A descendent of Cleopatra, Zenobia was a tenacious leader and tactician who challenged the Roman Empire.
A native of Syria, Zenobia was born long after her homeland had been made a Roman province.
Well educated in classical philosophy, she spoke at least four languages and at an early age was placed in charge of her rich family's estates and cattle herds.
In 258 CE she married a Roman Senator who went on to become the Governor of Syria. Though she had at least one son with him and several daughters the marriage may not have been a happy one as Zenobia refrained from sleeping with her husband except when they wanted children.
Six years after their marriage, her husband and his eldest son from another wife were murdered by a nephew. Since her son was still a minor, Zenobia took over as regent of Syria on his behalf.
Situated on a profitable trade route and inheriting a large army from her late husband, Zenobia was well placed to break with Rome.
Desiring greater independence for herself and encouraged by ambitious courtiers and philosophers at her capital, Palmyra, Zenobia decided to throw off Roman rule and create her own Empire.
With Rome gridlocked in a power struggle over who would be the next Emperor, Zenobia was free invade Roman Egypt with her armies. Initially unsuccessful, her soldiers drew the Romans north into Syria where they were annihilated on her home turf.
With Egypt and Syria under her control, Zenobia continued her aggressive expansion adding modern day Palestine, Jordan and parts of Turkey to her Empire taking away almost a third of Rome's territories.
|Zenobia's Conquests are in Yellow|
Unfortunately for Zenobia, her luck went south in 272 CE when a Roman general, Aurelian, succeeded in becoming Emperor.
A career military man who had started as a simple foot soldier, Aurelian ended the political power struggle which had kept Rome from focusing on Zenobia's insurrection.
Crossing into Syria from the north with Rome's entire military might, Aurelian confronted Zenobia in two pitched battles driving her back to her capital.
Hoping to flee into Persia across modern day Iraq, Zenobia and her entourage were captured by Aurelian's cavalry before they could escape and her Empire was brought to an end.
Zenobia's ultimate fate varies somewhat according to the historical texts.
Most accounts agree that she was brought back to Rome as a prisoner by the Emperor and that after being put on trial she was placed under house arrest in a villa in the city for the rest of her life.
Some accounts also indicate that she may have married a Roman merchant and that one of her daughters went on to become Aurelian's wife as part of deal to keep Zenobia's people from rebelling in the future.
Zenobia's brief but highly successful campaign against Rome inspired future women monarchs like Russia's Catherine the Great.
Today, she is most remembered for being an ambitious queen who proved more than capable of going sword to sword with one of the world's greatest empires.
|Statue of Zenobia in Latakia, Syria|