Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra and Ruler of Egypt

Zenobia (born c. 240 A.D.) was the Queen of Palmyra, in modern day Syria. In that time, Palmyra was a massive Middle Eastern empire. Zenobia was much more than a powerful female ruler, however. She also was known for promoting a policy of tolerance towards religious minorities, and fostering education throughout her empire.

She was said to be a beautiful and confident woman, who could drink men under the table.

Ruler of boys

According to 9th-century historian Al-Tabari, she was put in charge of the family shepherds and their flocks at a young age, where she got accustomed to ruling over men.

She surrounded herself with powerful people and brilliant philosophers.

When she was young, Palmyra was under Roman control. She married the local Roman governor, Odaenthus. When he launched campaigns against the enemy Persians, it was said the Zenobia would ride along with him, fighting the Sassanid Persians right next to Odaenthus.


Palmyra – the ruins , located in Syria were recently levelled by ISIS. Credit: Ulrich Waack [CC 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

Ruler of Palmyra and Egypt

When Odaenthus died, Zenobia took over, becoming ruler of Palmyra. She surrounded herself with powerful people and brilliant philosophers.

Zenobia was said to deny her husband sex except to procreate.

When Rome began to falter in the region, Zenobia saw an opportunity to challenge Roman authority in the Middle East. Historian Richard Stoneman writes: “With both might and influence on her side, she embarked on one of the most remarkable challenges to the sovereignty of Rome that had been seen even in that turbulent century.”

Zenobia was able to annex Egypt under her control, after gaining support from the Egyptians. She sent her general, Septemius Zabdas to Egypt, and after a few battles Zenobia’s army had defeated the Roman army and taken control of Egypt.

How it all ended

In 272 A.D., the Roman emperor Aurelian went to reclaim the territory lost to the Romans by Zenobia, and after battling the Palmyrans, was successful. Zenobia fled to Persia to seek help but was eventually captured.

The true story of her final days are disputed. Some accounts say she was paraded down the streets in humiliation. Others say she was pardoned by Aurelian, who admired her and let her live out her days on a villa.

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