Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Zenobia Queen of Palmyra (c 231 CE-c 271 CE)

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Zenobia (or Xenobia) is the name commonly used for the daughter of (= bat or bath) Zabaai ben Selim. The widow of Septimius Odenathus, she reigned as Queen of Palmyra from 267 to 272 as regent for her infant son Vaballathus. Something of a militant, she embarked on a campaign of conquests that eventually saw her as the ruler of much of Syria and Asia Minor. By playing off Persia to the east against Rome to the west, she hoped to dominate them both.

In 269, she crushed an Egyptian who challenged Roman rule and proclaimed herself Queen of Egypt. She had always claimed to be descended from Cleopatra VII of Egypt, and many modern historians believe she was. The Roman emperor Aurelian led a military campaign that resulted in the conquest of her kingdom in 272. Zenobia was captured and paraded wearing gold chains in Aurelian's Triumph (274). She was granted a villa in Tibur (now Tivoli, Italy), where she spent the rest of her life as a philosopher and socialite. Some historians (ancient and modern) believe she married a Roman senator and that they had children, so the line continued at least into the 4th century.

Beloved (1983) was a best-selling historical romance about Zenobia written by Beatrice Small.

Detailed Biography

Queen of Palmyra, one of the heroines of Antiquity. Her native name was Septimia Bath-zabbai, a name also borne by one of her generals, Septimius Zabbai. This remarkable woman, famed for her beauty, her masculine energy and unusual powers of mind, was well fitted to be the consort of Odainatti in his proud position as Dux Orientis; during his lifetime she actively seconded his policy, and after his death in A.D. 266-7 she not only succeeded to his position but determined to surpass it and make Palmyra mistress of the Roman Empire in the East. Wahab-allath or Athenodorus (as the name was Graecized), her son by Odainath, being still a boy, she took the reins of government into her own hands. Under her general-in-chief Zabda, the Palmyrenes occupied Egypt in A.D. 270, not without a struggle, under the pretext of restoring it to Rome; and Wahab-allath governed Egypt in the reign of Claudius as joint ruler with the title of king, while Zenobia herself was styled queen. In Asia Minor Palmyrene garrisons were established as far west as Ancyra in Galatia and Chalcedon opposite Byzantium, and Zenobia still professed to be acting in the interests of the Roman rule. In his coins struck at Alexandria in A.D. 270 Wahab-allath is named along with Aurelian, but the title of Augustus is given only to the latter; a Greek inscription from Byblos, however, mentions Aurelian (or his predecessor Claudius) and Zenobia together as Augustus and Augusta. When Aurelian became emperor in 270 he quickly realized that the policy of the Palmyrene queen was endangering the unity of the empire. It was not long before all disguises were thrown off; in Egypt Wahab-allath began to issue coins without the head of Aurelian and bearing the imperial title, and Zenobia's coins bear the same. The assumption marked the rejection of all allegiance to Rome. Aurelian instantly took measures; Egypt was recovered for the Empire by Probus (close of 270), and the emperor himself prepared a great expedition into Asia Minor and Syria. Towards the end of 271 he marched through Asia Minor and, overthrowing the Palmyrene garrisons in Chalcedon, Ancyra and Tyana, he reached Antioch, where the main Palmyrene army under Zabda and Zabbai, with Zenobia herself, attempted to oppose his way. The attempt, however, proved unsuccessful, and after suffering considerable losses the Palmyrenes retired in the direction of Emesa (now Horns), whence the road lay open to their native city. The queen refused to yield to Aurelian's demand for surrender, and drew up her army at Emesa for the battle which was to decide her fate. In the end she was defeated, and there was nothing for it but to fall back upon Palmyra across the desert. Thither Aurelian followed her in spite of the difficulties of transport, and laid siege to the well-fortified and provisioned city. At the critical moment the queen's courage seems to have failed her; she and her son fled from the city to seek help from the Persian king; they were captured on the bank of the Euphrates.

Among the traditions relating to Zenobia may be mentioned that of her discussions with the Archbishop Paul of Samosata on matters of religion. It is probable that she treated the Jews in Palmyra with favour; she is referred to in the Talmud, as protecting Jewish rabbis. The well-known account of Zenobia by Gibbon (Decline and Fall, i. pp. 302-312 Bury's edition) is based upon the imperial biographers (Historia Augusta) and cannot be regarded as strictly historical in detail. An obscure and distorted tradition of Zenobia as an Arab queen survived in the Arabian story of Zabba, daughter of Amr b. Zarib, whose name is associated with Tadmor and with a town on the right bank of the Euphrates, which is no doubt the Zenobia of which Procopius speaks as founded by the famous queen. [This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License and uses material adapted in whole or in part from the Wikipedia article on Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra and Encyclopedia Britannica (1911).]


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