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LonelyMachines t1_j1suoro wrote

> Zenobia was similarly allowed to retire peacefully to Italy.

I can speak to this particular point.

As mentioned, Vercingetorix was perceived as a savage and a bandit.

Zenobia, on the other hand, was the wife of Odenathus, the governor of Palmyra. It's hard to overstate just how important Palmyra was to the empire. It was the western terminus of the Silk Road and a huge source of reliable tax revenue. One didn't become governor of that particular province by failing upwards or biding time. Odenathus would have been a fascinating guy. He must have been fluent in numerous languages, a skilled negotiator, and a decent military leader.

Then things went all kablooey. The Emperor of Rome was defeated and captured by the Persians. He'd never see the west again. His son Gallienus (who was quite capable, screw you Gibbon) inherited the biggest crap sandwich ever. The western empire saw invasions from the Goths in Gaul, the Franks in the north, and a Persian king who was oh so very pleased with himself.

Gallienus pretty much did everything by the book, but he only had resources to fight a war on one front. Spoiler: that means Italy. Gaul and Palmyra would have to deal. It appears Odenathus said, "hey, I know some guys. I'll make some calls." He assembled an army and defended Palmyra. Against the same Persian king who'd taken the Emperor hostage. He reclaimed most of the lands the Persians had taken in the war, and he even invaded Persia.

Guess who never had to pay for his own drinks again. Yep, this guy.

Odenathus then declared himself King of Palmyra. Gallienus had his hands full. so...OK, at least Palymra's safe for now while he takes care of things at home. Everything's hunky dory just as long as...oh, crap. Gallienus just got killed by his soldiers.

Odenathus was also assassinated. Stories vary, but his wife Zenobia stepped in. Unlike the Romans, the "barbarians" were generally smart enough to know putting boys on the throne was a bad move. Odenathus' son was far too young, so Zenobia took the title of regent. Then she declared herself Empress of the Palmyrene Empire and went conquering.

Problem is, subsequent Emperors were tied up in western Europe, so there was little they could do. It wasn't until Aurelian came in with a plan (and the mobile cavalry Gallienus invented) to put the pieces back together. The whole Aurelian/Zenobia fight would make a heck of a movie, but suffice it to say, they were both really sharp and had loyal armies behind them.

Aurelian won, Palmyra was back in the band with a warning not to play long drum solos without permission, and Zenobia was taken back to Rome to be abased in a triumph. Then, like all usurpers, she was...wait. She wasn't executed? In fact, it looks like Aurelian gave her a house within commuting distance of Rome and let her live out her life.

Why? Here's my hypothesis: Aurelian was a frontiersman. He'd been born outside the Empire, and like many provincials who'd worked their way out of poverty and barbarism through military service, he believed more strongly in Roman principles than many people born within the central Empire. Among those principals were a recognition of merit and a desire to make the best use of resources. Zenobia would have had a network. She knew people from China to Spain, and she ran a split Hellenic/Semitic empire with no real recorded dissent. Her talents were apparent, and I'm guessing Aurelian kept her close for consultation from time to time.


oga_ogbeni OP t1_j1t02sg wrote

That's a curious theory. Shame Aurelian didn't live longer for so many reasons, the least of which is so we could better understand why he kept Zenobia alive. Ave restitutor orbis.


hand_truck t1_j1t4v4u wrote

I loved reading this write-up, informative and entertaining, thanks!


Thanatikos t1_j1tp63p wrote

This is one of the best comments I’ve read on Reddit. I don’t have the expertise to question it closely, but I’d want to agree with you even if I knew you were wrong.