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Women’s History Month: Mavia, Queen of the Tanukhids

queenmavia1Queen Mavia (in Arab: Mawiyya) is known as the most powerful woman to live in the ancient Arab world after Zenobia, a woman cut out of the same cloth as the Warrior Queen, Mavia lead her soldiers into battle personally, was accomplished on the battlefield, and known as a brilliant tactician who demonstrated her superiority over her Roman counterparts on a regular basis, succeeding in revolt where Zenobia failed a century earlier.

Mavia was born some time in the middle of the fourth century into the “Tanukhids” a group of Saracen tribes that were semi-nomadic, centralized in the northern Arabia/south of Syria area.  Mavia married al-Hawari, the last king of the semi-nomadic Tanuhk tribe, and with his death in 375 AD, she fell naturally into a leadership position.  Mavia and her people petitioned Rome and it’s current emperor Valens to assign an orthodox Bishop to them, but Valens resisted, assigning instead an Arian bishop.  This sparked an uprising, and lead by Mavia, the Tanuhk people moved into the desert, abandoning their homes in Aleppo and becoming guerilla style revolutionaries moving about the desert on horseback and striking Roman forces whenever the opportunity presented itself.

The Tanuhk forces were difficult for Rome to deal with for a number of reasons.  Number one, they had fought side by side with Roman soldiers for over a century, since being called upon by Rome to assist in quelling the uprising by Zenobia a century earlier in fact.  Number two, their cavalry was faster, and their lances longer, making horsemen much more effective.  Number three, the Tanuhk had no home base, moving around the desert freely and thus giving the Romans no target to aim their fury at.  And lastly, because of the guerilla techniques employed by Mavia’s cavalry, they were able to take advantage of their knowledge of the terrain and cunning to defeat forces that often outnumbered them and were better supplied than they were, defeating the odds and driving Rome to call on it’s finest soldiers; lead by the Commander in Chief of the Eastern Roman military himself.  But that didn’t stop Mavia or her men, who defeated the reinforcements, killing their commander in the process.  Without additional troops to call upon for assistance (for it was the Tanuhks themselves whom Valens might call upon typically) the emperor was forced to sue for peace, allowing Mavia to choose the bishop of her people; a man named Moses, of Saracen birth who had lead an especially pious life in the desert, earning their respect as a people.

Mavia is a little heard name who belongs in the history books not only as a woman, but as a military commander who was able to do something that isn’t often done: lead a successful revolution.  Many of us have heard of leaders like Spartacus, who were not successful in their quest, I ask why have as many not heard of an incredible female leader like Mavia?  I’d love to see the next popular television series be on her, wouldn’t you?


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Robert D. Cobb
Founder, Publisher and CEO of INSCMagazine. Works have appeared and featured in places such as Forbes, Huffington Post, ESPN and NBC Sports to name a few. Follow me on Twitter at @RobCobb_INSC, email me at [email protected]

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