With Dr. Eireann Marshall
In Palmyrene her name was Bat-Zabbai, meaning the daughter of Zabbai, though she is better known to us as Zenobia, the widow of the King Odaenathus, who ruled the Palmyrene Empire as regent for her son, Vaballathus. In her five-year reign as regent, she acquired an empire which stretched from Central Anatolia to Egypt, and took on the title Augusta to match it. She was an equally able politician, providing stability, tolerance, and prosperity to her vast empire, which was too often prone to infighting. Identifying with Cleopatra VII, to whom she believed she was related, Zenobia was educated, speaking a variety of languages, and attracting a number of scholars from different parts of the east to her court, including Longinus who argued that Greek culture was indebted to the Near East. Her power and provocative titulature inevitably incurred the ire of Aurelian, the Roman emperor who defeated her in the Battle of Emessa, which very nearly went the other way. Captured in Antioch, Zenobia was displayed there in chains in the hippodrome, before being taken away to Rome in order to be displayed in Aurelian’s triumph in AD 274. Ancient writers gave very different accounts of her end, which was either by execution or came about naturally, even leisurely, in Tivoli in Hadrian’s villa. Either way, she has become, like her ancestor Cleopatra, an icon manipulated in different ways by women in the Middle East, Syria and even Catherine the Great who admired her combined military prowess with intellect.