Mavia ماوية – Reigned 375 – 425 – Syria

Ancient Syria, Syria


A century after Zenobia set her sights on taking Egypt from the Roman Empire, another Arab queen attempted the same thing. Where Zenobia had failed, Mavia not only succeeded – but also made Rome sign a treaty in her favour.

Also known as Māwiyya, this fierce warrior queen ruled a confederation of Arab tribes (known as the Tanukhids) from her seat in southern Syria. Her husband had been king of the Tanukhids and once he died his power passed to Mavia.

She proved herself equal to the task, leading her army in open rebellion against Roman rule in the Middle East. Mavia rode at the head of her cavalry, leading troops into Phoenica (modern day Israel, Lebanon and Syria) and Palestine before finally reaching Egypt.

In Egypt Mavia met the Roman army in battle again and again, defeating them each time. Eventually, Rome consented to a truce – but Mavia set the conditions.

Mavia was a successful general and ruler largely because of her use of guerrilla tactics. Rather than fight from Aleppo, which would have given the Romans a target, she retreated with her troops into the desert, drawing on the nomadic tribe’s knowledge of the terrain. As a result, the Tanukhids were better prepared than the Romans and able to keep them guessing.

As for her conditions for peace, Mavia requested that a monk named Moses be made bishop over her people. Moses was supposedly a desert dwelling Christian Arab who impressed Mavia – and who possibly convinced her to convert to Christianity. To prove that she honoured the truce, Mavia married her daughter Chasidat to a Roman commander.

Peace was temporary.

Rome was soon at war with the Goths (in Eastern Germany) and called upon Mavia’s formidable forces for assistance. She provided cavalry, but her Arab army was not prepared for the environment of northern Europe and the Goths won, killing Roman emperor Valens.

The new emperor Theodosius I gave the Gothic kings and nobles a number of high profile positions within the Roman Empire at the expense of the Arabs. Furious at the lack of respect shown for their loyalty, the Tanukhids revolted a second time in 383. It is not clear whether or not Mavia led this revolt, but it was certainly the end of the Tanukh-Roman alliance.


God’s Self-confident Daughters: Early Christianity and the Liberation of Women – Anne Jensen

Rome and the Arabs: A Prolegomenon to the Study of Byzantium and the Arabs – Irfan Shahîd

Byzantium and the Arabs in the Fourth CenturyIrfan Shahîd

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Shibtu – c.1771 BCE – 1761 BCE (reigned) – Mari, Syria

Ancient Syria, Syria


Shibtu was a princess of the kingdom of Yamhad (now Aleppo, Syria) when she was married as part of a tactical alliance to King Zimrilim. His connection with her family allowed the king to take back his own Kingdom of Mari, with Shibtu as his queen.

As was the case with many kings of the ancient Middle East, Zimrilim was often away on military campaigns, expanding his territories and defending his borders. While he was away, Shibtu proved that she was a capable politician and leader, handling the administration of the kingdom and regularly corresponding with her husband.

Tablet of Zimrilim in the Louvre (source)

The clay tablets found at Mari exchanged between Shibtu and her husband are evidence of a loving marriage and a strong political partnership. The letters are often administrative in nature, including reports on the state of the city as well as military and intelligence briefings.

Personal letters were also exchanged, including one notifying the king of Shibtu’s having given birth to twins. Shibtu’s letters reflect deep affection for her husband and concern over his health and wellbeing during his campaigns. Zimrilim, likewise, sent letters back updating her on his battles and whereabouts, and instructing her on the running of the city.

Letter from Shibtu to Zimrilim:

I have asked my questions about Babylon. That man is plotting many things against this country, but he will not succeed. My Lord will see what the god will do to him. You will capture and overpower him. His days are numbered and he will not live long. My Lord should know!


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