|King of Palmyra|
King of Kings of the East
(Western Aramaic: Mlk Mlk dy Mdnh)
A clay tessera bearing a possible depiction of Odaenathus wearing a diadem
|King of Kings of the East|
|King of Palmyra|
|Predecessor||Himself as Ras of Palmyra|
|Ras (lord) of Palmyra|
|Successor||Himself as King of Palmyra|
Palmyra, Roman Syria
|Died||267 (aged 46–47)|
Heraclea Pontica or Emesa (modern-day Homs)
|Issue||Hairan I (Herodianus)|
|House||House of Odaenathus|
Septimius Odaenathus (Palmyrene: ['Dynt (Odainat)]; Arabic: أذينة [Uḏaina]; c. 220 – 267 AD) was the founder king (Mlk) of the Palmyrene Kingdom who ruled from Palmyra, Syria. He lifted the status of his city from that of a regional center subordinate to Rome to the supreme power in the east. Odaenathus was born into an aristocratic Palmyrene family that had received Roman citizenship in the 190s under the Severan dynasty. He was the son of Hairan, the descendant of Nasor. The circumstances surrounding his rise are ambiguous; he became the lord (ras) of the city, a position created for him, as early as the 240s and by 258, he was styled a consularis, indicating a high status in the Roman Empire.
The defeat and captivity of Emperor Valerian at the hands of the Sassanian emperor Shapur I in 260 left the eastern Roman provinces largely at the mercy of the Persians. Odaenathus remained on the side of Rome; assuming the title of king, he led the Palmyrene army, fell upon the Persians before they could cross the Euphrates to the eastern bank, and inflicted upon them a considerable defeat. He took the side of Emperor Gallienus, the son and successor of Valerian, who was facing the attempted usurpation of Fulvius Macrianus. The rebel declared his sons emperors, leaving one in Syria and taking the other with him to Europe. Odaenathus attacked the remaining usurper and quelled the rebellion. He was rewarded with many exceptional titles by the Emperor, who formalized his self-established position in the East. In reality, the Emperor may have done little but accept the declared nominal loyalty of Odaenathus.
In a series of rapid and successful campaigns starting in 262, Odaenathus crossed the Euphrates and recovered Carrhae and Nisibis. He then took the offensive into the heartland of Persia, and arrived at the walls of its capital, Ctesiphon. The city withstood the short siege but Odaenathus reclaimed the entirety of the Roman lands occupied by the Persians since the beginning of their invasions in 252. Odaenathus celebrated his victories and declared himself "King of Kings", crowning his son Herodianus as co-king. By 263, Odaenathus was in effective control of the Levant, Roman Mesopotamia and Anatolia's eastern region.
Odaenathus observed all due formalities towards the Emperor, but in practice ruled as an independent monarch. In 266, he launched a second invasion of Persia but had to abandon the campaign and head north to Bithynia to repel the attacks of Germanic raiders besieging the city of Heraclea Pontica. He was assassinated in 267 during or immediately after the Anatolian campaign, together with Herodianus. The identities of the perpetrator or the instigator are unknown and many stories, accusations and speculations exist in ancient sources. He was succeeded by his son Vaballathus under the regency of his widow Zenobia, who used the power established by Odaenathus to forge the Palmyrene Empire in 270.
"Odaenathus" is the Latin transliteration of the king's name;[note 1] he was born Septimius Odainat in c. 220.[note 2] His name is written in transliterated Palmyrene as Sptmyws 'Dynt. "Sptmyws" (Septimius), which means "born in September", was Odaenathus' family gentilicium (Roman surname), adopted as an expression of loyalty to the Roman Severan dynasty and the emperor Septimius Severus who had granted the family Roman citizenship in the late second century. 'Dynt (Odainat) is the Palmyrene diminutive for ear, related to Uḏaina in Arabic and 'Ôden in Aramaic. Odaenathus' genealogy is known from a stone block in Palmyra with a sepulchral inscription that mentions the building of a tomb and records the genealogy of the builder: Odaenathus, son of Hairan, son of Wahb Allat, son of Nasor. In Rabbinic sources, Odaenathus is named "Papa ben Nasor" (Papa son of Nasor);[note 3] the meaning of the name "Papa" and how Odaenathus earned it is unclear.[note 4]
The King appears to be of mixed Arab and Aramean descent: his name, the name of his father, Hairan, and that of his grandfather, Wahb-Allat, are Arabic; while Nasor, his great-grandfather, has an Aramaic name. Nasor might not have been the great-grandfather of Odaenathus, but a more distant ancestor; the archaeologist Frank Edward Brown considered Nasor to be Odaenathus' great-great or great-great-great grandfather. This has led some scholars, such as Lisbeth Soss Fried and Javier Teixidor, to consider the origin of the family to be Aramean. Byzantine historians of the sixth century, such as Procopius, referred to him as "king of the Saracens", meaning of the Arabs. The origin of Odaenathus' name does not indicate that he identified as an Arab, or that his rule had an Arab character. In practice, the citizenry of Palmyra were the result of Arab and Aramaean tribes merging into a unity with a corresponding consciousness; they thought and acted as Palmyrenes.
The fifth-century historian Zosimus asserted that Odaenathus descended from "illustrious forebears",[note 5] but the position of the family in Palmyra is debated; it was probably part of the wealthy mercantile class. Alternatively, the family may have belonged to the tribal leadership which amassed a fortune as landowners and patrons of the Palmyrene caravans.[note 6] The historians Franz Altheim and Ruth Stiehl suggested that Odaenathus was part of a new elite of Bedouins driven from their home east of the Euphrates by the aggressive Sassanian dynasty after 220. However, it is certain that Odaenathus came from a family which had belonged to the upper class of the city for several generations; in Dura-Europos, a relief dated to 159/158 (470 SE [Seleucid year]) was commissioned by Hairan son of Maliko son of Nasor.[note 7] This Hairan might have been the head of the Palmyrene trade colony in Dura-Europos and probably belonged to the same family as Odaenathus. According to Brown, it is plausible, based on the occurrence of the name Nasor in both Dura-Europos and Palmyra (where it was a rare name), that Odaenathus and Hairan son of Maliko belonged to the same family.
No definite images of Odaenathus have been discovered, hence, there is no information about his appearance; all sculptures identified as Odaenathus lack any inscriptions to confirm whom they represent. Two sculpted heads from Palmyra, one preserved in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek museum and the other in the Archaeological Museum in Istanbul, were identified by the archaeologist Harald Ingholt as representing Odaenathus based on their monumentality and regal style. The academic consensus does not support Ingholt's view, and the heads he ascribed to the king can be dated to the end of the second century. More likely, two marble heads, one depicting a man wearing a royal tiara, the crown of Palmyra, and the other depicting a man in a royal Hellenistic diadem, are depictions of the king. In addition, a Palmyrene clay tessera, depicting a bearded man wearing a diadem, could be a portrait of the king.
Traditional scholarship, based on the sepulchral inscription from Odaenathus' tomb, believed the builder to be an ancestor of the king and he was given the designation "Odaenathus I".[note 8] The name of King Odaenathus' father is Hairan as attested in many inscriptions. In an inscription dated to 251, the name of the ras (lord) of Palmyra, Hairan, son of Odaenathus, is written, and he was thought to be the son of Odaenathus I. Prior to the 1980s, the earliest known inscription attesting King Odaenathus was dated to 257, leading traditional scholarship to believe that Hairan, ras of Palmyra, was the father of the king and that Odaenathus I was his grandfather.[note 9] However, an inscription published in 1985 by the archaeologist Michael Gawlikowski and dated to 252 mentions King Odaenathus as a ras and records the same genealogy found in the sepulchral inscription, confirming the name of King Odaenathus' grandfather as Wahb Allat; thus, he cannot be a son of Hairan son of Odaenathus (I). Therefore, it is certain that King Odaenathus was the builder of the tomb, ruling out the existence of "Odaenathus I".[note 10] The ras Hairan mentioned in the 251 inscription is identical with Odaenathus' elder son and co-ruler, Prince Hairan I.
Palmyra was an autonomous city within the Roman Empire, subordinate to Rome and part of the province of Syria Phoenice. Odaenathus descended from an aristocratic family, albeit not a royal one as the city was ruled by a council and had no tradition of hereditary monarchy. For most of its existence, the Palmyrene army was decentralized under the command of several generals, but the rise of the Sasanian Empire in 224, and its incursions, which affected Palmyrene trade, combined with the weakness of the Roman Empire, probably prompted the Palmyrene council to elect a lord for the city in order for him to lead a strengthened army:
The Roman emperor, Gordian III, died in 244 during a campaign against Persia and this might have been the event which led to the election of a lord for Palmyra to defend it: Odaenathus, whose elevation, according to the historian Udo Hartmann, can be explained by Odaenathus probably being a successful military or caravan commander, and his descent from one of the most influential families in the city. Odaenathus' title as lord was ras in Palmyrene and exarchos in Greek as revealed by bilingual inscriptions from Palmyra.[note 11] The ras title enabled the bearer to effectively deal with the Sassanid threat, in that it probably vested in him supreme civil and military authority;[note 12] an undated inscription refers to Odaenathus as a ras and records the gift of a throne to him by a Palmyrene citizen named "Ogeilu son of Maqqai Haddudan Hadda", which confirms the supreme character of Odaenathus' title. The office was created for Odaenathus, and was not a usual title in the Roman Empire, and not a part of Palmyrene government traditions.
Hairan I was apparently elevated to co-lordship by his father, as an inscription from 251 testifies. As early as the 240s, Odaenathus bolstered the Palmyrene army, recruiting desert nomads and increasing the number of the Palmyrene heavy cavalry (clibanarii). In 252, the Persian emperor, Shapur I, started a full-scale invasion of the Roman provinces in the east. During the second campaign of the invasion, Shapur I conquered Antioch on the Orontes, the traditional capital of Syria, and headed south, where his advance was checked in 253 by a noble from Emesa, Uranius Antoninus. The events of 253 were mentioned in the works of the sixth-century historian John Malalas who also mentioned a leader by the name "Enathus" inflicting a defeat upon the retreating Shapur I near the Euphrates. "Enathus" is probably identical with Odaenathus, and while Malalas' account indicates that Odaenathus defeated the Persians in 253, there is no proof that the Palmyrene leader engaged Shapur I before 260 and Malalas' account seems to be confusing Odaenathus' future actions during 260 with the events of 253.
Shapur I destroyed the Palmyrene trade colonies along the Euphrates, including the colonies at Anah in 253 and at Dura-Europos in 256. The sixth-century historian Peter the Patrician wrote that Odaenathus approached Shapur I to negotiate Palmyrene interests but was rebuffed and the gifts sent to the Persians were thrown into the river. The date for the attempted negotiations is debated: some scholars, including John F. Drinkwater, set the event in 253; while others, such as Alaric Watson, set it in 256, following the destruction of Dura-Europos.
Several inscriptions dating to the end of 257 or early 258 show Odaenathus bearing the Greek title ὁ λαμπρότατος ὑπατικός (ho lamprótatos hupatikós; Latin: clarissimus consularis). This title was usually bestowed on Roman senators who held the consulship. The title was also mentioned in Odaenathus' undated tomb inscription and Hairan I was mentioned with the same title in the 251 inscription. Scholarly opinions vary on the exact date of Odaenathus' elevation to this position. Gawlikowski and the linguist Jean Starcky maintained that the senatorial rank predates the ras elevation. Hartmann concluded that Odaenathus first became a ras in the 240s, then a senator in 250. Another possibility is that the senatorial rank and lordship occurred simultaneously; Odaenathus was chosen as a ras following Gordian's death, then, after Emperor Philip the Arab concluded a peace treaty with the Persians, the Emperor ratified Odaenathus' lordship and admitted him to the senate to guarantee Palmyra's continued subordination.
The clarissimus consularis title could be a mere honorific or a sign that Odaenathus was appointed as the legatus of Phoenice. However, the title (ὁ λαμπρότατος ὑπατικός) was sometimes used in Syria to denote the provincial governor and the archaeologist William Waddington proposed that Odaenathus was indeed the governor of Phoenice.[note 14] Five of the inscriptions mentioning Odaenathus as consul are dated to 569 SE (258 AD) during which no governor for Phoenice is attested, which might indicate that this was Odaenathus' year of governorship. In Phoenice's capital city Tyre, the lines "To Septimius Odaenathus, the most illustrious. The Septimian colony of Tyre" were found inscribed on a marble base; the inscription is not dated and if it was made after 257 then it indicates that Odaenathus was appointed as the governor of the province. These speculations cannot be proven, but as a governor Odaenathus would have been the highest authority in the province, above legionary commanders and provincial officials; this would make him commander of the Roman forces in the province. Whatever the case may be, starting from 258 Odaenathus strengthened his position and extended his political influence in the region. By 260, Odaenathus held the rank, credibility and power to pacify the Roman East following the Battle of Edessa.
Faced with Shapur I's third campaign, the Roman emperor Valerian marched against the Persian monarch but was defeated near Edessa in late spring 260 and taken prisoner. The Persian emperor then ravaged Cappadocia and Cilicia, and claimed to have captured Antioch on the Orontes.[note 15] Taking advantage of the situation, Fulvius Macrianus, the commander of the imperial treasury, declared his sons Quietus and Macrianus Minor as joint emperors in August 260, in opposition to Valerian's son Gallienus.[note 16] Fulvius Macrianus took Antioch on the Orontes as his center and organized the resistance against Shapur I; he dispatched Balista, his praetorian prefect, to Anatolia. Shapur I was defeated in the region of Sebaste at Pompeiopolis, prompting the Persians to evacuate Cilicia while Balista returned to Antioch on the Orontes. Balista's victory was only partial: Shapur I withdrew east of Cilicia, which Persian units continued to occupy. A Persian force took advantage of Balista's return to Syria and headed further west into Anatolia. According to the Augustan History, Odaenathus was declared king of Palmyra as soon as the news of the Roman defeat at Edessa reached the city. It is not known if Odaenathus contacted Fulvius Macrianus and there is no evidence that he took orders from him.
Odaenathus assembled the Palmyrene army and Syrian peasants, then marched north to meet the Persian emperor, who was returning to Persia.[note 17] The Palmyrene monarch fell upon the retreating Persian army between Samosata and Zeugma, west of the Euphrates, in late summer 260.[note 18] He defeated the Persians, expelling Shapur I from the province of Syria. In early 261, Fulvius Macrianus headed to Europe accompanied by Macrianus Minor, leaving Quietus and Balista in Emesa. Odaenathus' whereabouts during this episode are not clear; he could have distributed the army in garrisons along the frontier or might have brought it back to his capital. The Palmyrene monarch seems to have waited until the situation clarified, declaring loyalty to neither Fulvius Macrianus nor Gallienus. In the spring of 261, Fulvius Macrianus arrived in the Balkans but was defeated and killed along with Macrianus Minor; Odaenathus, when it became clear that Gallienus would eventually win, sided with the Emperor and marched on Emesa, where Quietus and Balista were staying. The Emesans killed Quietus as Odaenathus approached the city, while Balista was captured and executed by the King in autumn 261.
Regardless of his titles, Odaenathus controlled the Roman East with the approval of Gallienus, who could do little but formalize Odaenathus' self-achieved status and settle for his formal loyalty.[note 19] Odaenathus' authority extended from the Pontic coast in the north to Palestine in the south. This area included the Roman provinces of Syria, Phoenice, Palaestina, Arabia, Anatolia's eastern regions and, following the campaign of 262, Osroene and Mesopotamia.
Perhaps driven by a desire to take revenge for the destruction of Palmyrene trade centers and to discourage Shapur I from initiating future attacks, Odaenathus launched an offensive against the Persians. The suppression of Fulvius Macrianus' rebellion probably prompted Gallienus to entrust the Palmyrene monarch with the war in Persia and Roman soldiers were in the ranks of Odaenathus' army for this campaign. In the spring of 262, the King marched north into the occupied Roman province of Mesopotamia, driving out the Persian garrisons and recapturing Edessa and Carrhae. The first onslaught was aimed at Nisibis, which Odaenathus regained but sacked, since the inhabitants had been sympathetic towards the Persian occupation. A little later he destroyed the Jewish city of Nehardea, 45 kilometres (28 mi) west of the Persian capital Ctesiphon,[note 20] as he considered the Jews of Mesopotamia to be loyal to Shapur I. By late 262 or early 263, Odaenathus stood outside the walls of the Persian capital.
The exact route taken by Odaenathus from Palmyra to Ctesiphon remains uncertain; it was probably similar to the route Emperor Julian took in 363 during his campaign against Persia. If he did use this route, Odaenathus would have crossed the Euphrates at Zeugma then moved east to Edessa followed by Carrhae then Nisibis. Here, he would have descended south along the Khabur River to the Euphrates valley and then marched along the river's left bank to Nehardea. He then penetrated the Sassanian province of Asōristān and marched along the royal canal Naarmalcha towards the Tigris, where the Persian capital stood.
Once at Ctesiphon, Odaenathus immediately began a siege of the well-fortified winter residence of the Persian kings; severe damage was inflicted upon the surrounding areas during several battles with Persian troops. The city held out and the logistical problems of fighting in enemy territory probably prompted the Palmyrenes to lift the siege. Odaenathus headed north along the Euphrates carrying with him numerous prisoners and much booty. The invasion resulted in the full restoration of the Roman lands which had been occupied by Shapur I since the beginning of his invasions in 252: Osroene and Mesopotamia.[note 21] However, Dura-Europus and other Palmyrene posts south of Circesium, such as Anah, were not rebuilt. Odaenathus sent the captives to Rome, and by the end of 263 Gallienus added Persicus maximus ("the great victor in Persia") to Odaenathus' titles and held a triumph in Rome.
In 263, after his return, Odaenathus assumed the title of King of Kings of the East (Mlk Mlk dy Mdnh),[note 22] and crowned his son Herodianus (Hairan I) as co-King of Kings. A statue was erected and dedicated for Herodianus to celebrate his coronation by Septimius Worod, the duumviri (magistrate) of Palmyra, and Julius Aurelius, the Queen's procurator (treasurer). The dedication, in Greek, is undated, but Septimius Worod was a duumviri between 263 and 264. Hence, the coronation took place c. 263.[note 23] Contemporary evidence for Odaenathus bearing the title of King of Kings is lacking; all firmly dated inscriptions attesting Odaenathus with the title were commissioned after his death, including one that is dated to 271. However, Herodianus died with his father, and since he is directly attested as "King of Kings" during his father's lifetime, it is unimaginable that Odaenathus was simply a king while his son was the King of Kings. An undated inscription, written in Greek and difficult to decipher, found on a stone reused in the Palmyrene Camp of Diocletian, addresses Odaenathus as King of Kings (Rex regum) and was probably set during his reign.
According to the dedication, Herodianus was crowned near the Orontes, which indicates a ceremony taking place in Antioch on the Orontes, the metropolis of Syria.[note 24] The title was a symbol of legitimacy in the East, dating back to the Assyrians, then the Achaemenids, who used it to symbolize their supremacy over all other rulers; it was later adopted by the Parthian monarchs to legitimize their conquests. The first Sassanian monarch, Ardashir I, adopted the title following his victory over the Parthians. Odaenathus' son was crowned with a diadem and a tiara; the choice of Antioch on the Orontes was probably meant to demonstrate that the Palmyrene monarchs were now the successors of the Seleucid and Iranian rulers who had controlled Syria and Mesopotamia in the past.
In analyzing the rise of Odaenathus and his complicated relationship with Rome, the historian Gary K. Young concluded that "to search for any kind of regularity or normality in such a situation is clearly pointless". In practice, Palmyra became an allied kingdom of Rome, but legally, it remained part of the empire. The "King of Kings" title was probably not aimed at the position of the Roman emperor but at Shapur I; Odaenathus was declaring that he, not the Persian monarch, was the legitimate King of Kings of the East. Odaenathus' intentions are questioned by some historians, such as Drinkwater, who attributed the attempted negotiations with Shapur I to Odaenathus' quest for power. However, in contrast to the norm of this period when powerful generals frequently proclaimed themselves emperors, Odaenathus chose not to attempt to usurp Gallienus' throne.
The relationship between Odaenathus and the Emperor should be understood from two different perspectives: Roman and Syrian. In Rome, broad power delegation by the Emperor to an individual from outside the imperial family was not considered a problem; such authority had been granted several times since the days of Augustus in the first century. The Syrian perspective was different: according to Potter, the dedication celebrating Herodianus' coronation on the Orontes should be interpreted to mean a "Palmyrene claim to kingship in Syria" and control over it during the reign of Odaenathus. What the central government thought of such claims is unclear, but it is doubtful that Gallienus recognized the situation as the Palmyrenes understood it. In the Roman Empire's hierarchical system, a vassal king using the title of King of Kings did not indicate that he was a peer of the Emperor or that the ties of vassalage were cut. Such different understandings eventually led to the conflict between Rome and Palmyra during the reign of Zenobia, who considered her husband's Roman offices hereditary and an expression of independent authority.[note 25]
The King had effective control over the Roman East where his military authority was absolute. Odaenathus respected Gallienus' authority to appoint provincial governors, but dealt swiftly with opposition: the Anonymus post Dionem, usually associated with the sixth-century historian Eustathius of Epiphania or Peter the Patrician, mentions the story of Kyrinus, or Quirinus, a Roman official, who showed dissatisfaction with Odaenathus' authority over the Persian frontier, and was immediately executed by the King.[note 26] In general, Odaenathus' actions were connected to his and Palmyra's interests only. His support of Gallienus and his Roman titles did not hide the Palmyrene base of his power and the local origin of his armies, as with his decision not to wait for the Emperor to help in 260. Odaenathus' status seems to have been, as Watson puts it, "something between powerful subject, independent vassal king and rival emperor".
Odaenathus behaved as a sovereign monarch; outside his kingdom of Palmyra, he had overall administrative and military authority over the provincial governors of the Roman eastern provinces. Inside Palmyra, no Roman provincial official had any authority; the King filled the government with Palmyrenes. In parallel to the Iranian practice of making the government a family enterprise, Odaenathus bestowed his own gentilicium (Septimius) upon his leading generals and officials such as Zabdas, Zabbai and Worod.[note 27] Most Palmyrene constitutional institutions continued to function normally during Odaenathus' reign; he maintained many civic establishments, but the last magistrates were elected in 264, and the Palmyrene council was not attested after that year. After this year, a governor, Septimius Worod, was appointed by the King for the city of Palmyra, who also functioned as a viceroy when Odaenathus was on campaign.
A lead token depicting Herodianus shows him wearing a tiara crown shaped like that of the Parthian monarchs, so it must have been Odaenathus' crown; this combination of imagery, together with the "King of Kings" title, indicates that Odaenathus considered himself the rival of the Sassanians and the protector of the region against them. Many intellectuals relocated to Palmyra and enjoyed the King's patronage; most prominently Cassius Longinus, who probably arrived in the 260s. It is possible that Odaenathus influenced local writers to promote his rule; a prophecy in the thirteenth Sibylline Oracle, written after the events it "prophesied", reads: "Then shall come one who was sent by the sun [i.e., Odaenathus], a mighty and fearful lion, breathing much flame. Then he with much shameless daring will destroy ... the greatest beast – venomous, fearful and emitting a great deal of hisses [i.e., Shapur I]". The authority of Odaenathus did not appease all factions in Syria and the glorification of the King in the oracle could be a politically sponsored propaganda aimed at expanding Odaenathus' support.[note 28] Another writer in the Palmyrene court, Nicostratus of Trebizond, probably accompanied the King on his campaigns and wrote a history of the period, starting with Philip the Arab and ending shortly before Odaenathus' death. According to Potter, Nicostratus' account was meant to glorify Odaenathus and demonstrate his superiority over the Roman Emperor.
Odaenathus minted coinage only in the name of Gallienus, and produced no coins bearing his own image. The engraver Hubertus Goltzius forged coins of Odaenathus in the sixteenth century; according to the eighteenth-century numismatist Joseph Hilarius Eckhel "The coins of Odenathus are known only to Goltzius; and if anyone will put faith in their existence, let him go to the fountain head (i.e. Goltzius)". According to the Augustan History, Gallienus minted a coin in honour of Odaenathus where he was depicted taking the Persians captive; a coin of Gallienus minted in Antioch and dated to c. 264–265 depicts two seated captives on its reverse and was associated with the victories of Odaenathus by the historian Michael Geiger. Other coins of Gallienus depict lions on their reverses; the animal was portrayed in several fashions: bare headed with a bull's head between its paws; radiate head; radiate head with a bull's head between its paws; or an eagle standing on its back. The historian Erika Manders considered it possible that those coins were issued for Odaenathus, as the depiction of a lion is reminiscent of the thirteenth Sibylline Oracle's description of Odaenathus as a "mighty and fearful lion, breathing much flame".[note 29]
The primary sources are silent regarding events following the first Persian campaign, but this is an indication of the peace that prevailed and that the Persians had ceased being a threat to the Roman East. The evidence for the second campaign is meager; Zosimus is the only one to mention it specifically. A passage in the thirteenth Sibylline Oracle is interpreted by Hartmann as an indication of a second offensive. With the rise of the Sassanid dynasty, Palmyrene trade caravans to the East diminished with only three recorded after 224. The last caravan returned to Palmyra in 266, and this was probably facilitated by the campaign, which probably took place in 266. The King marched directly to Ctesiphon, but he had to break off the siege and march north to face an influx of Germanic raiders attacking Anatolia.
The Romans used the designation "Scythian" to denote many tribes, regardless of their ethnic origin, and sometimes the term would be interchangeable with Goths. The tribes attacking Anatolia were probably the Heruli who built ships to cross the Black Sea in 267 and ravaged the coasts of Bithynia and Pontus, besieging Heraclea Pontica. According to the eighth-century historian George Syncellus, Odaenathus arrived at Anatolia with Herodianus and headed to Heraclea but the riders were already gone, having loaded their ships with booty. Many perished, perhaps in a sea battle with Odaenathus' forces, or possibly they were shipwrecked.
Odaenathus was assassinated, together with Herodianus, in late 267. The date is debated and some scholars propose 266 or 268, but Vaballathus dated the first year of his reign between August 267 and August 268, making late 267 the most probable date. The assassination took place in either Anatolia or Syria. There is no consensus on the manner, perpetrator or the motive behind the act.
The historian Nathanael Andrade, noting that since the Augustan History, Zosimus, Zonaras, and Syncellus all refer to a family feud or a domestic conspiracy in their writings, they must have been recounting an early tradition regarding the assassination. Also, the story of Rufinus is a clue to tensions between Odaenathus and the Roman court. The mint of Antioch on the Orontes ceased the production of Gallienus' coins in early 268, and while this could be related to fiscal troubles, it could also have been ordered by Zenobia in retaliation for the murder of her husband. Andrade proposed that the assassination was the result of a coup conducted by Palmyrene notables in collaboration with the imperial court whose officials were dissatisfied with Odaenathus' autonomy. On the other hand, Hartmann concluded that it is more probable that Odaenathus was killed in Pontus.
How many children Odaenathus had with his first wife is unknown and only one is attested:
The children of Odaenathus and Zenobia were:
Possible descendants of Odaenathus living in later centuries are reported: Lucia Septimia Patabiniana Balbilla Tyria Nepotilla Odaenathiana is known through a dedication dating to the late third or early fourth century inscribed on a tombstone erected by a wet nurse to her "sweetest and most loving mistress". The tombstone was found in Rome at the San Callisto in Trastevere. Another possible relative is Eusebius who is mentioned by the fourth century rhetorician Libanius in 391 as a son of one Odaenathus, who was in turn a descendant of the King; the father of Eusebius is mentioned as fighting against the Persians (most probably in the ranks of Emperor Julian's army). In 393, Libanius mentioned that Eusebius promised him a speech written by Longinus for the King. In the fifth century, the philosopher "Syrian Odaenathus" lived in Athens and was a student of Plutarch of Athens; he might have been a distant descendant of the King.
Mummification was practiced in Palmyra alongside inhumation and it is a possibility that Zenobia had her husband mummified. The stone block bearing Odaenathus' sepulchral inscription was in the Temple of Bel in the nineteenth century, and it was originally the architrave of the tomb. It had been moved to the temple at some point and so the location of the tomb to which the block belonged is not known. The tomb was probably built early in Odaenathus' career and before his marriage to Zenobia and it is plausible that another, more elaborate, tomb was built after Odaenathus became King of Kings.
Roman law forbade the burial of individuals within a city. This rule was strictly observed in the west, but it was applied more leniently in the eastern parts of the empire. A burial within a city was one of the highest honors an individual other that the Emperor and his family could receive in the Roman Empire. A notable person may be buried in this manner for different reasons, such as his leadership or monetary donations. It meant that the deceased was not sent beyond the walls for fear of miasma (pollution), and that he would be part of the city's future civic life.[note 31] At the western end of the Great Colonnade at Palmyra, a shrine designated "Funerary Temple no. 86" (also known as the House Tomb) is located. Inside its chamber, steps lead down to a vault crypt which is now lost. This mausoleum might have belonged to the royal family, being the only tomb inside the city's walls. Odaenathus' royal power in itself was sufficient to earn him a burial within the city walls.
The Augustan History claims that Maeonius was proclaimed emperor for a brief period before being killed by soldiers. However, no inscriptions or other evidence exist for Maeonius' reign, the very existence of which is doubtful. The disappearance of Septimius Worod in 267 could be related to the internal coup; he could have been executed by Zenobia if he was involved; or killed by the conspirators if he was loyal to the King. Odaenathus was succeeded by his son, the ten-year-old Vaballathus, under the regency of Zenobia; Hairan II probably died soon after his father, as only Vaballathus succeeded to the throne.
Odaenathus was the founder of the Palmyrene royal dynasty. He left Palmyra the premier power in the East, and his actions laid the foundation of Palmyrene strength which culminated in the establishment of the Palmyrene Empire in 270. Hero cults were not common in Palmyra, but the unprecedented position and achievements of Odaenathus might have given rise to such a practice: a mosaic panel excavated in Palmyra depicts a man in Palmyrene military outfit riding a horse and shooting at two tigers, with an eagle flying above. According to Gianluca Serra, the conservation zoologist based in Palmyra at the time of the panel's discovery, the tigers are Panthera tigris virgata, once common in the region of Hyrcania in Iran. Gawlikowski proposed that it is Odaenathus depicted as the archer and the Persians as the tigers in the mosaic; the title of mrn (lord) appears on the panel, an honor carried only by Odaenathus and Hairan I. The panel indicates that Odaenathus was probably treated as a divine figure, and may have been worshipped in Palmyra.
Odaenathus' memory as an able king, and loyal Roman, was used by the emperors Claudius II and Aurelian to tarnish Zenobia's reputation by portraying themselves as Odaenathus' avengers against his wife, the usurper who gained the throne through plotting. The King was praised by Libanius, and the fourth-century writer of the Augustan History, while placing Odaenathus among the Thirty Tyrants (probably because he assumed the title of king, in the view of the eighteenth-century historian Edward Gibbon), speaks highly of his role in the Persian War and credits him with saving the empire: "Had not Odaenathus, prince of the Palmyrenes, seized the imperial power after the capture of Valerian when the strength of the Roman state was exhausted, all would have been lost in the East". On the other hand, Odaenathus is viewed negatively in Rabbinic sources. His sack of Nehardea mortified the Jews, and he was cursed by both the Babylonian Jews and the Jews of Palestine. In the Christian version of the Apocalypse of Elijah, probably written in Egypt following the capture of Valerian, Odaenathus is called the king who will rise from the "city of the sun" and will eventually be killed by the Persians; this prophecy is a response to Odaenathus' persecution of the Jews and his destruction of Nahardea. The Jewish Apocalypse of Elijah identifies Odaenathus as the Antichrist.[note 32]
|“||Odaenathus, the mention of whose name alone caused the hearts of the Persians to falter. Everywhere victorious, he liberated the cities and the territories belonging to each of them and made the enemies place their salvation in their prayers rather than in the force of arms.||”|
|— Libanius, on the exploits of Odaenathus.|
The successes of Odaenathus are treated sceptically by a number of modern scholars. According to the Augustan History, Odaenathus "captured the king's treasures and he captured, too, what the Parthian monarchs hold dearer than treasures, namely his concubines. For this reason Shapur [I] was now in greater dread of the Roman generals, and out of fear of Ballista and Odaenathus he withdrew more speedily to his kingdom." Sceptical scholars, such as Martin Sprengling, considered such accounts of ancient Roman historians "poor, scanty and confused". However, the coronation dedication of Herodianus' statue, which stood on the Monumental Arch of Palmyra, records his defeat of the Persians, for which he was crowned, thus providing Palmyrene evidence that explicitly mentions the war against Persia; the victory attested is probably related to the first Persian campaign and not the battle of 260.
The historian Andreas Alföldi concluded that Odaenathus started his wars with Persia by attacking the retreating Persian army at Edessa in 260. Such an attack is rejected by sceptical scholars; Sprengling noted that no evidence exists for such an engagement. The Iranologist Walter Bruno Henning considered the accounts of Odaenathus' attack in 260 greatly exaggerated. Shapur I mentions that he made the Roman prisoners build him the Band-e Kaisar near Susiana, and built a city for those prisoners, which evolved into the current Gundeshapur; Henning cited those arguments as evidence for Shapur I's success in bringing his army and prisoners back home and Roman exaggeration regarding Odaenathus' successes. Sprengling suggested that Shapur I did not have enough troops to garrison the Roman cities he occupied, and he was old and focused on religion and building; hence, Odaenathus merely retook abandoned cities and marched on Ctesiphon to heal Rome's pride, while being careful not to disturb the Persians and their emperor. Other scholars, such as Jacob Neusner, noted that while the accounts of the 260 engagement might be an exaggeration, Odaenathus did become a real threat to Persia when he regained the cities formerly taken by Shapur I and besieged Ctesiphon. The historian Louis Feldman rejected Henning's proposals; and the historian Trevor Bryce concluded that whatever the nature of Odaenathus' campaigns, they led to the restoration of all Roman territories occupied by Shapur I – Rome was free of Persian threats for several years after Odaenathus' wars.
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House of OdaenathusBorn: 220 Died: 267
| Ras of Palmyra
with Hairan I (Herodianus) (?–260)
| King of Palmyra
| King of Kings of the East|
with Herodianus as junior
King of Kings (263–267)