But such defiance did not fare well with Roman emperor Aurelian who defeated Zenobia in 271 offering her generous surrender terms. Instead, she headed for Persia to request military aid, but was captured by the Romans on the way, at the Euphrates. Claiming to be descendant of Cleopatra, Zenobia is said to be equally beautiful but stronger, more heroic, more chaste and of dark completion.
From the 2nd century BC, Palmyra was an important post for caravans traveling between the Mediterranean, Mesopotamia and Arabia. It was also on the silk route from China and India to Europe.
The city prospered with the taxes imposed to the caravans. In AD 129, Emperor Hadrian visited
Palmyra and declared it a “free city” and in 212 under Emperor Caracalla, it became a Roman colony exempt from paying imperial taxes. This allowed the local wealth to be put into use locally, by building temples, elaborate tombs, public baths, theater and Agora, enlarging its already great colonnaded avenue, and engaging in other public works projects. This is what we see today, the largest roman ruins I have seen in the Middle East, spread over 50 hectares set in a desert oasis.
I was the only traveler in my hotel and the only person walking around the ruins as tourists have stayed clear of visiting Syria during the latest protests and crackdown from the government. It was a bit strange being all alone in this enormous site, cut through by modern asphalted roads. Several locals on motorcycles and cars drove around, sometimes greeting me a “welcome to Syria,” or offering to help me with ”anything I needed.” Other men just circled around in motorcycles making me feel a bit unsafe, but I think I was just a bit paranoid. At least the famous touts in the area appear to be on vacation as there are no tourists. Most of the 50,000 people in the city live off tourism and the the place looks like a ghost town right now.
To end Zenobia's story, at first she was kept imprisoned and paraded in the Roman streets bounded in gold chains as a trophy, but in the end she was freed and married a Roman senator. She lived in Tibur, now Tivoli, close to Rome until her last days. At least this the European ending of the story. For local Arabs, Zenobia never surrendered, instead she ate a deadly herb and died before she was captured.
Whatever, the case, her defeat marked the end of Palmyra's prosperity, eventually falling into oblivion, being visited only by tourists.