Seleucid Empire

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Kingdom of the Seleucids
Βασιλεία τῶν Σελευκιδῶν
Basileía tōn Seleukidōn
312 BC – 63 BC
Tetradrachm of Seleucus I – the horned horse, the elephant and the anchor all served as symbols of the Seleucid monarchy.[1][2] of Seleucid Empire
Tetradrachm of Seleucus I – the horned horse, the elephant and the anchor all served as symbols of the Seleucid monarchy.[1][2]
The Seleucid Empire (light blue) in 281 BC on the eve of the murder of Seleucus I Nicator
The Seleucid Empire (light blue) in 281 BC on the eve of the murder of Seleucus I Nicator
Common languages
• 305–281 BC
Seleucus I (first)
• 65–63 BC
Philip II (last)
Historical eraHellenistic period
312 BC 
301 BC
192–188 BC
188 BC
167–160 BC
• Seleucia taken by Parthians
141 BC
129 BC
 63 BC
303 BC[7]3,000,000 km2 (1,200,000 sq mi)
301 BC[7]3,900,000 km2 (1,500,000 sq mi)
240 BC[7]2,600,000 km2 (1,000,000 sq mi)
175 BC[7]800,000 km2 (310,000 sq mi)
100 BC[7]100,000 km2 (39,000 sq mi)
• 301 BC[8]
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Macedonian Empire
Parthian Empire
Maurya Empire
Province of Syria
Greco-Bactrian Kingdom
Hasmonean kingdom

The Seleucid Empire (

Macedonian Empire founded by Alexander the Great,[12][13][14][15] and ruled by the Seleucid dynasty until its annexation by the Roman Republic under Pompey
in 63 BC.

After receiving the

Persia, the Levant, Mesopotamia and what are now modern Kuwait, Afghanistan, and parts of Turkmenistan

The Seleucid Empire was a major center of

Indian ruler Chandragupta of the Maurya Empire in 305 BC led to the cession
of vast territory west of the Indus and a political alliance.

In the early second century BC, Antiochus III the Great attempted to project Seleucid power and authority into Hellenistic Greece, but his attempts were thwarted by the Roman Republic and its Greek allies. The Seleucids were forced to pay costly war reparations and had to relinquish territorial claims west of the Taurus Mountains in southern Anatolia, marking the gradual decline of their empire. Mithridates I of Parthia conquered much of the remaining eastern lands of the Seleucid Empire in the mid-second century BC including Assyria and what had been Babylonia, while the independent Greco-Bactrian Kingdom continued to flourish in the northeast. The Seleucid kings were thereafter reduced to a rump state in Syria, until their conquest by Tigranes the Great of Armenia in 83 BC, and ultimate overthrow by the Roman general Pompey in 63 BC.


Contemporary sources, such as a loyalist decree honoring Antiochus I from Ilium, in Greek language define the Seleucid state both as an empire (arche) and as a kingdom (basileia). Similarly, Seleucid rulers were described as kings in Babylonia.[18]

Starting from the 2nd century BC, ancient writers referred to the Seleucid ruler as the

Lord of Asia, and other designations;[19] the evidence for the Seleucid rulers representing themselves as kings of Syria is provided by the inscription of Antigonus son of Menophilus, who described himself as the "admiral of Alexander, king of Syria". He refers to either Alexander Balas or Alexander II Zabinas as a ruler.[20]


Partition of Alexander's empire

Alexander, who quickly conquered the Persian Empire under its last Achaemenid dynast, Darius III, died young in 323 BC, leaving an expansive empire of partly Hellenised culture without an adult heir. The empire was put under the authority of a regent, Perdiccas, and the vast territories were divided among Alexander's generals, who thereby became satraps at the Partition of Babylon, all in that same year.

Rise of Seleucus

Alexander's generals, known as diadochi, jostled for supremacy over parts of his empire following his death. Ptolemy I Soter, a former general and then current satrap of Egypt, was the first to challenge the new system, which eventually led to the demise of Perdiccas. Ptolemy's revolt created a new subdivision of the empire with the Partition of Triparadisus in 320 BC. Seleucus, who had been "Commander-in-Chief of the Companion cavalry" (hetairoi) and appointed first or court chiliarch (which made him the senior officer in the Royal Army after the regent and commander-in-chief Perdiccas since 323 BC, though he helped to assassinate him later) received Babylonia and, from that point, continued to expand his dominions ruthlessly. Seleucus established himself in Babylon in 312 BC, the year later used as the foundation date of the Seleucid Empire.

Babylonian War (311–309 BC)

The rise of Seleucus in Babylon threatened the eastern extent of the territory of Antigonus I Monophthalmus in Asia. Antigonus, along with his son Demetrius I Poliorcetes, unsuccessfully led a campaign to annex Babylon. The victory of Seleucus ensured his claim of Babylon and legitimacy. He ruled not only Babylonia, but the entire enormous eastern part of Alexander's empire, as described by the historian Appian:

Always lying in wait for the neighboring nations, strong in arms and persuasive in council, he [Seleucus] acquired Mesopotamia, Armenia, 'Seleucid' Cappadocia, Persis, Parthia, Bactria, Arabia, Tapouria, Sogdia, Arachosia, Hyrcania, and other adjacent peoples that had been subdued by Alexander, as far as the river Indus, so that the boundaries of his empire were the most extensive in Asia after that of Alexander. The whole region from Phrygia to the Indus was subject to Seleucus.[21]

Seleucid–Mauryan War (305–303 BC)

conscript army of 600,000 men and 9,000 war elephants.[22]

Mainstream scholarship asserts that Chandragupta received, formalized through a treaty, vast territory west of the Indus, including the

Balochistan province of Pakistan.[23][24] Archaeologically, concrete indications of Mauryan rule, such as the inscriptions of the Edicts of Ashoka, are known as far as Kandahar
in southern Afghanistan. According to Appian:

He [Seleucus] crossed the Indus and waged war with Sandrocottus [Maurya], king of the Indians, who dwelt on the banks of that stream, until they came to an understanding with each other and contracted a marriage relationship.[21]

"Chandra Gupta Maurya entertains his bride from Babylon": a conjectural interpretation of the "marriage agreement" between the Seleucids and Chandragupta Maurya, related by Appian[21]

It is generally thought that Chandragupta married

Ashoka the Great, is also recorded by Pliny the Elder as having sent an ambassador named Dionysius to the Mauryan court.[30]

The Indians occupy [in part] some of the countries situated along the Indus, which formerly belonged to the Persians: Alexander deprived the Ariani of them, and established there settlements of his own. But Seleucus Nicator gave them to Sandrocottus (Chandragupta Maurya) in consequence of a marriage contract, and received in return five hundred elephants.[31]

Other territories ceded before Seleucus' death were Gedrosia in the south-east of the Iranian plateau, and, to the north of this, Arachosia on the west bank of the Indus River.

Westward expansion

Coin of Seleucus I Nicator

Following his and Lysimachus' decisive victory over Antigonus at the Battle of Ipsus in 301 BC, Seleucus took control over eastern Anatolia and northern Syria.

In the latter area, he founded a new capital at

Corupedion in 281 BC, after which Seleucus expanded his control to encompass western Anatolia. He hoped further to take control of Lysimachus's lands in Europe – primarily Thrace and even Macedonia itself, but was assassinated by Ptolemy Ceraunus
on landing in Europe.

His son and successor, Antiochus I Soter, was left with an enormous realm consisting of nearly all of the Asian portions of the Empire, but faced with Antigonus II Gonatas in Macedonia and Ptolemy II Philadelphus in Egypt, he proved unable to pick up where his father had left off in conquering the European portions of Alexander's empire.

Breakup of Central Asian territories

Greco-Bactrian kingdom
c. 245 BC.
Polyainos (Strat. 7.40), in which Vahbarz (Oborzos) is said to have killed 3000 Seleucid settlers.[34][32][33]

Diodotus, Cappadocia under Ariarathes III, and Parthia under Andragoras. A few years later, the last was defeated and killed by the invading Parni of Arsaces—the region would then become the core of the Parthian Empire

Hellenistic culture and was to continue its domination of Bactria until around 125 BC when it was overrun by the invasion of northern nomads. One of the Greco-Bactrian kings, Demetrius I of Bactria, invaded India around 180 BC to form the Indo-Greek Kingdoms

The rulers of

Vahbarz. They would later overtly take the title of Kings of Persis, before becoming vassals to the newly formed Parthian Empire.[32][33]

The Seleucid satrap of Parthia, named

Andragoras, first claimed independence, in a parallel to the secession of his Bactrian neighbour. Soon after, however, a Parthian tribal chief called Arsaces invaded the Parthian territory around 238 BC to form the Arsacid dynasty, from which the Parthian Empire

Antiochus II's son

Attalid dynasty.[citation needed] The Seleucid economy started to show the first signs of weakness, as Galatians gained independence and Pergamum took control of coastal cities in Anatolia. Consequently, they managed to partially block contact with the West.[35]

Revival (223–191 BC)

Silver coin of Antiochus III the Great.
The Seleucid Empire in 200 BC (before expansion into Anatolia and Greece).

A revival would begin when Seleucus II's younger son,

: Subhagasena) receiving war elephants, perhaps in accordance of the existing treaty and alliance set after the Seleucid-Mauryan War.

Actual translation of Polybius 11.34 (No other source except Polybius makes any reference to Sophagasenus):

He [Antiochus] crossed the Caucasus Indicus (Paropamisus) (Hindu Kush) and descended into India; renewed his friendship with Sophagasenus the king of the Indians; received more elephants, until he had a hundred and fifty altogether; and having once more provisioned his troops, set out again personally with his army: leaving Androsthenes of Cyzicus the duty of taking home the treasure which this king had agreed to hand over to him.[36] Having traversed Arachosia and crossed the river Enymanthus, he came through Drangene to Carmania; and as it was now winter, he put his men into winter quarters there.[37]

When he returned to the west in 205 BC, Antiochus found that with the death of

Ptolemy V from control of Coele-Syria. The Battle of Panium
(200 BC) definitively transferred these holdings from the Ptolemies to the Seleucids. Antiochus appeared, at the least, to have restored the Seleucid Kingdom to glory.

Expansion into Greece and war with Rome

Antiochus III
by Rome. Circa 188 BC.

Following the defeat of his erstwhile ally

, Rome's allies in the war, gained the former Seleucid lands in Anatolia. Antiochus died in 187 BC on another expedition to the east, where he sought to extract money to pay the indemnity.

Roman power, Parthia and Judea

Attalus II of Pergamon
, now considered a portrait of a Roman general, made by a Greek artist working in Rome in the 2nd century BC.

The reign of his son and successor Seleucus IV Philopator (187–175 BC) was largely spent in attempts to pay the large indemnity, and Seleucus was ultimately assassinated by his minister Heliodorus.

Seleucus' younger brother,

Ptolemaic Egypt, which met with initial success as the Seleucids defeated and drove the Egyptian army back to Alexandria itself. As the king planned on how to conclude the war, he was informed that Roman commissioners, led by the Proconsul Gaius Popillius Laenas, were near and requesting a meeting with the Seleucid king. Antiochus agreed, but when they met and Antiochus held out his hand in friendship, Popilius placed in his hand the tablets on which was written the decree of the senate and told him to read it. The decree demanded that he should abort his attack on Alexandria and immediately stop waging the war on Ptolemy. When the king said that he would call his friends into council and consider what he ought to do, Popilius drew a circle in the sand around the king's feet with the stick he was carrying and said, "Before you step out of that circle give me a reply to lay before the senate." For a few moments he hesitated, astounded at such a peremptory order, and at last replied, "I will do what the senate thinks right." He then chose to withdraw rather than set the empire to war with Rome again.[38]

On his return journey, according to

temple, and interrupted the constant practice of offering a daily sacrifice of expiation, for three years and six months.[39]

The latter part of his reign saw a further disintegration of the Empire despite his best efforts. Weakened economically, militarily and by loss of prestige, the Empire became vulnerable to rebels in the eastern areas of the empire, who began to further undermine the empire while the Parthians moved into the power vacuum to take over the old Persian lands. Antiochus' aggressive Hellenizing (or de-Judaizing) activities provoked a full scale armed rebellion in Judea—the Maccabean Revolt.[40] Efforts to deal with both the Parthians and the Jews as well as retain control of the provinces at the same time proved beyond the weakened empire's power. Antiochus orchestrated a military campaign, capturing Artaxias I, King of Armenia, and reoccupying Armenia.[41] His offensive ventured as far as Persepolis, but he was forced from the city by the populace.[42] On his return home, Antiochus died in Isfahan in 164 BC.[43]

Civil war and further decay

Coin of Antiochus IV Epiphanes.
Seleucid Syria in early 124 BC under Alexander II Zabinas, who ruled the country with the exception of the city of Ptolemais

After the death of

Antiochus VI, then the usurping general Diodotus Tryphon—held out in Antioch

Meanwhile, the decay of the Empire's territorial possessions continued apace. By 143 BC, the Jews in the form of the Maccabees had fully established their independence. Parthian expansion continued as well. In 139 BC, Demetrius II was defeated in battle by the Parthians and was captured. By this time, the entire Iranian Plateau had been lost to Parthian control.

Demetrius Nicator's brother,

Hasmonean prince, John Hyrcanus
) to drive back the Parthians.

Sidetes' campaign initially met with spectacular success, recapturing Mesopotamia, Babylonia, and Media. In the winter of 130/129 BC, his army was scattered in winter quarters throughout Media and Persis when the Parthian king, Phraates II, counter-attacked. Moving to intercept the Parthians with only the troops at his immediate disposal, he was ambushed and killed at the Battle of Ecbatana in 129 BC. Antiochus Sidetes is sometimes called the last great Seleucid king.

After the death of Antiochus VII Sidetes, all of the recovered eastern territories were recaptured by the Parthians. The Maccabees again rebelled, civil war soon tore the empire to pieces, and the Armenians began to encroach on Syria from the north.

Collapse (100–63 BC)

Main polities in Asia, circa -100.[44][45][46][47]
Seleucid Kingdom in 87 BC

By 100 BC, the once-formidable Seleucid Empire encompassed little more than

Mithridates VI of Pontus and Sulla
of Rome, the Seleucids were largely left alone by both major combatants.

Mithridates' ambitious son-in-law, Tigranes the Great, king of Armenia, however, saw opportunity for expansion in the constant civil strife to the south. In 83 BC, at the invitation of one of the factions in the interminable civil wars, he invaded Syria and soon established himself as ruler of Syria, putting the Seleucid Empire virtually at an end.

Seleucid rule was not entirely over, however. Following the Roman general

Syria into a Roman province


The domain of the Seleucids stretched from the

, and more all lived within its bounds. The immense size of the empire gave the Seleucid rulers a difficult balancing act to maintain order, resulting in a mixture of concessions to local cultures to maintain their own practices while also firmly controlling and unifying local elites under the Seleucid banner.

The government established Greek cities and settlements throughout the empire via a program of colonization that encouraged immigration from Greece; both city settlements as well as rural ones were created that were inhabited by ethnic Greeks. These Greeks were given good land and privileges, and in exchange were expected to serve in military service for the state. Despite being a tiny minority of the overall population, these Greeks were the backbone of the empire: loyal and committed to a cause that gave them vast territory to rule, they overwhelmingly served in the military and government. Unlike

Ptolemaic Egypt
, Greeks in the Seleucid Empire seem to rarely have engaged in mixed marriages with non-Greeks; they kept to their own cities.

The various non-Greek peoples of the empire were still influenced by the spread of Greek thought and culture, a phenomenon referred to as Hellenization. Historically significant towns and cities, such as Antioch, were created or renamed with Greek names, and hundreds of new cities were established for trade purposes and built in Greek style from the start.[48] Local educated elites who needed to work with the government learned the Greek language, wrote in Greek, absorbed Greek philosophical ideas, and took on Greek names; some of these practices then slowly filtered down to the lower classes. Hellenic ideas began an almost 250-year expansion into the Near East, Middle East, and Central Asian cultures.

Synthesizing Hellenic and indigenous cultural, religious, and philosophical ideas – an ethnic unity framework established by Alexander – met with varying degrees of success. The result was times of simultaneous peace and rebellion in various parts of the empire. In general, the Seleucids allowed local religions to operate undisturbed, such as incorporating Babylonian religious tenets, to gain support.[49] Tensions around the integration of Judaism were present during the reign of the Seleucid governments. Though previous governments had managed a relatively seamless integration of Judean religious and cultural practices, the rule of Antiochus IV introduced significant changes. Antiochus IV instigated a bidding process for the High Priest position—this led to Menelaus, a radical Hellenist, outbidding Jason, a moderate Hellenist who upheld many traditional Judean practices.[50] The shift from Jason to Menelaus unsettled the Jewish populace due to Menelaus's more extreme Hellenistic leanings.[51] Aggravating the situation, Antiochus IV initiated a series of religious persecutions. This cumulated in a localized revolt in Jerusalem. Antiochus IV's violent retaking of the city and the banning of traditional Judean practices led to the eventual loss of control of Judea by the Seleucid government, paving the way for the rise of an independent Hasmonean kingdom.


Bagadates I (Minted 290–280 BC) was the first native Seleucid satrap to be appointed.[52]

As with the other major

phalanx. The phalanx was a large, dense formation of men armed with small shields and a long pike called the sarissa. This form of fighting had been developed by the Macedonian army in the reign of Philip II of Macedon and his son Alexander the Great. Alongside the phalanx, the Seleucid armies used numerous native and mercenary troops to supplement their Greek forces, which were limited due to the distance from the Seleucid rulers' Macedonian
homeland. The size of the Seleucid army usually varied between 70,000 and 200,000 in manpower.

The distance from Greece put a strain on the Seleucid military system, as it was primarily based around the recruitment of Greeks as the key segment of the army. In order to increase the population of Greeks in their kingdom, the Seleucid rulers created military settlements. There were two main periods in the establishment of settlements, firstly under

Antiochus III brought Greeks from Euboea, Crete and Aetolia and settled them in Antioch.[55]

These Greek settlers would be used to form the Seleucid phalanx and cavalry units, with picked men put into the kingdom's guards' regiments. The rest of the Seleucid army would consist of native and mercenary troops, who would serve as light

Syria-Coele would have undermined the kingdom's very existence.[56]

Following losses of territory in Asia Minor during the

Roman-Seleucid War, King Antiochus IV sponsored a new wave of immigration and settlements to replace them and maintain enough Greeks to staff the phalanxes seen at the military parade at Daphne in 166–165 BC. Antiochus IV built 15 new cities "and their association with the increased phalanx... at Daphne is too obvious to be ignored".[57]


As a Hegemonic empire, much of the state's wealth accumulation centered around maintaining its sizable military.[58][59][60][61] While the motive is simple enough, the Seleucid empire boasts of a sophisticated political economy that extracts wealth from local temples, cities (or poleis), and royal estates; much of which was inherited from their Achaemenid predecessors. Recent discussion indicates a market-oriented economy under the Seleucids.[61] However, evidencing limits our understanding of the Seleucid economy to the Hellenistic Near-East; that is, through their holdings in Syria, Asia Minor, and Mesopotamia. Little is known about the economy of the Upper Satrapies.


Seleucid Bronze Coin depicting Antiochus III with Laureate head of Apollo Circa. 200 BC

Currency plays an increasingly central role under the Seleucids; however, we should note that monetization was nothing new in their newly acquired lands.[61] Rather, the introduction and widespread implementation of currency is attributed to Darius I's tax reforms centuries prior;[61] hence, the Seleucids see a continuation rather than shift in this practice, i.e. the payment of taxation in silver or, if necessary, in kind.[58] In this regard, the Seleucids are notable for paying their sizeable armies exclusively in silver.[60] Nevertheless, there are two significant developments of currency during the Seleucid period: the adoption of the "Attic Standard" in certain regions,[61] and the popularization of bronze coinage.[60]

The adoption of the Attic standard was not uniform across the realm. The Attic standard was already the common currency of the Mediterranean prior to Alexander's conquest; that is, it was the preferred currency for foreign transactions.[60] As a result, coastal regions under the Seleucids—Syria and Asia Minor—were quick to adopt the new standard.[60] In Mesopotamia, however, the millennia-old shekel (weighing 8.33 g silver) prevailed over the Attic standard.[60] According to Historian R. J. van der Spek, this is due to their particular method in recording price, which favored bartering over monetary transactions.[61] The Mesopotamians used the value of one shekel as a fixed reference point, against which the amount of a good is given.[61][62] Prices themselves are accounted in terms of their weight in silver per ton, e.g., 60 g silver, barley, June 242 BC.[62] The minute difference in weight between a shekel and didrachm (weighing 8.6 g silver) could not be expressed in this barter system, and the a Greek tetradrachm would be "a far too heavy denomination…in daily trade."[61]

Bronze coinage, dating from the late fifth and fourth century, was popularized as a "fiduciary" currency facilitating "small-scale exchanges" in the Hellenistic period.[61][60] It was principally a legal tender which circulated only around its locales of production;[3]however, the great Seleucid mint at Antioch during Antiochus III's reign (which Numismatist Arthur Houghton dubs "The Syrian and Coele-Syrian Experiment") began minting bronze coins (weighing 1.25–1.5g) to serve a "regional purpose."[63] The reasons behind this remain unclear. However, Spek notes a chronic shortage of silver in the Seleucid empire.[61] In fact, Antiochus I's heavy withdrawal of silver from a satrap is noted by the Babylonian astronomical diary (AD No. – 273 B 'Rev. 33'): "purchases in Babylon and other cities were made in Greek bronze coins."[61] This was unprecedented because "in official documents [bronze coins] played no part";[61] it was a sign of "hardship" for the Seleucids.[61] Nevertheless, the low denomination of bronze coinage meant it was used in tandem with bartering; making it a popular and successful medium of exchange.[60]


Agriculture, like most pre-modern economies, constituted a vast majority of the Seleucid economy. Somewhere between 80 and 90% of the Seleucid population was employed,[58] in some form, within the prevailing agricultural structures inherited from their Neo-Babylonian and Achaemenid predecessors.[60] These included temples, poleis, and royal estates. We should clarify that the term poleis, according to Spek, did not confer any special status to cities in the Seleucid sources; it was simply the term for "city"—Greek or otherwise.[58] Regardless, agricultural produce varied from region to region. But in general, Greek poleis produced: "grain, olives and their oil, wine…figs, cheese from sheep and goats, [and] meat."[60] Whereas Mesopotamian production from temple land consisted of: "barley, dates, mustard (or cascuta/dodder), cress (cardamom), sesame and wool"; which, as the core region of the Seleucid empire, was also the most productive.[61][58]

Price of barley and dates per tonne

Recent evidence indicates that Mesopotamian grain production, under the Seleucids, was subject to market forces of supply and demand.[61] Traditional "primitivist" narratives of the ancient economy argue that it was "marketless"; however, the Babylonian astronomical diaries show a high degree of market integration of barley and date prices—to name a few—in Seleucid Babylonia.[62] Prices exceeding 370g silver per ton in Seleucid Mesopotamia was considered a sign of famine. Therefore, during periods of war, heavy taxation, and crop failure, prices increase drastically. In an extreme example, Spek believes tribal Arab raiding into Babylonia caused barley prices to skyrocket to 1493 grams of silver per ton from 5–8 May, 124 BC.[62] The average Mesopotamian peasant, if working for a wage at a temple, would receive 1 shekel; it "was a reasonable monthly wage for which one could buy one kor of grain= 180 [liters]."[62] While this appears dire, we should be reminded that Mesopotamia under the Seleucids was largely stable and prices remained low.[61] With encouraged Greek colonization and land reclamation increasing the supply of grain production, however, the question of whether this artificially kept prices stable is uncertain.[61]

The Seleucids also continued the tradition of actively maintaining the Mesopotamian waterways. As the greatest source of state income, the Seleucid kings actively managed the irrigation, reclamation, and population of Mesopotamia.[61] In fact, canals were often dug by royal decrees, to which "some were called the King's Canal for that reason."[58] For example, the construction of the Pallacottas canal was able to control the water level of the Euphrates which, as Arrian notes in his Anabasis 7.21.5, required: "over two months of work by more than 10,000 Assyrians."[58]

Role of the state–political economy

As a hegemonic empire, the state's primary focus was maintaining its sizable army via wealth extraction from three major sources:[60] tribute from autonomous poleis and temples, and proportional land-tax from royal land.[64][65] The definition of "royal land" remains contested. While all agree poleis do not constitute royal land, some remain uncertain over the status of temple land.[66][64] Yet, they commanded notable economic power and functioned almost independently from the state.[59] Nevertheless, the Seleucid manner of extraction, in contrast to earlier regimes, is considered more "aggressive" and "predatory".[65][59]

Episodes of Seleucid dispoliation from Michael J. Taylor's Sacred Plunder

In theory, the Seleucid state was an absolute monarchy that did not recognize private property in our modern sense.[66] Any land that was not delegated to the poleis or temples was considered private property of the sovereign;[66] thus, considered as Royal Land and liable to direct tax by the state. Here, a "proportional land-tax", that is, a tax based on the size of one's plot, is collected by the local governor (or Satrap) and sent to the capital.[64] However, there is no evidence for the amount that was taxed on any given region.

Tribute was heavily levied on poleis and temples. Although tribute is paid annually, the amount demanded increases significantly during wartime. During a civil war in 149 BC, Demetrius II demanded the province of Judaea to pay 300 talents of silver, which was seen as "severe."[64] But this was far from an isolated case. In fact, the Babylonian Astronomical Diaries in 308/7 BC note a hefty 50% tax on harvest "from the lands of the temple of Shamash (in Sipprar or Larsa)."[66] Nevertheless, annual tribute was "a long-accepted and uncontroversial practice."[59] Also, royal land was regularly donated to the temples and poleis; albeit under the assumption that a greater share of revenue is given to the state in exchange.[66][65]

The controversial practice of temple "despoliation", however, was a regular occurrence under the Seleucids—in contrast to earlier times.[59] Although the Seleucid kings were aware and appreciated the sacrosanctity of religious treasures, their concentration in these places "proved irresistible" in the face of "short-term fiscal constraints."[59] As an example, Antiochus III's despoliation of the Anahit Temple in Ecbatana, wherein he procured 4000 silver talents, was used to fund his Great Eastern campaign.[59] According to historian Michael J. Taylor:[59]

It is difficult to believe that these monarchs who knew enough to bow before Nabu, bake bricks for Esagil, and enforce kosher regulations in Jerusalem, would be blithely aware of the political hazards of removing Temple treasures. It is more likely that they knew the risks but took them anyway.

A rebellion in 169 BC during Antiochus III's campaign in Egypt demonstrates that these "risks" occasionally backfire.[65] The increasingly bold interference is due, in large part, to the appointment of provincial high-priests by the monarch himself.[65][58] Often they were his court "favorites",[58] whose prerogatives were purely administrative; essentially, they served to collect tribute for the state.[65] Unsurprisingly: "native elites profoundly feared that the arrival of a Seleucid official might quickly cascade into a wholesale removal of Temple treasures."[59]

Academic discussion

Interpretations on the Seleucid economy since the late 19th century traditionally fell between the "modernist" and "primitivist" camps.[61][60] On one hand, the modernist view—largely associated with Michael Rostovtzeff and Eduard Meyer—argues that the Hellenistic economies operated along price-setting markets with capitalist enterprises exported over long distances in "completely monetarized markets."[60] On the other hand, the primitivist view—associated with M.I. Finley, Karl Polanyi and Karl Bücher—interprets ancient economies as "autarchic" in nature with little to no interaction among each other. However, recent discussion has since criticized these models for their grounding on "Greco-centric" sources.[58][67]

Recent discussion has since rejected these traditional dichotomies.[61][60][67] According to Spek and Reger, the current view is that the Seleucid economy—and Hellenistic economies more broadly—were partially market-oriented, and partially monetarized.[61] While the market was subject to forces of supply and demand, a majority of produce was still consumed by their producers and was, hence, "invisible" to the observer.[61][60]

Family tree of Seleucids

See also


  1. ^ Cohen, Getzel M; The Hellenistic Settlements in Syria, the Red Sea Basin, and North Africa, p. 13.
  2. ^ Lynette G. Mitchell; Every Inch a King: Comparative Studies on Kings and Kingship in the Ancient and Medieval Worlds, p. 123.
  3. ^ Grainger 2020, pp. 130, 143.
  4. ^ a b Richard N. Frye, The History of Ancient Iran, (Ballantyne Ltd, 1984), 164;"Greek was the official and dominant written language of the Seleucid empire, but Aramaic continued in use.."
  5. ^ Julye Bidmead, The Akitu Festival: Religious Continuity and Royal Legitimation in Mesopotamia, (Gorgias Press, 2004), 143.
  6. ^ Primer of Hinduism, p. 81, J. N. Farquhar, Asian Educational Services
  7. ^
    JSTOR 1170959
  8. .
  9. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, 1st ed. "Seleucid, n. and adj." Oxford University Press (Oxford), 1911.
  10. . Most of the Asiatic occupations of Alexander, Iran as the core of them, were given to Seleucus I at first. Thus, Iran came under the ruling of the Seleucid. The Seleucid was a Greek state that commanded Western Asia between 312 and 64 BC. The Seleucid Empire was founded by Seleucus I.
  11. . By 201–200 it appeared that the old structure would be replaced by a tremendous expansion in the power of two already formidable Greek states –Antigonid Macedon and the Seleucid Empire– or perhaps even that one of these two formidable powers would emerge the sole victor.
  12. . ... and the Greeks, or at least the Greco-Macedonian Seleucid Empire, replace the Persians as the Easterners.
  13. ^ Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies (London, England) (1993). The Journal of Hellenic studies, Volumes 113–114. Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies. p. 211. The Seleucid kingdom has traditionally been regarded as basically a Greco-Macedonian state and its rulers thought of as successors to Alexander.
  14. . The wars between the two most prominent Greek dynasties, the Ptolemies of Egypt and the Seleucids of Syria, unalterably change the history of the land of Israel…As a result the land of Israel became part of the empire of the Syrian Greek Seleucids.
  15. ^ . In addition to the court and the army, Syrian cities were full of Greek businessmen, many of them pure Greeks from Greece. The senior posts in the civil service were also held by Greeks. Although the Ptolemies and the Seleucids were perpetual rivals, both dynasties were Greek and ruled by means of Greek officials and Greek soldiers. Both governments made great efforts to attract immigrants from Greece, thereby adding yet another racial element to the population.
  16. . The Greco-Macedonian Elite. The Seleucids respected the cultural and religious sensibilities of their subjects but preferred to rely on Greek or Macedonian soldiers and administrators for the day-to-day business of governing. The Greek population of the cities, reinforced until the second century BC by immigration from Greece, formed a dominant, although not especially cohesive, elite.
  17. . Like other Hellenistic kings, the Seleucids ruled with the help of their "friends" and a Greco-Macedonian elite class separate from the native populations whom they governed.
  18. ^ Sherwin-White & Kuhrt 1993, p. 40.
  19. .
  20. ^ Kosmin 2014, p. 112.
  21. ^ a b c Appian, History of Rome, "The Syrian Wars" Archived 4 January 2022 at the Wayback Machine 55
  22. ^ Pliny, Natural History VI, 22.4
  23. .
  24. .
  25. ^ Vijay Katchroo. Ancient India, p. 196
  26. ^ William Hunter. The Imperial Gazetteer of India. p. 167
  27. ^ C. D. Darlington. The evolution of man and society. p. 223
  28. S2CID 163980490
  29. .
  30. ^ Pliny the Elder, "The Natural History", Chap. 21 Archived 28 July 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  31. ^ "Strabo 15.2.1(9)".
  32. ^ a b c Engels, David (201). "Iranian Identity and Seleucid Allegiance: Vahbarz, the Frataraka and Early Arsacid Coinage". In K. Erickson (ed.). The Seleukid Empire, 281–222 BC: War within the Family. Swansea. pp. 173–196.
  33. ^ .
  34. .
  35. .
  36. ^ Kosmin 2014, pp. 35–36.
  37. ^ Polybius, Histories, Book 11, 1889, p. 78, trans. Friedrich Otto Hultsch, Evelyn Shirley Shuckburgh
  38. ^ "Livy's History of Rome".
  39. ^ Flavius Josephus, The War of the Jews 1.1§2 Archived 13 February 2021 at the Wayback Machine
  40. ^ Chanukah, Shabbat 21b, Babylonian Talmud
  41. ^ Debevoise 1938, p. 20.
  42. ^ Debevoise 1938, pp. 20–21.
  43. ^ Debevoise 1938, p. 21.
  44. .
  45. .
  46. .
  47. .
  48. ^ Kosmin 2014, pp. 106–107.
  49. ^ Julye Bidmead, The Akitu Festival: Religious Continuity and Royal Legitimation in Mesopotamia, 143.
  50. .
  51. .
  52. ^ "History of Iran: Seleucid Empire".
  53. ^ Head, 1982, p. 20
  54. ^ Chaniotis, 2006, p. 86
  55. ^ Chaniotis, 2006, p. 85
  56. ISBN 0521323525. . For the dismissive Greek attitudes toward Syrians, Bar-Kochva is citing Martin Hengel
    's 1976 work Juden, Griechen und Barbaren, p. 77.
  57. ^ Griffith, 1935, p. 153
  58. ^ .
  59. ^ – via JSTOR.
  60. ^ .
  61. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v van der Spek, Robartus Johannes (2004). "Palace, Temple and Market in Seleucid Babylonia". Topoi: 303–332 – via Academia.[permanent dead link]
  62. ^ .
  63. ^ Houghton, Arthur (2003). "Some Observations on Coordinated Bronze Currency Systems in Seleucid Syria and Phoenicia". Israel Numismatic Journal. 15: 35–47 – via Academia.
  64. ^
    JSTOR 42619061
    – via JSTOR.
  65. ^ .
  66. ^ – via Research Gate.
  67. ^ – via JSTOR.


Further reading

External links