In the mid-third century the Roman Empire suffered a series of political and military defeats so severe it split the regime into three parts. In one of these, Rome’s most eastern provinces, the queen Zenobia seized her own portion of the empire that included Syria, Arabia, Egypt, and parts of Anatolia. Her short-lived rule came to and end in 272 when the Roman emperor Aurelian defeated her armies and took Zenobia hostage. In her own lifetime, Zenobia enjoyed immense fame, rivaling even Cleopatra, from whom she reportedly claimed descent. She transformed Palmyra from a caravan city on the Silk Road into an imperial caravan center from which she governed Romans of diverse cultures and religious persuasions. Her fame has transcended her demise as even today she is the subject of operas, novels, and art works.
In this book, Nathanael Andrade assimilates the most recent historical and archaological research on Zenobia and Palmyra to present a vivid portrait of this dynamic queen. In addition to chronicling her career, in as much detail as the evidence allows, the book probes the many questions that have vexed historians: Was Zenobia an Arab? What were her religious inclinations? What were her political aspirations at various stages of her career? What was it like for her to come of age, marry, and raise children at Palmyra? Did Zenobia see herself as a Roman empress or a Syrian queen? What happened to her after her final defeat? The book also chronicles Zenobia’s rich Nachleben, from early Islamic texts to modern literature in which she appears as artifacts of European “Orientalism” and Arab nationalism. Finally, Zenobia reflects on the fragility of her legacy in the wake of recent destructive occupations of Palmyra.