1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Seleucid Dynasty

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SELEUCID DYNASTY, a line of kings who reigned in Nearer Asia from 312 to 65 b.c.

The founder Seleucus (surnamed for later generations Nicator) was a Macedonian, the son of Antiochus, one of Philip's generals. Seleucus, as a young man of about twenty-three, accompanied Alexander into Asia in 333, and won distinction in the Indian campaign of 326. When the Macedonian empire was divided in 323 (the “Partition of Babylon”) Seleucus was given the office of chiliarch (Gr. χίλιοι, a thousand), which attached him closely to the person of the regent Perdiccas. Seleucus himself had a hand in the murder of Perdiccas in 321. At the second partition, at Triparadisus (321), Seleucus was given the government of the Babylonian satrapy. In 316, when Antigonus had made himself master of the eastern provinces, Seleucus felt himself threatened and fled to Egypt. In the war which followed between Antigonus and the other Macedonian chiefs, Seleucus actively co-operated with Ptolemy and commanded Egyptian squadrons in the Aegean. The victory won by Ptolemy at Gaza in 312 opened the way for Seleucus to return to the east. His return to Babylon in that year was afterwards officially regarded as the beginning of the Seleucid empire. Master of Babylonia, Seleucus at once proceeded to wrest the neighbouring provinces of Persis, Susiana and Media from the nominees of Antigonus. A raid into Babylonia conducted in 311 by Demetrius, son of Antigonus, did not seriously check Seleucus's progress. Whilst Antigonus was occupied in the west, Seleucus during nine years (311–302) brought under his authority the whole eastern part of Alexander's empire as far as the Jaxartes and Indus. In 305, after the extinction of the old royal line of Macedonia, Seleucus, like the other four principal Macedonian chiefs, assumed the style of king. His attempt, however, to restore Macedonian rule beyond the Indus, where the native Chandragupta had established himself, was not successful. Seleucus entered the Punjab, but felt himself obliged in 302 to conclude a peace with Chandragupta, by which he ceded large districts of Afghanistan in return for 500 elephants. The pressing need for Seleucus once more to take the field against Antigonus was at any rate in large measure the cause of his abandonment of India. In 301 he joined Lysimachus in Asia Minor, and at Ipsus Antigonus fell before their combined power. A new partition of the empire followed, by which Seleucus added to his kingdom Syria, and perhaps some regions of Asia Minor. The possession of Syria gave him an opening to the Mediterranean, and he immediately founded here the new city of Antioch upon the Orontes as his chief seat of government. His previous capital had been the city of Seleucia which he had founded upon the Tigris (almost coinciding in site with Bagdad), and this continued to be the capital for the eastern satrapies. About 293 he installed his son Antiochus there as viceroy, the vast extent of the empire seeming to require a double government. The capture of Demetrius in 285 added to Seleucus's prestige. The unpopularity of Lysimachus after the murder of Agathocles gave Seleucus an opportunity for removing his last rival. His intervention in the west was solicited by Ptolemy, Ceraunus, who, on the accession to the Egyptian throne of his brother Ptolemy II. (285), had at first taken refuge with Lysimachus and then with Seleucus. War between Seleucus and Lysimachus broke out, and on the field of Corupedion in Lydia Lysimachus fell (281). Seleucus now saw the whole empire of Alexander, Egypt alone excepted, in his hands, and moved to take possession of Macedonia and Thrace. He intended to leave Asia to Antiochus and content himself for the remainder of his days with the Macedonian kingdom in its old limits. He had, however, hardly crossed into the Chersonese when he was assassinated by Ptolemy Ceraunus near Lysimachia (281).

Antiochus I. Soter (324 or 323–262) was half a Persian, his mother Apame being one of those eastern princesses whom Alexander had given as wives to his generals in 324. On the assassination of his father (281), the task of holding together the empire was a formidable one, and a revolt in Syria'broke out almost immediately. With his father's murderer, Ptolemy, Antiochus was soon compelled to make peace, abandoning apparently Macedonia and Thrace. In Asia Minor he was unable to reduce Bithynia or the Persian dynasties which ruled in Cappadocia. In 278 the Gauls broke into Asia Minor, and a victory which Antiochus won over these hordes is said to have been the origin of his title of Soter (Gr. for “saviour”). At the end of 275 the question of Palestine, which had been open between the houses of Seleucus and Ptolemy since the partition of 301, led to hostilities (the “First Syrian War”). It had been continuously in Ptolemaic occupation, but the house of Seleucus maintained its claim. War did not materially change the outlines of the two kingdoms, though frontier cities like Damascus and the coast districts of Asia Minor might change hands. About 262 Antiochus tried to break the growing power of Pergamum by force of arms, but suffered defeat near Sardis and died soon afterwards (262). His eldest son Seleucus, who had ruled in the east as viceroy from 275 (?) till 268/7, was put to death in that year by his father on the charge of rebellion (Wace, J. H. S. xxv., 1905, p. 101 f.). He was succeeded (261) by his second son Antiochus II. Theos (286–246), whose mother was the Macedonian princess Stratonice, daughter of Demetrius Poliorcetes. War with Egypt still went on along the coasts of Asia Minor (the “Second Syrian War”). Antiochus also made some attempt to get a footing in Thrace. About 250 peace was concluded between Antiochus and Ptolemy II., Antiochus repudiating his wife Laodice and marrying Ptolemy's daughter Berenice, but by 246 Antiochus had left Berenice and her infant son in Antioch to live again with Laodice in Asia Minor. Laodice poisoned him and proclaimed her son Seleucus II. Callinicus (reigned 246–227) king, whilst her partisans at Antioch made away with Berenice and her son. Berenice's brother, Ptolemy III., who had just succeeded to the Egyptian throne, at once invaded the Seleucid realm and marched victoriously to the Tigris or beyond, receiving the submission of the eastern provinces, whilst his fleets swept the coasts of Asia Minor. In the interior of Asia Minor Seleucus maintained himself, and when Ptolemy returned to Egypt he recovered Northern Syria and the nearer provinces of Iran. In Asia Minor his younger brother Antiochus Hierax was put up against him by a party to which Laodice herself adhered. At Ancyra (about 235?) Seleucus sustained a crushing defeat and left the country beyond the Taurus to his brother and the other powers of the peninsula. Of these Pergamum now rose to greatness under Attalus I., and Antiochus Hierax perished as a fugitive in Thrace in 228/7. A year later Seleucus was killed by a fall from his horse. His elder son, Seleucus III. Soter (reigned 227-223), took up the task of reconquering Asia Minor from Attalus, but fell by a conspiracy in his own camp.

Antiochus III. the Great (242-187), Callinicus's younger son, a youth of about eighteen, now succeeded to a disorganized kingdom (223). Not only was Asia. Minor detached, but the further eastern provinces had broken away, Bactria under the Greek Diodotus (q.v.), and Parthia under the nomad chieftain Arsaces. Soon after Antiochus's accession, Media and Persis revolted under their governors, the brothers Molon and Alexander. The young king was in the hands of the bad minister Hermeias, and was induced to make an attack on Palestine instead of going in person to face the rebels. The attack on Palestine was a fiasco, and the generals sent against Molon and Alexander met with disaster. Only in Asia Minor, where the Seleucid cause was represented by the king's cousin, the able Achaeus, was its prestige restored and the Pergamene power driven back to its earlier limits. In 221 Antiochus at last went east, and the rebellion of Molon and Alexander collapsed. The submission of Lesser Media, which had asserted its independence under Artabazanes, followed. Antiochus rid himself of Hermeias by assassination and returned to Syria (220). Meanwhile Achaeus himself had revolted and assumed the title of king in Asia Minor. Since, however, his power was not well enough grounded to allow of his attacking Syria, Antiochus considered that he might leave Achaeus for the present and renew his attempt on Palestine. The campaigns of 219 and 218 carried the Seleucid arms almost to the confines of Egypt, but in 217 Ptolemy IV. confronted Antiochus at Raphia and inflicted a defeat upon him which nullified all Antiochus's successes and compelled him to withdraw north of the Lebanon. In 216 Antiochus went north to deal with Achaeus, and had by 214 driven him from the field into Sardis. Antiochus contrived to get possession of the person of Achaeus (see Polybius), but the citadel held out till 213 under Achaeus's widow and then surrendered. Having thus recovered the central part of Asia Minor—for the dynasties in Pergamum, Bithynia and Cappadocia the Seleucid government was obliged to tolerate—Antiochus turned to recover the outlying provinces of the north and east. Xerxes of Armenia was brought to acknowledge his supremacy in 212. In 209 Antiochus invaded Parthia, occupied the capital Hecatompylus and pushed forward into Hyrcania. The Parthian king was apparently granted peace on his submission. In 209 Antiochus was in Bactria, where the original rebel had been supplanted by another Greek Euthydemus (see further Bactria and articles on the separate rulers). The issue was again favourable to Antiochus. After sustaining a famous siege in his capital Bactra (Balkh), Euthydemus obtained an honourable peace by which the hand of one of Antiochus's daughters was promised to his son Demetrius. Antiochus next, following in the steps of Alexander, crossed into the Kabul valley, received the homage of the Indian king Sophagasenus and returned west by way of Seistan and Kerman (206/5). From Seleucia on the Tigris he led a short expedition down the Persian Gulf against the Gerrhaeans of the Arabian coast (205/4). Antiochus seemed to have restored the Seleucid empire in the east, and the achievement brought him the title of “the Great King.” In 205/4 the infant Ptolemy V. Epiphanes succeeded to the Egyptian throne, and Antiochus concluded a secret pact with Philip of Macedonia for the partition of the Ptolemaic possessions. Once more Antiochus attacked Palestine, and by 199 he seems to have had possession of it. It was, however, recovered for Ptolemy by the Aetolian Scopas. But the recovery was brief, for in 198 Scopas was defeated by Antiochus at the battle of the Panium, near the sources of the Jordan, a battle which marks the end of Ptolemaic rule in Palestine. In 197 Antiochus moved to Asia Minor to secure the coast towns which had acknowledged Ptolemy and the independent Greek cities. It was this enterprise which brought him into antagonism with Rome, since Smyrna and Lampsacus appealed to the republic of the west, and the tension became greater after Antiochus had in 196 established a footing in Thrace. The evacuation of Greece by the Romans gave Antiochus his opportunity, and he now had the fugitive Hannibal at his court to urge him on. In 192 Antiochus invaded Greece, having the Aetolians and other Greek states as his allies. In 191, however, he was routed at Thermopylae by the Romans under Manius Acilius Glabrio, and obliged to withdraw to Asia. But the Romans followed up their success by attacking Antiochus in Asia Minor, and the decisive victory of L. Cornelius Scipio at Magnesia ad Sipylum (190), following on the defeat of Hannibal at sea off Side, gave Asia Minor into their hands. By the peace of Apamea (188) the Seleucid king abandoned all the country north of the Taurus, which was distributed among the friends of Rome. As a consequence of this blow to the Seleucid power, the outlying provinces of the empire, recovered by Antiochus, reasserted their independence. Antiochus perished in a fresh expedition to the east in Luristan (187).

The Seleucid kingdom as Antiochus left it to his son, Seleucus IV. Philopator (reigned 187-176), consisted of Syria (now including Cilicia and Palestine), Mesopotamia, Babylonia and Nearer Iran (Media and Persis). Seleucus IV. was compelled by financial necessities, created in part by the heavy war-indemnity exacted by Rome, to pursue an unambitious policy, and was assassinated by his minister Heliodorus. The true heir, Demetrius, son of Seleucus, being now retained in Rome as a hostage, the kingdom was seized by the younger brother of Seleucus, Antiochus IV. Epiphanes (i.e. “the Manifest [god]”; parodied Epimanes, “the mad”), who reigned 176-164. In 170 Egypt, governed by regents for the boy Ptolemy Philometor, attempted to reconquer Palestine; Antiochus not only defeated this attempt but invaded and occupied Egypt. He failed to take Alexandria, where the people set up the younger brother of Philometor, Ptolemy Eurgetes, as king, but he left Philometor as his ally installed at Memphis. When the two brothers combined, Antiochus again invaded Egypt (168), but was compelled to retire by the Roman envoy C. Popillius Laenas (consul 172), after the historic scene in which the Roman drew a circle in the sand about the king and demanded his answer before he stepped out of it. Antiochus exercised his contemporaries by the riddles of his half-brilliant, half-crazy personality. He had resided at Rome as a hostage, and afterwards for his pleasure at Athens, and had brought to his kingdom an admiration for republican institutions and an enthusiasm for Hellenic culture—or, at any rate, for its externals. There is evidence that the forms of Greek political life were more fully adopted under his sway by many of the Syrian cities. He spent lavishly on public buildings at home and in the older centres of Hellenism, like Athens. Gorgeous display and theatrical pomp were his delight. At the same time he scandalized the world by his riotous living and undignified familiarities. But he could persevere in an astute policy under the cover of an easy geniality and had no scruples. It is his contact with the Jews which has chiefly interested later ages, and he is doubtless the monarch described in the pseudo-prophetic chapters of Daniel (q.v.). Jerusalem, near the Egyptian frontier, was an important point, and in one of its internal revolutions Antiochus saw, perhaps not without reason, a defection to the Egyptian side. His chastisement of the city, including as it did the spoliation of the temple, served the additional purpose of relieving his financial necessities. It was a measure of a very different kind when, a year or two later (after 168), Antiochus tried to suppress the practices of Judaism by force, and it was this which provoked the Maccabaean rebellion (see Maccabees). In 166 Antiochus left Syria to attempt the reconquest of the further provinces. He seems to have been signally successful. Armenia returned to allegiance, the capital of Media was recolonized as Epiphanea, and Antiochus was pursuing his plans in the east when he died at Tabae in Persis, after exhibiting some sort of mental derangement (winter 164/3).

He left a son of nine years, Antiochus V. Eupator (reigned 164-162), in whose name the kingdom was administered by a camarilla. Their government was feeble and corrupt. The attempt to check the Jewish rebellion ended in a weak compromise. Their subservience to Rome so enraged the Greek cities of Syria that the Roman envoy Graeus Octavius (consul 165 B.C.) was assassinated in Laodicea (162). At this juncture Demetrius, the son of Seleucus IV., escaped from Rome and was received in Syria as the true king. Antiochus Eupator was put to death. Demetrius I. Soter (reigned 162-150) was a strong and ambitious ruler. He crushed the rebellion of Timarchus in Media and reduced Judaea to new subjection. But he was unpopular at Antioch, and fell before a coalition of the three kings of Egypt, Pergamum and Cappadocia. An impostor, who claimed to be a son of Antiochus Epiphanes, Alexander Balas (reigned 150-145), was installed as king by Ptolemy Philometor and given Ptolemy's daughter Cleopatra to wife, but Alexander proved to be dissolute and incapable, and when Demetrius, the son of Demetrius I., was brought back to Syria by Cretan condottieri, Ptolemy transferred his support and Cleopatra to the rightful heir. Alexander was defeated by Ptolemy at the battle of the Oenoparas near Antioch and murdered during his flight. Ptolemy himself died of the wound he had received in the battle.

Demetrius II. Nicator (first reign 145-140) was a mere boy,[1] and the misgovernment of his Cretan supporters led to the infant son of Alexander Balas, Antiochus VI. Dionysus, being set up against him (145) by Tryphon, a magnate of the kingdom. Demetrius was driven from Antioch and fixed his court in the neighbouring Seleucia. In 143 Tryphon murdered the young Antiochus and assumed the diadem himself. Three years later Demetrius set off to reconquer the eastern provinces from the Parthians, leaving Queen Cleopatra to maintain his cause in Syria. When Demetrius was taken prisoner by the Parthians, his younger brother Antiochus VII. Sidetes (164-129) appeared in Syria, married Cleopatra and crushed Tryphon. Antiochus VII. was the last strong ruler of the dynasty (138-129). He took Jerusalem and once more brought the Jews, who had won their independence under the Hasmonaean family, to subjection (see Maccabees). He led a new expedition against the Parthians in 130, but, after signal successes, fell fighting in 129 (see also Persia, History). Demetrius (second reign 129-126), who had been allowed by the Parthians to escape, now returned to Syria, but was soon again driven from Antioch by a pretender, Alexander Zabinas, who had the support of the king of Egypt. Demetrius was murdered at the instigation of his wife Cleopatra in 126. The remaining history of the dynasty is a wretched story of the struggle of different claimants, while the different factors of the kingdom, the cities and barbarian races, more and more assert their independence. Both Demetrius II. and Antiochus VII. left children by Cleopatra, who form rival branches of the royal house. To the line of Demetrius belong his son Seleucus V. (126), assassinated by his mother Cleopatra, Antiochus VIII. Grypus (141-96), who succeeded in 126 the younger brother of Seleucus V., the sons of Grypus, Seleucus VI. Epiphanes Nicator (reigned 96-95), Antiochus XI. Epiphanes Philadelphus (reigned during 95), Philip I. (reigned 95-83), Demetrius III. Eukarios (reigned 95-88), and Antiochus XII. Dionysus Epiphanes (reigned 86?-85?), and lastly Philip II., the son of Philip I., who appears momentarily on the stage in the last days of confusion. To the line of Antiochus VII. belong his son Antiochus IX. Cyzicenus (reigned 116-95), the son of Cyzicenus, Antiochus X. Eusebes (reigned 95-83?), and the son of Eusebes, Antiochus XIII. Asiaticus (reigned 69-65). In 83 Tigranes, the king of Armenia, invaded Syria, and by 69 his conquest had reached as far as Ptolemais, when he was obliged to evacuate Syria to defend his own kingdom from the Romans. When Pompey appeared in Syria in 64, Antiochus XIII. begged to be restored to his ancestral kingdom or what shred was left of it. Pompey refused and made Syria a Roman province. Antiochus Grypus had given his daughter in marriage to Mithradates (q.v.), a king of Commagene, and the subsequent kings of Commagene (see under Antiochus) claimed in consequence still to represent the Seleucid house after it had become extinct in the male line, and adopted Antiochus as the dynastic name. The kingdom was extinguished by Rome in 72. The son of the last king, Gaius Julius Antiochus Epiphanes Philopappus, was Roman consul for A.D. 100.

Authorities.—E. R. Bevan, House of Seleucus (1902), and the earlier literature of the subject there cited. In addition may be mentioned Dssa. Adalgisa Corvatta, Divisione amministrativa dell’ impero dei Seleucidi (1901); Haussoullier, Histoire de Milet et du Didymeion (1902); B. Niese, Gesch. d. griech. u. maked. Staaten, Teil 3 (1903); J. Beloch, Griechische Geschichte, vol. iii.; G. Macdonald, “Early Seleucid Portraits,” Journ. of Hell. Stud. xxiii. (1903), p. 92 f.; A. J. B. Wace, “Hellenistic Royal Portraits,” Journ. of Hell. Stud. xxv. (1905), p. 86 f. For the chronology of the end of the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes and the Maccabaean revolt, see a paper by J. Wellhausen, “Über den geschichtlichen Wert des 2ten Makkabäierbuchs,” Nachrichten d. k. Gesellschaft d. Wissensch. zu Göttingen. Philol.-hist. Klasse, 1905, Heft 2; and Maccabees, History. (E. R. B.)

  1. Some of the indications of our documents would make him older, and these are followed by Niese (iii. p. 276, note 5). But in that case Demetrius I. must have already had a wife and son when he escaped from Rome, and it seems to me highly improbable that such a material factor in the situation would have been left out of account in Polybius's full narrative. After all, it is only a question of probabilities, and the difficulties of fitting a wife and child into the story seem to be very great, whether we conceive them left behind by Demetrius in Italy, or sent out of the country before him.