vendredi 6 mai 2016

Rediscovering famous characters IV : the "Chieftain Amazon" who proclaimed herself Emperess of Rome !

by Jean-Jacques COURTEY, Doctor in Economic Geography, Ph. D

The husband of our "Chieftain Amazon" was named Odenath. And when he died assassinated in 267 (one version says it was in Cappadocia, presently Turkey), she took firmly the lead of their country in the name of their young son. She was his second wife (they married around 255), and the daughter of a certain Antiochos. As her father's name is Greek (or Macedonian), she is considered to be from foreign origin. She was speaking three languages at least : Greek, Aramean and Roman, notwithstanding the language of Cappadocia. And herself as Septimia Bathzabbaï (230~240 - ?) always connected her kinship to Cleopatra and the Ptolemeus dynasty in Egypt (a Macedonian line).
The fact she held successfully a real army by ranking above her generals (Zabdas and Zabbios) before being finally defeated, is quite amazing. Even the Romans recognized her the title of Queen.
So, it is strange to find some contemporary historians considering her as just a "Chieftain", an "Amazon Chieftain" of Syria to be precise.

Anyhow, Odenath was King and living in "Tadmor" (the Aramean name of Palmyra), so obviously his wife was Queen. The very modern argument about Palmyra status is to us creating a pointless confusion, and a source of bad headache.
The Romans of her time, always considered her very clearly as a Queen, and not only as a Chieftain then.
So it is very weird that some specialists think they know better what she was, than the people of her time. It's rather odd, as they are themselves quoting their lack of sources and documents about her.
The very fact is, that Odenath and Septimia Bathzabbaï's capital and territory were neither submitted to Rome nor to the Persians, as they were controlling the whole Roman Empire of Orient.

Odenath accomplished what the Roman legions were unable to, containing and repelling the numerous Persian Sassanide army, and in that way protecting the Roman Empire of Orient. To be more precise, by 261 Odenath was fully mastering it.
Thus him and Septimia Bathzabbaï, who's role is said to have been determining in the victory against Persia, had become Protectors of the Roman Empire.
And this reversed way could explain far better the attitude of his wife towards Rome after his death, in 267. She reigned in the name of their young son Whaballath, with an iron hand in a glove of velvet, not without showing some fairness and magnanimity. Odenath had been named Co-Regent of all Orient by Gallienus (218 - 268), Emperor of Rome just before his death, as he was already carrying the oriental title of "King of Kings". So obviously, the situation of his widow was over suddenly quite high.
But neither Odenath's title of "Corrector totius Orientus" (Co-Regent of All Orient), nor the one of "Mlk" ("Melek" or King in Aramean) seem to have been fully understood nowadays.

In our new century, some contemporary exegetes have got apparently a subjective conception about what is - or not - an independent country, and the very concept of sovereignty. They should then follow their logic till the end, by wandering if their own European country is still sovereign or not presently ? But strangely, they do not establish any obvious parallel with the Roman Empire, that European Union is appearing to replace after all.
Again, they intend to analyze who was exactly our character of the day, through the deforming prism of their modern prejudices about the respective roles of men and women - independently of their gender.
People of the Antiquity didn't feel especially their time was superior, and they were not bombastic about women's rights - or even men's rights. But they just admitted them easily and naturally when they were in existence, including the Romans. They didn't play a different game behind the screen. And beyond great words, who can assert the law of the strongest isn't anymore unhappily the outstanding rule worldwide nowadays ?

You are starting to guess whom we are talking about, but there is a confusion in your mind because of the last Queen of Amazons, Thalestris. And you are right to think we are not talking about Thalestris, who came to Zadracarta - Hyrcania - to meet Alexander the Great (356 - 323 BC) several centuries before in order to get an exceptional baby - in fact twins - through their "marriage of the Sun and the Moon".
Let's recall Alexander was King of Macedonia, "Hegemon" of Greece (and sometimes considered as the first King of this finally united land), King of Asia, Pharaoh of Egypt and Libya, Shah of Persia and Protector of Xian, King of Afghanistan, and Conqueror of Indus between other titles ! But we will come back thereafter to the Amazon kinship.

Our character of the day can certainly be compared to an Amazon, we agree on this point.
She clearly behaved as a Queen Warrior and a General-in-chief of a numerous army. The truth is she created incredible problems of strategy to the Romans. And the "Historia Augusta" itself is calling "Amazons" the ten women getting along with her in Rome, accompanied with Sarmatians (fusion of Amazon women and Scythian men) and Goth Warriors also, during the triumph of Emperor Aurelianus in Rome (in 274). That's not surprising coming from Romans, who knew some ancestral secrets about the hidden descendance of Alexander the Great and Thalestris, in connection with the Roman patrician Marcus Curtius and Magog the Goth (great chamberlain of Thalestris) : prince Vanya ("who had become "Janus Curtius" in Gaul), and princess Anya, his twin sister who had stayed with her mother Thalestris/Minithya in Cappadocia. It has to be quoted that Marcus Curtius was a direct ancestor of the famous Roman Proconsul of Africa, who reached eternal glory with his ten books about Alexander the Great precisely, Quintus Curtius Rufus !

This triumph was terribly difficult to reach for the new Emperor Aurelianus : he was acclaimed Emperor by his troops only in september 270, and Zenobia on her side proclaimed herself Augusta (Emperess of Rome) on August 29th, 271, in the name of her son.
Oh, that's it, you know now that the Greek (or Macedonian) name of our mysterious character of the day, Septimia Bathzabbaï, is Zenobia, whose teeth where shining to the light like magnificent pearls !
Anecdotally, the exceptional quality of her teeth is still famous nowadays.
When Zenobia had taken control of Phenicia, at the image of Alexander the Great, Rome didn't move.
What provoked the final confrontation between them two was her conquest of Egypt (autumn 270) with 70 000 soldiers, including Barbarians : she was directly challenging the power of Aurelianus in Rome by giving back over suddenly to Egypt its status of Kingdom, lost in 30 BC at the death of Queen Cleopatra !
From 272 to 273, Aurelianus was at war with Zenobia. And it was not really easy to finally overcome the one who is staying known in history as the Queen, or sometimes the "Emperess" of Palmyra. Emperor Aurelianus (214 or 215 - 275) wasn't of Roman origin himself, but from Sirmium (presently Serbia). He is classified generically among the Illyrian Emperors of Rome.

At the peak of her victories of conquest and of her widest "Western" and Southern expansion, Zenobia shook so much Rome, that for six years nobody understood what was going on ! As a result she extended her empire in Orient (or her control over the Roman Empire of Orient if you consider her ambiguous attitude), from Palmyra in Syria to Phenicia and Ancyre (now Ankara), Palestine, Roman Arabia and Egypt - the bread basket of Rome -, with the ambition to go further...which meant Rome !
The powerful Gods Baal (or Bêl in Aramean) and Arsus were guiding her hand, even she is famous for having been sympathetic to Christians or other religious groups.
Aurelianus refused to kill her when she was finally defeated, and made prisoner after she tried to escape from Palmyra to Persia on the back of a swift camel, not fast enough yet to catch the boat of her freedom.
Aurelianus didn't want to make the same mistake as Octavianus-Augustus (63 BC - 14 CE) with Cleopatra in 30 BC, which means he was considering Zenobia as...a descendant.

Her presence in Rome for his triumph was absolutely necessary, even killing her after wasn't his point. On this exceptional occurrence, he even granted grace to the Gaullish leader Tercerius who had proclaimed his son Emperor of Gaul, according to "Historia Augusta". At the difference of some contemporary exegetes, this chronicle (probably dating from 390), is giving credit to the kinship of Zenobia with Cleopatra. But what is proving our beginning of XXIst century, which is lost in a terrible confusion and a so visible mess, can guarantee objectivity and broad mindedness ?
And Aurelianus didn't either treat her as a slave, but only as a bold and noble Queen prisoner for just a short while. He was magnanimous to her.

Zenobia had explained him that he was all right as an Emperor compared to Gallienus, Aureolus, or Claudius, and that in a way her initiatives of co-leadership in Orient just helped him to maintain successfully the Empire, by alleviating his heavy charge of Emperor ! He laughed uncontrollably : he found her a fun and was absolutely mesmerized by her courage, her self-confidence and her beauty. Zenobia was famous for her incredible charm, recorded in "Historia Augusta". The same chronicle is underlining a peculiarity connected to her policy of chastity except at certain periods, in connection to fertility. This detail can effectively recall the cultural features of Amazons with their "Spring Festival". Anyhow she wasn't prisoner long : the gold chains and heavy jewels she was carrying for Aurelianus' triumph were just for this ceremony. She even complained that they were a bit too heavy for her !

To see through the political record of Zenobia, you have certainly to take on account the question of kinship, and particularly the interconnection she made with Amazons and Alexander the Great's family. Or else you cannot understand anything. For instance, when she conquered Egypt, a simple province of Rome since the defeat of Cleopatra, she did it as "the heiress of Cleopatra" (69 - 30 BC). And nobody seems to have wandered why she said that, at the exception of Emperor Aurelianus ?
Cleopatra (Cleopatra VII more precisely) was directly from the line of Ptolemeus (c. 368 - 283 BC) who became Pharaoh of Egypt after the death of Alexander the Great, officially his cousin - but most likely his half-brother. Zenobia actually wrote a treaty in Greek on the history of Orient and Egypt explaining accessorily what was her connection to Cleopatra and the Ptolemeus line - and also the reasons of her Amazon behaviour -, but it seems it has not been found back to this day.

About Amazons, nobody pushed the enquiry concerning Zenobia's potential hybrid origin, which always stays in the shadow. When Thalestris got twins from Alexander, the girl, Anya, stayed with her, and the boy, Vanya had finally to be sheltered in...Far Occident (Gaul Transalpina) with the help of the Roman Marcus Curtius, and her loyal chamberlain, Magog the Goth.
Establishing a link with Amazons, is a bit like implying a possibility of kinship connection with Anya ; as a matter of fact, the capital of the previous Amazon kingdom of Thalestris was not so far from Palmyra (Syria), in Themiscyra (North East of Turkey) beside the Black Sea. And actually Zenobia conquered and occupied Cappadocia.
So, when some French historians call Zenobia an "Amazon Chieftain", they have to go further in their logic. But, as she invoked also the God of war Arsus (Ares for the Greeks and Mars for the Romans) when in battle, this underlines truly a funny link with Amazons, who considered themselves as daughters of Ares.

Poor capital of Palmyra, so misunderstood and so damaged by Djihadists, through destruction and looting in 2015 and 2016 !
Thank God, the latters didn't understand anything to archeology, which is explaining why the right artefacts still containing mysteries to unciffer might not have been destroyed against all odds ! But unhappily the temple of Baal Shamin has been reduced to pieces and the Palmyra arch of triumph is badly damaged, notwithstanding a good number of statues.
About what happened to Zenobia in Rome in 274 and after, nothing is sure. But there is a very high possibility she escaped from death : the God Baal heard her prayer ! As a matter of fact, the year she died is totally ignored. And in the boldest version, which actually could be the right one as no record of execution was found, she settled near Rome, in the area of "Tibur" (Tivoli) in a place called "Conca". The present site of Colleferro is a possibility. She would have married a Roman Senator after the pardon of Emperor Aurelianus following his triumph ; and she would have had quite serenely a Roman descendance ! Her "ultra-brite" smile might have totally saved her after all !