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The Seleucids

Iranian History - The Seleucids (330-170BC)

The Seleucids

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When Alexander died in 323 BC, the Macedonian army was left in a state of confusion and without a clear successor to the leadership.

Though there was some pressure to keep the Alexandrian empire intact, it was the separationist tendency among the Macedonian elite that eventually prevailed.

The Macedonian generals carved up the Persian satrapies between them and outlying provinces began to claim independence, ushering in a period of fragmentation and war.

In Babylonia, a Macedonian named Seleucus built up strong local support and crowned himself king in 306BC. After a few years and several wars he had control of all the satrapies to the east of Babylon.

By 281 BC he also had control of Syria and Asia Minor. His son and successor Antiochus I (281-261 BC), whose mother was a Persian noblewoman, and his son in turn, Antiochus II (261-246 BC), ruled over a reunited empire that stretched from Samarkand to the Aegean Sea.

Persia was stable and organised and therefore relatively easy to rule. Administratively, the Seleucids worked with the existing systems rather than trying to impose their own. Nor did they force their traditions on the conquered empire.

Silver coin of Antiochus III, Seleucid Dynasty.

Silver coin of Antiochus III, from the Seleucid Dynasty

Silver coin of Alexander I Balas, Seleucid Dynasty.

Silver coin of Alexander I Balas, from the Seleucid Dynasty

On the contrary, the Seleucids were active protectors and supporters of local traditions and religious cults. Both Greek and Aramaic were used side by side in the administration and the Hellenisation of Persia occurred as a natural process and only to a very limited extent amongst the urban upper classes and not at all in the countryside.

The Seleucids, for their part, married extensively into the Persian royal line of Cappadocia who were direct descendents of Darius I, thus uniting the two dynasties.

Hellenistic world map post Seleucus.

The Hellenistic world view post Seleucus; an ancient world map by Eratosthenes (276–194 BC) reproduced in the 19th century.

Will Yong and Kazem Vafadari

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