Makeda, The Queen of Sheba

The meeting of King Solomon of Israel and the Queen of Sheba had significant repercussions upon the fate of Israel and the matriarchy of Sheba (believed to be early Ethiopia), and has inspired writers, artists and readers for centuries. This chapter will compare several versions of the Solomon and Sheba story, including  I Kings 10 in the Bible, and the story of Makeda, Queen of Sheba from the Ethiopian epic, the Kebra Nagast. It will explore the character of the Queen of Sheba, and the significance of  relationship with King Solomon - both personally and politically.

The Country of Sheba

The country Sheba or Saba, whose name means Host of Heaven and peace, was Abyssinia. Located in southwest Arabia on the eastern tip of the Red Sea, Sheba occupied 483,000 square miles of mountains, valley and deserts in the area of present day Yemen. Some historians claim that Ethiopia, on the western end of the Red Sea, was also part of Sheba's territory. 

Sheba was a wealthy country, advanced in irrigation techniques and hydraulic power. Its people, the Sabaeans, built dams as high as 60 feet and large earthen wells which contributed to their thriving agriculture and beautiful gardens. Rich in gold and other precious stones, as well as incense and exotic spices sought by neighboring kingdoms, Sheba engaged in a lucrative caravan trade. By 1000 B.C., camels frequently traveled the 1400 miles up the "Incense Road" and along the Red Sea to Israel. 

The spices of Sheba were highly prized. Frankincense, an offering to the gods, was heaped on funeral pyres, and given as an antidote for poison, and as a cure for chest pains, hemmorrhoids and paralysis. Myrrh, an ingredient in fragrant oils and cosmetics, was used in preparing bodies for burial, for healing ear, eye and nose ailments, and inducing menstruation. Other Sabaean spices were saffron, cummin, aloes and galbanum. 

The Sabaeans have been described as a tall and commanding people, both woolly-haired and straight-haired. Semitic in origin, they are believed to have been descendents of the Cush of the Bible. The sacred Ethiopian book which establishes the founder of the Ethiopian dynasty as the son of Solomon and Sheba, suggests that the Sabaeans were black. "Ye are black of face - but if God illumineth your hearts, nothing can injure you," priest Azariah says to the Queen and her people in the Kebra Negast.(1)

Because of its isolation, Sheba was secure from military invasion for at least 500 years, and was independent and at peace with its neighbors during the 11th and 10th century B.C. History reveals that at least five kings preceded the Queen of Sheba - among them Iti'amra and Karibi-ilu. Yet Arabian documents portray all of Arabia as matriarchal and ruled by queens for over 1000 years. In Ethiopia, the Kebra Negast refers to a law established in Sheba that only a woman could reign, and that she must be a virgin queen. 

The earliest known Arabian temple was at Marib, capital of Sheba, and was called Mahram Bilqus, "precincts of the Queen of Sheba." In Arab lore, this queen was named Bilqus or Balkis; in Ethiopia, Makeda (also Magda, Maqda and Makera), meaning "Greatness." Years later, the historian Josephus, referred to her as Nikaulis, Queen of Ethiopia and Egypt. 

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(1) Kebra Negast, chapter 90. Our Ethiopian source, the Kebra Negast or "Glory of Kings", is the national/religious epic of Ethiopia, translated from the Coptic version of the 12th century, and entitled by the translator Ernest A. Wallis Budge as THE QUEEN OF SHEBA AND HER SON MENYELEK. The Kebra Negast is regarded as the final authority on the early history of Ethiopia, and its origin in the Solomonic lines of kings, which "descends without interruption from the dynasty of Menelik I, son of Queen of Ethiopia, Queen of Sheba and King Solomon of Jerusalem."

(2) Kebra Negast, chapter 27.

(3) The story of the Queen of Sheba in recorded in the Old Testament in I Kings 10:1-13; a similar version also appears in II Chronicles 9:1-12. Other Bible references to the Queen of Sheba are: Psalms lxxii, 15, and in the New Testament, Matthew 12:42 and Luke 11:31.

Copyright 1990 by Torrey Philemon (alias) Queen of Sheba Index
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