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History of the Syrian Kingdom of the Seleucidae (B.C. 312 to 65)
George Rawlinson M.A, Canon of Canterbury and Camden Professor of Ancient history at the University of Oxford
Ancient History of Chaldaea, Assyria, Media, Babylonia, Lydia, Phoenicia, Syria, Judaea, Egypt, Carthage, Persia, Greece, Macedonia, Parthia, and Rome., The Colonial Press, New York, 1899.



The kingdom of the Seleucidae was originally established in Inner Asia. It dates from the year B.C. 312, when its founder, Seleucus Nicator, or " the Conqueror," taking advantage of the check which Antigonus had received by the victory of Ptolemy Lagi over Demetrius, near Gaza, returned to the province from which he had been a few years earlier expelled by his great adversary, and re-establishing himself without much difficulty, assumed the diadem. At first, the kingdom consisted merely of Babylonia and the adjacent regions, Susiana, Media, and Persia; but, after the unsuccessful expedition of Demetrius (B.C. 311), the Oriental provinces generally submitted themselves, and within six years from the date of his return to Babylon, Seleucus was master of all the countries lying between the Indus and Euphrates on the one hand, the Jaxartes and the Indian Ocean on the other.

Shortly afterwards he undertook a great campaign against Sandracottus (Chandragupta), an Indian monarch, who bore sway in the region about the western head streams of the Ganges. After a brief struggle, he concluded a peace with this powerful prince, who furnished him with 500 elephants, and threw India open to his traders. It is probable that he purchased the good-will of Sandracottus by ceding to him a portion of his own Indian possessions.

In the year B.C. 302 Seleucus, whose aid had been invoked by Lysimachus and Cassander, act out from Babylon for Asia Minor, and, having wintered in Cappadocia, effected a junction with the forces of Lysimachus early in the spring of B.C- 301. The battle of Ipsus followed. Antigonus was defeated and slain, and his dominions shared by his conquerors. To the kingdom of Seleucus were added Cappadocia, part of Phrygia, Upper Syria, and the right bank of the middle Euphrates.

By this arrangement the territorial increase which the kingdom received was not large; but the change in the seat of empire, which the accession of territory brought about, was extremely important. By shifting his capital from Babylonia to Syria, from the Lower Tigris to the Orontes, Seleucus thought to strengthen himself against his rivals, Lysimachus and Ptolemy. He forgot, apparently, that by placing his capital at one extremity of his long kingdom he weakened it generally, and, in particular, loosened his grasp upon the more eastern provinces, which were the least Hellenized and the most liable to revolt. Had Babylon or Seleucia continued the seat of government, the East might probably have been retained; the kingdom of the Parthians might never have grown up. Rome, when she interfered in the affairs of Asia, would have found a great Greek Empire situated beyond the Euphrates, and so almost inaccessible to her arms ; the two civilizations would have coexisted, instead of being superseded the one by the other, and the history of Asia and of the world would have been widely different.

The followers of Alexander inherited from their master a peculiar fondness for the building of new cities, which they called after themselves, their fathers, or their favorite wives. Cassander built Thessalonica on the bay of the name, and Cassandreia in the peninsula of Pallene. Lysimachus fixed his seat of government at a new town, which he called Lysimacheia, on the neck of the Chersonese. Antigonus was building Antigoneia, on the Orontes, when he fell at Ipsus. His son, Demetrius, made his capital Demetrias, on the gulf of Pagasae. Seleucus, even before he transferred the seat of government to Antioch, had removed it from Babylon to his city of Selcucia, on the Tigris. Ptolemy alone maint4ined the capital which lie found established on his arrival in Egypt. The numerous Antiochs, Laodiceias, Epiphaneias, and Seleuceias, with which Asia became covered, attest the continuance of the taste in the successors of Nicator.

Though Seleucus had come to the rescue, on the invitation of Ptolemy, Cassander, and Lysimachus, yet he was well aware that he could place no dependence on the continuance of their amity. His success made them jealous of him, and induced them to draw nearer to each other, and unite their interests by intermarriages. Seleucus, therefore, cast about for an ally, and found one in Demetrius, the son of Antigonus, his late adversary, whom he attached to himself in the same way. Demetrius, who had escaped from Ipsus with a considerable force, was a personage of importance; and, by supporting him in his quarrels with Cassander, and then Lysimachus, Seleucus was able to keep those princes employed.

In Asia a period of tranquillity followed the marriage of Seleucus. Cassander and Lysimachus were occupied with wars in Europe raised by the ambition of Demetrius. Ptolemy by himself was too weak to effect any thing, and, having been allowed to retain Lower Syria and Palestine, had no ground of complaint. Seleucus employed the interval (about twelve years, B.C. 299 to 287) in building his capital, Antioch; enlarging and beautifying its port, Seleucia; and consolidating, arranging, and organizing his vast empire. The whole territory was divided into seventy-two satrapies, which were placed under the government of Greeks or Macedonians, not of natives. A large standing army was maintained, composed mainly of native troops, officered by Macedonians or Greeks. After a while, Seleucus divided his empire with his son Antiochus, committing to him the entire government of all the provinces beyond the Euphrates-a dangerous precedent, though one which can scarcely be said to have had actual evil consequences. At the same time .. Seleucus yielded to Antiochus the possession of his consort, Stratonice with whom that prince had fallen desperately in love.

The first disturbance of the tranquillity was caused by the wild projects of Demetrius. That hare-brained prince, after gaining and then losing Macedonia, plunged suddenly into Asia, where lie hoped to win by his sword a new dominion. Unable to make any serious impression on the kingdom of Lysimachus, he entered Cilicia and became engaged in hostilities with Seleucus, who defeated him, took him prisoner, and kept him in a private condition for the rest of his life.

Shortly afterwards, B.C. 281, occurred the rupture between Seleucus and Lysimachus, which led to the death of that aged monarch and the conquest of great part of his dominions. Domestic troubles, caused by ArsinoŽ, paved the way for the attack of Seleucus, who found his best support in the disaffection of his enemy's subjects. The battle of Corupedion cost Lysimachus his life; and gave the whole of Asia Minor into the hands of the Syrian king. It might have been expected that the European provinces would have been gained with equal ease, and that, with the exception of Egypt, the scattered fragments of Alexander's empire would have been once more reunited. But an avenger of Lysimachus appeared in the person of the Egyptian exile, Ptolemy Ceraunus, the eldest son of Ptolemy Lagi; and as Seleucus was proceeding to take possession of Lysimacheia, his late rival's capital, he was murdered in open day by the Egyptian adventurer, who thereupon became king of Macedon.

Antiochus I. (Soter) succeeded to his father's dominions, B.C. 280, and shortly became engaged in hostilities with Zipoctes and Nicomedes, native kings of Bithynia, the former of whom had successfully maintained his independence against Lysimachus. Nicomedes (B.C. 278), finding his own resources insufficient for the struggle, availed himself of the assistance of the Gauls, who had been now for some years ravaging Eastern Europe. and had already aided him against his brother Zipoetes. With their help lie maintained his independence, and crippled the power of Antiochus, who lost Northern Phrygia, which was occupied by the Gauls and became Galatia, and North-western Lydia, which became the kingdom of Pergamus. Antiochus succeeded in inflicting one considerable defeat on the Gauls, B.C. 275, whence his cognomen of " Soter " (Saviour); otherwise his expeditions were unfortunate; and the Syrian empire at his death had declined considerably below the point of greatness and splendor reached under Nicator.

Antiochus II. surnamed " the God," succeeded his father. He was a weak and effeminate prince, sunk in sensuality and profligacy, who allowed the kingdom to be ruled by his wives and male favorites. Under him the decline of the empire became rapid. The weakness of his government tempted the provinces to rebel; and the Parthian and Bactrian kingdoms date from his reign. The only success which attended him was in his war with Egypt, at the close of which he recovered what he had previously lost to Philadelphus in Asia Minor.

Seleucus II., surnamed Callinicus, became king on the assassination of his father. Throughout his reign, which lasted rather more than twenty years, B.C. 246 to 226, he was most unfortunate, being engaged in wars with Ptolemy Euergetes, with Antiochus Hierax, his own brother, and with the Parthian king, Arsaces II., in all of which he met with disasters. Still, it is remarkable that, even when his fortunes were at the lowest ebb, he always found a means of recovering himself, so that his epithet of Callinicus, " the Victorious," was not wholly inappropriate. The kingdom must have been greatly weakened and exhausted (luring his reign; but its limits were not seriously contracted. Portions of Asia Minor were indeed lost to Ptolemy and to Attalus, and the Parthians appear to have made themselves masters of Hyrcania; but, excepting in these two quarters, Seleucus recovered his losses, and left the territories which he had inherited to his son' Seleucus Ceraunus.

Seleucus III.-surnamed Ceraunus, " the Thunderbolt "had a reign which lasted only three years. Assisted by his cousin, the young Achaeus, he prepared a great expedition against the Pergamene monarch, Attalus, whose dominions now reached to the Taurus. His ill-paid army, however, while on the march, became mutinous; and he was assassinated by some of his officers, B.C. 223.

On the death of Seleucus III., Antiochus III., surnamed "the Great," ascended the throne. His long reign, which exceeded thirty-six years, constitutes the most eventful period of Syrian history. Antiochus did much to recover, consolidate, and in some quarters enlarge, his empire. He put down the important rebellions of Molo and Achaeus, checked the progress of the Parthians and Bactrians, restored his frontier towards India. drove the Egyptians from Asia, and even at one time established his dominion over a portion of Europe. But these successes were more than counterbalanced by the losses which lie sustained in his war with the Romans, whom he needlessly drew into Asia. The alliance between Rome and Pergamus, and the consequent aggrandizement of that kingdom, were deeply injurious to Syria, and greatly accelerated her decline. Antiochus was unwise to provoke the hostility of the Romans, and foolish, when he had provoked it, not to take the advice of Hannibal as to the mode in which the war should be conducted. Had he united with Macedonia and Carthage, and transferred the contest into Italy, the Roman power might have been broken or checked. By standing alone, and on the defensive, he at once made his defeat certain, and rendered its consequences more injurious than they would have been otherwise.

Antiochus was succeeded by his son, Seleucus IV., who took the name of Philopator, and reigned eleven years, B.C. 187 to 176. This period was wholly uneventful. The fear of Rome, and the weakness produced by exhaustion, forced Seleucus to remain quiet, even when Eumenes of Pergamus seemed about to conquer and absorb Pontus. Rome held as a hostage for his fidelity, first, his brother, Antiochus, and then his son, Demetrius. Seleucus was murdered by Heliodorus, his treasurer (B.C. 176), who hoped to succeed to his dominions.

On the death of Seleucus, the throne was seized by Heliodorus; but it was not long before Antiochus, the brother of the late king, with the help of the Pergamene monarch, Eumenes, recovered it. This prince, who is known in history as Antiochus IV., or (more commonly) as Antiochus Epiphanes, was a man of courage and energy. He engaged in important wars with Armenia and Egypt; and would beyond a doubt have conquered the latter country, had it not been for the interposition of the Romans. Still, the energy of Epiphanes was of little benefit to his country. He gained no permanent advantage from his Egyptian campaigns, since the Romans deprived him even of Cyprus. He made no serious impression on Armenia, though he captured Artaxias, its sovereign. On the other hand, his religious intolerance raised him up an enemy in the heart of his empire, whose bitter hostility proved under his successors a prolific source of weakness. The Jews, favored by former kings of Syria, were driven to desperation by the mad project of this self-willed monarch, who, not content with plundering the Temple to satisfy his necessities, profaned it by setting up in the Holy of Holies the image of Jupiter Olympius. His luxury and extravagance also tended to ruin his empire, and made him seek to enrich himself with the plunder of other temples besides that at Jerusalem. An attempt of this kind, which was baffled, in Elymais, is said to have been followed by an access of superstitious terror, which led to his death at Tabae, B.C. 164.

Epiphanes was succeeded by Antiochus V., surnamed Eupator, a boy not more than twelve years old. The chief power during his reign was in the hands of Lysias, whom Epiphanes had left as regent when he quitted Antioch. Lysias attempts to reduce the rebel Jews, but allows himself to be diverted from the war by the attitude of his rival Philip, whom he attacks, defeats, and puts to death. He takes no steps, however, to resist the Parthians when they overrun the Eastern provinces, or the Romans when they harshly enforce the terms of the treaty concluded after the battle of Magnesia. The position of affairs, which we can well understand the Romans favoring, was most injurious to the power of Syria, which, in the hands of a minor and a regent, was equally incapable of maintaining internal order and repelling foreign attack. It was an advantage to Syria when Demetrius, the adult son of Seleucus Philopator, escaped from Rome, where he had been long detained as a hostage, and, putting Lysias and Eupator to death, himself mounted the throne.

Demetrius, having succeeded in obtaining the sanction of Rome to his usurpation, occupied himself for some years in attempts to reduce the Jews. He appears to have been a vigorous administrator, and a man of considerable ambition and energy; but he could not arrest the decline of the Syrian state. The Romans compelled him to desist from his attack on the Jews; and when he ventured on an expedition into Cappadocia, for the purpose of expelling the king Ariarathes, and giving the crown to Orophernes, his bastard brother, a league was formed against him by the neighboring kings, to which the Romans became parties ; and a pretender, Alexander Balas, an illegitimate son of Epiphaties, was encouraged to come forward and claim the throne. So low had the Syrian power now sunk, that both Demetrius and his rival courted the favor of the despised Jews; and their adhesion to the cause of the pretender probably turned the scale in his favor. After two years of warfare and two important battles, Demetrius was defeated, and lost both his crown and life.

Alexander Balas, who had been supported in his struggle with Demetrius by the kings of Pergamus and Egypt, was given by the latter the hand of Cleopatra, his daughter. But he soon proved himself unfit to rule. Committing the management of affairs to an unworthy favorite, Ammonius, he gave himself up to every kind of self-indulgence. Upon this, Demetrius, the eldest son of the late king, perceiving that Balas had become odious to his subjects, took heart, and, landing in Cilicia, commenced a struggle for the throne. The fidelity of the Jews protected Alexander for a while; but when his father-in-law, Ptolemy Philometor, passed over to the side of his antagonist, the contest was decided against him. Defeated in a pitched battle near Antioch, he fled to Abae in Arabia, where he was assassinated by his own officers, who sent his head to Ptolemy.

Demetrius II, surnamed Nicator, then ascended the throne. He had already, while pretender, married Cleopatra, the wife of his rival, whom Ptolemy had forced Balas to give tip. On obtaining full possession of the kingdom, lie ruled tyrannically, and disgusted many of his subjects. The people of Antioch having risen in revolt, and Demetrius having allowed his Jewish body-guard to plunder the town, Diodotus of Apamea set tip a rival king in the person of Antiochus VI., son of Alexander Balas, a child of two years of age, who bore the regal title for three or four years (B.C. 146 to 143), after which Diodotus removed him, and, taking the name of Trypho, declared himself independent monarch (autokrator). After vain efforts to reduce his rivals for the space of about seven years, Demetrius, leaving his wife, Cleopatra, to maintain his interests in Syria, marched into his Eastern provinces, which were in danger of falling a prey to the Parthians. Here, though at first he gained such advantages as enabled him to assume the title of " Conqueror ", his arms soon met with a reverse. Defeated by the Parthian monarch, Arsaces V1., in the year B.C. 140, he was taken prisoner, and remained a captive at the Parthian court for several years.

During the absence of Demetrius in the remote East, his wife, Cleopatra, unable to make head against Tryphon, looked out for some effectual support, and found it in Antiochus of Sida (Sidetes), her husband's brother, who, joining his arms with hers, attacked Tryphon, and after a struggle, which seems to have lasted nearly two years, defeated him and put him to death. Antiochus Sidetes upon this became sole monarch of Syria, B.C. 137, and contracted a marriage with Cleopatra, his captive brother's wife, who considered herself practically divorced by her husband's captivity and marriage with a Parthian princess. His first step, after establishing his authority, was to reduce the Jews, B.C. 135 to 133. A, few years later, B.C. 129, he undertook an expedition into Parthia for the purpose of delivering his brother, and gained some important successes; but was finally defeated by the Parthian monarch, who attacked his army in its winter-quarters, and destroyed it with its commander.

Meanwhile Demetrius IL, having been released from captivity by the Parthian monarch, who hoped by exciting troubles in Syria to force Antiochus to retreat, had reached Antioch and recovered his former kingdom. But he was not suffered to remain long in tranquillity. Ptolemy Physcon, the king of Egypt, raised up a pretender to his crown in the person of Alexander Zabinas, who professed to be the son of Balas. A battle was fought between the rivals near Damascus, in which Demetrius was completely defeated. Forced to take flight, he sought a refuge with his wife at Ptolemais, but was rejected; whereupon he endeavored to throw himself into Tyre, but was captured and slain, B.C. 126.

War followed between Zabinas and Cleopatra, who, having put to death Seleucus, her eldest son, because he had assumed the diadem without her permission, associated with herself on the throne her second son Antiochus, and reigned conjointly with him till B.C. 121. Zabinas maintained himself in parts of Syria for seven years ; but, having quarreled with his patron, Ptolenly Physcon, he was reduced to straits, about B.C. 124, and two years afterwards was completely crushed by Antiochus, who forced him to swallow poison, B.C. 122. Soon afterwards-B.C. 121-Antiochus found himself under the necessity of putting his mother to death in order to secure his own life, against which he discovered her to be plotting.

Syria now enjoyed a period of tranquillity under Antiochus VIII., for the space of eight years, B.C. 122 to 114. The Eastern provinces were, however, completely lost, and no attempt was made to recover them. The Syrian kingdom was confined within Taurus on the north, the Euphrates on the east, and Palestine on the south. Judaea had become wholly independent. The great empire, which bad once reached from Phrygia to the Indus, had shrunk to the dimensions of a province; and there was no spirit in either prince or people to make any effort to regain what had been lost. The country was exhausted by the constant wars, the pillage of the soldiers, and the rapacity of the monarchs. Wealth was accumulated in a few hands. The people of the capital were wholly given up to luxury. If Rome had chosen to step in at any time after the death of the second Demetrius, she might have become mistress of the whole of Syria almost without a struggle. At first her domestic troubles, and then her contest with Mithridates, hindered her, so that it was not till half a century later that the miseries of Syria were ended by her absorption into the Roman Empire.

The tranquillity of Antiochus VIII. was disturbed in B.C. 114 by the revolt of his half-brother, Antiochus Cyzicenus, the son of Cleopatra by Antiochus Sidetes, her third husband. A bloody contest followed, which it was attempted to terminate at the close of three years, B.C. 111, by a partition of the territory. But the feud soon broke out afresh. War raged between the brothers for nine years, B.C. 105 to 96, with varied success, but with no decided advantage to either, while the disintegration of the empire rapidly proceeded. The towns on the coast, Tyre, Sidon, Seleucia, assumed independence. Cilicia revolted. The Arabs ravaged Syria on the one hand, and the Egyptians on the other. At length, amid these various calamities, the reign of Antiochus VIII came to an end by his assassination, in B.C. 96, by Heracleon, an officer of his court.

Heracleon endeavored to seize the crown, but failed. It fell to Seleucus V. (Epiphanes), the eldest son of Grypus, who continued the war with Antiochus Cyzicenus, and brought it to a successful issue in the second year of his reign, B.C. 95, when Cyzicenus, defeated in a great battle, slew himself to prevent his capture. But the struggle between the two houses was not yet ended. Antiochus Eusebes, the son of Cyzicenus, assumed the royal title, and attacking Seleucus drove him out of Syria into Cilicia, where he perished miserably, being burnt alive by the people of Mopsuestia, from whom lie had required a contribution.

Philip, the second son of Antioclius Grypus, succeeded, and carried on the war with Eusebes for some years, in conjunction with his brothers, Demetrius, and Antiochus Dionysus, until at last Eusebes was overcome and forced to take refuge in Parthia. Philip and his brothers then fell out, and engaged in war one against another. At length the Syrians, seeing no end to these civil contests, called to their aid the king of the neighboring Armenia, Tigranes, and putting themselves under his rule, obtained a respite from suffering for about fourteen years, B.C. 83 to 69. At the close of this period, Tigranes, having mixed himself tip in the Mithridatic war, was defeated by the Romans, and forced to relinquish Syria.

The Syrian throne seems then to have fallen to Antiochus Asiaticus, the son of Eusebes, who held it for four years only, when he was dispossessed by Pompey, and the remnant of the kingdom of the Seleucidae was reduced into the form of a Roman province, B.C. 65.

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