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Digital Subscriptions > History Revealed > August 2018 > Zenobia

Zenobia

Alicea Francis reveals how this third century Palmyrene ruler carved an empire under Rome’s nose – and then lost it all
She looks regal here, but those gold chains are really shackles. This is Zenobia during her walk of shame through Rome
GETTY X1

The woman who dared to take on Rome

The chaos sown by Shapur I’s triumph over Valerian led to Zenobia gaining control of the Eastern Roman Empire
ALAMY X2, GETTY X1, REX/SHUTTERSTOCK X1

At the political heart of London, just outside the Palace of Westminster, stands a statue of a woman wielding a spear. Its presence serves as a daily reminder of Boudicca’s defiance in the face of Roman invaders almost 2,000 years ago. But in Syria, a country ravaged by civil war, little remains to remind its people of their very own icon of Roman resistance: Zenobia.

Her story begins in Ancient Palmyra – the ‘city of palm trees’ – built on an oasis in the Syrian Desert. Though it’s mentioned in tablets from the 19th century BC, it wasn’t until its conquest by the Romans in AD 14 that Palmyra was put on the map. Rather than suffer at the hands of its occupiers, the city was granted autonomy and, in AD 106, the Silk Road was re-routed through it. The massive increase in caravan traffic fuelled the city’s fortunes, thanks to the taxes imposed on the traders. Magnificent building projects were commissioned that showcased a fusion of Greek, Roman and Persian architecture. Palmyra was now a major centre of culture and trade.

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About History Revealed

In this month's issue… Captain Cook's secret mission Retrace James Cook's 1768 first voyage - a scientific expedition that morphed into a globe-spanning quest to find a lost continent thanks to a set of secret instructions. Plus: Louis XIV and the Palace of Versailles; the tragedy of British Tour de France hero Tom Simpson; the fall of the Russian Romanov dynasty; history of chocolate; William Wallace; weird pets; and Palymrene Queen Zenobia takes on Imperial Rome.