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Appian's History of Rome: The Syrian Wars (46-51)


Legionary standard (of XXX Ulpia Traiana reenactment group). Photo Jona Lendering.
Appian of Alexandria (c.95-c.165) is the author of a Roman History and one of the most underestimated of all Greek historians. Although only his books on the Roman Civil Wars survive in their entirety, large parts of Appian's book on the Syrian War, or Syriaca, have also come down to us. It deals with the war that the Romans and the Seleucid king Antiochus III the Great fought in 192-188, but also discusses, as an appendix, the history of the Seleucid Empire. Therefore, the Syriaca is a valuable source for the history of the ancient Near East between the reign of Alexander the Great and the Roman conquest.

The translation was made by Horace White; notes and additions in green by Jona Lendering.


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[46] [King Antiochus IV] Epiphanes died, leaving a son, Antiochus[V], nine years of age, to whom the Syrians gave the name of Eupator, in commemoration of his father's bravery. The boy was educated by Lysias. [162/161 BCE] The Senate was glad that this Antiochus, who had early shown himself high spirited, died young.

When Demetrius [I Soter], the son of Seleucus[IV Philopator] and nephew of Antiochus [IV] Epiphanes (grandson of Antiochus [III] the Great and first cousin of this boy), at this time a hostage at Rome, and twenty-three years old, asked that he should be installed in the kingdom as belonging to him rather than to the boy, the Senate would not allow it. They thought that it would be more for their advantage that Syria should be governed by an immature boy than by a full-grown man.

Learning that there were many elephants in Syria and more ships than had been allowed to Antiochus [III the Great] in the treaty [of Apamea], they sent ambassadors thither, who killed the elephants and burned the ships. It was a pitiful sight, the killing of these rare and tame beasts and the burning of the ships. A certain Leptines of Laodicea was so exasperated by the sight that he stabbed Gnaeus Octavius, the chief of this embassy, while he was anointing himself in the gymnasium at that place, and Lysias buried him.


Coin of the Seleucid king Demetrius I Soter.
Demetrius I Soter

[47] Demetrius came before the Senate again and asked at all events to be released as a hostage, since he had been given as a substitute for Antiochus [IV Epiphanes], who was now dead. When his request was not granted he escaped secretly by boat.

[162/161] As the Syrians received him gladly, he ascended the throne after having put Lysias to death and the boy with him. He removed Heraclides from office and killed Timarchus, who rebelled and who had administered the government of Babylonia badly in other respects. For this he received the surname of Soter, "Savior", which was first bestowed upon him by the Babylonians.

When he was firmly established in the kingdom he sent a crown valued at 10,000 pieces of gold to the Romans as the gift of their former hostage, and also delivered up Leptines, the murderer of Octavius. They accepted the crown, but not Leptines, because they intended to hold the Syrians responsible for that crime.

Demetrius took the government of Cappadocia away from Ariarathes[IV Eusebes] and gave it to Olophernes, who was supposed to be the brother of Ariarathes, receiving 1000 talents therefor. The Romans, however, decided that as brothers both Ariarathes and Olophernes should reign together.


Coin of king Tigranes II the Great of Armenia. British Museum, London (Britain). Photo Marco Prins.
Tigranes II (British Museum, London)

[48] These princes were deprived of the kingdom -and their successor, Ariobarzanes, also, a little later- by Mithridates [VI Eupator], king of Pontus. The Mithridatic war grew out of this event, among others - a very great war, full of vicissitudes to many nations and lasting nearly forty years [1]. During this time Syria had many kings, succeeding each other at brief intervals, but all of the royal lineage, and there were many changes and revolts from the dynasty. [141] The Parthians, who had previously revolted from the rule of the Seleucids, seized Mesopotamia, which had been subject to that house.

[83] Tigranes[II the Great], the son of Tigranes, king of Armenia, who had annexed many neighboring principalities, and from these exploits had acquired the title of "king of kings" [2], attacked the Seleucids because they would not acknowledge his supremacy. Antiochus [X Eusebes] Pius was not able to withstand him. Tigranes conquered all of the Syrian peoples this side of the Euphrates as far as Egypt. He took Cilicia at the same time (for this was also subject to the Seleucids) and put his general, Magadates, in command of all these conquests for fourteen years.


Coin of the Seleucid king Antiochus XIII Asiaticus.
Antiochus XIII Asiaticus

[49] [69] When the Roman general, [Lucius Licinius] Lucullus, was pursuing Mithridates [VI of Pontus], who had taken refuge in the territory of Tigranes, Magadates went with his army to Tigranes' assistance. Thereupon Antiochus[XIII Asiaticus], the son of Antiochus [X Eusebes] Pius, entered Syria clandestinely and assumed the government with the consent of the people. Nor did Lucullus, who first made war on Tigranes and wrested his newly acquired territory from him, object to Antiochus exercising his ancestral authority.

[64] But Pompey, the successor of Lucullus, when he had overthrown Mithridates, allowed Tigranes to reign in Armenia and expelled Antiochus from the government of Syria, although he had done the Romans no wrong. The real reason for this was that it was easy for Pompey, with an army under his command, to rob an unarmed king, but the pretense was that it was unseemly for the Seleucids, whom Tigranes had dethroned, to govern Syria, rather than the Romans who had conquered Tigranes.


Bust of Pompey the Great. Louvre, Paris (France). Photo Marco Prins.
Pompey the Great (Louvre)

[50] In this way the Romans, without fighting, came into possession of Cilicia and both inland Syria and Coele-Syria, Phoenicia, Palestine, and all the other countries bearing the Syrian name from the Euphrates to Egypt and the sea. [63 BCE] The Jewish nation still resisted, and Pompey conquered them, sent their king, Aristobulus, to Rome, and destroyed their greatest, and to them holiest, city, Jerusalem,[3] as Ptolemy, the first [Macedonian] king of Egypt, had formerly done.[4] [70 CE] It was afterward rebuilt and Vespasian destroyed it again, [135 CE] and Hadrian did the same in our time.

On account of these rebellions the tribute imposed upon all Jews is heavier per capita than upon the generality of taxpayers. The annual tax on the Syrians and Cilicians is 1% of the valuation of the property of each. Pompey put the various nations that had belonged to the Seleucids under kings or chiefs of their own. In like manner he confirmed the four chiefs of the Galatians in Asia, who had cooperated with him in the [Third] Mithridatic war, in their tetrarchies. Not long afterward they all came gradually under the Roman rule, mostly in the time of Augustus.




[51] Pompey now put Scaurus, who had been his quaestor in the war, in charge of Syria, and the Senate afterward appointed Marcius Philippus as his successor and Lentulus Marcellinus as the successor of Philippus, both being of praetorian rank.

Much of the biennial term of each was consumed in warding off the attacks of the neighboring [Nabataean] Arabs. It was on account of these events in Syria that Rome began to appoint for Syria proconsuls, with power to levy troops and engage in war like consuls. The first of these sent out with an army was Gabinius.

[57] As he was in readiness to begin the war, Mithridates [III], king of the Parthians, who had been driven out of his kingdom by his brother, Orodes [II], persuaded Gabinius to turn his forces from the Arabs against the Parthians. At the same time Ptolemy [XII Auletes], king of Egypt, who likewise had lost his throne, prevailed upon him by a large sum of money to turn his arms from the Parthians against Alexandria.


Crassus, bust from the Louvre, Paris (France).
Crassus (Louvre; !!!)

[55] Gabinius overcame the Alexandrians and restored Ptolemy to power, but was himself banished by the Senate for invading Egypt without their authority, and undertaking a war considered ill-omened by the Romans; for it was forbidden by the Sibylline books.

[53] I think that Crassus succeeded Gabinius in the government of Syria - the same who met with a great disaster when waging war against the Parthians [5]. 

[51] While Lucius Bibulus was in command of Syria after Crassus, the Parthians made an incursion into that country. [40] While the government was in charge of Saxa, the successor of Bibulus, they overran the country as far as Ionia, the Romans being then occupied by the civil wars. [6] I shall deal with these events more particularly in my Parthian history.






Appian   :   Roman History   :   Syrian wars   :   part eleven





Note 1:
Mithridates VI Eupator (121/120-63) waged several wars against the Romans, and expelled the Cappadocian king Ariobarzanes I Philoromaios (c.95-c.62) no less than six times. Appian says that the Mithridatic war lasted forty years, which is more or less correct :
  1. 88-84: The First Mithridatic War, an attempt to expel the Romans from Asia Minor; the Roman commander, Sulla, restored Rome's fortunes.
  2. 83-81: The Second Mithridatic War, which broke out because Sulla returned home; Licinius Murena forced Mithridates to accept the peace treaty.
  3. 74-64: The Third Mithridatic War, won by the Roman commanders Lucullus and Pompey the Great.
  4. 48-47: Julius Caesar's war against Mithridates' son Pharnaces II.
Note 2:
Tigranes II the Great of Armenia (c.95-55) was master of the Seleucid Empire from 83 to 69.

Note 3:
Pompey's capture of Jerusalem is described here.

Note 4:
Not otherwise recorded.

Note 5:
The battle of Carrhae.

Note 6:
In 44, Caesar had been assassinated. His relative Octavian and his former officers Lepidus and Marc Antony (the Second Triumvirate) defeated the killers near Philippi. During this civil war, the east was in great turmoil.





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