Ancient History · Asian History · biography · history

Empress Zenobia: Rebel Queen

Empress Zenobia is an example of a strong and ambitious woman of the ancient world. Unfortunately, not many sources survive to tell her story. Zenobia ruled the city-state of Palmyra from around 267 AD to 272 AD and, after leading a rebellion, she united much of the Eastern portion of the Roman empire under her banner. Though she was defeated in the end, her legacy lives on throughout history and she is viewed as an iconic leader.

Regal Facts About Queen Zenobia, Scourge Of The Romans

The city of Palmyra was a trade center. It was located in modern day Syria and benefitted from the use of the silk road. The land surrounding the city was also fertile and good for farming. Many different cultures and ethnicities settled in Palmyra which created a melting pot of languages, traditions, and religions. The city became very wealthy from the silk road trade, tradesmen who ran businesses there, and from agricultural production. Most of the wealth was made through taxes and tariffs on those who traded within the walls. In 64 B.C.E., Palmyra was conquered by Rome and became a Roman city state. This left the city in a very privileged position within the empire. They were left mostly independent and profited off exclusive trade with Rome. A Roman garrison was located in the city which boosted its popularity and brought more traffic to spend cash at local businesses.

ISIS in Palmyra | The New Yorker
Palmyra, modern day

Zenobia was likely born in the 240s CE to a wealthy and powerful family. She claimed she was a descendant of Cleopatra and the Ptolemy dynasty of ancient Egypt. At a young age, she married the King of Palmyra, Septimius Odenathus. Being born in a privileged position, Zenobia was well educated. She was fluent in at least three languages (Palmyrene, Greek and Egyptian) and had a grasp on politics. King Odenathus became King of one of the most powerful cities in the Eastern Empire. Rome relied on these border groups and city-state allies to protect them from outside invaders ( at this time, the Persians). Rome was have problems by the 250s/260s CE. Rome had trouble holding together their Eastern borders as their enemies began to pick at their territory. It was the same at the Northern border as well. This was part of the difficulty of maintaining such a large empire and why key allies were important. In 260 CE, Emperor Valerion was captured by the Persians which was a huge blow to the empire. As a result, many terrirotirs found an opportunity to rebel and finally break away from Rome. Confidence in the Empire began to dwindle. King Odenathus proved his loyalty and united some of the smaller groups to support the new Roman emperor and defeat the Persians. This approach was successful and Palmyra was viewed as a loyal province.

In 267 CE, Odenathus was assassinated along with his eldest son from his first marriage. The reason for this has been lost to history. Some suspect that Zenobia may have had cause (with the death of her husband and his eldest son, then her own son would be next in line), but Odenathus likely made many enemies with his support of Rome and the new emperor. After the sudden death of her husband, Zenobia acted quickly. This was key to prevent a sudden power vacuum. She quickly brought the assassins to trial and then execution. Her son, Vaballathus, was then set up as King. Since he was a minor, Zenobia ruled in his stead as regent. It seemed the popular support was there for Zenobia to become Empress. It is clear that she was ambitious (especially with her later rebellion against Rome). She also likely had a lot of influence during her husband’s rule and definitely learned much about governing Palmyra. She was to become Empress during Palmyra’s prime years.

From what is known of Zenobia, she was a very capable leader. One of her most famous achievements is creating a larger empire independent from Rome. She was in charge of a large and strong army and had the wealth to back them up. She was very involved with her generals and they were one of her most important counselors. Apparently, she may even had drank, socialized, and rode with them for battle and training. Beginning in 270 CE, Zenobia and her armies (led often by her general Zabdus) invaded some of the most prosperous Eastern provinces. She controlled Arabia, Judea, and Syria. One of her biggest wins was the conquering of Egypt, where her army of 70,000 defeated 50,000 Roman soldiers. Alexandria was now part of her empire. By 271, Zenobia controlled an empire that stretched from Libiya/Sudan to northern Turkey. Yet, Zenobia was very successful at ruling such a large empire and mix of people.

Palmyrene Empire - Wikipedia
Map of Zenobia’s empire at its peak

As stated earlier, Palymyra had always been a melting pot of various languages and cultures. She worked to understand and appease different groups of people within her empire. She successfully was able to intigrate herself into the different religious groups, political groups, and ethnic groups. She also portrayed herself in different ways depending on what groups held sway. Sometimes she may be portrayed as a Syrian monarch, or a Roman empress, or a Hellenistic Queen. She also created images that associated herself with her alleged ancestor, Cleopatra. Zenobia was also very interested in education and the continuation of learning. She gathered many intellectuals to her court and surrounded herself with new ideas and differing perspectives.

Due to the lack of sources, it is difficult to know exactly why Zenobia turned against Rome. There are some theories, but we may never know for sure. One theory posed by historians is that she wanted to prevent universal domination of Rome, but there is no evidence to back this up. She could have been looking to protect the commercial interests of Palmyra due to the instability of Rome and its northern borders. Another reason would be for independence from Rome. Palmyra was strong enough and in a good position to leave and form their own empire. I believe it is likely that latter reason for her break from the Roman empire. I think she likely realized that they could be independent and did not need to rely on another for protection. They did not need to share their wealth with another. There were probably many other reasons that were lost to history.

Ancient coin featuring Zenobia’s likeness

With great power comes those who wish to take it from you (or in this case, take it back). Naturally, Rome was not happy with what was going on in their former Eastern Empire. They had lost control over some of their wealthiest provinces and their former city-state ally was now their enemy. The new emperor, Aurelian, was not going to let this stand. Emperor Aurelian gathered his troops to start an invasion in the year 272. The Romans quickly took back many of the provinces that had been lost as Zenobia quickly began to gather her troops towards her to focus on Egypt and Syria (where Palmyra was located). At Antioch, Zenobia and Aurelian met to commence the Battle of Immae. This ended in Zenobia’s defeat where she fled to Emesa. To keep her image strong and, likely, to boost moral, she began to spread the rumor that they had captured Aurelian.

Aurelian - Wikipedia
Emperor Aurelian

Aurelian quickly caught up to her and they fought again at the Battle of Emesa. This was a close battle as the Palmyrene heavy cavalry forced the Roman cavalry into a defeat. High on the feeling of victory, the Palmyrene’s chased after the Romans and broke formation only to fall into their trap as the Roman infantry was waiting for them. They were slaughtered. Zenobia and what remained of her army had to retreat back to Palmyra in order to regroup. Naturally, the Romans followed and laid siege to the city. In the end, Zenobia and her son were captured and transported to Rome where they were paraded through the streets in humiliation. It is not known what became of Zenobia and her son after this. There has been some theories that she was forced into a retirement and lived her life in a comfortable villa, but the most likely ending is that she was executed.

Palmyra’s citizens did attempt to revolt again after coming back under Roman rule, but it was never successful again. Aurelian made sure that its citizens were forever put back in submission. He destroyed much of the city, looted its temples, and even murdered its residents. Rome would rebuild Palmyra to its own standards.

Despite the unfortunate ending to Zenobia’s career, she has had a long lasting legacy to the modern era. She has become an icon of Syrian nationalism and is on one of their bank notes today. She is remembered as a brave, strong, and virtuous queen She is remembered for her enthusiasm and ambition. She is remembered for fighting for independence and standing up to a goliath of the ancient world. She is also an example of a strong woman in a time when this was not necessarily the norm. She proved to be a strong and intelligent ruler in her own right. I found her acceptance and willing to adapt to many different cultural groups as very impressive and forward thinking. She did not try to change their ways, but tried to work with them to create a more united empire.

Zenobia on a 1998 Syrian banknote — What'shername


Palmyra and Its Empire: Zenobia’s Revolt against Rome by Richard Stoneman

“Zenobia: The Warrior Queen of Palmyra.” Documentary by History Time. Link:

biography · english history · european history · history

The Strength of Queen Katherine

In this post, I wanted to focus on Queen Katherine of Aragon, the first wife of Henry VIII of England. With all the focus on Anne Boleyn, Katherine is typically remembered for her struggles later in life. She is remembered as the old, unattractive, stubborn woman who was being replaced by her young and vivacious lady in waiting. In reality, Katherine of Aragon was an extremely strong woman, a very popular queen and a role model for many of her subjects. She was intelligent and educated. She was also loyal to a fault. She was born of Queen Isabella (who was the queen of Castile in her own right) and King Ferdinand. She was trained for queenship since she was a toddler and prepared entirely for her role as a leader. She was integral to the success at the Battle of Flodden. It is easy to see why she remained popular with England’s subjects even after the King had decided to put her aside.

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American History · biography · history

Timeline of Women’s Suffrage : 1848-1920. Part 2

See Part 1 :

New Women

Today in history…27 February | english3batz

The turn of the century brought about a new era of suffragists. The previous generation attempted to fight for their suffrage rights while still trying to fit into the roles that society made for them. They wanted to fight for progress, but also could not afford to stand out in ways that may look badly on the cause as they would lose support. For this reason, the old generation of suffragists did not encourage street speaking, marches, or acts of civil disobedience. Victoria Woodhull (a woman who I profiled two years ago: ) was a woman ahead of her time and was a very popular figure. She was bold and headstrong. She even announced her candidacy for president in 1870 (prior to women receiving the vote!). Woodhull was a divorcee and lectured about women’s rights and their sexual freedom. It was the free love portion and her spiritualism beliefs that cause the suffragists to want to disassociate from Woodhull’s brand. They knew that this would be a discouragement to any politician who may have sided with their cause. Society was not ready to accept women’s suffrage AND their sexual freedom. Just like with the temperance movement, the women of the older generation were still very concerned with appearances despite their activism.

Yet, in the wake of the 20th century, the world was changing. In Great Britain, the “suffragettes” were making loud scenes to get what they wanted. The suffragettes held parades, gave speeches, performed skits, participated in hunger strikes , and , sometimes, even performed acts of violence. American suffragists, like Harriot Stanton Blatch (daughter of Cady Stanton) , traveled to Great Britain and were influenced by what they saw there.

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American History · biography · history

Timeline of Women’s Suffrage : 1848-1920. Part 1

Last week, we celebrated the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in America. It is an amazing milestone to hit and to honor, but, on the other hand, it is shocking to think that the female citizens of this country have only had the right to vote for one hundred years. There are so many stories, people, and events that went into the long fight for the 19th Amendment, but in these next two posts I have compiled the events and stories that I feel were most important and encapsulated the movement.

Seneca Falls Convention, July 1848

 The Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 sparked the women’s suffrage movement in America. The event was organized by five women: Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Mary M’Clintock, Martha Coffin Wright, and Jane Hunt. It took place in the small town of Seneca Falls, New York. This convention was an early introductions, worldwide, of the concept of women’s suffrage. But how did this convention suddenly come about?

The abolition of slavery was one of the first political movements that women participated in and were able to exercise political agency. Beginning in the 1830s, American women were speaking out against slavery in public lectures. A woman’s role, during this period, was to be stowed away in the “private sphere”. They were to be dutiful wives and take care of the children.  Being regulated to the household, women never had a chance to reach out further and participate in the public sphere. They were barred from taking an active role in politics. To society, their opinions were unimportant. After a woman married (which was expected of them) they would lose any few freedoms they had and were dependent on their husbands. Married women had virtually no property or financial rights and the option of divorce was near impossible. The ideal “True Womanhood” of the period was a wife/mother who was pious and submissive. By the eyes of the law, women were dependents rather than a true citizen.   

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American History · biography · history

Arrested for Voting: Susan B. Anthony’s Fight for Suffrage

August 2020 marks 100 years since the 19th Amendment was passed. This amendment provided women with the right to vote in the United States. It is hard to believe that it was not until 1920 that the female citizens of America received a right that should have been automatic as a citizen of the country. This right is often taken for granted today and it can be difficult to imagine a time when a woman would actually be arrested for voting in an election! It is important to remember this anniversary and to remember how hard the women who came before us fought. They fought so we could participate in government and in the decision making of this country. It is critical that we exercise this right every opportunity we have. During August (and likely the months beyond), I would like to highlight some of the tactics the suffragettes used to have their voice heard, famous standouts, and highlight how much hard work was put into the movement.

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American History · biography · history

Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera: Activists

This month I wanted to write an article about two figures who made such an impact, yet have been forgotten through time. Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera were icons of the LGBT and transgender movement during the 1960s and 1970s.

Forsaken transgender pioneers recognized 50 years after Stonewall

In the mid-20th century, it was still difficult for homosexuals to be open in the world. It was even more difficult for transgender individuals. Those in the LGBT community were ostracized from society. Society still did not want to acknowledge their existence. Most employers excluded and denied opportunities for those of the community. Some were sent to mental institutions to go through shock therapy to “cure” any “unnatural” thoughts. Many had no where to go and were unable to obtain employment. They ended up on the streets after running away or being abandoned by their own families.

This is the world that Marsha P. Johnson entered after graduating high school with $15 dollars to her name. She immediately left her home in New Jersey to move to New York City in 1963. In her hometown, Johnson was not accepted as a transgender female. She experienced harassment by males and in a 1992 interview she stated that she was a victim of sexual assault. She moved to Greenwich Village in 1966 and found a community of people who accepted her. She became a part of the transgender community and participated in drag.

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biography · english history · history · Scottish History

Battle of Bannockburn and Robert the Bruce (Part 3)

Part One ( The Great Cause (Part 1) )

Part Two ( William Wallace’s Rebellion (Part 2) )

In 1297, the Robert the Bruce was 22 years old. In part 1 of this series, his grandfather (also named Robert Bruce) was one of the contenders for the Scottish throne but lost to John Balliol. The Bruce family was still one of the most powerful Scottish families and were determined to see their claim to the throne fulfilled. They sided with Edward I when the first rebellions broke out.  This was because they refused to back their rival John Balliol and hoped others would support their claim. Now, the young Robert Bruce, against the wishes of his father, decided to join the Wallace’s rebellion in 1297. In 1298, Bruce was named Guardian of Scotland. His rival, John Comyn (the nephew of John Balliol), was also named co-Guardian. The men disliked each other and again were beginning to split into factions, just like their previous relations. Yet, despite these factions, in 1302 Edward received oaths of allegiance from all parties. Was young Robert the Bruce going to honor this oath?

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biography · english history · european history · history · Scottish History

William Wallace’s Rebellion (Part 2)

In part one of this series (The Great Cause (Part 1)), Edward I had forced the Scottish nobles and their King to swear an oath of allegiance to him as their “overlord”. As he believed he had finally subjugated Scotland, the English king attended to affairs in other parts of his kingdom. After the betrayal of John Balliol and a failed rebellion, Edward I completely occupied Scotland. He sent soldiers to ensure his rule would continue. The people of Scotland were taken advantage of and abused under this military occupation. Scotland needed a new champion to take up their cause for freedom. Their nobles had failed them with their infighting and military defeats, so it was time for one of their own to pick up his sword.

William Wallace’s background is hazy and was thought to be the son of a minor feudal lord in Renfrewshire or Ayrshire. He seems to have grown up with military training which contributed to his later success. He was a very tall man . He was over six feet when the average male height was about 5’6” (though this physical characteristic was highly exaggerated in legends). Walter Bower (author of  the Scotichronicon) describes him as having “a certain good humour, had so blessed his words and deeds with a certain heavenly gift, that…he won over to himself the grace and favour of the hearts of all loyal Scots.” Bower also described him as “fair in his judgments”, compassionate, patient, and a skilled orator. Yet, English sources would describe him as “a vagrant and a fugitive”, a “bloody man”, and “a chief of brigands” (Morris, pg 303).

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Ancient History · Asian History · biography · european history · history

The Trung Sisters and the use of Morality Laws in Empire      

Throughout history, morality laws have been used by empires to place restrictions on society in order to create a specific image and enforce power. Many times, these laws would especially affect a specific group within the population. The post this month will compare two different ancient cultures and reveal how ancient morality laws were used to place controls on women. It will explore how these restrictions were to help create the ideal society that the leaders envisioned. In the process, some amazing heroines, The Trung sisters of Vietnam, will be highlighted. Even in the current era, morality laws can still be found. In the past decade there have been many debates which affect marriage rights, healthcare, and the choices of particular groups in our society. Many of the ancient laws that are discussed here will seem outdated, but it is interesting to compare to the discussions happening in our world today.

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American History · biography · Detroit/Michigan · history

The Italian Hall Disaster and the Copper Strike of 1913

In this post I want to bring attention to the Christmas Eve Italian Hall Disaster. This event is a forgotten piece of history to those outside of the local area. This story takes place in the early 1900s during a time where big corporations were booming and there were essentially no restrictions on how an employer could choose to treat their work force. It begins with local workers who became fed up with the way they were being treated and realized that they should be worth more to their employers. With great sacrifice to many union families, a strike begins. Unfortunately, it will end in a Christmas tragedy, but there will be a legacy that these families left behind. It should not be forgotten.

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