THERE was one, at least, in Palmyra who was fully alive to the gravity of the impending danger. Zenobia did not despise her enemy, but with a prudence equal to her courage she began at once to reduce to order the innumerable swarms of motley warriors that covered the plains of Tadmor.

Three vast military camps were formed. Traditions live very long among the Bedawin, who hand down to their sons, and their sons' sons, precise details of the deeds in which they had a share. A young sheikh pointed out to me the exact spot on which each camp was formed, and his information agreed with what I had gleaned elsewhere.

One camp, composed of the levies from south-eastern tribes, was formed, due south of the warm fountain, on the plain beyond the acropolis. Another, drawn from the Bedawin of the south-west, between Palmyra and Damascus, was formed on the plain, opposite the Abu el-Fawaris [139] springs. The third camp, which was intended for the northern and north-western tribes, was formed on the direct road to Emesa, beyond the Palmyra quarries, at a place called Marbat 'Antar, where, in a cleft in the mountain, there is a fine spring of water. The word marbat, the "tying-place," that is, the place where camels were tied, or the "camping-ground," may have taken its name from Zenobia's camp. Tradition links it with the name of 'Antar, whose horse was said to have cleared the chasm, two thousand cubits wide.

In this crisis Zenobia was more than a general. She visited each of the camps daily, surrounded by a brilliant staff of officers, and with helmet on head, and arms bare, drilled and reviewed and harangued her troops. Zenobia shared fully in the privations and fatigues of her men; and while the charms of her sympathy and beauty bound them to her by undying loyalty, her martial bearing and knowledge of war kindled their military ardour and enthusiastic confidence.

During the period that Aurelian was completing the conquest of the Goths, Zenobia continued the drilling of her soldiers; and as each division attained proficiency, she sent it forward to the Orontes valley, where forage was more plentiful.

Having subjugated the Goths, Aurelian crossed the Bosphorus at Byzantium. His progress through Asia Minor was much more rapid than Zenobia had anticipated. Her friends in Asia Minor who did not join the Roman army fell back before it. Ancyra opened its gates to [140] Aurelian, but at Tyana, on the river Sarus, a stubborn resistance was offered to his advance. The city, however, was opened to the enemy by a traitor named Heraclamium.

The Palmyra army marched to meet the Romans by three routes. The camels and cavalry proceeded by the Aleppo route as far as Hamm, and then turned in a more westerly direction and marched on Antioch. Another division, composed chiefly of mounted warriors, marched in a still more westerly direction straight to Hama, past the wells of Marbat, Jaral, Barri, and Salimīveh. The third and great division, composed chiefly of archers and sword and clubmen, marched by the Damascus route as far as Karyetein, and then turned off and marched to Emesa.

The Aleppo route was the more dreary, but there was sufficient water at long intervals for camels and horses. The route to Hama, through groves of terebinth, was somewhat better supplied with water; and the route by Karyetein was the best supplied of all.

A short distance from Palmyra the third division passed the night at the abundant waters of Abu el-Fawaris. An early start and nine hours' brisk marching brought them to a reservoir at Kasr el-Iliyar, full of water drawn from the Ain el-Wu'ul fountain, which was secluded in the mountains about six miles to the south-east. Here the division spent the night, and, by an early start and ten or eleven hours' march, reached the great fountain of Karyetein. After leaving Karyetcin, the division passed the fountains of Hawarin, Muhīn, and Sudud. [141]

I have examined these fountains, which are now neglected, but which, under the prudent care of Zenobia, rendered the passage of her armies a comparatively easy matter. Three years previously, as we have seen, Zenobia had despatched Zabdas to Egypt at the head of an army numbering, according to Zosimus, seventy thousand soldiers.1 That campaign was undertaken nominally to punish a pretender against Roman authority; it was a mere matter of invasion. In the war on which Zenobia and her people were now embarked, kingdom and crown, honour and fame, life and liberty, were at stake.

It may, I think, be safely assumed, that in the great crisis of the kingdom, Zenobia had four or five times as large an army as that which sufficed for the Egyptian campaign. Tradition fixes the number at one million of all arms, but I think we should not be far wrong in supposing that from a quarter to half a million of subjects followed the standard of the beauteous and heroic queen.

From all parts this countless host of wild warriors concentrated on Antioch. As Aurelian and his legions climbed the Beilan pass, Zenobia, accompanied by her prime minister, Cassius Longinus, and her commander-in-chief, Zabdas, led her forces out from the neighbourhood of Antioch. So certain was she of being able to cope with the Romans, on a fair field, with no favour, that she did not attempt to block their way in the steep and narrow mountain defiles. Shortly after Aurelian emerged

1 Zosimus, lib. i. p. 58. [142]



[Page 144 is a blank page]


on the plain, the struggle for mastery between the East and West began.

According to Eusebius, the great battle was fought in 273 A.D., but it is almost certain that it took place in the early days of 272. Zenobia, no longer acting as queen-regent, but as Queen and Empress of the East, rode forth equipped as a warrior to beat back the great army of the Roman Empire. The plain was filled with her serried ranks. Her heavy cavalry, clothed in complete armour of steel, led the van, the light archers followed, and the infantry of all arms brought up the rear.

Innumerable spearmen on fleet dromedaries were massed on the flanks of the Palmyra host, or tried to get on the flanks of the Roman army, with intent to cut their communications and turn their position.

The battle was joined at a spot which Ptolemy calls "Immae," where he says Zenobia in person directed her troops to battle.1

Zenobia, armed like Diana, but beautiful as Venus, mounted on a splendid charger, rode down the front rank of her mighty army and gave the order to charge. The cavalry advanced with irresistible fury, and bore down everything before them. But Aurelian had placed his infantry out of reach of the cavalry, and held them in reserve, till the Orientals had exhausted themselves by [145] chasing a light and flying foe. Zosimus, the Roman historian, gives the following account of Aurelian's strategy:-

1Mr. Skene, late British Consul at Aleppo, identifies the scene of the battle. He says: "One of the small plains surrounded by rocks was that of Immae, where Zenobia took her stand against Aurelian, and was defeated. It is now called Haeka, or the Ring." -Rambles in the Deserts of Syria, p. 138. London, 1864.

"Finding Zenobia with a great army ready prepared for battle, he met and engaged her. But seeing that the Palmyra cavalry confided very much in their armour, which was heavy, strong, and secure, being also very much better horsemen than his soldiers, he placed his infantry some-where beyond the river Orontes in a place by themselves, and commanded the cavalry not immediately to engage the victorious Palmyra cavalry, but to allow themselves to be attacked, and pretend to fly, and continue to do so, till the Palmyrans and their horses should be thoroughly tired, through the excessive heat and weight of their amour." Aurelian's ruse succeeded.

The heavy Palmyra cavalry under the eye of their queen, chased the light Roman horse all over the plain, and, believing that the Romans were beaten and fleeing, as was their wont in the time of Gallienus, they followed them with exhausting energy, until they got separated from the main body of the army.

At this juncture Aurelian brought his infantry across the Orontes, and marched them into the space between the Palmyran cavalry and infantry.

"As soon as the Roman cavalry saw that their enemies were tired by their great exertions, and that their horses were scarcely able to stand under them, they stopped in their feigned flight, turned on their pursuers, and trampled them under their feet. By which means the [146] slaughter of the Palmyra cavalry was promiscuous, some being killed by the sword, and others crushed to death by the Roman horses."

Though Zenobia issued her commands through her general Zabdas, she was seen by all her troops, galloping over the plain, with a glittering helmet on her head, and with arms bare, encouraging the hesitating, cheering on the wavering, and calling the broken and dispirited to make a stand against the advancing Romans. But the day was irretrievably lost, by the impetuous valour of the heavy cavalry. It was the Balaclava charge on a large scale, with no red line to fall back upon. Seeing that resistance was no longer possible, Zenobia collected the remnants of her shattered army, and re-treated on Antioch.

At Antioch the Palmyrans had recourse to a curious device. According to Zosimus, Zabdas, Zenobia's general, with the defeated Palmyrans, retreated into Antioch; but fearing a revolt of the people if news of the defeat should get abroad, he picked out a person somewhat hoary, much like the emperor, and clothing him in a garb such as Aurelian wore, led him through the whole city as if he had taken Aurelian captive. With this contrivance he deceived the people of Antioch, and stealing out of the city by night, marched with Zenobia and the remainder of the army towards Emesa."

A stand, however, was made by the Palmyrans at a strategic position near Daphne. Aurelian entered Antioch unopposed, and after reducing the city to order, [147] followed the fugitives. He found them well posted on a hill. "He commanded his soldiers to march up to the enemy with their bucklers so near to one another, and in such close order, as to keep off darts and stones. As soon as the Romans had ascended the hill, they found themselves on equal terms with their foes, whom they put to flight. Some were dashed to pieces over precipices, and others were slain in their retreat. The Romans were again victorious, and marched forward, delighted with the emperor's success.

"Apamea, Larissa, and Arethusa opened their gates to him."

At Emesa, Zenobia had time to re-form the fragments of her broken forces while Aurelian was establishing law and order in the cities through which he passed. Both armies found abundant provisions along the fertile banks of the Orontes. Fresh new levies joined Zenobia, and preparations were made for a stubborn resistance at the native city of Cassius Longinus, whose anti-imperial feeling may have had much to do in bringing on the terrible war.

The plain to the north of Hums was splendidly adapted for a great Oriental battle-field. I once passed over it with Subhi Pasha, and an escort composed of several thousand irregular cavalry, village sheikhs, and princelings. All day long the horsemen galloped over the plain, engaging in feats of horsemanship and sham battles, their bright colours and picturesque garments lending special interest to the scene. With the field, that had once [148] resounded with the yells of Romans and Palmyrans, before me, swarming with Orientals engaged in mimic warfare, I was able to form a vivid conception of the great struggle between Zenobia and Aurelian.

The emperor marched out of Restān, the ancient Arethusa, and the queen with her army moved out of Hums to meet him.

They met on the right bank of the Oroutes, five or six miles north of Hums. The Palmyrans had the advantage of sun, and slope of plain, but otherwise there was no key of the position to be contended for, or that could give either side an advantage over the other.

According to her custom, Zenobia in armour marched at the head of her army.

Zosimus describes the battle that ensued:-

"Aurelian, seeing the Palmyra army- drawn up before Emesa in a body, opposed them with the Dalmatian cavalry, the Mvsians and Paonians, besides those of Noricum and Rhcetium, which are Celtic legions. Nay more, there were the best of all the imperial regiments picked out and chosen man by man, the Morisco horse, and the Tyanians, the Mesopotamians, the Syrians, the Phoenicians, and the Palestinians, out of Asia. All were men of courage, and the Palestinians, besides their other arms, had clubs and quarter-staves."

The battle was fierce, long, and desperate. The Palmyra cavalry had to avenge the overthrow of their companions at Antioch, and they almost annihilated the Roman cavalry. The battle, however, was finally decided by the [149] staving power of the Roman veterans, who had borne the eagles to victory in Britain and among the tierce Alemanni and ferocious Goths. The Palestinian infantry seem to have exercised a determining influence on the issue of the struggle.

To this day the people of Palestine carry a club, which they call ed-dabons - the pin. It has a large bulbous head set with spikes, and in strong hands it is a most formidable weapon. Such a weapon would not fail to bring to the ground either man or horse.

Zosimus thus describes the result of the battle: "The Palmyra cavalry were much too strong for they Roman horse, most of whom were slain; but the work of the day lay chiefly with the infantry. The Palmyrans were amazed to see the Palestinians fight so stiangely with their clubs, and were not a little disconcerted by it. After a fierce encounter, Zenobia's hosts were put to flight, and they trod one upon another, insomuch that the field was covered with -dead men and horses."

Translation of Palmyrene Inscription -- NASHOUM SOsoN OF MAULKOD.
Translation of Palmyrene Inscription - NASHOUM SON OF MAULKOD.


Text Archive Home | Book Details | Table of Contents