(From a Coin,)


The history of Zenobia is linked inseparably, by fact and fiction, with Palmyra, and deserves at our hands a more detailed notice than we have given thus far. The very mention of Tadmor, as we have already said, recalls the names of Solomon and Zenobia, and both are associated in the Oriental mind with the wonderful ruin; but while Solomon is accredited with superhuman powers, the Silt Zeinab, or Lady Zenobia, is renowned for her womanly graces and accomplishments, as well as for her vast learning and martial bearing.

In a bookless land, traditions are carefully preserved among it people who talk and. listen, but do not read, and the wonderful story of the Sitt Zeinab is scarcely more mythical on the lips of the Palmyrans and Bedawin than is that of Zenobia Augusta in the pages of Trebellius Pollio, Zosimus, and Vopiscus.

In building up a slight history of Zenobia, and the dynasty of which she was the most distinguished ornament, [109] I have three sources of information open to me, the Roman historians, the Palmyra inscriptions, and the living traditions. Of the latter, I shall make sparing use, and only when it harmonizes with the two former.1

The Roman Empire came into contact with Britain and Palmyra about the same time. Twelve years before Julius Caesar landed at Dover, Mark Antony, on a plundering expedition, made a raid on Palmyra. But the Palmyrans fled with their treasures beyond the Euphrates, and the Roman robber found the city denuded of its wealth. He also met a line of Palmyra archers, before whom his cavalry recoiled.

At this period Palmyra must have been an important place, for one of the great tomb-towers dates back to 9 A.D. Pliny defines the geographical and political position of Tadmor, as "situated in the midst of an almost impassable desert, and on the confines of two powerful and hostile kingdoms."

The definite history of Palmyra begins in the early days of the Christian era, although there is a great wealth of local tradition regarding Solomon and the Jan.

1For much of the traditions to which I attach weight, I am indebted to the late Lady Ellenborough, who spent a great deal of time at Palmyra, and busied herself in weaving together the local stories regarding the great desert queen. Chiefly from this source T derived my information regarding Zenobia's military camps, and the routes by which her armies marched to meet Aurelian. Lady Ellenborough's identifications were confirmed by an intelligent young Sheikh, who accompanied me to the traditional camping grounds.

Palmyra owed its rise and splendour to a number [110] of causes, geographical, political, and personal. It was a buffer state between the Roman and Parthian spheres, and, as Mommsen says, "in every collision between the Romans and Parthians, the question was asked, what policy the Palmyrans would pursue."1

The wars between these rival powers contributed to the wealth and importance of the little neutral republic, which maintained its independence down to 130 A.D., when the Emperor Hadrian visited it, and gave it his own name, Hadrianopolis.

He did not conquer Palmyra, but he took it into a kind of client-relationship of mutual advantage. Seven years later, a law regulating the customs and dues of Palmyra was engraved upon a stone in the city, and this long inscription, recently discovered, throws much light on the life and industry of the place.

As interested and powerful protectors of the safest route to India, the Palmyrans were of vital service to the East as well as to the West, in keeping open the lines of commerce. As a mercantile community, and the guardians of merchandise, neutrality and peace were essential to the prosperity, and even to the existence, of the desert city; but the Roman legions crept slowly but surely closer to Tadmor. A Roman garrison was stationed at Danava, on the way to Damascus: Roman legions were on both banks of the Euphrates, as far down as Circesium; and Mesopotamia, which had been added to the Roman Empire by Severus, was occupied by imperial troops.

1The Provinces the Roman Empire, Vol. II. 93. [111]

Although the Roman power was firmly established on three sides of Palmyra, the relation of the little republic to the desert tribes was such that the Romans treated it with marked consideration.

Septimius Severus raised it to the position of Roman colony, and a popularly elected senate managed its affairs. In drawing closer the bonds of relationship, the Romans did not impose irksome restrictions on the Palmyrans; and, unlike other peoples who had come within the Roman sphere, they were not limited to the two imperial languages, but used in public, as well as in private documents, their own language, side by side with the Greek. Palmyra also formed a customs district, in which the customs were collected, not on account of the state, but of the district.

As the bonds of union with Rome became closer, the Palmyrans began to add Roman names to their own Semitic names; but they seem to have taken whatever advantage they could derive from the Roman connection, and while growing in wealth and power, they maintained their independence, notwithstanding the veneer and nominal domination of Rome.

When war broke out between the Persians and Romans, Palmyra became a place of supreme importance to the imperial cause, and successive emperors visited it on their way eastward, and influential citizens received at their hands distinguished marks of imperial favour.

Septimius Severus, on one of his expeditions against the Parthians, visited Palmyra, and raised a distinguished [112]



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citizen, named Odainathus, to the rank of senator; and the new senator assumed the name of his patron, and was known as Septimius Odainathus, the son of Hairan, the son of Wah-ballath, the son of Nassor.

This Septimius Odainathus was a powerful citizen, as well as a Roman favourite. He was, however, playing a double game, and being suspected of plotting a revolt against Roman authority, his assassination was procured by Rutinus, a Roman officer.

A crime is always a blunder and Septimius Odainathus left behind him two sons, Hairan and Odainathus. Hairan, the elder, is mentioned as chief or headman of the Palmyrans, in an inscription dated 251 A.D. But the fame of the family centres round the younger brother, Odainathus. Both, however, contributed to the result; for while Odainathus led the men of action and the Bedawin of the desert, Hairan guided the wealthy merchants and the aristocracy of the city.

Odainathus meditated revenge on the Romans for the murder of his father, but he bided his time and kept his own counsel. He spent his youth among the hardy spearmen, perfecting the instrument by which he hoped to throw off the yoke of the foreigner, and accustoming himself to the ways and wants of hardy warfare. His opportunity came, but not with so clear an issue as he meditated.

In the year 251 A.D., the emperor fell fighting against the Goths in Europe, and the Empire for a time seemed to have fallen to pieces. The West was in confusion, and [115] the East was left to take care of itself, without any helping hand front Rome. Black Sea pirates ravaged the coasts of the Mediterranean. Sapor of Persia drove the Romans out of Mesopotamia, Armenia, Cappadocia, and Syria.

After a time of confusion, the Empire began to right itself, and Publius Licinius Valerianus ascended the throne of the Caesars. He marched against the Persians, and drove them out of Cappadocia: but a terrible plague swept away a great part of his army, and delayed him in following up the enemy.

In 258 A.D., as Valerian passed through Palmyra, he raised Odainathus to the consular dignity; and the goldsmiths and silversmiths of the city marked the elevation of their fellow-citizen to the highest honorary title of the Empire, by an inscription which still tells the tale.

To the north-west of the city there is a space marked with black ashes, and the natives of Palmyra call it the "Siayhah," or silversmiths' quarter. There the workers in the precious metals carried on their craft, and formed probably one of the most powerful guilds of Palmyra. They used their influence in the elevation of Odainathus, who intended to succeed whether the Roman or the Persian proved victorious.

Sapor the Great was then at the zenith of his power. There had been a revival of the old Persian faith and Persian valour, and the Romans had fled before the hosts of Iran. After long delay, Valerian crossed the Euphrates at the close of 259, or the beginning of 260 A.D. A desperate and decisive battle was fought near Edessa. The [116] Romans were beaten, and the emperor was taken prisoner and carried into captivity. The disaster to the imperial cause at Edessa in the East was as great as the fall of Decius at the mouth of the Danube had been to the Empire in the West.

Sapor treated the unfortunate Valerian with savage cruelty. He boasted that on mounting his horse he always placed his foot on the neck of a Roman emperor; and when Valerian died, after enduring the most cruel indignities, he had him flayed, and his skin stuffed with straw, and preserved as a trophy in the national temple.

Sapor pressed his victory with ruthless vigour. Antioch and other cities and towns were sacked by his barbarian soldiery. Endless trains of captives thronged the routes to Persia, and were led like cattle to the water, once a day; and it is said that the Persians, in order to facilitate their passage of a deep ravine, filled it with their captives, and marched across on their throbbing bodies.

Odainathus, having watched the campaign, resolved to conciliate the victor. The whole East seemed at Sapor's feet, and Odainathus sent him congratulatory letters, rich presents, and an enormous train of dromedaries. But the haughty Sapor, flushed with victory, rejected the Palmyran's gift with scorn.

"Who is this Odainathus," asked the Persian, "that thus insolently presumes to write to his lord? Let him prostrate himself before our throne, with his hands bound behind him, or swift destruction shall be poured on his [117] head, his race, and his country." So saying, he ordered the presents to be hurled into the river. (Patricius in Excerp. Leg. p. 24.)

Odainathus, who had meditated freedom from the golden yoke of Rome, had no desire to become the abject thrall of the arrogant Sapor. The city and the desert shared with him the feeling of resentment roused by the insolence of the barbarian, and as they perceived the common danger, they united all their powers to meet the impending blow.

Sapor had shown his teeth before he was ready to bite. He had met no opposition from the Empire after the overthrow of Valerian, and city after city, following the example of Antioch, opened its gates to the victorious Persians. But on reaching Pompeiopolis, on the coast of Cilicia, a stubborn resistance was offered, and Sapor was obliged to invest and besiege the city.

At this juncture an enterprising leader, known as allistus or Ballista, turned the fortunes of the war by a bold stroke. Without any special authority, he got together the scattered Roman ships, sailed for the besieged city, and falling suddenly on the besiegers, slaughtered several thousands of them, and captured the royal harim.

Sapor, on receiving the sudden check in Cilicia, hurried home to quell the little storm he had raised at Tadmor. Odainathus, accompanied by his beautiful and warlike wife, Zenobia, had already taken the field, and marched to intercept the returning foe. He had with him the [118] sheikhs of the desert tribes with their swift cavalry, and the archers and spearmen of Tadmor who had known their leader from childhood. The patriotic guilds of the city were there in their strength, under the eye of their distinguished fellow-citizen. The desert and town Arabs were united to drive back the barbarians, and save the beautiful city, the centre and source of their industry. In addition to the Orientals, Odainathus had collected the remnants of the shattered legions in that region, and he had under his command a disciplined Roman force eager to meet the Persians again, and wipe out the stain of defeat.

The army of Palmyra encountered the Persians to the west of the Euphrates, before they had crossed the river. A battle was fought, and Odainathus and Zenobia gained a decisive victory. The Bedawin swept the Persian cavalry before them, and the gallant Tadmorenes and steady Romans completed the rout of the barbarians. Sapor fled with the remnant of his army beyond the Euphrates, hotly pursued by the man whose presents, a short time before, he had arrogantly thrown into the river.

According to Trebellins Pollio. Odainathus captured the king's treasures. Ile also captured the remainder of the king's wives who had not been seized by Callistus, and he caused Sapor to flee into his own country.

In the hour of victory the hand of Odainathus was stayed. A Roman general had thrown off the Roman yoke in Northern Syria, and ant Oriental empire was being set up in the East, on the shattered foundation of the [119] Roman. Such an empire would have been fatal to the existence of Palmyra as a kingdom.

Odainathus grasped the situation. He saw an opportunity for collecting under his standard the scattered fragments of the Roman army, which, under his skilled generalship, he knew would carry him to victory; and so, recalling his forces from the pursuit of Sapor, he marched against the usurper.

The armies met at Emesa, in 261 A.D., where it is said that Callistus betrayed his master to Odainathus. Another account, by Zonaras, speaks of Callistus having been put to death by Odainathus. One thing is clear, that Odainathus was successful in his campaign against the usurper.

By his brilliant victories, Odainathus had become king of the East. The emperor had given him an exceptional position, without a parallel. He was not merely joint ruler, but "independent lieutenant of the emperor for the East."

Odainathus had gained the point at which he aimed. Valerian was a captive in the hands of Sapor, and his son Gallienus was just the kind of weak and frivolous emperor that suited the ambitious designs of the Palmyran.

According to Trebellius Pollio: "While Gallienus was idle, or only doing foolish and ridiculous things, Odainathus crushed Ballista (Callistus), a pretender to the Empire. He then immediately waged war on the Persians to avenge Valerian, which that emperor's son had [120] neglected to do; occupied Nisibis and Carras, and sent the captive satraps to Gallienus to shame him.

Persia being desolated. and all Mesopotamia being reduced to the Roman power, the conquering troops having marched to Ctesiphon, the king being fled, Odainathus was, with the approbation and applause of the Roman world, declared Augustus by the senate, and received as colleague in the Empire by Gallienus, and the money taken from the Persians was ordered to be coined in their joint names."

There are several Roman accounts of the events of this period, but they are somewhat confused. It is certain, however, that Odainathus cleared the Eastern field of all rival representatives of Western authority. Besides, he harassed the Persians, devastated their country, and plundered their cities, and on two occasions the Palmyra army besieged Ctesiphon, and won a great battle before the walls of the city. But though he pressed Sapor hard, he did not succeed in liberating the captive Valerian. Perhaps, like the worthless Gallienus, he was not anxious to see Valerian at liberty.

Whatever his feelings towards Valerian may have been, Odainathus vindicated the majesty of the Roman arms to the satisfaction of the Roman people. Odainathus had undoubtedly saved the Eastern Roman Empire from being overrun by Persian barbarians, but he saved it for himself; for while Persia was crippled, and the Roman Empire disorganized, he held the balance of power in his own hands. [121]

Gallienus was supposed to be suzerain, but Odainathus was practically king. By 264 A.D., he had, in the name of Rome, and by the help of Roman soldiers, attained to supremacy from Armenia to Arabia; and while controlling the legions of Rome, he was able to rely on the fidelity and loyalty of the provinces that owned his sway.

When at the height of his victorious career, Odainathus was murdered in 266 or 267, at Emesa, by his nephew Maconius, whom he had punished for insubordination.


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