The Later Seleucids

  1. Seleucus IV Philopator: 187-175 BCE
  2. Antiochus IV Epiphanes 175-164 BCE
  3. Antiochus V Eupator 164-162 BCE
  4. Demetrius I Sotor 162-150 BCE
  5. Alexander Balas 150-146 BCE
  6. Demetrius II Nicator (part 1) 146-140 BCE
  7. Antiochus VII Sidetes 139-129 BCE
  8. Demetrius II Nicator (part 2) 129-125 BCE
  9. Cleopatra Thea (Antiochus VIII Grypus)125-121 BCE
  10. Antiochus VIII Grypus 121-96 BCE
  11. Disintegration 96-83 BCE
  12. Tigranes of Armenia 83-69 BCE
  13. Rome takes over
  14. Why did the Seleucid Empire self-destruct?

Seleucus IV Philopator: 187-175 BCE

Seleucus' strapped-for-cash father raids a temple in Elymais and is killed in the resulting punch up. [1] Hence Seleucus becomes sole king. [2] Though Seleucus' rule is an uneventful period of recovery, the heavy taxation needed to pay the indemnity to Rome doesn't help Seleucid popularity. Rome insists that Antiochus the younger son of Antiochus III be replaced as hostage in Rome by Demetrius, the eldest son of Seleucus and his heir.[3] Antiochus takes his time returning home and ends up in Athens where he (successfully) runs for election.[4]
Seleucus is assassinated by his first minister Heliodorus.

Antiochus IV Epiphanes 175-164 BCE

The Seleucids have always chosen the eldest son up till now so Seleucus' eldest son, Demtrius should be the new king. However, there are two problems with Demetrius. First, he is in Rome and it will take time for him to return. Second, and for Heliodorus surely the most important, Demetrius is sure to execute Heliodorus for murdering his father should he return. Hence Seleucus' younger son, Antiochus, still a child is proclaimed king. [5] Antiochus, on hearing of his brother Seleucus' murder, leaves Athens and sails for Pergamon. Then with Pergamonese help he seizes power in Syria. The claim of Demetrius, the eldest son of Seleucus and still a hostage in Rome, is quietly forgotten.
In 173 an anti Seleucid faction comes to power in Egypt which is determined to regain Coele Syria. The invasion (170/169) is defeated and Antiochus invades Egypt capturing Pelusium and Ptolemy Philometor the King. Alexandria proclaims Ptolemy Euergetes Philometor's brother as King and prepares to fight on. Antiochus does a deal with Ptolemy Philometor and leaves Egypt divided with Philometor ruling from Memphis. The two Ptolemy brothers however agree to rule jointly so Antiochus again invades. Just as he is approaching Alexandria(168) he is met by Popillius who gives him a letter from the Senate demanding Antiochus' withdrawal from Egypt. Antiochus asks for time to consult. Popillius draws a line in the sand round Antiochus demanding a answer before he crosses the line. Such arrogant behavior leaves Antiochus gob smacked but he also knows that Rome has just crushed Macedon (at Pydna). He pulls out of Egypt.[6] In Jerusalem Antiochus intervenes rather brutally in the faction fighting that has troubled the client Jewish state. This helped provoke the rebellion of the Maccabees and gains Antiochus very bad press - to the writer of Daniel becomes virtually the anti-christ. In 165 he headed East but died of illness the following year.

Antiochus V Eupator 164-162 BCE

Lysias acts as regent for the nine year old son of Antiochus. The Jewish revolt smoulders on. In 163 Octavius an envoy sent from Rome orders the burning of ships built in excess of treaty limits and the butchering of the war elephants. Lysias complies but Octavius is assassinated [7] much to the horror of Lysias but he is helpless to prevent the public expression of support for the assasin and the envoys flee for their lives.[8] Of course there are those who say that Lysias secretly incited the unrest[9] but when Demetrias (who as the son of of Seleucus Philopator has a rather good claim to the Seleucid throne) asks the senate to be allowed to leave Rome they refuse - as Polybius says because it would not be in Rome's interest.[10] Or to put it more bluntly - why should the senate risk the overthrow of someone like Lysias who is so supine in the face of Roman high handedness that he is willing to provoke popular feeling to boiling point.

Demetrius I Sotor 162-150 BCE

Demetrius escapes from Rome, lands at Tripolis and proclaims himself King. Lysias' rule collapses and the mutinous troops capture the boy Antiochus and Lysias. Demetrius has qualms about seeing a boy butchered in front of him, so he says to his troops "let me not see their faces" and the soldiers butcher Lysias and Antiochus out of his sight. [11] Demetrius now sets about alienating everyone who matters. He makes no secret of his contempt for his Syrian subjects and the feeling is very soon mutual. [12] He then alienates Pergamon by placing his claimant on the throne of Kapidokia (Pergamon quickly restores her claimant so not much to show for that). [13] The King of Pergamon now "discovers" a son of Antiochus Epiphanes, Alexander and decks him out appropriately for his (newly acquired?) origins. [14] He is widely known as Balas but, if as Justin hints, that this is the name he had before he became the son of a king[15], probably not to his face. Alexander Balas is established in Cilicia and, while not strong enough to move south, becomes a focus of discontent. Egypt is alienated when Demetrias bribes a governor of Cyprus to hand the island over to him. (But the said governor is exposed and commits suicide before the handover can be made - so even less to show for that) But things start to look really bleak when Demetrius loses the confidence of Rome who gives her backing to Alexander Balas. Balas establishes a base at Ptolemais and Demetrius is killed in the fighting.

Alexander Balas 150-146 BCE

Alexander is married off to Cleopatra Thea, the daughter of Ptolemy Philometor (King of Egypt). Three years pass while Balas enjoys his Kingdom but now Demetrius ( all of 14 years old), son of Demetrius Sotor arrives with the backing of a bunch of Cretan mercenaries led by Lasthenes. Ptolemy comes to Ballas' aid (and just happens to spend time capturing the cities of Palestine that Egypt has always considered it's inheritance). Ballas, who can do without such 'help', attempts to assassinate Ptolemy (or is Ballas being framed to cover Ptolemy's betrayal?). Ballas flees to Cilicia and the Atiochenes proclaim Ptolemy as King. Knowing that Rome will not permit this he persuades Antioch to accept Demetrius who marries Cleopatra Thea.

Demetrius II Nicator (part 1) 146-140 BCE

Balas makes one last play but is defeated and killed but Ptolemy is mortally wounded. Lasthenes gets Demetrius to order a massacre of the leaderless Ptolemid army. The Jewish leader Johnathan is bought off by a grant of autonomy. Lasthenes knowing that the native Greek soldiery is a threat to his position orders them to be disarmed. Antioch rises against Demetrius but the rising is brutally put down by the Cretan mercenaries and Jewish troops sent by Johnathan. Antioch is looted and with a large part of the city destroyed by fire is cowed but nemesis is at hand.

Diodotus proclaims the son of Balas, Antiochus, as King. Antioch and most of inland Syria joins him. The civil war drags on and within three years Antiochus has died of "illness" and Diodotus has proclaimed himself King as Tryphon. In an attempt to break the deadlock Demetrius by passes Tryphon and enters Mesopotamia in an attempt to recapture it from the Pathians. Though initially successful he is soon captured by the Pathians.

Antiochus VII Sidetes 139-129 BCE

Antiochus, Demetrius's younger brother is proclaimed King and marries (you've guessed it) Cleopatra Thea. He defeats Tryphon. He then moves on Jerusalem and ends (for the moment) Jewish independence. By 130 BCE he is ready to take on Parthia who he defeats in three battles and from who he wrests Babylon. [16] The desperate Parthian King releases Demetrius Nicator (bad move) and stirs revolt amongst Antiochus' new conquests who do not find Seleucid taxes to their liking (good move). Antiochus is completely wrong footed by the revolt and is caught, heavily outnumbered, by the Parthian main army and killed. The Parthian king immediately sends cavalry to recapture Demetrius but too late.

Demetrius II Nicator (part 2) 129-125 BCE

Demetrius arrives in Syria at the same time as news of Antiochus' death and regains both his throne and his wife Cleopatra Thea. (Cleopatra has however taken the precaution to send her son by Sidetes, Antiochus, to Cyzicus in Asia Minor.) After a botched invasion of Egypt by Demetrius, Ptolemy Euergetes discovers a son of Balas known as Antiochus Zabinas. (Is he really the son of Balas? Does anyone care?) Zabinas quickly gains control of the inland region once held by Tryphon and Syria is again divided. Finally Demetrius is defeated outside Damascus and retreats to Ptolemais only to find the gates closed against him by his wife Cleopatra. He takes a ship and is killed on Cleopatra's orders.

Cleopatra Thea (Antiochus VIII Grypus)125-121 BCE

Cleopatra now dominates the legitimist faction. She briefly puts Selecus, the eldest son of Demetrius on the throne, but kills him when he is foolish enough to put forward his claim.[17] She then decides to rule in her own right. As a sop to those unaccustomed to female rule she associates her rule with her son, the pliable Antiochus Grypus (hooknosed). Cleopatra secures a bride for Gryphus - Tryphaina, the daughter of King Ptolemy so ending Egyptian support for Zabinas. Zabinas is defeated by Grypus. Okay, Gryphus is still a boy -the generals appointed by Cleopatra defeated Zabinas but Gryphus made a good figurehead. Zabinas raids a temple in Antioch in order to get the gold to raise a new army and as result the citizens rebel and thow him out of the city. His flight ends in the camp of Gryphus. His survival there is very brief.[18] Grypus proves to be less and less pliable. Things come to a head when Cleopatra offers a cup of wine to Grypus when he has returned from the hunt. As this is most definitely not her habit Grypus has a hunch this is not maternal concern. He insists she drink the wine. She drinks. She dies.

Antiochus VIII Grypus 121-96 BCE

Grypus (ie hook nose) demonstrates the superiority of male rule by spending his time feasting at Daphne and writing verses on poisonous snakes.
In 116 Antiochus, the son of Sidetes who Cleopatra Thea sent to Cyzicus so as to save him from Demetrius, arrives in Syria to make a play for the throne. This is helped by the arrival of Cleopatra a Ptolemid princess who decided to go adventuring after she fell out with her mother the Queen and who has acquired an army on the way. Cleopatra marries Antiochus (known as Cyzicenus). As Cyzicenus's half brother Grypus's wife is Tryphaena who is Cleopatra's sister this gives the civil war an extra incestuous twist. Antioch as usual is held by the rebel forces of Cyzicenus. Grypus moves on Antioch while Cyzicenus has left it in the hands of Cleopatra. Antioch falls. Tryphaena demands the death of Cleopatra. Gryphus refuses. Convinced this is a sign of a secret desire on the part of Grypus for Cleopatra, she sends troops to the sanctuary in Daphne where Cleopatra has taken refuge. Cleopatra hangs on to the image of Artemis with such desperation that the soldiers cannot break her hold so instead they cut through her wrists. Cleopatra's death is soon avenged when Tryphaena falls into the hands of Cyzicenus and is executed.

Disintegration 96-83 BCE

Grypus is murdered by his minister Heracleon who proclaims himself King. However Grypus's eldest son, Seleucus, inherits most of his father realm with Heracleon retaining a small principality round Beroea. Seleucus marches on Cyzicenus and kills him in battle. Cyzicenus' son Antiochus Eusebes is proclaimed King and in turn defeats Seleucus who flees to Cilicia and establishes himself in Mopsuhestia. The people of Mopsuhestia, unable to support a King's lifestyle rebel and Seleucus dies in his burning palace. Philip and Antiochus, the brothers of Seleucus avenge themselves on Mopsuhestia and then march on Antioch where they are defeated and Antiochus riding his horse into the Orontes is drowned. A fourth son of Grypus, Demetrius arrives, backed by Ptolemid troops, and establishes himself in Damascus. What follows is a period of confused fighting that the historical records do not do justice. Seleucid "Kings" are now little more than local barons.

Tigranes of Armenia 83-69 BCE

Tigranes moves into Syria. A faction in Antioch invites him in. Magadates, Tigranes' governor sits in the Palace in Antioch. The Syrians are soon unhappy with Armenian rule but Tigranes is not so easy to get rid of as a Seleucid prince. Only a couple of isolated cities still recognize Seleucid rule (notably Seleucia). But Tigranes is foolish enough to annoy the Romans and Tigranes is defeated by Lucullus

Rome takes over

A son of Antiochus Eusebes establishes himself in Antioch with Lucullus' approval but soon being challenged Philip son of Philip, son of Grypus. Both are however little more than tools in the ambitions of minor Arab chieftains. Pompeus arrives and decides to establish Syria as a Roman Province.

Why did the Seleucid Empire self-destruct?

The Romans did not conquer the Seleucid Empire. After the defeat at Magnesia the empire was still strong. The Pergamonese and Ptolemids stirred things up for their own ends but essentially the Seleucids destroyed themselves in bitter and, by the end, continuous civil war. Why?

Bevan's explanation is folly. The Seleucids had the bad luck to be produce a bunch of tyrants who squandered the fine empire they inherited from illustrious ancestors. Peter Green's explanation goes deeper but is essentially the same (though unlike Bevan he regards the Empire as flawed from the start).

"If the 'degenerate' has any meaning at all the later Seleucids and Ptolemids were degenerate: selfish, greedy, murderous, weak, stupid, vicious,sensual, vengeful....
In both dynasties we also find the cumulative effect of centuries of ruthless exploitation: a foreign elite, with no long term economic insight, aiming at little more than the immediate profits and dynastic self perpetuation, backed (for their own ends) by shrewd local and foreign businessmen and always able to count on a mercenary army when resentment reached boiling point."

Peter Green: Alexander to Actium p555

Updated April 2021

False prophecy in Daniel The book of Danial dates from this period


  1. ^Justin 31.2
  2. ^Edwyn Robert Bevan, House of Seleucus, p120
  3. ^ Appian Syrian Wars 45
  4. ^Edwyn Robert Bevan, House of Seleucus, p126
  5. ^ The Syrian Wars John Grainger p284-5
  6. ^Diodorus_Siculus 31.2
  7. ^ Appian's History of Rome: The Syrian Wars 46
  8. ^Edwyn Robert Bevan, House of Seleucus, p187
  9. ^ Cassius_Dio, 20.25,
  10. ^ Polybius 31.11
  11. ^ 1 Maccabees 7
  12. ^Edwyn Robert Bevan, House of Seleucus, p206
  13. ^Polybius 3.5
  14. ^Diodorus_Siculus 31.32
  15. ^Justin 35.1
  16. ^Justin 38.10
  17. ^Dr. John D. Grainger The Fall of the Seleukid Empire 187-75 BC p130
  18. ^Dr. John D. Grainger The Fall of the Seleukid Empire 187-75 BC p131