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Amid the barren deserts of Arabia
, a few cultivated spots rise like islands out of the sandy ocean. Even the name of Tadmor
, by its signification in the Syriac
as well as in the Latin
language, denoted the multitude of palm trees which afforded
shade and verdure to that temperate
region. The air was pure, and the soil, watered by some invaluable springs, was capable of
producing fruits as well as corn. A place possessed of such singular advantages, and situated at a convenient distance 68
between the Gulf of Persia
and the Mediterranean
, was soon frequented by the caravans which conveyed to the nations of
Europe a considerable part of the rich commodities of India
. Palmyra insensibly increased into an opulent and independent city,
and connecting the Roman and the Parthian monarchies by the mutual benefits of commerce
, was suffered to observe an
humble neutrality, till at length, after the victories of Trajan
, the little republic sunk into the bosom of Rome, and flourished
more than one hundred and fifty years in the subordinate though honorable rank of a colony
. It was during that peaceful period,
if we may judge from a few remaining inscriptions, that the wealthy Palmyrenians constructed those temples, palaces, and
porticos of Grecian architecture
, whose ruins, scattered over an extent of several miles, have deserved the curiosity of our
travelers. The elevation of Odenathus and Zenobia appeared to reflect new splendor on their country, and Palmyra
, for a while,
stood forth the rival of Rome: but the competition was fatal, and ages of prosperity were sacrificed to a moment of glory. 69
Footnote 68: It was five hundred and thirty-seven miles from Seleucia, and two hundred and three from the nearest coast of
Syria, according to the reckoning of Pliny, who, in a few words, (Hist. Natur. v. 21,) gives an excellent description of Palmyra.
Note: Talmor, or Palmyra, was probably at a very early period the connecting link between the commerce of Tyre and Babylon.
Heeren, Ideen, v. i. p. ii. p. 125. Tadmor was probably built by Solomon as a commercial station. Hist. of Jews, v. p. 271 - M.
Footnote 69: Some English travellers from Aleppo discovered the ruins of Palmyra about the end of the last century. Our
curiosity has since been gratified in a more splendid manner by Messieurs Wood and Dawkins. For the history of Palmyra, we
may consult the masterly dissertation of Dr. Halley in the Philosophical Transactions: Lowthorp's Abridgment, vol. iii. p. 518.
In his march over the sandy desert between Emeses
, the emperor Aurelian was perpetually harassed by the Arabs;
nor could he always defend his army, and especially his baggage, from those flying troops of active and daring robbers, who
watched the moment of surprise, and eluded the slow pursuit of the legions
. The siege of Palmyra
was an object far more
difficult and important, and the emperor, who, with incessant vigor, pressed the attacks in person, was himself wounded with a
dart. "The Roman people," says Aurelian, in an original letter, "speak with contempt of the war which I am waging against a
woman. They are ignorant both of the character and of the power of Zenobia
. It is impossible to enumerate her warlike
preparations, of stones, of arrows, and of every species of missile weapons. Every part of the walls is provided with two or three
and artificial fires are thrown from her military engines. The fear of punishment
has armed her with a desperate
courage. Yet still I trust in the protecting deities of Rome, who have hitherto been favorable to all my undertakings." 70
Doubtful, however, of the protection of the gods, and of the event of the siege, Aurelian judged it more prudent to offer terms of
an advantageous capitulation
; to the queen
, a splendid retreat; to the citizens, their ancient privileges. His proposals were
obstinately rejected, and the refusal was accompanied with insult.
Footnote 70: Vopiscus in Hist. August. p. 218.
The firmness of Zenobia
was supported by the hope, that in a very short time famine would compel the Roman army to repass
the desert; and by the reasonable expectation that the kings of the East, and particularly the Persian
monarch, would arm in
the defence of their most natural ally. But fortune, and the perseverance of Aurelian, overcame every obstacle. The death of
Sapor, which happened about this time, 71
distracted the councils of Persia
, and the inconsiderable succors that attempted to
, were easily intercepted either by the arms or the liberality of the emperor. From every part of Syria, a regular
succession of convoys safely arrived in the camp, which was increased by the return of Probus
with his victorious troops from
the conquest of Egypt. It was then that Zenobia
resolved to fly. She mounted the fleetest of her dromedaries
already reached the banks of the Euphrates
, about sixty miles from Palmyra, when she was overtaken by the pursuit of
Aurelian's light horse, seized, and brought back a captive to the feet of the emperor. Her capital soon afterwards surrendered,
and was treated with unexpected lenity. The arms, horses, and camels, with an immense treasure of gold, silver, silk, and
precious stones, were all delivered to the conqueror, who, leaving only a garrison of six hundred archers, returned to Emesa,
and employed some time in the distribution of rewards and punishments at the end of so memorable a war, which restored to the
obedience of Rome those provinces that had renounced their allegiance since the captivity of Valerian
Footnote 71: From a very doubtful chronology I have endeavored to extract the most probable date.
Footnote 72: Hist. August. p. 218. Zosimus, l. i. p. 50. Though the camel is a heavy beast of burden, the dromedary, which is
either of the same or of a kindred species, is used by the natives of Asia and Africa on all occasions which require celerity. The
Arabs affirm, that he will run over as much ground in one day as their fleetest horses can perform in eight or ten. See Buffon,
Hist. Naturelle, tom. xi. p. 222, and Shaw's Travels p. 167
When the Syrian queen was brought into the presence of Aurelian
, he sternly asked her, How she had presumed to rise in
arms against the emperors of Rome! The answer of Zenobia was a prudent mixture of respect and firmness. "Because I
disdained to consider as Roman emperors an Aureolus
or a Gallienus
. You alone I acknowledge as my conqueror and my
But as female fortitude is commonly artificial, so it is seldom steady or consistent. The courage of Zenobia
deserted her in the hour of trial; she trembled at the angry clamors of the soldiers, who called aloud for her immediate
execution, forgot the generous despair of Cleopatra
, which she had proposed as her model, and ignominiously purchased life by
the sacrifice of her fame and her friends. It was to their counsels, which governed the weakness of her sex, that she imputed
the guilt of her obstinate resistance
; it was on their heads that she directed the vengeance of the cruel Aurelian. The fame of
, who was included among the numerous and perhaps innocent victims of her fear, will survive that of the queen who
betrayed, or the tyrant who condemned him. Genius and learning were incapable of moving a fierce unlettered soldier, but they
had served to elevate and harmonize the soul of Longinus
. Without uttering a complaint, he calmly followed the executioner,
pitying his unhappy mistress, and bestowing comfort on his afflicted friends. 74
Footnote 73: Pollio in Hist. August. p. 199.
Footnote 74: Vopiscus in Hist. August. p. 219. Zosimus, l. i. p. 51.
Returning from the conquest of the East, Aurelian had already crossed the Straits which divided Europe from Asia, when he
was provoked by the intelligence
that the Palmyrenians had massacred the governor and garrison which he had left among
them, and again erected the standard of revolt. Without a moment's deliberation, he once more turned his face towards Syria.
Antioch was alarmed by his rapid approach, and the helpless city of Palmyra
felt the irresistible weight of his resentment. We
have a letter of Aurelian himself, in which he acknowledges, 75
that old men, women, children, and peasants, had been
involved in that dreadful execution, which should have been confined to armed rebellion
; and although his principal concern
seems directed to the reestablishment of a temple of the Sun, he discovers some pity for the remnant of the Palmyrenians, to
whom he grants the permission of rebuilding and inhabiting their city. But it is easier to destroy than to restore. The seat of
commerce, of arts, and of Zenobia, gradually sunk into an obscure town, a trifling fortress
, and at length a miserable village.
The present citizens of Palmyra, consisting of thirty or forty families, have erected their mud cottages within the spacious
court of a magnificent temple.
Footnote 75: Hist. August. p. 219.
Another and a last labor still awaited the indefatigable Aurelian; to suppress a dangerous though obscure rebel, who, during
the revolt of Palmyra, had arisen on the banks of the Nile
. Firmus, the friend and ally, as he proudly styled himself, of
Odenathus and Zenobia, was no more than a wealthy merchant of Egypt. In the course of his trade to India
, he had formed very
intimate connections with the Saracens and the Blemmyes, whose situation on either coast of the Red Sea
gave them an easy
introduction into the Upper Egypt
. The Egyptians he inflamed with the hope of freedom, and, at the head of their furious
multitude, broke into the city of Alexandria
, where he assumed the Imperial purple, coined money, published edicts, and raised
an army, which, as he vainly boasted, he was capable of maintaining from the sole profits of his paper trade. Such troops were a
feeble defense against the approach of Aurelian; and it seems almost unnecessary to relate, that Firmus was routed, taken,
tortured, and put to death. 76
Aurelian might now congratulate the senate, the people, and himself, that in little more than
three years, he had restored universal peace and order to the Roman world.
Footnote 76: See Vopiscus in Hist. August. p. 220,
242. As an instance of luxury, it is observed, that he had glass windows. He was remarkable for his strength and appetite, his
courage and dexterity. From the letter of Aurelian, we may justly infer, that Firmus was the last of the rebels, and consequently
that Tetricus was already suppressed.
Since the foundation of Rome
, no general had more nobly deserved a triumph than Aurelian
; nor was a triumph ever
celebrated with superior pride
and magnificence. 77 The pomp was opened by twenty elephants, four royal tigers, and above
two hundred of the most curious animals from every climate of the North, the East, and the South. They were followed by
sixteen hundred gladiator, devoted to the cruel amusement of the amphitheatre.
The wealth of Asia, the arms and ensigns of so
many conquered nations, and the magnificent plate and wardrobe of theSyrian
queen, were disposed in exact symmetry or
artful disorder. The ambassadors of the most remote parts of the earth, of Ethiopia
, all remarkable by their rich or singular dresses, displayed the fame and power of the Roman emperor, who exposed
likewise to the public view the presents that he had received, and particularly a great number of crowns of gold, the offerings of
grateful cities. The victories of Aurelian were attested by the long train of captives who reluctantly attended his triumph,
Goths, Vandals, Samarians, Alemanni, Franks, Gauls, Syrians, and Egyptians.
Each people was distinguished by its peculiar
inscription, and the title of Amazons
was bestowed on ten martial heroines of the Gothic nation who had been taken in arms.
But every eye, disregarding the crowd of captives, was fixed on the emperor Tetricus and the queen of the East. The
former, as well as his son, whom he had created Augustus, was dressed in Gallic trousers, 79
a saffron tunic, and a robe of
purple. The beauteous figure of Zenobia
was confined by fetters of gold; a slave
supported the gold chain which encircled her
neck, and she almost fainted under the intolerable weight of jewels. She preceded on foot the magnificent chariot
, in which she
once hoped to enter the gates of Rome. It was followed by two other chariots, still more sumptuous, of Odenathus and of the
Persian monarch. The triumphal car of Aurelian (it had formerly been used by a Gothic king) was drawn, on this memorable
occasion, either by four stags or by four elephants. 80
The most illustrious of the senate
, the people, and the army closed the
. Unfeigned joy, wonder, and gratitude, swelled the acclamations of the multitude; but the satisfaction of the
senate was clouded by the appearance of Tetricus; nor could they suppress a rising murmur, that the haughty emperor should
thus expose to public ignominy the person of a Roman and a magistrate. 81
Footnote 77: See the triumph of Aurelian,
described by Vopiscus. He relates the particulars with his usual minuteness; and, on this occasion, they happen to be
interesting. Hist. August. p. 220.
Footnote 78: Among barbarous nations, women have often combated by the side of their husbands. But it is almost impossible
that a society of Amazons should ever have existed either in the old or new world.
Note: Klaproth's theory on the origin of such traditions is at least recommended by its ingenuity. The males of a tribe having
gone out on a marauding expedition, and having been cut off to a man, the females may have endeavored, for a time, to maintain
their independence in their camp village, till their children grew up. Travels, ch. xxx. Eng. Trans - M.
Footnote 79: The use of braccoe, breeches, or trousers, was still considered in Italy as a Gallic and barbarian fashion. The
Romans, however, had made great advances towards it. To encircle the legs and thighs with fascioe, or bands, was understood,
in the time of Pompey and Horace, to be a proof of ill health or effeminacy. In the age of Trajan, the custom was confined to the
rich and luxurious. It gradually was adopted by the meanest of the people. See a very curious note of Casaubon, ad Sueton. in
August. c. 82.
Footnote 80: Most probably the former; the latter seen on the medals of Aurelian, only denote (according to the learned
Cardinal Norris) an oriental victory.
Footnote 81: The expression of Calphurnius, (Eclog. i. 50) Nullos decet captiva triumphos, as applied to Rome, contains a very
manifest allusion and censure.
But however, in the treatment of his unfortunate rivals, Aurelian might indulge his pride, he behaved towards them with a
, which was seldom exercised by the ancient conquerors. Princes who, without success, had defended their
throne or freedom, were frequently strangled in prison, as soon as the triumphal pomp ascended the Capitol
. These usurpers,
whom their defeat had convicted of the crime of treason, were permitted to spend their lives in affluence and honorable repose.
The emperor presented Zenobia
with an elegant villa at Tibur
, or Tivoli
, about twenty miles from the capital; the Syrian queen
insensibly sunk into a Roman matron
, her daughters married into noble families, and her race was not yet extinct in the fifth
Tetricus and his son were reinstated in their rank and fortunes. They erected on the Caelian
hill a magnificent
palace, and as soon as it was finished, invited Aurelian to supper. On his entrance, he was agreeably surprised with a picture
which represented their singular history. They were delineated offering to the emperor a civic crown and the scepter
and again receiving at his hands the ornaments of the senatorial dignity. The father was afterwards invested with the
government of Luciana
and Aurelian, who soon admitted the abdicated monarch to his friendship and conversation,
familiarly asked him, Whether it were not more desirable to administer a province of Italy, than to reign beyond the Alps. The
son long continued a respectable member of the senate; nor was there any one of the Roman nobility more esteemed by
Aurelian, as well as by his successors. 84
Footnote 82: Vopiscus in Hist. August. p. 199. Hieronym. in Chron. Prosper in
Chron. Baronius supposes that Zenobius, bishop of Florence in the time of St. Ambrose, was of her family.
Footnote 83: Vopisc. in Hist. August. p. 222. Eutropius, ix. 13. Victor Junior. But Pollio, in Hist. August. p. 196, says, that
Tetricus was made corrector of all Italy.
Footnote 84: Hist. August. p. 197.
So long and so various was the pomp of Aurelian's triumph, that although it opened with the dawn of day, the slow majesty
the procession ascended not the Capitol before the ninth hour; and it was already dark when the emperor returned to the
palace. The festival was protracted by theatrical representations, the games of the circus, the hunting of wild beasts, combats of
gladiators, and naval engagements. Liberal donatives were distributed to the army and people, and several institutions,
agreeable or beneficial to the city, contributed to perpetuate the glory of Aurelian.
A considerable portion of his oriental spoils
was consecrated to the gods of Rome
; the Capitol, and every other temple, glittered with the offerings of his ostentatious piety;
and the temple of the Sun alone received above fifteen thousand pounds of gold. 85
This last was a magnificent structure,
erected by the emperor on the side of the Quirinal
hill, and dedicated, soon after the triumph, to that deity whom Aurelian
adored as the parent of his life and fortunes. His mother had been an inferior priestess in a chapel of the Sun; a peculiar
devotion to the god of Light
was a sentiment which the fortunate peasant imbibed in his infancy; and every step of his elevation,
every victory of his reign, fortified superstition
by gratitude. 86
Footnote 85: Vopiscus in Hist. August. 222. Zosimus, l. i. p.
56. He placed in it the images of Belus and of the Sun, which he had brought from Palmyra. It was dedicated in the fourth year
of his reign, (Euseb in Chron.,) but was most assuredly begun immediately on his accession.
Footnote 86: See, in the Augustan History, p. 210, the omens of his fortune. His devotion to the Sun appears in his letters, on
his medals, and is mentioned in the Caesars of Julian. Commentaire de Spanheim, p. 109.
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To cite original text:
Gibbon, Edward, 1737-1794. The history of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire.
1st ed. (London : Printed for W. Strahan ; and T. Cadell, 1776-1788.), pp. 310-317.