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

Chapter Twenty-Seven New
Chapter Twenty-Seven: The Long Seven Years (227-221 BCE)

Important Names:
Antiochus II: King of the Seleucid Empire
Kleopatra: Queen of the Seleucid Empire
Prince Seleucus: Eldest son and crown prince of the Seleucid empire
Prince Antiochus: Second son of Antiochus II
Prince Demetrius: Youngest son of Antiochus II
Sophokles: Cavalry commander and head of the royal bodyguard
Ariobarzanes: Persian aristocrat and cavalry commander
Amestris: Ariobarzanes' daughter
Ptolemy III: King of Ptolemaic Egypt
Caiatinus: Roman historian who recorded the Great Syrian War

Thus far, we have lavished a lot of time on the first year or so of the Great Syrian War. This, of course, follows historical precedent. Many authors have spent a lot of time in the past on this period between the invasion and the end of the Ptolemaic Siege of Tyre for obvious reasons. The result is that, typically, the last seven-odd years of the war get condensed into a general mess of fighting. It is easy to see why. In the absence of a Euphemios (and with Caiatinus' narrative missing a lot of information from this period), the 'romance' of the last seven years is often lost. When we do hear of it, it is usually being used to prop up the angle of Demetrius in direct imitation of Euphemios' own work. In general, a lot of the narrative is often focussed on Demetrius' exploits and, occasionally, the great clashes between Antiochus and Ptolemy who are here cast as arch-enemies seeking to destroy one another. The truth, of course, is a lot more complex. The rest of the war devolved rather quickly into a series of competing alliances in which both sides were full of largely independent conflicts, often between individual cities.

With that in mind, let's begin by talking about the events immediately after the Battle of Antioch. With his defeat, and Ptolemy's fall back to Tyre, Antiochus made his way straight to Seleukeia to begin reinforcing and rallying the remains of his forces. A lot of people had been killed and his defeat now left Syria basically exposed to the Ptolemaic army. Now in Seleukeia, Antiochus began making preparations for his next run-in with the Ptolemies, calling for support from across Central Asia and raising forces to try and relieve the siege of Tyre. Inside the court, the question of whether to actually support Demetrius was not uncontroversial. In particular, it seems to have exposed two separate camps within the court. Since taking the throne in 259 BCE, Antiochus had spent a lot of time in his Asian territories and increasingly less time back in Macedonia. He had, however, brought a lot of Macedonians with him, many of whom had enjoyed their dominance of the court. However, as time went on, more and more indigenous elements began to appear in the Seleucid court; Persians, Iranians, Scythians, Babylonians etc. This seems to have been a development even above the largely Macedonian-dominated courts of Seleucus I and Antiochus I and does indicate an increasingly diverse government across the empire.

For Antiochus, it made sense. As he campaigned or governed in the east, he found himself increasingly reliant on local supporters to raise armies and govern his vast territories. Of note amongst these was one Ariobarzanes, a Persian who came from a long line of powerful aristocrats. Born in 269 BCE, he joined up with Antiochus' army in 258 BCE, taking a place amongst the Persian cavalry. Renowned for his bravery and skill at command, he was soon elevated to commanding the same Persian cavalry force where he had a rather infamous rivalry with Sophokles, the head of the Thessalian and Macedonian cavalry. After the end of the Second Syrian War in the late 250s, Ariobarzanes was granted increased lands. During the 240s and 30s, he was a regular fixture of the Seleucid army and, increasingly, the court. In the campaigns of Antiochus, he continued to distinguish himself and was trusted with several important missions, including the acquisition of the Fergana horses for Antiochus' army. By the time the 220s dawned, he was fully ingratiated with the court and had drawn no end of criticism. Of particular concern for many was the issue of his daughter, Amestris (b. 248). Ariobarzanes had been angling for a marriage between Amestris and one of the royal family for a while and, during Antiochus' campaigns, had suggested a potential pairing between Amestris and Seleucus, or even Antiochus, on several occasions.

Such a match would make sense. It was far from uncommon for Seleucid princes to marry Persian aristocracy as Seleucus I and II had done and Ariobarzanes, with his ties to Persian and Iranian nobility, was not a bad choice. However, back in the court, this was a potential problem. Not everybody had welcomed the rise of this Persian aristocrat, nor the concomitant rise of other Babylonian, Iranian, and Persian notables at the same time. For many, the dominance of the Macedonian elite was something which had to be preserved for fear that the Seleucid court would become increasingly 'Persianised' and Greco-Macedonian culture pushed out. To some degree, it is easy to understand their concerns. Macedonia was only a small part of the empire and, despite Antiochus II's claims to be a 'Macedonian' king, even he had increasingly ignored the region in favour of the richer and larger portions of his empire. From the perspective of the Macedonian elites, it was easy to see how the empire was increasingly becoming a Persia and Babylonia-focussed state rather than the 'Macedonian' empire it had been founded as.

For Kleopatra, the possibility of a marriage between the crown prince and a Persian aristocrat was unacceptable. She had been angling instead for a more traditional Macedonian match which might bolster the influence of the Macedonian faction at the court and help maintain the influence of her and her family within the royal court. In the late 230s, Sophokles had taken up a command of the royal bodyguard and Kleopatra allied herself with the commander to try and force out Ariobarzanes from being able to access the king. In turn, however, Ariobarzanes had allied himself with the crown prince Seleucus to try and win over his support. Supposedly he did so by engineering a 'surprise' meeting between the prince and Amestris in which Seleucus was invited by Ariobarzanes to visit one of the old Persian gardens (or paradeisos) and, while there, ran into Amestris while walking around the grounds. Despite the best efforts of Kleopatra and Sophokles to prevent the meeting, Seleucus' love of gardens was well known and he simply ignored their protests and travelled anyway. The plan was a huge success and, by 230, Seleucus was enamoured with Amestris and began petitioning his own father for a marriage between the two. Nevertheless, Antiochus refused to sign off on the marriage.

In 227 BCE, things changed. The defeat at Antioch and subsequent retreat to Seleukeia left Antiochus looking for support, especially in Babylonia and Central Asia from which he hoped to secure more cavalry for his next encounter with Ptolemy. Ariobarzanes, now, saw his opportunity. In August 227 BCE, Ptolemy laid siege to Tyre and a debate broke out as to whether or not to try and relieve the siege. Initially, the general opinion was that relieving Tyre was an impossibility and that Demetrius was on his own and could, simply, be ransomed later in the war or returned during peace talks later. It is interesting that nobody seems to have seriously worried that the prince might be killed. Then Ariobarzanes spoke up. He proposed that he lead a cavalry force to try and break the siege. If he succeeded, then Demetrius and Tyre would be saved but, if he failed, there would be no harm whatsoever. At first, Antiochus shot the idea down; there was simply no way that they could risk leading a force into Ptolemaic-controlled Phoenicia to try and attack an army so much larger than their own. What if the cavalry was ambushed or surrounded. Right now, there was no question of having a full army ready in the next few weeks or so so, at most, Ariobarzanes would be leading whatever cavalry could be thrown together at a moment's notice.

However, Prince Antiochus and Seleucus both spoke up in his defence, agreeing that a cavalry force might be enough to break the siege. On this, Ariobarzanes and Kleopatra seem to have been, for once, agreed and Antiochus II eventually relented. A contingent of 3-6000 cavalry was selected and placed under the command of Prince Antiochus and Ariobarzanes with the goal of breaking the siege which, after an ambitious crossing into Phoenicia and a battle with Ptolemaic forces near Byblos, they succeeded in doing. By October, the cavalry force was back in Seleukeia with Demetrius in tow. The prince, fresh from the siege of Tyre, had left much of the old Seleucid garrison within the city and now requested extra forces with which to refortify the city and prevent Ptolemy taking advantage of his absence to launch another siege. However, not willing to commit more resources to a city that was already surrounded by Ptolemaic territory, the king rejected these approaches and instead cautioned to wait for their counter-attack the following year.

No real military movements would take place again until March 226. Ptolemy spent the winter reinforcing his position, propping up pro-Ptolemaic governments in Phoenicia and bringing up reinforcements for his army. Still riding high after his victory at Antioch, he sent a force of 10,000 soldiers to Tyre to lay the city under siege yet again while he himself marched north into Syria. In the meantime, Prince Antiochus was sent to Anatolia with some 15,000 soldiers to try and dislodge Ptolemaic positions there. The king, his army now largely restored, began marching west to meet the Ptolemaic forces in Syria. In April or May, Antiochus II and Ptolemy met again at the Battle of the Orontes, somewhere to the south of Apamea but the Seleucids were unable to break through. It was a rather minor battle on the whole but served to secure Ptolemaic control of the west bank of the Orontes which, over the course of 226 BCE, allowed him to consolidate his position almost as far as Antioch itself. In July, he captured the port of Seleukeia-on-Orontes only a few miles from Antioch which had served as the main port for the city. An important harbour, Ptolemy's control of Seleukeia-Orontes would prove crucial for events moving forward, allowing him to import supplies and reinforcements by sea and keep his army in the field for longer.

The capture of Seleukeia would prove a major turning point and would act as Ptolemy's base of operations for much of the rest of the war, even above Antioch itself. Over the winter of 226, he placed Antioch under siege from both sides but was forced to retreat when Demetrius and Antiochus II launched a two-pronged counter-attack, almost trapping his forces between them and the city. In some tellings, this is then followed by a series of three battles in which Ptolemy is outsmarted by Demetrius and Antiochus twice before winning a third battle due to what can only be described as luck. However, the only battle we can attest archaeologically is the third battle, the so-called 'Battle of Seleukeia-Orontes' in January 225 BCE. Regardless, Ptolemy seems to have won a major victory at Seleukeia-Orontes, smashing the Seleucid army against the banks of the river and forcing a desperate retreat to Antioch from which they pulled back further north.

In the west, things went slightly better. Antiochus and Ariobarzanes made some headway in Anatolia and, in mid-late 226, the Seleucid navy scored its first real victory over its Ptolemaic counterpart off the coast of Halonnesos. However, in February 225 BCE, Kleopatra, fearing that Ariobarzanes' successes would gain him further influence in the court, especially after his return to favour following his and Antiochus' relief of Tyre, organised his demotion and movement away from the front lines to instead head up the garrison at Tarsos. Antiochus, apparently not that great of a commander in his own right, found his progress increasingly frustrated and suffered a major defeat in June of that year near Korakesion. Ptolemy's successes reached their peak near the end of 225 BCE when, after defeating a relief force led by Demetrius, he was able to finally force Antioch to surrender and sacked the city. By the beginning of 224 BCE, his reach had expanded ever further; Alexandreia, Issos, and Kastabala had fallen and he had appointed a satrap of northern Syria.

For a moment, Antiochus seems to have even been considering an outright surrender, turning over Syria in return for a cessation of hostilities but negotiations broke down since Ptolemy, riding high, saw no real reason to stop his advance. It was, of course, then that his luck ran out. In May 224 BCE, he left a force of some 8000 soldiers at Kastabala to protect his rear while he turned his attention east towards Mesopotamia, apparently gunning for Seleukeia itself. As he advanced, however, he found that Antiochus had changed tack somewhat. At Nikopolis, the two kings met yet again but, when Ptolemy went to attack, Antiochus fell back. Ptolemy took the city but was soon forced to retreat when Demetrius circled around the city and cut off the Ptolemaic supply lines. As he attempted to fall back to Issos, Demetrius and Antiochus shadowed him, relying on their cavalry to keep the Ptolemaic soldiers on edge and preventing them from properly resting. At night, Seleucid cavalry would ride near the Ptolemaic encampments, retreating before an attack could be mustered and, during the day, Seleucid forces would remain close enough to be visible but fall back when approached.

Antiochus was able to do this by splitting his army into two. Relying on his flexible infantry and his large cavalry forces, he had a designated 'night force' and 'day force', each responsible for keeping the Ptolemies occupied at all times. It worked wonders. As Ptolemy retreated, his army grew frustrated and restless; why would Antiochus not just fight already? What's more, Prince Antiochus had rallied his forces (possibly at the king's command) and abandoned the Anatolian campaign to meet up with Ariobarzanes in Tarsos. As Ptolemy retreated, they made an extraordinarily quick advance to Kastabala where they surrounded the city and cut off Ptolemy's garrison. A relief attempt ended in disaster when Demetrius ambushed the head of Ptolemy's army and forced them to pull back. By November, Kastabala had surrendered and the garrison taken captive. The retreat of Ptolemy marked something of a turning point in the grand narrative of the war but not, per se, in the smaller scale aspects of the war.

See, alongside these large battles, we see a lot of local fighting as well. Apparently various communities took the opportunity to strike out at their own rivals or increase their own power. For instance, during his campaigns in Anatolia, Prince Antiochus' army seems to have comprised a lot of Anatolians, some of whom had been offered in return for promises of wealth taken from captured cities. In the capture of Kastabala, Ariobarzanes included some 6000 Tarsians and, according to Caiatinus, afterwards 'Tarsos enjoyed unparalleled wealth and influence in the area and built many great things to celebrate their victory'. Interestingly enough, Caiatinus describes it as just as much a Tarsian victory as a Seleucid one. In western Anatolia, Samos (part of the Nesiotic league) launched its own attacks against Miletus and Priene and, temporarily, gained a stretch of territory along the Ionian coast before being thrown back. In Greece, the Nesiotic League engaged in some fighting with Athens and it was a largely Nesiotic fleet (with some Ptolemaic ships) which was defeated at Halonnesos. This back and forth fighting between local communities was widespread and, to some degree, even persisted after the end of the war. Even in 219, when Seleucus took the throne, the city of Tyre was still fighting its rivals in Sidon and a Nesiotic fleet plundered part of Attica before being dissuaded by Seleucid forces in the region.

Unfortunately, a lot of these communal rivalries and local history is lost to us, leaving us with only a sometimes incomplete narrative. By the end of 224 BCE, Ptolemy had retreated to Antioch itself but seemed to still be in control of Syria at large. In Antioch, he knew that Antiochus and Demetrius were not likely to be able to dislodge him and so instead resolved simply to wait them out; so long as he could maintain the supply lines to Seleukeia-on-Orontes, he could keep his forces intact. To that end, he seems to have established a fortification network along the Orontes of hastily erected forts to keep the Seleucids from taking control of the river and cutting off the supplies. For close to a year, the Seleucids would pound at this fort network to no avail, unable to quite break the Ptolemies and frequently being driven off by Ptolemaic support. Two attempts were made on Seleukeia itself but were driven back. It wouldn't be until close to the end of 223 BCE that something of a breakthrough would be achieved. In July, Demetrius had decided to, once again, subvert the Ptolemaic position. Riding south, he arrived at the still-Seleucid fort at Apamea.

Apamea was a crucial location. It had started as a fort under Seleucus I but, over the last few decades, had rapidly grown into a wealthy city lying, as it did, on important trade routes running up to Antioch. To the north lay the Ghab valley through which ran the Orontes river towards Antioch and to the east and south lay the river itself. The city formed an important crossing point for the Seleucids and had been heavily fortified over the years such that Ptolemy had attempted, but failed, to take it twice in 227 and 226 BCE. Unable to really capture it, Ptolemy had left a garrison on the other bank but, needing to defend Antioch, had been forced to call up reinforcements from wherever he could find them. This seems to have been worsened by news of a revolt in Egypt which authorities were struggling to contain. The revolt had started somewhere in Upper Egypt and spread in the absence of the king; with so many soldiers away, it had caused serious disruption to the country. Not to mention, the constant financial and manpower demands of the war were beginning to strain both sides. In 227, after the Battle of Antioch, a series of revolts broke out in the North-East of the Seleucid empire and, in 225 BCE, another revolt by someone claiming to be a descendent of Antigonus rose up in Macedonia.

Despite Seleucid forces marching out to meet them, fighting was still ongoing and seemed to be getting somewhat worse. In 224 BCE, raids by tribes beyond the boundaries of the Seleucid empire began to take their toll and several Seleucid garrisons were forced to retreat. One or two of the rebels even seem to have been conquered by outside forces in the absence of Seleucid armies to put them down. With all this in mind, the Ptolemaic garrisons in Syria were being stretched thin. In 225 BCE, the force besieging Tyre was called away to join Ptolemy and help reinforce garrisons. In the wake of this, the Tyrians and Sidonians came to blows along the coast when Tyre, harbouring a whole lot of exiles from a variety of Phoenician cities, came under attack by the Sidonians. A series of battles were fought and, while the Sidonians won, the Tyrians don't seem to have ceded all that much land.

Upon his arrival at Apamea, Demetrius began an assault on the Ptolemaic garrison across the river, smashing them and driving them aside. Taking whatever soldiers he could, close to 9000 infantry and 600 cavalry, he began marching to the coast where he was able to convince several cities to defect and turn over their pro-Ptolemaic governors. A couple, including Arados and Gabala, seem to have held out but Demetrius was still able to capture a reasonable amount of the coast and raise soldiers from them. With these, he swept north to outflank Ptolemy's lines. A force was sent out to meet him but crushed in the field and Ptolemy, realising his fortifications would soon be outflanked and overrun, chose to retreat. As he left, Antioch was once again ravaged, sections of the city burned and holes left in the walls just to deny its full utility to the Seleucids. Seleukeia-on-Orontes, however, would manage to hold out against Seleucid forces right up until the end of the war when it was turned over in the peace terms of 221.

The exact details of 222 and 221 are very sketchy so we know rather little. We do know that Antiochus and Demetrius won a decisive victory at Orthosia and pushed Ptolemy ever further backwards sometime in 222 BCE and that Demetrius captured Tripolis and sacked the city at some point in early 221 BCE (apparently after a lengthy siege). Sidon, still in Ptolemaic hands, was attacked but held out (and would retain its pro-Ptolemaic government well after the end of the war, remaining in Ptolemaic hands for several decades). By mid-221 BCE, however, the war was largely rounding down for the two kings. Ptolemy had lost interest; too many casualties had been sustained and too much money spent, not to mention the spreading revolt in Egypt was still a problem while Antiochus was facing much the same problem. In August, a peace agreement was made which amounted to effectively nothing. The Ptolemies once again withdrew from Phoenicia (officially including Sidon although they would walk back on that when it became apparent that the Sidonian government wasn't going anywhere) and the Seleucids returned several cities taken in Asia Minor in response. It was, after nearly a decade of war, a total status quo ante bellum- a grand total of nothing for either side.

Tens of thousands were dead. Phoenicia and Syria had been ravaged. The Seleucid and Ptolemaic kingdoms were both plagued with revolts. Nothing had been gained by either side. What had been gained, however, was a series of social changes within the Seleucid kingdom. During the war, Antiochus had fallen back more and more on local support, cut off from Macedonia as he was, leading to a distinct increase in the power of the Perso-Babylonian faction in the Seleucid court. Sometime in 225 or 224 BCE, Antiochus agreed to the marriage between Amestris and Seleucus which would produce a son, appropriately named Antiochus, in 221 BCE. By the end of the war, Ariobarzanes was more powerful than ever and seems to have held some sort of official position somewhere in the Seleucid court throughout the 210s until his death in 214 BCE at the age of 55. His triumph, however, would only set the stage for a much larger political clash between him and the Macedonian faction in the years to come.

As has been stated, the war would have a significant literary effect on the Seleucid empire in the 2nd Century but it also seems to have had its own cultural effect in the Ptolemaic empire as well. As early as 186 BCE, Ptolemaic writers were turning out pieces inspired by events from the war. Of these, the most famous is Agathocles' 'Syrian Epic', a Sosthenic tradition mock-epic which, like the works of the earlier Seleucid writer, recast real events (in this case, the Syrian War) in an earlier, mythological narrative using deities for satire of the events. In the case of Agathocles' work, the story revolves around Heracles and Dionysus meeting during their various travels in the region and fighting to see who would become the patron of Syria. Dionysus, the mythological ancestor of the Ptolemies, is obviously cast as the Ptolemaic army while Heracles represents the Seleucids. The two get into a variety of humorous episodes before finally getting bored and going off to travel elsewhere, a fitting end for the 'Great Syrian War' which proved to be a whole lot of slaughter and bloodshed and achieved next to nothing. More serious texts were also produced, including a series of tragic poems collected in a book named 'The Syriaca', which were written by a Greco-Syrian author living in Alexandria which lament the towns and cities destroyed during the war.

Note: That brings an end to the Great Syrian War. I've decided to keep the 'Important People' bit just to make following everything a bit easier for people. I will be posting an updated family tree in the next few chapters cause I will soon have new family members to introduce so don't worry too much about all the new names that might be coming up, I'll have a tree so everybody can follow things.

Wow, that was amazing and incredibly wasteful in regards to men. Tens of thousands have been lost, nothing has been won, hopefully The Seleucids managed to regain their footing and keep going.

That was awesome! Nothing more to say.
Just read through the entire timeline and I absolutely love it. I dig the premise of a Seleucid-led Hellenic superpower and all of its dynamics, including the factional sway from Macedonian to Perso-Babylonian, particularly after the Great Syrian War. Will be keeping an eye out on this TL.
I do love this timeline.

A note.

The Yuezhi threat is fast going to come. Though a solidified Seleucid dynasty are able to prevent the Parni scenario TTL, dealing with the Yuezhi is going to be very tricky.

The Yuezhi were a very cabable force with a strong Scythian vassal component, and one cannot be sure that the Seleucids will be able to completely protect the east from their invasion TTL. Parni mercs may help, but even then won’t be entirely reliable.

That being said, as long as the Seleucids dont take a half hearted approach to the eastern half part of the Empire, the problem won’t reach Parthian levels.
A part of me kinda hopes that the Seleucids manage to contain the Yuzehi threat and prevent them from overruning the eastern satrapies. Because that would be the "expected" scenario. Only for the Yuzehi to instead migrate west and become a menace to the peoples of eastern Europe and the Balkans....
I do love this timeline.

A note.

The Yuezhi threat is fast going to come. Though a solidified Seleucid dynasty are able to prevent the Parni scenario TTL, dealing with the Yuezhi is going to be very tricky.

The Yuezhi were a very cabable force with a strong Scythian vassal component, and one cannot be sure that the Seleucids will be able to completely protect the east from their invasion TTL. Parni mercs may help, but even then won’t be entirely reliable.

That being said, as long as the Seleucids dont take a half hearted approach to the eastern half part of the Empire, the problem won’t reach Parthian levels.
A part of me kinda hopes that the Seleucids manage to contain the Yuzehi threat and prevent them from overruning the eastern satrapies. Because that would be the "expected" scenario. Only for the Yuzehi to instead migrate west and become a menace to the peoples of eastern Europe and the Balkans....

I'm still working out what I'm going to do with the Yuezhi, but I can say that I've some very exciting ideas for them so far.
Chapter Twenty-Eight: Dissent


Important People:
Antiochus II 'Megas': King of the Seleucid Empire
Kleopatra I: Queen of the Seleucid Empire and head of the 'Macedonian' faction
Seleucus III: King of the Seleucid Empire
Amestris: Queen of the Seleucid Empire and head of the 'Persian' or 'Perso-Babylonian' faction
Prince Antiochus: Second son of Antiochus II
Prince Demetrius: Third son of Antiochus II
Ariobarzanes: Amestris' father and Seleucid general
Sophokles: Commander of the royal bodyguard of Antiochus II and (later) prince Antiochus
Mithridates: Commander of the royal bodyguard of Seleucus III

The end of the Great Syrian War in 221 BCE had left the Seleucid empire in a tough spot. Seleucid control had slipped somewhat in many regions of the empire and now needed to be rebuilt wherever, and however, it could. In October 221 BCE, Prince Antiochus was married to Berenice, a granddaughter of Ptolemy III, as part of the peace terms, a marriage which would only hold until his death in 218 BCE. Nevertheless, the marriage would produce one child; Argeus, born in 220. By all accounts, the marriage between the two was happy. In January 220 BCE, Seleucus (who, by this point, was co-king) was sent to Macedonia to act as the royal representative in the region. At the same time, Prince Demetrius and Ariobarzanes were sent east to try and restabilise Seleucid control in central Asia. That left Antiochus II and Prince Antiochus to secure Anatolia. The result was a mixed series of successes. In Anatolia, Seleucid forces were successful in a campaign in Cappadocia despite Antiochus II's worsening health and, in Central Asia, Demetrius was able to put down a revolt in Sogdiana and negotiate, if not conquer, with the recent arrivals of Parni and Saka peoples in parts of Central Asia (around Parthia especially). The exact terms of these agreements are often unknown, especially since Seleucus would spend much of his reign reckoning with these peoples in one way or another anyway, but Demetrius seems to have left satisfied anyway.

In Macedonia, Seleucus was less successful. Arriving with Amestris in February 221 BCE, Seleucus soon faced a problem of unpopularity. Not his own unpopularity, of course, but that of his wife. Back in Macedonia, many resented the queen and saw her as a foreign threat to their own elites and position. This was a matter worsened when Seleucus was, apparently, approached by a Macedonian aristocrat to try and convince him to divorce Amestris and marry a Macedonian noblewoman and, incensed at this, he attempted to have him executed. This story may well be false, stemming likely from anti-Persian sentiment in the late 3rd or early 2nd Centuries, but it does indicate that there was some ongoing friction between Seleucus and the Macedonians. Supposedly, he also generally had no love for Macedonia as a region and often resented the time he spent in Pella, a fact that he struggled to hide. On top of that, the many Persian, Babylonian, and Central Asian retainers he brought with him seem to have provoked further hostility form the Macedonian elites, forcing Seleucus to send many home that very summer.

At the same time, back in Anatolia, Prince Antiochus appears to have grown somewhat resentful of Ariobarzanes who, we may recall, wasn't even in Anatolia at the time. It seems that the prince had realised, while campaigning with his father, that the king believed that many (or all) successes in the Anatolian campaign, including the capture of Kastabala, had stemmed from Ariobarzanes' actions more than the prince's. Alongside this was the influence of Queen Kleopatra who may have been attempting to cultivate Antiochus as a pro-Macedonian influence in the court to counter Seleucus' own pro-Persian sentiments and Demetrius' suspected pro-Persian sentiments (especially given his absence from the court while on campaign in the east). For these reasons, Antiochus began to take a more pro-Macedonian stance throughout the course of 220 BCE.

All of this would come to a head when, at the beginning of 219 BCE, Antiochus II's condition worsened and, quite suddenly, he died. Supposedly he died in the middle of the field where, while on a march, he simply keeled over. At the age of 67, Antiochus II 'Megas' was dead. Throughout his reign, Antiochus had acted as a massively stabilising force for the Seleucid empire, expanding its borders, subduing rebellions and otherwise consolidating its position in the Hellenistic world. He had fought the Ptolemies twice, winning both times and finally reconquering Coele-Syria, incorporating it into the empire where it would remain until its end. Under him, the Seleucid empire had emerged as one of the, if not the, most powerful Hellenistic kingdom. At the same time, his record is far from unblemished. Throughout his reign, his military adventurism had proven expensive and, at times, had nearly bankrupted the kingdom. Much of southern Syria was devastated and many other regions had suffered a significant loss of life under Antiochus' conquests. What would prove worse, however, was that it often paved over very real problems within the court and Seleucid family, problems which would soon break out into a very real conflict.

At the time of his death, the layout was as follows: Demetrius and Ariobarzanes were somewhere in Central Asia, possibly Samarqand with somewhere between 15 and 20,000 soldiers. Antiochus, now in command of his father's body, was in Anatolia with the main brunt of the royal Seleucid army, some 25-30,000 soldiers at the time of the end of the campaigns in 220. Seleucus and Amestris were in Pella and Kleopatra, seemingly, in Seleukeia. Knowing the importance of speed, Seleucus made immediately for Anatolia where he planned to take control of his father's army and, more importantly, body. For their part, the princes all began making their way back towards Antioch, armies (and corpse) in tow. Antiochus didn't make it especially far before word came from Seleucus ordering him to wait for the king before proceeding to Antioch. Word was also sent to Demetrius commanding him to stop at Babylon and not to approach Antioch until Seleucus had arrived there. Then, and only then, would Demetrius be allowed to enter.

The recent war had left Antioch nearly flattened so it seems odd that so much emphasis was being laid on it. Of course, this seems somewhat less odd when we remember that it was still a royal city, even in its largely destroyed state, and that it was still close to the royal burial grounds on the outskirts (which Ptolemy had left largely untouched). For Seleucus, it was imperative that he be the one to bury the king if only so that there would be no uncertainty as to who his successor was and that Demetrius not be allowed to be there, with an army, waiting for him. Seleucus, it seems, already suspected which way the tide was turning. See, the relationship between the three brothers had soured in the last few years. Demetrius had won a lot of prestige and fame for his role in the war against Ptolemy III, he was popular with the army, with the generals and, importantly, with Ariobarzanes. This had created no end of resentment from Seleucus and Antiochus, both of whom were often negatively compared with their younger brother; Antiochus was not an especially talented commander and Seleucus showed very little interest in military command of any kind. At the very least, it made Demetrius a potential threat to the new king.

As for Antiochus, he had grown increasingly hostile to Amestris and the Persian (or Perso-Babylonian) faction in the last year or so, something which seems to have put him more and more at odds with Seleucus. Then there was his alignment with Kleopatra, diametrically opposed to Seleucus' own queen and her association with the Persian and Central Asian elites. Of course, that same alignment made her opposed to the Macedonian faction through which Kleopatra could call upon resources from Macedonia. Whether or not Seleucus truly believed Kleopatra, or Antiochus, might mastermind an overthrow, he certainly couldn't risk ignoring the possibility.

Nevertheless, Antiochus, for now, followed Seleucus' commands and, in February 219, the two met near Tarsos from which they marched on to Antioch. There, Demetrius joined them shortly afterwards (without his army, of course) and all three attended the burial of Antiochus II. But the burial had done little to stabilise the situation; Demetrius still had an army in the field (albeit in Mesopotamia) and tensions were still high between Antiochus and Kleopatra on the one hand, and Seleucus and Amestris on the other. In fact, having all of them in the city only served to heighten tensions. Within days of the burial, it had become increasingly apparent that the tide of political power had shifted against Kleopatra's faction somewhat. This was most obvious through the increasing appointment of non-Greeks to powerful administrative positions within the court beginning from the very outset of Seleucus' reign. That isn't to say that Macedonians were necessarily ignored, but their stranglehold on high government saw a significant decline. In particular, Kleopatra was alarmed at the increasing prominence of Ariobarzanes and his close associates as well as moves by Amestris to increasingly break Kleopatra's own influence on government.

It is worth noting that the simple monikers of 'Macedonian' or 'Perso-Babylonian' are very vague and not always accurate. For instance, several of those aligned with Amestris seem to have been Greek and we know of Persians and Babylonians accompanying Antiochus to Macedonia in late February. A lot of the time, the most important thing was the network of personal relationships between various elites. Kleopatra had allies, both Greco-Macedonian and Perso-Babylonian, who fell into her faction. Her rivals, and the rivals of those allies, tended to form their own factions and had found Amestris a natural focal point for this coalition. This was simple court politics. However, the increasing prominence of non-Greeks and Macedonians at court had added fuel to the fire and served as a point of contention. That is to say that this topic was an important issue but it, alone, did not decide who fell on what side since personal connections and rivalries were often just as important in shaping the contours of this conflict.

This came to a head when Sophokles, long the captain of the royal bodyguard of Antiochus II, was replaced with Mithridates, a cousin of Ariobarzanes' and the first non-Greek (or Macedonian) to hold the position. The move sparked outrage and a procession, led by Kleopatra and Antiochus, approached the king demanding he restore Sophokles to his position. This was only the head, however, of a series of demands that Seleucus restore other positions to Greek nobles and remove Ariobarzanes from the city altogether. When Seleucus refused, Antiochus abandoned the city in protest and set up camp on the other side of the Orontes, refusing to return to the city. Finally tiring of this, and sensing that Antiochus was slipping from his grasp, Seleucus sent soldiers to force his brother to return to the city. Fearing that he was about to be arrested, Antiochus decided to flee Syria altogether and make his way for the only place he could think was safe; Macedonia. That evening, under cover of dark, Kleopatra and several other Macedonian nobles also fled the city.

Come morning, messengers were sent demanding that the defectors return to the city or be declared traitors. At the same time, he began mobilising his army to march out and recall Antiochus. The royal army was still at hand and, through the influence of Ariobarzanes, so was Demetrius' force which was now brought up from Mesopotamia to crush Antiochus with. In April, the Seleucid army marched from Antioch. Back in Macedonia, Antiochus and Kleopatra scrambled to raise their forces but to no avail; in May 219 BCE, the two met in battle somewhere near Byzantium and Antiochus' army was crushed. He was able to retreat to Pella but, after a short siege, was captured and executed. Kleopatra, however, had fled the city as soon as news arrived of her son's defeat, fleeing first to Euboea and from there to Egypt where she took up residence at the court of Ptolemy III. It is quite likely that she attempted to convince him to launch another invasion to avenge her son but Seleucus, attempting to head this off, simply had Berenice remarried to Demetrius that same year. This marriage would prove far less happy and, while Demetrius and Berenice would have a daughter in 216 BCE, their relationship was often strained with rumours that of frequent adultery by both partners.

For the next few years, the political situation would remain tense, however. With the death of Antiochus, the faction that he and Kleopatra had headed didn't die out by any means. On the contrary, they now began to refocus their attentions. By the end of 219 BCE, the Macedonian faction had begun to focus on Demetrius as a new figurehead of their movement. With Antiochus out of the way, the relationship between Seleucus and Demetrius now continued to deteriorate. The big issue at stake became Kleopatra. Seleucus had begun negotiations with Ptolemy for the return of their mother to the Seleucid empire to face punishment for her support of Antiochus earlier that year. Demetrius, while eager for her return, however, was concerned that the return of Kleopatra to Seleucus' grip would lead to her execution. On this basis, the pro-Macedonian and pro-Kleopatra faction soon began to throw its weight behind Demetrius, heightening fears that Demetrius was about to take his own stand against Seleucus. For the king, this was a much greater threat than Antiochus had ever been; Demetrius was very popular with the army and, increasingly, with the Macedonian faction as a symbol of royal martial excellence. There also seem to have been rumours that Demetrius was working with Ptolemy to protect Kleopatra, possibly with the implication that he might, at some stage, go as far as defecting to Ptolemy.

To his credit, Seleucus took few of these rumours seriously and responded by assigning Demetrius to a command in the eastern regions of the empire with the job of stabilising the region. For close to three years, Demetrius did just that and their relationship improved somewhat when, in 218, Kleopatra was returned to the Seleucid empire but placed under house arrest rather than being executed. It was not to last, however, as Demetrius' successes in the east continued to mount and the Macedonian faction, emboldened by their success in protecting Kleopatra, continued to push him as a potential figurehead. The real turning points came in 217 when, feeling that enough time had passed since Antiochus' death, Demetrius adopted the prince's two-year-old son, Argeus without consulting Seleucus. A year later, on a visit to Seleukeia, he disciplined Mithridates, also without consulting Seleucus, and had a major falling out with Ariobarzanes after criticising the latter's conduct. The widening hostility between Demetrius and the Perso-Babylonian faction would soon do him in. Convinced by the growing hostility amongst his close favourites and by several instances of 'improper' conduct (i.e., acting without Seleucus' consent in several instances), Seleucus took action. In March 215, Demetrius, then travelling through Ecbatana, was invited to a symposium by local aristocrats where, upon entering, he and his guards were set upon and stabbed to death.

For obvious reasons, the assassination of Demetrius has typically been assigned to Seleucus. With that said, it's hard to prove per se, something that Seleucus, if he was the assassin, was clearly counting on. The men charged with killing Demetrius were soon arrested and several executed and Berenice and her children given safe conduct back to Seleukeia where they would remain for several years. By killing Demetrius through assassination, Seleucus would have avoided the risk of his brother's popularity sparking a major revolt. At the very least, he certainly wasn't now seen as having had his brother imprisoned and executed without clear cause. Even so, suspicion very quickly fell upon him anyway; in mid-late 215 BCE, several revolts broke out across Central Asia and Syria, including one in Phoenicia led by the city of Tyre. Three months later, the Tyrian revolt was crushed and over two-dozen Tyrians executed for treason. Seleucus would spend the next few years fighting to put down many of these revolts and restore order.​