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date: 22 January 2019


The Oxford Dictionary of Late Antiquity
Shane BrennanShane Brennan

Zenobia (Palymrene Bath Zabbai) (240/1–272 or after 274) 

Queen of Palmyra (regent 266/7–272). Born in Palmyra (Syria), thought to be daughter of Julius Aurelius Zenobios, a city strategos at about the time of her birth. Of Aramaic or Arabic stock, her family were Roman citizens and Zenobia nurtured a taste for Graeco-Roman culture, summoning from Athens during her reign the rhetorician Longinus to improve her Greek. Gibbon extolled her learning: ‘her manly understanding was strengthened and adorned by study’. Her political career sprang from her marriage to Septimius Odaenathus, an aristocrat who pursued a successful relationship with Rome, becoming its most powerful citizen in the East and the self-styled King of Palmyra. On his death in 266/7 in a dynastic struggle whose circumstances are unknown, Zenobia became regent for their eldest son, Vaballathus, and was the force behind the subsequent emergence of the Empire of Palmyra. When the Romans had reversed her remarkable territorial gains and were at the gates of the city in 272 she fled with her entourage but was captured near the Euphrates and sent to Rome. Tradition divides on her fate: one story is that she died en route to the city (Zosimus, I, 59), another that she was paraded there in Aurelian’s triumph and thereafter lived out her days on an estate in Italy (HA Triginta Tyranni, 30, 27). The rapidity of Zenobia’s rise, her reputed bravery and beauty, and her status as a female ruler who challenged an imperial power ensured an enduring fame. A leader of distinct learning, ability, and ambition, she marked the history of the Empire like few other women.

Shane Brennan


PLRE I, Zenobia.

Potter, Empire at Bay, 259, 262–4, 266–8.Find this resource:

P. Southern, Empress Zenobia: Palmyra’s Rebel Queen (2008).Find this resource:

R. Stoneman, Palmyra and its Empire: Zenobia’s Revolt against Rome (1992).Find this resource: