Zenobia, the Rebel Queen Who Took On Rome

This ancient queen of Palmyra conquered Egypt, captured Roman provinces, and nearly transformed her realm into an empire equal to Rome.

Wealth, culture, and power dwelled in the city of Palmyra in the third century A.D. This cosmopolitan capital of the Roman province of the same name lay close to the empire’s eastern borders, providing the setting for Queen Zenobia’s ambitious power play.

The showdown had been decades in the making. By the middle of the third century A.D. the Roman Empire was mired in political and economic crisis, its frontiers under constant attack, and its center struggling to hold. The catastrophic defeat and capture in 260 of Emperor Valerian by the Persians thrust Roman rule into even greater disarray. In Europe the rebel Gallic empire started to break away from Rome. Weakened and distracted, the empire was facing threats on all fronts. Observing from the east, Zenobia saw her opportunity and knew that she had an empire to gain.

Palmyra had a history of cooperation with Roman rule, and this had resulted in many benefits for the desert kingdom. Located in the middle of modern-day Syria, around 130 miles northeast of Damascus, Palmyra had prospered since coming under Roman control in the first century A.D. Sitting at the crossroads between the Mediterranean world ruled by Rome and the great empires of Asia, it became a center of huge strategic and economic importance.

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