Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Queen Bat-Zabbai of Tadmor

Queen Bat-Zabbai was probably the most famous ruler of Tadmor, and very well-known as a great enemy and threat to the Romans. She was possibly an Amalekite, like her husband, as the Amalekites were one of the more famous tribes of Tadmor. She was the daughter of Zabbai bar Selim, an important tribal chieftain. Zabbai was a Roman citizen, known by the name of Julius Aurelius Zenobius, or else as Antiochus. Bat-Zabbai's entire family was a noble one. She was descended from Queen Shamiramat of the Assyrians, and thus from the goddess Atar'atah, her mother. She was also a descendant of Queen Dido of Qart-Hadasht, through her descendant Hannobaal's sister and her descendants King Juba II of Moritanya and Drusilla. Her family was also descended from the royal family of Homs, through King Shams'alkeram. Finally, she was descended from Queen Cleopatra of Egypt. Like her ancestor, she spoke Egyptian language and knew of many Egyptian customs.

Bat-Zabbai herself was a beautiful and intelligent woman. She had a dark complexion, pearly white teeth, bright sparkling eyes, and a strong and melodic voice. She spoke her native tongue Aramaic, along with Egyptian, Greek, and Latin. She was very well-versed in Homer, Platon, and other Greek writers, along with the works of Paul of Shamishat, the Christian Bishop of Antioch. She also was friendly with the Jewish Rabbis of Syria and was familiar with Jewish teachings. However, it is known that her mother Karteria at least was not a Jew or a Christian, as her tomb's inscription calls her pious in the eyes of mortals (rather than in the eyes of God) and denies the resurrection. Unlike her ancestor Cleopatra, she was chaste and devoted. She was used to a very tribal lifestyle, enjoying drinking, feasting, and hunting with the men.

By the time she was old enough, Bat-Zabbai was married to King Odainath of Tadmor, an Aramaean ruler and Roman citizen also known as Lucius Septimius Odaenathus. She was his second wife, and his queen. She too was given Roman citizenship, being known as Julia Aurelia Zenobia. She had two children: a stepson named Hairan (who was the son of King Odainath by his first wife), and a son named Wahballat (Roman name Lucius Julius Aurelius Septimius Vaballathus Athenodorus). Bat-Zabbai was very young when she married.

King Odainath was a brave warrior king, spending much time in the mountains and forests hunting lions, leopards, and other wild beasts. His son Hairan was (in Roman eyes at least) effeminate and a lover of luxury. He lived in golden tents and pavilions, and was granted many Persian concubines from a royal harem when Odainath conquered the Persian capital of Tosfon. He did this so that Hairan would prove himself to be worthy of being called a man, but Hairan had no love for concubines. Odainath's services were greatly valued by the Roman Empire, which ruled over Tadmor at the time.

But all was not well within the royal family. Odainath had a cousin, also named Odainath, who was imprisoned for being disrespectful to the king. When he was free, he killed both his cousin the king, and Prince Hairan in a celebration. Bat-Zabbai then killed the assassin and had herself crowned as queen and sole ruler of Tadmor (her son Wahballat being only a child at the time).

Bat-Zabbai ascended the throne during a troubled time, especially with the death of her husband. Tadmor was part of the Roman Empire, which was in a vicious struggle with the Persian Empire in the east. Recently, a Roman emperor, Valerian, had been captured by King Shapur I of Persia. Her court was filled with poets and philosophers, including the man of Homs, Platonist philosopher Cassius Longinus. He himself studied at Alexandria in Egypt, mother city of Bat-Zabbai, and taught in a school in Athens (one of his students being the famous Melek of Tyre). Tadmor was also where the camel caravans of Arabs would pass through on their way to Mesopotamia. 'The Bride of the Desert' was the name by which Tadmor was known, and she stood near a rich oasis and spring which watered the land. She ruled over a great deal of land in Syria, but she wanted more. She went and conquered areas around Syria owned by the Persian Empire, and began to claim that she was doing it in the name of the Roman Empire. But it soon became apparent that things were very different. She replaced the face of the emperor on coins with that of her son, Wahballat. She adopted the imperial title of 'Augustus' for her son. And she began to conquer other territories within the Roman Empire in the memory of her husband and in the name of her son. This was her declaring independence from the Romans, and founding her own empire. The Romans could not retaliate though, or send their legions into the east, because they were struggling against invasions by Germanic tribes in the north.

Bat-Zabbai and her general, Zabdas, with the aid of their Egyptian ally Timagenes, conquered all of Egypt. They were opposed by the Roman prefect of Egypt, Tenagino Probus, but he was defeated and beheaded by the Tadmorite forces. Once she had taken Egypt, Bat-Zabbai proclaimed herself as Queen of Upper and Lower Egypt, like her ancestor Cleopatra. She restored rights of protection to a synagogue in Lower Egypt which had originally been granted by King Ptolemaios III Euergetes, probably due to her connection with the Samaritan Jews due to the Jewish community of Yebu's requests to King Sanballat of Tadmor for protection 400 years earlier.

She then led her armies north and conquered all of Judah, and all of Canaan. In northern Arabia, the land of the Nabtaeans, they captured the city of Bozrah, and famously destroyed the temple of the ram-headed god Ammon that they found there (evidently, they did not compare the cult of this god with the cult of their own Baal Hammon). Everywhere they went they attacked the Roman trade routes, capturing them to make Tadmor wealthy. They then went to Anatolia and captured the Hatti-land, advancing as far as Ankara in Phrygia. During these campaigns, Bat-Zabbai became known as the 'Warrior-Queen' and was a skilled horse rider and fighter. Her empire ruled much of the old Roman provinces in the western part of the Near East.

Meanwhile, Aurelian was made emperor in Rome, and he quickly defeated the Germanic tribes who were threatening to invade Italy. He now could turn his attention to the Tadmorite Empire in the east. He invaded Anatolia and quickly captured many cities, moving closer to the Hatti-land. He put every city to the sword, but while he was conquering Katpatuka had a vision of the philosopher Apollonius of Tuwanuwa, who told him to be merciful. For this reason, Aurelian spared Tuwanuwa and any cities which submitted to him from then on. His Roman legions advanced towards the Tadmorite army, clearing out their garrisons in every city they captured. General Zabdas of the Tadmorites, leading a mostly cavalry-based army, decided that it would be best to avoid the mountains of Anatolia due to the terrain being unsuited to his army. He withdrew his forces to near Antioch in Syria, and waited for the Romans to arrive.

The Roman troops advanced to Syria during a heatwave. Those who were heavily armed were easily exhausted. Aurelian decided to use this to his advantage. Both sides had their cavalry prepared, but it was Zabdas who took the initiative and sent his heavy cataphracts charging straight towards the lightly-armed Roman cavalry. The Romans fell back and seemed to retreat, while the Syrians followed them, growing more tired and exhausted as they went. It was then that the Romans turned back in a surprise attack, and quickly defeated the exhausted Syrian cavalry. Upon hearing of the defeat of his cavalry, Zabdas ordered the army to retreat back to Antioch. At night, under the cover of darkness, Bat-Zabbai ordered her men to leave the city and reach the city of Homs. The next morning, Aurelian captured Antioch and spared the city.

The Romans continued to advance toward Homs, and met Zabdas' forces again on the plains before the city. Again, Zabdas sent his heavy cavalry to pursue the Roman cavalry, but the Roman cavalry fell back and allowed the infantry to come forward. This caught the Syrians by surprise, and on the Roman side, the Jewish infantry with their heavy clubs massacred the Syrian horsemen. Realizing defeat, the Syrians retreated into the city. Bat-Zabbai's treasury was in Homs, and she attempted to move it back to Tadmor. However, the Romans began to attack the city, and she was forced to flee back to Tadmor without it.

But the Romans continued towards Tadmor, and Bat-Zabbai was forced to leave the city with her men. She traveled with her son Wahballat, the general Zabdas and several officers and courtiers, and the philosopher Cassius Longinus. It is also possible that Paul the bishop was with them. They requested aid from King Shapur of Persia, and he sent a small escort of Persian soldiers along with camels for the Syrians to escape to Mesopotamia on. They rode away swiftly at night towards the Purattu River, which they would cross and safely move towards the Persian capital. But this escort was intercepted by the Romans, who defeated the Persian soldiers and captured the Syrians, bringing them back to Homs to stand trial. The Romans portrayed Bat-Zabbai as a coward who blamed everything on her men and the poor advice they had given her. This though, would seem to fly in the face of the bravery and determination she had shown earlier, and it would be easier for the Romans to regain their former territories if they portrayed her in this way. The Tadmorite Empire had come to an end. After putting down a short revolt in Egypt, the Romans had taken back everything that was once theirs, including the city of Tadmor itself. At Homs, all of those captured were found guilty. Bat-Zabbai and her infant son Wahballat were spared, and were brought back to Rome as prisoners. The rest, including Zabdas and Cassius Longinus the philosopher, were executed. Aurelian chose a Tadmorite council elder called Haddudan, who was also symposiarch of the priests of Bel in Tadmor, to rule Tadmor in place of Bat-Zabbai. On the journey back to Rome, Wahballat died.

Bat-Zabbai was brought in gold chains and in triumph through the streets of Rome. However, Aurelian did not kill her. Instead, he spared her life and granted her a villa. She married a prominent Roman, and had many descendants. Among them was a man in Rome called L. Septimia Patavinia Balbilla Tyria Nepotilla Odaenathiania. Another descendent of hers is possibly St. Zenobius, the first Christian Bishop of Florentia in Italy.
Queen Bat-Zabbai of Tadmor

1 comment:

  1. This is very helpful for a fictional account of Bat-Zabbai's childhood I am writing. Thank you for the good information.