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Near East Kingdoms

Ancient Syria


Seleucid (Hellenic) Empire
305 - 63 BC

The Hellenic empire was created by Alexander the Great, king of Macedonia, in his conquests between 334-326 BC. Essentially it encompassed all of the territory which was now under Macedonian control, from Greece to India, and was the largest empire the world had seen at the time. Alexander rarely paused in extending its borders, especially in his eastwards exploration even though his army felt that enough was enough and forced an about-turn. The unexpected death of Alexander in 323 BC changed the situation dramatically.

Immediately his generals divided the empire between them. Seleucus I gained a huge swathe of territory from Lydia in western Anatolia through the Near East (including Syria, Phoenicia, and Mesopotamia), and Armenia, towards the farthest eastern reaches of the empire, through Media and Persis and over to Bactria.

The capital was initially at Babylon, the heartland of the former Achaemenid empire which had preceded it but, like that empire, this one contained such a mix of peoples and languages that it was rarely a united entity. Gradual losses of territory over subsequent decades drove the Seleucid heartland westwards. The capital had to be transferred to Antioch on the Orontes (Syrian Antioch), which was founded around 300 BC and was renamed after one of the later Seleucid kings. More territory was hived away by resurgent subject groups or new empires and splinter states, and the Seleucids were eventually bottled up in Syria, with enemies all around them.

In some ways the Greeks were their own worst enemy. Their culture bore some similarities with that of their Indo-European cousins, the Celts, in that they would seemingly fight anyone, especially each other. Partially symptomatic of a culture which did not especially set out laws and which did not especially respect any laws which were set out, Greek history is rife with rebellions, pretenders, and civil wars, so much so that towards the end of the Hellenic period they essentially self-destructed their empires, effectively handing them over to Rome to replace them as the dominant force in the ancient world.

The ruins of Alalakh in Syria

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from Jewish War & Jewish Antiquities, Flavius Josephus, from Alexander the Great: A Reader, Ian Worthington (Routledge, 2012), from Bibliotheca Historica, Diodorus Siculus, from Historiae Alexandri Magni, Quintus Curtius Rufus, from Anabasis Alexandri, Arrian of Nicomedia, from The Generalship of Alexander the Great, J F C Fuller, from the Historical Dictionary of Ancient Greek Warfare, J Woronoff & I Spence, from Who's Who in the Age of Alexander the Great: Prosopography of Alexander's Empire, Waldemar Heckel (Ed), from The Histories, Herodotus (Penguin, 1996), from The Persian Empire, J M Cook (1983), and from External Links: Encyclopædia Britannica, and Diodorus of Sicily at the Library of World History (dead link).)

Argead Dynasty in Syria & Babylonia (Seleucids)

The Argead were the ruling family and founders of Macedonia who reached their greatest extent under Alexander the Great and his two successors before the kingdom broke up into several Hellenic sections. Following Alexander's conquest of central and eastern Persia in 331-328 BC, the Greek empire ruled the region until Alexander's death in 323 BC and the subsequent regency period which ended in 310 BC.

Alexander's successors held no real power, being mere figureheads for the generals who really held control of Alexander's empire. Following that latter period and during the course of several wars, Babylonia was left in the hands of the Seleucid empire from 319 BC.

The city and its regions were not unknown to the Greeks. Even during the Achaemenid period many Greeks travelled here, some as traders, some as Persian military allies and some, like Herodotus, on journeys of exploration. There seems not to have been a Greek community in Babylon before the Argead conquest, however. Herodotus appears to have had trouble in finding enough information to properly fill out his Babylonian entry.

Alexander the Great

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Jewish War & Jewish Antiquities, Flavius Josephus, from The Persian Empire, J M Cook (1983), from The Histories, Herodotus (Penguin, 1996), from the Cyropaedia & Anabasis, Xenophon of Athens, from The Cambridge Ancient History, John Boardman, N G L Hammond, D M Lewis, & M Ostwald (Eds), from Ancient and Modern Assyrians: A Scientific Analysis, George V Yana (Xlibris Corporation, 2008), from Brill's Companion to Alexander the Great, Joseph Roisman (BRILL, 2002), and from External Links: Encyclopædia Britannica, and Appian's History of Rome: The Syrian Wars at Livius.org, and Diodorus of Sicily at the Library of World History (dead link), and Encyclopaedia Iranica, and the Nabonidus Chronicle, contained within Assyrian and Babylonian Chronicles, A K Grayson (Translation, 1975 & 2000, and now available via Livius in an improved version).)

332 - 323 BC

Alexander III the Great

King of Macedonia. Conquered Persia.

323 - 317 BC

Philip III Arrhidaeus

Feeble-minded half-brother of Alexander the Great.

317 - 310 BC

Alexander IV of Macedonia

Infant son of Alexander the Great and Roxana.

332 - 328 BC

Mazaeus / Mazdai

Satrap of Babylonia. Former Persian satrap of Athura. Died.

328 - 323 BC


Satrap of Babylonia (and Mesopotamia?). Died?

323 - 320 BC


Satrap of Babylonia (323 BC). Replaced by Seleucus Nicator.

323 - 322 BC

Upon Alexander's death, Antigonus is appointed governor of Phoenicia, Cappadocia, Harran, Lycia, Pamphylia, Paphlagonia, and Pergamon. Susiana is presumably governed by Archon, who holds Babylonia in the name of the titular successors to the empire.

Map of Central Asia & Eastern Mediterranean 334-323 BC
The route of Alexander's ongoing campaigns are shown in this map, with them leading him from Europe to Egypt, into Persia, and across the vastness of eastern Iran as far as the Pamir mountain range (click or tap on map to view full sized)

322 - 320 BC

The First War of the Diadochi (the successors - the generals of Alexander's army) sees civil war break out between the generals, and Perdiccas, regent of Macedonia, is murdered by his own generals during an invasion of Egypt. Alexander's successor, Philip III, agrees terms with the murdering generals and appoints them as regents.

A new agreement with Antipater makes him regent of the Macedonian empire and commander of the European section. Antigonus remains in charge of Lycia and Pamphylia, to which is added Lycaonia, Syria and Canaan, making him commander of the Asian section.

Ptolemy retains Egypt, Lysimachus retains Phrygia and Thrace, while the three murderers of Perdiccas - Seleucus, Peithon, and Antigenes - are given the former Persian provinces of Babylonia, Media, and Susiana respectively. Arrhidaeus, the former regent, receives Hellespontine Phrygia.

319 - 315 BC


Satrap of Babylonia. Forced to flee Babylonia.

319 - 315 BC

The death of Antipater leads to the Second War of the Diadochi. Philip III is killed by his stepmother, Olympias, in 317 BC with her being killed by Cassander the following year. Cassander also captures Alexander IV and Roxana and installs a governor in Athens, subsuming its democratic system.

Eumenes is defeated in Asia and is murdered by his own troops, and Seleucus is forced to flee Babylon by Antigonus. In anger at that escape, Antigonus deposes Blitor, satrap of Mesopotamia (showing that the offices of Babylon and Mesopotamia have been detached from one another).

Eumenes of Cardia
Eumenes of Cardia, Macedonian general and one of Alexander the Great's 'successors' between whom a series of wars were fought

The result is that Cassander controls the European territories (including Macedonia), while Antigonus controls those in Asia (Asia Minor, centred on Antigonid Phrygia and extending as far as Susiana). Polyperchon remains in control of part of the Peloponnese.

315 - 312 BC

Antigonus Monophthalmus (One Eye)

Satrap of Babylonia. Surrendered Babylonia.

314 - 311 BC

The Third War of the Diadochi results because the Antigonids have grown too powerful in the eyes of the other generals, so Antigonus and his son are attacked by Ptolemy (of Egypt), Lysimachus (Phrygia and Thrace), Cassander (of Macedonia), and Seleucus (who is hoping to regain Babylonia). The latter indeed does secure Babylon and the others conclude peace terms with Antigonus in 311 BC. Antigonus' appointment as satrap of Media, Nicanor, is removed from his post by Seleucus.

312 - 305 BC


Satrap of Babylonia again. Became king (305 BC).

308 - 301 BC

The Fourth War of the Diadochi soon breaks out. In 306 BC Antigonus proclaims himself king, so the following year the other generals do the same in their domains. Polyperchon, otherwise quiet in his stronghold in the Peloponnese, dies in 303 BC and Cassander claims his territory. The war ends in the death of Antigonus at the Battle of Ipsus in 301 BC. Seleucus is now king of all Hellenic territory from Syria eastwards in the form of his Seleucid empire.

Battle of Ipsus
The Battle of Ipsus in 301 BC ended the drawn-out and destructive Wars of the Diadochi which decided how Alexander's empire would be divided

Seleucid Dynasty (in Syria & Babylonia)
305 - 63 BC

Seleucus fought a number of wars as the Greek empire fragmented in order to secure his own hold on power. In 312 BC he regained Babylon from the Antigonid empire and safely held it while Antigonus tried to retrieve it (until 309 BC). After that Seleucus was able to expand his holdings with some ruthlessness, building up his stock of Alexander's far eastern regions as far as the borders of India and the River Indus.

Seleucus was able to expand his holdings with some ruthlessness, building up his stock of Alexander's far eastern regions as far as the borders of India and the River Indus (Sindh). Appian's work, The Syrian Wars, provides a detailed list of these regions, which included Arabia, Arachosia, Aria, Armenia, Bactria, 'Seleucid' Cappadocia (as it was known) by 301 BC, Carmania, Cilicia (eventually), Drangiana, Gedrosia, Hyrcania, Media, Mesopotamia, Paropamisadae, Parthia, Persis, Sogdiana, and Tapouria (a small satrapy beyond Hyrcania), plus eastern areas of Phrygia.

The final of these wars was the Fourth War of the Diadochi ('successors', these being Alexander's generals), which followed the murder of Alexander IV and helped to set Seleucus' own borders. When Antigonus proclaimed himself king in 306 BC, all the other surviving generals followed suit, confirming the dismantling of the empire into various regional domains. The stage was set for the final showdown at the Battle of Ipsus, which left Antigonus and Lysimachus defeated and Seleucus virtually unchallenged between Anatolia and Central Asia.

Second century BC Greeks in internecine strife

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from The Marshals of Alexander's Empire, Waldemar Heckel, from Jewish War & Jewish Antiquities, Flavius Josephus, from Revised Chronology for the Late Seleucids at Antioch, O Hoover, and from External Links: University of Leicester, and Listverse, and Virtual Religion: Into His Own, and Encyclopædia Britannica, and Appian's History of Rome: The Syrian Wars at Livius.org, and Diodorus of Sicily at the Library of World History.)

305 - 281 BC

Seleucus I Nicator

A general of Alexander. Satrap 320-305 BC. Assassinated.

c.305 BC

Seleucus founds the city of Seleucia in Mesopotamia by massively rebuilding and expanding an existing settlement. Alternatively known as Seleucia-on-Tigris. The city soon provides nearby Babylon with a major competitor and the latter begins to decline and empty, leading to its eventual abandonment.

Ruins of Lyrba
The site of this ancient city in the Pamphylia region (now in Turkey) is sometimes claimed as being Seleucia - clearly far away from the site of Seleucia-on-Tigris (close to modern Baghdad) - although linking the ruins to the city of Lyrba has much more widespread acceptance

305 - 303 BC

Following two years of war on the far eastern border of his empire while he attempts a Greek reconquest of India, Strabo records that Seleucus concedes the Indo-Greek provinces to the ruling Mauryans as part of an alliance agreement.

This includes the regions of Paropamisadae (immediately to the east of Bactria, covering northern Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan), Arachosia (modern southern Afghanistan and northern and central Pakistan, and perhaps extending as far as the Indus), along with northern Indus (Punjab) and probably also southern Indus. Subsequent relations between the Greeks and the Mauryans appear to be cordial. Seleucus even appoints Megasthenes as his ambassador to Chandragupta's court.

c.301 BC

Cappadocia is gained upon the death of Antigonus at the Battle of Ipsus and the termination of his Antigonid empire. The son of Cappadocia's former king, Ariarathes, recovers his father's kingdom and rules under the aegis of Seleucid overlordship. This leads to Cappadocian independence around 260 BC. Susiana in the former land of Elam is also taken, confirming Seleucid domination of what is now south-western Iran.

c.300 BC

The city of Europos is founded by the Seleucid empire, at a point in time soon after Alexander had overthrown Achaemenid Persia and possibly a little before 300 BC. It is alternatively known to local people as Dura, 'the fortress' (the modern compound name Dura-Europos is not used by the ancients). In the same year Seleucus founds the city of Antioch on the Orontes (Syrian Antioch).

The city of Dura-Europos was founded around 300 BC by the Seleucid Greeks, seized by the Arsacid Parthians and then by the Romans, and was then destroyed almost six hundred years after its creation by a drawn-out border conflict between Rome and the Sassanids

281 BC

Ptolemy II is the eldest son of Ptolemy of Egypt (it had been his younger brother who had ascended the Egyptian throne as Ptolemy II in 285 BC), and stays at the court of Lysimachus until the king is killed by Seleucus, who is hoping to extend his Asian empire. Killing Seleucus in return, Ptolemy agrees an alliance with Pyrrhus of Epirus and marries Lysimachus' widow, Arsinoë, to gain the throne. Then he kills Arsinoë's two sons for conspiracy against him and Arsinoë flees to Egypt to seek protection from her brother-in-law.

280 - 261 BC

Antiochus I Soter 'Saviour'

Son Half-Persian. Antiochus is pronounced 'An-ty-o-kus'.

c.275 - 268/7 BC


Eldest son. Viceroy in the east. Put to death.

275 BC

The Galatians seem to be expanding the territory they command, presenting a growing threat to the eastern kingdoms in Anatolia. To prevent a possible incursion into his territory, Antiochus I attacks the Galatians from the east. Defeating them at the Battle of the Elephants, he pushes back their borders and, allegedly, gains the title 'soter' (meaning 'saviour') thanks to his victory. Late in the same year, the First Syrian War is fought between Antiochus and Ptolemy II of Egypt, but little is achieved by it other than perhaps ending the independence of Idumaea.

Southern coast of the Black Sea
Like the Kaskans and Paphlagonians before them, the Gauls of Galatia would have struggled to survive in the somewhat hard conditions of the Black Sea's southern coast

267 BC

The Chremonidean War is fought in Greece between a coalition of Greek city states led by Athens and Sparta who are fighting for the restoration of their independence from Macedonian influence. They are aided by the Ptolemaic Egyptians who are naturally threatened not only by Antigonus' apparently peaceful rule of Greece, but by his friendship with Antiochus I.

Although Antiochus had signed a treaty with Egypt, his son-in-law, Magas, king of Cyrene, persuades him to take advantage of the war to attack Egypt. Ptolemy pre-empts him, landing a force of freebooters in the Seleucid lands which keeps the king occupied.

Around the same time, Antiochus is forced to put his elder son to death following the latter's attempted rebellion. Seleucus had been first in line to succeed his father as the Seleucid king before throwing away his status and position.

c.262 BC

Antiochus attempts to break the growing power of Pergamon. He engages the forces of Eumenes I in battle near Sardis but is defeated and dies soon afterwards. The reason for his death seems unknown but battle wounds could be a reasonable cause.

Pergamon ruins
Pergamon rose to prominence during the years of division in the Greek empire following the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC when his empire was divided among his generals - now it worked in tandem with Cappadocia

261 - 247 BC

Antiochus II Theos / Anityoka

Second son of Antiochus I. Murdered by first wife, Laodice.

261 - 256 BC

The interference by Ptolemy of Egypt continues, triggering the Second Syrian War. Antigonus II of Macedonia and Antiochus II team up to combine their attacks. Egypt loses ground in Anatolia and Phoenicia, and is forced to cede lands which include its ally, the city of Miletus. Antiochus gains his epithet, 'Theos' ('god') for killing Timarchus, the tyrant of Miletus. Cappadocia restores its independence during this period, but this doesn't prevent its ruler, Ariarathes III, from marrying the daughter of Antiochus II.

However, towards the end of the war gradual incursions by Parthian tribesmen from the obscurity of the Iranian Plateau to the north-eastern of Persis now cuts off the Seleucids from their eastern provinces, and around the same time the Macedonian satraps of Bactria and Parthia declare their independence - possibly Parthia first, and then Bactria, having seen that this is a loss which Antiochus is unlikely to be able to put right.

248 BC

Having gradually taken territory from the independent Greek ruler of Parthia, the Parni Arsacids found a fully independent Arsacid kingdom in 248/247 BC. This results in a gradual diminution of the Seleucid control of Persia and Mesopotamia. If Antiochus has been able to retain any lines of communication with Bactria up until now, they are cut.

Iranian Plateau
The Parni emerged from the Iranian Plateau which forms a vast stretch of territory from the Zagros Mountains to the west and extending as far as Pakistan to the east - this section is at Jaghori, now in northern central Afghanistan

246 BC

The Third Syrian War, also known as the Laodicean War, is a succession dispute between the two wives of the late Antiochus II. The repudiated Laodice and Berenice Syra, daughter of Ptolemy II of Egypt, both claim the throne for their sons. Berenice's brother, Ptolemy III, embarks on a journey to Antioch to support her claim but by the time he arrives she and her child have been assassinated. Laodice has already had her son, Seleucus II, enthroned.

246 - 226 BC

Seleucus II Callinicus Pogon 'Bearded'

Son of Antiochus II and Laodice. Killed falling from horse.

246 - 241 BC

Ptolemy III declares war on Seleucus II and enjoys a great deal of success on campaign as a continuation of the Third Syrian War. Following major victories in battle he briefly occupies Antioch and also Babylon. Secure away from the coastal regions, Seleucus is distracted by his domineering mother, who forces him to accept his younger brother, Antiochus Hierax, as a co-regent and governor of regions in Anatolia.

Perhaps typically of Greek rule after the death of Alexander the Great, Antiochus immediately declares his independence of Antioch, and Seleucus has to sue for peace with Ptolemy in 241 BC. Egypt gains more Seleucid territory along Syria's northern coast (including Seleucia Pieria). Lycia would also seem to be included in this transfer.

Babylon in 3D
Despite its gradual relegation as a place of importance in the face of the Greek preference for Seleucia, the ancient and great city of Babylon was still of huge importance in Mesopotamia, as can be seen in this unknown artist's impression of the city (click or tap on image to view full sized)

c.246 - 229 BC

Antiochus Heirax / 'Antiochus III'

Brother and co-regent. Declared independence in Anatolia.

235 - 229 BC

Antiochus Heirax - together with Mithradates of Pontus - continues his campaign to wrest the empire from his brother by defeating him at the Battle of Ancyra in 235 BC, leaving Anatolia outside of Seleucid power. Seleucus then marches into Parthia, intent on regaining that, but is forced to be satisfied with a peace agreement. Arsaces I is recognised as king of Parthia.

The tide of defeats turns thank to Attalus I of Pergamon, who is instrumental in foiling the ambitions of Antiochus Heirax, especially when he is victorious at the Battle of Harpasus in 229 BC. Antiochus is forced out of Anatolia and eventually ends up in Egypt (where he is killed by robbers around 226 BC - although Thrace has also been mentioned as his final refuge).

226 - 223 BC

Seleucus III Ceraunus 'Thunderbolt'

Son of Seleucus II. Named Alexander at birth. Assassinated.

223 BC

Seleucus is campaigning for the second time in his reign against Attalus I of Pergamon as part of the ongoing struggle to recover control of Anatolia. For whatever reason he is assassinated by generals in his army, perhaps due to his poor showing on the battlefield. The Seleucid empire is in a perilously weak position.

223 - 187 BC

Antiochus III Basileus Megas 'the Great'

Brother. Aged 18 at accession. Murdered collecting tribute.

223 - 220 BC

Antiochus sets about rebuilding the Seleucid empire which is shown to be very weak at this time. Media and Persis immediately stage a joint rebellion in 223 BC under their satraps, the brothers Molon and Alexander. Ill-advised in the matter, Antiochus sends generals east to deal with them while he embarks on a farcical attack on Egypt to regain lost territory in the south. Both campaigns end in utter defeat. In the north, Achaeus, Antiochus' cousin, records the only immediate success by forcing Pergamon back to its original borders.

Ecbatana was the capital of Media, a prized possession of the Seleucid empire and one which had to be regained upon the event of a revolt - this view shows the surviving ancient walls in modern Hamadan in Iran

Antiochus deals personally with the eastern rebellion in 221 BC. It collapses in the face of his advance, with Molon's forces deserting him. Lesser Media under another rebel, Artabazanes, also buckles and Atropatene in north-western Media is captured. In Anatolia, Achaeus now rebels (in 220 BC), proclaiming himself king in Anatolia in the fashion of Antiochus Heirax before him. Antiochus is not yet strong enough to face him and a revolt within his own forces prevents him from advancing southwards.

220 - 214 BC


Cousin. Declared independence in Anatolia. Executed.

219 - 217 BC

The Fourth Syrian War involves Antiochus fighting the Egyptian Ptolemy IV for control of their mutual border. Troops from Carmania are involved on the Seleucid side. Antiochus recaptures Seleucia Pieria, Tyre, and other important Phoenician cities and their Mediterranean ports, but is fought to a draw at Raphia on Syria's southernmost edge. The subsequent peace treaty sees all the gains other than Seleucia Pieria relinquished.

216 - 209 BC

Now strong enough to face his cousin, Antiochus is able to march his forces into western Anatolia. By 214 BC Achaeus has been driven back to Sardis where he is captured and executed. The citadel itself is able to hold out until 213 BC under Achaeus' widow Laodice. Central Anatolia has been recovered but several regional dynasties persist in Bithynia, Cappadocia, and Pergamon.

Ptolemy III Euergetes
Ptolemy Euergetes increased Egyptian imperial borders at the expense of Seleucid Syria, something which few of his successors were ever able to manage, which also allowed Cappadocia some extra freedoms

Rather than try his hand against these, Antiochus concentrates on the northern and eastern provinces of the empire. Xerxes of Armenia is persuaded to acknowledge his supremacy in 212 BC, while in 209 BC Antiochus invades Parthia. Its capital, Hecatompylos, is occupied and Antiochus forces his way into Hyrcania, with the result that the Parthian king, Arsaces II, is forced to sue for peace.

208 - 205 BC

Buoyed by his successes in the east, Antiochus continues on to Bactria. This independent former satrapy is now ruled by Euthydemus Theos after he has deposed the son of the original ruler. Euthydemus is defeated at the Battle of the Arius but resists a two-year siege of the fortified capital, Bactra. Antiochus offers him an honourable peace and promises the hand of one of his daughters to Euthydemus' son (and eventual successor), Demetrius.

In 206 BC Antiochus marches across the Hindu Kush into the Kabul Valley and renews ties of friendship with an Indian king by the name of Sophagasenos. This king is otherwise completely unknown and cannot be matched with any more certain Indian rulers. Instead, given the location it seems that he may be a local ruler, perhaps in post- Mauryan Paropamisadae before it is seized by the Indo-Greek kingdom.

The return journey proceeds through the Iranian provinces of Arachosia, Drangiana, and Carmania. Antiochus arrives in Persis in 205 BC and receives tribute of five hundred talents of silver from the citizens of Gerrha, a mercantile state on the east coast of the Persian Gulf. Having re-established a strong Seleucid presence in the east which includes an array of vassal states, Antiochus now adopts the ancient Achaemenid title of 'great king', which the Greeks copy by referring to him as 'Basileus Megas'.

Map of Bactria and India 200 BC
The kingdom of Bactria (shown in white) was at the height of its power around 200-180 BC, with fresh conquests being made in the south-east, encroaching into India just as the Mauryan empire was on the verge of collapse (click or tap on map to view full sized)

200 - 196 BC

The Second Macedonian War (200-196 BC) is triggered by claims made by Pergamon and Rhodes of a secret treaty between Macedonia and the Seleucid empire which is designed to carve up Egypt's possessions. Rome launches an attack against Philip V of Macedonia and after a spell of indecisive conflict, Philip is defeated at the Battle of Cynoscephalae in 197 BC, while his general, Androsthenes, is defeated near Corinth.

The Macedonian army is drastically reduced in size as a result of the defeat, and Philip's standing as an important Greek king is greatly diminished.

To achieve his part of the treaty, Antiochus invades Coele Syria as part of the Fifth Syrian War and defeats Ptolemaic General Scopas at Panion near the source of the River Jordan in 200 BC. This gains him control of Judah and Phoenicia (which includes the city of Miletus), and Antiochus grants special rights to the Jewish temple state.

Then, refusing to support Philip of Macedonia, he marches against Egypt, as well as occupying parts of Pergamon (in 198 BC and Greek cities in Anatolia in 197 BC). The campaign ends in a peace deal in 195 BC which gains for Antiochus permanent possession after a century of fighting of southern Syria (which includes Idumaea, while Ammon breaks away from the empire), and also of Egyptian territories in Anatolia (which include Lycia). In return Antiochus gives his daughter, Cleopatra, in marriage to Ptolemy V of Egypt, which is now little more than a Seleucid protectorate.

192 - 191 BC

Rome's part in the Second Macedonian War has resulted in a gradual build-up of animosity between them and the eastern Greeks. The Greek Achaean League, along with Macedonia, Pergamon, and Rhodes, has allied itself to Rome, but the Aetolians call for Antiochus to liberate them from Roman interference.

Roman silver dinarius
Pictured here are both sides of a Roman silver dinarius from the official mint, dated to around 146 BC - the mounted attacker on the reverse accompanied by his dog is fairly typical as Roman troops would often bring their mastiffs along with them so that, while the soldier was fighting the enemy above with spear and long knife, their dogs would be biting the enemy's legs from below

Antiochus invades Greece, and is elected commander-in-chief of the Aetolian League. He declares himself to be the 'champion of Greek freedom against Roman domination', and wages war against the Roman republic in mainland Greece.

Ultimately he is defeated by Roman troops under the command of Manius Acilius Glabrio at Thermopylae in 191 BC, which forces him to withdraw to Anatolia. Rome is subsequently drawn further into Asia as an ally of Pergamon where it opposes the armies of Antiochus and his allies, the Galatian Celts. Antiochus appears to have enlisted the support of the Galatians through a mixture of threats and promises and he makes extensive use of Celtic troops.

190 - 188 BC

Antiochus and Rome fight each other at the Battle of Magnesia ad Sipylum in 190 BC. The Seleucids rely heavily on the Galatians, especially their cavalry, but the Romans under Scipio Asiaticus win a resounding victory, ending the Seleucid War. Anatolia (Asia Minor) is taken as a Roman province in 188 BC.

The Seleucid ally, Cappadocia, negotiates friendly terms with Rome, notably because Stratonice, the king's daughter, is about to marry the king of Pergamon, a Roman ally. Lydia and Pamphylia are probably lost to Pergamon at the same time, while Seleucid Lycia is awarded to Rhodes. Rome's enforced Treaty of Apamea in 188 BC has denuded the Seleucid empire of all of its Anatolian holdings bar Cilicia. It is reduced to Syria, Mesopotamia and Babylonia, Judah, and western Iran.

187 - 175 BC

Seleucus IV Philopator

Son of Antiochus III.

185 BC

Seleucus loses eastern Iran to Parthian expansion in a reign which is otherwise uneventful, mostly due to the disastrous defeat of 188 BC. He is assassinated by his own chief minister, Heliodorus, who attempts to seize the throne himself, only to be dealt with by Antiochus IV, brother of Seleucus, immediately after his return as a hostage from Rome.

Philip V of Macedonia
This silver tetradrachm bears the head of Philip V of Macedonia (the former Seleucid homeland), one of its great later kings and a contemporary of Seleucus IV Philopator, but also the cause of Roman intervention into Macedonian affairs

175 BC


Former chief minister. Usurper. Ousted very quickly.

175 - 164 BC

Antiochus IV Epiphanes 'God Manifest'

Brother of Seleucus IV.

175 - 172 BC

As well as founding many cities and colonies across the empire, Antiochus also introduces a steady Hellenisation of the empire, especially of its oriental (eastern) peoples. Various eastern temple organisation are riled by this, and none more so than that of Judah. They are loath to relinquish the relative freedoms which they have enjoyed since the time of Antiochus III.

At this time they are divided into two parties, the orthodox Hasideans (the 'Pious Ones') and a reform party which favours Hellenism. Antiochus supports the reform party and, in return for a hefty payment, he permits the high priest, Jason, to build a gymnasium in Jerusalem and to introduce Greek-influenced education. In 172 BC Menelaus is appointed in Jason's place (in return for even more payment).

170 - 168 BC

During the recent usurpation period, Egyptian had taken advantage by laying claim to Coele Syria, Judah, and Phoenicia. Both parties had appealed for help to Rome, showing how degraded their own sense of authority has become.

The situation is not resolved by 170 BC so Antiochus mounts a pre-emptive attack on Egypt, triggering the Sixth Syrian War. Pelusium is taken after the first battle and much of Egypt is occupied in 169 BC, apart from Alexandria. Rather than attempt to depose the child-king Ptolemy VI and anger Rome, Antiochus installs himself as his guardian or regent.

Roman consuls
Rome's republic was usually headed by two consuls and the Senate, but on a very few occasions the post was replaced, usually by military appointments

While Antiochus refuses to support Perseus of Macedonia in the Third Macedonian War, urged on by the citizens of Alexandria, the siblings of Ptolemy VI - Ptolemy VII and Cleopatra II - form a rival government. Ptolemy VI joins them and the war is re-ignited. Early in 168 BC, Antiochus captures Cyprus from them and re-invades Egypt, but the defeat of Perseus allows Rome to order Antiochus out of Egypt. Humiliated, he does so, but maintains his territorial holdings outside of Egypt.

167 - 164 BC

The remaining eastern provinces, all of which still appear to be in Seleucid hands until about 167 BC, must fall to the Parthians very quickly after this - including Carmania, Gedrosia, and Margiana - although firm evidence to show a specific date appears to be lacking.

Another date which may be valid for these losses is 185 BC, when Seleucus IV loses eastern Iran to Parthian expansion, but the fact that the Parthians fail to expand out of their initial conquests until Mithradates accedes makes this period a more likely one.

The Seleucid focus is already occupied, however. While Antiochus has been campaigning in Egypt, former high priest Jason has conquered Jerusalem, other than the citadel, and has murdered many adherents of his rival, Menelaus.

Upon Antiochus' return in 167 BC he storms Jerusalem and enforces its Hellenisation. The city forfeits its privileges and is permanently garrisoned by Syrian soldiers. The Jews see this action as a defilement of Jerusalem. The Maccabaean revolt begins and a splinter state of Judea is formed by 164 BC, taking it out of Seleucid control.

Jerusalem of the Hasmonaean period was an expanding city with a burgeoning population and a thriving spirit of independence which was supported by the lack of Seleucid coordination and ability to recapture the city

164 BC

The Arsacids in the east have been gradually extending their control over the eastern lands of former Persia, and Antiochus now campaigns against them. He recovers lost income from the region and forces the defector, Artaxias of Armenia, to recognise his suzerainty. Then he founds the city of 'Antioch on the Persian Gulf', sets out on an expedition to the Arabian coast and, at the end of 164 BC, dies of illness at Tabae (or Gabae, probably modern Isfahan) in Persis.

164 - 161 BC

Antiochus V Eupator

Son. Aged 9 at accession. Killed by his uncle, Demetrius.

164 - 161 BC


Regent. Killed by Demetrius.

164 - 162 BC

The reign of young Antiochus V is a busy one. Recognised by Rome in favour of his uncle, Demetrius, he and Lysias suffer the revolt of Timarchus, satrap of Media in 163 BC. They win a victory in the war against Judas Maccabeus at Beth-Zechariah in 162 BC, but then Antiochus' advisor, Philip, revolts in Antioch. A peace treaty is agreed with the Maccabaeans, giving them favourable terms because the Seleucid troops are needed in Antioch and Media.

However, the Roman senate demands the immediate disbanding of the Seleucid navy as its existence violates the Peace of Apamea of 188 BC. When the Roman ambassador to the Seleucid court, Octavius, is murdered by a mob, the senate blames Antiochus and several senators ensure that Demetrius is allowed to escape captivity. Antiochus and Lysias are overthrown and killed by Demetrius by the summer of 161 BC.

161 - 150 BC

Demetrius I Soter

Uncle of Antiochus V. Killed.

161 - 160 BC

Timarchus of Media accepts the title of 'great king' (just as Eucratides I of Bactria had accepted this title a couple of years earlier). Babylonia is soon under his control, if not from the start of his rebellion (the extent of the realm under the control of Timarchus is contested.

Babylon was forever diminished by its roles in two major uprisings in the fifth century BC and by its subsequent demotion in importance - even the arrival of the Greeks did not revive its fortunes (click or tap on image to view full sized)

It is unclear whether he had been the governor of all territories east of the Euphrates or the Tigris. If the former, then he had already been responsible for Babylonia too, but if the latter then he must have taken it by force or through the threat of force). It takes until 160 BC for Demetrius to overthrow him and accept the title 'soter', meaning 'saviour', from the grateful Babylonians.

162? - 158 BC

At the insistence of Rome, Ariarathes V of Cappadocia refuses a marriage with Laodice V, sister of Demetrius. Demetrius goes to war and produces Orophernes as a rival claimant to the Cappadocian throne. Ariarathes is temporarily forced to flee to Rome in 158 BC but is quickly restored, although Orophernes is allowed to reign jointly. This arrangement is brief, however, as Ariarathes is soon recorded as being the sole ruler.

159 - 150 BC

Alexander Balas

Pretender supported by Egypt & Rome. Victorious.

152 BC

The rebellion of Alexander Balas really gets underway in 152 BC, although he can sometimes be shown as being active from 159 BC. He is supported by Egypt and Rome, both of whom are only too happy to see chaos and confusion within Seleucid territory, as well as by Cappadocia.

Jonathan Apphus of Judea also supports the rebel, and in return is recognised as high priest of Judah. This serves as official recognition of the Hasmonaeans and unites their leadership with the position of high priest. Judea subsequently enjoys several years of peace, especially when Demetrius is defeated near Antioch.

150 - 145 BC

Alexander I Balas Epiphanes

Former pretender. 'Claimed' as son of Antiochus IV. Killed.

146 - 145 BC

The son of Demetrius, Demetrius II, begins a revolt against Alexander Balas. Demetrius' general, Apollonius, is defeated by Jonathan Apphus of Judea, but Alexander's position grows increasingly tenuous. He attempts to flee at the start of 145 BC but is killed by Nabataeans. His two year-old son is saved by his supporter, Diodotus, who proclaims the boy to be Antiochus VI, the true ruler.

The city of Petra
Petra was founded in the sixth century BC on the site of an earlier but far more minor settlement, and grew to its full magnificence as the Nabataean capital in the second century BC

145 - 140 BC

Demetrius II Nicator

Son of Demetrius I. Captured by Parthians.

145 - 142 BC

Antiochus VI Ephiphanes Dionysus

Son of Alexander Balas. Rival claimant. Murdered.

145 - 141 BC

Antiochus VI is recognised in Antioch, and Demetrius is forced to flee to Seleucia near Babylon, although he only makes it thanks to soldiers from Judea who save his life. In 142 BC, despite the killing of Jonathan Apphus of Jerusalem, the Maccabees remain uncontested there once Demetrius recognises his successor and withdraws the Seleucid garrison for his war efforts. However, the Parthians under Mithradates I make the most of the Seleucid civil war by taking Media in 141 BC. In the same year they also capture Seleucia and then Uruk.

142 - 138 BC

Diodotus Tryphon

Former tutor of Antiochus VI. Rival claimant. Suicided.

140 - 138 BC

In 140 BC, Diodotus kills Antiochus VI and proclaims himself ruler of the empire with the name Tryphon. Diodotus Tryphon then goes on to destroy Beroth in his contest with Demetrius. The following year, Mithradates of Parthia conquers Susa, leaving the Seleucids denuded of all lands east of the Euphrates.

The end comes for Demetrius in 138 BC when he is captured by the Parthians. Antiochus VII takes up the reins and defeats Diodotus in the siege of Dor. Diodotus escapes but commits suicide in Apamea.

The Persian Gates
The Persian Gate presented a formidable obstacle for any large army attempting to force its way through from Susa to Persepolis (or even in the opposite direction) so Seleucid defences may have been weak

139 - 129 BC

Antiochus VII Eugergetes

Brother of Demetrius II. Suicided.

134 - 129 BC

Antiochus VII is the last Seleucid emperor of the east. He invades Judea in 134 BC and besieges Jerusalem. John Hyrcanus is made high priest, but Antiochus makes no other intervention into the religious sphere of Jewish life.

After the death of the Arsacid King Mithradates I in 132 BC, Antiochus launches a campaign to recover lost Seleucid domains in the east. The campaign is initially successful, recapturing Media and Babylonia in 130 BC.

Antiochus demands that the Parthians restore all Seleucid territories in Iran, so they defeat him in battle in 129 BC and he commits suicide later that year. His death ends Seleucid rule in Mesopotamia and Iran and limits them to Syria and Cilicia, plus Babylonia. The Parthians release the captive Demetrius II and allow him to return to the remnants of the empire.

129 - 126 BC

Demetrius II Nicator

Restored. Killed by Alexander II.

128 - 126 BC

Demetrius attempts to intervene in the Egyptian civil war in 128 BC, supporting Cleopatra II, mother of his first wife, Cleopatra Thea, but is defeated near Pelusium. In return, Ptolemy VIII supports Alexander Zabinas in opposition to Demetrius for the Seleucid throne.

While he is distracted by a civil war, in 126 BC the Parthians take Babylonia, leaving the Seleucids with nothing but Syria and Cilicia, which they rule from Damascus. Demetrius attempts to deal with Alexander by meeting him in battle near Tyre in 125 BC. Demetrius is subsequently killed near Damascus, presumably whilst in retreat. His first wife takes command of the empire.

Stone carving of Phoenician ship
This first century AD stone carving reflects Phoenician ship design from an earlier age, although by the time it was created the Phoenicians had long since been subsumed within later states

128 - 123 BC

Alexander II Zabinas

Son of Alexander I? Pretender. Captured and executed.

126 - 121 BC

Cleopatra Thea

Wife of Demetrius. Daughter of Ptolemy VI of Egypt.

126 - 125 BC

Seleucus V

Son and co-ruler. Killed.

126 - 123 BC

Despite the apparent victory of Alexander II at Tyre and Damascus, he is unable to conquer Syria even with the support of John Hyrcanus in Judea. Seleucus V has succeeded his father, although 'only' as co-ruler with his mother, Cleopatra Thea.

However, Seleucus attempts to become sole ruler and is killed - with Cleopatra Thea being the main suspect. She replaces him with another son by Demetrius, Antiochus VIII. Alexander is defeated in 123 BC, and is captured and executed.

125 - 121 BC

Antiochus VIII Philometer Grypus

Brother of Seleucus and co-ruler with Cleopatra.

121 BC

Antiochus VIII takes sole control of the empire by forcing his mother to commit suicide using the potion which she herself has mixed for him. He goes on to have five sons, all of whom succeed him on the throne, but also oversees a continued weakening of the empire. Civil war soon breaks out, so to differentiate between them the 'rebel' rulers of the southern areas of the empire are shown in green.

Tell Ahmar/Tell Barsnip
This view shows the site of Tell Ahmar (ancient Barsib or Till-Barsip in Syria) from above the River Euphrates in the 1990s, although today part of the site is under water (click or tap on image to view full sized)

121 - 96 BC

Antiochus VIII Philometer Grypus

Former co-ruler until his mother's suicide.

115 - 95 BC

Antiochus IX Philopator Cyzicenus

Son of Cleopatra Thea and Antiochus VII. Captured the south.

115 - 113 BC

Antiochus IX, a son of Cleopatra Thea from her marriage to Antiochus VII, attempts to seize the throne. He gains an army in 115 BC when he marries Cleopatra IV, who has just learned that her husband Ptolemy IX Soter of Egypt has divorced her. He revolts against his half-brother, occupying southern Syria.

Antiochus IX seizes Antioch in 113 BC, while Antiochus VIII retains Cilicia, although he is unable to prevent Cilician pirates from becoming increasingly powerful. The following year Antiochus VIII defeats his opponents, and Cleopatra IV is captured and killed.

However, later in the same year Antioch is again in the hands of Antiochus VIII. Both Seleucid rulers now find allies (or further allies) in Egypt, with Antiochus VIII being joined by Ptolemy X Alexander, governor of Cyprus, and Antiochus IX being supported by Ptolemy IX Soter Lathyros. While they are distracted by their civil war, the city of Dura-Europas is conquered by the Parthians in 113 BC.

Ephesos frieze
This scene from the later Parthian War comes from Ephesos and shows a Roman warrior in typical heroic stance about to strike down his defeated Parthian opponent - all good propaganda for the Roman war effort, of course

111 - 96 BC

The civil war continues through 111-109 BC, with Antioch changing hands twice more. Antiochus VIII holds it by 109 BC. In the meantime, Antiochus IX and Ptolemy IX Soter of Egypt support the Samarians against the Hasmonaean leader, John Hyrcanus of Judea, until Rome intervenes on the side of the Jews and against Antiochus IX and the Samarians (of the former northern Jewish kingdom of Samaria).

In 104 BC, the Roman commander, Marcus Antonius, attacks the Cilician pirates and the following year Antiochus VIII marries Cleopatra V Selene (daughter of Ptolemy VIII Euergetes Psychon of Egypt). The war has largely dimmed by now, and Antiochus VIII dies of natural causes in 96 BC.

In order to end the civil war, his wife marries Antiochus IX. However, this is opposed by Seleucus VI, a son of Antiochus VIII, who continues to uphold his father's technically more legitimate hold on the throne.

96 - 94 BC

Seleucus VI Epiphanes Nicator

Son of Antiochus VIII. Ruled in the north. Burned alive.

95 - 94 BC

Seleucus VI meets his uncle, Antiochus IX, in battle and defeats him, but the empire remains divided with neither side able to deliver a knock-out blow. With Antiochus IX dead, his son, Antiochus X, continues to hold the southern part of the empire. At last, this time the civil war is ended when Seleucus VI is defeated (in 94/93 BC depending on precise dating), being burned to death in the gymnasium of the city of Mopsus in Cilicia.

Antakya Mosaic Museum
Although the mosaics exhibited today in the Antakya Mosaic Museum in Turkey generally date to the first to fifth centuries AD, Antioch of the third to first centuries BC would have been just as grand a city

95 - 83 BC

Antiochus X Eusebes Philopator

Son of Antiochus IX. Ruled in the south.

95 - 93 BC

Antiochus XI Epiphanes Philadelphus

Brother of Seleucus VI. Ruled in the north. Killed.

95 - 83? BC

Philip I Epiphanes Philadelphus

Brother and co-ruler. Ruled the far south against Antiochus X.

95 - 88 BC

Demetrius III Philopator
Soter Eucairus

Twin brother and co-ruler. Died in captivity.

93/92 BC

After a brief reign, Antiochus XI is repelled, defeated, and killed by Antiochus X after occupying Antioch. Antiochus X then takes over the northern part of the empire but still does not control the far southern areas. These are ruled by Philip I and Demetrius III, brothers of the slain ruler in the north. Philip appears to have a base at Beroea (modern Aleppo). Demetrius intervenes in the Hasmonaean kingdom, against Alexander Jannaeus.

89 - 69 BC

Arsacid ruler, Mithradates the Great, launches an attack against the Seleucid empire with Aziz the Arab as his ally. The target is Antiochus X who is killed during the fighting. The weakened and distracted Seleucids also lose Harran to Armenia as Tigranes the Great conquers much of Syria between this point and 69 BC (which seemingly includes the city of Byblos).

The civil war at least would seem to be over - until Philip and Demetrius fight each other for the throne. The spark seems to be Demetrius breaking off his attacks against the Hasmonaeans to capture Antioch.

Byblos coin c.365-350 BC
Shown here are two sides of a shekel which was issued during the fourth century BC reign in Byblos (or Gebal) of Azbaal

Unbelievably, Philip invites the Arsacids to help him, and in 88/87 BC they capture Demetrius. He later dies in captivity. Philip seizes the northern part of the empire and is recognised in Antioch but his younger brother, Antiochus XII, now claims Damascus in the south and a fresh civil war is triggered.

87 - 84 BC

Antiochus XII Dionysus

Brother. Ruled in the south. Killed by Nabataeans.

87 - 85 BC

Antiochus XII attacks the Nabataeans from 87 BC, intent on recapturing lost territory from them, but although he kills their king, ar-Rabil I, the Nabataeans resist his advance. To make it worse, their new king strikes back and takes southern Syria and Ammon. In 85 BC, the inhabitants of Damascus invite the Nabataean king to become their ruler.

83 - 79 BC

Philip I dies at a relatively unknown point within this period, probably of natural causes as no battle is recorded. His successor in the north is Antiochus XIII, who may succeed Philip directly or may only gain power in 69 BC. The obscurity covering these events is symptomatic of a dying empire.

69 - 67 BC

FeatureThe imperialistic ambitions of Armenian King Tigranes lead to war with Rome, and a defeated Armenia becomes tributary to the republic following the campaigns of generals Lucullus (69 BC - creator of gardens in Rome (see feature link)) and Pompey (67 BC). Former Seleucid Syria is lost and, in following year, so is Byblos. Rome now controls much of the region. Lucullus places Antiochus XIII in command of Syria during his campaign.

Roman Gardens
A full sized view of the long-lost mosaics from General Lucullus' gardens which were discovered by archaeologists in 2007

69 - 64 BC

Antiochus XIII Asiaticus

Son of Antiochus X. Rome's proxy ruler.

66 - 65 BC

Even at this stage of their decline, the Seleucids cannot stop fighting one another. In 67/66 BC, supported by the population of Antioch and a local ruler from Cilicia, Philip II Philoromaeus expels his relative, Antiochus XIII, from Antioch, but Antiochus is restored in 66/65 BC.

66 - 63 BC

Philip II Philorhomaeus

Son of Philip I. Pretender.

64 - 63 BC

Crushed out of existence by the Romans on one side and the Parthians on the other, the empire is terminated. Antiochus XIII, the last Seleucid ruler of any kind, is dethroned by Pompey when he turns Syria into a Roman province.

Antioch on the Orontes (Syrian Antioch) continues to be an important city throughout the subsequent Roman period, and serves as a major centre of early Christianity. When it is conquered by the Islamic empire in AD 637, the advance stops here and Antioch is trapped on the front line. It begins to decline, and is also hit by devastating earthquakes in the sixth century AD.

It eventually becomes the capital of the Crusader state of Antioch (in 1098), but this only further contributes to reducing its importance as a trading centre. In 1268 it is conquered by the Egyptian Mamelukes who then destroy it. Modern Antakya in Turkey lies alongside its ruins.

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