Odainathus was famous for the brilliancy of his wars, but he was more famous still for the beauty and brilliance of his wife. He was a man of great ambition, courage, and success, but he is now remembered as the husband of Septimia Zenobia.
While Odainathus was engaged in driving the Goths out of Asia Minor, and clearing the eastern Roman provinces of usurpers and barbarian intruders, Zenobia ruled in Palmyra, and carried forward the conquest of Egypt. Odainathus was to some extent associated in the Roman sovereignty with Gallienus, and Zenobia shared in his honours; but she was enthroned a queen in the hearts of her people, and dowered with the charms that inspired to heroism. Aurelian, in a letter to the senate, which we shall quote further on, attributed the victories of Odainathus to the genius of his wife.
Zenobia claimed kinship with Cleopatra, but the claim was advanced on her conquest of Egypt, as if to strengthen  her title to the throne of the Ptolemies. There may, however, have been some grounds for Zenobia's pretensions, or she would not have pressed them in the face of Roman historians, and scholars like Longinus, and her perfect command of the Egyptian tongue indicated a close connection with that country. On the other hand, had her claim been well founded, the historians would have eagerly emphasized the fact.
With less probability she was declared to be a Jewess, but her enlightened treatment of the Jews of Alexandria no doubt gave rise to the report. Had she been a Jewess, she would not have failed at Tadmor to claim descent from Solomon, the builder of the city, and she would not have allowed heathen symbols to appear on her coins.
Arab historians and romancers have traced the origin of the great queen of Tadmor, through a long pedigree of Bedawi sheikhs who belonged to the tribe of the Beni-Samayda, and who frequented the borders of Syria.
About the middle of the great colonnade which marks
the via recta of Palmyra, statues were erected in August
271 A.D., to Odainathus and his widow. They were placed
[Page 126 is a blank page]
on brackets protruding from the columns, and on the fronts of the brackets there were inscriptions in Palmyrene
and Greek. One inscription declared that Zabdas, commander-in-chief, and Zabbai, commander of Tadmor, erected the statue in honour of the lamented Odainathus, king of kings, their master. The other proclaimed that the same illustrious generals erected the statue in honour of Septimia Bath-Zabbai (in Greek. Zenobia), the pious and holy queen. The name "Bath-Zabbai" signifies literally the daughter of Zabbai, and she may have been the daughter of the commander-in-chief of Tadmor, who shared in the erection of the statue.
An important item in my Palmyra programme was to find the statue of Zenobia. I set about the work with earnest deliberation, first going up on a ladder to the  bracket oil which the statue had been placed, and reading carefully the inscription in Greek and Palmyrene. Then we began to overturn the accumulation of sand at the base of the column where the statue must have fallen. To encourage the workers, I offered a beshlik for the discovery of a head. The head of Zenobia for five piasters, equal to one franc! And how the descendants of the proud Tadmorenes delved in the debris of the beautiful city for the head of the illustrious queen that once ruled the East, and set at defiance the Romans! The diggers strained every nerve and muscle to secure the reward; in fact. I believe a syndicate was formed on the spot, so that each of the five diggers might receive one piaster dividend, should the prize be secured!
I had mounted the ladder to examine the inscription to the late lamented Odainathus, when I was startled by a tremendous yell that burst from the excavators. The shout of triumph sounded strange among the silent ruins.
"O Khawaja, descend; we have got the head of Sitt Zeinab!" shouted the chief of the party, as he ran to the foot of the ladder, and his excitement began to ascend the rounds with a large stone in his hands. The shouting brought a crowd of idlers around us, and in a few minutes about one hundred persons were holding an inquest on the head of Zenobia.
The head had been broken off a statue, and was somewhat disfigured. It was, however, the head of a Palmyra lady, with carefully folded turban. There was a broad  jewelled band across the forehead horizontally, and other bands extending diagonally from the middle of the forehead downwards toward the ears, with jewels in each as large as beans.
The head was not so grand as we expected, and it was
considerably battered, but after enduring the weather
My excavators, seeing that I was pleased with their find, as I was tenderly removing the sand of ages from the folds of the turban, and doubtless thinking that I ought to be encouraged, had delved deeper and brought to the surface the female head of another statue.
There are circumstances under which one may have too much of a good thing. The second discovery rendered the identification of the first with Zenobia doubtful. The new head was purely Grecian in style and decoration. The fringe came down low on the forehead, and there were holes in the eyes for jewels.
Turning from the interesting though mutilated heads, found by the column on which the statue of Zenobia once stood, and which may or may not have been intended for  the great queen, I think it is almost certain that Bath-Zabbai was a native of Tadmor, and that, like most of the other Palmyrans, she was of Arabian descent, at least on her father's side. It is probable that on her mother's side she may have been Egyptian, and may, very probably, have received her education among her mother's people. It is certain that she was a Palmyra beauty, belonging to the military and governing aristocracy of the republic. Odainathus, a widower, vir clarissimus consularis, the favourite of Rome, of Palmyra, and of the desert, chose Zenobia, the fairest flower of the East, to share his fame and fortune and dangers.
The Roman historians have given us scant information as to the origin of this splendid woman, but they have given us pen and ink sketches of her personal appearance, and abundant details regarding her achievements.
Trebellius Pollio tells us: "She lived with royal pomp after the Persian manner, received adulation like the kings of Persia, and banqueted like the Roman emperors.
"She went in state to the assemblies of the people, in a helmet, with a purple band fringed with jewels. Her robe was clasped with a diamond buckle, and she often wore her arm bare.
"Her complexion was a dark brown, her eyes black and sparkling and of uncommon fire. Her countenance was divinely expressive, her person graceful in form and motion beyond imagination, her teeth were white as pearls, and her voice clear and strong. She displayed the severity  of a tyrant, when severity was called, for; and the clemency of a good prince, when justice required it.
"She was generous with prudence, but a husbandress of wealth more than is the custom with women. Sometimes she used a chariot, but more frequently rode on horseback. She would march immense distances on foot at the head of her infantry, and would drink with her officers, the Armenians and Persians, deeply, but with sobriety, using at her banquets golden goblets, set with jewels, such as Cleopatra was wont to use. In her service she employed eunuchs advanced in years, and very few damsels.
"She ordered her sons to be instructed in the Latin language, as befitting the imperial purple, in which she had arrayed them. She was herself acquainted with the Greek tongue, and was not ignorant of Latin, though from diffidence she spoke it seldom. She spoke Egyptian perfectly, and was so versed in the history of Alexandria and the East, that she made an abridgment of Oriental history."1
Cornelius Capitolinus, another Roman historian, declared Zenobia to be the handsomest of all Oriental women.
This supremely beautiful and accomplished lady must have been very young at the time of her marriage, and during the stirring years when she exercised so large an influence on the destinies of the world. Her youth and beauty had a magic charm, not only with the gallant  spearmen of her race, but for all the Orientals that followed her standard and espoused her cause.
But she had still more solid claims to their allegiance and support. Her knowledge of languages alone showed that she must have been given to studious habits, and from the Latin and Greek literature within her reach, she had probably a wider acquaintance with the world than any of her generals, or than even Odainathus himself. Her perfect command of Egyptian a living tongue implied an early education in the schools of Alexandria, and gave colour to the claim of kinship with the renowned Cleopatra; and while acquiring a knowledge of the Greek and Roman languages, Zenobia must have learned much of the character and influence of the Greek and Roman peoples. This marvellous woman did not, however, finish her education when she quitted the schools. She continued her study of (Greek and Roman writers under the philosophers and scholars of his time Zenobia herself guidance of Longinus, who was as pre-eminent among the was among the women of her day.
Cassius Longinus was probably born at Emesa in Syria, where he became heir to his uncle Phronto. His parents, being in easy circumstances, took him to travel, and he had an opportunity of visiting the chief places in the then civilized world. He had also the advantage of an education directed by the greatest teachers of his time. He studied at Athens under his uncle Phronto, at Rome under Plotinus and Amelius, and at Alexandria under Ammonius Saccas and Origenes. 
Having learned in the best schools, he became a teacher. The famous Porphyry was one of his pupils, and he became the centre of the last brilliant galaxy of pagan scholars.
Longinus united in himself the subtlety of Greek form with Roman fervour. His "Treatise on the Sublime" bears in its luminous beauty that stamp of sense and form which, notwithstanding doubts as to the authorship, proves it to be the work of Longinus, who, on account of his great learning, was called a living library. No doubt Zenobia must have heard of the great Longinus during her school days, and it is probable she may have met him at Alexandria; but it is certain he became her instructor and secretary, and practically her prime minister and guide, and that he perished on the overthrow of Palmyra.
We find the following summary of his life in a preface to his writings by Suidas: "Longinus Cassius, philosopher, preceptor of Porphyry the philosopher, a learned scholar and critic, lived in the time of the Emperor Aurelian, and was cut off by him as having conspired with Zenobia, the wife of Odainathus."
Longinus, the chief counsellor of the widowed queen. favoured the policy of independence by throwing off the Roman yoke; and it was his policy, as we shall see, that led to the destruction of Tadmoir, the captivity of the queen, and the forfeit of his own life.
Cassius Longinus, as events proved, was not a safe counsellor for the young and proud Zenobia. We do  not know how he came to have the name "Cassius." Possibly he inherited it, but more probably he assumed it, through sympathy with the deeds of such men as Caius Cassius and Cassius Chaerea. In any case, the associations of the name were distinctly anti-imperial and even regicidal. Besides being a Syrian, he would be ready to throw off the Roman yoke as soon as occasion offered.
On the death of Odainathus, Zenobia had to reconsider her position. I have examined the two inscriptions in Palmyra dedicated to Odainathus. According to the one erected in April 8 A.D., Odainathus was of consular dignity, and on that of August 271 A.D., he was declared king of kings. In the inscription which accompanied the statue of Zenobia of August 271 A.D., she is styled Queen. This title had doubtless been accorded to her by her husband, who was king of kings, and acquiesced in at Rome ; but Zenobia, fearing that the rank and titles which she and her children enjoyed, iii virtue of her husband's personal services, might be set aside at Rome, resolved to act as queen-regent during the minority of her son.
The state of the Roman Empire was favourable to the ambition of Zenobia, and the schemes of Longinus. Gallienus was a base, had emperor. He takes rank in vice with Heliogabalus and Nero. His neglect of his duty to his captive father and distracted country had reduced the Empire to confusion and degradation. The Roman legions, when he was emperor, were driven back in all the remote provinces. The Roman seas were full of pirates. 
An opportunity was soon given to Zenobia, if we are to accept the statement of Trebellius Pollio, to assert her queenship. On hearing of the murder of Odainathus. Gallienus despatched an army against the Persians under Heraclianus. Zenobia, resenting the encroachment, espoused the Persian cause, and at the head of a Palmyra army marched to meet the Romans. A battle was fought on the confines of Persia, which ended in the rout and destruction of the Roman army. Soon afterwards, Gallienus was murdered at Milan, leaving Syria and Mesopotamia in the hands of Zenobia.
Claudius came to the throne, and as he was fully occupied with enemies in Europe, he recognized the authority of Zenobia, and devoted himself to strengthening the Empire by reforms at home.
At that time, Probatus, a pretender, appeared in Egypt. Zenobia despatched Zabdas, the commander-in-chief, against him, with an army of seventy thousand Palmyrans, Syrians, and Bedawin. He encountered Probatus at the head of an army of fifty thousand Egyptians, and gained a complete victory.
Zenobia had undertaken the Egyptian campaign in the cause of Rome, and had fought and conquered in the name of Rome, but she held the country in her own name, and as a part of the kingdom of Palmyra.
Aurelian, on coming to the throne, recognized the Palmyra conquest of Egypt. The statements of Roman historians regarding this period are contradictory and perplexing, but I have a coin, struck in Alexandria, with  the figure of Zenobia's eldest son and the title Imperator on one side, and the figure of Aurelian and the title of Augustus on the other.
Aurelian was a soldier of fortune, who had risen from the lowest rank. Ile was called to be Emperor by the army, and (luring the two first years of his reign he subdued the Goths, Germans, and Vandals. At the same time, Zenobia was adding the province of Asia Minor to her dominions.
In 271 A.D., Aurelian had so reduced matters to a satisfactory condition in Europe, that he was able to turn his attention to Zenobia. A Palmyra garrison had been left in Egypt. Probus, who had been waging war against the Mediterranean pirates, was ordered to drive the Orientals out of Egypt. He was victorious, but Zabdas, being guided by Timagenes, attacked the Romans who had attempted to cut off his retreat, and defeated them.
The time had now arrived for a decisive struggle between the East and the West, between Aurelian and his veteran legions and Zenobia and her chivalrous Orientals. The contrast between the foes and their followers was very great. Aurelian had risen to power by courage, strength, and attention to discipline. He lacked culture. refinement, and education; but he had built up a Roman army which had become an irresistible engine of war. With this engine he hoped to crush Zenobia.
At the approach of the danger, the refined and cultured Zenobia paused in her literary and artistic pursuits,  and called together the sons of the desert, who had planted her standard on the banks of the Nile and established her authority on the plains of the Seleucidae Swift dromedaries sped forth from Palmyra, in all directions, to warn the Bedawin of the approaching foe. The Roman name had no terror for the freemen of the desert. In several encounters they had annihilated the famous legions; and even the Parthians had destroyed a Roman army, and held in slavery a Roman emperor. Zenobia's summons warned them of a common danger, and roused them to repel the common foe.
The prosperity of Palmyra meant the prosperity of the Bedawin. The city iii the desert was at that time the meeting-place between Europe and Asia, the marketplace where the East and West exchanged their wares, and the tribes were the common carriers both east and west. What the Phoenicians were by sea, that were the Bedawin by land; and during the ascendency of Zenobia, the Bedawin were not only the carriers of the commonwealth, but the body-guard of the dynasty.
Zenobia's call to arms was splendidly responded to, and in a few days the sandy plains of Tadmor swarmed with warriors, ready not only to protect their beautiful and heroic queen, but also to guard intact the lines of their commerce. They came together with light hearts, eager to be led against the western barbarian. 
Text Archive Home | Book Details | Table of Contents