Hellenistic Dynasties > Seleucid Dynasty

Seleucid Dynasty


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

The founder Seleucus (surnamed for later generations Nicator) was a Macedonian, the son of Antiochus, one of Philip's generals. Seleucus, as a young man of about twenty-three, accompanied Alexander into Asia in 333, and won distinction in the Indian campaign of 326. When the Macedonian empire was divided in 323 (the “Partition of Babylon”) Seleucus was given the office of chiliarch (Gr. χίλιοι, a thousand), which attached him closely to the person of the regent Perdiccas. Seleucus himself had a hand in the murder of Perdiccas in 321.

At the second partition, at Triparadisus (321), Seleucus was given the government of the Babylonian satrapy. In 316, when Antigonus had made himself master of the eastern provinces, Seleucus felt himself threatened and fled to Egypt. In the war which followed between Antigonus and the other Macedonian chiefs, Seleucus actively co-operated with Ptolemy and commanded Egyptian squadrons in the Aegean. The victory won by Ptolemy at Gaza in 312 opened the way for Seleucus to return to the east. His return to Babylon in that year was afterwards officially regarded as the beginning of the Seleucid empire. Master of Babylonia, Seleucus at once proceeded to wrest the neighbouring provinces of Persis, Susiana and Media from the nominees of Antigonus.

A raid into Babylonia conducted in 311 by Demetrius, son of Antigonus, did not seriously check Seleucus's progress. Whilst Antigonus was occupied in the west, Seleucus during nine years (311–302) brought under his authority the whole eastern part of Alexander's empire as far as the Jaxartes and Indus. In 305, after the extinction of the old royal line of Macedonia, Seleucus, like the other four principal Macedonian chiefs, assumed the style of king. His attempt, however, to restore Macedonian rule beyond the Indus, where the native Chandragupta had established himself, was not successful. Seleucus entered the Punjab, but felt himself obliged in 302 to conclude a peace with Chandragupta, by which he ceded large districts of Afghanistan in return for 500 elephants. The pressing need for Seleucus once more to take the field against Antigonus was at any rate in large measure the cause of his abandonment of India.

In 301 he joined Lysimachus in Asia Minor, and at Ipsus Antigonus fell before their combined power. A new partition of the empire followed, by which Seleucus added to his kingdom Syria, and perhaps some regions of Asia Minor. The possession of Syria gave him an opening to the Mediterranean, and he immediately founded here the new city of Antioch upon the Orontes as his chief seat of government. His previous capital had been the city of Seleucia which he had founded upon the Tigris (almost coinciding in site with Bagdad), and this continued to be the capital for the eastern satrapies. About 293 he installed his son Antiochus there as viceroy, the vast extent of the empire seeming to require a double government.

The capture of Demetrius in 285 added to Seleucus's prestige. The unpopularity of Lysimachus after the murder of Agathocles gave Seleucus an opportunity for removing his last rival. His intervention in the west was solicited by Ptolemy, Ceraunus, who, on the accession to the Egyptian throne of his brother Ptolemy II. (285), had at first taken refuge with Lysimachus and then with Seleucus. War between Seleucus and Lysimachus broke out, and on the field of Corupedion in Lydia Lysimachus fell (281). Seleucus now saw the whole empire of Alexander, Egypt alone excepted, in his hands, and moved to take possession of Macedonia and Thrace. He intended to leave Asia to Antiochus and content himself for the remainder of his days with the Macedonian kingdom in its old limits. He had, however, hardly crossed into the Chersonese when he was assassinated by Ptolemy Ceraunus near Lysimachia (281).

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

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


Primary Sources

Secondary Sources

1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 24

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