Palmyrene Empire


The Palmyrene Empire was a short-lived from the resulting from the . Named after its capital city, , it encompassed the s of , , and , as well as large parts of . The Palmyrene Empire was ruled by Queen , officially as regent for her son , who inherited the throne in 267 at age ten. In 270, Zenobia rapidly conquered most of the Roman east, attempting to maintain relations with Rome as a legitimate power. In 271, she claimed the imperial title for both herself and her son, fighting a short war with the Roman emperor , who conquered Palmyra and captured the self-proclaimed Empress. A year later the Palmyrenes rebelled, which led Aurelian to destroy Palmyra. Despite its brief existence, the Palmyrene Empire is remembered for having been ruled by one of the most ambitious and powerful women in late antiquity. It is also hailed in Syria, where it plays an important role as an icon in .


Following the murder of Roman emperor in 235, general after general squabbled over control of the empire, the frontiers were neglected and subjected to frequent raids by , and , in addition to outright attacks from the aggressive in the east. Finally, of Persia inflicted a disastrous defeat upon the Romans at the in 260, capturing the Roman emperor and soon, and rebelled against Valerian's son and usurped the imperial power in Syria. The Palmyrene leader was declared king, and remained nominally loyal to Gallienus, forming an army of Palmyrenes and Syrian peasants to attack Shapur. In 260, Odaenathus won a decisive victory over Shapur in a battle near the . Next, Odaenathus defeated the usurpers in 261, and spent the remainder of his reign fighting the Persians. Odaenathus received the title ''Governor of the East'', and ruled Syria as the imperial representative, and declared himself . Odaenathus was assassinated along with his son in 267; according to and the , he was killed by his cousin, whose name is given by the latter source as . The Augustan History also claims that Maeonius was proclaimed emperor for a very brief period, before being executed by the soldiers. No inscriptions or other evidence exist for Maeonius' reign, and he was probably killed immediately after assassinating Odaenathus. Odaenathus was succeeded by his minor son, the ten-year-old , under the regency of Zenobia. Vaballathus was kept in the shadow while his mother assumed actual rule and consolidated her power. The queen was careful not to provoke Rome and took for herself and her son the titles that her husband had, while working on guaranteeing the safety of the borders with Persia, and pacifying the dangerous tribes in .


Zenobia started an expedition against the in the spring of 270, during the reign of emperor aided by her generals, (a general of the army) and Septimius (the chief general of the army). Zabdas sacked , killed the Roman governor, and marched south securing . According to the Persian geographer , Zenobia herself attacked but could not conquer its castle. However, Ibn Khordadbeh is confusing Zenobia with , a semi-legendary Arab queen whose story is often confused with Zenobia's story. In October of 270, a Palmyrene army of 70,000 invaded , and declared Zenobia queen of Egypt. The Roman general was able to regain in November, but was defeated and escaped to the fortress of , where he was besieged and committed suicide after being captured by Zabdas, who continued his march south and secured Egypt. Afterward, in 271, Zabbai started the operations in , and was joined by Zabdas in the spring of that year. The Palmyrenes subdued , and occupied , marking the greatest extent of the Palmyrene expansion. However, the attempts to conquer were unsuccessful. The Palmyrene conquests were done under the protective show of subordination to Rome. Zenobia issued coinage in the name of Claudius' successor with Vaballathus depicted as king, while the emperor allowed the Palmyrene coinage and conferred the Palmyrene royal titles. However, toward the end of 271, Vaballathus took the title of (emperor) along with his mother.

Reconquest by Rome

In 272, Aurelian crossed the and advanced quickly through . According to one account, regained Egypt from Palmyra, while the emperor continued his march and reached . The lent itself to a legend; Aurelian to that point had destroyed every city that resisted him, but he spared Tyana after having a vision of the great philosopher , whom he respected greatly, in a dream. Apollonius implored him, stating: "Aurelian, if you desire to rule, abstain from the blood of the innocent! Aurelian, if you will conquer, be merciful!". Whatever the reason for his clemency, Aurelian's sparing of Tyana paid off; many more cities submitted to him upon seeing that the emperor would not exact revenge upon them. Entering and heading to , Aurelian defeated Zenobia in the . Zenobia retreated to Antioch then fled to while Aurelian advanced and took the former. After regrouping, the Romans first destroyed a Palmyrene garrison stationed at the fort of Daphne, and headed south to , then continued to Emesa and defeated Zenobia again at the , forcing her to evacuate to the capital. Aurelian marched through the desert and was harassed by s loyal to Palmyra, but as soon as he arrived at the city gates, he negotiated with the Bedouins, who betrayed Palmyra and supplied the Roman army with water and food. Aurelian besieged Palmyra in the summer of 272, and tried to negotiate with Zenobia, on the condition that she surrender herself in person to him, to which she answered with refusal. The Romans tried to breach the city defenses several times but were repelled, however, as the situation deteriorated, Zenobia left the city and headed east to ask the Persians for help. The Romans followed the empress, captured her near the Euphrates and brought her back to the emperor. Soon after, the Palmyrene citizens asked for peace, and the city capitulated.


Aurelian spared the city and stationed a garrison of 600 archers led by a certain , as a peacekeeping force. The defenses were destroyed and most of the military equipment was confiscated. Zenobia and her council were taken to Emesa and put on trial. Most of the high-ranking Palmyrene officials were executed, while Zenobia's and Vaballathus's fates are uncertain. In 273, Palmyra rebelled under the leadership of a citizen named , and contacted the Roman prefect of Mesopotamia, , offering to help him usurp the imperial power. Marcellinus delayed the negotiations and sent word to the Roman emperor, while the rebels lost their patience and declared a relative of Zenobia named as Augustus. Aurelian marched against Palmyra and was helped by a Palmyrene faction from inside the city, headed by a man with a senatorial rank named ''Septimius Haddudan''. Aurelian spared Antiochus, but razed Palmyra. The most valuable monuments were taken by the emperor to decorate his , while buildings were smashed, people were and cudgeled and Palmyra's holiest pillaged.

Evaluation and legacy

The ultimate motive behind the revolt is debated; when dealing with the rise of Palmyra and the rebellion of Zenobia, historians most often interpreted the ascendancy as an indication of cultural, ethnic or social factors. viewed the rebellion as a completely native ethnic opposition against Rome. considered Zenobia's revolt a pan-Arab movement that was a forerunner of the ; an opinion shared by , and an almost universal view amongst Arab and Syrian scholars such as . disagreed that the revolt was ethnic in its nature and emphasized that it was a reaction to the weakness of Rome and its inability to protect Palmyra from the Persians. viewed the rebellion as aimed at Rome's throne, not just Palmyrene independence. Vaballathus' inscriptions indicated the style of a ; according to Ball, Zenobia and Vaballathus were for the Roman imperial throne, following a plan similar to that of , who ascended the throne after building his power-base in Syria. considered the revolt as a bid for both independence and the Roman throne. The Palmyrene royalty used Eastern titles such as ''king of kings'', which had no relevance in Roman politics, while the conquests were in the interest of Palmyrene commerce. Finally, it was only in the last regnal year of Zenobia and Vaballathus that the Roman imperial rank was claimed. , although tending toward the view that it wasn't only an independence movement, believes there is not yet enough evidence to draw a conclusion on the nature of Palmyra's revolt. During the mid-twentieth century, interest in the Palmyrene Empire was briefly revived by the advent of . Modern Syrian nationalists viewed the empire as a uniquely Syrian civilization which attempted to liberate the masses of the Levant from Roman tyranny. A Syrian TV show was produced based on Zenobia's life, and she was the subject of a biography written by Syria's former minister of defense .

See also





* * * * * * * {{Syria topics History of the Levant