Seleucids


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Seleucids

 

a dynasty that from 312 to 64 B.C. ruled one of the Hellenistic states of western Asia that formed after the empire of Alexander the Great broke up. The Seleucid dynasty was founded by Seleucus I Nicator. Until 300 B.C., the Seleucid capital was Seleucia-on-Tigris, and after 300 B.C., Antioch-on-Orontes. At its greatest extent the Seleucid state—sometimes called the kingdom of Syria—included not only Syria but also Mesopotamia, part of Asia Minor, the Iranian Plateau, and part of Middle Asia.

The economy of the Seleucid state and the Seleucid role in the economic development of the Hellenistic world stemmed from the state’s varied natural riches and advantageous location. Grains, legumes, and oil plants were widely grown, and stock raising flourished. The making of wines and oils was highly developed. Fabrics, metalwork, and ceramics were also produced. Land and water trade routes linked Asia Minor and Syria with Arabia, the Persian Gulf, Middle Asia, India, and China; as a result, domestic and transit trade was extensive, and many old and new cities of various origins, structures, and importance prospered.

Cities with the status of a Greek polis had a certain autonomy; their lands were partly parceled out among the citizens and partly worked by the subject population. A small, privileged slaveholding elite, predominantly Greco-Macedonian, held power in the cities. At strategically important points, militaryagricultural settlements, called katoikiai, were founded. Apart from the army and the katoikiai, the Seleucids drew their main support from the cities. The old temple associations, headed by a priestly nobility, retained their significance. The Seleucid state was divided into satrapies. It had a unitary monetary system and its own calendar, whose starting point was 312 B.C.

Agriculture was the mainstay of the Seleucid economy. The land was, for all practical purposes, divided into royal land and other land, which, subject to various rights and conditions, belonged to the cities, temple associations, and Greco-Macedonian and local elite. Much of the land was cultivated by subject peasants (laoi). Slave labor was common in agriculture and particularly in handicrafts.

Seleucus I’s large military-administrative state proved unstable. In Asia Minor, his successors soon lost Pergamum, Cappadocia, Bithynia, and Pontus. In the middle of the third century B.C, the eastern satrapies, notably the Middle Asian lands, where the Greco-Bactrian and Parthian kingdoms arose, likewise broke away.

Under Antiochus III the Great (223–187 B.C), the Seleucids reached their zenith. They warred endlessly with the Ptolemies, in the Syrian wars of the third and second centuries B.C. Although sometimes unsuccessful in the wars, they nonetheless captured Coele-Syria (Lebanon), Phoenicia, and Palestine. Antiochus’ campaign in the east (212–205) won the Seleucids greater influence in Parthia and Bactria. However, because of defeat in war with Rome and the Roman-imposed Treaty of Apamea of 188 B.C., the Seleucids lost all influence in the Aegean area.

Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175–163 B.C.) tried to resurrect Seleucid power, campaigning in Egypt in 170 and 168, and attempted to restore unity by means of forcible Hellenization. This policy provoked rebellion in several satrapies, including rebellions in Judea in 171 and in the period 167–160. Weakened by the struggle of the oppressed masses and dynastic disunion (between 163 and 164 B.C., there were 19 kings), the Seleucids lost all their lands. In 64 B.C., Syria, the last remnant of the Seleucid state, was annexed as a Roman province.

REFERENCES

Ranovich, A. B. Ellinizm i ego istoricheskaia rol’. Moscow-Leningrad, 1950.
Bouché-Leclercq, A. Histoiredes Séleucides, vols. 1–2. Paris, 1913–14.
Otto, W. Beiträge zur Seleukidengeschichte des 3. Jahrhunderts vor Chr. Munich, 1928.
Bikerman, E. Institutions des Séleucides. Paris, 1938.
Schmitt, H. H. Untersuchungen zur Geschichte Antiochosdes Grossen und seiner Zeit. Weisbaden, 1964.
Will, E. Histoire Politique du monde hellénistique (323–30 av. J. C), vols. 1–2. Nancy, 1966–68.

I. F. FIKHMAN

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