Book Review: Zenobia of Palmyra: History, Myth and the Neo-Classical Imagination


by Rex Winsbury

London: Duckworth/Herndon, Va.: International Publishers Marketing, 2010. Pp. 198. Illus., maps, appends., notes, biblio., index. $29.95 paper. ISBN: 978-0-7156-3853-8

One of the most notable women of classical antiquity, 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. 

Winsbury is a British journalist and prolific author who has written on politics, media, health, technology, business, and, of late on Roman history, with The Roman Book and now Zenobia of Palmyra.  In this work he 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 predatory sex machine.  Winsbury demonstrates how the mythic image has influenced artists and writers, even historians, throughout history, most notably in the nineteenth century.  In the process, he gives us a look at the complexities of war, statecraft, and diplomacy in the ancient world, particularly the Middle East, during the great “Crisis of the Third Century” that beset the Roman Empire between about A.D. 235 and 284. 

A good book for students of ancient history, of women in history, and of the Romantic Movement, or for anyone looking for an interesting, off beat look at history.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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