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

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Chapter Twenty-Seven
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
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.​
Chapter Twenty-Nine
Chapter Twenty-Nine: The Illyrian Crisis (236-214 BCE)

Map of Epirus and Illyria

Simplified Aeacidae family tree from Pyrrhus I to Helenus I
Seleucus III inherited a problem. Okay, he inherited several problems; the ongoing dispute between the Macedonian and Perso-Babylonian factions being one such issue but far from the only one. Another issue he had inherited from his father was the so-called 'Illyrian Crisis'. To contextualise this, we should go back a few decades to 236 BCE and the death of Ptolemy I of Epirus. Throughout his reign, Ptolemy had aggressively expanded the Epirote kingdom, both south into Aetolia and, more notably, north into Illyria. By the time of his death in 236 BCE, he had expanded Epirote power as far north as Rhizon and seemed set to push further. However, his expansion had riled people on the other side of the Adriatic in the Roman Republic. Few had forgotten the invasion of Pyrrhus of Epirus and now watching his son expand Epirote power along the Adriatic coastline of Illyria, some grew apprehensive. It's unlikely they seriously expected Ptolemy to launch an invasion but, given the recent war with Carthage, they also didn't particularly want to risk him siding with their enemies in the future. As such, in 239 BCE, Roman delegates had attempted to negotiate a solution, establishing alliances with several Illyrian peoples in the north to attempt to cut off Ptolemy's route of expansion. To his credit, the strategy had been something of a success and, until his death, Ptolemy had pushed no further than Rhizon, instead focussing on consolidating his gains.

Of particular interest was Ptolemy's adoption of Illyrian pirates as a political tool. This probably came in imitation of Aetolian practice in which the Aetolian League had often used the many pirates living in Aetolia to help pressure others into favourable deals, providing safe harbours and markets for pirates along the Adriatic coast. During his campaigns in the 240s, Ptolemy had established treaties with conquered peoples granting them continued autonomy and even certain privileges in return for placing Illyrian pirates at his command. This was by no means an uncommon or unknown approach and, in Ptolemy's case, it worked marvellously, helping him exert influence throughout the Adriatic and bolstering his naval power even in pitched battles (their ships were small but, we are told, quick and could be devastating when properly led). By 236 BCE, Epirote-sponsored Illyrian piracy had rapidly expanded through the Adriatic, even outstripping piracy from the northern Ardiaei who had similarly been gaining power in Illyria during the 240s.

The death of Ptolemy I was followed by only a short two-year reign under his son, Pyrrhus II who died in 234 BCE having accomplished little of note. In turn, the throne would pass to his 8-year-old son, Helenus I who immediately found himself under the joint regency of his uncle, Alexandros, and grandmother, Stratonice. Alexandros, a talented commander who had led Epirote forces throughout the late 240s and early 230s. Under their command, the aggressive expansionism of Epirote territory would continue, as would the rise in Epirote-Roman tensions. For the most part, attacks on Roman shipping were rare; Ptolemy had recognised the danger of outright attacking the Romans and had strayed away from it. Alexandros, on the other hand, proved far less cautious. In 231, a diplomatic incident with the Ardiaei led to an outright Epirote invasion of their territory and a significant Epirote victory somewhere along the banks of the Neretva River. When the Epirote army went to advance, Roman ambassadors arrived and commanded they stop or risk a Roman retaliation. Needless to say, Alexandros had no intention of stopping and, instead, simply continued his push north.

The response was quick and decisive; in 230, a Roman army landed in northern Illyria and began a march south led by Marcus Aemilius Barbula, the consul for 230 BCE. In a battle fought near to the site of the Epirote victory of 231, Barbula was able to defeat Alexandros' army and force his retreat south. At the same time, Roman ships had moved against Epirus itself but were driven back in a battle just off the coast of Orikos by the combined Epirote-Illyrian fleet. Despite this victory, the tide of the war continued to shift in Rome's favour; Barbula advanced south throughout 230 as far as Lissos where he won a second victory over Alexandros. Despite his professed victory over Epirus, the Roman war was far from done; Barbula set up treaties with several communities in Illyria, effectively rendering them subjects in all but name of the Romans and, in February, left Illyria with only a handful of garrisons at Lissos, the Neretva River and Skodra to keep order. Over the winter, however, Alexandros reorganised and rallied his forces in preparation for another campaign the following year. Sure enough, in 229 BCE, Alexandros launched a joint invasion of Illyria alongside his allies, the Autariatai, an Illyrian kingdom living further into the interior of the country. At first, the campaign of 229 BCE was actually a huge success; the Roman garrisons were quickly defeated and the Ardiaei lost another major battle against the Autariatai which forced them to once again retreat north. What's more, when a Roman army did arrive, it was ambushed by the Autariatai and defeated.

Nevertheless, the Romans would soon return; in 228 BCE, another Roman army under the command of Spurius Carvilius Maximus Ruga, now in his second consulship, arrived in Illyria and began a brutal campaign against the Autariatai and Epirotes. Over the next year, the Autariatai were crushed in a major battle near Lake Skodra and hundreds of captives taken and, by November, the Romans had managed to carve out a sizeable portion of Illyria as securely under their control. In 227 BCE, Ruga's successor in the region, Marcus Cornelius Arvina, drove Roman control ever further and was able to force the Autariatai to sue for peace in August of that year. His record against Epirus would prove somewhat less secure and he made rather little headway against them. It wouldn't be until 226 BCE under Lucius Aemilius Papus that the Romans finally brought the war to a near-conclusion, crushing Alexandros in the field and once again driving the Epirote kingdom out of Illyria and even threatening to invade Epirus itself. Worried that they were about to lose everything, Stratonice sent desperate letters to Antiochus, then fresh from his defeat at Antioch. Knowing that he was unlikely to actually be available to help, she also sent word to the, then, Seleucid representative in Macedonia, Heron asking for military support. In a fateful move which would, ultimately, led to his disgrace and demotion, Heron consulted with several Macedonian aristocrats and, together, they agreed to send military support. In late 226 BCE, Seleucid forces entered Epirus and set up garrisons across the river from Lissos, sending their own warnings to Papus not to advance any further.

While the Romans maintained their right to push the war further and defeat the Epirote kingdom once and for all, they were clearly not in the mood to start an all-out war with the Seleucids. They did, however, send several complaints to Antiochus who, at the end of his own war in 221 BCE, would send Seleucus to Macedonia to, in part, relieve Heron of his command. By now, Helenus was more than able to take up the reigns of power in his own right, now 21 years old he seems to have seriously considered that this whole regency business should be swept away and he be allowed to take up his rightful place on the throne. However, the Seleucids had already taken their bets against Helenus. Simply put, the young king showed a disturbing amount of free thought and, in particular, seemed quite ready to criticise Seleucid actions. As early as 224 BCE, Alexandros had recruited Heron and his Seleucid garrisons in a project to keep Helenus from holding any actual power. As such, over the late 220s, Helenus had become more and more isolated from the court while Alexandros and Stratonice ruled in his stead. Much more pro-Seleucid than the young king, Alexandros and Stratonice would oversee a period of increasing ties to the Seleucid court, especially that in Macedonia. Even when Heron was demoted and disgraced, Seleucus proved more than willing to continue this state of affairs and even sent extra soldiers to Epirus.

Alexandros, however, had never forgotten his loss of Illyria and seems to have felt, quite seriously, that with Seleucid support he could defeat the Romans, retake Illyria and restore his kingdom. In 223 BCE, Alexandros had requested Seleucid help to his effect but was denied by Antiochus II who saw no reason to throw the Seleucids into another, potentially huge, war with Rome right off the bat. Despite this, Antiochus' position was far from widely accepted. In particular, the pro-Macedonian faction led then by Kleopatra seems to have seriously supported the idea of a Seleucid intervention in Illyria, seeing in it an opportunity to expand Seleucid power along the Adriatic coast and protect Macedonia from an increasing outside threat; the Romans. Upon Antiochus' death in 219 BCE, things would really come to a head under Seleucus' rule. Following the defeat of Prince Antiochus at Byzantium in May of that year, Seleucus spent several months in Macedonia organising affairs and trying to repair his damaged relationship with the Macedonians. Having learned from his experience in 220, Seleucus this time had brought only Macedonian soldiers into Macedonia proper and left Amestris at home, alongside the ever-popular Demetrius, he was able to, for now, paper over the cracks between the Macedonians and the king. Part of this involved agreeing to take a tougher stance on the question of Epirus and Illyria and, at the behest of another delegation by Alexandros, Seleucus agreed to send soldiers to help protect Epirus although he did not, yet, sign off on any invasion.

This would all prove something of a mistake when, growing frustrated and seeing what he perceived as a general weakening in Rome's position in Illyria, Alexandros absconded with the Seleucid soldiers, raised his own army and invaded Illyria in 218 BCE. In the meantime, war had once again broken out between Carthage (led by the famous general Hannibal Barca) and Rome and it is possibly the outbreak of this war, as well as an overall decline in the strength of Roman garrisons in Illyria, which convinced Alexandros his time was right. Forging a letter from Seleucus signing off on lending Seleucid soldiers to an invasion, Alexandros began a push into Illyria. Over the course of 218 BCE, his forces would push deep into Illyria only to be met by a Roman force sent to stop him and promptly crushed. Alexandros may have been a talented general but, apparently, his track record against Rome was not very good. Sure enough, in a repeat of the events of 226, Alexandros' army was beaten in the field multiple times and driven back to Lissos where, with the Romans threatening to invade yet again, they turned to Seleucus for help. By this point, Seleucus was in Anatolia but, hearing that Epirus was about to fall, he turned back around and called both Alexandros and Rome to peace talks at Pella. There, the notion of peace quickly broke down; the Romans demanded that Seleucus give up Epirus while Alexandros called on Seleucus to lend him the Seleucid royal army with which they would crush the Romans and drive them from Illyria forever.

Despite the fervent encouragement of many of the Macedonian aristocrats, however, Seleucus decided against an invasion. Instead, he chose to leverage his army against Rome here, offering terms under which Rome would keep Illyria, free from Epirote invasion, and agree never to invade Epirus again. The boundary between the two would be marked with a stone stela at Lissos which would mark the northern end of Epirote control in the region. With the war against Hannibal heating up, Rome agreed to the terms and, in 217 BCE, the treaty of Pella was signed ending the standoff. This short event, known as the Illyrian Crisis, was to have serious ramifications. In effect, it allowed Rome a foothold on the eastern side of the Adriatic sea, granting them control over Illyria uncontested at what was, perhaps, the best time for the Seleucids to actually push them out of the region. It would also herald an increasing Roman intervention in Greece going forward and would begin the rise in Seleucid-Roman tensions in the next few decades. It would also prompt Alexandros to outright revolt in 217 BCE, a revolt which would last for nearly a year and a half before being put down by Isidoros, a Seleucid general, in 215 BCE. With the defeat of Alexandros, Helenus was restored to the throne under the sole regency of Stratonice and, despite his objections, was 'encouraged' to sign off on a new Seleucid military base in the region as well as a renewed, and renegotiated, alliance with the Seleucid kings.

The Illyrian Crisis: Analysis

Okay, what do we really take away from this story? Traditionally, the Illyrian crisis has been seen as one of Seleucus' great failings; Antiochus II, some say, would have invaded Illyria when given the chance, dislodged the Romans and taken control of the Adriatic coast once and for all. With the Seleucids established there, it would be a lot harder for Rome to make serious headway in Illyria in the future. By abandoning any thought of an invasion, Seleucus gave up on Illyria and allowed the Romans to entrench themselves, a choice which would come back to bite the Seleucids in the future and introduce a new rival into Greek and Macedonian politics. Certainly, Alexandros was confident that they could win and it is rather likely that the Seleucid army of 218 BCE might have been able to make headway.

With that said, it's very easy to fall into this spiral of blame based entirely on our own hindsight of the situation. By 218, Seleucus must have known that Rome was a threat but, in truth, his focus was (rightly) still on the Ptolemies. Until three years earlier, the Ptolemies had been laying waste to huge tracts of the Seleucid empire, parts of the empire were still in revolt and nobody was entirely sure how long the truce with the Ptolemies would actually last. Nor was Seleucus entirely sure how secure his rule was; Antiochus had revolted only a year earlier and Demetrius was still out there, not to mention Argeus who, as the son of Antiochus, was a potential political piece that could threaten Seleucus' rule. Even if Seleucus could win, and we should not assume that his campaign would be a success given how many things could go wrong (and Alexandros' own poor track record against Rome does not make him a particularly reliable source on the Seleucid empire's chances in Illyria), the cost could be another huge war only shortly after the war with the Ptolemies. For his part, Seleucus III had very little appetite for war at the best of times but his choice to avoid an out and out conflict with the rising power in Italy was honestly the right thing.

With the execution of Alexandros in 215 BCE, Seleucus effectively rendered Epirus a client state. Sure, he surrendered Illyria in the process, but he had brought Epirus inexorably into the Seleucid sphere of influence where it would remain for the foreseeable future. He had also taken Epirus' ships (and some of its Illyrian allies) into his own service, helping restore and expand the Seleucid navy. In fact, under Seleucus, the navy was expanded quite dramatically to the point at which, for the first time, the Seleucid navy would actually be able to compete with its Ptolemaic counterparts. All this had been achieved without needing to confront Rome on the battlefield at all. Despite the many objections people have had to the reign of Seleucus III, we will see that a lot of criticism of the king is misplaced and that, on the whole, he had a reasonably good track record, he simply isn't romanticised in the way that Antiochus II or Demetrius was and often appears as a villain simply because of Euphemios' work on Demetrius and the Siege of Tyre which would make Demetrius out to be a much more sympathetic character than Seleucus and created this mythos of Demetrius as a tragic hero and glorious martial of the Seleucid kingdom brought down in his prime by a treacherous brother.

Fun times, I agree that on the surface Seleucus III has pulled off a neat piece of Great Power politics - he's settled spheres of influence with a potential rival without a conflict, shut down the prospect of his or Rome's Illyrian allies dragging them both into a major war, and nailed down the loose-cannon Epirotes into the bargain. Now he can hope to concentrate on Asia without his western front blowing up behind him. However this does all depend very much on the Romans playing nice and staying on their own side of the agreed frontier, something that the OTL Republic was very bad at doing.

>mfw the Seleucid Empire keeps breaking into civil war every time the king dies
It's one of the weaknesses of the Seleucid monarchy (and many others) - it offers nothing to a brother of the King. Sons are potential heirs, but a brother is only a potential rival, too dangerous to be allowed a faction at court or a powerbase in the provinces. So the only way for a younger or disfavoured son to have his career end in anything better than exile or house-arrest is to overthrow his father, or seize his chance when his father dies and his brother is yet to establish himself. And the loose succession laws and the way everything turns on personal relationships with the King means he's likely to have a ready-made faction if he decides to go for it.
Is there greater immigration to the Seleucid east from Greece and Macedonia than there was IOTL? I imagine that since Greece is under the Seleucid fold, there is little strain on the military system though that may be changed if the Seleucids lose it. I imagine that there's probably also a disproportionate presence of Thracians in the infantry.
Fun times, I agree that on the surface Seleucus III has pulled off a neat piece of Great Power politics - he's settled spheres of influence with a potential rival without a conflict, shut down the prospect of his or Rome's Illyrian allies dragging them both into a major war, and nailed down the loose-cannon Epirotes into the bargain. Now he can hope to concentrate on Asia without his western front blowing up behind him. However this does all depend very much on the Romans playing nice and staying on their own side of the agreed frontier, something that the OTL Republic was very bad at doing.

It's one of the weaknesses of the Seleucid monarchy (and many others) - it offers nothing to a brother of the King. Sons are potential heirs, but a brother is only a potential rival, too dangerous to be allowed a faction at court or a powerbase in the provinces. So the only way for a younger or disfavoured son to have his career end in anything better than exile or house-arrest is to overthrow his father, or seize his chance when his father dies and his brother is yet to establish himself. And the loose succession laws and the way everything turns on personal relationships with the King means he's likely to have a ready-made faction if he decides to go for it.
Oh definitely, at most he has prolonged the inevitability of a confrontation with Rome to a later date. What I attempted to do was foreshadow just this with the reference to Seleucus being often criticised for this decision in the sense that later onlookers will tend to see it as a bad choice when he had the chance to deal with the Romans in Illyria here and now and secure his position when given the opportunity. He had a chance and he threw it away.
Is there greater immigration to the Seleucid east from Greece and Macedonia than there was IOTL? I imagine that since Greece is under the Seleucid fold, there is little strain on the military system though that may be changed if the Seleucids lose it. I imagine that there's probably also a disproportionate presence of Thracians in the infantry.​

Yes. So Antiochus II when he was in Macedonia was very big on promoting Greek immigration to Macedonia to try and repopulate it but, obviously, the fact that Macedonia is now part of this much larger empire will lead to more immigration back and forth. Probably the largest movement of people will be the increasing numbers of Macedonian (and yes, Thracian) soldiers going eastwards to join the army and being settled there as well as more and more Macedonian and Greek elites flocking to the Seleucid travelling court. As for the army, it's complex. Thus far, the phalanx is still limited to Greeks and Macedonians but there are large numbers of Thracians in other infantry groups (although alongside many other groups). What we don't see at this stage is much of an attempt to really create a strict uniformity in the army; Antiochus II made a step in that direction with the introduction of new infantry formations but it's far from a complete process of transformation. As it stands, the Seleucid army is made up of a phalanx, entirely comprised of Greek and Macedonian infantry, a whole host of lighter infantry formations which are more fixed and regulated than in our timeline but still not always uniform and lots of skirmishers (and cavalry, war elephants, siege weapons etc.).

Early on in Antiochus II's reign, you'd definitely be right in that Thracians would be a disproportionate part of the non-phalanx infantry but this has certainly shifted somewhat over time as he spent less time in Thraco-Macedonia and more time in Syria and Babylonia. As per the Persian army, Babylonian soldiers most likely fight as heavy or semi-heavy infantry (which they were famous for, remember that the Greeks also applied the term phalanx to several non-Greek infantry formations used by soldiers in the Persian armies), but we also see Anatolians, Syrians, some Central Asians etc. fighting as lighter or medium infantry. I hope this helps!​
And Rome has now entered the chat, as they say...

Good chapter, BTW--you need to threadmark the last two chapters when you have the chance...
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Just wondering but if given the opportunity, would Hannibal be invading Ptolemaic Egypt in conjunction with the Seleucids? I mean he did offer a military alliance with the Seleucids against Rome, so why not partition the last rival Diadochi state?
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Finally catches up with the timeline! Damm Demetrius is dead, such a shame but hopefully this will get the empire less dynastic squabbles.

Enter Rome it seems, perhaps The Seleukids will start seeing Carthage as a potentially counterbalance to the upstart Res Publica and maybe even hire them to deal with the Illyrian pirates.

As always great writing!
Hey everybody! Sorry about the delay in replying and posting! I'm moving flats right now so might be a bit busy over the next week or so, but I'll still respond to questions!
Just wondering but what is the state of greco-Buddhism in comparison to OTL?​

Right now, probably somewhat less of a syncretism between Greek and Buddhist ideas. Without a Greco-Bactrian kingdom, there's simply less ideological need for those in Afghanistan to outright adopt or adapt Buddhist imagery and ideology; the Seleucids certainly aren't going to do so at this juncture and beyond that there probably isn't enough of a Buddhist influence on the Seleucids to really push syncretism at home. There may well be adaptations at the local level (such as in Ai Khanoum) but no higher-level adaptation.
And Rome has now entered the chat, as they say...

Good chapter, BTW--you need to threadmark the last two chapters when you have the chance...​

What can I say? The Seleucids are in for a... rough century.
Just wondering but if given the opportunity, would Hannibal be invading Ptolemaic Egypt in conjunction with the Seleucids? I mean he did offer a military alliance with the Seleucids against Rome, so why not partition the last rival Diadochi state?​

I mean, Hannibal only offered a military alliance with the Seleucids after he had already lost the war against Rome and been exiled. A Seleucid-Carthaginian alliance might be on the cards if their respective interests in dealing with Rome can align at the same time, but currently Hannibal (and Carthage) has no reason to bother with the Ptolemies. In fact, the opposite is more likely to be true; Seleucid control of Greece and Macedonia has thrown them into much earlier conflict with Rome so there is more of an incentive for the Ptolemies and Rome to ally against the Seleucids especially since events in Illyria have already almost drawn battle lines between Seleucid allies and Rome.
Finally catches up with the timeline! Damm Demetrius is dead, such a shame but hopefully this will get the empire less dynastic squabbles.

Enter Rome it seems, perhaps The Seleukids will start seeing Carthage as a potentially counterbalance to the upstart Res Publica and maybe even hire them to deal with the Illyrian pirates.

As always great writing!​

Don't worry, we've got a wee bit more of Demetrius coming in the next update. I will also say that you shouldn't count Demetrius out just yet, he might still have his revenge even if only from beyond the grave...

It seems pretty inevitable that a Seleucid-Carthaginian alliance is on the cards, right? If, that is, the Seleucids can actually catch their breath long enough to make good on that in any meaningful way. As I've said above, Rome and Ptolemaic Egypt would have a much easier time of coordinating. That said, remember that Seleucus doesn't need Carthaginian help in dealing with the pirates. Right now, the Illyrians are either controlled by Rome or by Epirus (which is controlled by the Seleucids). As it stands, then, both Rome and the Seleucids have active(ish) naval forces in the Adriatic that can be exploited for their own uses.​
Chapter Thirty
Chapter Thirty: Seleucus III (219-210 BCE)

The reign of Seleucus III has often been seen as something of a period of decline; a downhill slope after the supposedly glorious reign of Antiochus II which will, eventually, necessitate (and facilitate) the overthrow of his line of kings during the first half of the 2nd Century BCE. The idea is that Seleucus III and his successors would ultimately let the power of their empire slip into decadence, weak administration, rebellion and backstabbing, halting the expansion of the empire seen under Seleucus' father and allowing Seleucid power to slip across its territory. In truth, things are a lot more complex than this. Seleucus III ruled at the end of a huge period of expansionism, not just under Antiochus II but under his predecessors Antiochus I and Seleucus I. Over the last century, the Seleucid empire had been nearly constantly expanding in one form or another and it was only under Seleucus that this constant expansionism came to something of a halt. This does not inherently mean that the empire was growing weaker, however. Seleucus has often appeared as a weak king only in the light of someone who, unlike his father, simply did not prioritise the martial excellence and military adventurism so common under Hellenistic kings. Seleucus instead prized his status, rightly or wrongly, as a philosopher king who patronised art and literature and philosophy. There are very valid criticisms to be raised about his handling of the satrapies, especially in allowing those satrapies at either end of the empire (especially in Sogdiana, Bactria, and Parthia in the east, and Macedonia and Thrace in the west) to gain ever increased autonomy and localised power. However, as we will see, most of these issues wouldn't really crop up until after his death and much of what occurred after Seleucus III was not of his own making.

To begin, it is worth just looking at the basic outline of his reign. In 219, Seleucus took the throne of the Seleucid empire and was, almost immediately, thrown into a civil war. Antiochus was killed by mid-219 and Demetrius had been sent off to the eastern provinces to try and restore order in the region. This he did semi-effectively. Demetrius' approach was a mixed military and diplomatic one, putting down the most dangerous revolts and negotiating with anyone he could. In particular, the last few years of Antiochus II's reign had seen several nomadic groups moving into Parthia and Sogdiana, with at least one group reaching as far as Bactria. Many of these groups are poorly specified in these sources although certainly some were the Parni and some were 'Saka', at least some of whom were still in Parthia several decades later. Despite attempts to dislodge the Parni, Demetrius made reasonably little headway and, in the end, seems to have negotiated with them, allowing several Parni groups to settle in Sogdiana as Seleucid subjects. For the most part, these newcomers had made few gains against the fortified cities of the region but were granted lands which they would govern mostly autonomously going forward. Relations, however, were rarely good and several cities soon complained about their new neighbours and about encroachments on their lands. One particular issue occurred when a dispute broke out between a band of Parni and the government of Samarqand in 217 BCE, leading to an incursion by Demetrius to put the Parni down and resulting in a Seleucid defeat. Another campaign the next year would see the Parni defeated and officially accepting Seleucid suzerainty.

Still, the Seleucids quickly found out that few of these nomadic groups were particularly keen to work within the Seleucid system and that, as much as they officially accepted Seleucid rule, they rarely truly abided by it. Most of the time between his arrival in 219 and his assassination in 215 BCE seems to have been made up of Demetrius trying to establish some form of order over the region to little effect. With that said, however, the arrival of the Parni and Saka was not entirely a bad thing. In return for Seleucid gold and silver, they willingly fought in Seleucid armies and often to great effect. At the time of his murder in 215, Demetrius is known to have had, for example, several Saka bodyguards and a contingent of some 400 Parni cavalry with him. Then there was their impact on trade, helping maintain the trade connections between the north-eastern portions of the empire and the rest of Central Asia. With that said, their oftentimes difficult relationship with Seleucid government structures and Greek cities also led, in turn, to ever-increased local military forces. This process began under Demetrius' watch when, following the events of 217 BCE, he ordered several cities to organise their own local defence forces, even purchasing horses for them to help them fight against raiders in the absence of the Seleucid army, but would largely speed up under Seleucus III.

The assassination of Demetrius caused a series of revolts to break out across the empire including here in Central Asia and amongst his own troops. In the immediate aftermath of the murder, much of his army revolted and laid siege to Ecbatana intending to kill those responsible for their commander's death and were only stopped by the arrival of relief forces. They would continue their rebellion for another year, however, eventually changing their focus to Demetrius' adopted son, Argeus, who they now sought to prop up as Argeus I. It was almost certainly for this reason that, as soon as Ecbatana was relieved, Berenice and Argeus were spirited away from the city, for fear of this very outcome. They would spend the next few years in Seleukeia, a period during which several more revolts would spring up attempting to push Argeus as a potential replacement to Seleucus. Many of these revolts seem to have stemmed either from Demetrius' supporters, either those seeking revenge for his death or others fearing they would meet the same fate as him, or from members of the army displeased at the popular prince being murdered. It became apparent rather quickly that Argeus was a threat and that, eventually, he would have to be dealt with. In response, Berenice took to hiding the infant, changing rooms each night and ensuring that he was never out of her sight. Seleucus wouldn't risk murdering Berenice, knowing that doing so would risk another Ptolemaic attack, so by making sure he was constantly with her (and even tasting all his food and drink personally), she attempted to protect him.

Finally, in either 213 or 212 BCE, Berenice was able to disguise herself as a servant and escape her guards, disappearing into the city and then travelling southwards to the Persian Gulf from which she, and Argeus, would travel by sea first to Gerrha and thence aboard a merchant ship to Egypt. At least, that is the most popular story although a separate tradition holds that she instead joined an Arab caravan travelling across the desert towards Judaea. Whatever the case, she was back in Egypt by the middle of 212 BCE at the latest, her now eight-year-old son with her. Over the next few years, Argeus would be raised within the Ptolemaic court before being shipped off to a command in Nubia where neither Ptolemy IV (then king) or Seleucus III (or his successors) expected to ever hear from him again.

Back in the Seleucid Empire, the post-Demetrius revolts would continue on and off for the next decade and a half. For the most part, the Seleucid army succeeded in slowly restoring order although they, like Demetrius, made reasonably little headway in the east. Instead, Seleucus began investing local actors with more and more localised power, enabling them to raise and maintain small private armies for defence. Increasingly, the satraps of Bactria and Sogdiana (then a Greek named Megasthenes in Bactria and a Greco-Persian ruler named Gorgias or Mithridates in Sogdiana) began to act effectively as local dynasts to the extent that they would pass their positions on to their children and even take up regnal names by around 200 BCE. In Macedonia, Heron's successor, Callistratus, would similarly come to command more and more power over the late 3rd Century, effectively commanding the resources of Epirus, Macedonia and (after 208 when Antiochus III's government invested him with command over the satrapy), Thrace. For obvious reasons, these choices have drawn extensive criticism over the years for effectively setting the stage for future issues. With that said, they may well have made sense at the time. Officially, these regions continued to provide resources but, by investing them with localised power, Seleucus reduced the expenditure on administration in the region, important at a time when they were already expensive and unstable and the empire was still reasonably fresh from a devastating and, yes, expensive war. That said, by investing Megasthenes, Gorgias and Callistratus with more and more power, Seleucus was starting a very short road to very real problems.

What was a lot more successful was Seleucus' building programme, much of which centred around the royal city of Antioch. Recently devastated in the war against Ptolemy, Antioch was first in line for a whole series of renovations. However, rather than simply rebuilding it, Seleucus went a step further and expanded it well beyond its pre-war prime. The old sections of the city were rebuilt, now with wider and better facilitated roads, but a new sector was built on the island in the centre of the Orontes which housed the new palace sector complete with Seleucus' new library and, inspired by both Athens and Alexandria, academy. While it would never reach the heights of the Alexandrian library and museum, the Antiochian academy would be a popular centre of discussion and research for more than a century. It was in this area that people such as Euphemios wrote their works.

Caiatinus writes:

'On this island, he laid down many walls, roads, and fountains which run day and night. He built a library which they say is the biggest in the world after that in Alexandria and filled it with books from all over Greece and here, too, he built an academy so that all the great thinkers of the world would come to his city so that it might be elevated and that one day men will look upon it and say "this is truly the greatest city in the world".'

But his building programme did not end at self-aggrandisement by any means:

'He brought out the people from the city and gave them homes and shelters, providing them with great quantities of grain, meat and fruit from all the corners of his empire. For those killed in the war against Ptolemy, he provided burials and tombstones of the finest stone. He ordered his courtiers to distribute their food to the people and punished those who did not comply.'

It's important to remember that Caiatinus was a first-hand source for this; having arrived in the Seleucid court sometime around 217 or 216 BCE, he spent the next few years travelling around with Seleucus' court and would have seen at least some of the rebuilding first-hand. What is certain is that, by the end of the century, the city of Antioch seemed to have rebounded quite a lot and was once again a bustling city. This, of course, was helped by renovations to Seleukeia-on-Orontes, the port at the mouth of the Orontes river which had also been captured by Ptolemy III during the war and had suffered damage as well. Here, Seleucus expanded out the port even beyond its original design with the inclusion, quite notably, of a new military wharf although this would not be completed until the 180s. The walls and defences were also expanded and a new series of forts built to the south to help protect the port against future attack. Similarly, the Ghab valley through which the Orontes ran between Apamea and Antioch was further fortified as was Apamea itself which also received a brand new temple to Apollo as thanks for its role in the war.

Following its revolt in 215 BCE, Tyre was eventually given new constructions as well, including repairs to the Temple of Melqart (some of which had been started by Demetrius between 217 and 215 BCE) and repairs to the harbours made. Roads were cleared and repaired all across Phoenicia and, by the end of the 210s, Seleucus had agreed to pull back some of the Seleucid garrisons in the cities (save for Tyre which continued to have a complex and often difficult relationship with its Seleucid garrison). By and large, in fact, Seleucus' reign saw a general prosperity return to Syria after years of war, something which would continue even in the post-Seleucus III chaos as Syria, against all odds, continued to grow and prosper. This process would begin under Seleucus III but continue well on into the 2nd Century to the point that, by around 100 BCE, Syria had grown to be exceptionally rich. This may well also reflect something of a move in political power, especially under Seleucus III who had a particular affinity for Syria and enjoyed the regions around Antioch (although his love of Seleukeia in Mesopotamia is also well known). Under his successors, Syria would increasingly come to be seen as the heartland of the empire and would thus receive ever more patronage and development in decades to come.

In 210 BCE, after a reign of only 9 years, Seleucus III died, quite ironically, in Ecbatana in the very same palace where, some five years earlier, he had had his brother, Demetrius assassinated. In his stead, power passed to his eleven-year-old son, Antiochus III although actual power would be invested in a regency led by Diomedes, a powerful Greek aristocrat living in Syria who had endeared himself to Seleucus III over the last few years. Known for his skill in finance, Diomedes had spent much of Seleucus' reign building a powerbase in the court, especially following the death of Ariobarzanes in 214 BCE which had led to a fracturing in his own powerbase and networks. In his stead, Diomedes had risen to take an ever-more prominent position in the court as a personal favourite of Seleucus, gradually managing even to push Amestris out of her place at the heart of Seleucid court life by, steadily, disempowering many of her supporters through a variety of means, many of which involved finding ways to convince the king to remove them from power. The result was that, by 210 BCE, Diomedes was powerful enough to effectively step in as regent until the young king came of age.​
Impressive post, thanks! However, I am not too versed in the Syrian wars of OTL (neither are, I suspect, most of the readers of your TL), so I don't see how exactly it diverges so far. I just finished reading the alt-First Syrian war part and it seems still very close to OTL, apart from the Celts in Asia Minor; in particular, Macedonia seems to be back on track with the Antigonids. Are there any other divergences I missed?
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