Perhaps even more than Boudicca or Zenobia, much about Queen Mavia remains a mystery and our accounts of her come from only a couple of ancient sources. Nonetheless, though she was a strong leader who fought successfully against the dominant power of the Roman Empire, the rest of her story makes her a subject that most modern writers would not want to touch. In the first place, she was an Arab, which would not in itself be a problem but she was an Arab from the pre-Islamic era and an Arab woman ruling over Arab men is something likely to offend modern Islamic sensibilities. To make matters worse for the modern, politically correct types, she was an Arab Christian, a convert from paganism and a very staunch, Orthodox/Catholic (before those were different) Christian at that. Moreover, the military campaign she fought against the Romans was a rebellion that was not a rebellion. She did not fight to bring down Rome or usurp Roman power, but rather she was fighting a war in defense of her faith and that is something the modernists simply cannot handle. She was not anti-Roman, she was pro-Christian.
Emperor Valens, however, insisted on an Arian bishop and so Queen Mavia left Aleppo for the deep desert and began preparing for war. She showed considerable diplomatic skill as she gained the support of numerous other nomadic tribes in the area to join her coalition. However, she also sent word to the Romans that this rebellion was about having an orthodox bishop and nothing more. Mavia told them that as soon as a proper bishop was given to them, her resistance would end and the former, cordial relations could be immediately restored. This was not a struggle for power but a struggle for what Queen Mavia regarded as the true faith. By the spring of 378 AD all was prepared and the war began. Historical accounts agree that the campaign of Queen Mavia was quite successful and that she was leading it personally, ‘from the front’ and was quite a formidable military commander.
The Arab forces Mavia commanded had been used extensively by the Romans in their fight to suppress the previous uprising in Syria led by Queen Zenobia and as such the Tanukhids were very familiar with Roman tactics and were able to counter them and make use of them for their own side. The local Roman governors proved unable to mount an effective defense. Their own forces were quite limited and whereas in the past they had been able to organize the loyal elements of the local population to increase their numbers, this time it was those very tribes that they were fighting against and so the Romans were quite isolated. Queen Mavia and her armies swept south and east, driving the Romans from southern Syria, Palestine and finally all the way to the Egyptian border. Being hard pressed in other areas and with no hope of victory in sight, Emperor Valens finally had no choice but to relent before the vital province of Egypt was invaded and he agreed to appoint the orthodox, non-Arian cleric Moses as the first Bishop of the Arabs. According to Socrates of Constantinople, Bishop Moses was a “Saracen” (Arab) himself and was quite a successful and well regarded churchman.
There was another revolt by the Tanukhids against the Romans but it is unknown and perhaps unlikely that Queen Mavia was involved at all with it. This revolt was swiftly crushed and the Romans abandoned the Tanukhids as an ally and made a new alliance with the Salih, a rival Arab tribe. All that remains known of Queen Mavia after her assistance to the doomed Emperor Valens is that she died in Anasartha, east of Aleppo, sometime in 425 AD. Today, she is remembered by few due to the nature of her exploits and the fact that her story does not fit the preferred narrative of today. Nonetheless, she was a significant figure of some admirable qualities who deserves to be better known.
Personally, I found this very interesting, especially as I have published a novel about Zenobia, and believe in strong female characters. I'm not so sure I wouldn't take on this subject, or that 'no modern writer' would want to write about Mavia. Thanks for this information.ReplyDelete