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From the Severans to Palmyra
Consequences of Severus’ campaigns: permanent annexation of Mesopotamia, but
this led to conflicts with the Sasanians, who regarded it as theirs.
Severus’ division of Syria into two provinces: Syria Coele and Phoenice.
Caracalla’s Parthian wars; his successor, Macrinus, defeated by the Parthians and
overthrown by the surviving members of the Severan family. Elagabalus becomes
emperor (218).
Reign of Severus Alexander: in the east the empire reached its greatest physical
extent; but in about AD 224 the Parthians were overthrown by one of their vassals,
Ardashir, king of Persis (Fars).
Conflict between Romans and Sasanians over Armenia, Mesopotamia, and the city of
Hatra. Severus Alexander conducted a campaign against the Sasanians in 231-232.
In about 240 Ardashir captured Hatra and destroyed it. The southernmost Roman
outposts on the Euphrates (Kifrin, Bijan) seem to have been abandoned at this time.
Dura Europus became the most important Euphrates outpost.
Ardashir succeeded by his son Shapur. In 242-244 Gordian III conducted a campaign,
but was killed. Philip succeeded him and made a peace agreement.
In the 250s the Romans interfered with arrangements in Armenia, and Shapur
launched an invasion of Syria. The defence of Syria was organised by a certain
Uranius Antoninus.
Dura Europus destroyed in mid 250s; Valerian captured by Shapur in 260.
Rise of Palmyra: defeat of Persians by Septimius Odaenathus (AD 260s).
Rebellion of Macrianus and Quietus against Gallienus (AD 260-1).
Death of Odaenathus 267/8, wife Zenobia and son Vaballathus.
Central emperor Aurelian refused to recognise Zenobia and Vaballathus.
Attack on the province of Arabia (270), capture of Egypt.
Vaballathus proclaimed emperor; Zenobia Augusta (271).
Defeat by Aurelian (273).
W. Ball, Rome in the East, pp. 20-23
K. Butcher, Roman Syria and the Near East, pp. 48-60
F. Millar, The Roman Near East, chapter 4
M. Sartre, The Middle East under Rome, chapters 5 and 11
You may also find useful the documents and commentaries in M H Dodgeon, S N C Lieu, The Roman
Eastern Frontier and the Persian Wars, AD 226-363, especially pp. 9-110.
There is also a web page with a summary of information (
but it needs to be treated with care because it relays a lot of contradictory evidence. But it does give an
impression of how difficult it is to use the documentary evidence for this period.
Materials for a study of the Palmyrene revolt
The texts are presented in Dodgeon and Lieu, The Roman eastern Frontier and the
Persian Wars, AD 226-363, London, 1991, chapter 4. A helpful commentary on the
period is provided in the introductory chapter of D.S. Potter, Prophecy and History in
the Crisis of the Roman Empire, Oxford, 1990 (the notes also contain much relevant
information). A romantic account is R. Stoneman, Palmyra and its Empire, Ann
Arbor, 1992.
The career and background of Odaenathus and his sons
4.1.2. Sepulchral inscription of Septimius Odaenathus:
Greek text: This monument of burial has been built, at his own expense, by Septimius
Odaenathus, the most illustrious senator, son of Hairanes, son of Vaballathus (Wahb
Allat), son of Nasor, for himself, his sons and the sons of his sons, forever, eternal
Palmyrene text: This sepulchre has been built by Odainat, senator, son of Hairan, son
of Wahballat, son of Nasor, for himself, his sons and the sons of his sons forever.
This statue is that of Septimius Hairan, son of Odainat, the illustrious senator and
chief of Palmyra (ras Tadmor), which has been set up to him by Aurelius Philinus,
son of Marius Philinus, (son of) Ra‘ai, the soldier who was in the legion of Bostra: to
his honour. In the month of Tishri of the year 563 (October AD 251).
4.2.2. Dedication on console of column near the theatre:
Greek: (Statue) of Septimius Hairanes, the illustrious son to the illustrious consul
(lamprótatos hypatikós) Odaenathus, by the guild of tanners and makers of leather
rafts, for its patron, year 569 (AD 257/8).
4.3.4. Dedication on a lateral arch of the great colonnade:
(Statue) to the King of Kings, [having received?] the royalty near the Orontes,
crowned for victory over the Persians, Septimius Herodianus, by Julius Aurelius
Septimius Vorodes and … of the Queen, centenarius, both strategoi of the illustrious
4.4.1. Console on the great colonnade:
Septimius Vorodes, the most excellent procurator ducenarius and commander
(argapetes, derived from the Persian hargbed, commander of a fort), (statue) set up by
Julius Aurelius Iade, equestrian, son of Septimius Alexander, son of Hairan, son of
Soraiku, to the honour of his friend and patron. In the month of Xandikos, of year 575
(April 264).
Vaballathus holds power in the east as King
4.5.5. Milestone from west of Palmyra:
Greek: … and for the safety of Septimia Zenobia, the most illustrious queen, mother
of Imperator Septi[mius] Athen[odorus].
Palmyrene: For the life and victory of Septimius Vaballathus Athenodo[ros], the most
illustrious King of Kings and Corrector (epanorthotes) of the entire Orient, son of
Septimius [Odainat, King] of Kings, and for the life of Septimia Bathzabbai, the most
illustrious queen, mother of the King of Kings, daughter of Antiochus. Fourteen
4.7.3. Milestone from Arabia:
L. Julius Aurelius Septimius Vaballathus Athenodorus, King, Consul, Imperator, dux
of the Romans. Fifteen miles.
Coin of the mint of Antioch:
Obv: Bust of Vaballathus, wearing diadem and wreath. ‘Vaballathus, most illustrious,
King, Imperator, dux of the Romans.’
Rev: Bust of Aurelian, wearing laurel wreath. ‘Emperor Caesar Aurelianus Augustus,
workshop 5.’
Coin of the mint of Alexandria
Obv: Bust of Aurelian wearing laurel wreath. ‘Emperor Caesar Lucius Domitius
Aurelianus Augustus. Year 1.’
Rev: Bust of Vaballathus, wearing diadem and wreath. ‘Julius Aurelius Septimius
Vaballathus Athenodorus, Consul, Imperator, Commander of the Romans,Year 4.’
4.7.5. Papyrus from Oxyrhynchus, Egypt:
… The second year of Emperor Caesar Lucius Domitius Aurelianus, the Pious, the
Fortunate, Augustus and the fifth year of Julius Aurelius Septimius Vaballathus
Athenodorus, most illustrious, King, consul, Imperator, dux of the Romans,
Phamenoth 8 (14 March AD 272).
Zenobia rebels against Aurelian:
4.7.3. Milestone from Arabia:
To Emperor Caesar L Julius Aurelius Septimius Vaballathus Athenodorus, Persicus
Maximus, Arabicus Maximus, Adiabenicus Maximus, the Pious, the Fortunate, the
Unconquered, Augustus …
Coin of the mint of Antioch:
Obv: Diademed bust of Zenobia on crescent. S ZENOBIA AVG. ‘Septimia Zenobia
Rev: Juno. IVNO REGINA. ‘Juno the Queen.’
Coin of the mint of Alexandria:
Obv: Diademed bust of Zenobia. ‘Septimia Zenobia Augusta.’
Rev: Bust of Selene. ‘Year 5.’
Coin of the mint of Antioch:
Obv: Radiate bust of Vaballathus. IM C VHABALATHVS AVG. ‘Emperor Caesar
Vhabalathus Augustus.’
Rev: Hercules.
4.10.1. Inscription from the temple of Bel:
During the presidency of the cofraternity of the priesthood of Septimius Haddudan,
illustrious senator, son of Septimius ’Ogeilu Maqqai, who had aided [the army of
Au]relianus Caesar, [our lord], and who had custody together with the progeniture of
the cofraternity and who had been with those in the temple in the month of Ab of year
583 (AD 273) in the month of Adar of year 584 (AD 274), are commemorated and
blessed …