1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Seleucia

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SELEUCIA (Gr. Σελεύκεια), the name of several ancient Greek cities named after Seleucus I. Nicator, founder of the Seleucid dynasty. The following are the most important.

1. Seleucia on the Tigris, at the mouth of the great royal canal (Naharmalka, mod. Radhwaniya) from the Tigris to the Euphrates, about 50 m. N. of Babylon and 15 m. S. of Bagdad. It was founded by Seleucus Nicator (see Seleucid Dynasty), ruler of Babylonia from autumn 312. Seleucus, departing from the precedent of Alexander the Great, who, after his return from India, had settled in Babylon, preferred to build a new capital of a decidedly Greek character. The new city “was founded with the object of exhausting Babylon” (Plin. vi. 122; Strabo xvi. 738); a legend says that the Chaldaean priests, when they were consulted about the right hour for the initiation of the city, tried to frustrate the design of the king by naming a wrong hour, but that by chance the work was begun in the moment predicted by the stars and the decree of fate accomplished (Appian, Syr. 58). Seleucia was peopled with Macedonians and Greeks; Syrians and Jews were admitted to the citizenship (Joseph. Ant. xviii. 9. 8). It obtained a free constitution. A great many other Greek cities were founded in Babylonia by Seleucus I. and Antiochus I., while Babylon and the other ancient cities (Sippara, Erech, Ur, Borsippa) decayed into mere villages. Here the Chaldaean priests continued to teach their astrological wisdom (we possess many astrological tablets in cuneiform writing from the time of the Seleucids and the earlier Arsacids); but Seleucia became the centre of the new Hellenistic civilization (see Hellenism). A great many Greek authors were born here (e.g. the Stoic Diogenes of Babylonia, 2nd century), though the inhabitants of Seleucia in Babylonia generally are simply called Babylonians by the Greeks. In the time of Pliny the town was said to have 600,000 inhabitants (vi. 122). Seleucia suffered from the rebellion of the satrap Molon of Media, who was put down by Antiochus III. the Great in 220 (Polyb. v. 54). Antiochus IV. Epiphanes once more restored the Seleucid supremacy in the east; but after his death (163) the decay of the empire began and was accelerated by the intrigues of the Romans. In Babylonia the governor Timarchus rebelled and was acknowledged by the Roman senate. But he was defeated and killed by Demetrius I. (c. 158), who was hailed as deliverer (Soter, “saviour”) by the inhabitants (Appian, Syr. 45. 4 f.; Trogus, Prol. 34; Diod. 31. 27a). Soon after, the great conquests of the Arsacid king Mithradates I. began; Babylonia became subject to the Parthians (c. 140). The Greek towns were very unwilling to submit to the foreign rule, and welcomed Antiochus VII. Sidetes, when in 130 he attempted to restore his empire; but his defeat by Phraates II. in 129 ended the Seleucid rule in the east. Seleucia and other towns were cruelly punished by Phraates and his prefect Himerus, who also devastated Babylon (Justin xlii. 1; Trog. Prol. 42; Diod. xxxv. 19. 21; cf. Posidonius ap. Athen. xi. 466 b). Seleucia, however, maintained her self-government and her spirit of Greek independence (Plin. vi. 122; Tac. Ann. vi. 42; cf. Joseph. Ant. xviii. 9. 8 f.), and remained the greatest commercial town of the east. The Arsacids did not dare to bring their host of barbarian soldiers and retinue into Seleucia, but fixed their residence opposite to it on the left bank of the Tigris in Ctesiphon (Strabo xvi. 743; see Ctesiphon). In all the wars with the Romans Seleucia inclined to the western deliverers; from A.D. 37 to 43 it was in open rebellion against the Parthians (Tac. Ann. xi. 8 f.). Vologaeses I. (A.D. 50-91) “founded the town Vologesocerta (near Ctesiphon) with the intention of draining the stormy Seleucia” (Plin. vi. 122). Trajan occupied Seleucia in 116. In the war of Marcus Aurelius and L. Verus against the Parthians, Seleucia was taken by Avidius Cassius in 164, and then the. Romans did what the Parthians had not dared to do: they burnt down the great Greek town with 300,000 inhabitants (Dio Cass. lxxi. 2; Zonar, xii. 2; Capitol. Vit. Veri, 8; Eutrop. 8. 10; Ammian. Marc. xxiii. 6. 24; xxiv. 5. 3). The great plague, which laid waste the Roman empire during the next years, is said to have sprung from the ruins of Seleucia. The destruction of Seleucia may be considered as the end of Hellenism in Babylonia. (See also Seleucid Dynasty and Hellenism.)  (Ed. M.) 

2. A city on the north frontier of Syria towards Cilicia about 4 m. N. of the mouth of the Orontes, near the shore at the foot of Mount Pieria (hence called Seleucia Pieria). This town also was founded by Seleucus I. It served as the port of Antioch (Acts xiii. 4), and with Apamea, Laodicea and Antioch formed the Syrian tetrapolis. Considerable remains are still visible: the chief are those of a cutting through the solid rock nearly 1100 yds. long, which Polybius describes as the road from the city to the sea; the triple line of walls; amphitheatre, cemetery, citadel, temples. It was of great importance in the struggle between the Seleucids and the Ptolemies; captured by Ptolemy Euergetes in 246, it was recovered by Antiochus III. the Great in 219. It was recognized as independent by the Romans in 70, but little of its subsequent history is known. It had practically ceased to exist in the 5th century A.D. The district stretching inland was known as Seleucis.

3. Seleucia Tracheotis, sometimes called Trachea, a city of Cilicia on the Calycadnus (Geuk Su), also founded by Seleucus I. about 300 B.C., near the older Olbia. It had considerable commercial prosperity as the port of Isauria, and was even a rival of Tarsus. In 1137 it was besieged by Leon, king of Cilician Armenia. On the 10th of June 1190 the emperor Frederick Barbarossa was drowned in trying to cross the Calycadnus. In the 13th century it was captured by the Seljuks. There are many ancient remains, and on the Acropolis the ruins of a castle; many rock-cut tombs with inscriptions have been found. On the site is the modern Selefke, the chief town of the Ichili sanjak.

Other towns bearing the name Seleucia were:—(4) Seleucia in Mesopotamia, the modern Birejik; (5) in the Persian Margiana, founded as Alexandria by Alexander the Great and rebuilt as Seleucia by Antiochus I. (of Syria); (6) in Pisidia; (7) in Pamphylia; (8) on the Belus in Syria. The city of Tralles (q.v.) also bore the name for a short period.