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Zenobia's Rebellion in the Historia Augusta

Zenobia's Rebellion in the Historia Augusta

The Historia Augusta (Great History) is a Latin work of the 4th century CE that chronicles the lives of Roman emperors from 117-285 CE. Among the many stories related is the history of Zenobia of Palmyra and her challenge to Roman authority which was crushed by the emperor Aurelian in 273 CE.

Zenobia (b. 240 CE, death date unknown) was the wife of the Syrian governor and founder of the Palmyrene Kingdom, Odaenathus (r. 263-267 CE) who was killed (or intentionally assassinated) on a hunting trip in 267 CE, leaving his young son Vaballathus (b. 259 CE, d. c. 273 CE) as successor. As Vaballathus was too young to reign at the time, Zenobia became regent for their son and expanded the kingdom of Palmyra into an empire.

Her rise to power took place during the chaotic period known as the Crisis of the Third Century (235- 284 CE, also known as the Imperial Crisis) when the central government was weak and various Barracks Emperors succeeded each other rapidly in rule. In this climate, no one noticed - or had the power to deal with - Zenobia's steady expansion of power until Aurelian (r. 270 - 275 CE) came to power and ended her ambitions, drawing the Palmyrene Empire back under the control of Rome. The story of Zenobia's rise and fall is given in a number of ancient works and, among them, is the Historia Augusta.

Historicity of Historia Augusta

While today the Historia Augusta is recognized as largely fictional (some scholars even giving it the label of "historical fiction"), it was considered reliable history in its time and for many centuries afterwards. The famous historian Edward Gibbon (l. 1737-1794 CE) accepted it as an authentic record of the ancient Roman history and relied on it extensively in his six-volume work The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire which, like the Historia Augusta, is largely viewed as inaccurate in the modern day. Both of these works, however, had significant impact on the audiences who read them or heard them read.

Rather than regard Historia Augusta as largely fictional, it would perhaps be better to consider it in the same light as one would the genre of ancient Mesopotamian naru literature. Naru literature began appearing around the second millennium BCE in Mesopotamia and is characterized by stories featuring a well-known figure from the past (usually a king) as the main character in a quasi-historical tale, which either extolled the king's military prowess, told the tale of his life and reign, or, more often, used the king to exemplify the proper relationship between human beings and the gods. The main character (king) was always an actual historical figure, but the story was either fictional or slanted in a particular way in order to achieve a desired impression.

While the Historia Augusta is not as concerned with the gods as it is with the Roman emperors, the same paradigm applies in that the tales of the Roman rulers are given as "teaching moments" through which one learns what it means to be a good monarch or a poor one, a great man or a failure. The work is certainly biased in its presentation but is understood to have drawn on reliable historical sources for its narratives. The focus of these narratives, however, is always on how effective - or paltry - a given emperor's reign was understood to have been. This model applies not only to the Roman emperors, however, but also to their adversaries and, most notably, to the Queen Zenobia of Palmyra.

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Zenobia and Aurelian

Zenobia became the queen of the Palmyrene Empire after the death of Odaenathus when, ostensibly, she was named regent for their young son Vaballathus. Shortly after assuming control, she embarked on a series of diplomatic and military campaigns to consolidate her power and enlarge her kingdom. The Roman emperors struggling to contain the Crisis of the Third Century had neither the time nor resources to deal with her until Aurelian can to power in 270 CE and focused his efforts on bringing the the differing regions of the empire back under the control of the central government.

Aurelian came to power toward the end of the the Crisis of the Third Century when the empire split into three separate entities:

  • the Gallic Empire
  • the Roman Empire
  • the Palmyrene Empire

It was Aurelian who worked to bring the Gallic and Palmyrene empires back under the control of Rome. According to historian Jon E. Lewis, Aurelian was "popularly known as manu ad ferrum ('hand on hilt')" in reference to his readiness to defend the empire against all enemies at a moment's notice. To that end, the Historia Augusta presents the emperor as a strong ruler who, though merciful, would not tolerate dissent or rebellion.

Although his predecessors had allowed Zenobia the freedom to claim, and then develop, a third of the Roman Empire in the east, Aurelian would not follow suit and personally led his army to crush Zenobia and the Palmyrene forces. The Historia Augusta goes to great lengths to make sure the reader understands how worthy an opponent Zenobia was because Aurelian was concerned that he would appear dishonorable going to war against a woman.

Whether the facts related in the work actually happened would not have been as important to the writer (in this case, Vopiscus) as the effect the story would have on a reader. Aurelian's march through "robber bands of Syria" enduring "constant attacks" to win back the eastern realms shows his courage, while his letter to Zenobia demanding her surrender shows his merciful nature. The letter reads, in part:

You, O Zenobia, can live with your family in the place which I will assign you upon the advice of the venerable Senate. You must deliver to the treasury of Rome your jewels, your silver, your gold, your robes of silk, your horses and your camels. The Palmyrenes, however, shall preserve their local rights. (Lewis, 380)

Zenobia responds arrogantly, beginning with, "No one, saving you, has ever required of me what you have in your letter" and, after refusing his terms, concludes with the lines, "You will lower then that tone with which you - as if already full conqueror - now bid me to surrender" (Lewis, 381). This would have made clear to the reader how haughty an opponent Zenobia was and how honorable Aurelian's actions were in capturing her and showing clemency. The narrative then briefly gives the storyof Zenobia's defeat by Aurelian and her capture.

After she is brought back to Rome and paraded through the streets in his triumphal march, Aurelian releases her to live out the rest of her days in "peace and luxury". Based upon the other ancient sources on Zenobia, it seems this is really what happened (except for Zenobia appearing in public at Aurelian's triumph in golden chains), but it is the way in which the Historia Augusta presents the story that is of interest.

Zenobia, the stubborn eastern rebel, is subdued by the noble Roman emperor who, though forced by circumstance to destroy Palmyra, tries his best to resolve the conflict through peaceful, honorable, means. His pardon of Zenobia and the peaceful conclusion of her life in a Roman palace would have also reflected well on the emperor. Although some later versions of Zenobia's legend claim that she was executed in Rome, this conclusion to her life is nowhere given in the earlier stories concerning her. Her date of death is unknown, but she seems to have lived out the rest of her life in keeping with her status as a former monarch and, presumably, died peacefully as the wife of an upper-class Roman.

Account in the Historia Augusta

The following account of Zenobia's rebellion against Rome, and Aurelian's great triumph, comes from Flavius Vopiscus' account of the Life of Aurelian in the Historia Augusta:

After taking Tyana and winning a small battle near Daphne, Aurelian took possession of Antioch, having promised to grant pardon to all the inhabitants, and — acting on the counsel of the venerable Apollonius — he showed himself most humane and merciful. Next, close by Emesa, he gave battle to Zenobia and to her ally Zaba — a great battle in which the very fate of the Empire hung in the issue. Already the cavalry of Aurelian were weary, wavering, and about to take flight, when, by divine assistance, a kind of celestial apparition renewed their courage, and the infantry coming to the aid of the cavalry, they rallied stoutly. Zenobia and Zaba were defeated, and the victory was complete. Aurelian, thus made master of the East, entered Emesa as conqueror. First of all he presented himself in the temple of Elagabalus, as if to discharge himself of an ordinary vow — but there he beheld the same divine figure which he had seen come to succor him during the battle. Therefore in that same place he consecrated some temples, with splendid presents; he also erected in Rome a temple to the Sun, and consecrated it with great pomp.

Afterward he marched on Palmyra, to end his labors by the taking of that city. The robber bands of Syria, however, made constant attacks while his army was on the march; and during the siege he was in great danger by being wounded by an arrow.

Finally, wearied and discouraged by his losses, Aurelian undertook to write to Zenobia, pledging her — if she would surrender, to preserve her life—in the following letter:

"Aurelian, Emperor of Rome and Restorer of the Orient to Zenobia and those waging war on her side. You should have done what I commanded you in my [former] letter. I promise you life if you surrender. You, O Zenobia, can live with your family in the place which I will assign you upon the advice of the venerable Senate. You must deliver to the treasury of Rome your jewels, your silver, your gold, your robes of silk, your horses and your camels. The Palmyrenes, however, shall preserve their local rights."

Zenobia replied to this letter with a pride and boldness, not at all in accord with her fortune. For she imagined that she could intimidate him.

"Zenobia, Queen of the East, to Aurelian Augustus. No one, saving you, has ever required of me what you have in your letter. One ought in war to harken only to the voice of courage. You demand that I surrender myself, as if you did not know that the Queen Cleopatra preferred to die rather than to live in any other save her station. The Persians do not abandon us, and we will wait their succors. The Saracens and the Armenians are on our side. The brigands of Syria have defeated your army, O Aurelian; what will it be when we have received the reinforcements which come to us from all sides? You will lower then that tone with which you — as if already full conqueror — now bid me to surrender."

On the reading of this letter the Emperor did not blush, yet he was angered, and at once assembling his army with his generals, and surrounding Palmyra on all sides, the great Emperor devoted his attention to everything; for he cut off the succors from the Persians, and corrupted the hordes of Saracens and Armenians, winning them over sometimes by his severity, sometimes by his adroitness; in brief, after many attacks, the valiant Queen was vanquished. Although she fled on camels by which she strove to reach the Persians, the cavalrymen sent in pursuit captured her, and brought her to Aurelian.

The tumult of the soldiers — requiring that Zenobia be given up for punishment — was very violent; but Aurelian conceived that it would be shameful to put to death a woman, so he contented himself with executing most of those men who had fomented, prepared, and conducted this war, reserving Zenobia to adorn his triumph and to feast the eye of the Roman People. It is grievous that he must need place in the number of those massacred the philosopher Longinus, who was — it is said — the master of Zenobia in the Greek tongue. It is alleged that Aurelian consented to his death because there was attributed to him that aforenamed letter so full of offensive pride.

It is seldom and even difficult that Syrians remain faithful. The Palmyrenes, who had been defeated and conquered, seeing that Aurelian had gone away and was busy with the affairs of Europe, wished to give the power to one Achilleus, a kinsman of Zenobia, and stirred up a great revolt. They slew six hundred archers and Sandrion, whom Aurelian had left as governor in their region; but the Emperor, ever in arms, hastened back from Europe, and destroyed Palmyra, even as it deserved.

In his magnificent triumph, celebrated in Rome after Aurelian had conquered Tetricius, the usurping "Emperor of Gaul," and other enemies, Zenobia was led in procession exposed to public view, adorned with jewels, and loaded with chains of gold so heavy that some of her guards had to hold them up for her. Later, however, she was treated with great humanity, granted a palace near Rome, and spent her last days in peace and luxury.

Conclusion

The Historia Augusta is the only ancient source on Zenobia's life to include the detail of her being "loaded with chains" as a part of Aurelian's triumph in Rome and yet that is the most famous image relating to her defeat. In the 19th century CE, the Neoclassical sculptor Harriet Hosner (l. 1830 - 1908 CE) interpreted this image regally in her work Zenobia in Chains (1859) depicting Zenobia as a dignified queen manacled by a slight chain but still retaining her power.

What happenened to Zenobia after her defeat by Aurelian is actually unknown. The ancient sources on her life, besides the Historia Augusta, are the historians Zosimus (l. 490 CE), Zonaras (l. 12th century CE), and Al-Tabari (l. 839-923 CE) whose account is modeled on that of Adi ibn Zayd (l. 6th century CE). It is assumed that the Historia Augusta is closest to the truth in relating the end of the great queen and she most likely did live out the rest of her life in Rome. Even if she did not, in keeping with the paradigm of Mesopotamian naru literature, the message of that conclusion to her life would be that she should have.


Aktuelle Kultur

von Joshua J. Mark Die Historia Augusta (große Geschichte) ist eine lateinische Arbeit des 4. Jahrhunderts, die die Leben der römischen Kaiser von 117-285 CE Chroniken. Während heute die Arbeit als weitgehend fiktiven erkannt wird (einige Gelehrte, die ihm auch der Bezeichnung der "historische Romane"), erschien es zuverlässige Geschichte, seiner Zeit und für viele Jahrhunderte danach. Der berühmte Historiker Edward Gibbon (1737 – 1794 CE) als authentische Aufzeichnung der alten römischen Geschichte akzeptiert und stützte sich auf es ausführlich in seinem Werk sechsbändige The History of den Verfall und Untergang des die Römisches Reich , die wie die Historia Augusta, weitgehend als unrichtig anzusehen, in der heutigen Tage angezeigt wird. Beide dieser Werke, allerdings hatte erhebliche Auswirkungen auf das Publikum, die sie gelesen oder gehört, dass sie lesen. Anstatt Menschen Historia Augusta als weitgehend fiktiven vielleicht wäre es besser, es in das gleiche Licht zu prüfen, wie man das Genre der alten mesopotamischen Naru Literatur. Naru Literatur begann um das zweite Jahrtausend v. Chr. in Mesopotamien und zeichnet sich durch Geschichten, die mit eine bekannte Persönlichkeit aus der Vergangenheit (in der Regel einem König) als der Hauptbuchstabe in einer quasi historische Erzählung, pries die entweder militärischer Stärke des Königs erzählt die Geschichte seines Lebens und Herrschaft oder häufig verwendet, des Königs um das richtige Verhältnis zwischen dem Menschen und den Göttern zu veranschaulichen. Die Hauptfigur (König) war immer eine tatsächliche historische Figur, aber die Geschichte war entweder fiktiv oder schräg auf eine besondere Weise um einen gewünschten Eindruck zu erzielen.


In the 200s A.D. the Empress of the East turned her armies on Rome, and almost won


Thus begins the biography of Zenobia, queen of Palmyra, in the Historia Augusta (History of the Emperors), written near the end of the fourth century A.D. And what we read there is almost all we know about the queen.

Sometimes, I think if it were not for her coins Queen Zenobia would be taken as a legendary figure. There could be a kernel of truth in the story, but it is a tale so fantastical, so gendered, with sources so unreliable, that it simply could not have historical value. Yet Zenobia did exist, and she did go to war against the Romans. And, as Empress of the East, she came within a hair’s breadth of victory.


What do we really know about her?

Zenobia lived, strutted the stage, and battled in mid-third-century A.D., surely the worst documented period in the history of the Roman Empire. Every bit of information about her is contentious, fragmentary, or biased.

And anyway, when ancient authors wrote about the past, they rarely had in mind what we think is the aim of history (“things as they really were”), but rather mixed in generous dollops of myth and legend, gossip, hearsay, moralizing, ethnic stereotypes, political propaganda, and plain wishful thinking (“the way things should have been”).

A bit like television news, really.

In any case, it can’t have been much fun being ruler of an eastern outpost of Rome just when the Romans were reeling from defeat after defeat delivered by the new Persian Empire across the Euphrates River. In 253 A.D., the Persians attacked Syria and looted Antioch, the greatest city of the East. Three years later, Dura Europos fell, the river stronghold garrisoned by Roman and Palmyran troops. Now nothing but empty steppe stood between the enemy and Palmyra itself, the richest surviving city of Syria.


Rock relief at Bishapur, Iran, commemorating the victories of Shapur I over three Roman emperors: Gordian III (trampled by Shapur’s horse) killed in battle in A.D. 244 Gordian’s successor, Philip the Arab (kneeling before Shapur), who paid a huge ransom to escape Persia later that year and Valerian (behind the emperor’s horse), captured in A.D. 260. Photograph via“Farr(ah) II. Iconography of Farr(ah)/Xᵛarǝnah,” Figure 6, detail of Shapur I’s victory relief, Bišāpur. Photo: A. Soudavar. Source: Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2010

Finally, in 260 A.D., Emperor Valerian marched with an army of 70,000 men against the Persians. His army was destroyed and Valerian himself was captured in the worst defeat the Romans had suffered in three hundred years.

In the chaos that followed, Zenobia’s husband, Odenathus — one of the great warrior princes of history—led his Palmyran troops in a counterattack. They chased the invaders out of Syria and harassed them all the way back to their own capital at Cteisiphon (near modern Baghdad). The Historia Augusta tells us that Zenobia was with him on this campaign:


Mosaic (detail) from house north of the Great Colonnade: Odenathus as mounted archer, in traditional Palmyran dress, destroying Persian tigers an eagle bears wreath of victory in its beak. After M. Gawlikowski, “Der Neufund eines Mosaiks in Palmyra,” in A. Schmidt-Colinet (ed.) Palmyra: Kulturbegegnung im Grenzbereich (Mainz 2005) 29󈞋. Digital image: Attar-Aram syria, licensed via a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license (CC BY-SA 4.0). Source: Wikimedia Commons

Odenathus probably would have been able to restore the whole world, if, after his victorious campaign, he had not stopped in Emesa (modern Homs) on his way home, where a cousin poured poison into his wine. He and his son by a previous marriage were dead.


On hearing the news, Zenobia seized the regency on behalf of her own son, Waballath, who was still a child. At the same time, in Italy, a deadly series of coups and counter-coups played out until, eventually, a tough Illyrian cavalry general, Claudius, emerged victorious.

Zenobia saw her chance. In 269, she sent her army into Egypt, seizing Alexandria. Nothing could have been more provocative, for the port was vital to Rome’s grain supply. Without Egyptian grain, Rome would starve. By March 270, Palmyra ruled all Egypt. During the course of that year, another Palmyran general extended Palmyran control through Syria and most of Anatolia, settling on Ankara as their border. Claudius meanwhile died of plague and another Illyrian cavalry general became emperor. That was Aurelian.

Almost simultaneously, the mints of Alexandria and Antioch began producing coins with, on the one side, Aurelian’s image, and, on the other, Zenobia’s son Waballath. Although the coinage reserved the most important imperial title of Augustus for Aurelian, there could be no clearer statement that Zenobia had set herself up as equal to Rome… and meant to rule an eastern empire.


View of the Temple of Bel and the Gate (the Bab) into the temple courtyard, taken from the terrace of the archaeological dig house in the southeastern corner of the courtyard. Photo: Judith Weingarten

Why Did Zenobia Do It?

In every book about her, one word is always used: She was “ambitious” — as if male aspirants to the Empire were not ambitious — suggesting, too, that she was scheming and foolish or imprudent. Yet why did so many men take the huge risk of rebellion on her behalf? Surely not to satisfy a woman’s frivolous dreams. No one even considers that she might have been right: the Romans could no longer defend the East.

Rome was corrupt. They had debased the currency inflation was rampant taxes had reached confiscatory levels. Emperor after emperor was murdered, unleashing civil wars as ambitious generals fought against each other, rather than against the common Persian enemy. Aurelian, who defeated her in 272 A.D., leaving a ruined Palmyra in his wake, cobbled the Empire back together, but none of the underlying problems were solved (and three years later, he too was murdered). Twenty years later, the Empire was being ruled by four Emperors sixty years later, Constantine established his capital at Byzantium and it split into East and West.

So, rather than “ambitious,” she seems to me visionary.

For background information on Palmyra, its trade with India, and its language and monuments, see the Getty Research Institute’s online exhibition The Legacy of Ancient Palmyra. And for everything known or imagined about Zenobia, visit Zenobia: Empress of the East.


Zenobia


Zenobia (born c. 240 CE, death date unknown) was the queen of the Palmyrene Empire who challenged the authority of Rome during the latter part of the period of Roman history known as The Crisis of the Third Century (235-284 CE). This period, also known as The Imperial Crisis, was characterized by constant civil war, as different Roman generals fought for control of the empire. The crisis has been further noted by historians for widespread social unrest, economic instability and, most significantly, the dissolution of the empire, which broke into three separate regions: the Gallic Empire, the Roman Empire, and the Palmyrene Empire. Contrary to popular assertions, Zenobia never led a revolt against Rome, may never have been paraded through Rome's streets in chains, and was almost certainly not executed by the emperor Aurelian (reigned 270-275 CE). Ancient sources on her life and reign are the historian Zosimus (c. 490 CE), the Historia Augusta (c. 4th century CE), the historian Zonaras (12th century CE), and historian Al-Tabari (839-923 CE) whose account follows that of Adi ibn Zayd (6th century CE) although she is also mentioned in the Talmud and by other writers. While all of these sources maintain that Queen Zenobia of Palmyra challenged the authority of Rome, none of them characterize her actions as an outright rebellion. This view of her reign, of course, depends on one's definition of "rebellion". While she was careful not to engage Rome directly in military conflict, it is clear she increasingly disregarded Roman authority in establishing herself as the legitimate monarch of the east.


Zenobia, Visionary Queen of Ancient Palmyra

Now all shame is exhausted…for in the weakened state of the [Roman] commonwealth things came to such a pass that…a foreigner, Zenobia by name, proceeded to cast about her shoulders the imperial mantle, [and was] ruling longer than could be endured from one of the female sex.

Thus begins the biography of Zenobia, queen of Palmyra, in the Historia Augusta (History of the Emperors), written near the end of the fourth century A.D. And what we read there is almost all we know about the queen.

Sometimes, I think if it were not for her coins Queen Zenobia would be taken as a legendary figure. There could be a kernel of truth in the story, but it is a tale so fantastical, so gendered, with sources so unreliable, that it simply could not have historical value. Yet Zenobia did exist, and she did go to war against the Romans. And, as Empress of the East, she came within a hair’s breadth of victory.

Antoninianus, Antioch mint, March–May 272. Obverse: S ZЄNOBIA AVG, diademed, draped, resting on crescent. Reverse: IVNO RЄGINA, Juno holding plate and scepter, peacock at feet. Image used with the kind permission of wildwinds.com

What do we really know about her?

Zenobia lived, strutted the stage, and battled in mid-third-century A.D., surely the worst documented period in the history of the Roman Empire. Every bit of information about her is contentious, fragmentary, or biased.

And anyway, when ancient authors wrote about the past, they rarely had in mind what we think is the aim of history (“things as they really were”), but rather mixed in generous dollops of myth and legend, gossip, hearsay, moralizing, ethnic stereotypes, political propaganda, and plain wishful thinking (“the way things should have been”).

A bit like television news, really.

In any case, it can’t have been much fun being ruler of an eastern outpost of Rome just when the Romans were reeling from defeat after defeat delivered by the new Persian Empire across the Euphrates River. In 253 A.D., the Persians attacked Syria and looted Antioch, the greatest city of the East. Three years later, Dura Europos fell, the river stronghold garrisoned by Roman and Palmyran troops. Now nothing but empty steppe stood between the enemy and Palmyra itself, the richest surviving city of Syria.

Rock relief at Bishapur, Iran, commemorating the victories of Shapur I over three Roman emperors: Gordian III (trampled by Shapur’s horse) killed in battle in A.D. 244 Gordian’s successor, Philip the Arab (kneeling before Shapur), who paid a huge ransom to escape Persia later that year and Valerian (behind the emperor’s horse), captured in A.D. 260. Photograph via “Farr(ah) II. Iconography of Farr(ah)/Xᵛarǝnah,” Figure 6, detail of Shapur I’s victory relief, Bišāpur. Photo: A. Soudavar. Source: Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2010

Finally, in 260 A.D., Emperor Valerian marched with an army of 70,000 men against the Persians. His army was destroyed and Valerian himself was captured in the worst defeat the Romans had suffered in three hundred years.

In the chaos that followed, Zenobia’s husband, Odenathus—one of the great warrior princes of history—led his Palmyran troops in a counterattack. They chased the invaders out of Syria and harassed them all the way back to their own capital at Cteisiphon (near modern Baghdad). The Historia Augusta tells us that Zenobia was with him on this campaign:

For of a surety, he, with his wife Zenobia, would have restored not only the East . . . but also all parts of the whole world everywhere, since he was fierce in warfare. . . . His wife, too, was inured to hardship and in the opinion of many was held to be more brave than her husband, being, indeed, the noblest of all the women of the East, and . . . the most beautiful.

Mosaic (detail) from house north of the Great Colonnade: Odenathus as mounted archer, in traditional Palmyran dress, destroying Persian tigers an eagle bears wreath of victory in its beak. After M. Gawlikowski, “Der Neufund eines Mosaiks in Palmyra,” in A. Schmidt-Colinet (ed.) Palmyra: Kulturbegegnung im Grenzbereich (Mainz 2005) 29–31. Digital image: Attar-Aram syria, licensed via a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license (CC BY-SA 4.0). Source: Wikimedia Commons

Odenathus probably would have been able to restore the whole world, if, after his victorious campaign, he had not stopped in Emesa (modern Homs) on his way home, where a cousin poured poison into his wine. He and his son by a previous marriage were dead.

Antoninianus, Antioch mint, November/December 270–March 272. Obverse: VABALATHVS V C R IM D R, diademed, laurel wreath, draped and cuirassed. Reverse: IMP C AVRELIANVS AVG, radiate crown, cuirassed. Image used with the kind permission of wildwinds.com

On hearing the news, Zenobia seized the regency on behalf of her own son, Waballath, who was still a child. At the same time, in Italy, a deadly series of coups and counter-coups played out until, eventually, a tough Illyrian cavalry general, Claudius, emerged victorious.

Zenobia saw her chance. In 269, she sent her army into Egypt, seizing Alexandria. Nothing could have been more provocative, for the port was vital to Rome’s grain supply. Without Egyptian grain, Rome would starve. By March 270, Palmyra ruled all Egypt. During the course of that year, another Palmyran general extended Palmyran control through Syria and most of Anatolia, settling on Ankara as their border. Claudius meanwhile died of plague and another Illyrian cavalry general became emperor. That was Aurelian.

Almost simultaneously, the mints of Alexandria and Antioch began producing coins with, on the one side, Aurelian’s image, and, on the other, Zenobia’s son Waballath. Although the coinage reserved the most important imperial title of Augustus for Aurelian, there could be no clearer statement that Zenobia had set herself up as equal to Rome… and meant to rule an eastern empire.

View of the Temple of Bel and the Gate (the Bab) into the temple courtyard, taken from the terrace of the archaeological dig house in the southeastern corner of the courtyard. Photo: Judith Weingarten

Why Did Zenobia Do It?

In every book about her, one word is always used: She was “ambitious”—as if male aspirants to the Empire were not ambitious—suggesting, too, that she was scheming and foolish or imprudent. Yet why did so many men take the huge risk of rebellion on her behalf? Surely not to satisfy a woman’s frivolous dreams. No one even considers that she might have been right: The Romans could no longer defend the East.

Rome was corrupt. They had debased the currency inflation was rampant taxes had reached confiscatory levels. Emperor after emperor was murdered, unleashing civil wars as ambitious generals fought against each other, rather than against the common Persian enemy. Aurelian, who defeated her in 272 A.D., leaving a ruined Palmyra in his wake, cobbled the Empire back together, but none of the underlying problems were solved (and three years later, he too was murdered). Twenty years later, the Empire was being ruled by four Emperors sixty years later, Constantine established his capital at Byzantium and it split into East and West.

So, rather than “ambitious,” she seems to me visionary.
_______

For background information on Palmyra, its trade with India, and its language and monuments, see the Getty Research Institute’s online exhibition The Legacy of Ancient Palmyra. And for everything known or imagined about Zenobia, visit Zenobia: Empress of the East.


Zenobia, Visionary Queen of Ancient Palmyra

Queen Zenobia Addressing Her Soldiers, 1725-1730, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. Oil on canvas, 102 15/16 x 144 in. National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., 1961.9.42, Samuel H. Kress Collection. Image Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington

In the 200s A.D. the Empress of the East turned her armies on Rome, and almost won.

By Judith Weingarten / 05.03.2017
Archaeologist

Now all shame is exhausted…for in the weakened state of the [Roman] commonwealth things came to such a pass that…a foreigner, Zenobia by name, proceeded to cast about her shoulders the imperial mantle, [and was] ruling longer than could be endured from one of the female sex.

Thus begins the biography of Zenobia, queen of Palmyra, in the Historia Augusta (History of the Emperors), written near the end of the fourth century A.D. And what we read there is almost all we know about the queen.

Sometimes, I think if it were not for her coins Queen Zenobia would be taken as a legendary figure. There could be a kernel of truth in the story, but it is a tale so fantastical, so gendered, with sources so unreliable, that it simply could not have historical value. Yet Zenobia did exist, and she did go to war against the Romans. And, as Empress of the East, she came within a hair’s breadth of victory.

Antoninianus, Antioch mint, March–May 272. Obverse: S ZЄNOBIA AVG, diademed, draped, resting on crescent. Reverse: IVNO RЄGINA, Juno holding plate and scepter, peacock at feet. Image used with the kind permission of wildwinds.com

What do we really know about her?

Zenobia lived, strutted the stage, and battled in mid-third-century A.D., surely the worst documented period in the history of the Roman Empire. Every bit of information about her is contentious, fragmentary, or biased.

And anyway, when ancient authors wrote about the past, they rarely had in mind what we think is the aim of history (“things as they really were”), but rather mixed in generous dollops of myth and legend, gossip, hearsay, moralizing, ethnic stereotypes, political propaganda, and plain wishful thinking (“the way things should have been”).

A bit like television news, really.

In any case, it can’t have been much fun being ruler of an eastern outpost of Rome just when the Romans were reeling from defeat after defeat delivered by the new Persian Empire across the Euphrates River. In 253 A.D., the Persians attacked Syria and looted Antioch, the greatest city of the East. Three years later, Dura Europos fell, the river stronghold garrisoned by Roman and Palmyran troops. Now nothing but empty steppe stood between the enemy and Palmyra itself, the richest surviving city of Syria.

Rock relief at Bishapur, Iran, commemorating the victories of Shapur I over three Roman emperors: Gordian III (trampled by Shapur’s horse) killed in battle in A.D. 244 Gordian’s successor, Philip the Arab (kneeling before Shapur), who paid a huge ransom to escape Persia later that year and Valerian (behind the emperor’s horse), captured in A.D. 260. Photograph via “Farr(ah) II. Iconography of Farr(ah)/Xᵛarǝnah,” Figure 6, detail of Shapur I’s victory relief, Bišāpur. Photo: A. Soudavar. Source: Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2010

Finally, in 260 A.D., Emperor Valerian marched with an army of 70,000 men against the Persians. His army was destroyed and Valerian himself was captured in the worst defeat the Romans had suffered in three hundred years.

In the chaos that followed, Zenobia’s husband, Odenathus—one of the great warrior princes of history—led his Palmyran troops in a counterattack. They chased the invaders out of Syria and harassed them all the way back to their own capital at Cteisiphon (near modern Baghdad). The Historia Augusta tells us that Zenobia was with him on this campaign:

For of a surety, he, with his wife Zenobia, would have restored not only the East . . . but also all parts of the whole world everywhere, since he was fierce in warfare. . . . His wife, too, was inured to hardship and in the opinion of many was held to be more brave than her husband, being, indeed, the noblest of all the women of the East, and . . . the most beautiful.

Mosaic (detail) from house north of the Great Colonnade: Odenathus as mounted archer, in traditional Palmyran dress, destroying Persian tigers an eagle bears wreath of victory in its beak. After M. Gawlikowski, “Der Neufund eines Mosaiks in Palmyra,” in A. Schmidt-Colinet (ed.) Palmyra: Kulturbegegnung im Grenzbereich (Mainz 2005) 29–31. Digital image: Attar-Aram syria, licensed via a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license (CC BY-SA 4.0). Source: Wikimedia Commons

Odenathus probably would have been able to restore the whole world, if, after his victorious campaign, he had not stopped in Emesa (modern Homs) on his way home, where a cousin poured poison into his wine. He and his son by a previous marriage were dead.

Antoninianus, Antioch mint, November/December 270–March 272. Obverse: VABALATHVS V C R IM D R, diademed, laurel wreath, draped and cuirassed. Reverse: IMP C AVRELIANVS AVG, radiate crown, cuirassed. Image used with the kind permission of wildwinds.com

On hearing the news, Zenobia seized the regency on behalf of her own son, Waballath, who was still a child. At the same time, in Italy, a deadly series of coups and counter-coups played out until, eventually, a tough Illyrian cavalry general, Claudius, emerged victorious.

Zenobia saw her chance. In 269, she sent her army into Egypt, seizing Alexandria. Nothing could have been more provocative, for the port was vital to Rome’s grain supply. Without Egyptian grain, Rome would starve. By March 270, Palmyra ruled all Egypt. During the course of that year, another Palmyran general extended Palmyran control through Syria and most of Anatolia, settling on Ankara as their border. Claudius meanwhile died of plague and another Illyrian cavalry general became emperor. That was Aurelian.

Almost simultaneously, the mints of Alexandria and Antioch began producing coins with, on the one side, Aurelian’s image, and, on the other, Zenobia’s son Waballath. Although the coinage reserved the most important imperial title of Augustus for Aurelian, there could be no clearer statement that Zenobia had set herself up as equal to Rome… and meant to rule an eastern empire.

View of the Temple of Bel and the Gate (the Bab) into the temple courtyard, taken from the terrace of the archaeological dig house in the southeastern corner of the courtyard. Photo: Judith Weingarten

Why Did Zenobia Do It?

In every book about her, one word is always used: She was “ambitious”—as if male aspirants to the Empire were not ambitious—suggesting, too, that she was scheming and foolish or imprudent. Yet why did so many men take the huge risk of rebellion on her behalf? Surely not to satisfy a woman’s frivolous dreams. No one even considers that she might have been right: The Romans could no longer defend the East.


Contents

Her face was dark and of a swarthy hue, her eyes were black and powerful beyond the usual wont, her spirit divinely great, and her beauty incredible. So white were her teeth that many thought that she had pearls in place of teeth.

Zenobia was born c. 240–241. [2] She bore the gentilicium (surname) Septimia, [note 1] [5] and her native Palmyrene name was Bat-Zabbai (written "Btzby" in the Palmyrene alphabet, [6] an Aramaic name meaning "daughter of Zabbai"). [7] In Greek—Palmyra's diplomatic and second language, used in many Palmyrene inscriptions—she used the name Zenobia ("one whose life derives from Zeus"). [8] The philologist Wilhelm Dittenberger believed that the name Bat Zabbai underwent a detortum (twist), resulting in the name Zenobia. [9] In Palmyra, names such as Zabeida, Zabdila, Zabbai or Zabda were often transformed into "Zenobios" (masculine) and "Zenobia" (feminine) when written in Greek. [10] The historian Victor Duruy believed that the queen used the Greek name as a translation of her native name in deference to her Greek subjects. [11] The ninth-century historian al-Tabari, in his highly fictionalized account, [12] wrote that the queen's name was Na'ila al-Zabba'. [13] Manichaean sources called her "Tadi". [note 2] [15]

No contemporary statues of Zenobia have been found in Palmyra or elsewhere, only inscriptions on statues bases survive, indicating that a statue of the queen once stood in the place most known representations of Zenobia are the idealized portraits of her found on her coins. [16] Palmyrene sculptures were normally impersonal, unlike Greek and Roman ones: a statue of Zenobia would have given an idea of her general style in dress and jewelry but would not have revealed her true appearance. [16] British scholar William Wright visited Palmyra toward the end of the nineteenth century in a vain search for a sculpture of the queen. [17]

In addition to archaeological evidence, Zenobia's life was recorded in different ancient sources but many are flawed or fabricated the Augustan History, a late-Roman collection of biographies, is the most notable (albeit unreliable) source for the era. [18] The author (or authors) of the Augustan History invented many events and letters attributed to Zenobia in the absence of contemporary sources. [18] Some Augustan History accounts are corroborated from other sources, and are more credible. [18] The Byzantine chronicler Joannes Zonaras is considered an important source for the life of Zenobia. [18]

Palmyrene society was an amalgam of Semitic tribes (mostly Aramean and Arab), and Zenobia cannot be identified with any one group as a Palmyrene, she may have had both Aramean and Arab ancestry. [19] Information about Zenobia's ancestry and immediate family connections is scarce and contradictory. [20] Nothing is known about her mother, and her father's identity is debated. [21] Manichaean sources mention a "Nafsha", sister of the "queen of Palmyra", [21] but those sources are confused and "Nafsha" may refer to Zenobia herself: [22] it is doubtful that Zenobia had a sister. [15]

Apparently not a commoner, [23] Zenobia would have received an education appropriate for a noble Palmyrene girl. [24] The Augustan History contains details of her early life, although their veracity is dubious according to the Augustan History, the queen's hobby as a child was hunting [23] and, in addition to her Palmyrene Aramaic mother tongue, she was fluent in Egyptian and Greek and spoke Latin. [25] [26] When she was about fourteen years old (ca. 255), Zenobia became the second wife of Odaenathus, the ras ("lord") of Palmyra. [23] [21] Noble families in Palmyra often intermarried, and it is probable that Zenobia and Odaenathus shared some ancestors. [9]

Contemporary epigraphical evidence Edit

Basing their suppositions upon archaeological evidence, various historians have suggested several men as Zenobia's father:

Julius Aurelius Zenobius appears on a Palmyrene inscription as a strategos of Palmyra in 231–232 based on the similarity of the names, [21] Zenobius was suggested as Zenobia's father by the numismatist Alfred von Sallet and others. [27] The archaeologist William Waddington argued in favor of Zenobius' identification as the father, assuming that his statue stood opposite to where the statue of the queen stood in Great Colonnade. However, the linguist Jean-Baptiste Chabot pointed out that Zenobius' statue stood opposite to that of Odaenathus not Zenobia and rejected Waddington's hypothesis. [9] The only gentilicium appearing on Zenobia's inscriptions was "Septimia" (not "Julia Aurelia", which she would have borne if her father's gentilicium was Aurelius), [5] and it cannot be proven that the queen changed her gentilicium to Septimia after her marriage. [note 3] [21] [27]

One of Zenobia's inscriptions recorded her as "Septimia Bat-Zabbai, daughter of Antiochus". [29] [30] Antiochus' identity is not definitively known: [20] his ancestry is not recorded in Palmyrene inscriptions, and the name was not common in Palmyra. [31] This, combined with the meaning of Zenobia's Palmyrene name (daughter of Zabbai), led scholars such as Harald Ingholt to speculate that Antiochus might have been a distant ancestor: the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes or Antiochus VII Sidetes, whose wife was the Ptolemaic Cleopatra Thea. [29] [31] In the historian Richard Stoneman's view, Zenobia would not have created an obscure ancestry to connect herself with the ancient Macedonian rulers: if a fabricated ancestry were needed, a more direct connection would have been invented. [23] According to Stoneman, Zenobia "had reason to believe [her Seleucid ancestry] to be true". [23] The historian Patricia Southern, noting that Antiochus was mentioned without a royal title or a hint of great lineage, believes that he was a direct ancestor or a relative rather than a Seleucid king who lived three centuries before Zenobia. [31]

On the basis of Zenobia's Palmyrene name, Bat Zabbai, her father may have been called Zabbai alternatively, Zabbai may have been the name of a more distant ancestor. [20] The historian Trevor Bryce suggests that she was related to Septimius Zabbai, Palmyra's garrison leader, and he may even have been her father. [20] The archaeologist Charles Simon Clermont-Ganneau, attempting to reconcile the meaning of the name "Bat Zabbai" with the inscription mentioning the queen as daughter of Antiochus, suggested that two brothers, Zabbai and Antiochus, existed, with a childless Zabbai dying and leaving his widow to marry his brother Antiochus. Thus, since Zenobia was born out of a levirate marriage, she was theoretically the daughter of Zabbai, hence the name. [32]

Ancient sources Edit

In the Augustan History, Zenobia is said to have been a descendant of Cleopatra and claimed descent from the Ptolemies. [note 4] [10] According to the Souda, a 10th-century Byzantine encyclopedia, [33] after the Palmyrene conquest of Egypt, [34] the sophist Callinicus of Petra wrote a ten-volume history of Alexandria dedicated to Cleopatra. [35] According to modern scholars, by Cleopatra Callinicus meant Zenobia. [note 5] [35] [37] Apart from legends, there is no direct evidence in Egyptian coinage or papyri of a contemporary conflation of Zenobia with Cleopatra. [38] The connection may have been invented by Zenobia's enemies to discredit her, [note 6] [40] but circumstantial evidence indicates that Zenobia herself made the claim an imperial declaration once ascribed to Emperor Severus Alexander (died 235) was probably made by Zenobia in the name of her son Vaballathus, where the king named Alexandria "my ancestral city", which indicates a claim to Ptolemaic ancestry. [41] [42] Zenobia's alleged claim of a connection to Cleopatra seems to have been politically motivated, [19] since it would have given her a connection with Egypt and made her a legitimate successor to the Ptolemies' throne. [43] A relationship between Zenobia and the Ptolemies is unlikely, [44] and attempts by classical sources to trace the queen's ancestry to the Ptolemies through the Seleucids are apocryphal. [45]

Arab traditions and al-Zabba' Edit

Although some Arab historians linked Zenobia to the Queen of Sheba, their accounts are apocryphal. [45] Medieval Arabic traditions identify a queen of Palmyra named al-Zabba', [46] and her most romantic account comes from al-Tabari. [47] According to al-Tabari, she was an Amalekite her father was 'Amr ibn Zarib, an 'Amālīq sheikh who was killed by the Tanukhids. [45] Al-Tabari identifies a sister of al-Zabba' as "Zabibah". [45] Jadhimah ibn Malik, the Tanukhid king who killed the queen's father, was killed by al-Zabba'. [47] According to al-Tabari, al-Zabba' had a fortress along the Euphrates and ruled Palmyra. [12]

Al-Tabari's account does not mention the Romans, Odaenathus, Vaballathus or the Sassanians [12] focusing on the tribes and their relations, it is immersed in legends. [48] Although the account is certainly based on the story of Zenobia, [12] it is probably conflated with the story of a semi-legendary nomadic Arab queen (or queens). [49] [48] Al-Zabba' 's fortress was probably Halabiye, which was restored by the historic Palmyrene queen and named Zenobia. [12]

Consort Edit

During the early centuries AD, Palmyra was a city subordinate to Rome and part of the province of Syria Phoenice. [50] In 260 the Roman emperor Valerian marched against the Sassanid Persian monarch Shapur I, who had invaded the empire's eastern regions Valerian was defeated and captured near Edessa. [51] Odaenathus, formally loyal to Rome and its emperor Gallienus (Valerian's son), [52] was declared king of Palmyra. [53] Launching successful campaigns against Persia, he was crowned King of Kings of the East in 263. [54] Odaenathus crowned his eldest son, Herodianus, as co-ruler. [55] In addition to the royal titles, Odaenathus received many Roman titles, most importantly corrector totius orientis (governor of the entire East), and ruled the Roman territories from the Black Sea to Palestine. [56] In 267, when Zenobia was in her late twenties or early thirties, Odaenathus and his eldest son were assassinated while returning from a campaign. [55]

The first inscription mentioning Zenobia as queen is dated two or three years after Odaenathus' death, so exactly when Zenobia assumed the title "queen of Palmyra" is uncertain. [57] However, she was probably designated as queen when her husband became king. [57] As queen consort, Zenobia remained in the background and was not mentioned in the historical record. [58] According to later accounts, including one by Giovanni Boccaccio, she accompanied her husband on his campaigns. [59] If the accounts of her accompanying her husband are true, according to Southern, Zenobia would have boosted the morale of the soldiers and gained political influence, which she needed in her later career. [58]

Possible role in Odaenathus' assassination Edit

According to the Augustan History, Odaenathus was assassinated by a cousin named Maeonius. [60] In the Augustan History, Odaenathus' son from his first wife was named Herodes and was crowned co-ruler by his father. [61] The Augustan History claims that Zenobia conspired with Maeonius for a time because she did not accept her stepson as his father's heir (ahead of her own children). [60] The Augustan History does not suggest that Zenobia was involved in the events leading to her husband's murder, [62] and the crime is attributed to Maeonius' moral degeneration and jealousy. [60] This account, according to the historian Alaric Watson, can be dismissed as fictional. [63] Although some modern scholarship suggests that Zenobia was involved in the assassination due to political ambition and opposition to her husband's pro-Roman policy, she continued Odaenathus' policies during her first years on the throne. [64]

Regent Edit

In the Augustan History, Maeonius was emperor briefly before he was killed by his soldiers, [62] however, no inscriptions or evidence exist for his reign. [65] At the time of Odaenathus' assassination, Zenobia might have been with her husband according to chronicler George Syncellus, he was killed near Heraclea Pontica in Bithynia. [66] The transfer of power seems to have been smooth, since Syncellus reports that the time from the assassination to the army handing the crown to Zenobia was one day. [66] Zenobia may have been in Palmyra, but this would have reduced the likelihood of a smooth transition the soldiers might have chosen one of their officers, so the first scenario of her being with her husband is more likely. [66] The historical records are unanimous that Zenobia did not fight for supremacy and there is no evidence of delay in the transfer of the throne to Odaenathus and Zenobia's son, the ten-year-old Vaballathus. [67] Although she never claimed to rule in her own right and acted as a regent for her son, [68] Zenobia held the reins of power in the kingdom, [69] and Vaballathus was kept in his mother's shadow, never exercising real power. [70]

Consolidation of power Edit

The Palmyrene monarchy was new allegiance was based on loyalty to Odaenathus, making the transfer of power to a successor more difficult than it would have been in an established monarchy. [71] Odaenathus tried to ensure the dynasty's future by crowning his eldest son co-king, but both were assassinated. [72] Zenobia, left to secure the Palmyrene succession and retain the loyalty of its subjects, emphasized the continuity between her late husband and his successor (her son). [72] Vaballathus (with Zenobia orchestrating the process) assumed his father's royal titles immediately, and his earliest known inscription records him as King of Kings. [72] [67]

Odaenathus controlled a large area of the Roman East, [note 7] and held the highest political and military authority in the region, superseding that of the Roman provincial governors. [74] [55] His self-created status was formalized by Emperor Gallienus, [75] who had little choice but to acquiesce. [76] Odaenathus's power relative to that of the emperor and the central authority was unprecedented and elastic, but relations remained smooth until his death. [77] His assassination meant that the Palmyrene rulers' authority and position had to be clarified, which led to a conflict over their interpretation. [77] The Roman court viewed Odaenathus as an appointed Roman official who derived his power from the emperor, but the Palmyrene court saw his position as hereditary. [77] This conflict was the first step on the road to war between Rome and Palmyra. [77]

Odaenathus' Roman titles, such as dux Romanorum, corrector totius orientis and imperator totius orientis differed from his royal eastern ones because the Roman ranks were not hereditary. [78] Vaballathus had a legitimate claim to his royal titles, but had no right to the Roman ones—especially corrector (denoting a senior military and provincial commander in the Roman system), which Zenobia used for her son in his earliest known inscriptions with "King of Kings". [72] Although the Roman emperors accepted the royal succession, the assumption of Roman military rank antagonized the empire. [79] Emperor Gallienus may have decided to intervene in an attempt to regain central authority [30] according to the Augustan History, praetorian prefect Aurelius Heraclianus was dispatched to assert imperial authority over the east and was repelled by the Palmyrene army. [80] The account is doubtful, however, since Heraclianus participated in Gallienus' assassination in 268. [81] Odaenathus was assassinated shortly before the emperor, and Heraclianus would have been unable to be sent to the East, fight the Palmyrenes and return to the West in time to become involved in the conspiracy against the emperor. [note 8] [81]

Early reign Edit

The extent of Zenobia's territorial control during her early reign is debated according to the historian Fergus Millar, her authority was confined to Palmyra and Emesa until 270. [note 9] [83] If this was the case, the events of 270 (which saw Zenobia's conquest of the Levant and Egypt) are extraordinary. [82] It is more likely that the queen ruled the territories controlled by her late husband, [82] a view supported by Southern and the historian Udo Hartmann, [84] and backed by ancient sources (such as the Roman historian Eutropius, who wrote that the queen inherited her husband's power). [82] The Augustan History also mentioned that Zenobia took control of the East during Gallienus' reign. [82] [84] Further evidence of extended territorial control was a statement by the Byzantine historian Zosimus, who wrote that the queen had a residence in Antioch. [note 10] [82]

There is no recorded unrest against the queen accompanying her ascendance in ancient sources hostile to her, indicating no serious opposition to the new regime. [note 11] [86] The most obvious candidates for opposition were the Roman provincial governors, but the sources do not say that Zenobia marched on any of them or that they tried to remove her from the throne. [87] According to Hartmann, the governors and military leaders of the eastern provinces apparently acknowledged and supported Vaballathus as the successor of Odaenathus. [87] During Zenobia's early regency, she focused on safeguarding the borders with Persia and pacifying the Tanukhids in Hauran. [88] To protect the Persian borders, the queen fortified many settlements on the Euphrates (including the citadels of Halabiye—later called Zenobia—and Zalabiye). [89] Circumstantial evidence exists for confrontations with the Sassanid Persians probably in 269, Vaballathus assumed the victory title of Persicus Maximus (the great victor in Persia) this may be connected to an unrecorded battle against a Persian army trying to control northern Mesopotamia. [note 12] [90] [91]

Expansion Edit

In 269, while Claudius Gothicus (Gallienus' successor) was defending the borders of Italy and the Balkans against Germanic invasions, Zenobia was cementing her authority Roman officials in the East were caught between loyalty to the emperor and Zenobia's increasing demands for allegiance. [92] The timing and rationale of the queen's decision to use military force to strengthen her authority in the East is unclear [92] scholar Gary K. Young suggested that Roman officials refused to recognize Palmyrene authority, and Zenobia's expeditions were intended to maintain Palmyrene dominance. [93] Another factor may have been the weakness of Roman central authority and its corresponding inability to protect the provinces, which probably convinced Zenobia that the only way to maintain stability in the East was to control the region directly. [93] The historian Jacques Schwartz tied Zenobia's actions to her desire to protect Palmyra's economic interests, which were threatened by Rome's failure to protect the provinces. [94] Also, according to Schwartz, the economic interests conflicted Bostra and Egypt received trade which would have otherwise passed through Palmyra. [95] The Tanukhids near Bostra and the merchants of Alexandria probably attempted to rid themselves of Palmyrene domination, triggering a military response from Zenobia. [95]

Syria and the invasion of Arabia Petraea Edit

In the spring of 270, while Claudius was fighting the Goths in the mountains of Thrace, Zenobia sent her general Septimius Zabdas to Bostra (capital of the province of Arabia Petraea) [92] the queen's timing seems intentional. [96] In Arabia the Roman governor (dux), Trassus (commanding the Legio III Cyrenaica), [note 13] confronted the Palmyrenes and was routed and killed. [92] Zabdas sacked the city, and destroyed the temple of Zeus Hammon, the legion's revered shrine. [92] A Latin inscription after the fall of Zenobia attests to its destruction: [98] "The temple of Iuppiter Hammon, destroyed by the Palmyrene enemies, which . rebuilt, with a silver statue and iron doors (?)". [99] The city of Umm el-Jimal may have also been destroyed by the Palmyrenes in connection with their efforts to subjugate the Tanukhids. [98]

After his victory, Zabdas marched south along the Jordan Valley and apparently met little opposition. [92] There is evidence that Petra was attacked by a small contingent which penetrated the region. [100] Arabia and Judaea were eventually subdued. [100] Palmyrene dominance of Arabia is confirmed by many milestones bearing Vaballathus' name. [97] Syrian subjugation required less effort because Zenobia had substantial support there, particularly in Antioch, [101] Syria's traditional capital. [85] The invasion of Arabia coincided with the cessation of coin production in Claudius' name by the Antiochean mint, indicating that Zenobia had begun tightening her grip on Syria. [101] By November 270, the mint began issuing coinage in Vaballathus' name. [102]

The Arabian milestones presented the Palmyrene king as a Roman governor and commander, referring to him as vir clarissimus rex consul imperator dux Romanorum. [97] The assumption of such titles was probably meant to legitimize Zenobia's control of the province, not yet a usurpation of the imperial title. [103] Until now, Zenobia could say that she was acting as a representative of the emperor (who was securing the eastern lands of the empire) while the Roman monarch was preoccupied with struggles in Europe. [104] Although Vaballathus' use of the titles amounted to a claim to the imperial throne, Zenobia could still justify them and maintain a mask of subordination to Rome [78] an "imperator" was a commander of troops, not the equal of an emperor ("imperator caesar"). [103]

Annexation of Egypt and the campaigns in Asia Minor Edit

The invasion of Egypt is sometimes explained by Zenobia's desire to secure an alternative trade route to the Euphrates, which was cut because of the war with Persia. [105] This theory ignores the fact that the Euphrates route was only partially disrupted, and overlooks Zenobia's ambition. [100] The date of the campaign is uncertain Zosimus placed it after the Battle of Naissus and before Claudius' death, which sets it in the summer of 270. [106] Watson, emphasizing the works of Zonaras and Syncellus and dismissing Zosimus' account, places the invasion in October 270 (after Claudius' death). [107] According to Watson, the occupation of Egypt was an opportunistic move by Zenobia (who was encouraged by the news of Claudius' death in August). [100] [108] The appearance of the Palmyrenes on Egypt's eastern frontier would have contributed to unrest in the province, whose society was fractured Zenobia had supporters and opponents among local Egyptians. [100]

The Roman position was worsened by the absence of Egypt's prefect, Tenagino Probus, who was battling pirates. [100] [106] According to Zosimus, the Palmyrenes were helped by an Egyptian general named Timagenes Zabdas moved into Egypt with 70,000 soldiers, defeating an army of 50,000 Romans. [108] [96] After their victory, the Palmyrenes withdrew their main force and left a 5,000-soldier garrison. [96] By early November, [100] Tenagino Probus returned and assembled an army he expelled the Palmyrenes and regained Alexandria, prompting Zabdas to return. [96] The Palmyrene general aimed a thrust at Alexandria, where he seems to have had local support the city fell into Zabdas' hands, and the Roman prefect fled south. [100] The last battle was at the Babylon Fortress, where Tenagino Probus took refuge the Romans had the upper hand, since they chose their camp carefully. [101] Timagenes, with his knowledge of the land, ambushed the Roman rear Tenagino Probus committed suicide, and Egypt became part of Palmyra. [101] In the Augustan History the Blemmyes were among Zenobia's allies, [109] and Gary K. Young cites the Blemmyes attack and occupation of Coptos in 268 as evidence of a Palmyrene-Blemmyes alliance. [110]

Only Zosimus mentioned two invasions, contrasting with many scholars who argue in favor of an initial invasion and no retreat (followed by a reinforcement, which took Alexandria by the end of 270). [96] During the Egyptian campaign, Rome was entangled in a succession crisis between Claudius' brother Quintillus and the general Aurelian. Egyptian papyri and coinage confirm Palmyrene rule in Egypt the papyri stopped using the regnal years of the emperors from September to November 270, due to the succession crisis. By December regnal dating was resumed, with the papyri using the regnal years of the prevailing emperor Aurelian and Zenobia's son Vaballathus. Egyptian coinage was issued in the names of Aurelian and the Palmyrene king by November 270. [102] There is no evidence that Zenobia ever visited Egypt. [111]

Although the operation may have commenced under Septimius Zabbai, Zabdas' second-in-command, the invasion of Asia Minor did not fully begin until Zabdas' arrival in the spring of 271. [112] The Palmyrenes annexed Galatia and, according to Zosimus, reached Ancyra. [40] Bithynia and the Cyzicus mint remained beyond Zenobia's control, and her attempts to subdue Chalcedon failed. [112] The Asia Minor campaign is poorly documented, but the western part of the region did not become part of the queen's authority [40] [113] no coins with Zenobia or Vaballathus' portraits were minted in Asia Minor, and no royal Palmyrene inscriptions have been found. [113] By August 271 Zabdas was back in Palmyra, with the Palmyrene empire at its zenith. [112]

Governance Edit

Zenobia ruled an empire of different peoples as a Palmyrene, she was accustomed to dealing with multilingual and multicultural diversity since she hailed from a city which embraced many cults. [114] The queen's realm was culturally divided into eastern-Semitic and Hellenistic zones Zenobia tried to appease both, and seems to have successfully appealed to the region's ethnic, cultural and political groups. [115] The queen projected an image of a Syrian monarch, a Hellenistic queen and a Roman empress, which gained broad support for her cause. [116]

Culture Edit

Zenobia turned her court into a center of learning, with many intellectuals and sophists reported in Palmyra during her reign. [117] As academics migrated to the city, it replaced classical learning centers such as Athens for Syrians. [117] The best-known court philosopher was Longinus, [118] who arrived during Odaenathus' reign and became Zenobia's tutor in paideia (aristocratic education). [119] [117] Many historians, including Zosimus, accused Longinus of influencing the queen to oppose Rome. [120] [119] This view presents the queen as malleable, [119] but, according to Southern, Zenobia's actions "cannot be laid entirely at Longinus' door". [34] Other intellectuals associated with the court included Nicostratus of Trapezus and Callinicus of Petra. [121]

From the second to the fourth centuries, Syrian intellectuals argued that Greek culture did not evolve in Greece but was adapted from the Near East. [121] According to Iamblichus, the great Greek philosophers reused Near Eastern and Egyptian ideas. [122] The Palmyrene court was probably dominated by this school of thought, with an intellectual narrative presenting Palmyra's dynasty as a Roman imperial one succeeding the Persian, Seleucid and Ptolemaic rulers who controlled the region in which Hellenistic culture allegedly originated. [122] Nicostratus wrote a history of the Roman Empire from Philip the Arab to Odaenathus, presenting the latter as a legitimate imperial successor and contrasting his successes with the disastrous reigns of the emperors. [121]

Zenobia embarked on several restoration projects in Egypt. [123] One of the Colossi of Memnon was reputed in antiquity to sing the sound was probably due to cracks in the statue, with solar rays interacting with dew in the cracks. [124] The historian Glen Bowersock proposed that the queen restored the colossus ("silencing" it), which would explain third-century accounts of the singing and their disappearance in the fourth. [125]

Religion Edit

Zenobia followed the Palmyrene paganism, [126] where a number of Semitic gods, with Bel at the head of the pantheon, were worshipped. [127] Zenobia accommodated Christians and Jews, [114] and ancient sources made many claims about the queen's beliefs [37] Manichaean sources alleged that Zenobia was one of their own [128] a manuscript dated to 272 mentions that the Queen of Palmyra supported the Manichaeans in establishing a community in Abidar, which was under the rule of a king named Amarō, who could be the Lakhmid king Amr ibn Adi. [129] It is more likely, however, that Zenobia tolerated all cults in an effort to attract support from groups marginalized by Rome. [37]

Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria wrote that Zenobia did not "hand over churches to the Jews to make them into synagogues" [130] although the queen was not a Christian, she understood the power of bishops in Christian communities. [131] In Antioch—considered representative of political control of the East and containing a large Christian community—Zenobia apparently maintained authority over the church by bringing influential clerics, probably including Paul of Samosata, under her auspices. [131] She may have bestowed on Paul the rank of ducenarius (minor judge) he apparently enjoyed the queen's protection, which helped him keep the diocesan church after he was removed from his office as bishop of Antioch by a synod of bishops in 268. [note 14] [135]

Judaism Edit

Less than a hundred years after Zenobia's reign, Athanasius of Alexandria called her a "Jewess" in his History of the Arians. [130] In 391, archbishop John Chrysostom wrote that Zenobia was Jewish so did a Syriac chronicler around 664 and bishop Bar Hebraeus in the thirteenth century. [130] According to French scholar Javier Teixidor, Zenobia was probably a proselyte this explained her strained relationship with the rabbis. [136] Teixidor believed that Zenobia became interested in Judaism when Longinus spoke about the philosopher Porphyry and his interest in the Old Testament. [136] Although Talmudic sources were hostile to Palmyra because of Odaenathus' suppression of the Jews of Nehardea, [137] Zenobia apparently had the support of some Jewish communities (particularly in Alexandria). [112] In Cairo, [138] a plaque originally bearing an inscription confirming a grant of immunity to a Jewish synagogue in the last quarter of the first millennium BC by King Ptolemy Euergetes (I or II) was found. [138] At a much later date, the plaque was re-inscribed to commemorate the restoration of immunity "on the orders of the queen and king". [123] [138] Although it is undated, the letters of the inscription date to long after Cleopatra and Anthony's era Zenobia and her son are the only candidates for a king and a queen ruling Egypt after the Ptolemies. [123] [139]

The historian E. Mary Smallwood wrote that good relations with the diaspora community did not mean that the Jews of Palestine were content with Zenobia's reign, and her rule was apparently opposed in that region. [137] The Terumot tells the story of the amoraim Rabbi "Ammi" and Rabbi "Samuel bar Nahmani", who visited Zenobia's court and asked for the release of a Jew ("Zeir bar Hinena") detained on her orders. [140] The queen refused, saying: "Why have you come to save him? He teaches that your creator performs miracles for you. Why not let God save him?" [141] During Aurelian's destruction of Palmyra, Palestinian conscripts with "clubs and cudgels" (who may have been Jews) played a vital role in Zenobia's defeat and the destruction of her city. [142]

There is no evidence of Zenobia's birth as a Jew the names of her and her husband's families belonged to the Aramaic onomasticon (collection of names). [136] The queen's alleged patronage of Paul of Samosata (who was accused of "Judaizing"), [137] may have given rise to the idea that she was a proselyte. [37] Only Christian accounts note Zenobia's Jewishness no Jewish source mentions it. [143]

Administration Edit

The queen probably spent most of her reign in Antioch, [111] Syria's administrative capital. [85] Before the monarchy, Palmyra had the institutions of a Greek city (polis) and was ruled by a senate which was responsible for most civil affairs. [144] [145] Odaenathus maintained Palmyra's institutions, as did Zenobia [146] a Palmyrene inscription after her fall records the name of Septimius Haddudan, a Palmyrene senator. [147] However, the queen apparently ruled autocratically Septimius Worod, Odaenathus' viceroy and one of Palmyra's most important officials, disappeared from the record after Zenobia's ascent. [148] The queen opened the doors of her government to Eastern nobility. [114] Zenobia's most important courtiers and advisers were her generals, Septemius Zabdas and Septimius Zabbai [118] both of whom were generals under Odaenathus and received the gentilicium (surname) "Septimius" from him. [149]

Odaenathus respected the Roman emperor's privilege of appointing provincial governors, [150] and Zenobia continued this policy during her early reign. [151] Although the queen did not interfere in day-to-day administration, she probably had the power to command the governors in the organization of border security. [152] During the rebellion, Zenobia maintained Roman forms of administration, [40] but appointed the governors herself (most notably in Egypt, [153] where Julius Marcellinus took office in 270 and was followed by Statilius Ammianus in 271). [note 15] [152]

Agreement with Rome Edit

Zenobia initially avoided provoking Rome by claiming for herself and her son the titles, inherited from Odaenathus, of subject of Rome and protector of its eastern frontier. [88] After expanding her territory, she seems to have tried to be recognized as an imperial partner in the eastern half of the empire and presented her son as subordinate to the emperor. [155] [104] [156] In late 270, Zenobia minted coinage bearing the portraits of Aurelian and Vaballathus Aurelian was titled "emperor", and Vaballathus "king". [155] The regnal year in early samples of the coinage was only Aurelian's. [155] By March 271, [157] despite indicating Aurelian as the paramount monarch by naming him first in the dating formulae, the coinage also began bearing Vaballathus' regnal year. [158] By indicating in the coinage that Vaballathus' reign began in 267 (three years before the emperor's), Vaballathus appeared to be Aurelian's senior colleague. [158]

The emperor's blessing of Palmyrene authority has been debated [156] Aurelian's acceptance of Palmyrene rule in Egypt may be inferred from the Oxyrhynchus papyri, which are dated by the regnal years of the emperor and Vaballathus. [155] [159] No proof of a formal agreement exists, and the evidence is based solely on the joint coinage- and papyri-dating. [156] It is unlikely that Aurelian would have accepted such power-sharing, [155] but he was unable to act in 271 due to crises in the West. [156] [155] His apparent condoning of Zenobia's actions may have been a ruse to give her a false sense of security while he prepared for war. [156] [155] Another reason for Aurelian's tolerance may have been his desire to ensure a constant supply of Egyptian grain to Rome [160] it is not recorded that the supply was cut, and the ships sailed to Rome in 270 as usual. [153] Some modern scholars, such as Harold Mattingly, suggest that Claudius Gothicus had concluded a formal agreement with Zenobia which Aurelian ignored. [38]

Empress and open rebellion Edit

An inscription, found in Palmyra and dated to August 271, called Zenobia eusebes (the pious) [157] this title, used by Roman empresses, could be seen as a step by the queen toward an imperial title. [161] Another contemporary inscription called her sebaste, the Greek equivalent of "empress" (Latin: Augusta), but also acknowledged the Roman emperor. [161] A late-271 Egyptian grain receipt equated Aurelian and Vaballathus, jointly calling them Augusti. [161] Finally, Palmyra officially broke with Rome [162] the Alexandrian and Antiochian mints removed Aurelian's portrait from the coins in April 272, issuing new tetradrachms in the names of Vaballathus and Zenobia (who were called Augustus and Augusta, respectively). [161]

The assumption of imperial titles by Zenobia signaled a usurpation: independence from, and open rebellion against, Aurelian. [163] The timeline of events and why Zenobia declared herself empress is vague. [164] In the second half of 271, [165] Aurelian marched to the East, but was delayed by the Goths in the Balkans [163] this may have alarmed the queen, driving her to claim the imperial title. [164] Zenobia also probably understood the inevitability of open conflict with Aurelian, and decided that feigning subordination would be useless [166] her assumption of the imperial title was used to rally soldiers to her cause. [166] Aurelian's campaign seems to have been the main reason for the Palmyrene imperial declaration and the removal of his portrait from its coins. [161] [94]

Downfall Edit

The usurpation, which began in late March or early April 272, ended by August. [167] Aurelian spent the winter of 271–272 in Byzantium, [168] and probably crossed the Bosporus to Asia Minor in April 272. [169] Galatia fell easily the Palmyrene garrisons were apparently withdrawn, and the provincial capital of Ancyra was regained without a struggle. [170] All the cities in Asia Minor opened their doors to the Roman emperor, with only Tyana putting up some resistance before surrendering this cleared the path for Aurelian to invade Syria, the Palmyrene heartland. [171] A simultaneous expedition reached Egypt in May 272 by early June Alexandria was captured by the Romans, followed by the rest of Egypt by the third week of June. [170] Zenobia seems to have withdrawn most of her armies from Egypt to focus on Syria—which, if lost, would have meant the end of Palmyra. [169]

In May 272, Aurelian headed toward Antioch. [172] About 40 kilometres (25 mi) north of the city, he defeated the Palmyrene army (led by Zabdas) at the Battle of Immae. [172] [173] As a result, Zenobia, who waited in Antioch during the battle, retreated with her army to Emesa. [174] To conceal the disaster and make her flight safer, she spread reports that Aurelian was captured Zabdas found a man who resembled the Roman emperor and paraded him through Antioch. [175] The following day, Aurelian entered the city before marching south. [174] After defeating a Palmyrene garrison south of Antioch, [176] Aurelian continued his march to meet Zenobia in the Battle of Emesa. [176]

The 70,000-strong Palmyrene army, assembled on the plain of Emesa, nearly routed the Romans. [176] In an initial thrill of victory they hastened their advance, breaking their lines and enabling the Roman infantry to attack their flank. [176] The defeated Zenobia headed to her capital on the advice of her war council, leaving her treasury behind. [177] In Palmyra, the queen prepared for a siege [178] Aurelian blockaded food-supply routes, [179] and there were probably unsuccessful negotiations. [180] According to the Augustan History, Zenobia said that she would fight Aurelian with the help of her Persian allies however, the story was probably fabricated and used by the emperor to link Zenobia to Rome's greatest enemy. [180] If such an alliance existed, a much-larger frontier war would have erupted however, no Persian army was sent. [180] As the situation worsened, the queen left the city for Persia intending on seeking help from Palmyra's former enemy according to Zosimus, she rode a "female camel, the fastest of its breed and faster than any horse". [177] [181]

Aurelian, learning about Zenobia's departure, sent a contingent which captured the queen before she could cross the Euphrates to Persia [181] Palmyra capitulated soon after news of Zenobia's captivity reached the city in August 272. [note 16] [183] [147] Aurelian sent the queen and her son to Emesa for trial, followed by most of Palmyra's court elite (including Longinus). [184] According to the Augustan History and Zosimus, Zenobia blamed her actions on her advisers however, there are no contemporary sources describing the trial, only later hostile Roman ones. [184] The queen's reported cowardice in defeat was probably Aurelian's propaganda it benefited the emperor to paint Zenobia as selfish and traitorous, discouraging the Palmyrenes from hailing her as a hero. [184] Although Aurelian had most of his prisoners executed, he spared the queen and her son to parade her in his planned triumph. [185]

Zenobia's fate after Emesa is uncertain since ancient historians left conflicting accounts. [186] Zosimus wrote that she died before crossing the Bosporus on her way to Rome according to this account, the queen became ill or starved herself to death. [186] The generally unreliable chronicler, John Malalas, [187] wrote that Aurelian humiliated Zenobia by parading her through the eastern cities on a dromedary in Antioch, the emperor had her chained and seated on a dais in the hippodrome for three days before the city's populace. [186] [188] Malalas concluded his account by writing that Zenobia appeared in Aurelian's triumph and was then beheaded. [189]

Most ancient historians and modern scholars agree that Zenobia was displayed in Aurelian's 274 triumph [189] Zosimus was the only source to say that the queen died before reaching Rome, making his account questionable. [190] A public humiliation (as recounted by Malalas) is a plausible scenario, since Aurelian would probably have wanted to publicize his suppression of the Palmyrene rebellion. [186] Only Malalas, however, describes Zenobia's beheading according to the other historians, her life was spared after Aurelian's triumph. [189] The Augustan History recorded that Aurelian gave Zenobia a villa in Tibur near Hadrian's Villa, where she lived with her children. [191] [192] Zonaras wrote that Zenobia married a nobleman, [193] and Syncellus wrote that she married a Roman senator. [191] The house she reportedly occupied became a tourist attraction in Rome. [194]

The queen owed her elevated position to her son's minority. [195] To celebrate Herodianus' coronation, a statue was erected in Palmyra in 263. [196] According to the inscription on the base of the statue, it was commissioned by Septimius Worod, then the duumviri (magistrate) of Palmyra, and Julius Aurelius, the Queen's procurator (treasurer). [197] According to the historian David Potter, Zenobia is the queen mentioned, and the inscription is an evidence for the usage of the title by her during Odaenathus' lifetime. [198] An inscription on a milestone on the road between Palmyra and Emesa, dated to Zenobia's early reign, [199] identifies her as "illustrious queen, mother of the king of kings" [30] this was the first inscription giving her an official position. [200] A lead token from Antioch also identifies Zenobia as queen. [note 17] [204] [203]

The earliest confirmed attestation of Zenobia as queen in Palmyra is an inscription on the base of a statue erected for her by Zabdas and Zabbai, dated to August 271 and calling her "most illustrious and pious queen". [200] [205] On an undated milestone found near Byblos, Zenobia is titled Sebaste. [164] The queen was never acknowledged as sole monarch in Palmyra, although she was the de facto sovereign of the empire [69] she was always associated with her husband or son in inscriptions, except in Egypt (where some coins were minted in Zenobia's name alone). [69] According to her coins, the queen assumed the title of Augusta (empress) in 272, [161] and reigned under the regnal name Septimia Zenobia Augusta. [206]

Aside from Vaballathus, it is unclear if Zenobia had other children and their alleged identities are subject to scholarly disagreements. The image of a child named Hairan (II) appears on a seal impression with that of his brother Vaballathus no name of a mother was engraved and the seal is undated. [207] Odaenathus' son Herodianus is identified by Udo Hartmann with Hairan I, a son of Odaenathus who appears in Palmyrene inscriptions as early as 251. [208] David S. Potter, on the other hand, suggested that Hairan II is the son of Zenobia and that he is Herodianus instead of Hairan I. [209] Nathanael Andrade maintained that Hairan I, Herodianus, and Hairan II are the same person, rejecting the existence of a second Hairan. [210]

A controversial Palmyrene inscription mentions the mother of the King Septimius Antiochus the name of the queen is missing, and Dittenberger refused to fill the gap with Zenobia's name, but many scholars, such as Grace Macurdy considered that the missing name is Zenobia. [206] Septimius Antiochus may have been Vaballathus' younger brother, or was presented in this manner for political reasons Antiochus was proclaimed emperor in 273, when Palmyra revolted against Rome for a second time. [211] If Antiochus was a son of Zenobia, he was probably a young child not fathered by Odaenathus Zosimus described him as insignificant, appropriate for a five-year-old boy. [212] On the other hand, Macurdy, citing the language Zosimus used when he described him, considered it more plausible that Antiochus was not a son of Zenobia, but a family relation who used her name to legitimize his claim to the throne. [206]

The names of Herennianus and Timolaus were mentioned as children of Zenobia only in the Augustan History. [213] Herennianus may be a conflation of Hairan and Herodianus Timolaus is probably a fabrication, [63] although the historian Dietmar Kienast suggested that he might have been Vaballathus. [214] According to the Augustan History, Zenobia's descendants were Roman nobility during the reign of Emperor Valens (reigned 364–375). [215] Eutropius and Jerome chronicled the queen's descendants in Rome during the fourth and fifth centuries. [194] [192] They may have been the result of a reported marriage to a Roman spouse or offspring who accompanied her from Palmyra both theories, however, are tentative. [216] Zonaras is the only historian to note that Zenobia had daughters [216] he wrote that one married Aurelian, who married the queen's other daughters to distinguished Romans. [193] According to Southern, the emperor's marriage to Zenobia's daughter is a fabrication. [191] Another descent claim is the relation of saint Zenobius of Florence (337–417) with the queen the Girolami banking family claimed descent from the fifth century saint, [217] and the alleged relation was first noted in 1286. [218] The family also extended their roots to Zenobia by claiming that the saint was a descendant of her. [219]

An evaluation of Zenobia is difficult the queen was courageous when her husband's supremacy was threatened and by seizing the throne, she protected the region from a power vacuum after Odaenathus' death. [220] According to Watson, she made what Odaenathus left her a "glittering show of strength". [221] In the view of Watson, Zenobia should not be seen as a total powermonger, nor as a selfless hero fighting for a cause according to the historian David Graf, "She took seriously the titles and responsibilities she assumed for her son and that her program was far more ecumenical and imaginative than that of her husband Odenathus, not just more ambitious". [221]

Zenobia has inspired scholars, academics, musicians and actors her fame has lingered in the West, and is supreme in the Middle East. [19] As a heroic queen with a tragic end, she stands alongside Cleopatra and Boudica. [19] The queen's legend turned her into an idol, that can be reinterpreted to accommodate the needs of writers and historians thus, Zenobia has been by turns a freedom fighter, a hero of the oppressed and a national symbol. [15] The queen is a female role model [222] according to the historian Michael Rostovtzeff, Catherine the Great liked to compare herself to Zenobia as a woman who created military might and an intellectual court. [195] During the 1930s, thanks to an Egyptian-based feminist press, Zenobia became an icon for women's-magazine readers in the Arabic-speaking world as a strong, nationalistic female leader. [223]

Her most lasting legacy is in Syria, where the queen is a national symbol. [224] Zenobia became an icon for Syrian nationalists she had a cult following among Western-educated Syrians, and an 1871 novel by journalist Salim al-Bustani was entitled Zenobia malikat Tadmor (Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra). [225] Syrian nationalist Ilyas Matar, who wrote Syria's first history in Arabic in 1874, [226] [227] (al-'Uqud al-durriyya fi tarikh al-mamlaka al-Suriyya The Pearl Necklace in the History of the Syrian Kingdom), [228] was fascinated by Zenobia and included her in his book. [229] To Matar, the queen kindled hope for a new Zenobia who would restore Syria's former grandeur. [229] Another history of Syria was written by Jurji Yanni in 1881, [230] in which Yanni called Zenobia a "daughter of the fatherland", and yearned for her "glorious past". [231] Yanni described Aurelian as a tyrant who deprived Syria of its happiness and independence by capturing its queen. [231]

In modern Syria, Zenobia is regarded as a patriotic symbol her image appeared on banknotes, [224] and in 1997 she was the subject of the television series Al-Ababeed (The Anarchy). [19] The series was watched by millions in the Arabic-speaking world. [19] It examined the Israeli–Palestinian conflict from a Syrian perspective, where the queen's struggle symbolized the Palestinians' struggle to gain the right of self-determination. [224] Zenobia was also the subject of a biography by Mustafa Tlass, Syria's former minister of defense and one of the country's most prominent figures. [224]

Harold Mattingly called Zenobia "one of the most romantic figures in history". [220] According to Southern, "The real Zenobia is elusive, perhaps ultimately unattainable, and novelists, playwrights and historians alike can absorb the available evidence, but still need to indulge in varied degrees of speculation." [232]

She has been the subject of romantic and ideologically-driven biographies by ancient and modern writers. [233] [234] The Augustan History is the clearest example of an ideological account of Zenobia's life, and its author acknowledged that it was written to criticize the emperor Gallienus. [234] According to the Augustan History, Gallienus was weak because he allowed a woman to rule part of the empire and Zenobia was a more able sovereign than the emperor. The narrative changed as the Augustan History moved on to the life of Claudius Gothicus, a lauded and victorious emperor, with the author characterizing Zenobia's protection of the eastern frontier as a wise delegation of power by Claudius. [235] When the Augustan History reached the biography of Aurelian, the author's view of Zenobia changed dramatically the queen is depicted as a guilty, insolent, proud coward [235] her wisdom was discredited and her actions deemed the result of manipulation by advisers. [48]

Zenobia's "staunch" beauty was emphasized by the author of the Augustan History, who ascribed to her feminine timidity and inconsistency (the reasons for her alleged betrayal of her advisers to save herself). The queen's sex posed a dilemma for the Augustan History since it cast a shadow on Aurelian's victory. [236] Its author ascribed many masculine traits to Zenobia to make Aurelian a conquering hero who suppressed a dangerous Amazon queen. [236] According to the Augustan History, Zenobia had a clear, manly voice, dressed as an emperor (rather than an empress), rode horseback, was attended by eunuchs instead of ladies-in-waiting, marched with her army, drank with her generals, was careful with money (contrary to the stereotypical spending habits of her sex) and pursued masculine hobbies such as hunting. [237] Giovanni Boccaccio wrote a fanciful 14th-century account of the queen in which she is a tomboy in childhood who preferred wrestling with boys, wandering in the forests and killing goats to playing like a young girl. [238] Zenobia's chastity was a theme of these romanticized accounts according to the Augustan History, she disdained sexual intercourse and allowed Odaenathus into her bed only for conception. [238] Her reputed chastity impressed some male historians Edward Gibbon wrote that Zenobia surpassed Cleopatra in chastity and valor. [238] According to Boccaccio, Zenobia safeguarded her virginity when she wrestled with boys as a child. [238]

Seventeenth-century visitors to Palmyra rekindled the Western world's romantic interest in Zenobia. [48] This interest peaked during the mid-nineteenth century, when Lady Hester Stanhope visited Palmyra and wrote that its people treated her like the queen she was reportedly greeted with singing and dancing, and Bedouin warriors stood on the city's columns. [25] A procession ended with a mock coronation of Stanhope under the arch of Palmyra as "queen of the desert". [25] William Ware, fascinated by Zenobia, wrote a fanciful account of her life. Twentieth-century novelists and playwrights, such as Haley Elizabeth Garwood and Nick Dear, also wrote about the queen. [17]


Judith and Queen Zenobia

Zenobia (born c. 240 CE, death date unknown) was the queen of the Palmyrene Empire who challenged the authority of Rome during the latter part of the period of Roman history known as The Crisis of the Third Century (235-284 CE). This period, also known as The Imperial Crisis, was characterized by constant civil war, as different Roman generals fought for control of the empire. The crisis has been further noted by historians for widespread social unrest, economic instability and, most significantly, the dissolution of the empire, which broke into three separate regions: the Gallic Empire, the Roman Empire, and the Palmyrene Empire.

Contrary to popular assertions, Zenobia never led a revolt against Rome, may never have been paraded through Rome’s streets in chains, and was almost certainly not executed by the emperor Aurelian (reigned 270-275 CE). Ancient sources on her life and reign are the historian Zosimus (c. 490 CE), the Historia Augusta (c. 4th century CE), the historian Zonaras (12th century CE), and historian Al-Tabari (839-923 CE) whose account follows that of Adi ibn Zayd (6th century CE) although she is also mentioned in the Talmud and by other writers.

While all of these sources maintain that Queen Zenobia of Palmyra challenged the authority of Rome, none of them characterize her actions as an outright rebellion. This view of her reign, of course, depends on one’s definition of “rebellion”. While she was careful not to engage Rome directly in military conflict, it is clear she increasingly disregarded Roman authority in establishing herself as the legitimate monarch of the east. ….

Queen Zenobia of Palmyra is important to Johan Weststeijn, who would regard the Arabic version of her life as key to understanding the influences of the Book of Judith (“Zenobia of Palmyra and the Book of Judith: Common Motifs in Greek, Jewish, and Arabic Historiography”):

Here I argue that all the above questions can be answered if we take a third tradition into account, and not only look at the Bible and Greek historiography, but also at Arabic literature: in particular the Arabic version of the life of Zenobia, queen of Palmyra. Zenobia’s story is generally known from embellished accounts of her life in Greco-Roman history writing …. In the third century CE, after her husband the king was murdered at a banquet … (allegedly on her instigation …) the widow Zenobia ascends to the throne of the caravancity Palmyra. With the help of her sister Zaba … she declares herself independent from Rome, mints coins with her own image instead of that of the Roman emperor, and establishes Palmyran dominion over large parts of the Levant. In 273 CE, the emperor Aurelian lays siege to her city ….

Although Johan Weststeijn would not consider the Book of Judith to be the Vorlage for the stories of Zenobia – or Sinon of the Aeneid whom we met earlier – his above account of Zenobia, with whom he will compare Judith, is already starting to read (even somewhat monotonously) like those modern projections of Judith the Simeonite, e.g. the C10th AD Queen Gudit (or Judith), as discussed in my article:

World Renowned Judith of Bethulia

“… the king was murdered at a banquet …”

In the Book of Judith, Holofernes was slain at a banquet.

“… allegedly on her instigation”

Judith personally did the slaying.

“With the help of her sister …”

Judith was assisted only by her maid.

“…the emperor Aurelian lays siege to her city”

Holofernes laid siege to Judith’s city of Bethulia.

Whilst, unlike in the Book of Judith, the besieger is successful: “In 273 CE, the emperor Aurelian, destroys [her city], and leads Zenobia in captivity to Rome”, Arabic versions tell a different story according to Johan Weststeijn:

In medieval Arabic historiography, a different, even more legendary account of [Zenobia’s] life can be found. In this Arabic version, the Romans play only a very minor part or are not mentioned at all: it is a revenge tale of blood feud between Arab tribes. The Arab queen Zenobia (al-Zabbā’) is killed and her city destroyed not by Romans but by Iraqi Arabs. The oldest more or less complete version of this Arabic Zenobia Legend is found in the History of Prophets and Kings, a universal history by the famous tenth-century historian Tabari. …. Tabari’s chronicle appears to contain many quotations from earlier Arabic works which have been lost in all likelihood, the account of Zenobia’s life contained in his work is older than the tenth century. ….

Johan Weststeijn now comes to what he believes to be the crux of the matter – though I myself would hardly rate the chances of mixed and garbled versions of Queen Zenobia providing telling insights into the Book of Judith:

A comparison of the book of Judith with this Arabic Zenobia Legend provides better insight in the possible relationship between Judith and Greek historiography. On the basis of a comparison of these two stories with each other and with a number of selections from Greco-Roman epic and history writing, I will show that they all belong to a genre of Near Eastern tales about stratagems for the capture and defence of cities. The stories selected here deal in particular with the ‘fake defector’ stratagem: a member of one of the two enemy camps, either from the besiegers or from the defenders, defects to the other side. This desertion, however, is mere pretence, and only intended to deceive the enemy leader and gain his trust. The alleged defector secretly remains working for his own side. Here I will deal with such stratagems as they are found in stories about the sieges of Troy, Babylon, the fictional Levantine city Bethulia [sic], and Palmyra.

For the non “fictional” geography of the Book of Judith, and the possible location of Bethulia, see my series of articles:

Judith’s City of ‘Bethulia’. Part One: Setting the Campaign Scene

Judith’s City of ‘Bethulia’. Part One (ii): Salem Important

Judith’s City of ‘Bethulia’. Part Two (i): Probably not Mithilia (Mesilieh)


Culture Actuelle

par Joshua J. Mark Historia Augusta (grande histoire) est un ouvrage Latin du IVe siècle qui relate la vie des empereurs romains de 117-285 ec. Même si aujourd'hui le travail est reconnu comme largement fictive (certains chercheurs lui donnant même l'étiquette de « romans historiques »), il a été jugé fiable histoire en son temps et pendant de nombreux siècles par la suite. Le célèbre historien Edward Gibbon (1737-1794 CE) accepté comme un témoignage authentique de l'histoire romaine antique et s'est appuyé largement sur elle dans son ouvrage en six volumes l'histoire de la décadence et la chute de la l' Empire romain qui, comme Historia Augusta, est largement considéré comme inexactes dans les temps modernes. Deux de ces œuvres, cependant, avaient des répercussions importantes sur les auditoires qui lire ou les entendre lire. Plutôt que de l'égard Historia Augusta comme en grande partie fictif, il serait peut-être mieux de l'examiner sous le même angle que l'un serait le genre de la littérature ancienne Mésopotamie naru. Naru littérature commence à apparaître autour du deuxième millénaire avant notre ère en Mésopotamie et se caractérise par des histoires mettant en vedette un personnage bien connu du passé (habituellement un roi) comme le personnage principal dans un récit quasi historique, qui, soit vanté les prouesses militaires du roi, raconté l'histoire de sa vie et règne, ou, plus souvent, utilisé le roi pour illustrer la bonne relation entre les êtres humains et les dieux. Le personnage principal (roi) a toujours été un personnage historique réel, mais l'histoire est fictive ou inclinées de manière particulière afin d'obtenir une impression désirée.


Parallel Lives, Also BC Afterglows In AD

Damien F. Mackey

“A comparison of the book of Judith with this Arabic Zenobia Legend provides better insight in the possible relationship between Judith and Greek historiography”.

Johan Weststeijn

Accounts of Zenobia of Palmyra differ greatly, but they would agree on placing her in the C3rd AD. According to the Ancient History Encyclopedia: https://www.ancient.eu/zenobia/

Zenobia (born c. 240 CE, death date unknown) was the queen of the Palmyrene Empire who challenged the authority of Rome during the latter part of the period of Roman history known as The Crisis of the Third Century (235-284 CE). This period, also known as The Imperial Crisis, was characterized by constant civil war, as different Roman generals fought for control of the empire. The crisis has been further noted by historians for widespread social unrest, economic instability and, most significantly, the dissolution of the empire, which broke into three separate regions: the Gallic Empire, the Roman Empire, and the Palmyrene Empire.

Contrary to popular assertions, Zenobia never led a revolt against Rome, may never have been paraded through Rome’s streets in chains, and was almost certainly not executed by the emperor Aurelian (reigned 270-275 CE). Ancient sources on her life and reign are the historian Zosimus (c. 490 CE), the Historia Augusta (c. 4th century CE), the historian Zonaras (12th century CE), and historian Al-Tabari (839-923 CE) whose account follows that of Adi ibn Zayd (6th century CE) although she is also mentioned in the Talmud and by other writers.

While all of these sources maintain that Queen Zenobia of Palmyra challenged the authority of Rome, none of them characterize her actions as an outright rebellion. This view of her reign, of course, depends on one’s definition of “rebellion”. While she was careful not to engage Rome directly in military conflict, it is clear she increasingly disregarded Roman authority in establishing herself as the legitimate monarch of the east. ….

Queen Zenobia of Palmyra is important to Johan Weststeijn, who would regard the Arabic version of her life as key to understanding the influences of the Book of Judith (“Zenobia of Palmyra and the Book of Judith: Common Motifs in Greek, Jewish, and Arabic Historiography”):

Here I argue that all the above questions can be answered if we take a third tradition into account, and not only look at the Bible and Greek historiography, but also at Arabic literature: in particular the Arabic version of the life of Zenobia, queen of Palmyra. Zenobia’s story is generally known from embellished accounts of her life in Greco-Roman history writing …. In the third century CE, after her husband the king was murdered at a banquet … (allegedly on her instigation …) the widow Zenobia ascends to the throne of the caravancity Palmyra. With the help of her sister Zaba … she declares herself independent from Rome, mints coins with her own image instead of that of the Roman emperor, and establishes Palmyran dominion over large parts of the Levant. In 273 CE, the emperor Aurelian lays siege to her city ….

Although Johan Weststeijn would not consider the Book of Judith to be the Vorlage for the stories of Zenobia – or Sinon of the Aeneid whom we met earlier – his above account of Zenobia, with whom he will compare Judith, is already starting to read (even somewhat monotonously) like those modern projections of Judith the Simeonite, e.g. the C10th AD Queen Gudit (or Judith), as discussed in my article:

World Renowned Judith of Bethulia

“… the king was murdered at a banquet …”

In the Book of Judith, Holofernes was slain at a banquet.

“… allegedly on her instigation”

Judith personally did the slaying.

“With the help of her sister …”

Judith was assisted only by her maid.

“…the emperor Aurelian lays siege to her city”

Holofernes laid siege to Judith’s city of Bethulia.

Whilst, unlike in the Book of Judith, the besieger is successful: “In 273 CE, the emperor Aurelian, destroys [her city], and leads Zenobia in captivity to Rome”, Arabic versions tell a different story according to Johan Weststeijn:

In medieval Arabic historiography, a different, even more legendary account of [Zenobia’s] life can be found. In this Arabic version, the Romans play only a very minor part or are not mentioned at all: it is a revenge tale of blood feud between Arab tribes. The Arab queen Zenobia (al-Zabbā’) is killed and her city destroyed not by Romans but by Iraqi Arabs. The oldest more or less complete version of this Arabic Zenobia Legend is found in the History of Prophets and Kings, a universal history by the famous tenth-century historian Tabari. …. Tabari’s chronicle appears to contain many quotations from earlier Arabic works which have been lost in all likelihood, the account of Zenobia’s life contained in his work is older than the tenth century. ….

Johan Weststeijn now comes to what he believes to be the crux of the matter – though I myself would hardly rate the chances of mixed and garbled versions of Queen Zenobia providing telling insights into the Book of Judith:

A comparison of the book of Judith with this Arabic Zenobia Legend provides better insight in the possible relationship between Judith and Greek historiography. On the basis of a comparison of these two stories with each other and with a number of selections from Greco-Roman epic and history writing, I will show that they all belong to a genre of Near Eastern tales about stratagems for the capture and defence of cities. The stories selected here deal in particular with the ‘fake defector’ stratagem: a member of one of the two enemy camps, either from the besiegers or from the defenders, defects to the other side. This desertion, however, is mere pretence, and only intended to deceive the enemy leader and gain his trust. The alleged defector secretly remains working for his own side. Here I will deal with such stratagems as they are found in stories about the sieges of Troy, Babylon, the fictional Levantine city Bethulia [sic], and Palmyra.

For the non “fictional” geography of the Book of Judith, and the possible location of Bethulia, see my series of articles:

Judith’s City of ‘Bethulia’. Part One: Setting the Campaign Scene

Judith’s City of ‘Bethulia’. Part One (ii): Salem Important

Judith’s City of ‘Bethulia’. Part Two (i): Probably not Mithilia (Mesilieh)