Eumenis Megalopoulos | Sep 25, 2023

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Zenobia (romaniz.: Bat-Zabbai; Arabic: الزباء; romaniz.: al-Zabbā'; ca. 240 - after 274) was a 3rd-century queen of the Empire of Palmyra. Many legends surround her ancestry; she was probably not a commoner and married the ruler of the city, Odenatus (r. 252-267). Her husband became king in 260, elevating Palmira to supreme power in the Near East by defeating the Sassanid Empire and re-establishing the eastern border of the Roman Empire. After Odenatus' assassination in 267, Zenobia became regent for her son Vabalato and effectively retained power throughout her reign.

In 270, he launched an invasion that brought much of the Roman east under his control and culminated in the annexation of Egypt. By mid-271, his kingdom extended from Ancira in central Anatolia to southern Egypt, but remained nominally subordinate to Rome. However, in reaction to Emperor Aurelian's campaign (r. 270-275) in 272, Zenobia declared her son emperor and assumed the title of empress (the queen was besieged in her capital and captured by Aurelian, who exiled her to Rome where she remained for the rest of her life. After her defeat, the Palmirenes tried to reestablish the autonomy of Palmyra by appointing her son Seventh Antiochus in an unsuccessful coup.

Zenobia was cultured and promoted an intellectual environment at her court, open to scholars and philosophers. She was tolerant of her subjects and protected religious minorities. The queen maintained a stable administration, ruling a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural empire. She died after 274 and many tales have been recorded about her fate. Her rise and fall have inspired historians, artists, and novelists, and she is a national heroine in Syria.

Zenobia was born ca. 240

In Palmyra, names such as Zabeida, Zabdila, Zabai or Zabda were commonly rendered into "Zenobio" (male) and "Zenobia" (female) when written in Greek. Historian Victor Duruy believed that the queen used the Greek name as a translation of her native name in deference to her Greek subjects. No contemporary statues of Zenobia have been found in Palmyra or other regions, only inscriptions on statue bases; many of the known depictions are idealized portraits found on coins. Palmirene sculptures were usually impersonal, like Greek and Roman ones: a statue of her would give a sense of her style in dress and jewelry, but would not reveal her true appearance. The British scholar William Wright visited Palmyra near the end of the 19th century in the vain search for a sculpture of the queen.

Besides the archaeological evidence, her life was recorded in different sources, but many are inaccurate or fabricated; the Historia Augusta, a late Roman collection of biographies, is the most notable (though unreliable) source of the period. The author (or authors) of the Historia Augusta invented many events and letters attributed to it in the absence of coetaneous sources. Nevertheless, some accounts of the Augustan History are corroborated by other sources and are more credible. The Byzantine chronicler John Zonaras (12th century) is seen as an important source to her life.

Palmirena society was an amalgam of Semitic tribes (as a palmirena, it would have had Aramaic-Arabic blood. Information about his ancestry and immediate family connections is scarce and contradictory. Nothing is known about his mother, and the identity of his father is debated. Manichean sources cite a "Nafixa," sister of the "queen of Palmyra," but these sources are confusing and Nafixa may refer to Zenobia: it is questionable whether she even had a sister. The Augustan History contains details of her early years, but its credibility is disputed. According to the source, the queen's hobby as a child was hunting. Apparently not being a commoner, she received an education appropriate for a noblewoman. According to the Augustan History, in addition to her native Aramaic-Palmirene language, she was fluent in Egyptian and Greek and spoke Latin. At the age of 14 (ca. 255), she became the second wife of the lord of Palmyra Odenato (r. 252-267).

Contemporary epigraphic evidence

Based on the archaeological evidence, several men have been suggested by historians as his father: Julius Aurelius Zenobius appears in a Palmyrrhenian inscription as the strategist of Palmyra in 231-232; based on the similarity of names, he was suggested as his father by the numismatist Alfred von Sallet and others. Another argument in favor of identifying Zenobius as his father is that his statue was opposite that of the queen in the Great Colonnade. However, the only gentilicium (her people's name) that appears in Zenobia's inscriptions is "Seventh" (not "Julia Aurelia," which she would have used if her father's gentilicium had been Aurelius), and it cannot be proven that she changed her gentilicium to Seventh after her marriage.

Based on his Palmyrian name, Bate-Zabai, his father might have been named Zabai; alternatively, Zabai may have been the name of a more distant ancestor. Historian Trevor Bryce suggests that she was related to Seventh Zabai, the garrison leader of Palmyra, who could have been her father. One of her inscriptions records her as "Seventh Bate-Zabai, daughter of Antiochus." The identity of Antiochus is not known with certainty: his ancestry is not recorded in local inscriptions, and the name was not common in the city. This, combined with the significance of his palmirene name, has led scholars like Harald Ingholt to speculate that Antiochus may have been a distant ancestor: the Seleucid king Antiochus IV or Antiochus VII, whose wife was the Ptolemaic Cleopatra Theia.

In Richard Stoneman's view, he would not have created an obscure ancestry to connect it with the ancient Macedonian kings: if a fabricated ancestry was necessary, a more direct connection would have been invented. For Stoneman, "I had reason to believe it was true. Historian Patricia Southern believes, noting that Antiochus was mentioned without royal title or suggestion of great lineage, that he was a direct ancestor or relative of a Seleucid king who lived three centuries earlier.

Old Sources

In the Historia Augusta, Zenobia appears as a descendant of Cleopatra and claims descent from the Ptolemies. According to the Suda, a 10th century Byzantine encyclopedia, after the Palmirene conquest of Egypt, the sophist Callinic of Petra wrote a 10-volume history of Alexandria dedicated to Cleopatra; according to modern scholars, by using the name Cleopatra, Callinic was referring to Zenobia. Aside from the legend, there is no evidence in Egyptian coinage or papyri of a contemporary confluence of Zenobia with Cleopatra; it may have been invented by enemies of Zenobia to discredit her. Zenobia's alleged claim of a connection to Cleopatra seems to have been politically motivated, as it would have given her a connection to Egypt and made her a legitimate successor to the throne of the Ptolemies. A relationship between Zenobia and the Ptolemies is unlikely, and attempts by classical sources to trace the queen's ancestry to the Ptolemies through the Seleucids are apocryphal.

Although some Arab historians have associated Zenobia with the Queen of Sheba, these are apocryphal accounts. Medieval Arab traditions have pointed to a palmirene queen named Alzaba, and her most romantic account comes from Tabari. According to Tabari, she was an Amalekite, daughter of Anre ibne Zaribe, an Amalekite sheik killed by the Tanukids. Tabari identifies a sister of Alzaba as "Zabiba". Jadima ibne Maleque, the Tanukid king who killed his father, was killed by Alzaba. According to Tabari, Alzaba had a fortress by the Euphrates and ruled over Palmyra. Tabari's account does not mention Romans, Odenat, Vabalat or the Sassanids; focusing on the tribes and their relations, it is steeped in legend. While the account is certainly based on the story of Zenobia, it probably conflates the story of a semi-legendary Arab queen (or queens). The fortress of Alzaba was probably Halabia, which was restored by the historic palmirena queen and named Zenobia.


In the first centuries after Christ, Palmyra was a subordinate city to the Roman Empire and part of the province of Phoenician Syria. In 260, the emperor Valerian (Valerian was defeated and captured near Edessa. Odenatus, formally loyal to Rome and the son of Valerian and emperor Galien (r. 253-260), launching fruitful campaigns against Persia, was crowned king of kings of the East in 263. Odenatus crowned his eldest son, Herodian, as co-governor. In addition to royal titles, Odenatus received many Roman titles, most notably corrector of the entire East (corrector totius orientis) and governor of the Roman territories from the Black Sea to Palestine. In 267, when Zenobia was in her late 20s or early 30s, Odenatus and Herodian were killed while returning from a campaign.

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

According to the Augustan History, Odenatus was murdered by a cousin named Meonius. In the work, Odenatus' son from his first marriage was named Herod and was crowned co-governor by his father. It alleges that Zenobia conspired with Meonius for a time, because she could not accept that her godson was his father's heir in front of his own children. The Augustan History does not suggest that Zenobia was involved in the events leading up to her husband's murder, and the crime is attributed to Meonius' moral degeneration and jealousy. The account, according to historian Alaric Watson, can be understood as fictional. Although some modern scholars suggest that Zenobia was involved in the murder due to political ambition and opposition to her husband's pro-Roman policies, she continued Odenatus' policies during his early years on the throne.


In Augustan History, Meonius was briefly emperor before he was killed by his soldiers, but no inscription or evidence exists for his reign. At the time of Odenatus' assassination, Zenobia may have been with him; according to the chronicler Jorge Sincelo, he was killed near Pontic Heracleia in Bithynia. The transfer of power seems to have been smooth, for Sincelo reports that at the time of the assassination the army took a day to give the crown to her. She could have been in Palmyra, but that would have lessened the likelihood of a smooth transition; the soldiers could choose one of her officers, and so the first scenario of her being with her husband seems more likely. The historical records are unanimous that she did not fight for supremacy, and there is no evidence of delay in transferring the throne to Zenobia's son Odenatus, the ten-year-old Vabalato. Although she never claimed government in her own right and acted as regent for her son, Zenobia held the reins of power in the kingdom, and Vabalato was kept in his mother's shadow, never exercising royal power.

The palmirene monarchy was new; obedience was based on loyalty to Odenato, making the transfer of power to a successor more difficult than it would have been in a stable monarchy. He tried to secure the future of the dynasty by crowning his eldest son as corei, but both were assassinated. Zenobia, left to secure the palmirene succession and maintain the loyalty of her subjects, emphasized continuity between her husband and her son and successor. Vabalato (with Zenobia orchestrating the process) immediately assumed his father's royal titles, and his earliest known inscription records him as king of kings.

Odenatus controlled a large area in the Roman East, and held the highest political and military authority in the region, surpassing the provincial governors. His self-created status was formalized by Galieno, who had little choice but to accept it. Odenatus' power relative to that of the emperor and the central authority was unprecedented and elastic, but relations remained smooth until his death. His assassination meant that the authority and position of the Palmyrene rulers had to be clarified, which led to a conflict over their interpretation. The Roman court saw Odenatus as an appointed Roman official who took his power from the emperor, but the palmirene court saw the position as hereditary. This conflict was the first step on the road to war between Rome and Palmyra.

Odenato's Roman titles, such as duke of the Romans, broker of the whole East, and emperor of the whole East differed from his Eastern titles in that Roman positions were not hereditary. Vabalato had a legitimate claim to his royal titles, but was not entitled to the Roman titles - especially broker (denoting a senior military and provincial commander in the Roman system), which Zenobia used for her son in her first known inscriptions with king of kings. Although the Roman emperors accepted royal succession, the assumption of Roman military rank antagonized the empire. The emperor Galiene may have decided to intervene in an attempt to regain central authority; according to the Augustan History, the Praetorian prefect Aurelius Heraclianus was sent to assert imperial authority over the East and was repulsed by the Palmyrene army. The account is dubious, as Heraclian participated in the assassination of Galieno in 268. Odenatus was assassinated soon after the emperor, and Heraclian would have been unable to be sent to the East, fight the palmirenes, and return to the West in time to be involved in the conspiracy against the emperor.

The extent of her territorial control during her early reign is debated; according to historian Fergus Millar, her authority was confined to Palmyra and Emessa by 270. If this was the case, the events of 270 (which led to Zenobia's conquest of the Levant and Egypt) are extraordinary. It is more likely that the queen ruled the territories controlled by her husband, a view supported by Southern and the historian Udo Hartmann, and corroborated by ancient sources (such as the Roman historian Eutropius, who wrote that she inherited her husband's power). The Augustan History also cited that she took control of the East in the reign of Galieno. Another evidence of expanded territorial control was the statement of the Byzantine historian Zosimus, who wrote that he had a residence in Antioch.

There is no recorded agitation against her after her ascension in hostile ancient sources, indicating no serious opposition to the new regime. 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. According to Hartmann, the governors and military leaders of the eastern provinces apparently recognized and supported Vabalato as Odenatus' successor. During the beginning of Zenobia's regency, he focused on safeguarding the borders with Persia and pacifying the Tanukids in Hauran. To protect the Persian borders, the queen fortified many settlements on the Euphrates, including the citadels of Halabia - later called Zenobia - and Zalabia. There is circumstantial evidence of clashes with the Persians; probably in 269, Vabalato took the victory title of Persian Maximus (this may be linked to an unrecorded battle against a Persian army trying to control northern Mesopotamia.

In 269, while Claudius Gothicus (Galien's 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 the queen's growing demands for loyalty. The timing and reason for her decision to use military force to strengthen her authority in the East are not certain; scholar Gary K. Young has suggested that Roman officials refused to recognize Palmyrene authority, and her expeditions were intended to maintain her dominance. Another factor may have been the weakness of the central authority and its corresponding inability to protect the provinces, probably convincing Zenobia that direct control was the only way to maintain stability in the East. Historian Jacques Schwartz linked the queen's actions to her desire to protect the economic interests of Palmyra, which were threatened by Rome's failure to protect the provinces. Also, according to Schwartz, economic interests conflicted; Bostra and Egypt received trade goods that would otherwise have passed through Palmyra. The Tanukids near Bostra and the merchants of Alexandria probably tried to get rid of Palmirene dominance, triggering a military response.

In the spring of 270, while Claudius was fighting the Goths in the mountains of Thrace, Zenobia sent her general Seventh Zabdas to Bostra (the queen's time seems intentional. In Arabia, the governor (duke) Trasso (head of the III Cyrenaic Legion), confronted the invaders and was pursued and killed. Zabdas sacked the city and destroyed the temple of Zeus Amon, the revered shrine of the legion. A Latin inscription made after the fall of Zenobia attests to the destruction: "The Temple of Jupiter Amon, destroyed by palmiren enemies, which rebuilt, with silver statue and iron gates (?)." The city of Umal Jimal may also have been destroyed by the palmirenes in connection with their effort to subdue the tanukids.

After his victory, Zabdas marched south along the Jordan valley and apparently encountered little opposition. There is evidence that Petra was attacked by a smaller contingent that penetrated the region. Arabia and Judea were subsequently subdued. Palmyra's control of Arabia is confirmed by many milliaries by the name of Vabalato. The subjugation of Syria required less effort, for Zenobia had substantial support there, particularly in Antioch, The invasion of Arabia coincided with the cessation of the production of coins in the name of Claudius by the mint of Antioch, indicating that Zenobia had arrogated its control over Syria. Around November 270, the mint began issuing coins in the name of Vabalat.

The Arabian miliaries present the palmirene king as a Roman governor and commander, referring to him as a clarion man, king, consul, emperor, and duke of the Romans. The assumption of such titles was probably intended to legitimize the queen's control in the province, not yet a usurpation of the imperial title. Until then, she could say that she was acting as Claudius' representative in securing the eastern provinces while he was fighting in Europe. Although Vabalato's use of the titles amounted to a claim to the imperial throne, Zenobia could still justify them and maintain a mask of subordination; an "emperor" was a commander of troops, not an equivalent to the monarch ("emperor Caesar").

The invasion of Egypt is sometimes explained by Zenobia's desire to secure an alternative route to the Euphrates, which was cut off due to the war with Persia. This theory ignores the fact that the Euphrates route was only partially disrupted, and neglects the queen's ambition. The date of the campaign is uncertain; Zosimus placed it after the Battle of Naissus and before Claudius' death, which occurred in the summer of 270. Watson, emphasizing the works of Zonaras and Sincelo and ignoring Zosimus' account, places the invasion in October 270 (after Claudius' death). According to Watson, the occupation of Egypt was an opportunistic move by Zenobia (who was encouraged by news of Claudius' death in August). The Palmyrene appearance on Egypt's eastern border would have contributed to unrest in the province, whose society was fractured; Zenobia had both sympathizers and opponents among local Egyptians.

The Roman position was worsened by the absence of the prefect of Egypt, Tenagino Probo, who was fighting pirates. According to Zosimus, the palmirenes were aided by the Egyptian general Timagenes; Zabdas moved through Egypt with 70 000 soldiers, defeating an army of 50 000 Romans. After his victory, he withdrew his main force and left a garrison of 5 000 soldiers. Tenagino Probo returned and assembled an army; he repulsed them and regained Alexandria, forcing Zabdas to return. The palmirene general aimed to invest against Alexandria, where he seems to have had local support; the city fell to Zabdas and the mayor fled south. The last battle took place at the Babylonian Fortress, where Tenagino Probo took refuge; the Romans had the upper hand, for they carefully chose the field. Timagenes, with his knowledge of the territory, ambushed the Roman rearguard; Tenagino Probo committed suicide, and Egypt became part of Palmyra. In the Augustan History, the Bohemians were among Zenobia's allies, and Gary K. Young cites the Bohemian attack and occupation of Coptic in 268 as evidence of a Palmyrene-Bohemian alliance.

Only Zosimus cited two invasions, contrasting with many scholars who argue for an initial invasion and no retreat (followed by a reinforcement, which took Alexandria in late 270). During the Egyptian campaign, Rome became entangled in a succession crisis between Claudius' brother, Quintilus, and the general Aurelian. Egyptian papyri and coins confirm Palmyrene rule in Egypt; the papyri stopped using the royal years of the emperors from September to November 270, due to the succession crisis. In December, the royal dating was reused, with the papyri using the royal years of Aurelian and Vabalato, while the coinage was issued in their names from November. There is no evidence that Zenobia even sold Egypt.

Although the operation may have begun with Zabdas' second-in-command, Seventh Zabai, the invasion of Asia Minor did not fully begin until Zabdas' arrival in the spring of 271. The Palmyrians had taken Galatia and, according to Zosimus, reached Ancira. Bithynia and the Scythian mint were beyond Zemnobia's control, and his attempts to capture Chalcedon failed. The campaign is poorly documented, but the western part of the region did not become part of the queen's authority; no coins with portraits of Zenobia and Vabalato were struck in the region, and no royal palmirene inscriptions were found. By August 271, Zabdas was in Palmyra, with the Empire of Palmyra at its zenith.

Zenobia ruled an empire of different peoples; as a palmirena, she was used to dealing with multilingual and multicultural diversity since she came from a city that embraced many cults. The queen's kingdom was culturally divided into Semitic and Eastern Hellenistic zones; Zenobia tried to appease the two and seems to have successfully appealed to the ethnic, cultural, and political groups in the region. The queen projected an image of a Syrian monarch, a Hellenistic queen, and a Roman empress, which gained wide support for her cause.

Zenobia turned her court into a center of learning, with many intellectuals and sophists reported in Palmyra during her reign. As scholars migrated to the city, they replaced classical centers of learning, such as Athens, with Syrians. The most celebrated court philosopher was Longinus, who arrived during Odenatus' reign and became Zenobia's tutor in paideia (aristocratic education). Many historians, including Zosimus, accused Longinus of influencing the queen to oppose Rome. This view presents the queen as malleable, but according to Southern, her actions "cannot be laid entirely at Longinus' door." Other intellectuals associated with the court included Nicostratus of Trapezo and Callinus of Petra.

From the 2nd or 4th century, Syrian intellectuals argued that Greek culture did not evolve in Greece, but was adapted from the Near East. According to Gamblico, the great Greek philosophers reused ideas from the Near East and Egypt. The Palmyrene court was possibly dominated by this school of thought, with an intellectual narrative presenting the local dynasty as a Roman imperial succeeding the Persian, Seleucid, and Ptolemaic rulers who controlled the region in which Hellenistic culture supposedly originated. Nicostratus wrote a history of the Roman Empire from Philip the Arab to Odenatus, presenting the latter as a legitimate imperial successor and contrasting his successes with the disastrous reigns of the emperors.

Zenobia headed in several restoration projects in Egypt. One of Memnon's colossi was known in antiquity for singing; the sound was probably due to cracks in the statue, with solar radiation interacting with dew in the cracks. Historian Glen Bowersock has proposed that the queen restored the colossus ("silencing" it), which would explain the reports of the singing in the 3rd century and its disappearance in the 4th.

The Palmirenes were pagans and worshiped some Semitic deities, with Bel as the main god. Zenobia accommodated Christians and Jews, and ancient sources made many claims about her beliefs; Manichean sources claimed she was one of them. It is more likely, however, that Zenobia tolerated all cults in an effort to attract support from groups marginalized by the Romans. Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria wrote that Zenobia did not "hand churches over to the Jews to turn them into synagogues"; although she was not a Christian, she understood the power of bishops in Christian communities. In Antioch - considered representative of the control of the East and containing a large Christian community - Zenobia apparently maintained authority over the Church by bringing influential clerics under her auspices, probably including Paul of Samosata. She may have granted Paul the position of ducenary (she apparently enjoyed the queen's protection, which helped him maintain the diocesan church after he was removed from his position as bishop of Antioch by a synod of bishops in 268.

Less than a century after her reign, Athanasius of Alexandria called her "Jewish" in his History of the Arians. In 391, Archbishop John Chrysostom wrote that Zenobia was Jewish, as did a Syriac chronicler around 664 and Bishop Bar Hebrew in the 13th century. According to French scholar Javier Teixidor, she was probably a proselyte; this explained her strained relationship with the rabbis. Teixidor believes that she became interested in Judaism when Longinus talked about the philosopher Porphyry and his interest in the Old Testament. Although Talmudic sources were hostile to Palmira, due to Odenate's suppression of the Jews in Neardeia, Zenobia apparently had the support of some Jewish communities (particularly in Alexandria). In Cairo, a plaque originally bearing an inscription confirming a grant of immunity to a Jewish synagogue in the last cartel of the 1st millennium BCE by King Ptolemy Evérgeta (I or II) was found.{ At a much later date, the plaque was reinscribed to celebrate the restoration of immunity "under orders of the queen and king." Although not dated, the letters on the inscription date from long after the era of Cleopatra and Mark Antony; Zenobia and her son are the only candidates for king and queen ruling Egypt after the Ptolemies.

Historian E. Mary Smallwood wrote that the good relations with the diaspora community did not mean that the Jews of Palestine were happy with Zenobia, and his government was apparently confronted in that region. The Terumote tells the story of Rabbi "Ami" and Rabbi "Samuel bar Namani" who visited her court and asked her to release a Jew (Zeir bar Hinena) detained under her orders. The queen refused, saying, "Why have you come to save him? He teaches that our creator performs miracles for you. Why not let God save him?" During Aurelian's destruction of Palmyra, Palestinian conscripts of "clubs and clubs" (possible Jews) played a vital role in Zenobia's defeat and the destruction of his city. Furthermore, there is no evidence of her birth as a Jewess; her family name and that of her husband belonged to the Aramaic onomastics. The queen's alleged patronage of Paul of Samosata (who was accused of "Judaizing"), may have given rise to the idea that she was a proselyte. Only Christian accounts note Zenobia's Judaism; no Jewish sources mention it.

The queen probably spent most of her reign in Antioch, the administrative capital of Syria. Prior to the monarchy, Palmyra had the institutions of a Greek city (polis) and was governed by a senate that was responsible for most civil matters. Odenate retained the institutions of Palmira, as did Zenobia; a Palmirene inscription after his fall records the name of the senator Seventh Hadudane. However, the queen apparently ruled autocratically; Seventh Vorodes, Odenate's viceroy and one of the most important Palmira officials, disappeared from the record after her ascension. The queen opened the doors of her rule to the eastern nobility. Her most important courtiers and advisors were her generals Seventh Zabdas and Seventh Zabai; both were generals under Odenatus and were given the gentry (surname) Seventh in their honor.

Odenatus respected the emperor's privilege to appoint provincial governors, and Zenobia continued this policy during her early reign. Although the queen did not interfere in day-to-day administration, she probably had the power to command the governors in organizing border security. During the rebellion, Zenobia maintained the Roman forms of administration, but appointed governors herself (most notably in Egypt, where Julius Marcellinus took power in 270 and was followed by Stacillus Ammianus in 271).

Zenobia initially avoided provoking Rome by claiming for herself and her son the titles, inherited from Odenatus, of subject of Rome and protector of her eastern frontier. After expanding her territory, she seems to have tried to be recognized as an imperial partner in the eastern half of the empire and introduced her son as a subordinate to the emperor. At the end of the year 270, he minted coins with the effigy of Aurelian and Vabalato; Aurelian was titled "emperor" and Vabalato "king." The year of reign on the earliest coins was only that of Aurelian. despite indicating Aurelian as the supreme monarch, naming him first on the dating formulas, the coinage also began to have the year of Vabalato's reign. By indicating on the coinage that Vabalato's reign began in 267 (three years before the emperor), it appeared to be Aurelian's earliest colleague.

The emperor's blessing of palmirene authority has been debated; Aurelian's acceptance of palmirene control of Egypt can be inferred from the Oxirrinco papyri dated in the reign years of the emperor and Vabalato. No evidence of formal agreement exists, and the evidence is based solely on the joint coinage and papyri. It is unlikely that Aurelian agreed to share power, but was unable to act in 271 due to the crises in the West. His apparent tolerance of Zenobia's actions may have been a ploy to give her a false sense of security as she prepared for war. Another reason for Aurelian's tolerance may have been his desire to ensure a steady supply of Egyptian grain to Rome; it is not recorded that the supply was cut off, and ships sailed to Rome in 270 as usual. Some modern scholars, such as Harold Mattingly, suggest that Claudius Gothic concluded a formal agreement with Zenobia that Aurelian ignored.

One inscription, found in Palmyra and dated August 271, calls her Eusebia (the title, used by Roman empresses, could be seen as a step by the queen toward an imperial title. Another coetaneous inscription called her sebaste, the Greek equivalent of empress (Latin: Augusta), but also recognized the Roman emperor. An Egyptian grain receipt from late 271 equated Aurelian and Vabalato, jointly calling them Augustos. Eventually, Palmyra officially broke with Rome, the mints of Alexandria and Antioch removed Aurelian's effigy from the coins in April 272, issuing new ones with the names Vabalato and Zenobia (which were called Augustus and Augusta, respectively).

Zenobia's use of imperial titles signaled a usurpation: independence and open rebellion against Aurelian. The timeline of events and why Zenobia declared herself empress is vague. Aurelian marched east, but was delayed by the Goths in the Balkans; this may have alarmed the queen, leading her to claim the imperial title. Zenobia also probably understood the inevitability of open conflict with Aurelian, and decided that feigning subordination would be futile and use of the imperial title to rally soldiers to her cause. Aurelian's campaign seems to have been the main reason for Palmyra's imperial declaration and the removal of his effigy from her coins.

The usurpation, which began in late March or early April 272, ended in August. Aurelian spent the winter of 271-272 in Byzantium, and probably crossed the Bosporus into Asia Minor in April. Galatia fell easily; the garrisons were apparently withdrawn, and the provincial capital of Ancira was regained without a fight. All the cities of Asia Minor opened their gates to the emperor, with only Tiana resisting before surrendering; this opened the way for Aurelian to invade Syria. A simultaneous expedition arrived in Egypt in May; by early June, Alexandria was captured by the Romans, followed by the rest of Egypt in the third week of June. Zenobia seems to have withdrawn most of his armies from Egypt to concentrate on Syria - which, if lost, would mean the end of Palmyra.

In May, Aurelian headed for Antioch. About 40 kilometers north of the city, he defeated the army of Palmyra (led by Zabdas) at the Battle of Imas. As a result, Zenobia, who waited in Antioch during the battle, retreated with his army to Emesa. To conceal the disaster and make his escape safer, he spread reports that Aurelian was captured; Zabdas found a man who resembled the emperor and displayed him through Antioch. The next day, Aurelian entered the city before marching south. After defeating a garrison of Palmyra, south of Antioch, Aurelian continued his march to meet Zenobia at the Battle of Emesa.

The Palmyrene army of 70,000 men, assembled on the plain of Emesa, nearly defeated the Romans. In an initial thrill of victory, they rushed their advance, breaking their lines and allowing the Roman infantry to attack their flank. The defeated Zenobia headed for her capital following the advice of her war council, leaving her treasure behind. In Palmyra, the queen prepared for a siege; Aurelian blocked the food supply routes, and there were probably unsuccessful negotiations. According to the Augustan History, Zenobia said she would fight Aurelian with the help of her Persian allies; however, the story was probably fabricated and used by the emperor to link her to Rome's greatest enemy. If such an alliance existed, a much larger frontier war would have erupted; however, no Persian army was sent. As the situation worsened, the queen left the city to Persia, intending to seek help from the ancient enemy of Palmyra; according to Zosimus, she rode a "female camel, the fastest of her race and faster than any horse."

Aurelian, aware of Zenobia's escape, sent a contingent that captured the queen before she could cross the Euphrates to Persia; Palmyra capitulated soon after news of the captivity reached the city in 272. Aurelian sent her and Vabalato to Emessa for trial, followed by most of Palmira's court elite (including Longinus). According to the Historia Augusta and Zósimo, Zenobia held her advisors responsible for her actions; however, there are no coetaneous sources describing the trial, only the later hostile Romans. The queen's reported cowardice in defeat was likely Aurelian's propaganda; it benefited the emperor to paint Zenobia as selfish and a traitor, discouraging the Palmyrians from hailing her as a heroine. Although Aurelian executed most of his prisoners, he spared the queen and her son to parade them in his planned triumph.

Her fate after Emessa is uncertain, since ancient historians have left conflicting accounts. Zosimus wrote that she died before crossing the Bosporus on her way to Rome; according to this account, the queen became ill or died of starvation. The generally unreliable chronicler John Malalas wrote that Aurelian humiliated Zenobia by parading her through the eastern cities on a dromedary; in Antioch, the emperor kept her chained and sitting on a dais in the hippodrome for three days in front of the townspeople. Malalas concluded his account by writing that Zenobia appeared at Aurelian's triumph and was then beheaded.

Most ancient historians and modern scholars agree that Zenobia was displayed at Aurelian's triumph in 274. Zosimus was the only source to say that the queen died before reaching Rome, making his account questionable. A public humiliation (as reported by Malalas) is a plausible scenario, since Aurelian would probably have wanted to publicize his suppression of the rebellion in Palmyra. Only Malalas, however, describes Zenobia's beheading; according to the other historians, her life was spared after the triumph. The Augustan History recorded that Aurelian gave Zenobia a villa on the Tiber, near Hadrian's Villa, where she lived with her children. Zonaras wrote that Zenobia married a nobleman and Sincelo married a senator. The house she supposedly occupied became a tourist attraction in Rome.

The queen owed her high position to the minority of her son. An inscription on a milestone between Palmyra and Emessa, dating from the beginning of Zenobia's reign, identifies her as "illustrious queen, mother of the king of kings"; this was the first inscription giving her an official position. An Antiochian leadership sign also identifies Zenobia as queen.

The earliest known attestation of Zenobia as queen in Palmyra is an inscription on the base of a statue erected for her by Zabdas and Zabai, dated August 271 and called "most illustrious and pious queen." On an undated marker found near Byblos, Zenobia is titled sebaste. The queen was never recognized as the sole monarch in Palmyra, although she was in fact the sovereign of the empire; she was always associated with her husband or son in inscriptions, except in Egypt (where some coins were struck in her name alone). According to her coins, the queen assumed the title Augusta (empress) in 272.

Besides Vabalato, he had other sons; the image of a child named Heranes II appears on a seal impression with that of his brother Vabalato; no mother's name was recorded and the seal is undated. Herodian, son of Odenatus, is identified by Udo Hartmann with Heranes I, a son of Odenatus who appears on palmirene inscriptions as early as 251. David S. Potter, on the other hand, has suggested that Heranes II is the son of Zenobia and that he was Herodian rather than Heranes I. Herenian and Timolaus were mentioned only in the Augustan History. Herenian may be a fusion of Heranes and Herodian; Timolaeus is probably an invention, although historian Dietmar Kienast has suggested that he might have been Vabalato. A controversial palmirene inscription records Seventh Antiochus, "the son of Zenobia." He may have been Vabalato's younger brother, or was presented that way for political reasons; Antiochus was proclaimed emperor in 273, when Palmyra revolted against Rome for the second time. If Antiochus was a son of Zenobia, he was probably a child not begotten by Odenatus; Zosimus described him as insignificant, appropriate for a five-year-old boy.

According to the Augustan History, the descendants of Zenobia were Roman nobles during the reign of Valente (r. 364-378). Eutropius and Jerome narrated that the queen's descendants were in Rome during the 4th and 5th centuries. They may have been the result of a reported marriage to a Roman spouse or son who accompanied her from Palmyra; both theories, however, are tentative. Zonaras is the only historian to mention that Zenobia had daughters; he wrote that one married Aurelian and that the other daughters were married to separate Romans. According to Southern, the emperor's marriage to Zenobia's daughter is an invention. Another claim of descent is the relationship of the saint Zenobius of Florence to the queen; the Girolami banking family claimed descent from the 5th century saint, and the alleged relationship was first noted in 1286. The family also extended their roots to Zenobia by claiming that the saint was descended from her.

An assessment of Zenobia is difficult; the queen was courageous when her husband's supremacy was threatened, and in taking the throne she protected the region from a power vacuum after Odenatus' death. For Watson, she did what Odenato left her: "brilliant display of strength." In his view, she should not be seen as total power, nor as an altruistic heroine fighting for a cause; for 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 Odenato, not just more ambitious."

Zenobia has inspired scholars, academics, musicians, and actors; her fame has remained in the West and is supreme in the Middle East. As a heroic queen with a tragic end, she stands alongside Cleopatra and Boudica. The legend of the queen has turned her into an idol, which can be reinterpreted to accommodate the needs of writers and historians; thus, she has sometimes been held up as a freedom fighter, heroine of the oppressed, and national symbol. The queen is a female role model; according to historian Michael Rostovtzeff, Catherine the Great liked to compare herself to Zenobia as a woman who created military power and an intellectual court. During the 1930s, thanks to a feminist press based in Egypt, she became an icon for female magazine readers in the Arabic-speaking world as a strong female nationalist leader.

Her most lasting legacy is in Syria, where the queen is a national symbol. She 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 titled Zenobia, Queen of Palmira (Zenobia malikat Tadmor). Syrian nationalist Ilyas Matar, who wrote the first history of Syria in Arabic in 1874, The Pearl Necklace in the History of the Syrian Kingdom (al-'Udd al-durriyya fi tarikh al-mamlaka al-Suriyya), was fascinated by Zenobia and included her in his book. For Matar, the queen aroused hope for a new Zenobia that would restore Syria's greatness. Another history of Syria was written by Jurji Yanni in 1881, in which Yanni called her the "daughter of the motherland" and longed for her "glorious past." Yanni described Aurelian as a tyrant who deprived Syria of her happiness and independence by capturing her queen.

In modern Syria, she is considered a heroine; her image appeared in banknotes, and in 1997 she was the subject of the television series The Anarchy (Al-Ababeed). The series was watched by millions in the Arab world and examined the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the Syrian point of view, where the queen's struggle symbolized the Palestinians' struggle to obtain the right of self-determination. Zenobia was also the subject of a biography by Mustafa Tlass, Syria's former defense minister and one of the country's most prominent figures.

Harold Mattingly called Zenobia "one of the most romantic figures in history." According to Southern, "The real Zenobia is indescribable, perhaps unattainable, and novelists, playwrights, and historians can absorb the available evidence but still must enter into varying degrees of speculation. It has been the subject of romantic and ideologically driven biographies by ancient and modern writers. The Historia Augusta is the clearest example of an ideological account of his life, and its author has acknowledged that it was written to criticize Galieno. According to the Augustan History, Galienus was weak because he allowed a woman to rule part of the empire and Zenobia was a more capable ruler than him. The narrative changed as the Augustan History progressed to the life of Claudius Gothicus, an emeritus and victorious emperor, with the author characterizing Zenobia's protection of the eastern frontier as a wise delegation of power by Claudius. When Augustan History caught up with Aurelian's biography, the author's view of Zenobia changed dramatically; the queen is portrayed as a proud, insolent, and guilty coward. Her wisdom was discredited and her actions considered the result of manipulation by advisors.

Her "convicting" beauty was emphasized by the author of the Historia Augusta, who attributed her femininity to timidity and inconsistency (the reasons to the alleged betrayal of her advisors to save herself). The queen's gender posed a dilemma to the Augustan History, since it cast a shadow over Aurelian's victory. Its author assigned her many masculine traits to make Aureliano a conquering hero who suppressed a dangerous Amazonian queen. According to the Historia Augusta, she had a clear, masculine voice, dressed as an emperor (instead of an empress), rode on horseback, 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 gender), and had masculine habits like hunting. Giovanni Boccaccio wrote a fanciful 14th century account of the queen, in which she was a Mary-boy who preferred fighting with boys, wandering through forests and killing goats to play as a little girl. Zenobia's chastity was a theme of these romanticized accounts; according to the Augustan History, she disdained sexual intercourse and allowed Odenatus to lie down only for her conception. Her reputed chastity impressed some male historians; Edward Gibbon wrote that she surpassed Cleopatra in chastity and valor. According to Boccaccio, she safeguarded her virginity when she fought with boys as a child.

Seventeenth-century visitors to Palmyra rekindled the Western world's romantic interest in Zenobia. This interest peaked in the mid-19th century, when Hester Stanhope visited Palmyra and wrote that her people treated her like a queen; she would have been greeted by singing and dancing, and Bedouin warriors stood on the columns of the city. A procession ended with a mock coronation of Stanhope under Palmira's arch as "queen of the desert." William Ware, fascinated by Zenobia, wrote a fanciful account of her life. Novelists and playwrights, such as Haley Elizabeth Garwood and Nick Dear, also wrote about the queen.


  1. Zenobia
  2. Zenóbia
  3. a b Dodgeon 2002, p. 73.
  4. ^ a b c d "Historia Augusta" - "Due Gallieni", 3.1.
  5. ^ Il marito discendeva dalla gens Septimia.
  6. ^ Mochi Sismondi, p. 27.
  7. ^ Pini, p. 177.
  8. Corpus Inscriptionum Semiticarum (CIS) II 3971.
  9. So z. B. Historia Augusta, Aurelian 38, 1.
  10. Historia Augusta, Aurelian 38, 1; Historia Augusta, Die dreißig Tyrannen 15, 2 u. ö.
  11. Zonaras 12, 27.
  12. Ball, Warwick. "Rome in the East" (Routledge, 2000).
  13. Dodgeon, Michael H.; Lieu, Samuel N. C. (1994). The Roman Eastern Frontier and the Persian Wars (AD 226-363): A Documentary History (en inglés). Psychology Press. ISBN 9780415103176. Consultado el 24 de mayo de 2017.
  14. Stoneman, 1995,p. 2.

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