Palmyra (City of Palms), an oasis in the northeastern desert in present-day Syria, became a trading center and stopping point on the Silk Road as early as the 19th century b.c.e. Its importance as a trading point rose as the Seleucid Empire declined and the Palmyrenes became middlemen in trade destined for other parts of the Roman Empire.

It was made a Roman protectorate in the first century c.e. whereby residents became Roman citizens, with all its benefits, but enjoying considerable local autonomy. As their wealth from trade and commerce grew, Palmyrenes built lavish temples, public monuments, and elaborate stone funerary towers for the burial of their dead.

The Palmyran ruler Odaynath defeated the Sassanids in 260 c.e. and then proclaimed himself king of kings. Soon afterward he was assassinated, perhaps on orders from his wife, Queen Zenobia.

Known for her beauty and ambition, Zenobia, who claimed to have descended from Cleopatra, ruled in the name of her young son. Exceedingly ambitious, she led major military battles in her own right. By 269 she ruled virtually all of Syria and then moved to invade Egypt and parts of present-day Turkey.

Declaring complete independence from Rome, she had coins minted with her own image and in 271 proclaimed her son Augustus. Rome retaliated by launching a successful military attack under Domitius Aurelianus on Palmyra in 272. Aurelianus took the city and captured Zenobia. He spared the city, leaving only a small force to maintain Roman rule.

Shortly thereafter Palmyra rose in revolt, and Aurelianus retaliated by having his troops pillage and raze the city, which never recovered its former glory. Zenobia was allegedly brought back to Rome in golden chains and pensioned off to live out the rest of her days in Tibur, present-day Tivoli, in Italy.