Seleucus I Nicator ( the victorious ) Roman

bust based on a Greek model




The Seleucid empire was named after Seleucus, a Macedonian officer of Alexander the Great. In the wars of the Diadochi that took place after Alexander's death, Seleucus established Seleucid Empire after  battle of Ipsus in 301 comprised of Upper Syria, Mesopotamia, parts of Cappadocia and Phrygia, Armenia, Assyria, Media, Babylonia, Susiana, Persia, Carmania, Sagartia, Hyrcania, Parthia, Bactria, Sogdiana, Aria, Zarangia, Arachosia, Sacastana, Gedrosia, and probably some part of India. Its entire area could not have been much less than 1,200,000 square miles. Seleucis married a Persian noblewoman. His two capitals Seleucia on the Tigris and Antioich were linked by a royal road . The Seleucids built hundreds of Greek style towns with amphitheatres and other architecture of Greek civilization and Greek assemblies, judges, and laws .The Seleucids maintained the Achaemenid satrap administration system, but all important offices were held by Greeks for the first 2 generations, subsequently Syrians, Persians and other Iranians were admitted to a small degree .Trade routes from Rome to China flowed through the Seleucid empire, benefiting from the friendly relations with the Mauryan empire .There were over 30 Seleucid kings from 323 to 60 B.c.The Seleucid empire and Ptolemaic Egypt exhausted themselves in six Syrian Wars from 274-168 B.C. which made it easier for Rome and Parthia to expand at their expense .Both Greek and Aramaic were used as the written language of the government and cuneiform fell out of use except for religious texts.



Dividing the Spoils: The War for

Alexander the Great's Empire

 Alexander the Great conquered an enormous empire - stretching from Greece to the Indian subcontinent - and his death triggered forty bloody years of world-changing warfare. These were years filled with high adventure, intrigue, passion, assassinations, dynastic marriages and treachery . Astonishingly, this period of brutal, cynical warfare was also characterized by brilliant cultural achievements, especially in the fields of philosophy, literature, and art. A new world emerged from the dust and haze of battle, and, in addition to chronicling political and military events, Waterfield provides ample discussion of the amazing cultural flowering of the early Hellenistic Age.


 The death of Alexander and the Diadochi Wars


The death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C. led to 50 years of protracted struggle between his leading generals, known as the  Wars of the Diadochi ( War of the successors ) to win overall power or to establish their own separate kingdoms . Instead of Alexander's dream of fusing Europe and Asia his empire was shattered .There were 4 Wars of the Diadochi from 323 to 301 B.C. Alexander's death led to a dispute between cavalry  who want to postpone appointing a successor till the expected child of Roxane was born the infantry who wanted Arrhidaeus ( although a son of Phillip II and half-brother of Alexander he was mentally unable to rule ) to be the successor .A compromise was reached through the negotiations of Eumenes, a secretary of Alexander's . and Roxane's baby who turned out to be a boy and Arrhidaeus was made joint kings as Phillip III and Alexander IV.  Perdiccas, a  commander of the Companion cavalry, was placed in charge of the whole empire as a regent



 Seleucus, who eventually acquired the epithet ‘Nicator’ was not a prime candidate to succeed to the largest share of Alexander the Great’s empire when the king died in Babylon in 323 BC. He certainly held some rank in Alexander’s chain of command, but he was not a member of the inner circle, and a host of men had greater claim to rule. As things turned out, this was a good thing for Seleucus, as an early start in the age of the successors usually meant an early end




The First War of the Diadochi, 322-320 BC


Ptolemy I




 Wars of the Diadochi The Diadochi were the rival generals, families and friends of Alexander the Great who fought for control over his empire after his death in 323 BC. This is a brief Documentary of the politics and wars of the successors of Alexander the Great.


Perdiccas's marriage to Alexander's sister Cleopatra and his sever rule led Antipater, Craterus, Antigonus, and Ptolemy to join together in rebellion. Although Perdiccas's general Eumenes defeated the rebels in Asia Minor, in a battle at which Craterus was killed, Perdiccas himself was murdered by his own generals Peithon, one of which was Seleucus during an invasion of Egypt. The remaining generals came to terms at Partition of Triparadasus in 321 B.C. in which Antipater , a former regent of Macedonia was made regent of the Empire, Phillip III and Alexander IV were moved to Macedon. Antigonus remained in charge of Phrygia, Lycia, and Pamphylia, to which was added Lycaonia. Ptolemy retained Egypt, Lysimachus retained Thrace, Seleucus was given Babylonia, and Antigenes was given Susa . Antigonus was put in charge of  suppressing Eumenes. According to historians, while ruling at Babylon Seleucus acquired a character for mildness and liberality, and made himself generally beloved, both by his soldiers and by those who were under his government.


Silver Drachm Coin of King Antiochus VI Dionysus - 143 BC

Seleucid Empire coins




 2,100 year old Seleucid coin offers insights into rare astronomical event



The Second War of the Diadochi, 319-315 BC





Antipater died in 319 B.C. which led to renewed warfare in the struggle to secure power .Before he died, Antipater rejected naming his own son Cassander as regent, instead naming Polyperchon, a former general, as the successor regent . This led war between Cassander and Polyperchon in Macedonia , with Antigonus and Ptolemy forming an alliance with Cassander .Polyperchon was driven out of Macedon and fled to Epirus, taking Alexander IV and his mother Roxane with him . In the course of the conflict Phillip III was executed by Alexander's mother Olympias in 317 , who was a supporter of Polyperchon. Cassander captured Olympias a year later and had her executed , regained Macedonia and Alexander IV and Roxane . Antigonus defeated and killed Eumenes making Antigonus the strongest warlord in Hellenistic Asia and desired to rule the whole of Alexander's empire by picking off his rivals one by one .


The Third War of the Diadochi, 314-311 BC

 Founding of the Seleucid Dynasty



 Antigonus I Monophthalmus

("the One-eyed", so called from his having lost an eye)



Ptolemy, Lysimachus, and Cassander grew fearful of the growing power of Antigonus. Polyperchon,allied himself with Antigonus . Antigonus invaded Syria, part of Ptolemy's territory and laid seiged  to Tyre .


Antigonus next marched on Babylon, forcing Seleucus to flee to Ptolemy in Egypt . In the struggle between Antigonus and Eumenes (B.C. 317-316), Seleucus supported  Antigonus ; but this, instead of evoking gratitude, appears to have only roused in Antigonus a spirit of jealousy. The ambitious aspirant after universal dominion, seeing in the popular satrap a possible, and far from a contemptible, rival, thought it politic to sweep him out of his way; and the career of Seleucus would have been cut short had he not perceived his peril in time, and by a precipitate flight secured his safety.


The satrap of Media attacks Seleucus and the founding of the Seleucid empire


Accompanied by a body of no more than fifty horsemen, he took the road for Egypt, escaped the pursuit of a detachment sent to overtake him, and threw himself on the protection of Ptolemy. Ptolemy soundly defeated Antigonus' son Demetrius the battle of Gaza in 312 and Seleucus, in a feat of daring, set out to regained control of Babylon the same year with a body of only a thousand men. He was joined by some Macedonian soldiers on his march and rallied his men with speeches worthy of Alexander .He was warmly welcomed  in Babylon, and the Seleucid era is said to have begun on this day of Oct 1, 312 B.C. Seleucus set about at once to reorganize his army, knowing the supporters of Antigonus would return soon. It was not long before  Nicanor, Antigonus' satrap of Media advanced to attack him with 17,000 men. Though his own force only numbered one-fifth of this, he made a series of forced marches and surprised Nicanor and his army came over to him . Nicanor escaped, but was pursued into Media and killed .


Seleucus expands his empire east


Seleucus, realizing that Antigonus was too occupied to attack Babylon annexed the eastern satraps of the Persian empire. By 302 his empire extended to the Jaxartes and Punjab. In India he came in contact with Chandragupta, the Mauryan king , grandfather of Asoka and came to peaceful terms with him after preparing for war. Seleuces ceded parts of Afghanistan, Baluchistan and the upper Indus river . In return the king of Mauryan gave him 500 war elephants which were to prove useful in the future .


During this period Seleucus organized his empire into 72 satrapies to prevent any one local leader from getting too strong .


Antigonus then negotiated peace with Ptolemy, Lysimachus, and Cassander in 311 B.C. in which Cassander was recognized as the ruler of Europe ( till Alexander IV came of age, however Cassander murdered him and his mother Roxane soon after the peace treaty ), Lysimachus ruler of Thrace, Ptolemy ruler of Egypt and Antigonus Asia . Antigonus continued the war with Seleucus, attempting to recover control of the eastern reaches of the Empire. Polyperchon and Seleucus were not mentioned .Antigonus besieged Babylon in 309 BC, Antigonus was ultimately defeated by Seleucus and forced to withdraw.


The Fourth War of the Diadochi, 308-301 BC,

The Battle of Ipsus



Coin of Seleucus, celebrating the victory at Ipsus with elephants




 The Battle of Ipsus

Peace only lasted a few years. In 307 Antigonus' son Demetrius seized Athens .In 306 Antigonus defeated the naval forces of Ptolemy  in the battle of Salamis in Cyprus and seized the island . Antigonus then declared himself king and Ptolemy , Cassander and Seleucus followed his lead .


In 305 Antigonus tried to take the independent kingdom of Rhodes by siege, but was unable to completely conquer it and reached a compromise with it .Demetrius returned to Greece and defeated Cassander.

Cassander joined forces with Seleucus  and Lysimachus . Seleucus brought a veteran army of 20,000 infantry, 12,000 mounted troops, 480 war elephants and 1,000 scythed chariots .Antigonus was unable to prevent the 3 generals to unite against him at the battle of Ipsus in 301 in Phrygia. In the beginning Antigonus' son Demetrius routed the cavalry of Seleucus' son  Antiochus, but carried his pursuit too far. Seleuces then used his elephants to win the battle .Antiochus was defeated and killed .


With the death of Antigonus passed the last chance to reunite Alexander's empire as a whole .Ptolemy took most of Palsetine, together with rebellious Pisidia and Cilicia, Lysimachus Asia Minor as far as Taursus, Cassander confirmed as king of Macedonia and Seleucus with Antigonus' Asian holdings and Syria. To solidify the control of Syria, he transferred his capital from Seleucia on the Tigris to the new city of Antioch on the Orontes in northwestern Syria in 293 B.C. , leaving his son, Antiochus, to rule the eastern satraps.The Seleucid empire now comprised : Upper Syria, Mesopotamia, parts of Cappadocia and Phrygia, Armenia, Assyria, Media, Babylonia, Susiana, Persia, Carmania, Sagartia, Hyrcania, Parthia, Bactria, Sogdiana, Aria, Zarangia, Arachosia, Sacastana, Gedrosia, and probably some part of India.



  map of the Selecuid Empire after the battle of Ipsus 301 B.C.

Seleuid Empire in grey.



Seleucus, the builder


Seleucid coin with anchor, symbol of Seleucid naval power


Seleucus' first capital was in Babylon. Afterwards, He founded, and built with great rapidity, the city of Seleucia upon the Tigris, at the distance of about forty miles from Babylon, and had transferred thither the seat of government even before B.C. 301. Seleucia ( now a suburb of Baghdad )became one of the great cities of the world during Hellenistic and Roman times . But after Ipsus a further change was made?a change that was injudicious in the extreme. Either setting undue store by his newly-acquired western provinces, or over-anxious to keep close watch on his powerful neighbors in those parts, Lysimachus and Ptolemy, Seleucus once more transferred the seat of empire, exchanging this time the valley of the Tigris for that of the Orontes, and the central position of Lower Mesopotamia for almost the extreme western point of his vast territories.


Antioch arose in extraordinary beauty and magnificence during the first few years that succeeded Ipsus, and Seleucus in a short time made it his ordinary residence. The change weakened the ties which bound the Empire together, offended the bulk of the Asiatics, who saw their monarch withdraw from them into a remote region, and particularly loosened the grasp of the government on those more eastern districts which were at once furthest from the new metropolis and least assimilated to the Hellenic character. Among the causes which led to the disintegration of the Seleucid kingdom, there is none that deserves so well to be considered the main cause as this. It was calculated at once to produce the desire to revolt, and to render the reduction of revolted provinces difficult, if not impossible. The evil day, however, might have been indefinitely delayed had the Seleucid princes either established and maintained through their Empire a vigorous and effective administration, or abstained from entangling themselves in wars with their neighbors in the West, the Ptolemies and the princes of Asia Minor.It is said of Seleucus I Nicator that "few princes have ever lived with so great a passion for the building of cities. He is reputed to have built in all nine Seleucias, sixteen Antiochs, and six Laodiceas".


Seleucid Administration


But the organization of the Empire was unsatisfactory. Instead of pursuing the system inaugurated by Alexander and seeking to weld the heterogeneous elements of which his kingdom was composed into a homogeneous whole, instead of at once conciliating and elevating the Asiatics by uniting them with the Macedonians and the Greeks, by promoting intermarriage and social intercourse between the two classes of his subjects, educating the Asiatics in Greek ideas and Greek schools, opening his court to them, promoting them to high employments, making them feel that they were as much valued and as well cared for as the people of the conquering race, the first Seleucus, and after him his successors, fell back upon the old simpler, ruder system, the system pursued before Alexander's time by the Persians, and before them perhaps by the Medes the system most congenial to human laziness and human pride that of governing a nation of slaves by means of a class of victorious aliens. Seleucus divided his empire into satrapies, seventy-two in number. He bestowed the office of satrap on none but Macedonians and Greeks. The standing army, by which he maintained his authority, was indeed composed in the main of Asiatics, disciplined after the Greek model; but it was officered entirely by men of Greek or Macedonian parentage. Nothing was done to keep up the self-respect of Asiatics, or to soften the unpleasantness that must always attach to being governed by foreigners. Even the superintendence over the satraps seems to have been insufficient. According to some writers, it was a gross outrage offered by a satrap to an Asiatic subject that stirred up the Parthians to their revolt. The story may not be true; but its currency shows of what conduct towards those under their government the satraps of the Seleucid were thought, by such as lived near the time, to have been capable.

It would, perhaps, have been difficult for the Seleucid princes, even had they desired it, to pursue a policy of absolute abstention in the wars of their western neighbors. So long as they were resolute to maintain their footing on the right bank of the Euphrates, in Phrygia, Cappadocia, and upper Syria, they were of necessity mixed up with the quarrels of the west. Could they have been content to withdraw within the Euphrates, they might have remained for the most part clear of such entanglements; but even then there would have been occasions when they must have taken the field in self-defence. As it was, however, the idea of abstention seems never to have occurred to them. It was the fond dream of each "Successor" of Alexander that in his person might, perhaps, be one day united all the territories of the great Conqueror. Seleucus would have felt that he sacrificed his most cherished hopes if he had allowed the west to go its own way, and had contented himself with consolidating a great power in the regions east of the Euphrates.


The Death of Seleucus


Cassander died in 297 and Antigonus' son Demetrius seized Macedonia, only to lose it to another coalition a few years later . In 285 he surrendered to Seleucus .In 281Seleucus seized Sardis and  defeated and killed Lysimachus at the battle of Corupedium  . Seleucus now controlled a large part of Alexander's empire, except Egypt, Macedon and Thrace . Seleucus, at last, had won where Perdiccas and Antigonus failed, but in view of his advanced years, he decided to transfer his empire to his son a retire as king of Macedonia .After crossing the Hellespont he  was murdered by his erstwhile ally Ptolemy Keraunos ( King of Macedon and son of Ptolemy I) in 281 B.C. while listening to the legends of an ancient altar .

After he had killed Seleucus, it was easy for Keraunos to obtain the throne of Thrace and Macedonia, but he was not to enjoy his ill-gotten power long .He was captured and killed in an Celtic invasion of Macedonia in 280 B.C. These terrible invaders, apparently even ate Greek children. There were later defeated at Delphi and retreated from Greece .The cities of Bithyina and Heraclea, made an alliance with these invaders who settled in Phrygia in Asia Minor .


Antiochus I Soter( r. 281 - 261 BC. )


The house of Seleucus was shaken to its foundations by his murder .The defection of the army and navy to the assassin seemed possible . The son of Seleucus was no raw youth but a man of considerable experience and spent the time after his fathers murder securing his position in Syria . He earned his title of ' Soter ' ( Saviour ) by a great victory over the Celtic invaders .According to Lucian the Gauls had 40,000 cavalry and many war chariots and were preparing to charge when Antiochus brought forth his elephants. the elephants terrified the Gauls horses and caused them to stampede and Antiochus won a victory . Antiochus spent his remaining 19 years fighting to keep his empire together. His reign constitute a golden Hellenistic age during which Berossus published his history.


And the policy of the founder of the house was followed by his successors. The three Seleucid sovereigns who reigned prior to the Parthian revolt were, one and all, engaged in frequent, if not continual, wars with the monarchs of Egypt and Asia Minor. The first Seleucus, by his claim to the sovereignty of Lower Syria, established a ground of constant contention with the Ptolemies; and though he did not prosecute the claim to the extent of actual hostility, yet in the reign of his son, Antiochus I., called Soter, the smothered quarrel broke out. Soter fomented the discontent of Cyrene with its subjection to Egypt, and made at least one expedition against Ptolemy Philadelphus in person (B.C. 264).He was compelled to make peace with the murder of his father due to revolts . In 278 BC the Gauls broke into Asia Minor, and a victory that Antiochus won over these hordes is said to have been the origin of his title of Soter. About 262 BC Antiochus tried to break the growing power of Pergamum by force of arms, but suffered defeat near Sardis and died soon afterwards . His efforts against the Ptolemies did not meet with much success; but they were renewed by his son,


Antiochus II Theos (286? - 246 BC)


Antiochus II., surnamed "the God", who warred with Philadelphus from B.C. 260 to B.C. 250, contending with him chiefly in Asia Minor.Antiochus also made some attempt to get a footing in Thrace. During the war he was given the title "Theos" which means "God" in Greek, being such to the Milesians in slaying the tyrant Timarchus .


These wars were complicated with others. The first Antiochus aimed at adding the kingdom of Bithynia to his dominions, and attacked successively the Bythynian monarchs, Zipcetas and Nicomedes I. (B.C. 280-278). This aggression brought him into collision with the Gauls, whom Nicomedes called to his aid, and with whom Antiochus had several struggles, some successful and some disastrous.


He also attacked Eumenes of Pergamus (B.C. 263), but was defeated in a pitched battle near Sardis. The second Antiochus was not engaged in so great a multiplicity of contests; but we hear of his taking a part in the internal affairs of Miletus, and expelling a certain Timachus, who had made himself tyrant of that city.


There is also some ground for thinking that he had a standing quarrel with the king of Media Atropatene. Altogether it is evident that from B.C. 280 to B.C. 250 the Seleucid princes were incessantly occupied with wars in the west, in Asia Minor and in Syria Proper, wars which so constantly engaged them that they had neither time nor attention to spare for the affairs of the far east. So long as the Bactrian and Parthian satraps paid their tributes, and supplied the requisite quotas of troops for service in the western wars, the Antiochi were content. The satraps were left to manage affairs at their own discretion; and it is not surprising that the absence of a controlling hand led to various complications and disorders.


Moreover, the personal character of the second Antiochus must be taken into account. The vanity and impiety, which could accept the name of "Theus" for a service that fifty other Greeks had rendered to oppressed towns without regarding themselves as having done anything very remarkable, would alone indicate a weak and contemptible morale, and might justify us, did we know no more, in regarding the calamities of his reign as the fruit of his own unfitness to rule an empire. But there is sufficient evidence that he had other, and worse, vices. He was noted, even among Asiatic sovereigns, for luxury and debauchery; he neglected all state affairs in the pursuit of pleasure; his wives and male favorites were allowed to rule his kingdom at their will; and their most flagrant crimes were neither restrained nor punished. Such a character could have inspired neither respect nor fear. The satraps, to whom the conduct of their sovereign could not but become known, would be partly encouraged to follow the bad example, partly provoked by it to shake themselves free of so hateful and yet contemptible a master.


He was poisoned by his wife, Laodice in 246 B.C.


The death of Antiochus II was the signal for a bitter civil war.




Bactrian Greek Revolt



It was, probably, about the year B.C. 256,, when that prince, hard pressed by Philadelphus in the west, was also, perhaps, engaged in a war with the king of Atropatene in the north, that the standard of revolt was first actually raised in the eastern provinces, and a Syrian satrap ventured to declare himself an independent sovereign. This was Diodotus, satrap of Bactria a Greek, as his name shows. Alexander not trusting some of the Greek soldiers ( He was Macedonian ) used them to form colonies in distant Bactria . The Persians also placed troublesome Greeks in the eastern part of their empire when they ruled.


Suddenly assuming the state and style of king he issued coins stamped with his own name, and established himself without difficulty as sovereign over the large and flourishing province of Bactria, or the tract of fertile land about the upper and middle Oxus. This district had from a remote antiquity been one with special pretensions. The country was fertile, and much of it strong; the people were hardy and valiant; they were generally treated with exceptional favor by the Persian monarchs; and they seem to have had traditions which assigned them a pre-eminence among the Arian tribes at some indefinitely distant period. We may presume that they would gladly support the bold enterprise of their new monarch; they would feel their vanity flattered by the establishment of an independent Bactria, even though it were under Greek kings; and they would energetically second him in an enterprise which gratified their pride, while it held out to them hopes of a career of conquest, with its concomitants of plunder and glory. The settled quiet which they had enjoyed under the Achaemenide and the Seleucidae was probably not much to their taste; and they would gladly exchange so tame and dull a life for the pleasures of independence and the chances of empire.


It would seem that Antiochus, sunk in luxury at his capital, could not bring himself to make even an effort to check the spirit of rebellion, and recover his revolted subjects. Bactria was allowed to establish itself as an independent monarchy, without having to undergo the ordeal of a bloody struggle. Antiochus neither marched against Diodotus in person, nor sent a general to contend with him. The authority of Diodotus was confirmed and riveted on his subjects by an undisturbed reign of eighteen years before a Syrian army even showed itself in his neighborhood.


The precedent of successful revolt thus set could not well be barren of consequences. If one province might throw off the yoke of its feudal lord with impunity, why might not others? Accordingly, within a few years the example set by Bactria was followed in the neighboring country of Parthia, but with certain very important differences.


In Bactria the Greek satrap took the lead, and the Bactrian kingdom was, at any rate at its commencement, as thoroughly Greek as that of the Seleucidae. But in Parthia Greek rule was from the first cast aside. The natives rebelled against their masters. An Asiatic race of a rude and uncivilized type, coarse and savage, but brave and freedom-loving, rose up against the polished but effeminate Greeks who held them in subjection, and claimed and established their independence.


The Parthian kingdom was thoroughly anti-Hellenic. It appealed to patriotic feelings, and to the hate universally felt towards the stranger. It set itself to undo the work of Alexander, to cast out the Europeans, to recover to the Asiatics the possession of Asia. It was naturally almost as hostile to Bactria as to Syria, although danger from a common enemy might cause it sometimes to make a temporary alliance with that kingdom. It had, no doubt, the general sympathy of the populations in the adjacent countries, and represented to them the cause of freedom and autonomy.


The exact circumstances under which the Parthian revolt took place are involved in much obscurity. According to one account the leader of the revolt, Arsaces, was a Bactrian, to whom the success of Diodotus was disagreeable, and who therefore quitted the newly-founded kingdom, and

etook himself to Parthia, where he induced the natives to revolt and to accept him for their monarch. Another account, which is attractive from the minute details into which it enters, is the following:"Arsaces and Tiridates were brothers, descendants of Phriapites, the son of Arsaces. Pherecles, who had been made satrap of their country by Antiochus Theus, offered a gross insult to one of them, whereupon, as they could not brook the indignity, they took five men into counsel, and with their aid slew the insolent one.


They then induced their nation to revolt from the Macedonians, and set up a government of their own, which attained to great power." A third version says that the Arsaces, whom all represent as the first king, was in reality a Scythian, who at the head of a body of Parnian Dahce, nomads inhabiting the valley of the Attrek (Ochus), invaded Parthia, soon after the establishment of Bactrian independence, and succeeded in making himself master of it. With this account, which Strabo seems to prefer, agrees tolerably well that of Justin, who says that "Arsaces, having been long accustomed to live by robbery and rapine, attacked the Parthians with a predatory band, killed their satrap, Andragoras, and seized the supreme authority." As there was in all probability a close ethnic connection between the Dahae and the Parthians, it would be likely enough that the latter might accept for a king a chieftain of the former who had boldly entered their country, challenged the Greek satrap to an encounter, and by defeating and killing him freed them?at any rate for the time?from the Greek yoke. An oppressed people gladly adopts as chief the head of an allied tribe if he has shown skill and daring, and offers to protect them from their oppressors.


Rise of the Parthans



The revolt of Arsaces has been placed by some as early as the year B.C. 256. The Bactrian revolt is assigned by most historians to that year; and the Parthian, according to some, was contemporary. The best authorities, however, give a short interval between the two insurrections; and, on the whole, there is perhaps reason to regard the Parthian independence as dating from about B.C. 250. This year was the eleventh of Antiochus Theus, and fell into the time when he was still engaged in his war with Ptolemy Philadelphus. It might have been expected that when he concluded a peace with the Egyptian monarch in B.C. 249, he would have turned his arms at once towards the east, and have attempted at any rate the recovery of his lost dominions. But, as already stated, his personal character was weak, and he preferred the pleasures of repose at Antioch to the hardships of a campaign in the Caspian region. So far as we hear, he took no steps to re-establish his authority; and Arsaces, like Diodotus, was left undisturbed to consolidate his power at his leisure.


Arsaces lived, however, but a short time after obtaining the crown. His authority was disputed within the limits of Parthia itself; and he had to engage in hostilities with a portion of his own subjects. We may suspect that the malcontents were chiefly, if not solely, those of Greek race, who may have been tolerably numerous, and whose strength would lie in the towns. Hecatompylos, the chief city of Parthia, was among the colonies founded by Alexander; and its inhabitants would naturally be disinclined to acquiesce in the rule of a "barbarian." Within little more than two years of his coronation, Arsaces, who had never been able to give his kingdom peace, was killed in battle by a spear-thrust in the side; and was succeeded (B.C. 247) by his brother, having left, it is probable, no sons, or none of mature age.


Tiridates, the successor of Arsaces, took upon his accession his brother's name, and is known in history as Arsaces II. The practice thus begun passed into a custom, each Parthian monarch from henceforth bearing as king the name of Arsaces in addition to his own real appellation, whatever that might be. In the native remains the assumed name almost supersedes the other; but, fortunately, the Greek and Roman writers who treat of Parthian affairs, have preserved the distinctive appellations, and thus saved the Parthian history from inextricable confusion. It is not easy to see from what quarter this practice was adopted; perhaps we should regard it as one previously existing among the Dahan Scyths.


If the Parthian monarchy owed its origin to Arsaces I., it owed its consolidation, and settled establishment to Arsaces II., or Tiridates. This prince, who had the good fortune to reign for above thirty years, and who is confused by many writers with the actual founder of the monarchy, having received Parthia from his brother, in the weak and unsettled condition above described, left it a united and powerful kingdom, enlarged in its boundaries, strengthened in its defences, in alliance with its nearest and most formidable neighbor, and triumphant over the great power of Syria, which had hoped to bring it once more into subjection. He ascended the throne, it is probable, early in B.C. 247, and had scarcely been monarch a couple of years when he witnessed one of those vast but transient revolutions to which Asia is subject, but which are of rare occurrence in Europe.


Victories of Ptolemaic Egypt

Ptolemy III Euergetes


Ptolemy III Euergetes, the son of Philadelphus, having succeeded to his father's kingdom in the same year with Tiridates, marched (in B.C. 245) a huge expedition into Asia, defeated Seleucus II. (Callinicus) in Syria, took Antioch, and then, having crossed the Euphrates, proceeded to bring the greater part of Western Asia under his sway. Mesopotamia, Assyria, Babylonia, Susiana, Persia, Media, submitted to him. He went in person as far as Babylon, and, according to his own account, was acknowledged as master by all the Eastern provinces to the very borders of Bactria.



The Parthian and Bactrian kingdoms cannot but have trembled for their newly won independence. Here was a young warrior who, in a single campaign, had marched the distance of a thousand miles, from the banks of the Nile to those of the Lower Euphrates, without so much as receiving a check, and who was threatening to repeat the career of Alexander. What resistance could the little Parthian state hope to offer to such an enemy? It must have rejoiced Tiridates to hear that while the new conqueror was gathering somewhat too hastily the fruits of victory, collecting and dispatching to Egypt the most valuable works of art that he could find in the cities which he had taken, and levying heavy contributions on the submitted countries, a revolt had broken out in his own land, to quell which he was compelled to retire suddenly and to relinquish the greater part of his acquisitions.


Thus the threatened conquest proved a mere inroad, and instead of a power of greater strength replacing Syria in these regions, Syria practically retained her hold of them, but with enfeebled grasp, her strength crippled, her prestige lost, and her honor tarnished. Ptolemy had, it is probable, not retired very long, when, encouraged by what he had seen of Syria's weakness, Tiridates took the aggressive, and invading the neighboring district of Hyrcania, succeeded in detaching it from the Seleucid state, and adding it to his own territory. This was throwing out a challenge which the Syrian monarch, Callinicus, could scarcely decline to meet, unless he was prepared to lose, one by one, all the outlying provinces of his empire.


Seleucus II Callinicus

( r. 246-225 B.C.)


Accordingly in B.C. 237, having patched up a peace with his brother, Antiochus Hierax, the Syrian monarch Seleucus II Callinicus made an expedition against Parthia. Not feeling, however, altogether confident of success if he trusted wholly to his own unaided efforts, he prudently entered into an alliance with Diodotus the Bactrian king, and the two agreed to combine their forces against Tiridates. Hereupon that monarch, impressed with a deep sense of the impending danger, quitted Parthia, and, proceeding northwards, took refuge with the Aspasiacae, a Scythian tribe which dwelt between the Oxus and the Jaxartes.


The Aspasiacae probably lent him troops; at any rate, he did not remain long in retirement, but, hearing that the Bactrian king, whom he especially feared, was dead, he contrived to detach his son and successor from the Syrian alliance, and to draw him over to his own side. Having made this important stroke, he met Callinicus in battle, and completely defeated his army.


This victory was with reason regarded by the Parthians as a sort of second beginning of their independence. Hitherto their kingdom had existed precariously, and as it were by sufferance. It could not but be that the power from which they had revolted would one day seek to reclaim its lost territory; and, until the new monarchy had measured its strength against that of its former mistress, none could feel secure that it would be able to maintain its existence. The victory gained by Tiridates over Callinicus put an end to these doubts. It proved to the world at large, and also to the Parthians themselves, that they had nothing to fear?that they were strong enough to preserve their freedom. Considering the enormous disproportion between the military strength and resources of the narrow Parthian State and the vast Syrian Empire?considering that the one comprised about fifty thousand and the other above a million of square miles; that the one had inherited the wealth of ages and the other was probably as poor as any province in Asia; that the one possessed the Macedonian arms, training, and tactics, while the other knew only the rude warfare of the Steppes?the result of the struggle cannot but be regarded as surprising. Still it was not without precedent, and it has not been without repetition. It adds another to the many instances where a small but brave people, bent on resisting foreign domination, have, when standing on their defence, in their own territory, proved more than a match for the utmost force that a foe of overwhelming strength could bring against them. It reminds us of Marathon, of Bannock-burn, of Morgarten. We may not sympathize wholly with the victors, for Greek civilization, even of the type introduced by Alexander into Asia, was ill replaced by Tatar coarseness and barbarism; but we cannot refuse our admiration to the spectacle of a handful of gallant men determinedly resisting in the fastness of their native land a host of aliens, and triumphing over their would-be oppressors.


The Parthians themselves, deeply impressed with the importance of the contest, preserved the memory of it by a solemn festival on the anniversary of their victory, which they still celebrated in the time of Trogus.



Antiochus III the Great

(241-187 B.C.)


When Antiochus III succeeded to the throne it was at a time when Seleucid power was at a low ebb. Iran and other areas of the east had been lost .Bactria and Sogdiana became independent kingdoms around 250 B.C. under Greek kings and the kingdom of Parthia was established . Media and Persia revolted under their governors, the brothers Molon and Alexander. These revolts were crushed by Antiochus .Attalus I of Pergamum seized lands in around the Taurus mountains .Antiochus II went to war with Ptolemy IV of Egypt and lost a battle at Raphia, ending the 4th Syrian-Egyptian war .

In 200 he won a victory against Egypt at the battle of Panium and Palestine was added to the empire . From 205-204 he restored Armenia and Iran to the empire. In 209 he went eastward to deal with the troubles there . In 209 BC Antiochus invaded Parthia, occupied the capital Hecatompylus . The Parthian king Arsaces II was forced to sued for peace.He then laid siege to the capital of the Greek ruled kingdom of Bactria, Bactra and concluded a peace treaty with its ruler Euthydemus I cemented with the marriage of one of Euthydemus. Next Antioches crossed into modern Afghanistan and renewed the Seleucid traditional friendship with the Mauryan kingdom and received 150 war elephants . Antiochus' daughters to a son of He welcomed the fugitive Hannibal to his court who encouraged him to invade Greece with the downfall of Phillip v of Macedon. In 192 B.C. he invaded Greece but was defeated by the Romans at Thermopylae. He was forced to ceded all of Asia Minor north of the Taurus Mountains to Pergamum, a Roman ally and Rome set a large indemnity to be paid. Antiochus died in 187 BC on another expedition to the east, where he sought to extract money to pay the indemnity.


Seleuid Empire around 200 B.C.


 Seleucus IV Philopator (187-175 BC)


The reign of his son and successor Seleucus IV Philopator (187-175 BC) was largely spent in attempts to pay the large indemnity, and Seleucus was ultimately assassinated by his minister Heliodorus. Seleucus' younger brother, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, now seized the throne. He attempted to restore Seleucid prestige with a successful war against Egypt; but despite driving the Egyptian army back to Alexandria itself, he was forced to withdraw by the Roman envoy Gaius Popillius Laenas, who famously drew a circle in the sand around the king and told him he had to decide whether or not to withdraw from Egypt before leaving the circle. Antiochus chose to withdraw.

The latter part of his reign saw the further disintegration of the Empire. The Eastern areas remained nearly uncontrollable, as Parthians began to take over the Persian lands; and Antiochus' aggressive Hellenizing (or de-Judaizing) activities led to armed rebellion in Judaea the Maccabee revolt (see the story of Chanukah, Shabbat 21b, Babylonian Talmud). Efforts to deal with both the Parthians and the Jews proved fruitless, and Antiochus himself died during an expedition against the Parthians in 164 BC.


Further Decline


After the death of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Seleucid Empire became increasingly unstable. Frequent civil wars made central authority tenuous at best. Epiphanes' young son, Antiochus V Eupator, was first overthrown by Seleucus IV's son, Demetrius I Soter in 161 BC. Demetrius I attempted to restore Seleucid power in Judea particularly, but was overthrown in 150 BC by Alexander Balas an impostor who (with Egyptian backing) claimed to be the son of Epiphanes. Alexander Balas reigned until 145 BC, when he was overthrown by Demetrius I's son, Demetrius II Nicator. Demetrius II proved unable to control the whole of the kingdom, however. While he ruled Babylonia and eastern Syria from Damascus, the remnants of Balas' supporters first supporting Balas' son Antiochus VI, then the usurping general Diodotus Tryphon held out in Antioch.




Meanwhile, the decay of the Empire's territorial possessions continued apace. By 143 BC, the Jews in form of the Maccabees had fully established their independence. Parthian expansion continued as well. In 139 BC, Demetrius II was defeated in battle by the Parthians and was captured. By this time, the entire Iranian Plateau had been lost to Parthian control. Demetrius Nicator's brother, Antiochus VII, was ultimately able to restore a fleeting unity and vigour to the Seleucid domains, but he too proved unequal to the Parthian threat: he was killed in battle with the Parthians in 129 BC, leading to the final collapse of the Seleucid hold on Babylonia. After the death of Antiochus VII, all effective Seleucid rule collapsed, as multiple claimants contested control of what was left of the Seleucid realm in almost unending civil war.


By 100 BC, the once formidable Seleucid Empire encompassed little more than Antioch and some Syrian cities. Despite the clear collapse of their power, and the decline of their kingdom around them, nobles continued to play kingmakers on a regular basis, with occasional intervention from Ptolemaic Egypt and other outside powers. The Seleucids existed solely because no other nation wished to absorb them seeing as they constituted a useful buffer between their other neighbors. In the wars in Anatolia between Mithridates VI of Pontus and Sulla of Rome, the Seleucids were largely left alone by both major combatants.

Mithridates' ambitious son-in-law, Tigranes the Great, king of Armenia, however, saw opportunity for expansion in the constant civil strife to the south. In 83 BC, at the invitation of one of the factions in the interminable civil wars, he invaded Syria, and soon established himself as ruler of Syria, putting Seleucid rule virtually at an end.


Seleucid rule was not entirely over, however. Following the Roman general Lucullus' defeat of both Mithridates and Tigranes in 69 BC, a rump Seleucid kingdom was restored under Antiochus XIII. Even now, civil wars could not be prevented, as another Seleucid, Philip II, contested rule with Antiochus. After the Roman conquest of Pontus, the Romans became increasingly alarmed at the constant source of instability in Syria under the Seleucids. Once Mithridates was defeated by Pompey in 63 BC, Pompey set about the task of remaking the Hellenistic East, by creating new client kingdoms and establishing provinces. While client nations like Armenia and Judea were allowed to continue some degree of autonomy under local kings, Pompey saw the Seleucids as too troublesome to continue; and doing away with both rival Seleucid princes, he made Syria into a Roman province.


Influence of the Seleucid Empire on Persia


Apart from the far eastern kingdoms, the history of the Hellenistic kingdoms in the first century B.C. merges into that of Rome .Despite the extension of the Seleucid empire into Mesopatamia, Iran and India, it concentrated its attention on the Mediterranean .Under the Seleucid rule Greek became the lingua franca of western Asia till the Parthian period..The  Seleucids encouraged immigration from the overcrowded Greek cities by granting land and setting up military colonies , some examples of Selecuid colonies in Persia are Tanagra and Europus .While Persia was in some ways Hellenized,and there were an abundance of Greek towns in Media, the outlying areas were little affected by the Greek settlements . Greek ideas never penetrated very deeply in Iran where Greek ideas and philosophy were so alien to the Persian view of looking at the world. In the heartland of Persia, the ancient traditions were preserved .The reconquest of Iran by the Parthans took over a century ( 250-140 B.C) and marked  resilience of the  people after a century and a half of Hellenic domination.


Seleucid Religion, Architecture , Art


Seleucid statue of Herucles, Behistun


The gods of the Greeks were worshiped in the Greek cities .The native people were allowed to continue their worship of their traditional gods in Babylonia and Persia and there is no record of Seleucid religious persecution . There was a degree of syncretism between the religions of the Greeks and those of the east and would become popular in Rome as mystery cults . However, only Greek gods are found on Seleucid coins .

Seleucid temple , Failaka Island, Kuwait


No monumental architecture of the Seleucid capitals remains . But like religion, there was synergy between Greek and local art styles . Thanks to the invention of the blowpipe during the Seleucid era, advances were made in glass  making . Not much literature of this period remains, except for the writings of Berossus a Babylonian writer who wrote Babyloniaca, a history of Babylonia which only remains in secondary sources .


The Seleucid army


Hellenistic warfare was highly developed, concentrating on the heavily armed phalanx carrying a 21 foot pike or sarissa . The Seleucid armies also employed Persian heavy calvary and elephants the tanks of ancient warfare which won several important battles for them .The Seleucid phalanx was surpassed by new formations of more mobile, heavier armor, highly disciplined Roman legions which were veterans on the Punic wars . Camels, while used by the Parthans do not seem have been used much by the Seleucids .The Trireme of the Persian wars was replaced by the larger quadrireme and even larger ships .


In the 2nd century B.C. important changes in the Seleucid art of war are visible.  Romanization of the tactics, organization and military equipment of the Seleucid army took place, especially after 168. The experience of Antiochus Ill's eastern campaign bore fruit in the acceptance of some eastern elements into Seleucid military practice. Among these elements can be placed the heavy armoured cavalry named cataphracts.





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