Today I launch my second novel, the first in a series chronicling the rise of the third century Palmyrene Queen Zenobia, a woman who not only turned traitor to Rome, beginning the greatest, most threatening rebellion the Roman Empire ever faced, but who began to forge an empire of her own. And yet, so little is known of this woman, the young queen who fought to free her country. History, as they say, is written by the victors.
I have been assumed a feminist, writing the story of a woman who defied her male superiors, although people who know me well would claim I am not. I am awed by the remarkability of people in general, singularly and collectively, not women specifically. I try to abstain from adding ‘and she was a woman’ to any sentence, for I think it somehow diminishes achievements because of it. I chose Zenobia not for her sex, but because for a short time, she cut off a third of the grain supply travelling through Egypt and into the Roman Empire, and very nearly saw them starve. Like Spartacus, she defied her masters, her overlords, and took back her country from Roman control, and further still carved an Empire of her own. If she had been a Roman general, she would have earned a triumph.
I first discovered Zenobia in Antonia Fraser’s The Warrior Queens. I had chanced upon the book and thought to read a little of Boadicea, my own countrywoman, who I knew so little about. Hidden in the pages, I read the line from a letter Roman Emperor Aurelian wrote to Zenobia: How, O Zenobia, hast thou dared to insult Roman Emperors?
Not only was it the rebellion she inspired that caught my attention, but that she claimed descent from Cleopatra the Great amongst others. From there the story grew, the characters unveiled themselves, my narrator Zabbai emerges from a haze of desert heat and wind-whipped sands to tell the story of his beloved Zenobia, to describe her heroism and her weaknesses, to tell of a woman he wanted so much to be his, and yet knew she never could be. She is not a woman, but a god. Or is she? There are many sides to this woman who would see her people rise against Rome.
She could not have been alone, and the rebellion was not an overnight task, but a subtle carving and manipulating of the forces in the east, a juggle of power, the Persians on the east, Tanukh tribe in the south, the Roman legions already stationed in Rome, the pretenders rising to take the purple for themselves …
I can tell you no more for fear of telling you too much. Indeed Zenobia was a remarkable woman, whose story is hidden in a history untold. But no longer.
This is the story of Zenobia …
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