Seleucus (Greek: Seleukos), name of seven kings of the Seleucid empire. Four of them ruled over Iran:

Seleucus I Nicator

Seleucus II Callinicus 

Seleucus III Soter 

Seleucus IV Philopator


SELEUCUS I Nicator (r. 312-281 BCE; Figure 1), the founder of the Seleucid empire, who succeeded in re-uniting the greater part of the former Achaemenid empire after the death of Alexander the Great. Arrian (Anabasis 7.22.5) describes him as “the greatest king of those who succeeded Alexander, of the most royal mind, and ruling over the greatest extent of territory, next to Alexander himself.”

Seleucus was born in ca. 358 BCE. His father, Antiochus, was a lesser nobleman from Europus in Lower Macedonia, of the warrior class of the hetairoi (“companions”) of the king. His mother’s name was Laodice. According to a birth myth preserved in Justin (15.4), probably going back to Seleucid propaganda (perhaps of the reign of Antiochus I, r. 312-261 BCE), Seleucus was fathered by the god Apollo while his mother lay sleeping; as a sign of his divine parentage, Seleucus had on his thigh a birthmark in the shape of an anchor. The story explains why the Seleucids used the anchor as a dynastic emblem, e.g., as counter-mark on coins, and why Apollo was the tutelary deity of the Seleucid family. Virtually nothing is known about Seleucus’s youth. There can be little doubt, however, that as an adolescent Seleucus served as a royal page at the court of Philip II, receiving military training and intellectual education together with Philip’s son Alexander, who was about the same age as he. Between 334 and 323 Seleucus accompanied Alexander on his campaigns in Asia, holding the court office of sōmatophulax (“bodyguard”). The seven sōmatophulakes, personal attendants responsible for the king’s welfare and safety, were partly recruited from among the former youth companions of the Macedonian king. After the destruction of the aristocrat faction led by Parmenio in 330, Alexander promoted these loyal intimates to high office, replacing members of the high nobility who opposed the king’s increasing autocracy. 

Thus Seleucus first enters history in India in 326 as the newly appointed captain of the hypaspist infantry guard (Arrian, Anabasis 5.13.4; for Seleucus’s career under Alexander, see Grainger, 1992, pp. 1-23). Seleucus was present at the great wedding at Susa (324), where Alexander gave his marshals Iranian princesses in marriage, hoping to reconcile and pacify the Iranian nobility. Seleucus married Apama, daughter of the Bactrian leader Spitamenes (Arrian, Anabasis 7.4.6; for her, see O’Neil, 2002). Until his violent death in 327, Spitamenes had been Alexander’s principal adversary during the three-year guerilla war in Bactria and Sogdia, and perhaps the most formidable opponent the Macedonian king ever encountered. The marriage with Apama had far-reaching consequences for Seleucus’s later career, as it created family ties with the leading families in the Iranian northeast, where the first Seleucids eventually were more successful in gaining recognition than Alexander had been. 

At the Babylonian Settlement following Alexander’s death in 323, Seleucus took the side of the regent Perdiccas, who appointed him commander (hipparchos) of the Companion Cavalry, promoting him to the rank of chiliarch, a title previously held by Alexander’s favorite Hephaestion and by Perdiccas himself (Diodorus, 18.3.4; Appian, Syriaca 57; Justin, 13.4.17; cf. Bosworth, 2002, pp. 29-63, esp. 56). Thus for some years Seleucus officially was the second most important magistrate in the Macedonian empire. Soon, however, he decided that he was backing the wrong horse, and in May/June 320 he was among the conspirators who assassinated Perdiccas during a campaign against the insubordinate new satrap of Egypt, Ptolemy son of Lagus (Diodorus, 18.36.1-5; for the date, see Landucci Gattinoni, 2005). The grateful Ptolemy became Seleucus’s principal ally for the next eighteen years. 

At a conference at Triparadeisus in Syria (320), power in the Macedonian empire was distributed anew, this time including commanders who had not been present in Babylon in 323, the most important of whom was Antigonus Monophthalmus (“the One-Eyed”). The new regent, Antipater, Alexander’s viceroy in Macedonia, took away the chiliarchy from Seleucus (to give it to his own son, Cassander) but gave him the rich and centrally located satrapy of Babylonia (Diodorus, 18.39.6). In the years 319-315 Seleucus made his satrapy a virtually autonomous principality, obtaining the goodwill of the Babylonians by means of patronage and consideration for local traditions (Diodorus, 19.91.1-2; Kuhrt and Sherwin-White, 1993, p. 10). After being driven from Babylonia by his enemy Antigonus in 315, Seleucus recaptured his satrapy in 312 with the help of Ptolemy and finally drove out the Antigonid forces after a battle near Babylon in 308 (BM 35920 = Grayson, 1975, no. 10). The Seleucid kingdom would later date its history from 312 BCE, the year of Seleucus’s return to Babylonia. 

His Mesopotamian power base secure, and Antigonus having shifted his attention to the Mediterranean, Seleucus now embarked on a lightning campaign through the Upper Satrapies (308-306), becoming master of Iran and Bactria by subduing satraps loyal to Antigonus with military force and by winning over the others through skillful diplomacy (Kuhrt and Sherwin-White, 1993, p. 12). By ca. 306 Seleucus was in India, crossing the Indus to fight the recently created Mauryan empire. About a year later he withdrew his forces after reaching an agreement with the Mauryan emperor Chandragupta. According to this treaty, the details of which remain obscure, Seleucus yielded all lands to the south and east of the Hindu Kush rangeincluding Gandhāra and the Indus valleyin return for alliance and perhaps the formal acknowledgment of his suzerainty. He also received a force of 500 Indian war elephants (Plutarch, Life of Alexander 62; Strabo, 15.2.9, 16.2.10; the round number is somewhat suspect but is supported by Diodorus, 20.113.4, who says that at Ipsus Seleucus disposed of a force of 480 elephants; cf. Plutarch, Life of Demetrius 28.3; see Wheatley, 2014). 

It was then time to return to the west and challenge Antigonus, who together with his son Demetrius Poliorcetes (“the Besieger”) had steadily consolidated his control of Syria, Asia Minor, and Greece. In 306 Antigonus and Demetrius had assumed the Macedonian title of king (basileus) following a naval victory against Ptolemy off Salamis on Cyprus. The next year, Seleucus followed suit, as did Ptolemy, Cassander and Lysimachus, who controlled, respectively, Egypt, Macedonia, and Thrace. Although the title of basileus implicated claims to the entire Macedonian empire, Seleucus entered into alliance with Ptolemy, Cassander, and Lysimachus, and in 301 the allies destroyed the Antigonid army at Ipsus in Phrygia; Antigonus died on the battlefield, but Demetrius made his escape to continue the war in the Aegean, until he was finally captured by Seleucus in 285. Victory at Ipsus was mainly due to the allied superiority in cavalry, mostly Iranian horsemen fighting for Seleucus, as well as Chandragupta’s war elephants. The victors divided among themselves the countries held by Antigonus, Seleucus’s prize being the Levant. But when he returned from Asia Minor to claim his share, he found Ptolemy already in control of Phoenicia, South Syria, and Palestine. Although Seleucus decided not to resolve the matter by war, the dispute over the spoils of Ipsus remained the principal casus belli between Seleucids and Ptolemies in the following century. 

Still, Seleucus was able to expand his empire to the west, acquiring northern Mesopotamia, North Syria, Armenia and the eastern half of Anatolia (for the scope and organization of Seleucus’s empire after Ipsus, see Kuhrt and Sherwin-White, 1993, pp. 14-21). Further expansion took place in the Persian Gulf, where the island of Failaka became the southernmost Seleucid outpost. It was now clear that Seleucus had become the most powerful of Alexander’s successors, but his position was threatened by his erstwhile allies Ptolemy, who aimed at controlling the coastal areas around the eastern Mediterranean basin, and Lysimachus, who became king of Macedonia after the death of Cassander and created an empire around the Aegean comprising western Asia Minor. 

After Ipsus, Seleucus spent about a decade consolidating his gains. In this task he was aided by his son Antiochus, the later king Antiochus I Soter. Antiochus, who was the son of Seleucus and Apama and thus half-Iranian, was made vice-king in 292/1 and given responsibility for Babylonia and the Iranian lands, while Seleucus himself built up the western part of the empire (Appian, Syriaca 59). Antiochus’s succession to the throne was secured beforehand by his marriage to Seleucus’s own wife Stratonice, a daughter of Demetrius Poliorcetes, and by conferring upon him the title of basileus even while his father was still alive. A Babylonian chronicle from this period, describing sacrifices made by Antiochus to the moon god Sin, therefore refers to him as mar šarri “crown prince” (Grayson, 1975, no. 11). Thus the conflicts inherent in the polygamy and absence of primogeniture characteristic of the Macedonian nobility were evaded. In time, the memory of this political marriage turned into folktale: a young prince is secretly in love with his father’s new wife; when the father finds out, he magnanimously gives her away, thus saving the life of his lovesick son (Appian, Syriaca 59-61; cf. Broderson, 1985; Breebaart, 1967). On coins struck in Bactria and Aria-Drangiana, the two kings are named together as equals (see, e.g., Houghton and Lorber 2003, nos. 233, 235, 279, 281, 285-290). 

The old satrapal structure of the Achaemenid empire remained basically intact. Seleucus focused on the founding of cities and the establishment of fortresses and military colonies. Throughout the empire, cities were built or rebuilt and named after members of the Seleucid family. Appian (Syriaca 57) lists sixteen cities named Antiocheia after his father, five Laodikeia after his mother, three Apameia after his Iranian wife, one Stratonikeia after his second wife, and nine Seleukeia after himself, but some of these cities may actually have been founded by Antiochus I. Ancient historiography informs us mainly about the history of Seleucus’s foundations in the western half of his empire. These included the capitals Seleucia on the Tigris—located in the vicinity of Babylon and destined to become the largest city in the Seleucid empire—and, in North Syria, Antioch on the Orontes and Seleucia in Pieria. Amidst the grassy pastures of the middle Orontes valley, Apamea was built as an assembly point for the army, serving as base of operation in future wars against the Ptolemies. Halab (Aleppo) and Harran (Urfa) were refounded and given the names of towns in Macedonia: Beroea and Edessa. At strategic intersections and river crossings, military strongholds were built, e.g., Dura Europus, Seleucia-Zeugma, and Jebel Khalid on the Euphrates. 

Little is known about the city foundations in Iran and further east. Here, the vice-king Antiochus took responsibility for the creation of cities and the construction of a string of defenses along the Bactrian border, founding, e.g., Antioch in Persis and most likely Aï Khanum, and refounding Alexandria Eschate in the Marv oasis as Antioch in Margiana. After Seleucus’s death the policy of city (re)foundings was continued in western Asia Minor under Antiochus I and Antiochus II. The cities, populated with a mixture of Greek, Macedonian, and indigenous settlers, served not merely military, but also economic, purposes, as Seleucus actively encouraged economic growth and long-distance trade. 

Seleucus was over 70 years old when he decided to mobilize the enormous resources of his empire against Lysimachus and conquer the European part of Alexander’s empire. In the winter of 282/1 the two armies met at Corupedium in Lydia. Lysimachus was slain, and his army defeated. Seleucus added western Asia Minor to his empire and crossed the Hellespont, presenting himself to the Greek cities as a liberator from tyranny who had come to restore democracy and autonomy (Funck, 1994). Upon reaching Lysimachia, however, his army mutinied, and he was assassinated by Ptolemy Ceraunus, a son of the deceased Ptolemy I who had taken refuge at Seleucus’s court after his half-brother Ptolemy II had succeeded to the throne (Appian, Syriaca 62; Grayson, 1979, no. 12). His ashes were brought back to Syria, where he was buried in Seleucia in Pieria in a sanctuary called the Nicatoreum. After the death of the conqueror, the western part of the empire was thrown into turmoil, while Ceraunus for a short time took possession of Macedonia and Thrace; the eastern satrapies, however, remained loyal to the house of Seleucus, so that Antiochus I, in the first five years of his reign, was able to restore order in Syria and Asia Minor. Thrace, Macedonia, and Greece remained outside the grasp of the Seleucids, but claims to these regions were only given up after the failure of Antiochus III’s invasion of Europe in the early second century BCE. 


Ancient sources. 

The biographers of Alexander mention Seleucus only in passing. The main source for his career after 323 is Diodorus of Sicily’s Library of World History, books 18-21; as Diodorus draws mainly on the Antigonid court historian Hieronymus, his narrative tends to follow Antigonus’sactions and remains silent as regards Seleucus’s exploits in the east after 312, for which we must rely on the brief account in Appian’s Syrian Wars (52-53). Additional information can be found in Plutarch’s lives of Demetrius and Eumenes, Justin’s epitome of Pompeius Trogus, and Strabo. Babylonian chronicles sometimes mention Seleucus and his vice-king Antiochus, see A. K. Grayson, Assyrian and Babylonian Chronicles,  Locust Valley, N.Y., 1975, esp. nos. 10, 11, and 12.

Modern literature.

H. Bengtson, “Seleukos I.,” in idem, Herrschergestalten des Hellenismus, Munich, 1975, pp. 37-62. 

A. B. Bosworth, “The Politics of the Babylon Settlement” (Chap. 2) and “The Rise of Seleucus” (Chap. 6), in idem, The Legacy of Alexander. Politics, Warfare, and Propaganda under the Successors, Oxford, 2002, pp. 29-63 and 210-45.  

A. B. Breebaart, “King Seleucus I, Antiochus, and Stratonice,” Mnemosyne 20, 1967, pp.  154-64. 

K. Broderson, “Der Liebeskranke Königssohn und die Seleukidische Herrschaftsauffassung,” Athenaeum, N.S. 63, 1985, pp. 459-69. 

B. Funck, “Seleukos Nikator und Ilion: einige Beobachtungen zum Verhältnis von König und Staat im frühen Hellenismus,” Historische Zeitschrift 258/2, 1994, pp. 317-37. 

J. D. Grainger, Seleukos Nikator. Constructing a Hellenistic Kingdom, London, 1992. 

A. Houghton and C. Lorber, Seleucid Coins: A Comprehensive Catalogue. Part I: Seleucus I-Antiochus III, New York, 2003. 

A. Kuhrt and S. Sherwin-White, From Samarkhand to Sardis. A New Approach to the Seleucid Empire, London, 1993, pp.  7-39. 

F. Landucci Gattinoni, “La tradizione su Seleuco in Diodoro XVIII-XX,” in C. Bearzot and F. Landucci, eds., Diodoro e l'altra Grecia: Macedonia, Occidente, Ellenismo nella Biblioteca storica, Milano, 2005, pp. 155-81. 

A. Mehl, Seleukos Nikator und sein Reich, Studia Hellenistica 28, Louvain, 1986. 

J. L. O'Neil, “Iranian Wives and their Roles in Macedonian Royal Courts,” Prudentia 34/2, 2002, pp. 159-77. 

P. Wheatley, “Seleukos and Chandragupta in Justin XV 4,” in H. Hauben and A. Meeus, eds., The Age of the Successors and the Creation of the Hellenistic Kingdoms (323–276 B.C), Studia Hellenistica 53, Leuven, 2014, pp. 501-16.

Seleucus II Callinicus (r. 246-c. 225 BCE), Seleucid king. Born in ca. 265, Seleucus was the eldest son of Antiochus II Theos (r. 261-246) and Laodice III, who were both grandchildren of Seleucus I Nicator. Seleucus was married with his niece Laodice, daughter of Andromachus, who was a direct descendant of Seleucus I and Apama, too. Two of their children later became king: Seleucus III Soter (226-223) and Antiochus III the Great (223-187). 

Seleucus II was continuously on campaign, like all Seleucid kings, but his twenty-year reign was particularly disturbed by military and political crises, including a Ptolemaic invasion of the Seleucid heartland, nomadic incursions in northern Khorāsān, a dynastic war with his own full brother in Asia Minor, and a revolt in Bactria. Ultimately, Seleucus II and subsequently his son, Antiochus III the Great, were able to avert temporarily the dangers threatening the cohesion of the Macedonian empire in the Middle East. 

Seleucus’s reign began with a violent struggle over the succession which quickly became a vast international conflict. This so-called Laodicean War (246-241; the conflict is also known as the Third Syrian War), which nearly destroyed the Seleucid empire, was a direct result of the polygamy practiced by Macedonian kings and the ensuing endemic conflicts between court factions built up around respective would-be queen mothers. Antiochus II died in 246 at Ephesus from some illness, shortly after his second wife, Berenice, surnamed Syra, had given birth to a son, another Antiochus (for the name of the son, see Kobes, 1995). Appian (Syriaca 65) accuses the king’s first wife, Laodice, of having poisoned her husband in order to secure the succession of her own son, Seleucus. This is very unlikely. Laodice was not divorced when her husband took a new wife, as the Seleucids practiced polygamous marriage; being a granddaughter of Seleucus I and Apama, Laodice’s son was a full member of the Seleucid house and therefore a more legitimate heir than the child of the outsider Berenice, a daughter of Ptolemy II who had been given in marriage to Antiochus II in 252 to consolidate the end of the Second Syrian War (259-253). Both Seleucus, who had already come of age, and his minor half-brother Antiochus were proclaimed king. 

Berenice’s brother, King Ptolemy III, sailed to Syria to support the claims of his nephew, who together with his mother was besieged in a fortified palace at Daphne (modern Harbiye, Turkey). Being the child’s closest male kin, Ptolemy III could claim to be his guardian and thus regent of the Seleucid empire. However, when Ptolemy arrived in Syria with his army, he found his sister and her son assassinated, making Ptolemy the boy’s heir. The ensuing war between Ptolemy III and Seleucus II for mastery in the Middle East is very unevenly documented. Although it seems that some Syrian cities supported the Ptolemaic cause, the court and the army in Asia Minor naturally declared for Seleucus. The governor of Ephesus, however, took the side of Ptolemy, handing him over both the city and Queen Laodice, who, charged with having murdered her rival Berenice and her son, was summarily executed. Ptolemy subsequently took possession of Seleucia in Pieria and Antioch on the Orontes in 246 or 245; Ptolemy’s triumphant entry into the two Seleucid capitals is described in the Gourob Papyrus, an official Ptolemaic account (FGrH II b no. 160; Holleaux, 1942, pp. 281-310). 

There followed successful Ptolemaic naval campaigns along the coasts of southwest Anatolia, Ionia, and Thrace, and a major land offensive in the Seleucid heartland. According to his own propaganda, as recorded on his Victory Stelewritten in Greek but incorporating elements of pharaonic ideologyPtolemy conquered Mesopotamia, Babylonia, Elam, Persia, Media “and the rest of the land as far as Bactria” and brought back “all the sacred objects that had been carried out of Egypt by the Persians” (OGIS 54; cf. 56). The claim to have subdued the Upper Satrapies reflects standard Near Eastern claims to world dominion rather than historical reality, but a recently published Babylonian chronicle in the British Museum (BM 34428; BCHP 11), describing events in the months of Kislîmu and Tebêtu (November-January) of an unspecified year in the Seleucid period (246/5?), confirms that a “king of Egypt” attacked Seleucia on the Tigris and Babylon. Ptolemy abandoned Babylonia soon after on the pretext of a revolt in the Thebaid. In 244 Seleucus reconquered Antioch. 

The war dragged on until in 241 an agreement was reached, which legitimized Seleucus’s adoption of the epithet kallinikos (“gloriously victorious”) but left Ptolemy in possession of his recent gains in Asia Minor and the “royal city” Seleucia, where Seleucus I lay buried. It was a cease-fire rather than a peace: the humiliation of the loss of Seleucus’s tomb remained a potential casus belli, while the murders of the royal women Berenice and Laodice added to the eternal Seleucid-Ptolemaic conflict an aspect of blood feud. The Third Syrian War had given the Seleucid dynasty a “thorough shaking” (Ager, 2003, p. 45), but it was not a fatal blow. The acquisitions of Ptolemy III in the Levant were later reconquered by Antiochus III. 

The next major conflict fought by Seleucus was the War of the Brothers (ca. 240/39-236). Seleucus’s younger brother Antiochus, surnamed Hierax (The Hawk), had ruled Seleucid Asia Minor in the name of his brother while the latter was fighting Ptolemy in Syria. In ca. 242/1 Hierax set himself up as independent king. Allying himself with the Celts of Galatia and possibly receiving military aid from Ptolemy III (Porphyrius, FGrH 260 F 32.8), Hierax was able to resist Seleucus’s attempt at regaining Asia Minor, defeating his brother in battle near Ankara in ca. 240/39 (or ca. 239/8, cf. Lerner, 1999, p. 33, n. 1). Hierax now turned his attention to the rising power of Pergamon under Attalus I, who proclaimed his independence from the Seleucids in 238/7 after defeating the Galatians. In 236 Seleucus made peace with Hierax and ceded him all territory to the west of the Taurus mountains. 

The War of the Brothers encouraged the growth of provincial independence. In Khorāsān, Andragoras, the Seleucid governor of Parthia, obtained autonomy for his satrapy, although he did not claim the title of king for himself. Andragoras was attacked and slain by the nomadic Parni somewhere before 236 (Lerner 1999, 33). The Parni had already occupied western Turkmenistan and were now raiding Parthia and Hyrcania. After the conclusion of a truce with Hierax (c. 236-229), Seleucus embarked on an expedition against the Parni and forced them to abandon Parthia and Hyrcania, driving the invaders back to the Caspian steppe (Strabo 11.8.8, cf. Drijvers, 1998; Lerner, 1999, 33-43, argues that the Parni were victorious and took the Seleukid king prisoner). After his victory in Khurāsān, Seleucus prepared to continue further east in order to subdue the rebellious satrap of Bactria and Sogdia, Diodotus II (cf. DIODOTUS); he was recalled, however, to the west because of renewed hostilities with his brother Hierax, which left Diodotus undefeated and gave the Parni king Arsaces the opportunity to put his affairs in order and prepare for his return. 

The extent to which the Parni invasion posed a threat to the Seleucid presence on the northern Iranian plateau at this time is difficult to assess and remains a subject of controversy (see, e.g., Wolski, 1947, and 1950; Kuhrt and Sherwin-White, 1993, pp. 84-90; Lerner, 1999; Strootman, 2016). Seleucid hegemony had been restored by the acknowledgment of the existence of the Parni realm as a vassal principality in the region north of the Alborz and Kopet Dag ranges. Further east, Diodotus II, the satrap of Bactria and Sogdia, had assumed the diadem in the 230s, if not earlier; complete autonomy of Bactria and Parthia, however, was achieved only after the death of Antiochus III. 

In Asia Minor, Antiochus Hierax meanwhile had become embroiled with Prusias I of Bithynia and Attalus I of Pergamon. The latter systematically drove Hierax from western Anatolia. After being defeated in battle near Pergamon in ca. 228, Hierax crossed the Taurus mountains, hoping to take over the Seleucid heartland from his brother. Seleucus arrived from the east just in time and drove Hierax from Babylonia. Hierax fled back to Asia Minor, and later to Thrace, where he met a violent death at the hands of a Celtic raiding party in 227. Between 226 and 224, King Seleucus II Callinicus, after falling from his horse, died too. He was succeeded by his eldest son, Seleucus III Soter. 

The reign of Seleucus II revealed two inherent weaknesses of the Seleucid state: the problem of internal dynastic strife and the political aspirations of regional rulers at the empire’s periphery. Former historians have regarded the reign of Seleucus II as a watershed in the history of Iran and Central Asia. More recent scholarship, however, has adjusted the views of, notably, W. W. Tarn and J. Wolski that in this period the Parni drove a wedge between east and west, cutting off the Seleucid Near East from the Central Asian provinces. It is now clear that the settlement of the Parni along the Caspian coast could not have cut Seleucid communication lines with the east, since these ran south of the Alborz and Kopet Dag ranges (Kuhrt and Sherwin-White, 1993, pp. 79-80). Around 200 BCE the Parni kings, like the Greek rulers of Bactria and Sogdia, were still formally vassals of the Great King Antiochus III, who was able to restore his authority in Khorāsān in 209 with relative ease, and in 205 he even forced the Indian king Sophagenesos into paying tribute (Polybius, 11.39.11-12). Rather, it seems that under Seleucus II a new policy was introduced by which direct government of remote areas by governors appointed by the crown was superseded by a looser system of vassal kingdoms (Strootman, 2011, 2016). Although Seleucid power was weakened under Seleucus II, his reign was a period of transition rather than the ‘beginning of the end’. 



[BCHP] R. J. van der Spek and I. L. Finkel, eds., Babylonian Chronicles of the Hellenistic Period, forthcoming (preliminary online at 

[FGrH] F. Jacoby, Fragmente der griechischen Historiker, 3 vols., Berlin, 1923-59. 

[FHG] C. Müller, ed., Fragmenta Historicorum Graecorum, 5 vols., Paris, 1841-70. 

[OGIS] W. Dittenberger ed., Orientis Graeci Inscriptiones Selectae, 2 vols., Leipzig, 1903-05. 

S. L. Ager, “An Uneasy Balance: From the Death of Seleukos to the Battle of Raphia,” in A. Erskine ed., A Companion to the Hellenistic World, Oxford, 2003, pp. 35-50. 

B. Beyer-Rotthoff, Untersuchungen zur Aussenpolitik Ptolemaios’ III, Bonn 1993. 

E. J. Bickerman, “Notes on Seleucid and Parthian Chronology,” Berytus 8, 1943-44, pp. 73-83. 

K. Brodersen, “The Date of the Secession of Parthia from the Seleucid Kingdom,” Historia 35, 1986, pp. 378-81. 

J. W. Drijvers, “Strabo on Parthia and the Parthians,” in J. Wiesehöfer, ed., Das Partherreich und seine Zeugnisse, Stuttgart, 1998, pp. 278-92. 

H. Heinen, “The Syrian-Egyptian Wars and the New Kingdoms of Asia Minor,” in Cambridge Ancient History 7.1, 1984, pp. 412-45. 

M. Holleaux, Études d’épigraphie et d’histoire grecques III: Lagides et Séleucides, Paris, 1942. 

A. Jähne, “Die “Syrische Frage”: Seleukeia in Pierien und die Ptolemäer,” Klio 56.1 1974, pp. 501-19. 

J. Kobes, “Mylasa und Kildara in ptolemäischer Hand? Überlegungen zu zwei hellenistischen Inschriften,” Epigraphica Anatolica 24, 1995, pp. 1-6. 

A. Kuhrt and S. Sherwin-White, From Samarkhand to Sardis. A New Approach to the Seleucid Empire, London 1993). 

J. D. Lerner, The Impact of Seleucid Decline on the Eastern Iranian Plateau, Historia Einzelschriften 123, Stuttgart, 1999, pp. 33-43. 

L. Martinez-Sève, “Laodice, femme d'Antiochos II: du roman à la reconstitution historique,” Revue des Études Grecques 116, 2003, pp. 690-706.

F. Piejko, “Episodes from the Third Syrian War in a Gurob Papyrus, 246 B.C.,” Archiv für Papyrusforschung 36, 1990, pp. 13-27. 

Idem, “Seleucus II and Ilium,” Classica et Mediaevalia 42, 1991, pp. 111-38. 

R. Strootman, “Hellenistic Court Society: The Seleukid Imperial Court under Antiochos the Great, 223-187 BCE,” in J. Duindam, M. Kunt,  and T. Artan, eds., Royal Courts in Dynastic States and Empires: A Global Perspective, Rulers and Elites 1, Leiden and Boston, 2011, pp. 63-89.

Idem, “The Coming of the Parthians: Crisis and Resilience in Seleukid Iran in the Reign of Seleukos II,” in K. Erickson, ed., War Within the Family: The First Century of Seleucid Rule, Swansea and Oxford, forthcoming, 2016.

W. W. Tarn, The Greeks in Bactria and India, Cambridge 1938. 

E. Will, Histoire politique du monde hellénistique (323-30 av. J.-C.) I, Nancy, 1979; 2nd ed., 1982. 

J. Wolski, “l’Effrondement de la domination des Séleucides en Iran au IIIe siècle av. J.C.,” Bulletin internationale de l’Academie polonaise des Sciences et des Lettres; classe de philologie, histoire et philosophie, supplement 5, Cracow, 1947, pp. 13-70. 

Idem, “Le problème d’Andragoras,” Serta Kazaroviana 16, 1950, pp. 111-14. 

Seleucus III Soter (Ceraunus), Seleucid king (r. ca. 225-223/2 BCE). Seleucus was the eldest son of Seleucus II and Laodice II. He reigned only briefly. Upon his accession, the young Seleucus led an expedition to western Asia Minor in order to regain the territory that had been lost to Attalus I of Pergamon during his father’s reign. Seleucus II probably also prepared a campaign to recover the Anatolian and Levantine cities that had been lost to the Ptolemies in the Third Syrian War (246-241), as the objective of ‘liberating’ the cities of Asia Minor may have been inherent in his assumption of the epithet sōtēr (“savior”). The purport of Seleucus’s surname keraunos (“thunderbolt”) remains obscure, but may hint at his plans to reconquer the royal city Seleucia in Pieria from the Ptolemies (Muccioli, 1997). According to Appian, Seleucus was poisoned by some of his courtiers because he was sickly and unpopular with the army (Syriaca 66; cf. Polybius, 4.48.7-10). The murderers were executed by Achaeus, Seleucus’s uncle, who took over the command of the army in Asia Minor and successfully continued the war against Attalus. Seleucus III was succeeded as king by his younger brother, Antiochus III (‘the Great’). 


E. R. Bevan, The House of Seleucus, 2 vols., London 1902, I, pp. 203-5. 

C. Habicht, “The Seleucids and their Rivals,” in A. E. Astin, ed., The Cambridge Ancient History. Volume 8: Rome and the Mediterranean to 133 BC, Cambridge, 1989, pp. 324-87. 

F. Muccioli, “Seleuco III, i Tolemei e Seleucia di Pieria,” Simblos 2, 1997, pp. 135-50.

E. Will, Histoire politique du monde hellénistique (323-30 av. J.-C.) I, Nancy, 1979; 2nd ed., 1982. 

Seleucus IV Philopator (r. 187-175 BCE), Seleucid king. Seleucus’s twelve-year reign is poorly documented. He was the second son of Antiochus III the Great (r. 223/2-187 BCE); his mother was Laodice, daughter of the Pontic king Mithradates II and Laodice, a Seleucid princess. Thus, like his ancestor Antiochus I, Seleucus was of mixed Macedonian-Iranian descent. He became crown prince after the death of his elder brother Antiochus in ca. 193 (Livy, 35.13.4-5) and held several important commands in Thrace and Asia Minor during the Roman-Seleucid War of 192-189. In the Battle of Magnesia, where Antiochus III was defeated by Rome and Pergamon, Seleucus commanded the left flank (Livy, 37.41.1; Appianus, Syriaca 33). 

After the war, Seleucus struck coins in his own name in Seleucia on the Tigris (Messina, 2001), indicating that his father had appointed him co-ruler; his later epithet philopator claimed that the succession indeed had been peaceable and legitimate. On his father’s death in 187, Seleucus inherited the humiliating Treaty of Apamea, entailing withdrawal from Asia Minor and the payment of war indemnities to Rome. A shortage of funds perhaps resulting from these payments may be mirrored in the biblical story about Seleucus’s minister Heliodorus, who was sent to Jerusalem to expropriate the temple treasures but was driven off by angels (2 Maccabees 3:9-40; on the other hand, 2 Maccabees 3:2-3 paradoxically praises Seleucus for his magnanimous patronage of the Temple); Heliodorus’s official assignment to collect funds (2 Maccabees 5:7) is now confirmed by the Heliodorus Stele, a letter of king Seleucus to his minister (Cotton and Wörrle, 2007). 

The scanty evidence for Seleucus’s reign concentrates on his attempts to re-establish Seleucid power in the west, including negotiations with the powerful Achaean League in Greece (185) and with Pontus in Asia Minor (181/180), and the marriage of his daughter Laodice to the Macedonian king Perseus in 178/177. He was assassinated in late August/early September 175 (Mittag, 2006, p. 42) by his first minister Heliodorus, who may have acted in alliance with Seleucus’s younger brother, Antiochus, the later king Antiochus IV Epiphanes (Van ‘t Hof 1955, pp. 27-31). Seleucus IV was formally succeeded by his ca. five-year-old son Antiochus, also known as Antiochus the Child. Seleucus’s widow Laodice IV was very briefly regent for her son, striking coins in his name (Hoover, 2002) until Antiochus IV married her in October 175 and took over the regency (OGIS 252. SEG 7; cf. Mittag, 2006, pp. 44-45). Antiochus the Child was assassinated on orders of Antiochus IV in 170. Another son of Seleucus IV, Demetrius, would later become Seleucid king after killing Antiochus IV’s minor successor (Demetrius I Soter, r. 162-150). 



E. R. Bevan, The House of Seleucus, London, 1902, pp. II, 120-25. 

H. M. Cotton and K. Wörrle, “Seleukos IV to Heliodoros: A New Dossier of Royal Correspondence from Israel,” Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 159, 2007, pp. 191-205.

P. Van ‘t Hof, Bijdrage tot de kennis van Antiochus IV Epiphanes, koning van Syrië Amsterdam, 1955, pp. 17-19 and 27-31. 

O. D. Hoover, “Two Seleucid Notes. 2: Laodice IV on the Bronze Coinages of Seleucus IV and Antiochus IV,” American Journal of Numismatics, N.S. 14, 2002, pp. 73-87. 

V. Messina, ““Presto sarò re”: Seleuco IV come Helios sulle cretule da Seleucia al Tigri,” Parthica 3, 2001, pp. 9-23. 

P. F. Mittag, Antiochos IV. Epiphanes. Eine politische Biographie, Klio Beihefte n.F. 11, Berlin, 2006. 

O. Mørkholm, Antiochus IV of Syria, Copenhagen 1966, pp. 22-37. 

G. le Rider, “Les ressources financières de Séleucos IV (187-175, pp. et le paiement de l'indemnité aux Romains,” in S. Price et al. eds., Essays in honour of Robert Carson and Kenneth Jenkins, London 1993, pp. 49-67.

(Rolf Strootman)

Originally Published: April 16, 2015

Last Updated: April 16, 2015

Cite this entry:

Rolf Strootman, "Seleucus,"  Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2015, available at (accessed on 16 April 2015).