After the Battle of Magnesia, Roman soldiers, who had fought badly outnumbered but triumphed decisively nonetheless, supposedly crowed that “there was a Great King, Antiochus”, ἦν βασιλεὺς Ἀντίοχος ὁ μέγας (App. Syr. 37). A traditional view of the Seleucid empire (not necessarily current, and often a straw man for this volume) has been that following the Peace of Apamea, the Seleucid kingdom was on a trajectory of irreversible decline, the “sick man” of the Hellenistic world until Pompey the Great finally put it out of its misery.
The contributions under review reexamine the period marked by the start of the Roman war down to the late second century BC, when even the most ardent Seleucid booster is forced to admit that the kingdom was beyond recovery. The vigorous group of papers are the result of the Fifth Seleukid Study Day, held in Brussels in 2015, and the collection has all of the strengths and weaknesses of a large conference proceeding. A great strength is the diversity of thought, as the reader often gets several takes on the same issue. For example, take the issue of Seleucid princes held as hostages in Rome. The conventional view (proffered by Polybius and still followed, not unreasonably, by some contributors), is that this practice crippled the Seleucid dynasty, as it allowed the Romans to interfere with the succession so as to produce maximum dynastic disruption. Yet Benjamin Scolnic notes that because the Romans had a captive Seleucid prince as their ace in the hole, they were ironically more willing to indulge Antiochus IV in rebuilding his army and navy in violation of the Treaty of Apamea, knowing that his obedience was ensured with the mere threat that Rome might play the “Demetrius card,” by releasing their hostage and sparking a Seleucid civil war. The Romans only felt compelled to burn the Seleucid fleet and hamstring the elephant herd once the card was played in 163 BC. Meanwhile, Richard Wenghofer argues that the Roman hostage-taking may have in fact simplified Seleucid succession, given that the empire had long suffered from a surplus of ambitious princes. Reading the crosswise analysis in some of the papers catapults the reader into what must have been a vigorous and productive debate at the conference.
Overall, Rome emerges as a distant and often indifferent presence in the Near East, possessing military power far superior to the Seleucids, but with little obvious inclination to use it after the last legions left Asia Minor in 187 BC, not to return until 131 BC to quell the revolt of Aristonicus. Coşkun has perhaps the most bullish vision of Roman influence, arguing that the mere letters of support provided to Hasmonean embassies, while never backed by military or material aid, were valuable declarations of support from the Mediterranean superpower. Still, Rome’s disinclination and distance overall meant that the Seleucid empire while humbled, and to a (debatable) degree hobbled, was still the most powerful state in the Near East, at least until the defeat of Antiochus Sidetes. If there is one notable omission to the volume, it is the Parthians, who are far more central to the problem of Seleucid failure, yet who manage only a few minor cameos, mostly in Ramsey’s discussions of institutional continuity at Babylon into the post-Seleucid period. The Parthians might be a ripe topic for a future Seleukid Study Day, but their near absence is somewhat jarring given that the Attalids and Cappadocians each get a chapter.
When it comes to post-Apamea decline, the volume at times protests too much. It is uncontroversial that the Seleucid dynasty enjoyed a revival of sorts under the energetic leadership of Antiochus IV, and until the death of Sidetes maintained a large tributary empire despite significant dynastic strife. Some arguments overstate the strength and resilience of the empire: Antiochus’ parade at Daphne was an exercise in self-confidence, but I am not sure I accept Rolf Strootman’s closing provocation that the procession necessarily announced Seleucid intentions to reobtain hegemony in the Aegean once he had reasserted himself in the East. Nor do I accept Coşkun’s assertion, in the epilogue, that Seleucus IV simply abrogated his obligations under the Treaty of Apamea, including unilaterally stopping payment of the indemnity to Rome. It is true that Antiochus IV flouted many of the military restrictions, and that Seleucus IV missed at least one installment which Antiochus IV subsequently paid. But the warm greeting to the embassy that made the belated payment (Livy 42.6) suggests that the Romans had indeed been paid in full. Still, even speculations and musings that do not convince this reader contribute to a rich and thought-provoking volume.
The past decade has proven a heady time for Seleucid studies, which has metamorphosed from a marginalized sub-field marooned in the void between Ancient History and Near Eastern Studies to a vibrant locus of interdisciplinary study, a topic that unites specialists in the Hellenistic World, Republican Rome and Judaic Studies, where sources range from Classical and Biblical literature to Greek epigraphy to cuneiform tablets. Such interdisciplinary vitality is on full display throughout this excellent volume.
Table of Contents
Part I: The Seleukid Empire under Antiochos III
1. Altay Coşkun, Which Seleukid King Was the First to Establish Friendship with
the Romans? Reflections on a Fabricated Letter (Suet., Claud. 25.3), amicitia with Antiochos III (200–193 BC) and the Lack thereof with Ilion
2. Marjin S. Visscher, Poets and Politics: Antiochos the Great, Hegesianax and the War
3. Eran Almagor, Echoes of the Persian Wars in the European Phase of the Roman-Syrian War (with an Emphasis on Plut., Cat. Mai. 12-14
4. Kyle Erickson, Where are the Wives? Royal Women in Seleukid Cult Documents
Part II: After Apameia: Seleukid Recovery and Disintegration in the Shadow of Rome
5. Nicholas Victor Sekunda, The Seleukid Elephant Corps after Apameia
6. Rolf Strootman, Antiochus IV and Rome: The Festival at Daphne (Syria), the Treaty of Apameia and the Revival of Seleukid Expansionism in the West
7. Benjamin Scolnic, Reading Backwards: Antiochos IV and his Relationship with Rome
8. Richard Wenghofer, With Enemies Like This Who Needs Friends? Roman Intervention in the Hellenistic East and the Preservation of the Seleukid Patrimony
Part III: Asia Minor in the Transition from Seleukid to Roman Hegemony
9. Germain Payen, L’influence séleucide sur les dynasties anatoliennes après le traité d’Apamée
10. Alex McAuley, L’ombre lointaine de Rome: La Cappadoce à la suite de la paix d’Apamée
11. Christoph Michels, Unlike any Other? The Attalid Kingdom after Apameia
Part IV: The Fading Power of the Seleukids, Roman Diplomacy, and Judaea’s Way to Independence
12. Altay Coşkun, Triangular Epistolary Diplomacy with Rome from Judas Maccabee to Aristobulos I
13. Edward Dabrowa, The Seleukids, Rome and the Jews (134-76 BC)
Part V: Long-Term Perspectives on Babylonia
14. David Engels, Mais où sont donc passes les soldats babyloniens? La place des contingents “indigènes” dans l’armée séleucide
15. Gillian Ramsey, Generals and Cities in Late-Seleukid and Early-Parthian Babylonia
16. Altay Coşkun, Epilogue: Rome, the Seleukid East and the Disintegration of the Largest of the Successor Kingdoms in the 2 nd Century BC