Women in Ancient Africa

Instructor: Cirrelia Thaxton

Cirrelia is an educator who has taught K-12 and has a doctorate in education.

In this lesson, we will trace the practices and accomplishments of women in ancient Africa as you discover how their spiritual, political, and economic roles shaped society and culture long ago.

Honoring the Past

The women of ancient Africa led diverse, yet decisive, roles in their communities. As early as 10,000 BC, these women contributed greatly to spiritual, political, and economic developments across the African continent. Learning about these developments is essential for honoring the past of African women and restoring them to their dignified place in the annals of world history.

Spiritual Roles

Women of ancient Africa often led powerful, spiritual roles that garnered them respect and admiration from society. Taking on positions as oracles, spirit mediums, seers, and advisors, these women dominated the spiritual system across the land. For instance, in Egypt and Nubia, Africans worshiped Isis, the queen of all goddesses.


Being the Egyptian goddess of magical powers, Isis represented the queen mother and her cult lasted until the 6th Century AD. Responsible for ceremonies, rites, and rituals, African women influenced spiritualism and religion immensely. Thus, the civilizations that came from their efforts had societies in which women held political sway as well as spiritual dominance.

Political Roles

The pre-capitalist and matriarchal societies throughout Africa allowed women to have substantial control over politics, the quintessential example of this cultural practice was found in ancient Egypt. In 3,000 BC, Egyptian women managed real estate properties, slaves, livestock, endowments, and annuities. Furthermore, due to its matrilineal nature, Egyptian society featured inheritance and descent through a female-led channel. Because Egyptians based their social differences on class and not gender, women could assume great prominence.

One of the best examples of female political leadership was the role of queen mother. This role comprised many high functions of governance and administration including owning land, levying taxes, decreeing laws, and gaining revenues. In some countries, like Ghana, queen mothers had the additional role of securing a quality education for the women and children of society.

Queen of Sheba

Accordingly, many women possessed much more political authority, rising to the rank of queen in many African nations. Directly ruling over the people, queens like Makeda, the Queen of Sheba(960 BC), were as fierce and warrior-like as they were beautiful and intelligent. Makeda was one of a long line of virgin queens in the kingdom of Sheba on the Red Sea in what today is known as Ethiopia. During these times, Ethiopia was second only to Egypt in terms of wealth and prestige. Thus, Makeda, the Queen of Sheba, had much power and influence in African commerce and trade with other cultures, including Islamic and Jewish.

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