Of the roughly 108 billion people who have ever lived over the course of human history, most left behind no record of their existence. We therefore have no means by which to remember them. Nearly all the everyday heroes – the brave, empathetic, spirited, and devoted people we like to celebrate in the #HistoryHero BLAST – are lost to us. This loss is especially heavy when it comes women and members of pre-literate cultures: those who did not have access to the written word until fairly recently (in historical terms) and whose stories were not considered worthy of being recorded by those who did.
Sometimes, however, we find traces of these lost worlds not in histories, but in stories, particularly in folk tales. Even though these are fictional fables, they provide us glimpses into the values, hopes, and dreams of the peoples and cultures that preceded us. Real or not, the characters of such stories continue to live and breathe with each retelling. Here is one version of one such tale, from southern Nigeria, and the history hero that can be viewed inside it: the Disobedient Daughter who Married a Skull.
Born from the ruins of a 5,000-year-old dynasty, this young woman outsmarted the most powerful men of her age to become the most famous queen in history!
Egypt was in chaos. The corrupt Pharaoh, Ptolemy XII, known for his love of wine and music, was hated by his people. They protested increasingly high taxation, which Ptolemy XII exacted to pay tribute -- a sign of respect, submission, and/or allegiance -- to then Roman Emperor Pompey. The cost of living was high enough! So they overthrew Ptolemy in 58 B.C.E., forcing him into exile. He fled to Rome, taking his teenage daughter, Cleopatra, with him.
In an era when men believed women weren't fit for war or politics, Zenobia nearly brought the Roman Empire to its knees.
It was 240 A.D. The Roman Empire, in power now for almost three centuries, stretched from what is modern-day Iraq, throughout the Middle East, northward into Europe and across the Channel into Britain. Syria was one of many provinces that the Romans annexed, ruled, and taxed...heavily.
This was the world Zenobia of Palmyra was born into. Though the daughter of a family of shepherds, she was allowed an education. She grew up speaking four languages, including Greek and Latin as well as the languages of her people.
Outside school, she learned how to ride horses and command her family's flocks. All these skills would serve her well in the years to come.