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Zenobia of Palmyra: History, Myth and the Neo-Classical Imagination Paperback – August 26, 2010

ISBN-13: 978-0715638538 ISBN-10: 071563853X

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Editorial Reviews


For a time Zenobia (c. AD 240–274) ruled a vast swathe of the Middle East, holding her own between Rome and Persia, but the actual person and her life have largely been lost to history, if not to the imagination. In this book, classicist Winsbury takes a look at what might be termed the “three Zenobias”. Separating what can be learned about the real person from the slender documentary and archaeological record, as well as the vaster body of legend about the warrior-queen, he gives us a solid account of the life and times of Zenobia, one of the few strong women in ancient history not reputed to have been a sex machine. He then goes on to show how the mythic image has influenced artists and writers throughout history, most notably in the nineteenth century. In the process, we are given a look at war, statecraft, and diplomacy in the ancient world, particularly the Middle East, during the great mid-third century crisis of the Roman Empire. A good book for students of ancient history, of women in history, and of the Romantic Movement.

Journalist and classicist Winsbury unravels the myths about the third-century Palmyran queen, Zenobia, in this compelling piece of historical detective work. The image of Zenobia as a brave and tragic figure, defeated by the Roman emperor Aurelian, has lasted for centuries but her life story rests on little hard evidence. Winsbury examines the physical evidence, such as coins from her reign, as well as the many chronicles of her life by near contemporaries. The inconsistencies of the latter are an impediment to certainty but, by taking the reader through the process of elimination, Winsbury makes a good case for his conclusions. Throughout, he discusses the afterlife of Zenobia as symbol, particularly for nineteenth-century advocates of women's rights. He also places her in the context of third-century politics in the Roman Near East. This book is for general readers and proves that solid scholarship need not be boring.

About the Author

Rex Winsbury has worked at the "Financial Times", the "Daily Telegraph" and the BBC, and as a self-employed publisher, editor and journalist. He is the author of "The Roman Book" (2009), also published by Duckworth.

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