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King of Palmyra
King of Kings of the East
(Western Aramaic:
Mlk Mlk DY MDNH)
Odenaethus Glyptoteket.jpg
Odenaethus' alleged bust
King of Kings of the East
PredecessorTitle created
King of Palmyra
PredecessorHimself as lord of Palmyra
Ras (lord) of Palmyra
PredecessorOffice established
SuccessorHimself as king
Bornc. 220
Palmyra, Syria
Died267 (aged 46–47)
Heraclea Pontica or Homs
IssueHairan I
Hairan II
Full name
Septimius Udhayna
HouseHouse of Odaenathus

Septimius Udhayna, Latinized as Odaenathus (Palmyrene: Dynt.png ('Dynt), spelled Oḏainaṯ; Arabic: أذينة‎ (Udhayna); c. 220 – 267 AD), was the founder king (Mlk) of the Palmyrene Kingdom ruled from Palmyra, Syria. He lifted his city from the position of a regional center subordinate to Rome into 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 stayed 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. Then, Odaenathus took the side of Emperor Gallienus, the son and successor of Valerian, who was facing the 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 many exceptional titles by the Emperor who formalized his self-established position in the East. In reality, the Emperor could have done little but accept the declared nominal loyalty of Odaenathus.

In a series of rapid and successful campaigns starting in 262, he 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, 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 riders 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.

Family, appearance and name[edit]

Ruined building
The stone block from Odaenathus' tomb recording his genealogy
Relief from the Temple of the Gadde at Dura-Europos depicting the god "Gad" of Dura (center), King Seleucus I Nicator (right) and Hairan son of Maliko son of Nasor (left)[1]

In the Temple of Bel at Palmyra, a stone block with a sepulchral inscription was found mentioning the building of a tomb and recording the genealogy of the builder: Odaenathus, son of Hairan, son of Wahb Allat, son of Nasor.[2][3] The King appears to be of mixed Arab and Aramean descent;[4] his name, the name of his father, Hairan, and that of his grandfather, Wahb-Allat, are Arabic,[note 1][6] while Nasor, his great-grandfather, has an Aramaic name.[7] Nasor might not have been the great-grandfather of Odaenathus but rather a more distant ancestor;[8] the archaeologist Frank Edward Brown considered Nasor to be Odaenathus' great-great or great-great-great grandfather.[9] This led some scholars, such as Lisbeth Soss Fried and Javier Teixidor, to consider the origin of the family to be Aramean.[10][7] Byzantine historians of the sixth century, such as Procopius, referred to him as "king of the Saracens", meaning of the Arabs.[10]

Zosimus asserted that Odaenathus descended from "illustrious forebears",[note 2][7] but the position of the family in Palmyra is debated; it was probably part of the wealthy mercantile class.[15] Alternatively, the family may have belonged to the tribal leadership which amassed a fortune as landowners and patrons of the Palmyrene caravans.[note 3][4] In Dura-Europos, a relief dated to 159 was commissioned by Hairan son of Maliko son of Nasor; this Hairan might have been the head of the Palmyrene trade colony in Dura-Europos and probably belonged to the same family as Odaenathus.[17][18] According to Brown, it is plausible, based on the occurrence of the name Nasor in Dura-Europos and Palmyra (where it was a rare name), that Odaenathus and Hairan son of Maliko belonged to the same family.[9]

No images of Odaenathus have been discovered; hence, there is no information about his appearance.[19] A few sculpted heads from Palmyra were identified by scholars as representing Odaenathus based on their monumentality and regal style, but those sculptures lack any inscriptions to help identifying the man they represent beyond doubt.[20] "Odaenathus" is the Greek version of the King's name; he was born Septimius Udhayna in c. 220.[note 4][22] His name is written in Palmyrene as Sptmyws 'Dynt.[23] "Udhayna" is the King's personal name,[24] an Arabic one that means "little ear".[25] "Septimius" was the family's gentilicium (surname) adopted as an expression of loyalty to the Roman Severan dynasty,[26] whose emperor Septimius Severus granted the family Roman citizenship in the late second century.[27]

Odaenathus I[edit]

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 5][29] In an inscription dated to 251, the name of the ras (lord) of Palmyra, Hairan, son of Odaenathus, is written,[30] and he was thought to be the son of Odaenathus I.[29] 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 6][29][32] However, an inscription published in 1985 by 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.[29][30][33] Therefore, it is certain that King Odaenathus is the builder of the tomb, ruling out the existence of "Odaenathus I".[note 7][28][29] The Ras Hairan mentioned in the 251 inscription is identical with Odaenathus' elder son and co-ruler, Prince Hairan I.[29][35]


Palmyra was an autonomous city subordinate to Rome and part of the province of Syria Phoenice.[36] 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.[37][38][39] Bilingual inscriptions from Palmyra record the title of the Palmyrene ruler as ras in Palmyrene and Exarchos in Greek, meaning the "lord of Palmyra".[40] The title was created for Odaenathus,[41] and was not a usual title in the Roman Empire, and not a part of traditional Palmyrene government institutions;[42][43] whether it indicated a military or a priestly position is not known,[44] but the military role is more likely.[45]

The rise of the aggressive Sasanian Empire in 224, and the Iranian incursions which affected Palmyrene trade,[46] combined with the weakness of the Roman Empire, were probably the reasons behind the Palmyrene council's decision to elect a lord for the city in order for him to lead a strengthened army.[15][41][47] The ras title enabled the bearer to effectively deal with the Sassanid threat, in that it probably vested him with supreme civil and military authority; previously, the Palmyrene army had been decentralized under the command of several generals.[41]

Ras of Palmyra[edit]

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.[42] The earliest known inscriptions mentioning the title are dated to October 251 and April 252: the 251 inscription refers to Odaenathus' eldest son Hairan I as ras; while the 252 inscription refers to Odaenathus.[48][49] Hairan I was apparently elevated to co-lordship by his father.[49] Although the written evidence for Odaenathus' lordship dates to 251,[note 8][42] it is possible that he acquired the title as early as the 240s. Following the death of the Roman emperor Gordian III in 244 during a campaign against Persia, the Palmyrenes might have elected Odaenathus to defend the city.[42]

Odaenathus was described as a Roman senator in the undated tomb inscription and Hairan I was mentioned with the same title in the 251 inscription.[50] Scholarly opinions vary on the exact date of Odaenathus' elevation to the position.[42] Gawlikowski and Jean Starcky maintain that the senatorial rank predates the ras elevation.[50] Udo Hartmann concludes that Odaenathus first became a ras in the 240s, then a senator in 250.[50] Another possibility is that the senatorial rank and lordship occurred simultaneously; Odaenathus was chosen as a ras following Gordian's death, then, after 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 continuous subordination.[42]

The temple of Bel, belonging to the Palmyrene colony in Dura-Europos; destroyed by the Sassanians in 256.[note 9][51]

As early as the 240s, Odaenathus bolstered the Palmyrene army, recruiting desert nomads and increasing the numbers of the Palmyrene heavy cavalry units (clibanarii).[41][52] In 252, the Persian emperor, Shapur I, started a full-scale invasion of the Roman provinces in the east.[53][54] During the second campaign of the invasion, Shapur conquered Antioch and headed south, where his advance was checked in 253 by Emesa's priest-king Uranius Antoninus.[55] 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 near the Euphrates.[55] "Enathus" is probably identical with Odaenathus,[56] and while Malalas' account indicates that Odaenathus defeated the Persians in 253,[57] there is no proof that the Palmyrene leader engaged Shapur before 260 and Malalas' account seems to be confusing Odaenathus' future actions during 260 with the events of 253.[58]

Shapur I destroyed the Palmyrene trade colonies all along the Euphrates, including the colonies at Anah in 253 and at Dura-Europos in 256.[59] Peter the Patrician says that Odaenathus approached Shapur to negotiate Palmyrene interests but was rebuffed and the gifts sent to the Persians were thrown into the river.[55][56][60] 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.[48][56]

Governor of Syria Phoenice[edit]

Several inscriptions dating to the end of 257 or early 258 show Odaenathus bearing the title "ὁ λαμπρότατος ὑπατικός" (Clarissimus Consularis);[31][57][61] this could be a mere honorific or a sign that he was appointed as the Legatus of Phoenice.[44][62] However, the title (ὁ λαμπρότατος ὑπατικός) was sometimes used in Syria to denote the provincial governor and William Waddington proposed that Odaenathus was indeed the governor of Phoenice.[note 10][31][7]

Five of the inscriptions mentioning Odaenathus as consul are dated to the Seleucid year 569 (258 AD) during which no governor for Phoenice is attested, which might indicate that this was Odaenathus' year of governorship.[63] In the city of Tyre, Phoenice's capital, the lines "To Septimius Odaenathus, the most illustrious. The Septimian colony of Tyre" were found inscribed on a marble base;[63][64] the inscription is not dated and if it was set after 257 then it indicates that Odaenathus was appointed as the governor of the province.[63]

Bas relief depicting the triumph of Shapur I over Valerian

These speculations cannot be proven without doubt but as a governor, Odaenathus would have been the highest authority in the province and above any legionary commander and provincial officials; this would make him the commander of the Roman forces in the province.[63] Whatever the case may be, starting from 258, Odaenathus strengthened his position and extended his political influence in the region.[44] By 260, Odaenathus held the rank, credibility and power to pacify the Roman east following the Battle of Edessa.[63]


Faced with Shapur's third campaign,[65] the Roman emperor Valerian marched against the Persian monarch but was defeated near Edessa in late spring 260 and taken as a prisoner.[66] The Persian emperor then ravaged Cappadocia, Cilicia and claimed to have captured Antioch, the metropolis of Syria.[note 11][67] 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 opposing Valerian's son Gallienus.[note 12][68] Fulvius Macrianus took Antioch as his center and organized the resistance against Shapur; he dispatched Balista, his praetorian prefect, to Anatolia.[68] Shapur was defeated in the region of Sebaste at Pompeiopolis, prompting the Persians to evacuate Cilicia while Balista went back to Antioch.[32][68][69] Balista's victory was only partial, as Shapur withdrew east of Cilicia, where the marauding Persian units continued to occupy the area,[70] while a Persian force took advantage of Balista's return to Syria and headed further west into Anatolia.[68]


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.[71] It is not known if Odaenathus contacted Fulvius Macrianus and there is no evidence that he took orders from him.[72]

Persian war of 260 and pacifying Syria[edit]

Odaenathus assembled the Palmyrene army and Syrian peasants then marched north to meet the Persian emperor, who was withdrawing home.[note 13][59][72] The Palmyrene monarch fell upon the retreating Shapur at a place between Samosata and Zeugma west of the Euphrates in late summer 260.[72][76] Odaenathus defeated the Persians, expelling Shapur from the province of Syria.[72] In the beginning of 261, Fulvius Macrianus headed to Europe accompanied by Macrianus Minor, leaving Quietus and Balista in Emesa.[72] 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.[60] The Palmyrene monarch seems to have waited until the situation clarified, declaring loyalty neither to Fulvius Macrianus nor to Gallienus.[60] In the spring of 261, Fulvius Macrianus arrived in the Balkans but was defeated and killed along with Macrianus Minor; Odaenathus then marched on Emesa, where Quietus and Balista were staying.[60] The Emesans killed Quietus as Odaenathus approached the city,[60] while Balista was captured and executed by the King in autumn 261.[64][77]

Ruler of the East[edit]

The elimination of the usurpers left Odaenathus as the most powerful leader in the Roman east;[60] he was granted many titles by the emperor but those honors are debated among scholars:[78]

  • Dux Romanorum (commander of the Romans): was probably given to Odaenathus to recognize his position as the commander in chief of the forces in the east against the Persians; it was inherited by Odaenathus' son and successor Vaballathus.[79]
Drawing of the posthumous dedication to Odaenathus attesting him as corrector (upper section). Palmyrene letters transcribed into Latin (lower section)
  • Corrector totius orientis (Righter of the entire East): it is generally accepted by modern scholars that he bore this title.[80] The corrector had an overall command of the Roman armies and authority over the Roman provincial governors in the designated region.[81][82] There are no known attestations of the title during Odaenathus' lifetime.[80] Evidence for the King bearing the title consists of two inscriptions in Palmyrene dialect: one posthumous dedication describing him as MTQNNʿ of the East (derived from the Aramaic root TQN, meaning to set in order), and the other describing his heir Vaballathus with the same title, albeit using the word PNRTTʿ instead of MTQNNʿ.[81][83]
However, the sort of authority accorded by this position is widely discussed.[81] The problem arises from the word MTQNNʿ; its exact meaning is debated.[83] The word is translated into Latin as "corrector", but "restitutor" is another possible translation; the latter title was an honorary one meant to praise the bearer for driving enemies out of Roman territories.[83] However, the inscription of Vaballathus is clearer, as the word PNRTTʿ is not a Palmyrene word but a direct Palmyrene translation of the Greek term Epanorthotes, which is usually an equivalent to corrector.[83]
According to David Potter, Vaballathus inherited his father's exact titles.[81] Hartmann points out that there have been cases where a Greek word was translated directly to Palmyrene and a Palmyrene equivalent was also used to mean the same thing.[83] The dedication to Odaenathus would be the use of a Palmyrene equivalent, while the inscription of Vaballathus would be the direct translation.[81] Despite all the arguments, it cannot be certain that Odaenathus was a corrector.[83]
  • Imperator totius orientis (commander-in-chief of the entire East): only the Augustan History claims that Odaenathus was conferred this title; the same source also claims that he was made an Augustus (co-emperor) following his defeat of the Persians.[78] Both claims are dismissed by scholars.[78] Odaenathus seems to have been acclaimed as Imperator by his troops, which is a salutation reserved for the Roman emperor; this acclamation might explain the erroneous reports of the Augustan History.[84]

Regardless of the titles, Odaenathus controlled the Roman East with the approval of Gallienus, who could do little but to formalize Odaenathus' self-achieved status and settle for his formal loyalty.[note 14][85][86] Outside of Palmyra, Odaenathus' authority extended from the Pontic coast in the north to Palestine in the south.[87] This area included the Roman provinces of Syria, Phoenice, Palaestina, Arabia, Anatolia's eastern regions and later (following the campaign of 262) Osroene and Mesopotamia.[87][88][89]

First Persian campaign 262[edit]

Mosaic of the tiger; it represent Odaenathus' victory over the Persians who are depicted as tigers.

Perhaps driven by the will to take revenge for the destruction of Palmyrene trade centers and discourage Shapur from initiating future attacks, Odaenathus launched an invasion against the Persians;[90] the suppression of Fulvius Macrianus' rebelion probably prompted Gallienus to entrust the Palmyrene monarch with the war in Persia and Roman soldiers were in the ranks of Odaenathus in this campaign.[71] In the spring of 262, the King marched north into the occupied Roman province of Mesopotamia, driving out the Persian garrisons and freeing Edessa and Carrhae.[91][92] The first onslaught was aimed at Nisibis, which Odaenathus regained but sacked since the inhabitants were sympathetic toward the Persian occupation.[92] The Palmyrene monarch destroyed the Jewish city of Nehardea, 45 km west of the Persian capital Ctesiphon,[note 15][96] as he deemed the Jews of Mesopotamia loyal to Shapur.[97] By late 262 or early 263, Odaenathus stood at the walls of the Persian capital.[98]

The exact route taken by Odaenathus from Palmyra to Ctesiphon remains uncertain; it is probably similar to the route emperor Julian took in 363 during his campaign against Persia.[99] Using 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 marched alongside the river's left bank to Nehardea.[99] After taking the city, he penetrated the Sassanian province of Asōristān and marched along the royal canal Naarmalcha towards the Tigris where the Persian capital stood.[99]

Once at Ctesiphon, Odaenathus immediately began the siege of the well-fortified winter residence of the Persian kings; severe damage was inflicted upon the surrounding areas due to the battles with Persian troops.[98] The city held its ground and the logistical problems of fighting in enemy territory probably prompted the Palmyrenes to lift the siege.[98] Odaenathus headed north along the Euphrates carrying with him numerous prisoners and booty.[98] The invasion resulted in the full restoration of the Roman lands (viz., the Osroene and Mesopotamia provinces) occupied by Shapur since the beginning of his invasions in 252.[note 16][88][101] However, Dura-Europus and other Palmyrene posts south of Circesium, such as Anah, were not rebuilt.[91] Odaenathus sent the captives to Rome and by the end of 263, Gallienus added Persicus Maximus ("The great victor in Persia") to his titles and held a triumph.[102]

King of kings[edit]

In 263, after his return, Odaenathus assumed the title king of kings of the East (Mlk Mlk),[note 17] and headed to Antioch on the Orontes, the traditional capital of Syria, where he crowned his son Herodianus as co-king of kings.[note 18][106][109] The title was a symbol of legitimacy in the East, starting with the Assyrians, then the Achaemenids, who used it to symbolize their supremacy over all other rulers, and was adopted by the Parthian monarchs following their defeat of the Seleucids to legitimize their conquests.[110] The first Sassanian monarch Ardashir I adopted the title following his victory over the Parthians.[111] Odaenathus' son was crowned with a diadem and a tiara; the choice of the location was probably meant to express that the Palmyrene monarchs were now the successors of the Seleucid and Iranian rulers who controlled Syria and Mesopotamia in the past.[109]

Relation with Rome[edit]

Roman regions under the authority of Odaenathus (yellow) and the Palmyrene kingdom (green)

In analyzing the new reality dectated by the rise of Odaenathus and his complicated relation 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".[112] 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 to Shapur I; Odaenathus was declaring that he, not the Persian monarch, was the legitimate king of kings in the East.[113] Odaenathus' intentions are questioned by some historians, such as Drinkwater, who attributed the attempted negotiations with Shapur to Odaenathus' quest for power.[56] However, in contrast to the norm of his period when powerful generals proclaimed themselves emperors, Odaenathus chose not to usurp Gallienus' throne,[114] and minted no coins bearing his own image.[note 19][81]

The relation between Odaenathus and the emperor should be understood from two different prospectives, Roman and Syrian. In Rome, broad power delegation by the emperor to an individual from outside the imperial family was not considered a problem;[117] such authority was given several times since the days of Augustus in the first century.[118] The Syrian prospective was different;[117] Herodianus' coronation was commemorated with an inscription mentioning him as the king of kings on the Orontes; Potter intrepreted this inscription as indicating a "Palmyrene claim to kingship in Syria" and control over it during the reign of Odaenathus.[119] What the central government thought of such claims is unclear, but it is doubtful that Gallienus recognized the situation as the Palmyrenes understood it.[118] 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 vassalage ties were cut.[120] 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.[121]

The King had total control over Palmyra and effective control over the Roman East where his military authority was absolute.[85][122] Odaenathus respected Gallienus' privilege to appoint provincial governors,[122] but dealt swiftly with opposition; the Anonymus post Dionem mentions the story of Kyrinus (Quirinus), a Roman official, who showed dissatisfaction with Odaenathus' authority over the Persian frontier and was immediately executed by the King.[note 20][123][125][124] 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.[62][84] Odaenathus' status seems to have been, as Watson puts it, "something between powerful subject, independent vassal king and rival emperor".[84]

Administration and royal image[edit]

Herodianus wearing the Palmyrene crown

Odaenathus behaved as a sovereign monarch;[126] outside his kingdom, he had an overall administrative and military authority over the provincial governors of the Roman eastern provinces.[127] Inside Palmyra, no Roman provincial official had any authority; the King filled the government with Palmyrene staffs.[128] In parallel to the Iranian practice of making the government appear as a family enterprise, Odaenathus bestowed his own gentilicium (Septimius) upon his leading generals and officials such as Zabdas, Zabbai and Worod.[note 21][128] The Palmyrene constitutional institutions continued to function normally during Odaenathus' reign;[81] he maintained most civic establishments,[44][130] permitting the election of magistrates until 264.[46] When Odaenathus was on campaign, the kingdom was administered by a viceroy, Septimius Worod.[131]

A lead token depicting Herodianus shows him wearing a crown shaped like that of the Parthian monarchs, so it must have been Odaenathus' crown;[132] this combination of title and imagery indicates that Odaenathus considered himself the rival of the Sassanians and the protector of the region against them.[133] Many intellectuals relocated to Palmyra and enjoyed the King's patronage,[134] most prominantely Cassius Longinus, who probably arrived in the 260s.[135] It is possible that Odaenathus influenced the writers of his realm to promote his rule;[136] a prophecy in the Thirteenth Sibylline Oracle 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]".[137] The authority of Odaenathus did not appease all factions in Syria and the glorification of the King in the oracle could be politically sponsored propaganda aimed at expanding Odaenathus support.[note 22][136] Another writer in the Palmyrene court, Nicostratus of Trebizond, probably accompanied the King on his campaigns and wrote a history of that period starting from Philip the Arab and ending shortly before the King's death.[138] According to Potter, Nicostratus' account was meant to glorify Odaenathus and demonstrate his superiority over Roman emperors.[139]

Second Persian campaign 266 and war in Anatolia[edit]

Sources are silent regarding the events following the first Persian campaign but the silence in itself is an indication of the peace that prevailed and that the Persians stopped being a threat to the Roman East.[140] The evidence for the second campaign is meager; Zosimus is the only one to mention it specifically.[141] A passage in the Sibylline Oracles is interpreted by Hartmann as an indication of the second invasion.[142] The campaign took place in 266 or 267 and was aimed directly at Ctesiphon;[59] Odaenathus reached the walls of the Persian capital but had to cancel the siege and march north to face the influx of Germanic riders attacking Anatolia.[141][143]

The Romans used the designation "Scythian" to denote many tribes regardless of 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-Pontus, besieging Heraclea Pontica.[141] According to Syncellus, Odaenathus arrived at Anatolia with Herodianus and headed to Heraclea but the riders were already gone.[141] They loaded the spoils onto their ships but many perished in a sea battle probably conducted by Odaenathus; another possibility is that they were shipwrecked.[141]


Odaenathus was assassinated along with Herodianus in late 267; the date is debated and some scholars propose 266 or 268, but Vaballathus dated his first year of reign between August 267 and August 268, making late 267 the most probable date.[144] The assassination took place either in Anatolia, or in Syria;[145][146] there is no consensus on the manner, perpetrator or the motive behind the act.[145]

  • According to Syncellus, Odaenathus was assassinated near Heraclea Pontica trying to quell a tribal incursion into Pontus;[144] he gives the name of the assassin as another Odaenathus who may or may not have been a relative of the King.[145] The assassin was killed by the King's bodyguard.[147] Hartmann supports the theory that Odaenathus was killed in Pontus.[145]
  • Zosimus simply mentions that Odaenathus was killed by conspirators near Emesa at a friend's birthday party without naming the killer.[148][149] Zonaras attributes the crime to a nephew of Odaenathus but does not give a name.[150][151]
  • The Augustan History claims that a cousin of the King named Maeonius killed him,[152] while the Anonymus post Dionem names the assassin as another Odaenathus.[151]

Instigators and motives theories[edit]

  • Roman conspiracy: John Antiochenus accuses Gallienus of the assassination.[148] An interesting passage in the work of the Anonymus post Dionem speaks of a certain "Rufinus" who orchestrated the assassination on his own initiative then explained his act to the emperor who condoned the crime.[145] This story talks about Rufinus ordering the murder of an older Odaenathus out of fear that he would rebel, and has the younger Odaenathus complaining to the emperor.[note 23][148] Since the older Odaenathus (Odaenathus I) was proven to be a fictional character, the story was neglected by most scholars.[154] However, according to Theodor Mommsen, younger Odaenathus is an oblique reference to Vaballathus;[155] Rufinus should be identified with Cocceius Rufinus, the Roman governor of Arabia between 261/262.[154] The evidence for a Roman conspiracy is very weak and can not be confirmed.[154]
Bearded relative of Odaenathus, wearing a metal hat
Maeonius as depicted in the Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum
  • Family feud: According to Zonaras, Odaenathus' nephew misbehaved during a lion hunt;[150] he made the first attack and killed the animal to the dismay of the King.[147] Odaenathus warned the nephew who ignored the warning and repeated the act twice causing the King to deprive him of his horse, a great insult in the East.[147][156] The nephew threatened Odaenathus and was put in chains as a result; Herodianus asked his father to forgive his cousin and his request was granted but as the King was drinking, the nephew approached him with a sword and killed him along with Herodianus.[147] The bodyguard immediately executed the nephew.[147]
  • Zenobia: the wife of Odaenathus was accused by the Augustan History of having formerly conspired with Maeonius, as Herodianus was her stepson and she could not accept that he was the heir to her husband instead of her own children.[148] However, there is no suggestion in the Augustan History that Zenobia was involved in the event that saw her husband's murder;[156] the act is attributed to Maeonius' degeneracy and jealousy.[148] Those accounts by the Augustan History can be dismissed as fiction.[157] The hints in modern scholarship that Zenobia had a hand in the assassination out of her desire to rule the empire and dismay with her husband's pro-Roman policy can be dismissed as there was no reversal of that policy during the first years following Odaenathus' death.[145]
  • Persian agents or Palmyrene traitors: the possibility of a Persian involvement exists but the outcome of the assassination would not have served Shapur without establishing a pro-Persian monarch on the Palmyrene throne.[158] Another possibility would be Palmyrenes dissatisfied with Odaenathus' reign and the changes of their city's governmental system.[156]

Marriages and descendants[edit]

Zenobia, Odaenathus' second wife

Odaenathus was married twice; nothing is known about his first wife's name or fate.[159] Zenobia was the King's second wife, whom he married in the late 250s when she was 17 or 18 years old.[160]

The number of children Odaenathus had with his first wife is unknown and only one is attested:

  • Hairan I-Herodianus: the name Hairan appears on a 251 inscription from Palmyra describing him as ras, implying that he was already an adult by then.[159] In the Augustan History, Odaenathus' eldest son is named Herod; the inscription at Palmyra from 263 which celebrates Hairan I's coronation mentions him with the name Herodianus.[159] It is possible that the Hairan of the 251 inscription is not the same as the Herodianus of the one from 263,[159] but this is contested by Hartmann, who concludes that the reason for the difference in the spelling is the language used in the inscription (Herodianus being the Greek version),[157] meaning that Odaenathus' eldest son and co-king was Hairan Herodianu;[161] the view of Hartmann is in line with the academic consensus.[162]

The children of Odaenathus and Zenobia are:

Vaballathus, Odaenathus' son and successor
  • Vaballathus: he is attested on several coins, inscriptions, and in the ancient literature.[163]
  • Hairan II: his image appears on a seal impression along with his older brother Vaballathus; his identity is much debated.[163] Potter suggests that he is the same as Herodianus, who was crowned in 263, and that the Hairan I mentioned in 251 died before the birth of Hairan II.[164]
  • Herennianus and Timolaus: the two were mentioned in the Augustan History and are not attested in any other source;[163] Herennianus might be a conflation of Hairan and Herodianus while Timolaus is most probably a fabrication,[157] although Dietmar Kienast suggests that he might be Vaballathus.[165]

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".[166] The tombstone was found in Rome at the San Callisto in Trastevere.[167] Another possible relative is "Eusebius" who is mentioned by Libanius in 391 as a son of an "Odaenathus" who was in turn a descendant of the King;[168] the father of Eusebius is mentioned as fighting against the Persians (most probably in the ranks of emperor Julian).[169] In 393, Libanius mentioned that Eusebius promised him a speech written by Longinus for the King.[168] In the fifth century, the philosopher "Syrian Odaenathus" lived in Athens and was a student of Plutarch of Athens;[170] he might have been a distant descendant of the King.[171]

Burial and succession[edit]

Ruined building
The Funerary Temple no. 86 (The House Tomb)

The stone block found in the Temple of Bel bearing Odaenathus' sepulchral inscription was brought from the tomb built by him; this shrine's location is unknown.[2] Roman law forbade the burial of individuals within a city;[172] this rule was strictly observed in the west, but it was applied more leniently in the eastern parts of the empire.[173] An intramural burial was one of the highest honors an individual other that the emperor and his family can get in the Roman Empire.[174] This burial can be aquired by a notable for different reasons, such as his leadership or monetary donations;[173] it meant that the deceased was not sent beyond the walls in fear of miasma (pollution), and that he will be part of the city's future civic life.[note 24][174] At the western end of the Great Colonnade at Palmyra, a shrine designated the "Funerary Temple no. 86" (also known as the House Tomb) is located.[175][176] Inside its chamber, steps lead down to a vault crypt which is now lost.[176][177] 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 for an intramural burial.[178]

The Augustan History claims that Maeonius was proclaimed emperor for a brief period before being killed by the soldiers.[145][154][156] However, no inscriptions or other evidence exist for Maeonius' reign and he was probably killed immediately after assassinating the King.[179] Odaenathus was succeeded by his son, the ten-year-old Vaballathus, under the regency of Zenobia.[180] Hairan II probably died soon after his father,[181] as only Vaballathus succeeded to the throne.[182]

Legacy and reception[edit]

Odaenathus was the founder of the Palmyrene royal dynasty;[183] he left Palmyra the premier power in the East,[184] and his actions laid the foundation of Palmyrene strength which culminated in the establishment of the Palmyrene Empire in 270.[57] The memory of Odaenathus was highly esteemed in the Roman Empire;[185] the King was praised by Libanius,[186] and the fourth century writer of the Augustan History, while placing Odaenathus among the Thirty Tyrants (probably because he assumed the title of king),[185] 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".[187] On the other hand, Odaenathus is viewed negatively in Rabbinic sources;[note 25] his sack of Nehardea mortified the Jews,[188] and he was cursed by the Babylonian Jews and the Jews of Palestine.[88] In the Christian version of the Apocalypse of Elijah, probably written in Egypt following the capture of Valerian,[189] Odaenathus is called the king who will rise from the "city of the sun" and will be eventually killed by the Persians;[190] this prophecy is a response to Odaenathus' persecution of the Jews and his destruction of Nahardea.[191] The Jewish Apocalypse of Elijah identifies Odaenathus as the Antichrist.[note 26][195]

The successes of Odaenathus are treated sceptically by a number of modern scholars,[196] who consider the accounts of ancient Roman historians "poor, scanty and confused".[197] According to the Augustan History, "Odaenathus pursued Shapur and his children even as far as Ctesiphon, and captured his concubines and also a great amount of booty";[198] 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, such as Martin Sprengling, who noted that no evidence exist for such an engagement.[197] 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 an evidence for Shapur I's success in bringing his army and prisoners back home and Roman exaggeration regarding Odaenathus' successes.[199] 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 city and marched on Ctesiphon to heal Rome's pride, while being careful not to disturb the Persians and their emperor.[200] 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.[201] The dedication that celebrates Herodianus's coronation, which was inscribed on the Monumental Arch of Palmyra,[202] and commissioned by Septimius Worod in 263 or 264, records Herodianus' defeat of the Persians, for which he was crowned.[105][104] 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.[196]


  1. ^ Hairan could also be of Aramaic etymology.[4][5]
  2. ^ Odaenathus is mentioned as the "lowest of the kings" in the Book of Elijah,[11] which is a collection of texts dating to different periods, such as pieces from 1 Kings, an apocalyptic depiction of the Sassanid fights against Rome, and an Abrahamic apocalypse depicting Israel's exaltation and the pagan world humiliation.[12] The sixth century Byzantine historian Agathias mentioned Odaenathus as a man of low birth. Those low birth accounts contradict with the statement of Zosimus; in the view of historian Averil Cameron, the phrase used by Agathias, αφανής μεν τα πρώτα, is an antithesis to μεγι'στην αράμενος δοξαν, and Agathias used the same phrase to describe the first Sasanian king Ardashir I,[13] who traced his descent to the Avestan and Achaemenid kings.[14]
  3. ^ Palmyrene caravan patrons owned the land on which the caravan animals were raised, providing animals and guards for the merchants who led the caravans.[16]
  4. ^ The 220 date is proposed by Michael Gawlikowski, head of the Polish archaeological expedition in Palmyra; Ernest Will, however, maintains that the King was born c. 200.[21]
  5. ^ This assumption was facilitated by a passage in the work of Anonymus post Dionem which speaks about a younger Odaenathus asking the Roman emperor to punish his official Rufinus for the latter's role in assassinating an elder Odaenathus.[28] For information see Assassination of Odaenathus theories: Roman conspiracy.
  6. ^ William Waddington considered King Odaenathus the son of Ras Hairan while Theodor Mommsen considered the latter an older brother of the King.[31]
  7. ^ Although the conclusions of Gawlikowski became the academic consensus, the archaeologist Jean-Charles Balty [de] argued that Odaenathus who built the tomb is not the same as King Odaenathus, stating that a new inscription can alter everything formerly known about the family.[34]
  8. ^ Although the first known inscription attesting Odaenathus' title dates to 252, it is confirmed that he rose to the position at least one year earlier, based on Hairan I's attestation as ras in 251.[42]
  9. ^ There are two temples of Bel in Dura-Europos; the first was established by the Palmyrenes in the early first century outside the city wall in the necropolis and the second (depicted in this picture, also named "the temple of the Palmyrene gods") was administered by Palmyrenes only in the third century.[51]
  10. ^ Hermann Schiller denied Odaenathus was a governor of Phoenice; the (ὁ λαμπρότατος ὑπατικός) title was also attested in Palmyra for different notables and it could have been an honorary title of high degree.[31]
  11. ^ There is no proof that Shapur entered the central areas of northern Syria; he seems to have moved directly west deep into Cilicia.[65]
  12. ^ At first Fulvius Macrianus showed loyalty to Gallienus.[68]
  13. ^ Zosimus wrote that Odaenathus' army with which he fought Shapur in 260 included his own Palmyrene troops and remnants of Valerian's Roman legions.[73] No evidence exists for Roman units in his ranks, but it is possible, considering that he was fighting in the vicinity of Roman legionary bases; those troops might have been loyal to Gallienus and thus chose to join Odaenathus.[60] Whether Roman soldiers fought under Odaenathus or not is a matter of speculation.[60]
    The peasants element in the army is taken from the writings of later historians, such as the fourth century writers Festus and Orosius;[74] the latter called the army of Odaenathus manus agrestis syrorum,[73] leading Gibbon to portray Odaenathus' troops as a "scratch army of peasants". Richard Stoneman rejected Gibbon's conclusion, arguing that the success of the Palmyrenes against Shapur I and the victories achieved by Zenobia following her husband's death, which brought Syria, Egypt and Anatolia under Palmyrene authority, can hardly be ascribed to an ill equipped untrained peasant army.[74] It more logical to interpret agrestis as denoting troops from outside the urban centres, and thus, it can be concluded that Odaenathus levied his cavalrymen from the regions surrounding Palmyra where horses are normally bred and kept.[75]
  14. ^ The Roman East traditionally included all the Roman lands in Asia east of the Bosphorus.[24]
  15. ^ Lukas De Blois proposes that Odaenathus actually destroyed Nehardea in 259 in support of Valerian.[93] In the work of Sherira Gaon named "Iggeret Rav Sherira Gaon", the destruction date is given as 570 (Seleucid), corresponding to 259 AD.[94] However, Jacob Neusner believes that the right date is 262 or 263.[95]
  16. ^ Contrary to the account of the Augustan History, there is no proof that Odaenathus occupied Armenia.[100]
  17. ^ Odaenathus' title as it appears in Palmyrene inscriptions was king of kings and corrector of the East.[103]
  18. ^ 1- The evidence for crowning Herodianus is a dedication in Greek which is undated.[104] However, the dedication was made by Septimius Worod as the duumviri of Palmyra, an office occupied by Worod between 263 and 264. Hence, the coronation took place c. 263.[105]
    2- 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.[106] However, firmly dated inscriptions attesting Odaenathus with the title are made after his death including one that was set in 271.[33][59] Although undisputed evidence for the use of the title by Odaenathus during his lifetime is lacking, his son Herodianus, who died with him,[107] is directly attested as "king of kings" during his lifetime, and it is highly unlikely that Odaenathus was simply a king while his son was the king of kings.[108]
  19. ^ Hubertus Goltzius forged coins of Odaenathus in the 16th century;[115] according to Joseph Hilarius Eckhel "The coins of Odenathus are known only to Goltzius; and if any one will put faith in their existence, let him go to the fountain head (i.e. Goltzius)".[116] According to the Augustan History, Gallienus minted a coin in honor of Odaenathus where he was depicted taking the Persians captive; the existence of this coin is doubtful.[116]
  20. ^ No information on the identity of Kyrinus exists;[123] it is possible that he is the same as Aurelius Quirinius, who is recorded as head of the financial administration of Egypt in 262.[124]
  21. ^ This gentilicium was exclusive to the family of Odaenathus prior to the 260s.[129]
  22. ^ The Thirteenth Sibylline Oracle is compiled by several writers who were probably Syrians and attempted to promote Syrian rulers by portraying them as the saviours of Rome from Persia. The initial text was completed during the time of Uranius and revised during the reign of Odaenathus with 19 lines added comprising the prophecy of Odaenathus' victories.[136]
  23. ^ This story contributed to the now-discounted assumption that Odaenathus I existed.[153]
  24. ^ Generaly, the initiative of granting an individual an intramural burial came from the demos and had to be confirmed through acclamatio; due to this requirement, the honor was a rarity.[174]
  25. ^ He is named "Papa ben Nasor" (Papa son of Nasor) in the sources.[96]
  26. ^ The Apocalypse of Elijah is an apocryphal work that exists in two versions, one is Jewish and written in Hebrew, and the other is Christian and written in Coptic.[192] The Christian version seems to be based on a Jewish prophecy written in Egypt in the time of the turmoil after Valerian's capture; the Jews were probably expecting the Persians to win and allow them to return to Jerusalem by eliminating Odaenathus, whom they considered an enemy.[189] According to the prophecy: "In those days, a king will arise in the city which is called “the city of the sun,” and the whole land will be disturbed. [He will] flee to Memphis (with the Persians). In the sixth year, the Persian kings will plot an ambush in Memphis. They will kill the Assyrian king."[193] The Coptologist Oscar Lemm considered that by the Persian and Assyrian kings, the prophecy meant the sixth century BC kings Cyrus the Great of Persia and the Chaldean Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylonia. Lemm also considered the killing of the Assyrian king in Memphis an allusion to the defeat of the Babylonians by Persia.[193] The theologian Wilhelm Bousset considered the prophecy to be pointless if it actually meant that the Persians and Assyrian kings warred in Egypt since such a conflict never happened. Noting the confusion between Syria and Assyria in many Roman sources, including the Sibylline prophecies, Bousset identified the Assyrian king with Odaenathus; Palmyra was known as the city of the sun in many apocalyptic traditions.[194]



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  191. ^ Bousset 1900, pp. 106, 107.
  192. ^ Wintermute 2011, pp. 729, 730.
  193. ^ a b Wintermute 2011, p. 743.
  194. ^ Bousset 1900, p. 106.
  195. ^ Bousset 1908, p. 580.
  196. ^ a b Bryce 2014, p. 289.
  197. ^ a b Sprengling 1953, p. 108.
  198. ^ Dodgeon & Lieu 2002, p. 65.
  199. ^ Henning 1939, p. 843.
  200. ^ Sprengling 1953, p. 109.
  201. ^ Neusner 1966, p. 10.
  202. ^ Kaizer 2008, p. 659.


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External links[edit]

House of Odaenathus
Born: 220 Died: 267
Regnal titles
Preceded by
New title
King of Kings of the East
with Herodianus as junior
King of Kings
Succeeded by
King of Palmyra
Ras of Palmyra
with Hairan I (Herodianus) (?-260)
Title obsolete
Became king