Zenobia of Palmyra: History, Myth and the Neo-Classical Imagination
Queen Zenobia of Palmyra in Syria was one of the great women of classical antiquity, a romantic if tragic heroine both to Roman authors and to Chaucer, Gibbon and the neo-classical painters and sculptors of the nineteenth centruy. In her desperate search for a survival strategy for her wealthy city in the chaotic third century AD Zenobia fell foul of Aurelian, one of the ablest soldier-emperors Rome ever produced, and the image of her paraded in golden chains in Aurelian's triumphal procession at Rome became the iconic image of her enforced submission - and that of women generally, as she was transformed in modern times into a symbol of women's struggle for emancipation.
Zenobia is encrusted with legends, ancient and modern. Both the romanctic image of her as a beautiful, intellectual but chaste Arab queen of the desert, and the political perception of her as a regal woman whose feminine qualities lifted her above her misfortune and her captor, do less than justice to Plamyra's most controversial ruler. There was a dark side to her - wicked step-mother perhaps, accessory to murder perhaps, traitor to her friends certainly - that translates her from myth into reality, into being a ruler who for better or worse did what real rulers do and should be judged as such. This book constructs a coherent political and military narrative for Zenobia's life and her bid for empire. It confirms the depth of the `third century crisis' of the Roman Empire, chooses between rival versions of what happened to Zenobia, and examines the myths that have surrounded her ever since.
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