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Seleucid Empire

The Seleucid Empire was one of several political states founded after the death of Alexander the Great, whose generals squabbled over the division of Alexander's empire.

There were over 30 kings of the Seleucid dynasty from 323 to 60 BC.


The partition of Alexander's empire (323-281 BC)

Alexander the Great left an expansive empire of Persio-Greek culture to his successors (the Diadochi or Diadochoi), who jostled for supremacy over portions of his empire.

The empire was divided into three major portions, controlled by the descendants of Ptolemy Soter in Egypt, Antigonus Monopthalmos (literally "One-eyed") in Greece, and Seleucus in the Mideast.

The Seleucid Empire, was founded in 312 BC by Seleucus I Nicator and had its initial capital at Babylon. It controlled a large region including modern-day Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Mesopotamia, Persia, and Bactria (eastward to the Indus River).

By about 281 BC, only two dynasties remained in Alexander's old empire — the Seleucid dynasty in the east and the Ptolemaic dynasty in the south.

Invasion and loss of India (304 BC)

Seleucus invaded India (modern Punjab in northern India and Pakistan) in 304 B.C., which was then the Mauryan empire ruled by Chandragupta Maurya. It is said that Chandragupta put an army of 100,000 men and 9,000 war elephants and forced Seleucus to conclude an alliance and to give him his daughter in marriage.

Seleucus sent an ambassador named Megasthenes to Chandragupta's court, who repeatedly visited Pataliputra (modern Patna in Bihar state), capital of Chandragupta. Megasthenes has written detailed descriptions of India and Chandragupta's reign.

Death of Seleucus I (281 BC)

Other territories were lost (Gedrosia on the coast of the Arabian Sea and Arachosia on the west of the Indus River) until Seleucus was assassinated in 281 B.C. The Seleucid Empire disintegrated soon after into Parthia (Arsaces as King), Syria (Antiochus I as king) and Bactria (Diodotus as king).

Greco-Bactrian secession (250 BC)

Diodotus, who was governor for the Bactrian territory, asserted independence in 250 BC 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 B.C., when it was overrun by the invasion of northern nomads. One of the Greco-Bactrian kings, Demetrius I of Bactria, invaded India from 180 B.C. to form the Greco-Indian kingdom, which was to last until 1 B.C.

Parthian secession (250 BC)

A Parthian tribal chief called Arsaces took over the Parthian territory of the Seleucid Empire around 250 B.C. as well, to form the Arsacid Dynasty, starting point of the powerful Parthian Empire.

Greek and Judean campaigns (198 BC)

Antiochus III the Great is considered the greatest of the Seleucid monarchs, but his campaigns in Greece in 192 BC attracted the attention of the Roman Republic, which exacted punitive war indemnities.

Antiochus and Philip V of Macedon made a compact to divide the Ptolemaic possessions overseas and the Seleucids ousted Ptolemy V from control of the former Kingdoms of Judah and Israel (which had been occupied for 400 years by Babylonians and then Persians until the conquests of Alexander). The Battle of Panium (198) definitely transferred these holdings from the Ptolemies to the Seleucids.

His successor, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, ascended the throne in 180 BC, but his attempt to outlaw the observance of Judaism precipitated armed rebellion led by Jewish zealots known as the Maccabees. The Hasmonean Jewish Kingdom was established in 166 BC, and in 142 BC the Seleucids recognized Jewish autonomy. (See also: Hanukkah).

End of the Empire

The Seleucids subsequently declined after generations of intra-dynastic warfare and in the face of the waxing power of the Roman Republic and Roman Empire, which grew to incorporate the Seleucid Empire. The Seleucid dynasty itself eventually vanished in the mid-1st century BC.

In modern media

The Seleucid Empire is one of a number of factions in the 2004 PC game Rome: Total War.

See also:

Last updated: 08-18-2005 20:22:31