Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2015.01.08 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2015.01.08

Sonja Plischke, Die Seleukiden und Iran: die seleukidische Herrschaftspolitik in den östlichen Satrapien. Classica et orientalia, Bd 9.   Wiesbaden:  Harrassowitz Verlag, 2014.  Pp. xiii, 408.  ISBN 9783447100618.  €78.00.  

Reviewed by R. Malcolm Errington, University of Marburg (

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

This revised doctoral thesis surveys the eastern provinces of the Seleucid Empire. Much work has been done in the last decades, especially on the documents from Babylon, which allows for certain periods a much more certain chronology than was possible earlier. Plischke makes good use of this material and provides in general a sound survey of the sources and the voluminous secondary literature on the Seleucid kingdom, although her main focus is on Iran. She begins with a survey of recent research and follows it up with a rather long-winded listing of the literary, epigraphic and numismatic sources, which offers nothing new and could have been more sharply focussed – does a reader of this highly complex work really need to be told that Polybios is "generally regarded as reliable" or that Livy wrote his History of Rome in the Augustan period? The preliminary chapter also offers a cursory account of well-known events from Kyros II until the death of Roxane and Alexander IV. This makes a reader wonder whether the book is intended for a professional or a general readership.

Section II covers the structural conditions for the Seleucid domination in the so-called "upper Satrapies". This is the longest section of the book (150 pages), divided into no fewer than 47 sub-sections (see contents below) and covers an extremely wide range of topics. It begins with the Achaimenids, and yet does not demonstrate that the wealth of detail – including Aramaic terminology – is relevant to the Seleucid period. Nevertheless, Plischke has assembled a mass of varied information concerning the widely differing population structures and densities, as well as the physical geography and ancient terminology of a huge area stretching from the Euphrates to the Hindu Kush. She pays particular attention to the administrative problems facing any ruler of the whole territory under ancient conditions. In view of the massive variation in social structure and living conditions that Plitschke demonstrates it is a wonder that the Seleucids found it possible to erect any kind of longer-term domination of the area at all. Attending to this problem, she emphasises the importance of the foundation of urban communities to act as centres for the Seleucid administration; she draws attention to the restless travel of the kings in the first years, showing themselves to the regional elites of the eastern satrapies, whom they also cultivated and employed for their own purposes, and offering respectful participation in regional religious practices. Also the widespread use of coinage with recognisably royal emblems served to consolidate the Seleucids’ hold on their empire. Since this material is used systematically from the whole period of the empire to paint a composite picture, it might have been better to present at least some of it after the chronological section III, which aims to "tell the story" of the eastern satrapies from Seleukos I to Antiochos VII. A certain amount of repetition might thus have been avoided.

Section III (subdivided into 40 subsections: see contents below) is the heart of the book and provides a useful, systematic survey of the sources and the modern literature for the main developments – so far as the sources allow us to know anything at all – of the build-up of the empire under Seleukos I and Antiochos I and II. The increasing pressures on the periphery, especially in Baktria, and the conflict with the Arsakids under Antiochos II and Seleukos II are well demonstrated and these subsections offer a useful update to research on these events. For Antiochos III, however, Plischke loses sight of her main subject, and retells the well-known story of his accession, his difficulties with early rebels, and his anabasis, all according to Polybios, whose text is often cited without translation, without significant contribution. Concentration on Iran, rather than Antiochos, would have structured this rather amorphous story, re-told here to little purpose. Less would have been more.

The book ends with a so-called summary ("Fazit"), in which Plischke in 20 Pages (only two subsections) draws together many of the points she has made en route. In particular, she stresses the multi-facetted character of the Seleukid empire in the east and the flexible approach of the first rulers, which made the empire possible in the first place. The constant difficulties with Baktria and the gradual weakening of control over the more distant regions under the challenge of strong regional powers, despite occasional efforts at restoration, as by Antiochos III, led in due course to the gradual collapse of Seleukid rule. This is sound and, if not highly original, a good summary of the period studied.

The book is not an easy read and tends to overwhelm the reader with information; a much more disciplined approach to the narrative would have been welcome. There are occasional problems with Greek: false forms (μέροι p. 26, ΒΑΣΙΛΕΟΥ p. 227, ὠμότητα p. 251 as nominative, βασιλεῖν p. 266, untranslated [and because of garbled Greek, untranslatable] passages of Polybios p. 267, 273); the inscriptions from Magnesia OGIS 231-3 concerning Antioch in Persis do not contain "Edikte", but are royal letters in reply to embassies followed by a psephisma of Antioch; throughout Plischke has the irritating habit of referring to Justin as "Trogus-Justin" and construes with a plural verb, as if we could be sure that Justin has always understood his source and represented him correctly. Given the noted problems with Greek, one cannot help wondering whether the transliterated aramaic is always correctly cited (the reviewer cannot judge this point).

The book concludes with a massive bibliography and indexes of sources, persons and places.

Table of Contents

I. Einleitung
1. Zum forschungshistorischen Kontext des Seleukidenreiches
2. Zur Quellensituation
2.1 Die literarische Überlieferung
2.2 Die epigraphischen und numismatischen Zeugnisse
2.3 Die archäologischen Zeugnisse
3. Vorgeschichte und Ausgangslage
3.1 Das Achaimenidenreich bis zur Herrschaft Dareios’ III.
3.2 Persien unter Alexander III.
3.3 Der Beginn der Diadochenkriege
3.4 Die seleukidische Eroberung Babyloniens
II. Strukturelle Bedingungen der seleukidischen Herrschaft in den "Oberen Satrapien"
1. Herrschaftsaufbau und Herrschaftssicherung
1.1 Terminologische Vorbemerkungen zur Bezeichnung geographischer und territorialer Strukturen
1.2 Verwaltung und Militär
1.2.1 Strukturierende Maßnahmen: Verwaltungsmodalitäten und Heiratspolitik
1.2.2 Die "herrschende Gesellschaft" im Seleukidenreich
1.2.3 Die "philoi" der Seleukidenkönige
1.2.4 Titel und Ämter
1.2.5 Seleukidischen Funktionäre in den östlichen Territorien
1.2.6 Iraner in höheren Verwaltungsämtern
1.2.7 Die Einbindung der "lokalen Eliten"
1.3 Die Bevölkerung
1.3.1 Medien, Elymais-Susiane, Persis – Der Zagros und die Pastoralisten Der Zagros Zur Darstellung der Bergvölker Westirans in der literarischen Überlieferung Die Zagros-Bewohner seit Alexander III. und unter den Seleukiden
1.3.2 Die Nomaden und Sesshaften Zentralasiens Nomadismus in der Forschung Zur geographischen Struktur Zentralasiens Nomaden und Sesshaften in der literarischen Berichterstattung Der Sonderfall Baktrien Zentralasien seit der Eroberung Alexanders III. und unter den Seleukiden
1.3.3 (Süd-)Mesopotamien und Babylonien
2. Infrastruktur
2.1 Das Bewässerungssystem
2.1.1 Das Qanātsystem
2.1.2 Die Frischwasserversorgung über oberirdische Versorgungskanäle
2.2 Das Straßensystem
2.2.1 Reisen als Ausdruck von Herrschaft und Repräsentation
2.2.2 Die Straßen- und Kommunikationssysteme in Westiran und Zentralasien
2.3 Die "Urbanisierungspolitik" der Seleukiden
2.3.1 Westiran (Elymais-Susiane, Medien, Persis, Persischer Golf)
2.3.2 Karmanien, Hyrkanien und Parthien
2.3.3 Baktrien, Sogdien und die Margiane
2.3.4 Ostiran (Areia, Arachosien, Drangiane, Parapamisaden)
2.3.5 (Süd-)Mesopotamien und Babylonien
2.3.6 Urbane Strukturen im seleukidischen Osten
2.4 Die seleukidische Finanzverwaltung im Osten
2.4.1 Die seleukidischen Münzprägestätten in Westiran
2.4.2 Die seleukidische Münzprägung in Ostiran
2.4.3 Die seleukidischen Münzprägestätten in (Süd-)Mesopotamien und Babylonien
2.4.4 Die Entwicklung der seleukidischen Münzprägung im Osten
3. Kult und Herrschaft
3.1 Die Abkunft: Die Seleukiden und Milet
3.2 Lokale Kulttraditionen – Nanaia, Anāhitā, Artemis, Marduk , Nab –
3.3 Der seleukidische Dynastiekult
3.4 Die Münzen als Herrschaftsmedium
3.5 Die seleukidische "Religionspolitik"
III. Die Seleukiden und ihre Herrschaftsausübung in den "Oberen Satrapien"
1. Seleukos I. und Antiochos I. – Die Begründung und Konsolidierung der Herrschaft im Osten
1.1 Der Baktrienfeldzug
1.2 Die Herrschaft des Sophytos
1.3 Der Indienfeldzug
1.4 Der Vertrag – die Festschreibung der östlichen Grenze
1.4.1 Territoriale Abtretungen durch Seleukos
1.4.2 Die Übergabe von Kriegselephanten durch Chandragupta
1.4.3 Der Beschluss einer ἐπιγαμία/eines κῆδος
1.4.4 Sieg oder Niederlage
1.5 Antiochos als Vizekönig in den "Oberen Satrapien"
1.6 Zur Rolle Babyloniens und Mesopotamiens – Der Borsippa-Zylinder
2. Antiochos II. und Seleukos II. – Die Abfallbewegungen in Parthien und Bakrien
2.1 Die literarischen Berichte
2.2 Zum Quellenwert der Überlieferung
2.3 Die chronologische Rekonstruktion der Abfallbewegungen
2.4 Das Seleukidenreich zur Mitte des 3. Jhds. v.Chr.
2.5 Die Ambitionen der seleukidischen Satrapen Andragoras und Diodotos
2.5.1 Die Rolle des Andragoras bis zur Begründung des Arsakidenreiches
2.5.2 Die Diodotoi in Baktrien
2.6 Der Versuch der Revanche – Der Ostfeldzug Seleukos’ II.
2.7 Das seleukidische Erbe: Die Anfänge der arsakidischen Münzprägung
3. Antiochos der Große und seine Zeit
3.1 Zum familiären Hintergrund Antiochos’ III. und Antiochos’ IV.
3.2 Die Reichserweiterung 223 v.Chr durch Antiochos III.
3.3 Der Molon-Aufstand und seine Darstellung bei Polybios
3.4 Zu den Zielen und Plänen von Hermeias und Achaios
3.4.1 Hermeias
3.4.2 Achaios
3.5 Die anabasis Antiochos’ III.
3.6 Die Münzprägung unter Euthydemos
3.7 Zur Reichsvorstellung Antiochos’ III.
3.8 Antiochos III. und das akītu-Fest
3.9 Elymais-Susiane bis zur Unabhängigkeit unter den Kamnaskiriden
3.9.1 Die Geschichte der Elymais-Susiane in seleukidischer Zeit
3.9.2 Antiochos’ Angriff auf das Bēl-Marduk-Heiligtum in der Elymais
4. Antiochos IV. und der Osten
4.1 Antiochos und Babylonien
4.2 Die anabasis
4.3 Der Vorwurf der Tempelplünderung
4.4 Die Herrschaft der Fratarakā in der Persis
4.5 Die Zielsetzung in der Ostpolitik Antiochos’ IV.
IV. Fazit
1. Zur Herrschaftskonzeption der Seleukiden
2. Die Seleukiden im Spiegel östlicher Herrschaftstradition
V. Quellen und Literaturverzeichnis
VI. Register
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