'the Victorious': Seleucus Nicator and the world after Alexander

Status
Not open for further replies.
And so it begins.

Diomedes' attempted reforms sound a lot like the attempts of various late-Roman emperors to empower the (expanded) central bureaucracy over the provincial and local administrations, separate civil and military authority in the provinces and build up local defence forces in the border provinces separate from the mobile armies. It's often praised by historians as "professionalising the government" but in practice it tended not to work very well for the same reasons seen here - local elites had no reason to stay loyal to an empire that subordinated them to the bureaucrats, dragged their taxes off to the centre and failed to protect them against raiders, and local military forces powerful enough to be effective tended to be too powerful to easily control.
 
Chapter Thirty-Four
Chapter Thirty-Four: The Rise of Argeus or: The Great Black Hole

A few years ago, one academic wrote:

'Appreciating, studying, or understanding Seleucid history, especially in the early period between the reigns of Seleucus Nicator and Seleucus Epimanes, is inherently and inescapably complicated by Argeus I. As a figure, he is oftentimes comparable to Alexander the Great in his tendency towards mythologising and the singularity of his existence. That is to say that the sheer existence and fame of Argeus I often tricks people into perceiving Seleucid history as being defined by a pre-Argeus and post-Argeus world. In this sense, Argeus is comparable to a great black hole, sucking everything and everybody around him into this perception of "his" world.'

This categorisation is fair to some extent. King Argeus I is a name that many will be familiar with and one that, so far, I have deliberately strayed away from so as to avoid the tendency of some to see Seleucid history as defined by his reign. Some hundred years ago, the Seleucid empire was very notably described as:

'The march of great conquerors from that greatest of Macedonians, Alexander, to the only man to ever truly come close to his fame and prestige, Argeus'

Sometimes known as Argeus 'Aniketos' (or Argeus 'the Invincible'), his reign of an astonishing 43 years from 186 BCE until his death in 143 BCE at the age of 77 saw the so-called 'Golden Age' of the Seleucids in which the empire would reach its territorial, cultural, and political heights. It was a period never to be repeated and the death of Argeus would herald the beginning of its long decline. That, at least, is the traditional telling. As we will discuss going forward, modern interpretations are somewhat less simplistic and it is important for us to try and see Argeus from a more complex standpoint. With that in mind, let us discuss the 'rise' of King Argeus I.
1686872632212.png

Born in 220 BCE, Argeus was the only son of the marriage of Prince Antiochus of the Seleucid Empire and Berenice, granddaughter of Ptolemy III. His grandfather, the soon-to-be Ptolemy IV, was born in 259 BCE and married his sister Eurydice, in 241 BCE at the age of 18. A year later, they produced Berenice. This meant that Argeus was the scion of both the Seleucid and Ptolemaic royal families, a status which would very quickly get him in hot water. In 219 BCE, Antiochus was killed by Seleucus and a year later, Argeus was adopted by Demetrius, Antiochus' brother. This status would last for only a few years until 215 BCE when Demetrius too was killed. In around 213 or 212 BCE, Berenice and Argeus finally fled the Seleucid empire for fear that Seleucus would have them killed as a threat to his power, eventually finding their way to the Ptolemaic court, now ruled by Ptolemy IV.

Under Ptolemy's protection, the 7 or 8 year old Argeus would spend the next decade or so being educated and raised alongside the Ptolemaic princes. Supposedly, Argeus seems to have always had something of a difficult relationship with the Ptolemaic princes. Ptolemy IV's eldest son, Ptolemy (b. 236 BCE) seems to have disliked Argeus from the start and the two never had an especially close relationship in any way shape or form. For Argeus, one of the prime difficulties was the fact that technically he wasn't a Ptolemaic prince at all but a Seleucid one, the same kingdom that had spent the 220s butting heads with the Ptolemies and killing thousands of their soldiers. Of course, the many biographies of Argeus tend to give us another reason for the crown prince's distaste for Argeus which is that Argeus soon proved himself so virtuous and talented that Ptolemy IV grew to like him even above his own son and, at one point, even told his son that, when he became king, he should always listen to Argeus above any other advisor 'for only by those means shall the kingdom grow to encompass all its enemies'. In these biographies, the crown prince began to resent his father's clear preference for Argeus and, in turn, to hate him.

Of course, this story is almost certainly false but the biographies do give us some interesting information on both the conflicts between Argeus and the Ptolemaic court and the solutions devised initially by his mother but eventually carried on by Argeus himself. The earliest significant surviving biography of Argeus was written at the beginning of the 1st Century BCE, sometime around 90-80 BCE and tells us one interesting titbit when it says that:

'Argeus' ambition outstripped all the other Ptolemaic princes and it has been said that even as a child he longed the conquer the world'

This single line gives us some context for a lot of the division between Argeus and the court. See, going forward, Argeus' career will be often impacted by both fear and envy within the Ptolemaic court and it seems likely that the real conflict may well have emerged from Argeus' own ambitions, spoken out of turn and in an environment that could not withstand an ambitious prince. At a time when the peace with the Seleucids was still fresh and for the crown prince, statements of Argeus' intention to rule vast kingdoms or conquer the world could well have been interpreted as a threat. For Argeus, the issue may well have been more related to his inability to fit in and his personal perception that he simply was not accepted by the Ptolemaic court and would continue to be an outsider the rest of his life. Whether the main issue was Argeus' isolation from the Ptolemaic court or the fears of the Ptolemaic princes that Argeus might one day become a threat, he remained unpopular with many amongst the court. During the first decade of his time in Egypt, Ptolemy IV was consulted on several occasions by concerned officials seeking to have him sent back to the Seleucid empire as Diomedes, then controlling the court, was requesting. Nevertheless, probably knowing that Argeus would be killed upon taking one step into Antioch, Ptolemy IV instead chose to protect him.

In the traditional biographies, Argeus' first sign of 'greatness' came at only 12 when he and the king were travelling together and their guards were ambushed by bandits on the road. Argeus sprung into action, organising the guards and, apparently, through sheer force of personality was able to devise a strategy and lead the guards to a stunning victory, thus saving the king. Undoubtedly, this story is made up but it does indicate a certain truth; Argeus seems to have shown a very real propensity for athletics and, especially, wrestling from a young age and was renowned for his physical stature as a young man, being both taller and stronger than any of the Ptolemaic princes. Still he struggled to fit in and, in a very interesting and important point, his solution was apparently to turn to religion. Specifically, Argeus became a close follower of the cult of Dionysus in Alexandria. This was not a sign of his particular love of drinking (in fact, Argeus seems to have had no love for excessive drinking whatsoever) but instead an indicator of an interesting political move. Remember the Dionysiac miracle and how Euphemios, writing in the 2nd Century, seemed to be pushing back the origins of a real Dionysiac war cult present in the 2nd Century Seleucid empire? This, right here, is the earliest incarnation that we know of.

See, Dionysus was an ancestor god of the Ptolemies and very popular in Ptolemaic ideology. In particular, Ptolemy II had cultivated a very close relationship with Dionysus given his ability to easily cross cultural boundaries and work as both a Greek and Egyptian god. However, the connections went back even further since even Alexander had considered himself a descendant of Dionysus. In short, the Ptolemies through their connection to Dionysus were both connected to Egyptian culture (in which Dionysus could act very well as a Greco-Egyptian god and was often syncretised with Osiris at various points) and to the Argeads and Alexander. It has also been argued that Ptolemy II's association with Dionysus helped to cultivate an image of him as bringing wealth and rejuvenating Egypt given the god's association with regeneration and renewal. Under Ptolemy II, the Ptolemaia festival held in Alexandria was closely associated with Dionysus and many of the coins of Ptolemy I issued under his son feature an elephant headdress, a reference back to both Alexander's eastern conquests in India and the Dionysiac invasion of India.

By the time Argeus came along, Sosthenes' works on Dionysus would also have reached Alexandria and Argeus himself was said to have been very fond of the work and enjoyed many of the so-called 'Sosthenic-tradition works', many of which were produced in Alexandria at the end of the 3rd Century and beginning of the 2nd. These were often satirical, light-hearted and included themes of travel, exploration, and conquest with Dionysus (or occasionally other Dionysiac figures) at their centre. Argeus' association with the god, then, was an attempt to fit in with the Ptolemaic dynasty, to create a personal ideology that integrated him into the Ptolemaic ideology and helped portray him as, in effect, part of the family. It was something he would continue throughout the rest of his life, especially during his time in Nubia at the end of the 3rd Century when he, and his soldiers, would really begin the emergence of the militaristic 'war-god' Dionysus.

Still, Argeus' relationship with the Ptolemies doesn't seem to have improved all that much. Argeus continued to drift further and further away from the centre of power and, by 206 BCE, the now-14 year old seems to have only seen the king or even many of the other Ptolemies on rare occasions. He is said to have complained at length about being 'treated as lower than the diplomats and petitioners who crowd the halls of the palace', to which the crown prince is said to have replied: 'if only you were as useful as any of them'. However, Argeus was coming of age and naturally was starting to expect that he would end up with some sort of position in the army. He was, therefore, not surprised when he was given a command. He was, however, both surprised and disappointed to learn that it was a minor fort command down in Nubia.

This fort, somewhere near Semna south of the Second Cataract, lay right on the very border of the Triakontaschoinos (the Ptolemaic region of Lower Nubia). Since the mid-220s, Semna had been the effective southern end of Ptolemaic control following a general pull back during the Great Syrian War. Argeus' command involved a small, and somewhat dilapidated, fort garrisoned by only 140 soldiers to the south-east of Semna along one of the desert paths leading north. Of these, only about 20 were Greek, another 35 were Jewish, 35 were Egyptian and 50 were Nubian. It was, in short, about as small a command as one could expect to have been given. According to the biographies, the command itself was a punishment after Argeus had been caught either having a relationship with a palace maid or the son of a local farmer, sneaking the latter in under cover of night. He had also been accused of then proceeding to give away valuables from within the palace as gifts to his lover. None of this was illegal by any means and it is unlikely that the concern for the Ptolemies was anything more than image. It is very possible that Ptolemy IV had plans for Argeus' marriage or figured that his gallivanting off with maids and farmer's sons was simply a bad look, especially his tendency to steal from the palace to give them gifts. It is also possible that the hostility between Argeus and the crown prince played a role, helping condemn him to this temporary exile.

And temporary it was intended to be, in 203 BCE, only a year after his assignment to the fort, Argeus was recalled with the promise of a more lucrative command in Egypt. Famously, however, he now turned the opportunity down. In the year in between, Argeus had set about rebuilding and reforming the fort, training the soldiers there and setting them to work repairing damage built up over the last several years. He had also fought several small engagements, largely with bandits along the roads and built up relationships with local traders. He had also, however, begun a correspondence with the, then, governor of the Triakontaschoinos, Euphranor who was impressed by the boy's talent and his soldiers' discipline. Towards the end of 204 BCE, Euphranor had visited the fort and was amazed to find his small band of soldiers to be highly trained and disciplined well beyond what Argeus' predecessor had left. Whether or not we really trust the biographies on this, Argeus certainly did make a name for himself as a hard leader with a staunch focus on discipline above all else. His punishments were extremely severe and drew criticism even during his own life such as in 201 BCE when he was criticised for having a cavalryman executed and his body strung up for more than a week for a minor act of indiscipline.

Regardless, Argeus would stay in Nubia for several more years. Having refused a command elsewhere, Ptolemy IV instead chose to reassign Argeus to a higher command in Nubia, a position he would hold until 200 BCE when he replaced Euphranor as governor of the Triakontaschoinos. Now in full command, Argeus set out to really make his name; between 200 and 197 BCE, he began a rapid advance south towards the third cataract where, some 30 years earlier, the Jewish commander Mosollamos had set up a Ptolemaic fort. This was restored by Argeus in 198 BCE, the same year in which he was said to have sent back some 4000 Kushite captives to Alexandria. However, in 197 BCE, Argeus would find himself subject to a massive counter-attack consisting of, apparently, some 30,000 Kushites against his own force of 8000. Suspecting that no Ptolemaic support was coming, especially when Ptolemy IV had only just died that year, Argeus instead settled in for a fight. In September or October 197 BCE, Argeus met the Kushite army at the Battle of Tombos. Tombos, an island in the middle of the third cataract, had been fortified by Argeus before the arrival of the Kushite force and all but one bridge destroyed. He had then hidden some 3000 soldiers over a ridge on the mainland and left the rest of the 5000 on the island. When the Kushites arrived, they prepared to attack the Ptolemaic force at which point Argeus ordered all the food and water destroyed. Famously, he then told his soldiers that they would leave the island 'only over the bodies of the enemy'.

When the battle began, the desperate Ptolemaic soldiers fought for their lives, pushing back several Kushite assaults until, Argeus finally sprang the trap and his waiting forces emerged from the rear and ambushed the Kushite army. Taken by surprise, the Kushite soldiers began to flee but lost thousands of soldiers in the rout as Argeus led his infantry in a charge against their routing foes. As they retreated, however, Argeus chose to keep up the pressure and pushed their army as far as Dongola before returning to Tombos with loot and captives. Supposedly, of the original 30,000 Kushites, some 14,000 were killed or captured to only 16 of Argeus' own soldiers. Again, regardless of whether this is true, it was a huge victory and seemed to cement Argeus' name back in Egypt. As captives began to stream north, Argeus was emboldened to ask Ptolemy V for more soldiers, a request which was curtly refused. The next year, Argeus would again find himself going head to head with the Kushites and would manage to ambush, and nearly destroy, another Kushite army.

Another of his major achievements during this period would be the near-total capture, and fortification, of the so-called Pselkis (or Korosko) route, beginning at Pselkis just to the south of Aswan far to the north and ending well into Upper Nubia past the 4th Cataract. This route bypassed what was known as the Dongola bend, a very wide bend in the Nile which would dramatically increase travel times for merchants. The bend began about 190km south of Aswan (at the first cataract and the traditional 'end' of Egypt) and ended between the 4th and 5th Cataracts for a total distance of 160 km of river. That is to say that the route cut off a lot of distance for the average merchant. However, since it was also not on the Nile, it was a lot harder for the Ptolemaic kingdom to control. Over the course of the early 190s, Argeus established a network of new forts along much of the road and was able to regulate traffic rather effectively. He was able to do this, in part, through his negotiations and deals made with the Noba and Makorae peoples (nomadic groups inhabiting the regions between the First and Third and Fourth and Fifth cataracts respectively). Indeed, Noba and Makorae cavalry would be present in several engagements during Argeus' rise to power and we know he had a contingent of Noba during his second battle with the Kushites in 196 BCE.

Regardless, Argeus' time in Nubia would come to a sudden end in late 196 BCE when news of a major revolt in Upper Egypt reached him. Initially, he assumed that the revolt would be put down soon enough but, as the months passed, he began to realise that the situation was worse than he had expected. As news filtered south, rumours that Aswan itself has fallen to rebels and of a potential uprising in Lower Nubia caused him to finally call a retreat from the Third Cataract. His time at Tombos had been brief and was never to be repeated as he began the march north. Sure enough, in 195 BCE, he faced a major Nubian uprising near Anibah which he was able to crush before continuing on north towards Aswan. When he got there, he found that the news had been exaggerated but only barely; Aswan was under siege and and the garrison about to fall. With his arrival, however, he was able to turn the tide and drive back the rebels in a brutal battle outside of the city. In the aftermath, he displayed his already well-known penchant for harsh justice when he had every single one of the rebels hanged on the banks of the Nile.





------------------------------------------
Note:

For information about Ptolemy II and Dionysus: Goyette, M. (2010), 'Ptolemy II Philadelphus and the Dionysiac Model of Political Authority', Journal of Ancient Egyptian Interconnections 2 (1).​
 

Attachments

  • 1686877659225.png
    1686877659225.png
    441.4 KB · Views: 94
I get the feeling that the Seleucid Empire will not die out completely, IMO...

Good chapter, BTW, and this is a lock for a nomination for the 2024 Turtledoves for Best Ancient Timelines...
 
And so it begins.

Diomedes' attempted reforms sound a lot like the attempts of various late-Roman emperors to empower the (expanded) central bureaucracy over the provincial and local administrations, separate civil and military authority in the provinces and build up local defence forces in the border provinces separate from the mobile armies. It's often praised by historians as "professionalising the government" but in practice it tended not to work very well for the same reasons seen here - local elites had no reason to stay loyal to an empire that subordinated them to the bureaucrats, dragged their taxes off to the centre and failed to protect them against raiders, and local military forces powerful enough to be effective tended to be too powerful to easily control.​

My thoughts exactly! One of my big bugbears is the idea that more centralised necessarily means better or stronger or that it is always simply a case of trying to bring the local warlords in line with no real understanding of how that should take place. For example, why should Bactria or Sogdiana care about Diomedes' reforms? He is doing very little to actually resolve their issues and they're better at ruling their own regions than he is. In our timeline, Antiochus III even just gave up on trying to bring Bactria back into the fold because it wasn't worth it; Bactria was very rich but it was more worthwhile letting it remain autonomous and nominally subject than trying to recentralise it (that and two years of besieging Bactra did nothing to take the city).
I get the feeling that the Seleucid Empire will not die out completely, IMO...

Good chapter, BTW, and this is a lock for a nomination for the 2024 Turtledoves for Best Ancient Timelines...​

I mean right now? No. But no empire lasts forever; the Seleucids' time will come eventually one way or another.
Is there any raids in india by Saka? Any changes in Mauryan Dynasty?​

I doubt the Saka are really getting that far. Bear in mind that they're not even really getting into Bactria, never mind India itself.
 
Chapter Thirty-Five
Chapter Thirty-Five: Everything Goes to Shit

Diomedes had never been especially popular with many people. However, the years after the death of Antiochus III saw his popularity begin an, ultimately terminal, nosedive. More and more, his position within the court aroused an ever-growing sense of discontent driven by rumours of his role in Antiochus' death and by his own heavy-handed antics within the court. The fact of the matter was, of course, that Seleucus IV did him no favours. See, when Seleucus first came to power back in 208 BCE, he had a reputation for not really caring about his empire and for his tendency to torture and kill animals. Well, that had all changed by about 204 or 203 BCE. Now instead of torturing and killing animals, he had fixed his attentions rather firmly on people and found, in the court, a whole slew of different people willing to supply him for his needs. In a satire, written during the 160s BCE, Diomedes is famously characterised as being effectively a pimp for Seleucus' psychotic tendencies, acquiring young women for the king to torture and kill. These accusations may well be overblown but it is clear that Seleucus did have a source of victims given the numbers mentioned in the sources which, even if overestimated, are terrifyingly high.

For a long time, the murders committed by Seleucus were considered apocryphal at best and there is no doubt that his successors (namely Argeus) played up his actions to portray him as an evil needing thwarted by a usurper. However, letters dating to the 170s and 160s BCE do attest to members of the Seleucid court who claimed to have seen Seleucus' crimes up close. If we read the traditional literary sources, Seleucus is credited with close to 70 murders between about 204 and 186 BCE. In truth, the numbers may well be lower than that with historians typically placing a 'true' number at between 20 and 30 maximum. That said, it is important not to downplay the impact of his actions upon those around him. Unfortunately, the names and lives of many of his victims have been lost save for the notable exception of Demetria, a fact which betrays the typically classist attitudes of those around him. Seleucus, most likely, was not killing aristocrats but lower class people acquired for him by members of the court eager to curry favour with the king. Bare in mind that, for many, there was no real legitimate alternative to the throne in the late 200s and 190s and too many people were invested in keeping their place within the court, a position which might be liable to change should the king also change. Diomedes' goal, most likely, was simply to replace Seleucus as soon as he had a viable successor but that would prove more difficult than he expected. Instead, then, the court chose simply to put up with their king, give him enough entertainment to keep him quiet and otherwise try to stifle the information before it could cause problems.

Not that that worked whatsoever. By the 190s, Seleucus had grown up and was starting to take a worrying interest in the affairs of state. By 198, at least, he was starting to demand that Diomedes allow him to meet with court officials more often and was growing displeased with Diomedes' control of the court and kingdom. Realising very quickly that the crux of Diomedes' power was Aristarchus, Seleucus made several attempts to break down the relationship between the two, only to find that the marriage alliance between Aristarchus and Diomedes via Demetria was close to unbreakable. While Diomedes had Aristarchus and Aristarchus had the royal bodyguard, Seleucus didn't have a leg to stand on. Instead, he began sneaking out of the palace and holding secret rendezvouses with other members of the court to establish what has been termed the 'secret' or 'mystery' court. This secret court would last all of seven years between 198 and 191 BCE and would be the means by which he would begin to try and wrest control of the palace from Diomedes. What this amounted to was an increasing collection of anti-Diomedes figures brought together under the auspices of Seleucus to act as his own power base with which to challenge the Hand of the King for dominance. At its heart, however, was his ace in the hole; Amestris, still effectively in house arrest back in Seleukeia.

His first real move came in 196 BCE when he declared his intention to celebrate his ancestors and tour the great cities of his empire including, of course, Seleukeia. Diomedes, finally seeing Seleucus take some interest in affairs of state, was wary of this but also knew that control over the empire required active engagement and involvement by the king. The fact of the matter was that very few people had actually seen Seleucus since his enthronement over a decade earlier and his sequestration in Antioch was beginning to raise dissent. So, Diomedes acquiesced and in 196 BCE the court went on the road. Upon their arrival in Seleukeia, however, Seleucus effectively ignored everything else and marched straight to the location where Amestris was residing. Taken by surprise, Diomedes attempted to have Seleucus stopped but was prevented from doing so by the intervention of Seleucus' allies who, very publicly, raised a fuss by loudly declaring that the Hand of the King was attempting to arrest Seleucus and take the throne. The result was a riot in the streets of Seleukeia during which several members of the court encouraged the people of the city to stop the usurpation in its tracks. Diomedes was able to put down the revolt with Aristarchus' help but it was too late, Seleucus had met up with Amestris and taken her into his protection. She was to accompany him wherever they went and, by 195 BCE, was finally back at the court. This, however, would prove to be the last clever move Seleucus would make before a series of schemes which might, generously, be termed 'hare-brained'.

This was where everything went wrong for basically everybody involved. Seleucus and Amestris began plotting; Diomedes still retained control of the court and so long as he did so, he effectively controlled the empire. As it stood, Seleucus and Amestris had access to what amounted to a handful of court officials in the face of Diomedes' overwhelming military power. Nor had the Hand of the King been idle during this and, in 195 BCE, he introduced the 'Eyes of the King', modelled after Achaemenid precedents. This amounted to a secret service intended to root out dissent and opposition to his control of the court which would remain active for several decades, even after Diomedes' downfall. It was also, however, his main counter against Seleucus' secret court. That same year, two of Seleucus' close allies were arrested and executed on entirely fabricated charges of treason. This convinced the two to finally pull the plug and act. In early 194 BCE, Aristarchus was sent west in response to rumours of a major revolt brewing in Ionia which Diomedes was eager to put down. In his absence, Seleucus took a direct swipe at the link between Aristarchus and Diomedes; Demetria. The murder of Demetria has become a well-known image of the Seleucid empire; the symbol of court intrigue taken to a brutal end by a whole slew of political actors too self-obsessed to care about the lives of those around them. It should come as no surprise; in August 194 BCE, Seleucus himself killed Demetria and her young son in a scene described by one of Argeus I's biographers as 'the worst murder ever known'.

The moments before the murder were very famously depicted in art including the 1st Century BCE statue entitled 'The Murder of Demetria', depicting the woman moments before her death. However, the art and even romanticism applied to her death often serves to obscure the very real life lost. Demetria is often undermentioned in our sources, her personality or achievements ignored in favour of the gory and brutal details of her death. However, it is important to remember that she was only thirty years old with at least two children; Alexander (b. 200), and Diomedes (b. 196, d. 194). Her relationship with Aristarchus is known to have been very happy and it is said that she was known to have generally had a very good life. The tragedy of Demetria is that we know effectively nothing beyond that. We know everything about her death and about the man who killed her, but very little about her herself. It is the same as the dozens of other victims of Seleucus that I have had to skim over whose names are forever lost to us. We know much about their sensationally gory deaths with stories of human heads placed on display and the king supposedly bathing in human blood (much of which is almost certainly apocryphal), but almost nothing about their lives. As for Demetria, the story is full of all the sensational details biographers love so much; torture, dismemberment and, yes, cannibalism.

Her death, however, would prove to be a monumentally bad mistake. Aristarchus received a letter around the same time as the death, probably sent in advance to cover Seleucus' tracks. In effect, the letter claimed that Demetria had been killed on the orders of Diomedes who, Aristarchus was expected to believe, had had her dismembered, killed, and partially eaten. Well, as a close ally of Diomedes', Aristarchus wasn't buying it. Wracked with grief, Aristarchus withdrew into his tent for an entire month during which time his army never saw him save for his second-in-command. When he emerged in September, he had made up his mind to turn right around and march back to Antioch where he would have the king promptly put to death. In Antioch itself, Diomedes was also grieving but, unlike Aristarchus, had already made up his mind not to avenge Demetria's death. Sure, he had a few people executed here and there and a scapegoat hanged but Seleucus who, let's face it, everybody knew was responsible, continued to walk free. Amestris, however, was less lucky. As Aristarchus began the long march home, Diomedes made several attempts to dissuade the general from, you know, murdering the king, reminding him that this would be an act of treason and he would lose his life. Eventually, realising that Aristarchus would not be dissuades, he had Amestris arrested and turned over to Aristarchus who promptly executed her.

If he had hoped to assuage the general, Diomedes was sorely mistaken as Aristarchus continued to demand the king's head. So what had happened to that whole, simply replacing Seleucus thing? You would think that now would be a good time for Diomedes to simply... replace him, right? Well, no. See, Seleucus was married off quite quickly, as early as 198 BCE. His first wife, however, had lasted all of ten minutes before she fled the capital and ran back off to Upper Satrapies to hide. Unable to actually retrieve her, despite Diomedes' best efforts, the king had simply divorced her in 197 BCE and remarried. However, even with his second wife, the king simply proved unable (or unwilling) to produce an heir. He would have a single daughter, born in 195 BCE, but she would die as an infant and would prove to be the only child he would ever have. His infertility only added to the general sense that Seleucus was increasingly incapable of actually ruling and, more and more, voices were starting to question whether or not he was really best for the throne. The pro-Argeus faction within the court was now rearing its ugly head again, seeing the exiled prince as the best option and discussing (very quietly of course) that perhaps he should be invited back. Of course, Argeus was effectively next in line to the throne but, should he come to power, Diomedes wouldn't last very long and neither would Seleucus. If there was one thing the two could agree upon, it was that Argeus could not be allowed back. Nor, for that matter, could anybody else. Diomedes had invested his power in controlling the king, something which would promptly disappear the moment any stronger candidate took the throne, while Seleucus wasn't going to survive not being king.

So what did Diomedes do? He continued to prop up Seleucus, turning over everything he could to stop Aristarchus' rampage. The result was that Diomedes now began to be seen as effectively enabling Seleucus' crimes. The murder of his own daughter had failed to stir Diomedes and, while his devotion to the king was commendable to some, his refusal to look past the obvious unsuitability of this king to rule was not. Remember how personal Hellenistic kingship was? Well, this is exactly the problem; Seleucus was not just a bad king but he entirely failed to embody the justice and virtue and strength expected of Hellenistic kings. Had he simply been weak, it might not have been a problem but his tendency to dismember young women and his recent murder of a well-liked aristocrat was a step too far when there were better options currently down in Egypt making a name for themselves. The murder of Demetria was a breaking point, one which would shatter the basis of Diomedes' power forever.

By the end of 194 BCE, Aristarchus was coming very close to Antioch indeed and Diomedes, fearing the city would soon fall, instead chose to retreat back to Seleukeia where he would remain until 186 BCE. As he marched east, he sent word out to the Upper Satrapies demanding they send more soldiers and gold to support his war against Aristarchus, probably planning to rally his forces and prepare a return to Antioch for the next year. However, Gorgias and Megasthenes had already caught onto the fact that Diomedes was running out of time and that, if they just waited, they could simply crush him in turn. Indeed, many of the other satraps of the Upper Satrapies seem to have decided much the same; Diomedes had done nothing for them so why should they go out of their way to help him? The one major exception was Persis which, until 193 BCE, blamed Aristarchus for the death of Amestris and, remembering the close ties between the Persian aristocracy and Amestris' family, sent soldiers. Once they are at court, however, the Persian soldiers quickly realised that Diomedes had, in fact, sold Amestris down the river to Aristarchus and was currently selling anyone else he could down the river as well. The result of this was a straight-up riot in Seleukeia in February 193 BCE which led to a pitched battle and the death of several hundred soldiers. The Persian soldiers would ravage the city itself for several days before Gorgias, finally, stepped in after Diomedes sent a letter agreeing to make his son, Gorgias II 'Soter', satrap of Persis should he save them. In March, Soter took several thousand cavalry and rushed down the road to Seleukeia where they helped relieve the siege. Sure enough, a couple of months later, the satrap of Persia was overthrown and Soter took up leadership.

This, of course, was pretty far out from what would be considered normal or acceptable under other circumstances and would mark a period of some seven years during which Central Asia rapidly fell into warlordism and chaos. In effect, the sanctioning of the usurpation of Persis by Gorgias II effectively legitimised the rise of dynastic positions within the upper satrapies. In the aftermath, the upper satrapies increasingly began to disregard any notion of centralised control and, instead, started to rush for power themselves. There really is no use in trying to parse out all the many competing factions present in the period between 193 and 186 BCE as fighting became increasingly common. Instead, the general trend was towards the gradual rise of Sogdiana under Gorgias and Bactria under Megasthenes to gradually control much of the Iranian plateau. The alliance between the two provided a secure basis to their north and south respectively and allowed a series of wars of political expansion during which much of the region was carved up between them. With that said, these conflicts were a constant and ongoing process for both and even in 187 BCE, control by the Bactrians and Sogdians was far from uniform.

In the west, Aristarchus' revolt tore through the empire at a blistering rate. After a siege of Antioch lasting several months, he took the city and plundered much of it, trashing Seleucus III's gardens and then continuing onwards towards Seleukeia. In late 193 BCE, he crushed an army sent against him on the banks of the Euphrates and swept southwards towards Seleukeia. The first siege of Seleukeia would, however, end in disaster only a year later. Despite several attempts to take the city, Aristarchus' army failed to breach the outer defences (which, remember, were still intact since the Persian riot had taken place inside the city) and, in 192 BCE, Gorgias II Soter arrived with another relief army and crushed his army in return for a sizeable bribe (both to save the city and then, afterwards, to leave in peace) before returning to Persis. The defeat at Seleukeia was rather huge and Aristarchus wouldn't actually return for another three years. The relief, while short-lived, would be welcomed as Aristarchus retreated to Antioch to lick his wounds. Despite Diomedes' encouragements, however, neither Soter nor Gorgias I would pursue the revolting general to Antioch. Instead, Diomedes raised his own force, comprised of Greeks and Babylonians, to march out against the general and, surprisingly, was able to actually gain some ground. While he was unable to take Antioch, Diomedes' forces (probably not under his personal command) did succeed in reaching, and capturing, Apamea which was, yes, sacked, probably in order to pay his soldiers.

To his credit, Aristarchus now set about consolidating his position; in 191 BCE, he approached the Macedonian aristocracy for support and received their alliance (and several thousand soldiers to boot). In addition, he repaired some of the damage to Antioch and to several other cities and finally set about issuing what might be termed an official statement of intent. In this, he declared his intention to punish an undefined set of criminals at the heart of the kingdom and free the 'legitimate' (although he did not specify who this was) king from their control. In truth, Aristarchus' goal is summed up quite neatly by one author's description as being to 'kill them all'. Aristarchus, especially in the biographies of Argeus I (which treat him rather well, all things considered) is usually characterised by his immense and ongoing rage towards the court of the day. Seleucus had killed his wife and son, yes, but he had been encouraged by those around him including Diomedes who, even if he was not responsible, had done everything in his power not to punish the king for his transgressions and seemed intent on protecting him. This rage seems to have driven Aristarchus in his campaigns time and again and would, in 186 BCE, lead to the infamous sack of Seleukeia. Finally, in 189 BCE, a battle on the Orontes river saw Diomedes' army defeated and his advance broken and allowed Aristarchus back on the offensive. By August, his army had reached the city of Seleukeia which he now placed under siege.
 
Hoo boy. This, students, is why the dynastic principle can be destabilizing as well as stabilizing, especially in the case of an absolute monarchy without even a de-facto constitution, where everything depends on the personal relationships between the King and the elites. If (like the OTL Later Roman empire) the Seleucid Empire didn't follow the dynastic principle then Seleucus IV would simply be assassinated and Diomedes would proclaim himself the new Great King, with Aristarchus as his chosen heir. There might be a civil war if the satraps disagreed, but he would have a decent chance of being accepted as a superior replacement to an unworthy ruler. But here he can't even think it - the moment Seleucus dies, Diomedes loses his position as Hand of the King and reverts to being an unpopular courtier. And that's assuming he isn't being cursed at every altar as a Gods-damned regicide and wannabe tyrant. An alternative Seleucid might solve the problem, but the only one visible is in Egypt and not in a mood to cooperate.

Diomedes had it all set up so beautifully. With him in charge of administration and Aristarchus in charge of security, he had Seleucus in a box and was effectively dictator of the empire. And all he needed for it to carry on indefinitely was for Seleucus to stay in his box and skin cats or whatever. But Seleucus was too dumb to realise that he was safest in the box, and while the system can handle a puppet Great King, it can't handle an incapable ruler who doesn't want to be puppet and keeps trying to break out. The potential rewards available to anyone who can help Seleucus free himself of Diomedes, means that Diomedes is facing daggers in every shadow,. He can crush plot after plot, but the one person he can't touch, no matter what Seleucus does to him, is the source of both his problems and his precious legitimacy. And so Diomedes ends up utterly trapped by his own brilliance, joined at the hip to a vicious idiot who hates him and is actively trying to bring him down. If Shakespeare doesn't give us Diomede, it's because he doesn't exist in this timeline.
 
Holy Shit, that was brutal. I am hoping that Argeus dont kill Aristarchus.

So where's Alexander in all this? Was he with his father Aristarchus?
Whoops, I meant to mention that. Yes, Alexander is with Aristarchus; his other son was probably too young to really be taken off with Aristarchus.
 
Chapter Thirty-Six
Chapter Thirty-Six: Uprising

In Egypt, the period of 195 to 190 BCE would see a significant sea change in the fortunes of Argeus. In 195 BCE, having put down a Nubian rebellion, Argeus found himself pitted against a major Egyptian uprising against Ptolemy V. The uprising, beginning in Upper Egypt, had swept aside several Ptolemaic garrisons and occupied Egypt between Aphroditespolis in the north and even besieged Aswan in the south. That year, sometime in October, another uprising began in the Delta led by one of Amenhotep's commanders. This latter rebellion would actually outlast Amenhotep's own revolt by decades, lasting until the 170s. By contrast, 195 BCE would prove to be the effective peak of Amenhotep's power; that same year, his forces were routed by Argeus at Aswan and faced a counter-uprising in the Faiyyum by Greek settlers which eventually would push the rebels out of the region entirely. Over the course of 194 and 193 BCE, Amenhotep's forces would be forced to cede more and more land to Ptolemaic forces from the north and south. In an attempt to break out of this vice, the rebels turned their attention south and tried to smash Argeus in battle near Hierakonpolis in April or May 194 BCE. There, on the banks of the river, Argeus would face an army claimed by some to be between two and three times his own. Whether this is true or not, the fact remains that Argeus won a stunning victory, capturing several rebel commanders and smashing their army in battle. In the aftermath, he would then proceed to sweep up north and capture Thebes itself by the end of June at the latest.

Amenhotep immediately moved to retake Thebes but would once again be outdone when Argeus sent a cavalry contingent to Kerameia nearby to hide and, ultimately, outflank Amenhotep's forces. As the rebels engaged Argeus' army just outside of Thebes, the cavalry swept around from behind and flanked them. Amenhotep himself was captured and, by the end of the year, the rebellion had more or less been crushed. It was a stunning victory and one which raised Argeus' prestige and political prospects all the more. Back in Alexandria, news had been filtering of Argeus' many victories for several years now and rumours of this brilliant commander had helped endear him to the court. This had been helped, of course, by a steady stream of captives and booty brought back from Nubia and, now, by the capture of Amenhotep himself. The result was that, in 194 BCE, Ptolemy V made Argeus a general and assigned him to the Delta to finish crushing Amenhotep's rebellion. However, this situation was soon to change. Back in Alexandria, the political situation was tenuous. Following the death of Ptolemy IV, the court had found itself riven by the same issue plaguing the Seleucid empire; political factionalism. Towards the end of the reign of Ptolemy IV, beginning probably at the end of the 200s BCE, a series of powerful ministers had risen to prominence in the Ptolemaic court. Described by one scholar as a series of 'pseudo-Diomedes' figures, they had successively replaced one another in a series of factional conflicts. The most prominent of these, Timoleon, had emerged sometime around 196 BCE after ousting his chief rival from power.

This isn't to say that Ptolemy didn't try to rule in his own right; Ptolemy made several attempts to outwit his own ministers, only to, time and again, find himself effectively relegated to the side-lines. This had come to a head in 195 BCE with the Egyptian uprising during which time the minister then controlling the court had been forced to play his hand by deploying an army to put down the rebels. The problem with this is that the uprising effectively placed a whole load of extra soldiers into the field who could, potentially, cause a real problem. And cause problems they would. In 194, Ptolemy sent a letter to a general named Kleopatros leading Ptolemaic forces in the north, asking him to come free him from the control of the ministers. Sure enough, Kleopatros received the letter, turned right back around, and marched on Alexandria. However, Timoleon had already bet against this very outcome; placing loyal retainers in Kleopatros' army who, upon his defection, immediately had him assassinated. Ptolemy, for his part, was effectively placed under house arrest in his room where all letters and interactions were closely monitored. With the death of Kleopatros, his army was put directly under Timoleon's control by commanded by one of those same subordinates; Thales. All these names can be confusing but they won't remain very important for very long. In short, in 194 BCE, the rebellion was crushed and Argeus brought back to the north with an immensely loyal and popular army. Suddenly, there was a brand-new player in the field and, despite Timoleon's best efforts, Argeus simply would not return to Nubia. As a general, Argeus now found himself with a much bigger armed force and now a much bigger threat to Timoleon.

Argeus, for his part, now became a much more prominent figure at court and quickly caught on to Timoleon's dislike of him. Accordingly, he began to plot against the chief minister and, under the cover of his own military operations in the delta, moved his army to Canopus, not far from Alexandria itself and, most importantly, near Thales' encampment at Heraklion. Spurred on by this clear threat, Timoleon attempted to have Argeus demoted in early 193 BCE, a move which finally gave Argeus exactly what he needed. Claiming that Ptolemy, who had only just promoted his most loyal commander, would surely not immediately have him demoted having committed no crime, Argeus accused Timoleon of illegally sequestrating the king and, most importantly, of plotting his overthrow. Of course, this letter was sent a day after, Argeus had already moved against Thales' position. By the time Timoleon knew for sure that Argeus had revolted, Thales was already defeated and his army scattered. With the main defensive force out of the way, Argeus now marched straight on down to Alexandria and, by the end of 193 BCE, took the city. In the chaos of the fighting, however, several male members of the royal family all found themselves dead including, yes, Ptolemy V. Argeus, for his part, was only too eager to claim that his claims had been vindicated; Timoleon had committed the worst crime of trying to overthrow the king and had, in the process, murdered the king and several other princes. It's very strange considering Timoleon had no claim to the throne and no reason to kill his puppet king.

A much more insidious explanation is that Argeus himself was responsible. Sure, Argeus would go through the motions of propping up a new Ptolemy VI for some two years but his designs on the throne were clear by this point. Ptolemy V and several other men in the Ptolemaic family turned up dead, yes, but only after the battle. They could have died during the fighting, but it is just as likely that Argeus had them killed immediately afterwards and then simply put the blame on the ongoing chaos and Timoleon's own actions. Regardless, Argeus would prop up Ptolemy VI as an effective puppet until 191 BCE at which point the puppet mysteriously dropped dead and Argeus saw fit to simply plop himself on the throne as King Argeus I. These two years, however, would prove crucial. During the period between 193 and 191 BCE, Argeus would set about reorganising the court, pushing out opponents and stacking a whole slew of appointments with his own supporters. Famously, Argeus would prove himself to be very active at nearly every level of the administration, reading and writing Demotic as well as Greek so as to involve himself in the lower levels of the government where Demotic was more commonly used. It's also very possible that, unlike many of the Ptolemies, he spoke Egyptian as well as Greek. Famous for being nearly constantly on the go, Argeus earned a reputation for his constant work-ethic, staying up well into the night to deal with petitions and letters, court cases and even issues of tax revenue.

He also earned a reputation, however, for a very uncompromising attitude towards his enemies. In 192 BCE, he 'foiled' a 'plot' (that is to say, likely had enemies arrested on falsified charges) and executed several members of the court and their families on charges of treason. During this same period, he would also prove himself a very lavish patron of the cults of Dionysus and Herakles in Egypt, most likely to continue building up his own legitimacy as another descendant of Dionysus like the Ptolemies themselves. This included another Ptolemaia like that held by Ptolemy II, organised and held in 191 BCE, as well as a series of Dionysiac and Heraclean shrines throughout Upper Egypt and Nubia. In 191 BCE, he also married Euphrosyne, a surviving daughter of Ptolemy V, likely to secure his connections to the Ptolemaic dynasty ahead of his usurpation. Finally, in 191 BCE, he made himself king. Of course, being king of Egypt was not really enough for Argeus, not when he also had a very clear claim through his father and adopted father to the Seleucid throne, then held by the unstable Seleucus IV and, apparently, falling apart. With that said, Argeus wouldn't simply throw himself in and, instead, began biding his time, rebuilding his resources while, to the north, the Seleucids tore themselves apart.​
 
Last edited:
I'm having trouble keeping track of the timeline here.
In Chapter 34, Argeus is in Nubia fighting Kushites.
In 197, Ptolemy IV dies and the Kushites take the chance to counter-attack but are defeated by Argeus at Tombos. Ptolemy V refuses to send reinforcements.
In 196, Argeus defeats the Kushites again, and marches north to put down a Nubian revolt.
In 195 he disposes of the Nubians and arrives at Aswan which is threatened by a revolt in Upper Egypt.

In this chapter
In 195, Argeus defeats the rebel forces (described as "revolting against Ptolemy IV") at Aswan and continues North
In 194, he defeats the rebels again at Hierakonpolis, captures Thebes and defeats and capture the rebel leader Amenhotep. Ptolemy V makes him a general and assigns him to the Delta where the rebels are still strong.
Also in 194, Ptolemy V (described as "increasingly under the control of a series of powerful ministers, each one lasting only a couple of years before being replaced by the next"), intrigues with the general Kleopatros against his chief minister Timoleon. Timoleon has Kleopatros assassinated and puts the army under the command of his own general, Thales.
In 193, Timoleon tries to dismiss Argeus, who take the chance to revolt, scatters Thales's army, seizes Alexandria and kills Timoleon and Ptolemy V.

The bit I'm struggling with is how Ptolemy V can have had a series of powerful ministers, lasting a couple of years each, when he's only been on the throne for three years. Unless the sequence of over-mighty subjects started in Ptolemy IV's reign and Ptolemy V never got to establish himself?
 
I'm having trouble keeping track of the timeline here.
In Chapter 34, Argeus is in Nubia fighting Kushites.
In 197, Ptolemy IV dies and the Kushites take the chance to counter-attack but are defeated by Argeus at Tombos. Ptolemy V refuses to send reinforcements.
In 196, Argeus defeats the Kushites again, and marches north to put down a Nubian revolt.
In 195 he disposes of the Nubians and arrives at Aswan which is threatened by a revolt in Upper Egypt.

In this chapter
In 195, Argeus defeats the rebel forces (described as "revolting against Ptolemy IV") at Aswan and continues North
In 194, he defeats the rebels again at Hierakonpolis, captures Thebes and defeats and capture the rebel leader Amenhotep. Ptolemy V makes him a general and assigns him to the Delta where the rebels are still strong.
Also in 194, Ptolemy V (described as "increasingly under the control of a series of powerful ministers, each one lasting only a couple of years before being replaced by the next"), intrigues with the general Kleopatros against his chief minister Timoleon. Timoleon has Kleopatros assassinated and puts the army under the command of his own general, Thales.
In 193, Timoleon tries to dismiss Argeus, who take the chance to revolt, scatters Thales's army, seizes Alexandria and kills Timoleon and Ptolemy V.

The bit I'm struggling with is how Ptolemy V can have had a series of powerful ministers, lasting a couple of years each, when he's only been on the throne for three years. Unless the sequence of over-mighty subjects started in Ptolemy IV's reign and Ptolemy V never got to establish himself?

There’s a very good reason for this… I borked up and forgot that Ptolemy IV had died in 197 until halfway through the update which led to a lot of confusion. I’ll go back and fix things up. That’s my bad!
 
Chapter Thirty-Seven
Chapter Thirty-Seven: Kill Them All

The siege of Seleukeia is quite indicative of the fundamental problem facing many ancient generals which is that, faced with a determined enemy, sieges were difficult. Aristarchus' siege of the city shows that pretty perfectly. Between 189 and 186 BCE, Aristarchus would largely prove unable to actually make any real headway against Seleukeia despite his best efforts. By this point, he nominally held control of the western portions of the empire between Macedonia and northern Mesopotamia but, in truth, his power was significantly more limited than that. Aristarchus' main military force came from his own army, held together by a cult of personality based around him and his own military successes. This was the natural downside to having had the main military commanded by the same person since at least 210 BCE. Don't misunderstand, Aristarchus was not a bad or incompetent military leader and had thoroughly trounced Diomedes' forces in the field. Historically, however, he has tended to suffer largely from the presence of Gorgias 'Soter' and Argeus who just so happened to live at the same time as him. What he wasn't, however, was an especially good leader beyond that. Now in control of the western portions of the empire, Aristarchus had effectively no idea as to what to do with it or really what to fight for beyond his own revenge, a problem which soon became very apparent. It was clear that he couldn't, or wouldn't, let Seleucus or Diomedes live but, eventually, he needed some cause to actually keep his soldiers in line. In 191 BCE, as mentioned, he had issued his statement of intent by which he claimed to be acting to 'free' the legitimate king from Diomedes' illegal control which amounted to little more than effectively kicking the question down the road.

For the next year and a bit, this non-answer would effectively be the default for Aristarchus: free the legitimate king... whoever that might be and whatever that might mean. It is probable that most people interpreted Aristarchus' 'legitimate king' as being that of Seleucus but considering what Seleucus had done to his wife and son, that was hardly about to be the case. With that in mind, the natural next choice was, of course, Argeus. In 189 BCE, Argeus was a very nice choice indeed; fresh from having taken control of Egypt, the king would have plenty of resources with which to help Aristarchus and the general had every reason to suspect that they would be natural allies. That is, of course, save for the fact that others had already reached out to Argeus, asking for his help against Aristarchus. Remember how I said that Aristarchus, while a competent commander, was not the best ruler? Well, the last few years had proven that. Aside from plundering Antioch (then attempting to rebuild it), Aristarchus had effectively operated as a roving military band and, in doing so, had managed to anger pretty much everyone. Compared to Diomedes' overly centralised approach, Aristarchus acted as effectively a plague of locusts, ruling more through his own personal military power than through governors, many of whom quickly began to resent the impositions he put upon them for military support.

The result was that, by 190, Aristarchus was facing revolts of his own, including back in Syria where a local man had led a people's uprising in Antioch, killing some of Aristarchus' soldiers and taking control of several bridges in the northern parts of the city. In the same year, an uprising began in Phoenicia and, 189, Cappadocia effectively broke off from the empire entirely. Elsewhere, many of the satraps simply began to act as pseudo-independent pseudo-kings. By 190, many of these anti-Aristarchus figures had already started to reach out to Argeus, pushing him as possibly the next best thing. For the next two and a bit years, Aristarchus saw very little positive change as he instead began to throw himself against Seleukeia. Headway was slow but the situation within the city was also deteriorating. By 186 BCE, starvation and disease ran rampant throughout the city causing riots and revolts as Diomedes struggled to keep control. Within the palace, Seleucus seems to have devolved between 189 and 186 as his mental state deteriorated and, apparently, his violence increased. By the end of the siege, the king was said to have been chained to the bed on several occasions in order to prevent him from hurting those around him. In truth, this may well have been exacerbated by a clear period of psychological and physical abuse by Diomedes throughout the siege. Stories of Seleucus being locked in his room and denied any company, often for weeks or even months, are known including a period of some 5 months in 188 BCE when Seleucus was supposedly even denied sunlight. Diomedes soon grew to loathe the king, apparently going so far as to get drunk and beat him, shouting obscenities at him until restrained by guards.

This is all to say that, if Seleucus was devolving during the siege then Diomedes was too. Nearly three years of siege, exacerbated by Aristarchus' continued rage against the court, served to quickly sour relations even further in the court. Diomedes grew paranoid, sensing threats everywhere and lashing out in anger, supposedly turning to alcohol to soothe himself, something which only worsened his temper. At the same time, Diomedes still attempted to find help. In early 186 BCE, as Aristarchus breached the city and street fighting began, Diomedes turned to leading the defence himself, rushing out and even fighting on some occasions while trying to get Gorgias, Argeus... anybody to just help him already, even offering both of them the throne. But by this point, everybody had seen the writing on the wall. In the west, Argeus figured that his time had come and, instead of simply accepting defections, launched an outright invasion. In the east, Gorgias 'Soter' upped and made himself king (confusingly, 'Gorgias I' but we will call him Gorgias 'Soter' so as not to confuse him with Gorgias I, his still very alive father). No help came. Well people did come, but not for Diomedes. As Argeus and Gorgias closed in on Seleukeia, neither lifted a finger to stop Aristarchus storming the city and, famously, sacking it.

Supposedly, it began as an accident. A soldier, entering a baker's store, started a fire which caught and rampaged through the city. This is probably unlikely. Aristarchus had shown relatively little care for stopping his soldiers from running amok and it's quite possible that the same held true here. The real problem was the scale. For almost two weeks, his soldiers swept through the city pillaging everything they could find. In a very famous piece, written by none other than Euphemios (yes, the same Euphemios who wrote the Siege of Tyre), the impact of the sack is quite poignantly described:

'They say there are places where the ground and the walls are still red. That there are places where bodies were piled high and stripped of their valuables, right down to the bones which the soldiers would collect and trade. One would say: "here is a child" and another: "here is their mother". Fires can still be seen in the walls and homes, in the district where even today bones are found. A farmer told me: "when they took the city, the river ran red for a month and none of the cows would drink". I look upon it and think: "This is Troy".'

Over the two weeks of the fall of Seleukeia, the city was nearly flattened as soldiers and fire took their toll. Much of the western portions of the city went up in flames, the palace was ransacked (once it finally fell) and, yes, the library of Seleucus was stormed and much of it destroyed. It would be another decade before the library was rebuilt and even longer before Seleukeia would recover in any meaningful way. Even then, the sack was so bad that the city would never again reach its pre-Aristarchus population or prestige. Much of the population had left even before the siege, many of them travelling to nearby Babylon and afterwards, many more would continue to the city as refugees in the wake of the city's plundering. Famously, the story goes that Seleukeia itself was left abandoned for close to a year afterwards since the impact of the sack, and the trauma of its memory, was such that nobody would dare enter the city for fear of vengeful spirits. When Argeus eventually re-founded it in 184 BCE, he began by dressing up as Heracles and leading his army through the city several times to demonstrate his mastery over the supernatural threats living within before building a whole new temple complex and making grand dedications to the gods to help cleanse the city.

Seleukeia is interesting because, after 186 BCE, it became what might be termed a 'landscape of trauma', one in which, for decades afterwards, the inhabitants of the city would memorialise large parts of it as a means of coping with the trauma of its sack. Until 186 BCE, remember, Seleukeia had been one of the golden cities of the empire; an image of the splendour of the Seleucid kingdom with a population in the hundreds of thousands. Way back in chapter twenty, the population of Seleukeia around 200 BCE was estimated at close to 800,000 people, a huge number for the period and rivalled only by cities such as Alexandria. In 160 BCE, the population is estimated as being close to 40,000. This isn't to say that 760,000 people died during the sack because that is entirely unlikely. Instead, the vast majority simply left as refugees and, eventually, long-term migrants. Many seem to have eventually found their way to Syria where they bolstered the local economy and helped drive the move of economic and political power towards Syria during the 2nd Century. It's been estimated that some 100-150,000 Seleukeians eventually ended up settled in northern Syria, especially in Antioch and Seleukeia-on-Orontes, both of which grew significantly under Argeus I and II. Others went east where, in time, a reasonably large population of Seleukeians was known as residing in Bactria with a few even travelling into India.

For now, however, the city of Seleukeia was effectively gone. With it, of course, went Diomedes and Seleucus, neither of whom survived the siege. In turn, it wouldn't be long for Aristarchus to go either. Aristarchus seems to have thrown all of his eggs into one basket; the capture of Seleukeia. Whether driven by his need for revenge or possibly even by political goals (his hope being that he might capture or replace the king and thereby take up Diomedes' position), Aristarchus had effectively focussed all his energies on Seleukeia and, in the process, gained a whole lot of money and a very angry empire. By the end of 186 BCE, his army would have met its fate when Gorgias Soter came crashing down upon it on the banks of the Tigris, virtually annihilating it to a man and, promptly, executing Aristarchus. With his death, the empire now fell effectively to two people, both now bent on a confrontation: Argeus and Gorgias Soter.​
 
For now, however, the city of Seleukeia was effectively gone. With it, of course, went Diomedes and Seleucus, neither of whom survived the siege. In turn, it wouldn't be long for Aristarchus to go either. Aristarchus seems to have thrown all of his eggs into one basket; the capture of Seleukeia. Whether driven by his need for revenge or possibly even by political goals (his hope being that he might capture or replace the king and thereby take up Diomedes' position), Aristarchus had effectively focussed all his energies on Seleukeia and, in the process, gained a whole lot of money and a very angry empire. By the end of 186 BCE, his army would have met its fate when Gorgias Soter came crashing down upon it on the banks of the Tigris, virtually annihilating it to a man and, promptly, executing Aristarchus. With his death, the empire now fell effectively to two people, both now bent on a confrontation: Argeus and Gorgias Soter.
This chapter genuinely stung, after following the rise and blossoming of Seleukeia.
 
Incidentally this rubs in just how much the Middle East fall (also Greece, there was a reason Ancient Greece was like cats fighting in a bag as someone described it, here the big disaster was the 600s), particularly the Fertile Crescent, not just in relative terms, but absolute. Iraq's population probably was not much over a million in 1800. Which means Seluceia had a population (even OTL) probably not far share of the *entire* non-nomadic population of Mesopotamia a couple thousand years later. Palestine saw its population drop from perhaps 1 million or more in 0 AD to 300,000. Outside the Fertile Creasant, less dramatic, more a relative than an absolute decline. Though Egypt, Turkey, Iran, etc probably *were* still a bit lower by 1800 than in their hayday. This stagnation is even more impressive when you remember the global population increased 5-10-fold in that period.

My understanding is that generally things were fineish if falling behind in relative terms for a while. Arab Conquests started a shift toward nomadism. However it was a general time of good climate, etc so ground was lost to nomads but in large part 'made up''. The Turkic conquests then accelerated the nomadic trend in the more northern parts.. The 1200s/1300s were nothing short of demographic disaster. The Mongols killed a lot of people and caused a huge wave of Turkic nomads. Then Middle East was hit had by the Plague. They were more demographically fragile than Europe, so not really any sort of rebound. The region remained fairly unstable in a very bloody way for a while, most famously Timur. By 1500 things stabilized at a *much* lower level, perhaps 50% lower typically, worse in places. Decline in irrigation, nomadism can support much lower population, but it is a stable equilibrium in that nomads are bad neighbors and good fighters and a decline in state administration. Then from 1500-1800 generally broadly stagnate (Ottoman rule seems pretty lousy, lots of low-level banditry,etc, easier thought to compare to better run neighbors in Balkans). Starting in mid-1800s they started really focusing on restoring a settled, agrarian society and generally populations doubled or more by 1914.

But you get fun things like the Middle Euphrates. I decided to look at Wikipedia's Al-Jazira map. Added black Os for cities that survived 1200-1500, red Xs did not. Major area under Abbasids. Declined then with much of it coming under nomadic rule, like the Numayrids who never settle down, but rather live in their tents while having slaves run the settled areas. Then came the big demographic collapse, or more precisely, 3 of them, the Mongols, Plague, and Timur.Generally the hill cities tended to do better, but they also originally tended to be the smaller ones. Even the surviving cities were generally pathetic shadows of themselves. Like Edessa replaced Harran and Raqqa as a regional center. Which is code for it losing 90% of its population by 1500 unlike Raqqa and Harran which lost 100% and became nomadic winter grazing lands.

But this is how you have the suggestions, though demographic confidence is probably not high enough to confirm it, that the Achaemenid Empire may have been the biggest in human history as a share of global population.

1687924068777.png
 
Last edited:
Chapter Thirty-Eight
Chapter Thirty-Eight: Argeus and Gorgias

And so there were two. By the end of 186 BCE, the empire was, effectively, split into two camps. In the east, between Southern Mesopotamia and Afghanistan, lay the dominion of Gorgias 'Soter'. This had been a hard-fought for region, one which had taken years for Gorgias I and II to actually subdue between competing warlords, revolts, and outside raids and attacks. However, with its subjection, Gorgias 'Soter' now stood as 'king'. That, of course, is to say that he was king largely in name. See, Gorgias' claim to the throne of the Seleucid empire was beyond weak. He was not only the great-great-grandson of Seleucus 'Nikator's' second son, but only descended matrilineally from the Seleucid dynasty to which he bore very little real connection. In truth, his dynasty was far from being a real continuation of anything resembling the Seleucid empire and has, accordingly, been identified as the Polyphontic Dynasty (after Polyphontes, Gorgias 'Soter's great-grandfather and the actual marriage by which he was connected to the Seleucids). Typically, the Polyphontic Dynasty as a political entity is dated between about 194/3 until the death of Gorgias I, satrap of Sogdiana, in 180 BCE. It is also sometimes rather confusing.

See, the 'Polyphontic Kingdom' found its first ruler in Gorgias II Soter who, by virtue of his own military strength and tactical excellence, had come to head the joint powers of Sogdiana, Persia and Bactria (then led respectively by his father, Gorgias I, Gorgias II 'Soter' and Megasthenes). However, following his death, power fell first to his son, Polyphontes I, and then reverted to Gorgias I, Soter's own father until finally becoming defunct in 180 BCE). It was also something of a political mess in many ways. The Polyphontic Kingdom really only comprised Persia and the territories it had conquered which, by 186 BCE, included much of western and southern Iran and regions such as Sogdiana and Bactria were attached more by their alliances than by any actual allegiance. This would come to cause a problem when, in 185 BCE, Megasthenes died and passed Bactria to his son, Dionysios, who proved to be somewhat less inclined to actually work with Gorgias. This would force Gorgias to campaign, with little success, against the Bactrians in 183 BCE. For now, however, the Polyphontic Kingdom and its alliance remained broadly united by a shared aim to topple Aristarchus, a goal which was very quickly achieved in a stunningly effective campaign in 186 BCE. By the end of the year, Gorgias 'Soter' was established in Seleukeia and had taken control of much of southern Mesopotamia. Soter himself would only stay in Seleukeia for a few weeks, apparently finding little to like in the burnt-out wreckage of the city and instead taking residence in Babylon which he would confirm as a new royal city in October of that year.

While in Babylon, Soter, Gorgias I, and Megasthenes met for a war council to decide what to do about the advance of Argeus. For his part, Megasthenes seems to have been inclined to try their hand at negotiation. Possibly, he reasoned, Argeus could simply be bought off and a treaty dividing the Seleucid empire agreed upon. Most likely, Megasthenes had simply reached the end of what he really cared to be involved in; any further campaigns would do little to actually consolidate his position and only serve to strengthen Soter at the expense of Bactrian troops. At the very least, he argued, Bactrian soldiers should go no further and instead return east to protect against revolts. To his credit, Megasthenes seems to have truly thought that this war was simply a waste of the lives he was supposed to protect; he was governor of Bactria and these were his people who were dying in a war far from Bactra or Ai Khanoum for what was effectively a foreign ruler. Soter, however, wouldn't hear of it. Soter argued that the alliance between the three was key to securing their futures and to reuniting the kingdom of which they were all a part; de jure, all three remained parts of a greater Hellenistic empire and only by working together could they seek to reunify it. Note the difference. To Soter, he was king of the entire Seleucid empire, even if he was effectively now ruling a separate kingdom. As such, Bactria was de jure his subject and Megasthenes his governor. To Megasthenes, Bactria was de facto independent and his relationship with Soter one of allies rather than king and subject.

In the end, however, neither Soter nor Megasthenes would have the chance to really bring this debate to a conclusion since, almost as soon as they had come to disagreement, they found themselves faced with Argeus bearing down upon them from the north. By the end of 186 BCE, Argeus was most likely in Europos further up the banks of the Euphrates where he would remain until early 185 BCE. It was in that year that Argeus made a decision for Soter, choosing to march straight to Babylon to take control of Mesopotamia. Argeus couldn't have known the mistake he had made; by marching on Soter, he effectively helped push back the division between the Bactrians and Soter, ensuring that his rival retained Bactrian support for longer. Had he waited, Argeus may well have seen a split between Soter and Megasthenes which might have been exploited. Regardless, Argeus simply could not have known about the breakages taking place within Soter's encampment when he marched at the beginning of 185 BCE. Crossing the river, Argeus made a beeline straight for Babylon itself, intending to take the city by storm and end Soter once and for all. For his part, Soter had no intention of waiting for Argeus to come and meet him and rushed out to confront him in the field.

The result was a very complex campaign of moves and counter-moves as both kings attempted to gain traction against the other. Conventionally termed 'The Battle of Mesopotamia', it would take place over several weeks in early 185 BCE and prove to be a major turning point in the history of the Seleucid empire. As he marched, Argeus very quickly realised that he and his army was outclassed; in March or April 185 BCE, Argeus' cavalry met Soter's in the field and was routed with ease. Shortly afterwards, Argeus' main army found itself beset by Iranian horse archers which launched a series of devastating raids against his forces. As he attempted to keep going, Argeus found his advance slowed more and more by Soter's raids and attacks on his supply lines, forcing him to change tactics. Argeus' solution was honestly rather brilliant. Instead of continuing his march, he began fortifying local towns and villages along the Euphrates, turning them into small forts. He also sent diplomats to Arabian travellers on the other side of the Euphrates to bring food to the banks of the river where he could sail it across to his waiting soldiers. With his cavalry unable to actually breach the defences or starve Argeus out, Soter finally threw himself into an assault and right into the waiting arms of his enemy.

In May, Soter's army arrived at Idu, the first town under Argeus' control and one which was heavily fortified against him. It was here that Argeus himself had, apparently, taken refuge, choosing to lead from the front so as to fight with his soldiers. A bold move but one which would, surely, get him killed. Soter knew the dispositions of Argeus' forces, spread out in a series of fortified towns along the Euphrates from which they had been unable to really leave without either crossing the river to Arabia and effectively retreating or fighting his cavalry. His scouts reported that the fortifications of the other towns were still manned and no movements had taken place. Argeus, it seemed, was hoping to simply beat back Soter's assault. When he arrived at Idu, that seemed initially to be the case; heavy fighting ensued and for several hours, Soter tried and failed to take the city. When he awoke the next morning, however, Soter found an astonishing sight; Argeus' food supplies were on fire and his soldiers were launching an attack. Having been told by their commander that they would either break free or die from starvation, Argeus' soldiers fought to the death, proving a much more difficult nut for Soter's armies to actually break. For hours, the fight raged on until, quite suddenly, news came; Argeus' army had appeared... behind him. The night before, Argeus had apparently taken a page out of Soter's own tactical playbook, sailing his soldiers down the Euphrates under cover of night and outflanking Soter's army. Between the desperation of the soldiers in Idu and the flanking manoeuvre, Soter's army began to rout.

In the aftermath, Argeus pursued Soter for miles, running down many of his soldiers and capturing or killing thousands. With Soter's defeat, Argeus wasted no time in making his move. Sweeping southwards, Argeus left a contingent of some 12-13,000 soldiers to cut off the retreat of Soter's cavalry from northern Mesopotamia and sent a message to various communities along the Tigris that any which let Soter's Iranian cavalry return east would be destroyed once the campaign ended. Alongside this, he charged the forces left in northern Mesopotamia to garrison important bridgeheads and effectively trap Soter's remaining cavalry forces. In the meantime, Argeus himself led the rest of his army south towards Babylon. There, Soter attempted to make another stand but, without much of his cavalry force (which had been largely spread out in northern Mesopotamia since he believed Argeus' army to be mostly trapped), he was quickly outflanked and his forces defeated. By the end of 185 BCE, Babylon was under Argeus' rule and the war entered its second phase.


The Upper Satrapies:

In truth, much of the rest of the conflict between Argeus and Soter is lost to us. What we do know is that the battle for the Upper Satrapies was long and exhausting for both parties; Argeus and Soter fought a very lengthy conflict over the next few years in which both sides attempted to gain the upper hand. In 185 BCE, Megasthenes died and his son turned against Soter, encouraged in part by promises of continued Bactrian autonomy under Argeus' regime should he change sides. The result was that, from 184 BCE, the Bactrians were effectively in open revolt against Soter who made two failed attempts to break their power, defeated by mountain ambushes on both occasions. In the west, Argeus marched back north in 184 BCE and was able to convince many of Soter's cavalrymen to surrender in return for new lands in Mesopotamia and large gifts of gold and silver. Those that didn't surrender were soon boxed in and killed.

In 183 BCE, Gorgias Soter and Argeus once again fought in western Iran but reached a stalemate, with neither side able to really break the other. It wouldn't be until 182 BCE, therefore, that Argeus would succeed in breaking through due, by and large, to pure luck. It turned out that, in the mountains, Soter was simply better prepared and more experienced, a fact which played against Argeus quite dramatically. In 183 BCE, Argeus was able to make no headway against Soter's defences, even when the king wasn't even present such as when he was off fighting Dionysios that same year. By sheer force of personality and prior preparation, Soter was able to hold the line against Argeus' best efforts throughout 183 BCE. What changed was simply that Soter died. In January 182 BCE, Soter dropped dead apparently out of nowhere. In truth, this may well not have been sheer luck and more like a simple case of poison, possibly by Argeus' own plans. Regardless, the death of Gorgias Soter effectively left the writing on the wall. His son, Polyphontes I, would reign for just over a year until he too was killed by an ambitious minister. Gorgias I would avenge his grandson and take over the Polyphontic kingdom for only two years until his own death in 180 BCE at the age of 59 when Argeus finally entered Sogdiana and executed him.

See, the death of Soter effectively broke open the dam which he had been holding shut for a long time. Political rivalries, revolts, and dislike of Soter's own ruling family (and his own propensity for cruelty) had been pushed down by Soter's own force of personality and military strength. With his death, Polyphontes lacked the ability to keep everything together and it all just fell apart. Argeus almost certainly had a hand in this, exploiting political divisions to make a rapid series of advances and allying himself with Dionysios in 182 BCE in which Dionysios formally recognised Argeus as king in return for a guarantee of Bactrian autonomy going forward (a situation which would remain the same until the end of the Seleucid empire). Between them, Argeus and Dionysios were soon able to retake the upper satrapies... officially. In truth, it would take over a decade for Argeus to really secure the upper satrapies and there would be at least one Polyphontic resurgence when a revolt broke out in Persia in 175 BCE by a man claiming to be Soter's son who had survived the coup against him and gone into hiding.​
 
Note: Hey everybody! I understand it's been a while since I posted. In truth, I've not really had the energy or motivation to do much writing recently but I did owe everybody a conclusion to Argeus' rise to power. I will be continuing this, don't worry, but I am in need of a wee break for a while until I can get some motivation back! I'm so glad everybody's been enjoying the timeline and I'll still be responding to comments while I'm away! I'm graduating next week and then off on holiday for a wee bit so there probably won't be any updates until after that. Hopefully by then I'll be ready to get back to things. I do have plans on things I want to talk about (including the fan favourite... trade routes!) so don't worry, the timeline isn't dead, I'm really just taking a few weeks' break.​
 
This chapter genuinely stung, after following the rise and blossoming of Seleukeia.

Incidentally this rubs in just how much the Middle East fall (also Greece, there was a reason Ancient Greece was like cats fighting in a bag as someone described it, here the big disaster was the 600s), particularly the Fertile Crescent, not just in relative terms, but absolute. Iraq's population probably was not much over a million in 1800. Which means Seluceia had a population (even OTL) probably not far share of the *entire* non-nomadic population of Mesopotamia a couple thousand years later. Palestine saw its population drop from perhaps 1 million or more in 0 AD to 300,000. Outside the Fertile Creasant, less dramatic, more a relative than an absolute decline. Though Egypt, Turkey, Iran, etc probably *were* still a bit lower by 1800 than in their hayday. This stagnation is even more impressive when you remember the global population increased 5-10-fold in that period.

My understanding is that generally things were fineish if falling behind in relative terms for a while. Arab Conquests started a shift toward nomadism. However it was a general time of good climate, etc so ground was lost to nomads but in large part 'made up''. The Turkic conquests then accelerated the nomadic trend in the more northern parts.. The 1200s/1300s were nothing short of demographic disaster. The Mongols killed a lot of people and caused a huge wave of Turkic nomads. Then Middle East was hit had by the Plague. They were more demographically fragile than Europe, so not really any sort of rebound. The region remained fairly unstable in a very bloody way for a while, most famously Timur. By 1500 things stabilized at a *much* lower level, perhaps 50% lower typically, worse in places. Decline in irrigation, nomadism can support much lower population, but it is a stable equilibrium in that nomads are bad neighbors and good fighters and a decline in state administration. Then from 1500-1800 generally broadly stagnate (Ottoman rule seems pretty lousy, lots of low-level banditry,etc, easier thought to compare to better run neighbors in Balkans). Starting in mid-1800s they started really focusing on restoring a settled, agrarian society and generally populations doubled or more by 1914.

But you get fun things like the Middle Euphrates. I decided to look at Wikipedia's Al-Jazira map. Added black Os for cities that survived 1200-1500, red Xs did not. Major area under Abbasids. Declined then with much of it coming under nomadic rule, like the Numayrids who never settle down, but rather live in their tents while having slaves run the settled areas. Then came the big demographic collapse, or more precisely, 3 of them, the Mongols, Plague, and Timur.Generally the hill cities tended to do better, but they also originally tended to be the smaller ones. Even the surviving cities were generally pathetic shadows of themselves. Like Edessa replaced Harran and Raqqa as a regional center. Which is code for it losing 90% of its population by 1500 unlike Raqqa and Harran which lost 100% and became nomadic winter grazing lands.

But this is how you have the suggestions, though demographic confidence is probably not high enough to confirm it, that the Achaemenid Empire may have been the biggest in human history as a share of global population.

View attachment 840580

I just catched up with the timeline, and Seleukeia just being gone feels awful. Everything else is wonderfully written as always lmao, but Damm.

What can I say, I'm pretty harsh to big cities...

Unfortunately, Seleukeia got the Alexandria treatment in this timeline but there's still hope! The city's not gone just yet and we might see some new centres of power starting to rise in the next few decades! Keep your eyes on Bactria...
 
Status
Not open for further replies.
Top