Cultures > Seleucid Empire

Seleucid Empire


The Seleucid Empire was born out of the massive empire of Alexander III the Great upon his death in Babylon in 323 BCE. Upon his death he left no viable male successors so his generals and officers began fighting among themselves in the Wars of the Diadochi over who should control the vast empire. After several early conflicts and incidents, the Seleucid Empire was firmly established in 312 BCE after the Partition of Babylon and left Seleucus I Nicator in control over Babylonia and the massive eastern portion of Alexanders Empire, the former Achaemenid Empire. He quickly moved to campaign much like Alexander had previously in order to reinforce his rule over the territory.

The Seleucid Dynasty would rule from 312 BCE to 63 BCE and would include all of Persia, Mesopotamia, the Levant and parts of India. The Seleucid Empire is important in bringing Greek culture to the areas it controlled, especially through the urban elite. The Seleucid Empire would later be defeated by the Roman Empire and Parthian Empire, ending the civilization right around the time when the common era begins. Much of the Seleucid Empire would later become part of the Byzantine Empire that formed in the wake of the collapse of the Roman Empire.


The Seleucid Empire was born out of Alexander the Great's mighty conquest through the known world. When Alexander had campaigned throughout Asia he founded cities along the way with many of his veterans and the indigenous populations. Through immigration these cities grew to become quite large in ancient times. After Alexander's death in 323 BCE his generals and officers all fought over who should govern the vast empire. During a series of wars and conflicts known as a Wars of the Diadochi, the Seleucid Empire was born out of the eastern portion the empire.

During the second division of Alexander's empire in 321 BCE, Seleucus I Nicator was given the satrapy of Babylon and through a series of engagements he established control over the entire eastern portion of Alexander's empire. In order to maintain control over the vast territory he had to campaign much like Alexander did to quell local tribal revolts. Seleucus ruled the territory briefly before he was forced to flee Babylon to the Ptolemaic Kingdom in Egypt when Antigonus I Monophthalmus invaded in 315 BCE. It was there that he and Ptolemy I plotted to fight Antigonus and take back the territory Seleucus lost. During the Battle of Gaza (305 BCE), the combined forces of Seleucus and Ptolemy emerged victorious over Antigonus. This allowed Seleucus to retake Babylon and reclaim the rest of Babylonia. During the following Battle of Ipsus, Seleucus was able to take over the rest of the eastern portion of Alexander's empire.

Having later defeated both Lysimachus and Demetrius I Poliorcetes for control over his empire, finally Seleucus's rule was cemented. Yet before he could enjoy his new empire, Seleucus was murdered in 281 BCE by the eldest son of Ptolemy while he was on his way to claim his new territories. While his successors were able to maintain control over his empire, there was some political instability that eventually saw the slow disintegration of the empire.

Throughout the reign of Antiochus I, Antiochus II Theos, Seleucus II Callincus and Seleucus III Caraunus, there was rebellions within the regions of Bythinia, Pergammum, Bactria and Parthia that would continue until the end of the empire.


Internal Strife

It is this disorganized and problematic empire that the eighteen year-old Antiochos III inherited in 223 BCE. Over the next 25 years he subdued most of the rebellious states in a great tour de force: He made his anabasis (difficult retreat) in the east successfully fighting Parthians and Bactrians, made a profitable treaty with the Indian ruler Sophagasenos and confirmed his superiority on rebellious subjects. He also made an expedition against the Gerrhaeans of the East Arabian coast in 204 BCE and defeated the Ptolemies twice which allowed him to take control of the highly valued Koile Syria near 198 BCE.Regrettably, he also led a war against Rome in the wake of his expansion in Anatolia, and despite the wise advice of the Carthaginian Hannibal Barca, which he decided not to follow, he was defeated at the Battle of Magnesia ad Sipylum in 190 BCE. The consequences of the disastrous peace treaty which followed led the kingdom into ruin, and Antiochos III died in 187 BCE during a campaign in the East.

Roman Empire

Antiochos III's death marked the end of the Seleucid Empire as a great power. The kingdom fell once more into dynastic struggles, and the eastern provinces were gradually lost due to rebellions and Parthian expansion. Much worse was the Roman interference in the Empire, largely influencing the dynastic quarrels and foreign policy, such as in 168 BCE when the Romans forced Antiochos IV to withdraw from the only successful Seleucid campaign in Egypt. The wild intrigues which characterized the last decades of the Seleucid Empire were ended by the invasion of the Armenian king Tigranes II in 83 BCE. Even if after Tigranes some rulers of Syria claimed to be Seleucid kings, they were no more than Roman vassals.

Collapse & Legacy

The Seleucid legacy in Asia was strong, because Hellenism was established in Asia during two centuries of Seleucid rule. The method of dating years in Asia, for example, was called the Seleucid Era, beginning at the return of Seleucos I to Babylon in 311 BCE, which was continued to be used as late as the 6th century CE. In fact, the Seleucid legacy lasted throughout Roman, Parthian and Sassanid dominion until the Arabian invasions of the 7th century CE introduced Islam.


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