Antiochos, General in the army of King Philip of Macedon

Seleukos I Nikator SELEUKID, King of Syria
(Abt 358 BCE-281 BCE)


Family Links

1. Apama of Sogdiana-Bactria

2. Stratonike ANTIGONID of Macedonia, Queen of Syria

Seleukos I Nikator SELEUKID, King of Syria

  • Born: Abt 358 B.C.E.
  • Married (1): Abt 324 B.C.E.
  • Married (2): Abt 300 B.C.E.
  • Died: Sep 281 B.C.E.

  Orthographic variation: Seleucus Nicator SELEUCID

  Research Notes:

SELEUCUS I Nicator (r. 312-281 BCE), the founder of the Seleucid empire, who succeeded in re-uniting the greater part of the former Achaemenid empire after the death of Alexander the Great. Arrian (Anabasis 7.22.5) describes him as “the greatest king of those who succeeded Alexander, of the most royal mind, and ruling over the greatest extent of territory, next to Alexander himself.”

Seleucus was born in ca. 358 BCE. His father, Antiochus, was a lesser nobleman from Europus in Lower Macedonia, of the warrior class of the hetairoi (“companions”) of the king. His mother’s name was Laodice. According to a birth myth preserved in Justin (15.4), probably going back to Seleucid propaganda (perhaps of the reign of Antiochus I, r. 312-261 BCE), Seleucus was fathered by the god Apollo while his mother lay sleeping; as a sign of his divine parentage, Seleucus had on his thigh a birthmark in the shape of an anchor. The story explains why the Seleucids used the anchor as a dynastic emblem, e.g., as counter-mark on coins, and why Apollo was the tutelary deity of the Seleucid family. Virtually nothing is known about Seleucus’s youth. There can be little doubt, however, that as an adolescent Seleucus served as a royal page at the court of Philip II, receiving military training and intellectual education together with Philip’s son Alexander, who was about the same age as he. Between 334 and 323 Seleucus accompanied Alexander on his campaigns in Asia, holding the court office of sōmatophulax (“bodyguard”). The seven sōmatophulakes, personal attendants responsible for the king’s welfare and safety, were partly recruited from among the former youth companions of the Macedonian king. After the destruction of the aristocrat faction led by Parmenio in 330, Alexander promoted these loyal intimates to high office, replacing members of the high nobility who opposed the king’s increasing autocracy.

Thus Seleucus first enters history in India in 326 as the newly appointed captain of the hypaspist infantry guard (Arrian, Anabasis 5.13.4; for Seleucus’s career under Alexander, see Grainger, 1992, pp. 1-23). Seleucus was present at the great wedding at Susa (324), where Alexander gave his marshals Iranian princesses in marriage, hoping to reconcile and pacify the Iranian nobility. Seleucus married Apama, daughter of the Bactrian leader Spitamenes (Arrian, Anabasis 7.4.6; for her, see O’Neil, 2002). Until his violent death in 327, Spitamenes had been Alexander’s principal adversary during the three-year guerilla war in Bactria and Sogdia, and perhaps the most formidable opponent the Macedonian king ever encountered. The marriage with Apama had far-reaching consequences for Seleucus’s later career, as it created family ties with the leading families in the Iranian northeast, where the first Seleucids eventually were more successful in gaining recognition than Alexander had been.

At the Babylonian Settlement following Alexander’s death in 323, Seleucus took the side of the regent Perdiccas, who appointed him commander (hipparchos) of the Companion Cavalry, promoting him to the rank of chiliarch, a title previously held by Alexander’s favorite Hephaestion and by Perdiccas himself (Diodorus, 18.3.4; Appian, Syriaca 57; Justin, 13.4.17; cf. Bosworth, 2002, pp. 29-63, esp. 56). Thus for some years Seleucus officially was the second most important magistrate in the Macedonian empire. Soon, however, he decided that he was backing the wrong horse, and in May/June 320 he was among the conspirators who assassinated Perdiccas during a campaign against the insubordinate new satrap of Egypt, Ptolemy son of Lagus (Diodorus, 18.36.1-5; for the date, see Landucci Gattinoni, 2005). The grateful Ptolemy became Seleucus’s principal ally for the next eighteen years.

At a conference at Triparadeisus in Syria (320), power in the Macedonian empire was distributed anew, this time including commanders who had not been present in Babylon in 323, the most important of whom was Antigonus Monophthalmus (“the One-Eyed”). The new regent, Antipater, Alexander’s viceroy in Macedonia, took away the chiliarchy from Seleucus (to give it to his own son, Cassander) but gave him the rich and centrally located satrapy of Babylonia (Diodorus, 18.39.6). In the years 319-315 Seleucus made his satrapy a virtually autonomous principality, obtaining the goodwill of the Babylonians by means of patronage and consideration for local traditions (Diodorus, 19.91.1-2; Kuhrt and Sherwin-White, 1993, p. 10). After being driven from Babylonia by his enemy Antigonus in 315, Seleucus recaptured his satrapy in 312 with the help of Ptolemy and finally drove out the Antigonid forces after a battle near Babylon in 308 (BM 35920 = Grayson, 1975, no. 10). The Seleucid kingdom would later date its history from 312 BCE, the year of Seleucus’s return to Babylonia.

His Mesopotamian power base secure, and Antigonus having shifted his attention to the Mediterranean, Seleucus now embarked on a lightning campaign through the Upper Satrapies (308-306), becoming master of Iran and Bactria by subduing satraps loyal to Antigonus with military force and by winning over the others through skillful diplomacy (Kuhrt and Sherwin-White, 1993, p. 12). By ca. 306 Seleucus was in India, crossing the Indus to fight the recently created Mauryan empire. About a year later he withdrew his forces after reaching an agreement with the Mauryan emperor Chandragupta. According to this treaty, the details of which remain obscure, Seleucus yielded all lands to the south and east of the Hindu Kush rangeincluding Gandhara and the Indus valleyin return for alliance and perhaps the formal acknowledgment of his suzerainty. He also received a force of 500 Indian war elephants (Plutarch, Life of Alexander 62; Strabo, 15.2.9, 16.2.10; the round number is somewhat suspect but is supported by Diodorus, 20.113.4, who says that at Ipsus Seleucus disposed of a force of 480 elephants; cf. Plutarch, Life of Demetrius 28.3; see Wheatley, 2014).

It was then time to return to the west and challenge Antigonus, who together with his son Demetrius Poliorcetes (“the Besieger”) had steadily consolidated his control of Syria, Asia Minor, and Greece. In 306 Antigonus and Demetrius had assumed the Macedonian title of king (basileus) following a naval victory against Ptolemy off Salamis on Cyprus. The next year, Seleucus followed suit, as did Ptolemy, Cassander and Lysimachus, who controlled, respectively, Egypt, Macedonia, and Thrace. Although the title of basileus implicated claims to the entire Macedonian empire, Seleucus entered into alliance with Ptolemy, Cassander, and Lysimachus, and in 301 the allies destroyed the Antigonid army at Ipsus in Phrygia; Antigonus died on the battlefield, but Demetrius made his escape to continue the war in the Aegean, until he was finally captured by Seleucus in 285. Victory at Ipsus was mainly due to the allied superiority in cavalry, mostly Iranian horsemen fighting for Seleucus, as well as Chandragupta’s war elephants. The victors divided among themselves the countries held by Antigonus, Seleucus’s prize being the Levant. But when he returned from Asia Minor to claim his share, he found Ptolemy already in control of Phoenicia, South Syria, and Palestine. Although Seleucus decided not to resolve the matter by war, the dispute over the spoils of Ipsus remained the principal casus belli between Seleucids and Ptolemies in the following century.

Still, Seleucus was able to expand his empire to the west, acquiring northern Mesopotamia, North Syria, Armenia and the eastern half of Anatolia (for the scope and organization of Seleucus’s empire after Ipsus, see Kuhrt and Sherwin-White, 1993, pp. 14-21). Further expansion took place in the Persian Gulf, where the island of Failaka became the southernmost Seleucid outpost. It was now clear that Seleucus had become the most powerful of Alexander’s successors, but his position was threatened by his erstwhile allies Ptolemy, who aimed at controlling the coastal areas around the eastern Mediterranean basin, and Lysimachus, who became king of Macedonia after the death of Cassander and created an empire around the Aegean comprising western Asia Minor.

After Ipsus, Seleucus spent about a decade consolidating his gains. In this task he was aided by his son Antiochus, the later king Antiochus I Soter. Antiochus, who was the son of Seleucus and Apama and thus half-Iranian, was made vice-king in 292/1 and given responsibility for Babylonia and the Iranian lands, while Seleucus himself built up the western part of the empire (Appian, Syriaca 59). Antiochus’s succession to the throne was secured beforehand by his marriage to Seleucus’s own wife Stratonice, a daughter of Demetrius Poliorcetes, and by conferring upon him the title of basileus even while his father was still alive. A Babylonian chronicle from this period, describing sacrifices made by Antiochus to the moon god Sin, therefore refers to him as mar šarri “crown prince” (Grayson, 1975, no. 11). Thus the conflicts inherent in the polygamy and absence of primogeniture characteristic of the Macedonian nobility were evaded. In time, the memory of this political marriage turned into folktale: a young prince is secretly in love with his father’s new wife; when the father finds out, he magnanimously gives her away, thus saving the life of his lovesick son (Appian, Syriaca 59-61; cf. Broderson, 1985; Breebaart, 1967). On coins struck in Bactria and Aria-Drangiana, the two kings are named together as equals (see, e.g., Houghton and Lorber 2003, nos. 233, 235, 279, 281, 285-290).

The old satrapal structure of the Achaemenid empire remained basically intact. Seleucus focused on the founding of cities and the establishment of fortresses and military colonies. Throughout the empire, cities were built or rebuilt and named after members of the Seleucid family. Appian (Syriaca 57) lists sixteen cities named Antiocheia after his father, five Laodikeia after his mother, three Apameia after his Iranian wife, one Stratonikeia after his second wife, and nine Seleukeia after himself, but some of these cities may actually have been founded by Antiochus I. Ancient historiography informs us mainly about the history of Seleucus’s foundations in the western half of his empire. These included the capitals Seleucia on the Tigris—located in the vicinity of Babylon and destined to become the largest city in the Seleucid empire—and, in North Syria, Antioch on the Orontes and Seleucia in Pieria. Amidst the grassy pastures of the middle Orontes valley, Apamea was built as an assembly point for the army, serving as base of operation in future wars against the Ptolemies. Halab (Aleppo) and Harran (Urfa) were refounded and given the names of towns in Macedonia: Beroea and Edessa. At strategic intersections and river crossings, military strongholds were built, e.g., Dura Europus, Seleucia-Zeugma, and Jebel Khalid on the Euphrates.

Little is known about the city foundations in Iran and further east. Here, the vice-king Antiochus took responsibility for the creation of cities and the construction of a string of defenses along the Bactrian border, founding, e.g., Antioch in Persis and most likely Aï Khanum, and refounding Alexandria Eschate in the Marv oasis as Antioch in Margiana. After Seleucus’s death the policy of city (re)foundings was continued in western Asia Minor under Antiochus I and Antiochus II. The cities, populated with a mixture of Greek, Macedonian, and indigenous settlers, served not merely military, but also economic, purposes, as Seleucus actively encouraged economic growth and long-distance trade.

Seleucus was over 70 years old when he decided to mobilize the enormous resources of his empire against Lysimachus and conquer the European part of Alexander’s empire. In the winter of 282/1 the two armies met at Corupedium in Lydia. Lysimachus was slain, and his army defeated. Seleucus added western Asia Minor to his empire and crossed the Hellespont, presenting himself to the Greek cities as a liberator from tyranny who had come to restore democracy and autonomy (Funck, 1994). Upon reaching Lysimachia, however, his army mutinied, and he was assassinated by Ptolemy Ceraunus, a son of the deceased Ptolemy I who had taken refuge at Seleucus’s court after his half-brother Ptolemy II had succeeded to the throne (Appian, Syriaca 62; Grayson, 1979, no. 12). His ashes were brought back to Syria, where he was buried in Seleucia in Pieria in a sanctuary called the Nicatoreum. After the death of the conqueror, the western part of the empire was thrown into turmoil, while Ceraunus for a short time took possession of Macedonia and Thrace; the eastern satrapies, however, remained loyal to the house of Seleucus, so that Antiochus I, in the first five years of his reign, was able to restore order in Syria and Asia Minor. Thrace, Macedonia, and Greece remained outside the grasp of the Seleucids, but claims to these regions were only given up after the failure of Antiochus III’s invasion of Europe in the early second century BCE. 1

  Marriage Information:

Seleukos married Apama of Sogdiana-Bactria, daughter of Spitamenes, Bactrian nobleman, about 324 BCE. (Apama died about 280 BCE.)

  Marriage Information:

Seleukos also married Stratonike ANTIGONID, daughter of Demetrios I Poliorcetes ANTIGONID, King of Macedonia and Phila I, Princess of Macedonia, about 300 BCE. (Stratonike ANTIGONID was born about 317 BCE in Macedonia died in Sep/Oct 254 BCE in Sardis, Lydia.)


1 Encyclopædia Iranica, Seleucus.

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