BMCR 2021.05.09

New perspectives in Seleucid history, archaeology and numismatics

, New perspectives in Seleucid history, archaeology and numismatics: studies in honor of Getzel M. Cohen. Beiträge zur Altertumskunde, Band 355. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2019. Pp. xvii, 814. ISBN 9783110283785 €129,95.

[For the sake of ease authors and titles are listed below.]

This is a substantial collection consisting more than 40 articles on a range of Seleucid topics, and as such only a brief treatment may be given here of selected works within the volume as a whole. Overall, given the array of topics, this work is likely to provide useful insights to any scholar or student of Seleucid or Hellenistic studies. The collection’s introduction and indeed the introductions to many of the articles within focus on Getzel Cohen’s life and his personal dedication to his students and colleagues. These personal stories serve to enliven and inspire study on what can be a complex and esoteric topic. Ultimately this work is a fitting homage to Cohen’s contributions to Hellenistic scholarship in terms of the depth and breadth of subject areas.

The collection is split into 10 sections. which provides some guidance to the overall themes, and for ease a full table of contents has been replicated at the end of this review. What is perhaps less helpful is that it is not clear why the individual articles were placed under the aforementioned categories – sections do not contain introductions or overviews.  Moreover, the volume does not have a general introduction to the articles themselves, and it is therefore difficult to draw any overall conclusions about what these collected works contribute to our knowledge of Seleucid studies. However, as will be discussed below, many themes cross the different sections, including issues such as the relationship between the Seleucid rulers and the cities, numismatic and archaeological evidence, the role of women, and the relationship between dynasties.

The main criticism of this collection is the overall lack of editing and curation of the articles within, which can make what is a long and varied work difficult to navigate. There is no timeline of the Seleucid era, no list of rulers, and no overall map of the empire, although maps of specific areas are provided. Given that there are few general works on the Seleucids these might have been of particular assistance to the student reader. Inconsistent transliteration e.g. Seleucid vs. Seleukid can occasionally prove distracting.  Referencing is inconsistent – some individual articles contain a bibliography at the end and others do not. There is also no bibliography of all works cited within the volume, which represents a missed opportunity to collate current research on the Seleucids, which can be scattered across a range of different disciplines. Perhaps most damaging to the work as a whole is the lack of an index, which makes it unnecessarily difficult to get a clearer picture of specific topics covered. Naturally not all articles will be of interest to every reader, and a more thorough approach to editing would have made this into a more effective reference work, particularly for students.

In terms of its treatment of numismatics, this work offers several excellent, dedicated articles throughout the different sections. Plates appear at the end of the volume, which can present additional difficulties given that the articles to which they belong are scattered throughout the book. In terms of the articles themselves, Lorber and Iossif’s study of the use of drapery on the portraiture of the early Seleucids is both full and succinct, and unites numismatic imagery with sculpture and jewellery. This article also provides discussion of the Seleucid usurpers, including Achaeus, Antiochus Hierax and even Molon, about whom little is known. The article’s stated subject does not necessarily indicate that the usurpers will be covered, or indeed that media other than coins will be discussed. As such, the lack of an index creates difficulties for any reader wishing to take a more selective view of the material within this book without reading it cover to cover.

Aperghis’ article on Seleucus I provides discussion into the complex issue of monograms on the earliest Seleucid coins. Given that coins are one of the major sources for evidence on the Seleucids, it is unsurprising that other studies within this collection contain insights on this topic. For example, Lerner’s article on the bricks of Ai Khanoum compares monograms on coins with monograms on bricks.  If this volume had contained an index, it would have been much easier for a researcher looking into the issue of monograms to compare and cross-reference the findings of the two articles.  Further to this, Martinez-Sève provides a detailed treatment of current scholarship on Ai Khanoum. In the volume’s current state, the burden to unite the findings of any of all of these studies falls to the reader – this may be acceptable for experts, but the concern is that this work may be less accessible to students and non-experts.

De Callataÿ’s study “Did the Seleucids Found New Cities to Promote Coinage?” provides lively and evidence-based rebuttal of some of the arguments in Aperghis’ 2004 work regarding coin production and Seleucid city building.[1] Moreover, Hoover’s article on the coinage also offers alternatives to Aperghis’ premise that Seleucid coinage was centrally produced by the Seleucid state, demonstrating that mints operated on a much more devolved basis at the civic level. Both studies offer insight into the ongoing debate surrounding theoretical frameworks for Seleucid studies, providing much needed context for this collection. Furthermore, this illustrates why the lack of a complete bibliography is a problem, since a bibliography would provide even further context for this volume within the range of Seleucid scholarship. In addition to this, Meyer’s study of the civic coinage minted during the reign of Antiochus IV gives a full picture of the extent to which royal coinage was minted by individual cities, juxtaposing royal portraits with civic themes. Finkelsteijn’s article also provides a section on numismatic evidence for the cities of the Seleucid southern Levant.  Accordingly, this book provides a wealth of information on numismatic evidence for the relationships between the Seleucids and their cities.

This collection also contributes to our knowledge of the topic of the role of women and gender in the Seleucid empire. Ramsey’s article is a detailed examination of the evidence for the reign of Laodike II, and pays particular attention to the relationship between the queen and the cities of the empire. The historical evidence for the wife and daughter of Antiochus II, both named Stratonike, are the subject of Gabelko’s study, which highlights the available sources for the time period and provides much-needed insight into the often neglected reign of Antiochus II. This study is highly involved and covers family relationships across many generations of the Seleucid royal family and their connections with other dynasties, and illustrates why a Seleucid family tree and a timeline might have served this volume well in contextualising what can be a convoluted subject. Ager’s lively article covers Cleopatra Thea, providing detailed insights into the relationship between the Ptolemies and Seleucids, while also offering considerable detail on the sources for the end of the Seleucids.  Root’s article on Seleucid figurines also highlights the role that women have played in Seleucid studies, with focus on the archaeologist Wilhelmina van Ingen. This study may also serve to complement Lorber and Iossif’s wider treatment of material culture.

In the absence of more proactive editing, determining common themes within this over 800-page book is a responsibility that lies with the reader. Future editions should consider the opportunities that stronger curation offers. Comment has been made here on subjects with which the current reviewer is most familiar, but other readers are likely to form differing perspectives depending on expertise. Despite the criticisms offered here, it must be emphasised that the content and substance of this work are likely to make a considerable impact on Seleucid studies.

Authors and titles

The Rise of the Seleucids
G. G. Aperghis, The Armed Forces of Seleukos I, with Help from Coins
Lee L. Brice, Seleukos and Military Unrest in the Army of Alexander the Great
Ivan Ladynin, The Burial of Seleucus I Nicator in Appian (Syr. 63): A Replica of the Ptolemaic Eponymous Cult?
Francis X. Ryan, What Impelled Simonides of Magnesia to Glorify Antiochos I

Monarchy and Empire
Paul Kosmin, No Island is a Man: Antiochus III’s Marriage to “Euboea”
John Ma, The Restoration of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Seleukid State: II Macc. 11.16–38
Maxim M. Kholod, On the Seleucid and Attalid Syntaxis
Roland Oetjen, An Economic Model of Greek Euergetism
Rolf Strootman, The Great Kings of Asia: Imperial Titulature in the Seleukid and Post-Seleukid Middle East
Catharine C. Lorber – Panagiotis P. Iossif, Draped Royal Busts on the Coinage of the Early Seleucids

Dynastic Connections
Sheila Ager, ‘He shall give him the daughter of women …’: Ptolemaic Queens in the Seleukid House
Oleg Gabelko – Yuri Kuzmin, A Сase of Stratonicas: Two Royal Women between Three Hellenistic Monarchies
Sergey Saprykin, The Pontic Kingdom and the Seleucids

The Fabric of Empire
Gillian Ramsey, Seleukid Land and Native Populations: Laodike II and the Competition for Power in Asia Minor and Babylonia
Graeme Clarke – Heather Jackson – C. E. V. Nixon – John Tidmarsh, The Trading Links of a Seleukid Settlement: Jebel Khalid on the  Euphrates
Edward Dąbrowa, The Hasmoneans’ Attitude towards Cities
Gerald Finkielszteijn, The City Organization in the Seleucid Southern Levant: Some Archeological Evidence and Prospects
Lise Hannestad, On the Periphery of the Seleucid Kingdom: Failaka Revisited
Henry Innes MacAdam, Place-Names and Plant-Names: Notes on the Provenance and Etymology of Some Flora from Hellenistic Phoenicia
Laurianne Martinez-Sève, Recherches récentes sur la Bactriane et la Sogdiane à l’époque  hellénistique
Daniel Potts, The Islands of the XIVth Satrapy
Jean-François Salles, TOPOI de la mer Érythrée

Cultural Encounters in the Seleucid World
Margaret Cool Root, Life-Fragments: Wilhelmina van Ingen and the Figurines from Seleucia
Frank L. Holt, Macedonians, Seleucids, Bactrians, Greeks: Histrionics as History on the Hellenistic Fringe
Jeffrey D. Lerner, The Bilingual Bricks of Aï Khanoum (Afghanistan)

The World of Antiochos IV
Filippo Canali De Rossi, Roma, Antioco IV, e le città del regno seleucidico
Manuela Mari, Panegyreis rivali. Emilio Paolo e Antioco IV tra tradizione macedone e melting pot tardo-ellenistico
Marion Meyer, King Antiochus IV and the Cities in the Levan

Federicomaria Muccioli, Antioco IV, i Giudei e l’unità del regno seleucide (Mach. I 1, 41–42)

The Seleucid Settlements
François de Callataÿ, Did the Seleucids Found New Cities to Promote Coinage?
Pascal Arnaud,Mallos, Antioche du Pyrame, Magarsus: toponymie historique et aléas politiques d’un ‘hellenistic settlement’ ’
Jean-Christophe Couvenhes, Attaleia de Lydie et Philétaireia-sous-l’Ida dans l’accord entre Eumène Ier et les soldats mutinés (OGIS 266): des colonies militaires
Christian Habicht, Aigai in der Aiolis im frühen Hellenismus
Pierre Leriche, Doura-Europos ou Europos-Doura
Andreas Mehl, Gedanken zu den ptolemäischen Siedlungsgründungen in Zypern
Kent J. Rigsby, Antioch the Metropolis

New Evidence and Old Sources Revisited
Giuseppina Azzarello – Fabian Reiter, A Further Testimony of Flavius Apion I, ἔκδικος and magnificentissimus: P.Rain. Unterricht 79 Revisited
Klaus Bringmann, Poseidonios über das späte Seleukidenreich
David W. J. Gill, The Abandonment of Euesperides: Evidence from the Eastern Sidi Abeid and P. Hibeh
Mischa Hooker, Polychronius of Apamea and Daniel 11: Seleucid History through the Eyes of an Antiochene Biblical Interpreter
Arthur Keaveney, Crime, Punishment and Reward in the Book of Esther
Andrea Primo, La tradizione filarchea sui Seleucidi in Claudio Eliano

The End of the Seleucids
Omar Coloru, La grande évasion. Réflexions sur les Séleucides et la captivité
Judy K. Deuling, Pompey and the Pirates: Settling the Seleucids Once and for All
Oliver D. Hoover, The Beginning of the End or the End of the Beginning? Seleucid Coinage and the Roman Provincial Paradigm


[1] G. G.  Aperghis, The Seleukid royal economy: the finances and financial administration of the Seleukid empire. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.