|The lid of an ancient Egyptian sarcophagus|
courtesy of the British Museum
In her novel Daughter of Sand and Stone, Libbie Hawker transports us to the ancient city of Palmyra. There we meet Zenobia, a young girl who dreams of greatness. Not for her are the typical roles allowed women. She wishes to rule, and to make the important decisions for her people. When she realizes invaders intend on attacking her city , she rides out to warn the Palmyran troops that the enemy has diverted them. Through her help, military leaders see through the ruse, and route the attackers before they can rape, pillage, and kill.
Zenobia capitalizes on her newfound fame by catching the eye of the Roman governor. After he marries her, she achieves a measure of importance and power. But her dreams are bigger than merely sitting beside the man who rules her city. When her husband dies, she knows she must be bold, and grasp power in a big way, before what she has is taken away from her.
So she works with her Palmyran general, captures Egypt, and sets herself up as Queen of the new Palmyrene Empire.
On her website, Libbie Hawker describes herself as an Egypt geek. That's the first time I've heard such a term, but if I can be interested in England, why can't another American be in love with Egypt? She's channeled her love of Egypt into a number of historical books, including Daughter of Sand and Stone, which came out last year. Her novel dovetailed with my interest in the Roman Empire, and told me how, during a period of weak leadership, the struggling emperors retained their power by relying on a steady stream of luxury goods from Palmyria. These kept the citizens of Rome happy with their affluence, and perpetuated the belief that they were the center of the civilized world.
I also enjoyed learning about Zenobia, and how, for a time, she ruled the world. While Rome was the center of the world, Egypt was its breadbasket. Rome relied on Egyptian grain to feed its citizens and its troops. Ultimately, this was too important a resource not to be under Rome's direct control. So when a strong emperor took control, he made sure his forces deposed Zenobia and retook Egypt.
Some could argue that Zenobia should have accepted her allotted role in life. They may point out that she only ruled Egypt, and wielded tremendous influence, for a short time. But thanks to Libbie Hawker's novel, I'll remember her as a person who not only dreamed great dreams, but made them a reality. So what if she couldn't hold onto them forever? At least, for awhile, she was the Queen.