43:3); is engaged in trade with Arabia (45:14), and its citizens are proud of their nationality (Ps 87:4). Again and again the relation of Cush with Sheba is mentioned (Gen 10:7,28; Isa 43:3, etc.), which latter statement is strangely corroborated by the recently discovered Sabaean inscriptions throughout Abyssinia. Its typical inhabitants have a color as unchangeable as the leopard's spots (Jer 13:23), are careless (Ezek 30:9), but very warlike (Ezek 38:5; Jer 46:9), giving "infinite" strength to Nineveh (Nah 3:9), but who can be resisted by Israel because of Yahweh's favor (2 Chron 16:8; Isa 20:5; 36:6). Yahweh is interested in the history of Ethiopia as well as Egypt (Isa 20:3), loves the children of Ethiopia as the children of Israel (Amos 9:7), and the time is coming when Ethiopia shall yet stretch out her hands to Yahweh (Ps 68:31). Cush and Mizraim are correctly mentioned as political units (Isa 20:4 f), and several kings of Ethiopia are mentioned by name-Zerah (2 Chron 14:9), So (2 Kings 17:4) and Tirhaqah (2 Kings 19:9; Isa 37:9).30

In conclusion, "Candace" is an utterly meaningless term to the Bible reader, until he discovers her identity. At best, the casual Bible pupil will incorrectly assign biblical references concerning Ethiopia to a contemporary nation by the same name, until he learns better. Biblical references to Candace and Ethiopia will seem inconsequential, until one realizes that they represent a real chapter in human history and that God's people and others with whom God's people interacted are recorded on the pages of that chapter.

Summarized, Candace was the dynasty name for the female regent ruling a kingdom (biblical Ethiopia) straddling the Nile River and south of Egypt. Ethiopia served as the threshold of limited contact and valued trade between the so-called uncivilized tribes of Africa and civilization that encircled the Mediterranean Sea and extended to Arabia and Asia. The Ethiopia of the first century petitioned Rome for peace, after its military aggression on the Roman control of Egypt was thoroughly repulsed and consequently Ethiopia itself was defeated in its own land. Therefore, Ethiopia was at peace with the Roman Empire when in Acts Eight the treasurer of Ethiopia (either as a Gentile proselyte to Judaism or a Jew whose ancestors sought refuge or business interests in Ethiopia) traveled to Jerusalem for worship. Especially the great contributions of the Grecian and Roman empires to the so-called civilized world (e.g., law and order, highways, universal language, common monetary system, postal service, etc.) permitted introduction of the Gospel in not only Palestine, but in Europe, Asia and Africa. The background lying behind Acts 8:26-28 when brought to light makes the study of that passage more rewarding.

This was the dynastic name of the queens of Ethiopia, just as Pharaoh was the dynastic name, or title, of the kings of Egypt. The kingdom was that of Meroe. The fact of the eunuch's traveling some fifteen hundred miles to worship indicates that he was a devout worshiper of God. As he came along in his chariot, reading from a roll of the prophecy of Isaiah, someone has said that he was like a man at sunrise, tilting his manuscript in such a manner as to catch the first rays of the rising sun of Christianity.31


1 Easton, M. G., M. A. D. D., Easton's Bible Dictionary, (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.) 1996.

2 Fausset's Bible Dictionary, Electronic Database, (Biblesoft) 1998.

3 Schaff, Philip, History of the Christian Church, (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.) 1997.

4 McClintock and Strong Encyclopedia, Electronic Database (Biblesoft) 2000.

5 Ibid.

6 Vincent's Word Studies of the New Testament, Electronic Database, (Biblesoft) 1997.

7 Easton.

8 McClintock and Strong Encyclopedia.

9 Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Copyright (Nashville:Thomas Nelson Publishers) 1986.

10 The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, Electronic Database, (Moody Press) 1962.

11 Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary, Electronic Database, (Biblesoft) 1997.

12 Barnes' Notes, Electronic Database, (Biblesoft) 1997.

13 International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, Electronic Database, (Biblesoft) 1996.

14 Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible: New Modern Edition, Electronic Database. (Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.) 1991.

15 G.G. The Jerusalem, The Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land, (New York: Prentice Hall Press) 1990.

16 Barnes' Notes.

17 Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary.

18 Ibid.

19 Fausset's Bible Dictionary.

20 Vincent's Word Studies of the New Testament.

21 McClintock and Strong Encyclopedia.

22 The New Bible Dictionary, (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.) 1962.

23 Easton.

24 Ibid.

25 The New Bible Dictionary.

26 Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, (Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster, Incorporated) 1993.

27 The New Bible Dictionary.

28 Karleen, Paul S., The Handbook to Bible Study, (New York: Oxford University Press) 1987.

29 The New Unger's Bible Dictionary, (Chicago:Moody Press) 1988.

30 International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia.

31 Coffman, James Burton, “Acts 8:26," James Burton Coffman Bible Study Library: The New Testament, (Abilene:ACU Press).

Copyright © 2001 Louis Rushmore. All Rights Reserved.
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