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Women's History Zenobia by Sue M. Sefsci Zenobia was a third-century queen of Palmyra, a "warrior queen.

" Zenobia led her people in a war against Rome, much li e Boudica did in England. Zenobia appears to have been an Arab, although she may have had many other dashes of blood in her, including Aramaean. Palmyrene inscriptions are found in the Gree , Latin and Aramaic languages. Although Zenobia claimed to have been a descendent of Cleopatra (of Egypt), there appears to be no concrete evidence of that. She did, however, now the Egyptian language and had a strong predisposition towards the Egyptian culture. Her mother may have been Egyptian. By associating herself with a past, glorious woman warrior, Zenobia understood the power of good public relations. Zenobia did indeed come from a long history of fabulous Syrian and Abyssinian queens, including the Queen of Sheba. The Assyrian records spea of troublesome Arab queens such as Zabibi, who revolted but was finally subjugated in 738 B.C. Through the years, many powerful queens ruled, both through their husbands and for their offspring. Julia Maesa ruled for her son the Emperor Alexander and accompanied him on a campaign in 234 A.D. Graphic 2001 Even 100 years after Zenobia's disappearance, those mighty women warriors continued to rule. For example, there was another Syrian Arab queen named Mawai who rode at the head of her army. She led troops into Phoenicia and Palestine, ravaged the land to the frontiers of Egypt and defeated the Roman army. This riding into battle was an important element for Zenobia's success. A woman's presence at a battle is an inspiration (rather li e a goddess figure) common to the Arabs, in the pre-Islamic tradition of the Lady of Victory. This Lady of Victory, her hair flowing and her body party exposed, appealed to valor and passion. Zenobia's career was also influenced by the geographical situation of Palmyra, halfway between two mighty and contending empires, one of which was Rome. Zenobia came from a complex civilization, which had been deeply affected by Rome. In approximately 114 A. D., Palmyra had become part of the Roman Empire, although the Emperor Hadrian allowed the city considerable liberty which enabled Rome to benefit from its renown archers as defenders of his frontier against the Parthians. At the beginning of the third century, Emperior Septimius Severus made Palmyra into a colony and allowed an elected senate to manage its business; many Palmyrenes began adding Roman names to their Semitic ones. Palmyra was not a remote Bedouin outpost! No, it was a vital trading lin to the Mediterrean cities of Phoenicia, Emesa (now nown as Homs in Western Syria), Damascus and to Egypt itself. These trading routes provided much money to those in Palmyra and the people became very wealthy. However, the collapse of the Parthian Empire and the Sassanids ta ing the throne of Persia in 227 A.D. ended this prosperous status quo. It was under these circumstances, in 258 A.D., that Zenobia's husband, Odainat, became a Roman consul. Two years later, the Roman emperor, Valerian was held captive by Sapor I

of Persia and was

illed. Odainat too to the field with his archers

and the cavalry of the desert Arabs. Zenobia was at his side on horsebac . Graphic 2001 Many conquests were had, including possibly the magnificent treasure of the Persian Emperor. The historians of her era said she was "the better man of the two." Although there is no proof that Zenobia was more courageous than Odainat, she was more rec less. Her voice was clear and manly, useful for rallying the troops. She could wal with her foot soldiers three or four miles. She could drin with the boys; but she was never intoxicated. Those self same historians claimed a certain virginity of Zenobia, never allowing her husband to lay with her unless she could get pregnant. Ben Jonson writes of her in his "Masque of Queenes" in 1610, and includes an illustration showing her "chaste" in her helmet with long curling hair flowing beneath it, including one exposed breast. This Chaste Syndrome sits well with a puritanical picture of the warrior queen, the pure figurehead, her holy virginity equated with the holiness of her cause. (Very similar to Queen Elizabeth of England.) Her husband and his heir to the throne, Hairan, was assassinated. Zenobia had to assume the regency of Palmyra on behalf of her son. Her immediate reaction to her new position was a savage attac against Egypt, ta ing advantage that the Roman Empire was hard-pressed in Northern Italy by the Goths. By 269, she had secured most of the country; at the same time, Zenobia annexed most of Syria to her ingdom. Within a few years of ta ing control, she had carved out a vast empire for formerly tiny Palmyra; from Egypt in the south to the Bosphorus in the north. She then declared herself formally independent of Rome. She controlled many vital trade routes; she ruled with a tolerance, especially towards the Jews of Alexandria. She established relations with the Christian Bishop of Antioch. The final sling against Rome was the minting of Palmyrene money with her li eness on it. Drawing the ire of Rome could not continue unabated; the Emperor Aurelian's first tas was to secure the reconquest of Egypt, which was fairly simple. The next campaign too Aurelian to An ara which, again, was a simple conquest. The Palmyrene Queen had overextended herself. The Palmyrenes decided to ma e their stand at the Orontes River, just outside Antioch. The two armies were equally matched, unli e the former two Roman reconquests. Zenobia was seen galloping alongside her troops, transmitting orders. At that point, the Romans pretended to flee, luring the Palmyrenes onward until both men and horses were thoroughly tired. As a result, the cavalry was cut off and underwent a horrible slaughter. Zenobia fell bac to Emesa, and it was here her "last battle" too place. She had approximately 70,000 men left as did Aurelian. In those days, this was a very large army/battle indeed. In the end the Palmyrenes were no match for the seasoned Roman legionaries. But Zenobia herself was not captured; she fell bac to Palmyra, which

was approximately 100 miles across the desert from the battle. Aurelian followed her; laying siege to the city, he finally "conquered" her city. But still not Zenobia herself. Instead, she snea ed out of the beleaguered city, under dar ness, riding a female camel. She got as far as the Euphrates River. Here, she was finally captured, either recognized or betrayed. Facing Aurelian, she demanded immunity on the grounds of being a woman. It is here at the history of Zenobia becomes vague. One historian claims she committed suicide, much li e her hero, Cleopatra. However, other evidence suggests that she reached Rome safely where she was made to wal in the Emperor's triumph. Together with the defeated Goths, Amazon women, and Vandals, wal ed Zenobia, who had disdained riding in her chariot. She was shac led by golden chains and strode defiantly. Zenobia, the great survivor, thereafter built herself a new life. She seems to have married a Roman governor and retired to a villa near Tivoli. There was a fifth century bishop of Florence, Zenobius, who may have gotten his name from his ancestor. Zenobia Bat Zabdai, Bath-Zabbay, Zainab Queen Zenobia Ruler of Palmyra, 267-272 CE Born: ? Died: 272 CE Heritage: Syrian Arabic Faith: Allath Father: ? Mother: ? Spouse: Odenathus Children: son: Wahab-Allath QUICK SKETCH Zenobia; Queen of Palmyra. Her Romanized name was Septimia Bathzabbai, and she reigned from 267/8 - 272 for her infant son. She was given a Gree education by the philosopher Longinus. In a short time she established a large ingdom, comprising Syria and Asia Minor. Her ingdom was a threat to Rome, and Aurelianus and his general, the later Emperor Probus, conquered it. Zenobia was paraded in Aurelianus' triumph in 274, then spent the rest of her life in a villa in Tibur. To satisfy her personal ambition, she had sacrificed her small but prosperous country. PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION Zenobia was described as a lovely woman, of dar complexion, as would be normal in the Syrian part of the world. Her teeth were pearly-white, with large, blac eyes that spar led. The large eyes imply that she had small, finely chiseled features, well modeled and attractive. She equaled in beauty Egypt s Cleopatra, whom she considered an ancestor. She claimed direct descent from the Macedonian ings, of Egypt and the Macedonian homeland. While Zenobia claimed Cleopatra as an ancestor, she far exceeded her in chastity and valor. She did not resort to feminine ploys to gain her ends; she earned the

herself with regal dignity, both during her husband s reign and during her own time of rule. On state occasions she wore the purple of the ruling class, the robe fringed with precious gems and with golden ornaments about her waist. One arm was left bare to the shoulder, and while riding in her gem encrusted carriage, she wore a helmet.

right to rule in her

nowledge and bearing, and especially daring. She conducted

During her rule, she expected to be greeted with Persian prostration, common in the Near East. Her voice reflected confidence, yet remained pleasant to the ear. Under the court philosopher Longinus, she studied the ways of politics, and of men. She learned several languages, among them Latin, Gree and Egyptian, as well as Arabic and Aramaic dialects from nearby. She patronized Gree ways, modeled herself after a proper Gree matron, and even wrote a history of her beloved East. During her travels with her husband, she inured herself to fatigue, refused a covered carriage and rode a horse in military dress. Often she marched several miles at the head of the column of soldiers without complaint. All this won her the respect of the troops, and insured that they would be loyal. Zenobia was esteemed the most lovely as well as the most heroic of her sex, tempered by the most attractive sweetness. She remains to this day a heroine of Syria. HISTORY, pre- 267 CE Zenobia s husband, Odenathus, was a Syrian nobleman who earned his way up the ran s to become ruler of Palmyra. He was an excellent ruler, and soon a hero in his city, while Zenobia shared in his enthusiasm for bravery and sport. They both spent their free time in pursuit of lion and panther, or bear, and his over-all success was in part ascribed to Zenobia s prudence and fortitude. Their victories over the Persian King, whom they twice pursued as far as the gates of Ctesiphon, laid the foundations of their united fame and power. The armies which they commanded ac nowledged them as ruler and invincible chief. When the Emperor Valerian was conquered and illed by the Persians, Valerians son would do nothing, so Odenathus pulled together an army and avenged Rome s honor. He went on to ta e the entire province of Mesopotamia. The senate and people of Rome revered a stranger who had avenged their captive emperor, and even the insensible son of Valerian accepted Odenathus for his legitimate colleague. Odenathus was recognized by Rome as leader of Palmyra and, subject to the Roman Emperor Gallienus, ruler of the Eastern Empire. This was the heyday of the great city of Palmyra, built at an oasis on the trade-route between Syria and Babylon. That Odenathus was murdered we are sure; but there are two versions. One that he was assassinated by a nephew, Maeonius, for an embarrassing punishment. The other that he was poisoned at Emessa after a brilliant campaign. In either case, the murderer was punished, and Zenobia became a worthy supreme ruler. Odaynath was eclipsed by his ambitious and beautiful widow, who ruled after him in the name of her minor son Wahab-Allath. Zenobia, Bath-Zabbay of the Palmyrene inscriptions ("daughter of the gift"), the semi-legendary al-Zabba of Arabic sources, was li e her husband of hardy but agile frame, devoted to hunting and riding. HISTORY, 267-272 CE Under Zenobia the Palmyrene state extended over Syria, part of Asia Minor and northern Arabia. In 270 her general Zabda marched into Egypt, dispossessed a usurper and established a garrison in Alexandria. As she gained an empire, she lost her better judgement. She minted coins with her son Wahab and Emperor Aurelian both on the coin. Then she minted them without the Emperor. It was then a short step before she declared her son " ing of ings", which in the Middle East means Rome was no longer accepted as supreme ruler. The Emperor Aurelian was aware, and was being badgered to do something about that "woman in the East". Before Aurelian began his campaign, Zenobia s two generals Sabda and Zabbay penetrated into and too Asia Minor as far as An ara. However, Emperor Aurelian had resolved his problems in the west with Tetricus, and now entered Asia. He accepted the surrender of An ara, laid siege to Tyana, which his soldiers almost destroyed; found Antioch deserted, and pushed on to Emesa. During this rapid push, he went to great pains not to antagonize the

native Arabs with brutal slaughter. By the time Aurelian reached Emesa, the locals were aware which side would be the winner, and no longer resisted. Zenobia was forced to ta er her army into the field near Emesa to stop Aurelian, or ris having to fight in her own Palmyra. And here is where the Romans proved the advantage of discipline and experience. The Arab tribes with a hit-and-run war, fell before the ponderous Roman machine, twice at Emesa, and finally at Palmyra. Zenobia saw her downfall and fled by camel to the Persians; she made it to the Euphrates, 60 miles from Palmyra, before being captured, chained and dragged bac to Aurelian. Here Cleopatra, her historic idol, outdid her in personal valor; Cleopatra committed suicide. The people of Palmyra were well treated although they were plundered totally. All the wealth and riches were carried bac to Emesa and there split and fought over. Being quizzed by Aurelian as to why she thought to rebel against Rome, Zenobia slipped off her pedestal, and passed the blame to her advisors. She blamed Sabda and Zabbay for coercing her into rebellion, and even the philosopher Longinus shared in the blame. They went to the executioner without complaint, while Zenobia was carried to Rome to star in the Triumph given Aurelius. HISTORY, after 272 CE The populace of Palmyra was punished only to the extent of the imposition of a fine and a Roman governor with a body of archers. In late 272, Aurelian heard of a fresh uprising in Palmyra resulting in the murder of his governor and the overpowering of its garrison. He rushed bac , too the city by surprise, destroyed it and put its inhabitants to the sword. Zenobia was ta en to Rome with one son. Loaded with jewels and led by golden chains, she was made to grace the triumphal entry of Aurelian into his capital in 274 CE. The emperor presented Zenobia with an elegant villa at Tibur or Tivoli, about twenty miles from the capital; the Syrian queen became a Roman matron, her daughters married into noble families, and her race was not yet extinct in the 5th century. Unfortunately, ambition had prompted her to usurp the high sounding title 'Queen of the East'. But Rome could broo no rival. Her army was defeated, her desert city laid in ashes, and she herself in fetters to grace the victor's triumph. Palmyra too the punishment for Zenobia s misplaced ambitions.

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