Women of Royalty
Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra
     Zenobia was born to a man of Arab or Aramaean origin and his wife, supposedly an Egyptian, in Palmyra (modern-day Syria) probably in the early 240's A.D. Zenobia had a very illustrious background. She claimed to be a descendent of Cleopatra VII, but it is a fact that she came from a very long line of Syrian and Assyrian queen, starting with the legendary Queen of Sheba. Zabibi and Julia Maesa, two powerful Syrian queens, were in Zenobia's ancestry. 
     Zenobia married the Odenathus, King of Palmyra, in her teenage years and became his second wife. Palmyra was an empire in modern-day Syria that had greatly adopted the Egyptian culture, which had almost completely died out. Zenobia was prepared for her role as queen. She was fluent in many languages, like Cleopatra: Greek, Latin, Egyptian, and Amharic. She was a beauty, also like Cleopatra. It is said that her voice was very harmonious, that her teeth were pearly white, that her eyes and hair were very dark, and she had manly strength.
     Zenobia bore Odenathus a son, though he had an heir, Hairan, by his first wife. Both were mysteriously assassinated in 267 A.D.. Many believe to this day that Zenobia may have been part of the assassination.  Zenobia was now the Queen of Palmyra in her own right, as regent for her son. Immediately Zenobia shocked the world when she led her armies into Egypt in 269 A.D. and while Rome was busy in North Italy fighting off the Goths, Zenobia took Egypt from the Roman Empire and added it onto the tiny kingdom of Palmyra. That same year, Zenobia annexed most of Syria's small neighboring lands. Then Zenobia took large chunks from the Asia Minor. At the beginning of her reign, Palmyra was small and weak. Now Palmyra stretched from the Nile River in Egypt to the Bosphorus River in modern-day Turkey. The Romans were enraged, and were even more so when Zenobia declared her empire independent of Rome. 
     Zenobia embraced all the cultures of her empire. She respected the long taunted Jews of Alexandria, she met often with the bishops at Antioch, and she had a great sense of humor. One tale goes that when Zenobia was to judge a trial about a merchant who overcharged his customers, she brought the merchant into an arena. Thinking he was going to be attacked by a beast, Zenobia let the cage open and out popped a chicken. 
     Zenobia decided to make her own currency, and had Palmyrean coins minted. This was the last straw for the Romans. Aurelian, the Emperor of Rome, decided to reconquest and take back Egypt and the Asia Minor from Palmyra.
     At the Orontes River near Antioch, the Palmyrenes and the Romans met, both of their armies equally matched. Zenobia was proud and defiant, and galloped among her troops shouting orders. The Romans pretended to flee,  the Palmyrenes in pursuit. The Palmyrenes finally fell exhausted and it was then that the Romans began their mass slaughter. 
     Zenobia and her remaining army fled to Emesa. The Romans caught up with them and both armies had a remaining 70,000 soldiers. The Palmyrenes were no match for the Romans, and in the end Zenobia abandoned her soldiers and fled back to Palmyra, 100 miles across the desert. Aurelian followed her and lay siege to the city. Once again Zenobia escaped, disguised and riding on a female camel. She reached the Euphrates River before being captured by the Romans, whether she was discovered or betrayed it is not known. It was now 272 A.D. and Zenobia went before Emperor Aurelian, where she degraded herself by declaring immunity on the fact that she was a woman. Her life after this is vague and there are two alternate endings to the story:
  • She committed suicide like Cleopatra, her hero
  • She was paraded through the Roman streets in triumph, along with the defeated Goths, Amazons, and Vandals. She walked defiantly, her head held high. Afterwards she married a Roman governor and retired to a life at her villa in Tivoli.