Queen Zenobia of Palmyra was the most celebrated woman of her time, wrapped in legend and eastern mystique. She claimed (albeit incorrectly) to be the descendant and successor to Cleopatra. She and her husband had been valuable allies of Rome against the Persians. After her husband's murder in 267 BCE, she broke with Rome and occupied Egypt and much of Asia Minor. Aurelian defeated and captured her in 272 BCE and destroyed Palmyra the next year. The most extensive passage about Zenobia's personal characteristics comes from the Augustan History (Scriptores Historiae Augustae), which unfortunately is not a very uncritical source. Still it contains much of the information we have about her. Despite it's inaccuracies, the following passage conveys a bit about the image of what the people wanted to think about Zenobia and is indicative of the impact she had on her times:
...Zenobia....boasting herself to be of the family of the Cleopatras and the Ptolemies, proceeded upon the death of her husband, Odaenathus to cast about her shoulders the imperial mantle; and ...assuming the diadem, she held the imperial power in the name of her sons...ruling longer than could be endured by one of her sex. For this proud woman performed the functions of a monarch....and in the end, could scarcely be conquered by Aurelian himself, under whom she was led in triumph and submitted to the sway of Rome.
Of her person, it was written:
Her face was dark and of a swarthy hue, her eyes were black and powerful beyond the usual wont, her spirit divinely great, and her beauty incredible. So white were her teeth that many thought she had pearls in place of teeth. Her voice was clear and like that of a man. Her sternness, when necessity demanded, was that of a tyrant, her clemency, when her sense of right called for it, that of a good emperor. Generous with prudence, she conserved her measures beyond the wont of women. She made use of a carriage, and rarely of a woman's coach, but more often she rode a horse, it is said; moreover, that frequently she walked with her foot-soldiers for three or four miles.