Thursday, April 16, 2020

Zenobia: A female tidal wave that almost engulfed Rome

Zenobia rose to power when her husband, ruler of Palmyra (in present-day Syria), died in 267. As queen, she conquered Egypt and reigned until 274 when Roman forces overpowered her armies and captured her.
“Those who speak with contempt of the war I am waging against a woman, are ignorant both of the character and power of Zenobia. It is impossible to enumerate her warlike preparations of stones, of arrows, and of every species of missile weapons and military engines.” - Roman emperor Aurelian
The Historia Augusta tells of her being at the head of Aurelian`s Triumph in a golden chariot she had originally commissioned for her own triumphal march into Rome as conqueror, and bound in golden chains, as depicted in Hosmer's portrait.
A lovely poem that could describe Zenobia:
Could you not have been
a little smaller than a queen -
a river, not a tidal wave
engulfing all you tried to save?
- Anne Stevenson
From an excellent blog post: Zenobia: A Rebel With A Cause

Image: Zenobia by American artist Harriet Goodhue Hosmer, 1859 at the Saint Louis Art Museum courtesy of the museum. The dignity of this figure’s profile, the detail of her ancient dress, and the careful regularity of the drapery folds testify to sculptor Harriet Hosmer’s mastery of neoclassical style. 

I also thought this ancient portrait of Zenobia's husband, Odenathus c. 230-250 CE, at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen was quite dramatic. They say the unfinished back shows that the statue stood in a niche. The carved eyelashes are an unusual detail. The pupil and iris were inlaid.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Carole Raddato.
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