Born in 240 CE in in the Roman province of Palmyra, Syria was a girl named Julia Aurelia Zenobia who would soon challenge the Roman Empire for control of the province. It is said that she is considered a Roman citizen because her father’s family was granted Roman citizenship during the reign of Marcus Aurelius. Zenobia was a very smart young girl; she was educated in Greek and Latin studies, and also found time to become fluent in the Egyptian and Aramaic languages. She was often quoted claiming to have ancestry connected to Cleopatra VII of Egypt. She was placed in charge of watching her family’s sheep as a girl, often going on long expeditions and also hunting. These skills would prove to be an asset to Zenobia later in life. Along with being a skilled hunter, she could outlast any man on an expedition by foot, and out drink any man. Zenobia was regarded as the most beautiful woman of her time. She is described as a woman of a dark hue with teeth like pearls and eyes that could entice any man.
Zenobia married Lucius Septimus Odaenthus, a Roman governor of Syria in 258 CE. Although she was a married woman she was very strict about maintaining her sexual reputation. She was only known to lie with her husband only to produce a child; records show that the couple produced one son from their union. Being that Zenobia was Odaenthus’ second wife, her son was not the immediate heir to rue the city of Palmyra. Odaenthus was the ruler of the Palmyra which was a very affluent region because of its position on the Silk Road which was an important trading center. A group of people called the Sassanid (a pre-Islamic Persian empire, established in 224 CE by Ardeshir I, son of Papak, descendant of Sasan) choose to block the trade route in the year 227 CE. This blocking of the trade route caused the Roman Emperor Valerian to take up arms against the Sassanid’s in 260 CE, but was defeated. Odaenthus waged war against the Sassanid’s and drove them back to their lands. Because of his victory Odaenthus was made the Governor of the Eastern Roman Empire, he next defeated Gallienius in battle and became the all-powerful ruler of Syria. Around 267 CE Odaenthus and his son were killed by one of his nephews leaving a hunting trip.
The death of Odaenthus meant that Zenobia’s son Vaballathus was the rightful ruler of Palmyra but was too young to rule; Zenobia made herself regent and ruled in place of her son. She would find the brightest minds in the land to become a part of her court; her intent was to make sure she provided the best influences for her region. Initially she worked to maintain the policies of her husband, but as she noticed Rome was weakening its hold on Egypt she conquered the city. The Roman army briefly drove Zenobia’s forces out of Egypt and pursued them into the borders of Northern Syria. That would prove to be a bad move by the Romans, they were attacked by Zenobia’s army and defeated. Zenobia now ruled Egypt and gained the regions of Levant and Asia Minor. As Zenobia built her empire she was unnoticed by the Roman Emperor, she used brilliant tactics to move below the radar for a while. One move she made was to mint coins with her son’s face on one side on Aurelian the Roman Emperor on the other. As she praised the Roman Emperor is public she plotted to gain control of the Empire behind closed doors. During her conquest, Zenobia was able to build an empire whose borders reached from Iraq to Egypt.
As Aurelian became more comfortable with his position as Emperor he made it a priority to overthrow Zenobia and her Eastern empire. 267 CE Aurelian and his army attacked Zenobia’s empire. As his army swept through the land cities that once aligned themselves with Zenobia surrendered to Aurelian and his army. Aurelian and Zenobia’s armies met at the city of Daphne, unfortunately Zenobia’s army was dominated by the Roman forces. Zenobia would flee to the city of Emesa where the two armies would meet again, once more Rome was victorious. Zenobia was able to escape again and returned to the city of Palmyra but was held under siege by Aurelian. Zenobia and her son were able to slip out of Palmyra without notice; once Aurelian entered the city of Palmyra he found Zenobia was gone. He sent troops to pursue her; she was spotted by his troops crossing the Euphrates River, captured and brought to Rome. The information about what happened to her after she was captured is unclear, but we do know that a beautiful Queen of the East gained control of a large portion of the Roman Empire. Zenobia, warrior queen of the East, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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