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Seleucid Empire
312 BCE - 63 BCE

Seleucid Empire

Words: nono umasy


The Seleucid Empire was a Greek state in West Asia that existed during the Hellenistic period from 312 BC to 63 BC. The Seleucid Empire was founded by the Macedonian general Seleucus I Nicator, following the division of the Macedonian Empire originally founded by Alexander the Great.


After receiving the Mesopotamian region of Babylonia in 321 BC, Seleucus I began expanding his dominions to include the Near Eastern territories that encompass modern-day Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Syria, all of which had been under Macedonian control after the fall of the former Persian Achaemenid Empire. At the Seleucid Empire's height, it had consisted of territory that had covered Anatolia, Persia, the Levant, and what are now modern Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan, and parts of Turkmenistan.


The Seleucid Empire was a major center of Hellenistic culture. Greek customs and language were privileged; the wide variety of local traditions had been generally tolerated, while an urban Greek elite had formed the dominant political class and was reinforced by steady immigration from Greece. The empire's western territories were repeatedly contested with Ptolemaic Egypt—a rival Hellenistic state. To the east, conflict with the Indian ruler Chandragupta of the Maurya Empire in 305 BC led to the cession of vast territory west of the Indus and a political alliance.


In the early second century BC, Antiochus III the Great attempted to project Seleucid power and authority into Hellenistic Greece, but his attempts were thwarted by the Roman Republic and its Greek allies. The Seleucids were forced to pay costly war reparations and had to relinquish territorial claims west of the Taurus Mountains in southern Anatolia, marking the gradual decline of their empire. Mithridates I of Parthia conquered much of the remaining eastern lands of the Seleucid Empire in the mid-second century BC, while the independent Greco-Bactrian Kingdom continued to flourish in the northeast. The Seleucid kings were thereafter reduced to a rump state in Syria, until their conquest by Tigranes the Great of Armenia in 83 BC, and ultimate overthrow by the Roman general Pompey in 63 BC.






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322 BCE Jan 1 - 281 BCE

Wars of the Diadochi

Persia


Wars of the Diadochi
Wars of the Diadochi


Alexander’s death was the catalyst for the disagreements that ensued between his former generals resulting in a succession crisis. Two main factions formed after the death of Alexander. The first of these was led by Meleager, who supported the candidacy of Alexander's half-brother, Arrhidaeus. The second was led by Perdiccas, the leading cavalry commander, who believed it would be best to wait until the birth of Alexander's unborn child, by Roxana. Both parties agreed to a compromise, wherein Arrhidaeus would become king as Philip III and rule jointly with Roxana's child, providing it was a male heir. Perdiccas was designated as regent of the empire, with Meleager acting as his lieutenant. However, soon after, Perdiccas had Meleager and the other leaders who had opposed him murdered, and he assumed full control.


The generals who had supported Perdiccas were rewarded in the partition of Babylon by becoming satraps of the various parts of the empire. Ptolemy received Egypt; Laomedon received Syria and Phoenicia; Philotas took Cilicia; Peithon took Media; Antigonus received Phrygia, Lycia and Pamphylia; Asander received Caria; Menander received Lydia; Lysimachus received Thrace; Leonnatus received Hellespontine Phrygia; and Neoptolemus had Armenia. Macedon and the rest of Greece were to be under the joint rule of Antipater, who had governed them for Alexander, and Craterus, a lieutenant of Alexander. Alexander's secretary, Eumenes of Cardia, was to receive Cappadocia and Paphlagonia.


The Wars of the Diadochi, or Wars of Alexander's Successors, were a series of conflicts that were fought between the generals of Alexander the Great, known as the Diadochi, over who would rule his empire following his death. The fighting occurred between 322 and 281 BC.


312 BCE Jan 1

Rise of Seleucus

Babylon, Iraq


Rise of Seleucus


Alexander's generals, known as diadochi, jostled for supremacy over parts of his empire following his death. Ptolemy I Soter, a former general and then current satrap of Egypt, was the first to challenge the new system, which eventually led to the demise of Perdiccas. Ptolemy's revolt created a new subdivision of the empire with the Partition of Triparadisus in 320 BC. Seleucus, who had been "Commander-in-Chief of the Companion cavalry" (hetairoi) and appointed first or court chiliarch (which made him the senior officer in the Royal Army after the regent and commander-in-chief Perdiccas since 323 BC, though he helped to assassinate him later) received Babylonia and, from that point, continued to expand his dominions ruthlessly. Seleucus established himself in Babylon in 312 BC, the year later used as the foundation date of the Seleucid Empire.


311 BCE Jan 1 - 309 BCE

Babylonian War

Babylon, Iraq


Babylonian War


The Babylonian War was a conflict fought between 311–309 BC between Antigonus I Monophthalmus and Seleucus I Nicator, ending in a victory for Seleucus. This conflict ended any possibility of restoration of the former empire of Alexander the Great, a result confirmed in the Battle of Ipsus. The battle also marked the birth of the Seleucid Empire by giving Seleucus control over the eastern satrapies of Alexander's former territory.


Antigonus retreated and accepted that Babylonia, Media, and Elam belonged to Seleucus. The victor now moved to the east and reached the Indus valley, where he concluded a treaty with Chandragupta Maurya. The Mauryan emperor received the eastern parts of the Seleucid Empire, which included Afghanistan, Pakistan and west India, and gave Seleucus a formidable force of five hundred war elephants. By adding all of Iran and Afghanistan, Seleucus became the most powerful ruler since Alexander the Great. Restoration of Alexander's Empire was, after the Babylonian War, no longer possible. This outcome was confirmed in the Fourth War of the Diadochi and the Battle of Ipsus (301).


308 BCE Jan 1 - 301 BCE

Fourth War of the Diadochi

Egypt


Fourth War of the Diadochi


Ptolemy had been expanding his power into the Aegean Sea and to Cyprus. Antigonus thus resumed the war with Ptolemy in 308 BC, beginning the Fourth War of the Diadochi. Antigonus sent his son Demetrius to regain control of Greece, and in 307 BC he took Athens. Demetrius then turned his attention to Ptolemy, invading Cyprus and defeating Ptolemy's fleet at the Battle of Salamis-in-Cyprus.


In 306, Antigonus attempted to invade Egypt, but storms prevented Demetrius's fleet from supplying him, and he was forced to return home. With Cassander and Ptolemy both weakened, and Seleucus still occupied by attempting to assert his control over the East, Antigonus and Demetrius now turned their attention to Rhodes, which was besieged by Demetrius's forces in 305 BC. The island was reinforced by troops from Ptolemy, Lysimachus, and Cassander. Ultimately, the Rhodians reached a compromise with Demetrius – they would support Antigonus and Demetrius against all enemies, save their ally Ptolemy. Ptolemy took the title of Soter ("Savior") for his role in preventing the fall of Rhodes, but the victory was ultimately Demetrius's, as it left him with a free hand to attack Cassander in Greece. Demetrius thus returned to Greece and set about liberating the cities of Greece, expelling Cassander's garrisons, and the pro-Antipatrid oligarchies.


Cassander held counsel with Lysimachus, and they agreed on a joint strategy that included sending envoys to Ptolemy and Seleucus, asking them to join in combatting the Antigonid threat. With assistance from Cassander, Lysimachus overran much of western Anatolia, but was soon (301 BC) isolated by Antigonus and Demetrius near Ipsus.


305 BCE Jan 1

Seleucia-on-Tigris

Seleucia, Iraq


Seleucia-on-Tigris


Seleucia, as such, was founded in about 305 BC,as the first capital of the Seleucid Empire. Although Seleucus soon moved his main capital to Antioch, in northern Syria, Seleucia became an important center of trade, Hellenistic culture, and regional government under the Seleucids. The city was populated by Greeks, Syrians and Jews.


To make his capital into a metropolis, Seleucus forced almost all inhabitants of Babylon, except the local temple priests/supporting workers, to leave and resettle in Seleucia. A tablet dated 275 BC states that the inhabitants of Babylon were transported to Seleucia, where a palace and a temple (Esagila) were built. Standing at the confluence of the Tigris River with a major canal from the Euphrates, Seleucia was placed to receive traffic from both great waterways.


305 BCE Jan 1 - 303 BCE

Seleucid–Mauryan war

Indus Valley, Pakistan


Seleucid–Mauryan war


The Seleucid–Mauryan War was fought between 305 and 303 BCE. It started when Seleucus I Nicator, of the Seleucid Empire, sought to retake the Indian satrapies of the Macedonian Empire which had been occupied by Emperor Chandragupta Maurya, of the Maurya Empire.


The war ended in a settlement resulting in the annexation of the Indus Valley region and part of Afghanistan to the Mauryan Empire, with Chandragupta securing control over the areas that he had sought, and a marriage alliance between the two powers. After the war, the Mauryan Empire emerged as the dominant power of the Indian subcontinent, and the Seleucid Empire turned its attention toward defeating its rivals in the west.


301 BCE Jan 1

Antioch founded

Antakya, Küçükdalyan, Antakya/


Antioch founded
Antioch | ©Jean-Claude Golvin


After the Battle of Ipsus in 301 BCE, Seleucus I Nicator won the territory of Syria, and he proceeded to found four "sister cities" in northwestern Syria, one of which was Antioch, a city named in honor of his father Antiochus; according to the Suda, it might be named after his son Antiochus.


The city's location offered geographical, military, and economic benefits to its occupants; Antioch was heavily involved in the spice trade and lay within easy reach of the Silk Road and the Royal Road. During the late Hellenistic period and Early Roman period, Antioch's population reached its peak of over 500,000 inhabitants (estimates generally are 200,000–250,000), making the city the third largest in the Empire after Rome and Alexandria. The city was the capital of the Seleucid Empire until 63 BCE, when the Romans took control, making it the seat of the governor of the province of Syria. From the early fourth century, the city was the seat of the Count of the Orient, head of the regional administration of sixteen provinces. It was also the main center of Hellenistic Judaism at the end of the Second Temple period. Antioch was one of the most important cities in the eastern Mediterranean half of the Roman Empire. It covered almost 1,100 acres (4.5 km2) within the walls of which one quarter was mountain.


Antioch was called "the cradle of Christianity" as a result of its longevity and the pivotal role that it played in the emergence of both Hellenistic Judaism and early Christianity. The Christian New Testament asserts that the name "Christian" first emerged in Antioch. It was one of the four cities of Seleucis of Syria, and its residents were known as Antiochenes. The city may have had up to 250,000 people during Augustan times, but it declined to relative insignificance during the Middle Ages because of warfare, repeated earthquakes, and a change in trade routes, which no longer passed through Antioch from the far east following the Mongol invasions and conquests.


301 BCE Jan 1

Battle of Ipsus

Çayırbağ, Fatih, Çayırbağ/Afyo


Battle of Ipsus


The Battle of Ipsus was fought between some of the Diadochi (the successors of Alexander the Great) in 301 BC near the town of Ipsus in Phrygia. Antigonus I Monophthalmus, ruler of Phrygia, and his son Demetrius I of Macedon were pitted against the coalition of three other successors of Alexander: Cassander, ruler of Macedon; Lysimachus, ruler of Thrace; and Seleucus I Nicator, ruler of Babylonia and Persia. The battle was a decisive defeat for Antigonus, who died during the battle.


The last chance to reunite the Alexandrine Empire had already been passed when Antigonus lost the Babylonian War and two thirds of his empire. Ipsus confirmed this failure. As Paul K. Davis writes, "Ipsus was the high point of the struggle among Alexander the Great’s successors to create an international Hellenistic empire, which Antigonus failed to do." Instead, the empire was carved up between the victors, with Ptolemy retaining Egypt, Seleucus expanding his power to eastern Asia Minor, and Lysimachus receiving the remainder of Asia Minor.


281 BCE Jan 1

Westward expansion

Sart, Salihli/Manisa, Turkey


Westward expansion


Following his and Lysimachus' decisive victory over Antigonus at the Battle of Ipsus in 301 BC, Seleucus took control over eastern Anatolia and northern Syria. In the latter area, he founded a new capital at Antioch on the Orontes, a city he named after his father. An alternative capital was established at Seleucia on the Tigris, north of Babylon. Seleucus's empire reached its greatest extent following his defeat of his erstwhile ally, Lysimachus, at Corupedion in 281 BC, after which Seleucus expanded his control to encompass western Anatolia. He hoped further to take control of Lysimachus's lands in Europe – primarily Thrace and even Macedonia itself, but was assassinated by Ptolemy Ceraunus on landing in Europe. This marked the end of the Wars of the Diadochi.


His son and successor, Antiochus I Soter, was left with an enormous realm consisting of nearly all of the Asian portions of the Empire, but faced with Antigonus II Gonatas in Macedonia and Ptolemy II Philadelphus in Egypt, he proved unable to pick up where his father had left off in conquering the European portions of Alexander's empire.


278 BCE Jan 1

Gallic invasion

Antakya, Küçükdalyan, Antakya/


Gallic invasion
Gallic Invasion of Anatolia | ©Angus McBride


In 278 BC the Gauls broke into Anatolia, and a victory that Antiochus won over these Gauls by using Indian war elephants (275 BC) is said to have been the origin of his title of Soter (Greek for "saviour").


274 BCE Jan 1 - 271 BCE

First Syrian War

Syria


First Syrian War


A decade into his rule, Ptolemy II faced Antiochus I, the Seleucid king who was trying to expand his empire's holdings in Syria and Anatolia. Ptolemy proved to be a forceful ruler and skilled general. In addition, his recent marriage to his court-wise sister Arsinoe II of Egypt had stabilized the volatile Egyptian court, allowing Ptolemy to successfully carry out the campaign.


The First Syrian War was a major victory for the Ptolemies. Antiochus took the Ptolemaic controlled areas in coastal Syria and southern Anatolia in his initial rush. Ptolemy reconquered these territories by 271 BC, extending Ptolemaic rule as far as Caria and into most of Cilicia. With Ptolemy's eye focused eastward, his half-brother Magas declared his province of Cyrenaica to be independent. It would remain independent until 250 BC, when it was reabsorbed into the Ptolemaic Kingdom: but not before having triggered a sequence of Ptolemaic and Seleucid court intrigues, war and ultimately leading to the marriage of Theos and Berenice.


260 BCE Jan 1 - 253 BCE

Second Syrian War

Syria


Second Syrian War
| ©Sasha Otaku


Antiochus II succeeded his father in 261 BC, and thus began a new war for Syria. He reached an agreement with the current Antigonid king in Macedon, Antigonus II Gonatas, who was also interested in pushing Ptolemy II out of the Aegean. With Macedon's support, Antiochus II launched an attack on Ptolemaic outposts in Asia.


Most of the information about the Second Syrian War has been lost. It is clear that Antigonus' fleet defeated Ptolemy's at the Battle of Cos in 261 BC, diminishing Ptolemaic naval power. Ptolemy appears to have lost ground in Cilicia, Pamphylia, and Ionia, while Antiochus regained Miletus and Ephesus. Macedon's involvement in the war ceased when Antigonus became preoccupied by the rebellion of Corinth and Chalcis in 253 BC, possibly instigated by Ptolemy, as well as an increase in enemy activity along Macedon's northern frontier.


The war was concluded around 253 BC with the marriage of Antiochus to Ptolemy's daughter, Berenice Syra. Antiochus repudiated his previous wife, Laodice, and turned over substantial domain to her. He died in Ephesus in 246 BC, poisoned by Laodice according to some sources. Ptolemy II died in the same year.


246 BCE Jan 1 - 241 BCE

Third Syrian War

Syria


Third Syrian War
| ©Radu Oltean


Antiochus II's son Seleucus II Callinicus came to the throne around 246 BC. Seleucus II was soon dramatically defeated in the Third Syrian War against Ptolemy III of Egypt and then had to fight a civil war against his own brother Antiochus Hierax. Taking advantage of this distraction, Bactria and Parthia seceded from the empire. In Asia Minor too, the Seleucid dynasty seemed to be losing control: the Gauls had fully established themselves in Galatia, semi-independent semi-Hellenized kingdoms had sprung up in Bithynia, Pontus, and Cappadocia, and the city of Pergamum in the west was asserting its independence under the Attalid Dynasty. The Seleucid economy started to show the first signs of weakness, as Galatians gained independence and Pergamum took control of coastal cities in Anatolia. Consequently, they managed to partially block contact with the West.


245 BCE Jan 1

Breakup of Central Asian territories

Bactra, Afghanistan


Breakup of Central Asian territories
Bactrian Warrior | ©JFoliveras


Diodotus, governor for the Bactrian territory, asserted independence in around 245 BC, although the exact date is far from certain, to form the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom. This kingdom was characterized by a rich Hellenistic culture and was to continue its domination of Bactria until around 125 BC when it was overrun by the invasion of northern nomads. One of the Greco-Bactrian kings, Demetrius I of Bactria, invaded India around 180 BC to form the Indo-Greek Kingdoms.


The rulers of Persis, called Fratarakas, also seem to have established some level of independence from the Seleucids during the 3rd century BC, especially from the time of Vahbarz. They would later overtly take the title of Kings of Persis, before becoming vassals to the newly formed Parthian Empire.


238 BCE Jan 1

Parthia claims independence

Ashgabat, Turkmenistan


Parthia claims independence
Parthian Archers | ©Karwansaray Publishers


The Seleucid satrap of Parthia, named Andragoras, first claimed independence, in a parallel to the secession of his Bactrian neighbour. Soon after, however, a Parthian tribal chief called Arsaces invaded the Parthian territory around 238 BC to form the Arsacid dynasty, from which the Parthian Empire originated.


223 BCE Jan 1 - 191 BCE

Revival with Antiochus III the Great

Indus Valley, Pakistan


Revival with Antiochus III the Great
Alliance with Mauryans


A revival would begin when Seleucus II's younger son, Antiochus III the Great, took the throne in 223 BC. Although initially unsuccessful in the Fourth Syrian War against Egypt, which led to a defeat at the Battle of Raphia (217 BC), Antiochus would prove himself to be the greatest of the Seleucid rulers after Seleucus I himself. He spent the next ten years on his anabasis (journey) through the eastern parts of his domain and restoring rebellious vassals like Parthia and Greco-Bactria to at least nominal obedience. He gained many victories such as the Battle of Mount Labus and Battle of the Arius and besieged the Bactrian capital. He even emulated Seleucus with an expedition into India where he met with King Sophagasenus (Sanskrit: Subhagasena) receiving war elephants, perhaps in accordance of the existing treaty and alliance set after the Seleucid-Mauryan War.


219 BCE Jan 1 - 217 BCE

Fourth Syrian War

Syria


Fourth Syrian War


The Syrian Wars were a series of six wars between the Seleucid Empire and the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt, successor states to Alexander the Great's empire, during the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC over the region then called Coele-Syria, one of the few avenues into Egypt. These conflicts drained the material and manpower of both parties and led to their eventual destruction and conquest by Rome and Parthia. They are briefly mentioned in the biblical Books of the Maccabees.


217 BCE Jun 22

Battle of Raphia

Rafah


Battle of Raphia
The Battle of Raphia, 217 BC | ©Igor Dzis


The Battle of Raphia, also known as the Battle of Gaza, was fought on 22 June 217 BC near modern Rafah between the forces of Ptolemy IV Philopator, king and pharaoh of Ptolemaic Egypt and Antiochus III the Great of the Seleucid Empire during the Syrian Wars. It was one of the largest battles of the Hellenistic kingdoms and of the ancient world, and determined the sovereignty of Coele Syria.


202 BCE Jan 1 - 195 BCE

Fifth Syrian War

Syria


Fifth Syrian War


The death of Ptolemy IV in 204 BC was followed by a bloody conflict over the regency as his heir, Ptolemy V, was just a child. The conflict began with the murder of the dead king's wife and sister Arsinoë by the ministers Agothocles and Sosibius. The fate of Sosibius is unclear, but Agothocles seems to have held the regency for some time until he was lynched by the volatile Alexandrian mob. The regency was passed from one adviser to another, and the kingdom was in a state of near anarchy.


Seeking to take advantage of this turmoil, Antiochus III staged a second invasion of Coele-Syria. He convinced Philip V of Macedon to join the war and conquer the Ptolemies' territories in Asia Minor – actions which led to the Second Macedonian War between Macedon and the Romans. Antiochus quickly swept through the region. After a brief setback at Gaza, he delivered a crushing blow to the Ptolemies at the Battle of Panium near the head of the River Jordan which earned him the important port of Sidon.


In 200 BC, Roman emissaries came to Philip and Antiochus demanding that they refrain from invading Egypt. The Romans would suffer no disruption of the import of grain from Egypt, key to supporting the massive population in Italy. As neither monarch had planned to invade Egypt itself, they willingly complied to Rome's demands. Antiochus completed the subjugation of Coele-Syria in 198 BC and went on to raid Ptolemy's remaining coastal strongholds in Caria and Cilicia.


Problems at home led Ptolemy to seek a quick and disadvantageous conclusion. The nativist movement, which began before the war with the Egyptian Revolt and expanded with the support of Egyptian priests, created turmoil and sedition throughout the kingdom. Economic troubles led the Ptolemaic government to increase taxation, which in turn fed the nationalist fire. In order to focus on the home front, Ptolemy signed a conciliatory treaty with Antiochus in 195 BC, leaving the Seleucid king in possession of Coele-Syria and agreeing to marry Antiochus' daughter Cleopatra I.


192 BCE Jan 1 - 188 BCE

Roman–Seleucid War

Antakya, Küçükdalyan, Antakya/


Roman–Seleucid War
Roman–Seleucid War | ©Graham Sumner


Following the defeat of his erstwhile ally Philip by Rome in 197 BC, Antiochus saw the opportunity for expansion into Greece itself. Encouraged by the exiled Carthaginian general Hannibal, and making an alliance with the disgruntled Aetolian League, Antiochus launched an invasion across the Hellespont. With his huge army he aimed to establish the Seleucid empire as the foremost power in the Hellenic world, but these plans put the empire on a collision course with the new rising power of the Mediterranean, the Roman Republic. At the battles of Thermopylae (191 BC) and Magnesia (190 BC), Antiochus's forces suffered resounding defeats, and he was compelled to make peace and sign the Treaty of Apamea (188 BC), the main clause of which saw the Seleucids agree to pay a large indemnity, to retreat from Anatolia and to never again attempt to expand Seleucid territory west of the Taurus Mountains. The Kingdom of Pergamum and the Republic of Rhodes, Rome's allies in the war, gained the former Seleucid lands in Anatolia. Antiochus died in 187 BC on another expedition to the east, where he sought to extract money to pay the indemnity.


190 BCE Jan 1

Battle of Magnesia

Manisa, Yunusemre/Manisa, Turk


Battle of Magnesia
Seleucid calvary vs. Roman Infantry | ©Igor Dzis


The Battle of Magnesia was fought as part of the Roman–Seleucid War, pitting forces of the Roman Republic led by the consul Lucius Cornelius Scipio Asiaticus and the allied Kingdom of Pergamon under Eumenes II against a Seleucid army of Antiochus III the Great. The two armies initially camped north-east of Magnesia ad Sipylum in Asia Minor (modern-day Manisa, Turkey), attempting to provoke each other into a battle on favorable terrain for several days. When the battle finally began, Eumenes managed to throw the Seleucid left flank into disarray. While Antiochus' cavalry overpowered his adversaries on the right flank of the battlefield, his army's center collapsed before he could reinforce it. Modern estimates give 10,000 dead for the Seleucids and 5,000 killed for the Romans. The battle resulted in a decisive Roman-Pergamene victory, which led to the Treaty of Apamea, which ended Seleucid domination in Asia Minor.


167 BCE Jan 1 - 141 BCE

Maccabean Revolt

Palestine


Maccabean Revolt
Maccabean Revolt


The Maccabean Revolt was a Jewish rebellion led by the Maccabees against the Seleucid Empire and against Hellenistic influence on Jewish life. The main phase of the revolt lasted from 167–160 BCE and ended with the Seleucids in control of Judea, but conflict between the Maccabees, Hellenized Jews, and the Seleucids continued until 134 BCE, with the Maccabees eventually attaining independence.


Seleucid King Antiochus IV Epiphanes launched a massive campaign of repression against the Jewish religion in 168 BCE. The reason he did so is not entirely clear, but it seems to have been related to the King mistaking an internal conflict among the Jewish priesthood as a full-scale rebellion. Jewish practices were banned, Jerusalem was placed under direct Seleucid control, and the Second Temple in Jerusalem was made the site of a syncretic Pagan-Jewish cult. This repression triggered exactly the revolt that Antiochus IV had feared, with a group of Jewish fighters led by Judas Maccabeus (Judah Maccabee) and his family rebelling in 167 BCE and seeking independence.


The rebellion started as a guerrilla movement in the Judean countryside, raiding towns and terrorizing Greek officials far from direct Seleucid control, but it eventually developed a proper army capable of attacking the fortified Seleucid cities. In 164 BCE, the Maccabees captured Jerusalem, a significant early victory. The subsequent cleansing of the temple and rededication of the altar on 25 Kislev is the source of the festival of Hanukkah. The Seleucids eventually relented and unbanned Judaism, but the more radical Maccabees, not content with merely reestablishing Jewish practices under Seleucid rule, continued to fight, pushing for a more direct break with the Seleucids. Eventually, internal division among the Seleucids and problems elsewhere in their empire would give the Maccabees their chance for proper independence. An alliance with the Roman Republic helped guarantee their independence.


157 BCE Jan 1 - 63 BCE

Seleucid Dynastic Wars

Syria


Seleucid Dynastic Wars
Seleucid Dynastic Wars


The Seleucid Dynastic Wars were a series of wars of succession that were fought between competing branches of the Seleucid royal household for control of the Seleucid Empire. Beginning as a by-product of several succession crises that arose from the reigns of Seleucus IV Philopator and his brother Antiochus IV Epiphanes in the 170s and 160s, the wars typified the final years of the empire and were an important cause of its decline as a major power in the Near East and Hellenistic world. The last war ended with the collapse of the kingdom and its annexation by the Roman Republic in 63 BC.


The civil wars that characterized the later years of the Seleucid Empire had their origins in the defeat of Antiochus III the Great in the Roman–Seleucid War, under which the peace terms ensured that a representative of the Seleucid royal family was held in Rome as a hostage. Initially the future Antiochus IV Epiphanes was held hostage, but with the succession of his brother, Seleucus IV Philopator, in 187 and his apparent breaking of the Treaty of Apamea with Rome, Seleucus was forced to recall Antiochus to Syria and instead replace him with his son, the future Demetrius I Soter in 178 BC.


148 BCE Jan 1

Rise of the Arsacids

Mesopotamia, Iraq


Rise of the Arsacids
Seleucid–Parthian Wars | ©Angus McBride


Seleucid power began to weaken after the defeat of Antiochus III at the hands of the Romans at the Battle of Magnesia which effectively broke Seleucid power and in particular the Seleucid army. After this defeat, Antiochus began an expedition into Iran, but was killed in Elymaïs.The Arsacids then took power in Parthia and declared their full independence from the Seleucid Empire. In 148 BC, the Parthian king Mithridates I invaded Media which was already in revolt against the Seleucid empire, and in 141 BC the Parthians captured the major Seleucid city of Seleucia (which was the eastern capital of the Seleucid empire).These victories gave Mithridates control over Mesopotamia and Babylonia. In 139 BC the Parthians defeated a major Seleucid counterattack, breaking the Seleucid army, and captured the Seleucid King, Demetrius II, thus effectively ending Seleucid claims to any land east of the Euphrates river. In order to recover this territory, Antiochus VII Sidetes, launched a counter offensive against the Parthians in 130 BC, initially defeating them twice in battle. The Parthians sent a delegation to negotiate a peace agreement, but ultimately rejected the terms proposed by Antiochus. The Seleucid army was then dispersed into winter quarters. Seeing an opportunity to strike, the Parthians, under Phraates II, defeated and killed Antiochus at the Battle of Ecbatana in 129 BC, and proceeded to destroy and capture the rest of his massive army, thus ending the Seleucids' attempt to retake Persia.


129 BCE Jan 1

Battle of Ecbatana

Ecbatana, Hamadan Province, Ir


Battle of Ecbatana
Parthian cavalry | ©Angus McBride


The Battle of Ecbatana was fought in 129 BC between the Seleucids led by Antiochus VII Sidetes and the Parthians led by Phraates II, and marked the final attempt on the part of the Seleucids to regain their power in the east against the Parthians. After their defeat, the territory of the Seleucids was limited to the area of Syria.


100 BCE Jan 1 - 63 BCE

Collapse: Seleucid Empire becomes a rump state

Persia


Collapse: Seleucid Empire becomes a rump state
Seleucid army | ©Angus McBride


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 neighbours. In the wars in Anatolia between Mithridates VI of Pontus and Sulla of Rome, the Seleucids were largely left alone by both major combatants.


83 BCE Jan 1

Tigranes invades Syria

Syria


Tigranes invades Syria
King Tigranes II the Great


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 the Seleucid Empire virtually at an end.


69 BCE Jan 1 - 63 BCE

End of the Seleucid Empire

Antakya, Küçükdalyan, Antakya/


End of the Seleucid Empire


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 so, 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 with some degree of autonomy under local kings, Pompey saw the Seleucids as too troublesome to continue; doing away with both rival Seleucid princes, he made Syria into a Roman province.





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References



  • D. Engels, Benefactors, Kings, Rulers. Studies on the Seleukid Empire between East and West, Leuven, 2017 (Studia Hellenistica 57).
  • G. G. Aperghis, The Seleukid Royal Economy. The Finances and Financial Administration of the Seleukid Empire, Cambridge, 2004.
  • Grainger, John D. (2020) [1st pub. 2015]. The Seleucid Empire of Antiochus III. 223–187 BC (Paperback ed.). Barnsley: Pen and Sword. ISBN 978-1-52677-493-4.
  • Kosmin, Paul J. (2014). The Land of the Elephant Kings: Space, Territory, and Ideology in Seleucid Empire. Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-72882-0.
  • R. Oetjen (ed.), New Perspectives in Seleucid History, Archaeology and Numismatics: Studies in Honor of Getzel M. Cohen, Berlin – Boston: De Gruyter, 2020.
  • Michael J. Taylor, Antiochus the Great (Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2013).


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