Europe 272: Downfall of Zenobia

Political map of Europe & the Mediterranean on 30 Aug 272 (The Crisis of the Third Century: Fall of Zenobia), showing the following events: Battle of Daphne; Battle of Emesa; First Siege of Palmyra.


Gallic Empire

The rival Roman regime led by Postumus and his successors in Gaul (260–274) is often referred to as the Gallic Empire by modern historians. This term has no real historical basis; identity-wise, the Gallic emperors were simply Roman usurpers who successfully held out in Gaul for 14 years, but lacked the strength to take Rome.

Palmyrene Empire

The region controlled by the Palmyrene queen Zenobia in the name of her son Vaballathus (267–273) is often called the Palmyrene Empire by modern historians. This term was not used at the time and, despite her expansionism, Zenobia continued to officially recognize the authority of Rome—with her son as a king under the Roman emperor—up until Aurelian’s move against her domain in late 271. After this, Zenobia openly rebelled, declaring Vaballathus emperor and herself an empress, but here she was probably acting as a usurper challenging Aurelian rather than a secessionist attempting to create an independent empire.

Main Events

Jun 272 Battle of Daphne

Following his defeat at Immae, the Palmyrene general Zabdas fell back on Antioch and briefly bought time by dressing up one of his men as a ‘captured Aurelian’ while he and Zenobia escaped to Emesa. After the real Aurelian entered the city, he found that a contingent of Palmyrenes, armed with slings and darts, had entrenched themselves on a hill near the southern suburb of Daphne. Warding off the missiles by marching in testudo formation, the Romans stormed the position and made short work of their wikipedia

272 Battle of Emesa

Marching south from Antioch, Aurelian found Zenobia’s 70,000-strong Palmyrene army drawn up before Emesa and opposed them with his imperial army—which by now included many local troops who had rejoined Rome. At the start of battle, the heavy Palmyrene cavalry chased down the lighter Roman horsemen, but in doing so disrupted their own lines. Taking advantage of this, the Roman infantry wheeled into Zenobia’s forces and routed them, with the clubs and staves of Aurelian’s Palestinians proving particularly effective against the armored Palmyrenes. Aurelian then entered Emesa, where he paid his vows to the sun god Elagabalus, who he claimed had appeared during the battle and encouraged his men to wikipedia

272 First Siege of Palmyra

After his victory at Emesa, Aurelian crossed the desert in mid-summer 272 and laid siege to Palmyra. When the city ran low on provisions, Zenobia set off on a camel to seek aid from the Persians, but Aurelian sent horsemen after her and she was captured while crossing the Euphrates. With Zenobia a Roman prisoner, Palmyra quickly capitulated to Aurelian, who executed a few prominent people but otherwise spared the wikipedia