women leaders

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.