Queen Zenoubia



In A. B. Daniel's book "Zenoubia's Legend", issued by the Parisian Cleric Publishing House, 2005, we can read many details of the life of Queen Zenoubia who ruled the Arabian Kingdom of Palmyra between 266 and 272AD, continued the march of her assassinated husband, King Uzaina, in liberating Syria from the Romans. Palmyra, in Zenoubia's term, reached the culmination of its power and prosperity.

In one of the chapters of his book, Daniel wonders about the nature of this woman who occupied the hearts of her people and the pages of books written about her story. He said: "Was Zenoubia, Queen of Palmyra, a real woman of flesh and blood? She was of sharp intelligence and rare bravery, of charming beauty and great power. Yes she was a queen, but not like other queens. She obliged the Roman Empire to kneel down in respect to her although she was in her thirties. All we know with certainty about Zenoubia is that in 260AD she was the wife of Uzaina, (Udanat) the famous king of Palmyra, who defeated the Persians and was appointed by the Roman Emperor Galliano, in 262, Commander in Chief of the Orient which was under the Roman Rule. In ten years time this king could build a new empire, Palmyra, which extended from the Mediterranean in the west to the Euphrates in the east and to Egypt in the west.

In 266 King Uzaina was assassinated in Emissa, now Homs, and his wife Zenoubia took his place, fought Rome, and declared independence.

For her misfortune Emperor Orleans 270-275, who was fond of wars, started a military campaign against her in 272 and succeeded in defeating Zenoubia and in taking her war prisoner to Rome. Orleans' Roman Army looted Palmyra and spread destruction and chaos in it.

In his book "History of Augustus", Roman historian Tripilius Polyon, who lived in the sixth century AD, i.e. after the fall of the Roman Empire 479AD, told the story of the Roman Empire since its early establishment in 23BC. He mentioned Roman Gods like Jupiter, Diana, and Artemis in order to picture the sublime status of these gods among the peoples of the large empire, which fell after the rise of Christianity, a religion that replaced all other religions in the Mediterranean region. In his book, Polyon wrote a special chapter about Zenoubia in which he said that she played the same role of these gods and was even glorified by her people like any of them. She was equal to great women of divine nature who could, in a short time, lead great men, and rule a great empire; like Semiramis in Mesopotamia and Cleopatra in Egypt.

He said that Zenoubia was a woman of rare wit and smartness, a woman of noble heart and also of a beauty which could charm all those around her. He likened her to a rare valuable gem and to a clear bright diamond because of her purity and straightforwardness. In addition to these characters, Zenoubia enjoyed another one, not less than these previous ones, bravery, which made of her a human being of the same rank of Rome's goddesses. She was a real knight, a sharp archer, and a brave fighter, with a power to walk long distances at day time and in the night. Nothing was equal to her bravery than her political wisdom, based on logical apprehension and capability of taking the right decision. Zenoubia was equal to Cleopatra

A. B. Daniel wrote: "Europe woke up to remember Zenoubia, queen of Palmyra...European readers were taken by several Roman characters of great fame, including Zenoubia who twinkled like the Morning Star". For the Italian poet Petrarch, 1304-1374AD, who was interested in archaeology and ancient manuscripts, Zenoubia was equal to Cleopatra in terms of fame and beauty, although each of them had a different character. Zenoubia was of rare beauty and her head was crowned with thick hair beautifully styled in braids.

Zenoubia, a charismatic queen Daniel said: "In the 9th and 10th century AD Zenoubia was known for Arab historians who mentioned her as "alZabbaa". They described her accurately as a breath taking beauty, of wide blue eyes which always obliged men to keep silent in her presence. She used to have a special hair style so that when she walks her hair forms something like a net behind her, and when she spreads it, it covered all her back". Many poems were written about her fame and greatness.

Most of them were similar to legends, since she was known of a special power of vengeance, especially from those who killed her husband. She was widowed early and remained pure like a crystal water source. She defended Palmyra against all treasons and conspiracies woven by those who envied her power, beauty and character.

Zenoubia... A woman who rivaled men with the coming of the 17th century, a group of French novelists and historians wrote about Zenoubia and agreed that she was a beautiful, smart, and attractive woman, and at the same time she was pure and pious, and her life was full of gallantry and heroism. Two British travelers; Wood and Dickens, visited Palmyra and wrote a book titled "Palmyra's Ruins" 1715, which was highly received in Europe and made Palmyra and her queen Zenoubia an example to be followed. Parks and gardens were decorated with artifacts of Palmyran style and women started dressing costumes similar to those of Zenoubia.

Adventurers started traveling to Syria looking for beauty and charm. Russian Empress Catherine II gave her capital, Petersburg, an additional name, "Palmyra of the North", as a tribute to Syrian Palmyra. Exploratory trips were arranged by Europeans to Palmyra, and when travelers return home they used to tell fictitious tales about Palmyra and her queen, stories that attracted European audience. A French painter, Ferdinand Cassis visited Palmyra and painted all he could see in it. He drew more than two hundred high quality portraits including 80 schemas of the ruins of Palmyra. Unfortunately most of the schemas were lost but one. They represented a wealth to archaeologists, and at the same time they were masterpieces which made of Zenoubia, queen of the Syrian Desert, a real legend incarnated on earth.

In 1813, a British lady, Hester Stanhope, decided to see the kingdom of Zenoubia on the ground. She led a caravan of 20 camels and hundreds of horses into Palmyra where she settled for a long time, an event which encouraged many western travelers to follow her footsteps, to meet her, and to see Palmyra. When meeting her visitors Lady Stanhope used to behave like Zenoubia at home, guiding tourists and travelers among the temples, colonnades and monuments of Palmyra. Many people used to call her British Zenoubia. When she got old, visitors used to visit her to pay tribute to her capability of presenting Syrian Zenoubia to the western world. Zenoubia and monotheism Zuhair Shalaq, in his book "Papers of the French Mandate" said: "History witnessed beautiful queens who could play important roles in public life of their peoples like Nefertiti and Cleopatra in Egypt, Semiramis in ancient Assyria, and Zenoubia in Palmyra. Zenoubia used to read the books of the Egyptian philosopher Platonius, to communicate with Antioch's archbishop Paul, to meet with Jewish rabbis in Palmyra, and to discuss with her advisor and prime minister Longinius the possibility of establishing a monotheist religion which can unite all her people and the peoples of the world by unifying all the religions of her time (Christianity, Judaism and atheism) in one, but she couldn't achieve this dream because she was defeated by Orleans. About this the French philosopher Ernest Renan said" Had Zenoubia succeeded in establishing her new religion she would have saved Europe the horrors of the Crusades for which Europe offered more than 4 million people in two hundred years of time" Daniel concludes his chapter about Zenoubia saying: "Zenoubia could gather the followers of Platonius in Syria around her. Their guide was Longinius, born in Homs 212 AD, traveled to Alexandria, read Platonius and was influenced by his thoughts". It is well known that Longinius was a brave and patriotic Syrian, propa propagandist of high morals, and full of hatred towards the Romans who used to rule his country with arrogance and insolence. He was tall with a harsh voice. Zenoubia invited him to Palmyra and they agreed to work together to achieve independence and unify Syria proper, so that Palmyra turned into a Mecca for scientists where many forums were held under Zenoubia's patronage. She appointed him prime minister whose council included Lubric from Beirut and Klikratos from Tyre. Sessions of the council of ministers were attended by Antioch's archbishop Paul, friend of Zenoubia. References say that Zenoubia and Longinius did not embrace Christianity although they were sympathetic to it and remained committed to their own belief of Stoicism and Platonism. Stoicism called for harmonizing with nature and despising pains, while Platonism called for goodness and righteousness. Longinius established the Palmyran army and helped the queen defeat the Romans under her commander Zabadai, who occupied Asia Minor and Egypt and freed them, with the whole East, from the Romans. When Orleans took power he decided to revenge from Zenoubia and Longinius. The Palmyran and Roman armies met near Antioch, but Zenoubia's army couldn't stand the fight so it retreated to Homs, where it was defeated by the Romans who continued their march to Palmyra.

In commemoration of this great history of queen Zenoubia whose great achievements are still live on the ground, we feel it is time to revive this history and reconstruct the city of Palmyra so that it resumes its historical position as a Mecca for tourists.


Haifaa Mafalani