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Zenobia of Palmyra, 273 AD - Women War Queens



A Concept Drawing of Queen Zenobia of Palmyra. Zenobia, ruler of the Palmyrene Empire after the death of her Husband Odaenathus, was famous for her military exploits in subduing Egypt and revolted against the Roman Empire in the 3rd Century AD.

Historical Women War Queens Logo by Gambargin
Project: Women War Queens Series

"Audaces Fortuna Iuvat"


Made in collaboration under the guidance and historical advice from :iconuracca:. After the recent events, she has helped me to see if I can start and get into the habbit of drawing again. Inspired by her recent works on Artemisia of Caria, as well as the poll I made earlier on which "Historical Women Warriors I should Draw?"

The drawing of Queen Zenobia in this depiction is rather inaccurate, with some stylization on my part. The reason being, according to her chronicles, In the final battle against Emperor Aurelian, she was said to have worn chainmail underneath her clothing, complete with decorated war medals and maybe a helmet of roman/persian design. My drawing however, opted for a much more heavily armed and armored Zenobia, with lamellar curaiss of hellenic influence (which was common in the middle east) as well as other stylized persian design of the 2nd-3rd century era. She is not drawn with helmet to expose her face, although in my opinion her helmet would have looked like the ones worn by the 2 heavily armoured guards behind her, depicted with armors worn by Clibanarii and catapracht of those era.

Inspired by the music: Thomas Bergersen - Starvation


The figure of Zenobia is somewhat relatively interesting to study. We all have read the figure of powerful women throughout the ancient Mediterranean world, some ruled alongside her husband, others ruled behind the screen. When the situation arise, these women participated in armed conflict when political negotiation failed. But there's only few who dared and emerged in battle against other rulers, leading her men to fight for her ambitions. One of such women was Zenobia, Queen Regnant of the Palmyrene Empire.

Her chroniclers described her as "Beautiful and Intelligent, with a darker skin complexion as well as a dark pearly eyes". While the only surviving depiction of her in history is a Antoninianus coin, she was nevertheless a well known and celebrated figure. She was also described as a figure like the of men, riding, hunting and sometimes drinking alongside her officer. But beneath all of that, She was a strong and highly ambitious woman unlike others in the ancient world.

Zenobia's origin is still a topic of little debate, but it was said that she belonged to a family with Aramaic names, whose lineage was claimed to have descended from that of the Selucid Line of Cleopatras and the Ptolemies. Her original Aramaic name is "Bat-Zabbai", or "Zenobia" as referred by Latin and Greek Chroniclers. She married the Ruler of Palmyra, Odaenathus and from then on, became exposed to the politics and warfare of the imperial court. Her considerable intelligence, coupled by her mastery in written Greek, spoken Egyptian and native Aramaic, made her valuable to Odaenathus who kept her close as his adviser during his reign.

The situation for the Roman Empire during this time was rather volatile due to the combination of invasion, civil wars, plague and economic depression, which bought the Empire to a severe crisis. It was also in this era, that many ambitious ruler would contest the title of emperor, or something equally prestigious, amidst the instability of the political situation. Odaenathus, the ruler of Palmyra, was an opportunist, and knew exactly when to strike and claim his prestige. In 260 AD, the roman emperor Valerian was captured by Shapur, emperor of the newly rising Sassanid dynasty of Persia. The threat of the Persian war machine was so great that the Romans feared that the Persians would take over the eastern territory of the empire, but to Odaenathus, he saw things differently. If he succeeded in halting the Persian expansion, he would be given the position as a defender of the Eastern borders of the Roman Empire, granting him unlimited control over the realmn.

Odaenathus did exactly as what he planned. He managed to defeat and pushed the Persian as far as Ctesiphon on River Tigris, that too, while having Zenobia riding alongside him during his military campaign. For his achievement, he was made into the Governor of All Roman Provinces in the East (Restitutor totius Orientis), from Asia Minor to Egypt. It was rather unique, because the title had only given to emperors previously, but this was an advantages to Rome because they could shift their attention towards the barbarians on the west. As a result, Odaenathus proclaimed himself King of Palmyra. It was in this period that Zenobia supported her husband and shared the excitement of ruling the Eastern Part of Roman Empire.

However, in 267, Odaenathus was assassinated and Zenobia assumed regency of the Palmyrene lordship until her son Vaballathus, come to age. Some said that Zenobia was involved in the assassination, while others, dismissed it as just rumors used to antagonized her. Nevertheless, having the taste of power in her hand, Zenobia would show the world that her ambitions were no simple matter, and that she wasn't just another queen waiting for her son to come into age to take the Throne. The new queen wanted to rule and achieved greater legacy more than her late husband and it only a matter of time before opportunity came to her.

When she received an envoy called Timagenes, who suggested her to take control of the Egyptian affair, she decided that it was the time to unleash her ambition. The Nile was the prize of the Mediterranean, but taking control of Egypt would put her into direct conflict with the Roman Empire. It was a hard decision, but the prize of Egypt was well worth to her ambition. Since the region was dissatisfied with the Roman Rule, the local people would welcome her forces as a liberator. It was also during this time, the Goths had been marauding much of Greece and Asia Minor from black, exhausting the Roman Military machine and diminished any threat from Asia Minor to hinder her takeover of Egypt. It was the perfect time to strike, and Zenobia launched her invasion of Egypt and succeeded in defeating the roman defense as well as retaliatory force sent by Emperor Claudius. Zenobia, now the ruler or Egypt, could not stop at the idea of establishing her own empire rivaling that of Rome itself, and launched further campaign to the north and north east. Regions after regions fell under her thumb, and when all seemed to go in her favor, another equally ambitious man rose to power that would put Zenobia's ambitions in danger.

By the year 270 AD, a new roman emperor rose to the throne, his name as Aurelian. Born of a modest Illyrian damily in the balkans, he was a brilliant military general and a professional soldier. His reputation for bravery and ruthlessness in fighting the northen barbarians during his military years earned him the title of the emperor, with very few opposition. With the Roman Imperial Power under his disposition, he set to subdue all the rebellions and fend off the barbarians threatening his empire. He knew that in the east, Zenobia was carving her own power base and he needed to subdue her as an example to his people, so he set off with his army to face the powerful forces of the Palmyrene Empire.

To the ancient world, Aurelian and Zenobia was both a figure of charisma, ambition and equally famous. Their titanic clash would be seen by the people as the turning point of the two great persona. Knowing this, Aurelian launched his campaign against Zenobia and marched towards Antioch. It is here that Aurelian force managed to defeat the powerful and heavily armed vanguard of Zenobia, composed of mainly heavily armed Clibenarii and armored horseman of Parthian and Persian influence. Shaken by the defeat, Zenobia decided that it was time to face Aurelian and lead her own force directly to confront the Roman Aggressors outside Emesa (modern day Homs). It was a titanic clash, but in the end, Aurelian superior army and military excellence won him the day. Zenobia army was crushed, Her empire subdued, and she herself was capture and brought to Rome, paraded on the street as a sign of Aurelian Military Triumph.

Zenobia's dream had ended, and her ambition crushed utterly by the Romans. What happens after this was much subject to speculation. Some historian said that she died afterwards, either from natural cause or suicide, following the footsteps of Cleopatra. But a more reliable sources mention that Zenobia married a Roman nobleman, to which, her descendants were still amongst the record of people living in Rome. This could be because of Zenobia's reputation and notoriety which earned her famed amongst the Roman aristocracy, always intrigued to hear the majesty of the short-lived Palmyrene Empire in the east from herself.


You can see another Historical Women Warriors drawn from this series:

Artemisia I of Caria, 480 BC - Women War Queens by Gambargin Artemisia of Caria, Queen of Halicarnassus

 Aethelflaed of Mercia, 917 AD - Women War Queens by Gambargin Aethelfaled of Mercia, An Anglo-Saxon Lady of the Mercians

Jadwiga of Poland, 1387 AD - Women War Queens by Gambargin Jadwiga of Poland, King of the Medieval Polish Kingdom

You can suggest or contribute to the voting in the poll "Historical Women Warriors I should Draw?"

If you are interested in the Anachronistic Women Warriors of the Historically Wrong Sketch Series, like this one Sultana Ahu of Sultanat Misr Al-Sarraviyah (Egypt) by Gambargin, please feel free to visit my gallery :)
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Ah, who could forget the spiteful reincarnation of Dido.