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Zenobia, Visionary Queen of Ancient Palmyra
In the 200s A.D. the Empress of the East turned her armies on Rome, and almost won
| May 3, 2017 | 5 min read
Now all shame is exhausted…for in the weakened state of the [Roman] commonwealth things came to such a pass that…a foreigner, Zenobia by name, proceeded to cast about her shoulders the imperial mantle, [and was] ruling longer than could be endured from one of the female sex.Thus begins the biography of Zenobia, queen of Palmyra, in the Historia Augusta (History of the Emperors), written near the end of the fourth century A.D. And what we read there is almost all we know about the queen.
Sometimes, I think if it were not for her coins Queen Zenobia would be taken as a legendary figure. There could be a kernel of truth in the story, but it is a tale so fantastical, so gendered, with sources so unreliable, that it simply could not have historical value. Yet Zenobia did exist, and she did go to war against the Romans. And, as Empress of the East, she came within a hair’s breadth of victory.