home   :    index    :    Greece    :    Rome    :    Appian of Alexandria's Roman History   :    Seleucids

Appian's History of Rome: The Syrian Wars (§§52-55)


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.


[§52] In this book of Syrian history I have told how the Romans came into possession of Syria, and how they brought it to its present condition. It will not be amiss to tell how the Macedonians, who ruled Syria before the Romans, acquired the same country.

Ancient-Warfare.com, the online home of Ancient Warfare magazine

After the Persians, Alexander [the Great] became the sovereign of Syria as well as of all other peoples whom he found. [323] He died leaving one son very small and another yet unborn.[1] The Macedonians, who were loyal to the race of Philip, chose Arridaeus, the brother of Alexander, as king during the minority of Alexander's sons, although he was considered to be hardly of sound mind, and they changed his name from Arridaeus to Philip. They also kept careful guard over the wife, who was pregnant.

Meanwhile Alexander's friends continued in charge of the conquered nations, divided into satrapies, which Perdiccas [2] parceled among them by the authority of king Philip.

Not long afterward, when the true kings died, these satraps became kings [3]. The first satrap of Syria was Laomedon of Mitylene, who derived his authority from Perdiccas and from Antipater, who succeeded the latter as regent. To this Laomedon, Ptolemy, the satrap of Egypt, came with a fleet and offered him a large sum of money if he would hand over Syria to him, because it was well situated for defending Egypt and for attacking Cyprus. When Laomedon refused Ptolemy seized him. Laomedon bribed his guards and escaped to Alcetas in Caria. Thus Ptolemy ruled Syria for a while, left a garrison there, and returned to Egypt.[4]


[§53] Antigonus [Monophthalmus] was satrap of Phrygia, Lycia, and Pamphylia. Having been left as overseer of all Asia when Antipater went to Europe [5], he besieged Eumenes, the satrap of Cappadocia, who had been publicly declared an enemy of the Macedonians. The latter fled and brought Media under his power, but Antigonus afterward captured and killed him.

When he returned he was received magnificently by Seleucus, the satrap of Babylonia.[6] One day Seleucus punished one of the governors without consulting Antigonus, who was present, and the latter became angry and demanded an accounting of his money and possessions. As Seleucus was inferior to Antigonus in power he fled to Ptolemy in Egypt. Thereupon Antigonus removed Blitor, the governor of Mesopotamia, from office, because he allowed Seleucus to escape, and took upon himself the government of Babylon, Mesopotamia, and all the countries from Media to the Hellespont, Antipater having died in the meantime.

The other satraps at once became envious of his possession of so large a share of the territory; for which reason chiefly, and at the instance of Seleucus, Ptolemy, Lysimachus, the satrap of Thrace, and Cassander, the son of Antipater and leader of the Macedonians after his father's death, entered into a league with each other. They sent a joint embassy to Antigonus and demanded that he should share with them and with the other Macedonians who had lost their satrapies, his newly acquired lands and money. Antigonus treated their demand with scorn [7], and they jointly made war against him. Antigonus prepared to meet them. He drove out all of Ptolemy's garrisons in Syria and stripped him of all the possessions that he still retained in Phoenicia and Coele-Syria.

Coin of Seleucus I Nicator. British Museum, London (Britain). Photo Marco Prins.Seleucus I Nicator (British Museum, London; ©**)

[§54] Then he marched beyond the Cilician Gate, leaving his son Demetrius, who was about twenty-two years of age, at Gaza with an army to meet Ptolemy, who was coming from Egypt, but the latter defeated the young man badly in a battle near Gaza and compelled him to fly to his father. Ptolemy immediately sent Seleucus to Babylon to resume the government and gave him 1000 foot-soldiers and 300 horse for the purpose. With this small force Seleucus took Babylon, the inhabitants receiving him with enthusiasm, and within a short time he augmented his power greatly.[8]

Nevertheless Antigonus warded off the attack of Ptolemy and gained a splendid naval victory over him near Cyprus, in which his son Demetrius was the commander [9]. On account of this very notable exploit the army began to call both Antigonus and Demetrius kings, as their own kings (Arridaeus, the son of Philip and Olympias, and the two sons of Alexander) were now dead.[10] Ptolemy's army also saluted him as king lest by inferiority of rank he should be deemed less lofty than the victors in the late battle. Thus for these men similar consequences followed contrary events. All the others followed suit, and all the satraps became kings.


[§55] In this way Seleucus became king of Babylonia. He also acquired the kingdom of Media, slaying with his own hand in battle Nicanor whom Antigonus had left as satrap of that country [11]. He afterward waged many wars with Macedonians and barbarians. The two principal ones were with Macedonians, the second with Lysimachus, king of Thrace, the first with Antigonus at Ipsus in Phrygia, where Antigonus commanded in person and fought in person although he was above eighty years of age.

Antigonus was killed in battle, and then all the kings who had been in league with Seleucus against him divided his territory among themselves. At this division all Syria from the Euphrates to the sea, also inland Phrygia, fell to the lot of Seleucus. Always lying in wait for the neighboring nations, strong in arms and persuasive in council, he acquired Mesopotamia, Armenia, 'Seleucid' Cappadocia, Persis, Parthia, Bactria, Arabia, Tapouria, Sogdia, Arachosia, Hyrcania, and other adjacent peoples that had been subdued by Alexander, as far as the river Indus, so that the boundaries of his empire were the most extensive in Asia after that of Alexander. The whole region from Phrygia to the Indus was subject to Seleucus. He crossed the Indus and waged war with Sandrocottus [Maurya], king of the Indians, who dwelt on the banks of that stream, until they came to an understanding with each other and contracted a marriage relationship. Some of these exploits were performed before the death of Antigonus and some afterward.

Appian   :   Roman History   :   Syrian wars   :   part twelve
Note 1:
Alexander's official wife Roxane was pregnant; she became mother of a boy, Alexander IV. His mistress Barsine was mother of a son named Heracles.

Note 2:
Perdiccas was regent from 323 to 320.

Note 3:
Philip Arridaeus was executed in 316 by Olympias, the mother of Alexander the Great, who fought for the rights of her son's son Alexander IV (more). In the winter of 312/311, the satraps concluded a treaty and promised to give their powers to the boy king, when he was old enough. Instead, the boy was immediately killed. In 306, the first of the Diadochi, Antigonus Monophthalmus, accepted the royal title, soon followed by the other rulers.

Note 4:
In 319-318.

Note 5:
Successor of Perdiccas as regent.

Note 6:
In the spring of 315.

Note 7:
The ultimatum was delivered in the winter of 315/314; the Third Diadoch War started in the spring.

Note 8:
In the second half of May 311. As we will see in a moment, Seleucus immediately took Media from its pro-Antigonus satrap Nicanor, and added Elam in 310.

Note 9:
The naval battle off Salamis in 306.

Note 10:
See note 3 for the story of the legitimate kings, and go here for the story of the new kings., who received their titles in 306-305.

Note 11:
In the winter of 311/310, five years before Seleucus accepted the royal title. Appian's chronology is a bit confused. 

 home   :    index    :    Greece    :    Rome    :    Appian of Alexandria's Roman History   :    Seleucids