Dreamy Hubris in the Desert

The rise and fall of Palmyra is a simple case of hubris. The city’s location was key: an oasis in the desert along the spice caravan from the east where merchants passing through could be housed, fed and taxed. Important enough to fall under the influence of Rome but remote enough to govern itself, Palmyra quickly turned into a beautiful, rich and independent state.

Then comes Zenobia and things start to get epic: Lawrence of Arabia meets The Bold And The Beautiful. Zenobia, wife and possible murder of the ruler of the city-state, takes over the throne in the name of her young son. Then she starts taking over the neighborhood from the Roman stronghold of Bosra all the way to Egypt. The Roman emperor thought this was a bit much so he took it all back by force along with Palmyra. Next thing you know, Zenobia’s being paraded around the streets of Rome in chains. Yet somehow, after all of this open defiance of the empire, she marries a senator and retires to Tivoli.

Even without the back story, Palmyra would be a fascinating place. Its trademark rose-colored columns are intricate and graceful. And the desert landscape adds to the dreamlike quality of the ruins, as if you’ve found evidence of Rome on the moon.

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