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The career of Seleucus (2)

Coin of Seleucus I Nicator. British Museum, London (Britain). Photo Marco Prins.Seleucus I Nicator (British Museum, London; ©**)
Seleucus had served under Alexander the Great and was vizier after his death. In 320, he was made satrap of Babylonia. Although he lost possession of his satrapy between 315 and 311, he grew out to be one of the most powerful monarchs after Alexander.

The Greek historian Appian of Alexandria describes Seleucus' career in his History of the Syrian War 42-55, 57-58, 62-33, which are here quoted in the translation of M.M. Austin. This is the second part; the first part can be found here.

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Seleucus I Nicator. Bust at the Louvre, Paris (France). Photo Marco Prins.
Seleucus I Nicator (Louvre)
After Antigonus had fallen in battle [1], the kings who had joined with Seleucus in destroying Antigonus, shared out his territory. Seleucus obtained then Syria from the Euphrates to the sea and inland Phrygia [2]. Always lying in wait for the neighboring peoples, with the power to coerce and the persuasion of diplomacy, he became ruler of Mesopotamia, Armenia, Seleucid Cappadocia (as it is called) [3], the Persians, Parthians, Bactrians, Arians and Tapurians, Sogdia, Arachosia, Hyrcania, and all other neighboring peoples whom Alexander had conquered in war as far as the Indus. The boundaries of his rule in Asia extended further than those of any ruler apart from Alexander; the whole land from Phrygia eastwards to the river Indus was subject to Seleucus. He crossed the Indus and made war on Sandracottus [4], king of the Indians about that river, and eventually arranged friendship and a marriage alliance with him. Some of these achievements belong to the period before the end of Antigonus, others to after his death. [...]

Immediately after the death of Alexander he became commander of the Companion cavalry [5], which Hephaestion and after him Perdiccas had commanded during Alexander's lifetime, then after this satrap of Babylonia and eventually after satrap, king. His great successes in war earned him the surname of Nicator [the Victorious]; this explanation seems to me more likely than that it was due to the killing of Nicanor.

He was tall and powerfully built; one day when a wild bull was brought for sacrifice to Alexander and broke loose from his bonds, he resisted him alone and brought him under control with his bare hands. That is why his statues represent him with horns added.

He founded cities through the whole length of his empire; there were sixteen called Antioch after his father [6], five Laodicea after his mother, nine named Seleucia after himself, four called after his wives, three Apamea and one Stratonicea. Of these the most famous up to the present are the two Seleucias, by the sea and on the river Tigris, Laodicea in Phoenicia, Antioch under Mount Lebanon and Apamea in Syria. The others he called after places in Greece or Macedonia, or after his own achievements, or in honor of Alexander the king. That is why there are in Syria and among the barbarians inland many Greek and many Macedonian place-names, Berroea, Edessa, Perinthus, Maronea, Callipolis, Achaea, Pella, Europus, Amphipolis, Arethusa, Astacus, Tegea, Chalcis, Larissa, Heraea, Apollonia, also in Parthia Soteira, Calliope, Charis, Hecatompylos, Achaea, among the Indians Alexandropolis, and among the Scythians an Alexandria Eschatê. Also, called after the victories of Seleucus himself there is Nicephorium in Mesopotamia and Nicopolis in Armenia very near to Cappadocia.

They say that when he was undertaking the foundation of the two Seleucias, that of Seleucia by the sea was preceded by a portent of thunder, and that is why he consecrated thunder as their divinity, and the inhabitants continue to worship thunder and sing hymns in its honor up to the present day. They also say that for the foundation of Seleucia on the Tigris the Magians were ordered to select the day and the hour when the digging of the foundations was to begin, but they falsified the hour, as they did not wish to have such a stronghold threatening them. Seleucus was waiting for the given hour in his tent, while the army ready for work kept quiet until Seleucus would give the sign. Suddenly at the more favorable hour they thought someone was ordering them on to work and sprang up; not even the efforts of the heralds could hold them back. The work was completed, but Seleucus in despair questioned the Magians a second time about the city; they asked for a promise of impunity and then spoke: 'Sire, what has been fated, for better or for worse, no man or city can change (for there is a fate of cities as well as of men). It pleased the gods that this city should last a long time, because it came into being at this hour. We feared it would be a stronghold against us and sought to divert the decrees of fate, but they proved stronger than the cunning of the Magians and the ignorance of a king. [...] Fortune has smiled on the beginnings of this city of yours; it shall be great and long-lasting. Fear of losing our own prosperity led us into error; we ask you to confirm your pardon to us.'

Seleucus had 72 satraps under him [7], so vast was the territory he ruled. Most of it he handed over to his son [8], and ruled himself only the land from the sea to the Euphrates. His last war he fought against Lysimachus for the control of Hellespontine Phrygia; he defeated Lysimachus who fell in the battle, and crossed himself the Hellespont [9]. As he was marching up to Lysimachea [10] he was murdered by Ptolemy nicknamed Keraunos who was accompanying him [11].

This Keraunos was the son of Ptolemy Soter and Eurydice the daughter of Antipater; he had fled from Egypt through fear, as Ptolemy had in mind to hand over his realm to his youngest son. Seleucus welcomed him as the unfortunate son of his friend, and supported and took everywhere his own future assassin. And so Seleucus met his fate at the age of 73, having been king for 42 years.

Note 1:
At Ipsus, in 301.

Note 2:
Which was occupied by Lysimachus and became really Seleucus' land after he had defeated him in 281.

Note 3:
The central part of Cappodocia was occupied by the Galatians; the northern part became an independent kingdom under the name Pontus.

Note 4:
The Indian king Chandragupta Maurya of the Ganges valley. In 304, they concluded a peace treaty, in which Seleucus gave up all lands east of the Hindu Kush and received many war elephants.

Note 5:
In fact, he was chiliarchos, 'vizier'.

Note 6:
Not all towns in this catalogue were really founded by Seleucus; his descendants also built cities, and several were in fact foundations of Alexander.

Note 7:
This is greatly exaggerated. Twenty is a better estimate.

Note 8:
Antiochus Soter (281-261). Seleucus' descendants are called the Seleucids, his kingdom the Seleucid empire or -to use its real name- Asia.

Note 9:
He defeated Lysimachus in the battle of Corupedium (281).

Note 10:
The capital of Lysimachus' kingdom, on the Hellespont.

Note 11:
In September 280. His surname means 'thunderbolt'. 

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