1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Zenobia

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ZENOBIA (Gr. Ζηνοβία), queen of Palmyra, one of the heroines of antiquity. Her native name was Septimia Bathzabbai, a name also borne by one of her generals, Septimius Zabbai.[1] This remarkable woman, famed for her beauty, her masculine energy and unusual powers of mind, was well fitted to be the consort of Odainatti (see Odaenathus) in his proud position as Dux Orientis; during his lifetime she actively seconded his policy, and after his death in a.d. 266-7 she not only succeeded to his position but determined to surpass it and make Palmyra mistress of the Roman Empire in the East. Wahab-allath or Athenodōrus (as the name was Graecized), her son by Odainath, being still a boy, she took the reins of government into her own hands. Under her general-in-chief Zabdā, the Palmyrenes occupied Egypt in A.D. 270, not without a struggle, under the pretext of restoring it to Rome; and Wahab-allath governed Egypt in the reign of Claudius as joint ruler with the title of βασιλεύς (king), while Zenobia herself was styled βασιλίσσαη (queen). In Asia Minor Palmyrene garrisons were established as far west as Ancyra in Galatia and Chalcedon opposite Byzantium, and Zenobia still professed to be acting in the interests of the Roman rule. In his coins struck at Alexandria in a.d. 270 Wahab-allath is named along with Aurelian, but the title of Augustus is given only to the latter; a Greek inscription from Byblos, however, mentions Aurelian (or his predecessor Claudius) and Zenobia together as Σεβαστός and Σεβαστή (i.e. Augustus and Augusta, C.I.G. 4503 b). When Aurelian became emperor in 270 he quickly realized that the policy of the Palmyrene queen was endangering the unity of the empire. It was not long before all disguises were thrown off; in Egypt Wahab-allath began to issue coins without the head of Aurelian and bearing the imiperial title, and Zenobia's coins bear the same. The assumption marked the rejection of all allegiance to Rome. Aurelian instantly took measures; Egypt was recovered for the Empire by Probus (close of 270), and the emperor himself prepared a great expedition into Asia Minor and Syria. Towards the end of 271 he marched through Asia Minor and, overthrowing the Palmyrene garrisons in Chalcedon, Ancyra and Tyana, he reached Antioch, where the main Palmyrene army under Zabdā and Zabbai, with Zenobia herself, attempted to oppose his way. The attempt, however, proved unsuccessful, and after suffering considerable losses the Palmyrenes retired in the direction of Emesa (now Höms), whence the road lay open to their native city. The queen refused to yield to Aurelian's demand for surrender, and drew up her army at Emesa for the battle which was to decide her fate. In the end she was defeated, and there was nothing for it but to fall back upon Palmyra across the desert. Thither Aurelian followed her in spite of the difficulties of transport, and laid siege to the well-fortified and provisioned city. At the critical moment the queen's courage seems to have failed her; she and her son fled from the city to seek help from the Persian king;[2] they were captured on the bank of the Euphrates, and the Palmyrenes, losing heart at this disaster, capitulated (a.d. 272). Aurelian seized the wealth of the city but spared the inhabitants; to Zenobia he granted life; while her officers and advisers, among whom was the celebrated scholar Longinus, were put to death. Zenobia figured in the conqueror's splendid triumph at Rome, and by the most probable account accepted her fall with dignity and closed her days at Tibur, where she lived with her sons the life of a Roman matron. A few months after the fall of Zenobia, Palmyra revolted again; Aurelian unexpectedly returned, destroyed the city, and this time showed no mercy to the population (spring, 273).

Among the traditions relating to Zenobia may be mentioned that of her discussions with the Archbishop Paul of Samosata on matters of religion. It is probable that she treated the Jews in Palmyra with favour; she is referred to in the Talmud, as protecting Jewish rabbis (Talm. Jer. Ter. viii. 46 b).

The well-known account of Zenobia by Gibbon (Decline and

Fall, i. pp. 302-312 Bury's edition) is based upon the imperial biographers (Historia Augusta) and cannot be regarded as strictly historical in detail. An obscure and distorted tradition of Zenobia as an Arab queen survived in the Arabian story of Zabba, daughter of 'Amr b. Zarib, whose name is associated with Tadmor and with a town on the right bank of the Euphrates, which is no doubt the Zenobia of which Procopius speaks as founded by the famous queen. See C. de Perceval, Essai sur l'hist. des Arabes, ii. 28 f.,

197 f; Tahari, i. 757 f. See further Palmyra.

(G. A. C.*)

  1. See the Palmyrene inscriptions given in Vogüé, Syrie centrale, Nos. 28, 29 = Cooke, North-Semitic Inscriptions, Nos. 130, 131. Zabbai, an abbreviation of some such form as Zabd-ilā = dowry of God, was a common Palmyrene name; it occurs in the Old Testament, Ezr. x. 28; Neh. iii. 20.
  2. Whether Shāpūr or his son Hormuzdi is not certain: Shāpūr's death is variously placed in 269 and 272.