awesome women

Wednesdays for Women #8: Zenobia

In honor of the Kurdish victory in Syria over ISIS, today’s W4W will talk about one of the greatest Syrian Queens who had adept military skill of her own: Zenobia.tumblr_mbrcrsrvOR1rq5o2oo1_1280

Back in the day she ruled, she was officially ruler of the “Palmyrene Empire,” which is modern day Syria. She was the second wife of the King Septimus Odaenathus, but is better remembered for her attitude towards the Romans, which was less than friendly. “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 these sources note her open challenge to the Roman Empire (which would shortly lend a hand in its downfall), her place in popular history is far more dramatic. Allegedly, Zenobia led an outright revolt against Rome, leading to her capture, which led her chained through the streets of Rome before she was beheaded by Aurelian.ZenobiaCaptive-222x300

But that’s clearly not what makes her worth a Wednesday, so I’ll get to the good part. After her husband’s death (or shall I say murder?), Zenobia took the throne in 267 (her son being too young to rule).  She was very well educated (allegedly educated in Greek and Latin, and fluent in Egyptian and Aramaic), and filled her court with intellectuals. At the time, Palmyra was more like a vassal state to a disintegrating Rome. However, it had the distinct advantage of being a trading stop on the Silk Road at a time where other opportunities up the road had been weakened. In other words, Palmyra was sitting on great trade opportunities a steady stream of inoming wealth in the midst of Roman disorganization. As Rome’s figurehead changed by the week, Zenobia sent her troops to Roman-owned Egypt, conquering it in the name of Palmyra. With Egypt under her belt, negotiations began, and she was able to expand her territory into then-Asia Minor right behind Rome’s back. “By 271 CE she ruled over an empire which stretched from modern-day Iraq across through Turkey and down through Egypt.” Whether she was autonomous or a Roman vassal was even more contested when she printed coins of herself, adopting the name “Augusta.”
zenobiaUnfortunately, Rome did get its act together under the authority of military man Aurelian. He began a march on Zenobia, totally destroying each town in his wake. When a few towns in he encountered the home of a philosopher he liked, he spared the city. Afterwards, Zenobia’s cities sent him their surrenders in advanceso that he was able to practically waltz into Syria. After three battles, two of which the Roman’s feigned retreat before capturing the calvary, Zenobia was captured. Her final days range in mystique from her being poisoned, escaping on a camel, going to trial, or just marrying a Roman differ on the source. Regardless, she was a great leader, known for her stamina, and the Al-Tabri records that she would march on foot with her troops long distances, could hunt as well as any man, and could out-drink anyone. We can only hope those fighters in Syria today display equal valor.

More info: here and here.

Wednesdays for Women #1: Bertha Benz

Call it the prying of destiny, but I am intrigued by exceptional and eccentric women.* I seem to unwittingly scout them out like a puppy on yesterday’s undies– if there is one to be found in the vicinity, the endeavor will inevitably end in my unconscious salivation. What starts as an innocent peruse of Huff Post unravels into the riveting tale of The White Mouse and her gestapo-stumping schemes, a 5-million franc bounty, and the bicycle ride from Hell. I can hardly look for suitable covers of Gene Krupa and Anita O’Day’s “Tea for Two” before I’m thrust head-first into the American tragedy of the Beale family, a Palm Beach modeling gig gone awry and the dilapidated East Hampton home of numerous opossums, raccoons, cats, and, most notably, a mouldering mother riddled by the fear of burglary.

Beset by such a burden, I have decided to unencumber myself in the only way we bloggers know how. Thus, using primarily Wikipedia as a source (and pictures I DO NOT OWN**), I will share some of these weird and wonderful stories of awe-inspiring women with you, beginning with our titular hero, Bertha Benz.

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Now you may be whispering to yourself (like a maniacal villain), “Benz, Benz… I feel like I’ve heard that name before,” and in this case, you would be right. The “Benz” you associate with Mercedes (no connection to the Count of Monte Cristo), began with none other than the husband to our Bertha. But before we come to the car which forms the second object of salivation mentioned in this post (see below for a model “Ford” to frame the third), there was a unmarried trollop in the Grand Duchy of Baden investing in the hottest inventor on the market. While that may be a large exaggeration, it is true that the unmarried Bertha (Ringer, as it were) invested a large sum of her own money into the workshop of Karl Benz, and his vision of a motorwagen. This money made it possible for Benz to patent the first automobile, not to mention the real great American pastime (and subject to German law, after they were married she no longer retained an investing power to her money; after all, she had a husband to take care of that while she saw to their five children).

Nevertheless bored with nappies, Bertha decided to invent the modern marketing industry and the brake lining all in one fateful afternoon. Without telling her husband or the authorities (*gasp*), she decided to take the new motorwagen out for a spin– but not one of the short trial runs they had hithero engaged in– Bertha decided to drive 66 miles with two of her sons to visit her mother. Or could her plans be more sinister…

A considerable number of people in 1882 had never seen a car. Thus, on her dawn to dusk moto-cruise, she did things like clean a fuel pipe with a hatpin and insulate a wire with her garter (#justgirlythings), not to mention her various stops along the way, exposing her life’s investment to the general public. By the time she reached her mother’s house, she had caused quite a buzz over her new decidedly-not-a-Radio-Flyer wagen, and she had become the first person to “drive an automobile over a real distance” (for all the Kerouac haters out there, this is where you pin the blame). Her marketing stunt also garnered a great deal of publicity, which helped to create a commodified demand for the new invention. Investment Genius, Test Driver Extraordinaire, McGyver-prototype Inventress, and Marketing Wizard- need I say more?

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*It’s not that I have anything against exceptional and eccentric men (*cough Harrison Ford*), there’s just a 99.9% less chance that I will become one with the passing of time.

**so don’t link back to me, link to the link I’ve linked to- respect where it’s due, right? Speaking of which, the featured first image can be found here.