Top Ten Powerful Queens Throughout African History

African Queens main

The wondrous tales of queens are a fundamental part of African history. Queen Hatshepsut was the power behind the throne. Cleopatra, the last pharaoh, used Ancient Rome to do her bidding. The Queen of Sheba famously met King Solomon. Queen Nzinga matched wits with the Portuguese, doing a man’s job better than all the men around her. Queen Nandi was the mother of Shaka Zulu, who went insane when she died. Yaa Asantewaa (at age 60) led the final Asante resistance against the British.


During a new golden age, the mother of a boy pharaoh was the real power behind the throne. Her name was Hatshepsut. She took over as Thutmose III’s regent in 1479 BCE. 

Hatshepsut, an audacious and determined leader, publicly presented herself as a male pharaoh to assert her authority. She was “the wife of Amun,” the greatest god of Egyptian religion. 

Her reign, spanning two decades, brought about a golden era marked by ambitious building projects and prosperous trade routes. After her death (1458 BCE), her son tried to erase her from public records. Nonetheless, modern archeologists rediscovered her glorious reign.  


Nefertiti was the queen of Egypt and wife of King Akhenaton (reigned 1353–36 BCE). Her name means “A Beautiful Woman Has Come.” She remains famous for her beauty. 

Nefertiti helped promote a new religion that focused on worshiping one god, Aten. This approach differed from the previous Egyptian religious practices, which had worshiped multiple gods and goddesses. The worship of Aten helped to create a more unified Egypt. 

Nefertiti was also known for her many artworks and monuments. They help us understand Ancient Egyptian culture. 

Makeba, the Queen of Sheba 

The Queen of Sheba met King Solomon, the wise king of the Jews, bearing gold, jewels, and spices. She matched wits with him, impressed at his wisdom. They became trade partners.

Scholars debate where the Sheba was. Early reports suggest it is the Kingdom of Axum (present-day Ethiopia). Makeba is her Ethiopian name. She likely lived in the 10th Century BCE. Tales of her exploits have inspired Jewish, Muslim, and African cultures.

Makeba might have ruled over a kingdom in Arabia, but many still consider her among history’s most illustrious African queens.  


Cleopatra was the last Egyptian pharaoh, reigning from 51-30 BCE. 

She is renowned for her beauty and crafty use of power. Cleopatra challenged her brother and co-regent. She allied with Julius Caesar, having a son with him. Then came the Ides of March. 

She then allied herself with Mark Anthony, enemy of Octavius, Caesar’s nephew and heir. The future emperor of Rome proved to be her downfall. Defeated in a final battle, Cleopatra famously committed suicide, allegedly by the bite of an asp.

Queen Moremi

Moremi Ajasoro was a Yoruba queen and folk heroine. She lived in the 12th Century in Ile-Ife,  part of modern-day Nigeria. She married the founding member of the Yoruba people.

A neighboring people threatened Ile-Ife. Moremi promised to give up her life to a river spirit to save her people. She was able to gain information that helped save her home. 

Afterward, much to the shock of her husband, she sacrificed herself, as she promised. 

Amina, Queen of Zazzu

Amina was the first woman to become Sarauniya (queen) of Zazzu, a city-state in current-day Nigeria. She ruled 1576-1610. 

Amina was a warrior queen in a male-dominated society. Her land was in the midst of three profitable trade routes. She led her troops in battle, oversaw the building of fortified walls to defend her territory, and expanded Hausaland to lengths unknown in its history. 

Amina’s exploits became legendary. Modern-day Nigeria immortalized Amina by building a statue in her honor. She is portrayed with a spear in hand on a horse. A warrior queen until the end.  

Queen Nzinga

Nzinga Mbande was queen of Ndongo, a kingdom in what is today Angola, a country on the coast of south-central Africa. She reigned 1624-63.

Legend states that she was born with an umbilical cord around her neck, symbolizing her destiny for greatness. Her intelligence, diplomatic savvy, and military skills showed her unique abilities. 

Nzinga did all she could to succeed. She took a male title. She converted to Christianity to improve her chances against the Portuguese. She allied with local and foreign leaders. 

Her long reign ended with her passing power to her sister. 

Queen Nandi of Zulu 

Ndlorukazi Nandi kaBebe eLangeni (meaning “The Sweet One”) was born around 1760. 

She conceived a son with the leader of the Zulus out of wedlock. Nandi defended her rights and protected her son. Shaka Zulu, the most illustrious leader of the Zulus, later made her the Queen of the Zulus and his most trusted advisor. She was the true woman behind the throne. 

Nandi’s importance as a voice of reason became apparent when she died in 1827. Shaka Zulu became unhinged. His recklessness led to his assassination a year later. 

Queen Ranavalona 

Queen Ravanalona ruled over Madagascar from 1828 to 1861.

She was a commoner. Her father prevented a plot against the future king, who adopted Ravanalona as his daughter. She later married the king’s oldest son. 

When her husband died, Ravanalona seized power. She has a reputation for cruelty but also for resisting European colonialism. The French took control of the nation soon after she died. 

Yaa Asantewaa

Yaa Asantewaa (1840-1921) was a mighty warrior queen of the Asante Empire in present-day Ghana in West Africa. She became the Queen Mother with the duty to protect the Golden Stool, the symbol of authority for her people. 

The British made several attempts to defeat the Asante people. The last started in 1900 when they demanded the golden stool. Yaa Asantewaa led the rebellion, the last African war led by a woman. After a great fight, leading to the death of thousands, the British won.

Yaa died in exile. She remains a hero of anti-colonial resistance to this day.

Teach and Thrive

A Bronx, NY veteran high school social studies teacher who has learned most of what she has learned through trial and error and error and error.... and wants to save others that pain.