Thursday, 1 December 2016

The Seleukid Empire of Antiochus III, 223-187BC - John D Grainger

Book Review by 'Mr Steve'
This is the middle book of a three part trilogy covering the Rise and Fall of the Seleucid Empire, I read the other two first and left this one until last because Antiochus’ III reign is quite well known, well to me at least, this is because there are quite a lot of surviving Roman documents for this period and he is also involved in two of the big Ancient battles, Raphia and Magnesia. As it happens these two famous battles don’t get a lot of coverage in the book, Magnesia is all over within two pages, Raphia gets slightly more.

What the book really covers is the long reign of perhaps the best of the Seleucid Kings (along with its founder, that is), who not only re-established a crumbling Empire but did something which the majority of the other Kings didn't do, stay alive.

If you have read my previous review of book three, the Fall of the Empire.

then the sequence of events are very similar, Antiochus has to first consolidate his throne, then he starts to re-gather all those sections of the empire that have broken away, he also has the ever present problem of the Ptolomies in Egypt who are his main competition for land plus various civil wars and usurpers to put down . All this happens time after time for the Seleucids; if you have managed to solve all these problems and not been assassinated whilst doing so, plus you have avoided getting on
the wrong end of a Parthian lance and you are still in power, then you get to call the A-Team .. Sorry, that should read, you then get the chance to expand the Empire.

Chapter One: The New King's Survival.
Oddly enough Antiochus wasn’t really expected to be King, he was after all only fourth in line but after a combination of the causes mentioned above, including one who fell of his horse, he was suddenly at the age of twenty the last Seleucid standing. As was usual and repeated down the years, the previous regimes senior administrators were more concerned with keeping themselves in power (and thus alive) and so he had to tread very carefully and to slowly ease out his advisors and generals, none of whom wouldn't have been too upset if he too “accidently fell of his horse”

The political in-fighting and scheming helped him and as the various rivals 'do each other in', he slowly manages to remove all of the old order until finally he is secure on his throne, this chapter is quite interesting.

Chapter Two: The Fourth Syrian war.
Now in charge, Antiochus could start on getting the Empire back together; one ever present thorn in every Seleucid’s side was Coele-Syria (roughly, Palestine/ Palmyra, and the bits that connect up from Egypt). This had been constantly fought over by the Seleucids and the Ptolemy’s, both of whom believed it was their core territory. Currently it was in the hands of the Ptolemy’s, along with bits of Lebanon as well.

A small diversion here to explain about Treaty’s, the Successor Kings firmly believed that after all the fighting was over, any Treaty subsequently agreed would then last for the lifetime of one of the participants, (needless to say this would cause a problem when the Romans came on the scene, as they believed a treaty lasted only until the moment it was no longer convenient).

Battle of Raphia by Igor Dziz
As it happened there was a new King as well on the Egyptian throne, Ptolemy IV, who is also quite an interesting person, one of his first actions is to murder his mother, he then arms the Egyptian population in order to defeat Antiochus which subsequently turns out to have been a very bad idea later on and he also builds the largest human powered warship known. (For us Ancient Naval wargamers, a 40!) . With his coming to the throne its all down hill for Ptolemaic Egypt from now on until the day Cleopatra gets her Asps out and Rome takes over.

So with no current treaty in place Antiochus can try to regain Coele Syria, he first has a problem in Asia Minor with his last major rival to deal with but after a brief campaign sufficient for a temporary truce to be agreed, he sets off south. The area is heavily fortified and he struggles to make any progress, eventually he finds a route through and decides to bypass the numerous cities rather than securing them first and instead heads for Egypt to try and force a battle, fortunately coming the other way is Ptolemy and they fight the battle of Raphia, which Antiochus loses. Ptolemy orders numerous Steele /stones to be set up telling everyone what a hero he was.

(See recent Ancient Warfare magazine issue X.2 for Raphia and Steele)

Battle of Raphia, elephants in action - Artist Unknown
Chapter Three: Akhaios and Attalos
With a Peace treaty now in place with Ptolemy, any further action over Coele Syria was out of the question (see above) so Antiochus turned his attention to Asia Minor instead, the Attalids ruled Pergamum and Akhaios was more of a powerful rebel Seleucid governor who decided that it was good to be called a King. Reasonably secure in his area it would need a major effort to shift him, he even had a try at heading south and going for the big prize when the 4th Syrian war was on but when
his troops got to the southern border and realised what was up, they told him that they were going back home and he should be happy with what he had.

Antiochus rebuilds his army and invades, defeats Akhaios and regains control of this mini breakaway kingdom but unfortunately doesn't then continue and finish off Attalos, instead he retakes any lost cities and is content to just push him back into Pergamum territory and agreeing a treaty, this will come back and bite him later.

Phew, I can see why I stopped doing this, how many more chapters are there….eight!, I'd better speed this up a bit.

Chapter Four: The Expedition to the East
After Coele–Syria the next thing on any Seleucid King's list of things to do was to sort out the Eastern bits of the empire, we are talking modern day Iraq/Iran/ Afghanistan, which is a huge area. At this time the Parthians were only a bit “uppity” so could still be dealt with by a strong show of force. Antiochus did just that, he also appointed new loyal governors in the big cities, accepted the submission of recalcitrant areas, did a little fighting with the more stubborn and then went to see what the Bactrian’s had been up to. Bactria was a really long way from Antioch; it bordered onto India and
had been broken away from the Empire for more than a generation. When Antiochus finally arrived there was some more fighting, heavy at times, but eventually everyone sensibly reached a compromise, as long as he was acknowledged as King, well they could more or less do what they wanted. After all he probably wouldn't ever be coming back so …

You know what its like, you all line up outside, smile and wave until the visitor’s car is out of sight; you then turn to your partner and say “Thank God we will never see them again”

I guess the Bactrian’s thought something similar, but in Greek

After that its a quick pop into India, pick up some more elephants and then set off back home the long way, he deliberately followed the same route as Alexander had done with the added intention of making the propaganda point of ensuring everyone this time didn't die of thirst whilst doing so.

Wargaming Point: maybe Bactrian’s v Seleucids.

Chapter Five: Asia Minor again
Whilst he was away in the East, Antiochus’ governor in Asia Minor had been following orders and gradually expanding outwards into anywhere not under Attalid or Ptolemaic control, then Ptolemy IV meets an unpleasant end thus breaking the Raphia treaty. Antiochus takes this opportunity to come himself into Asia Minor and starts mopping up all of the cities that had been controlled by the Ptolemy’s (mostly along the coast). The Macedonian King Phillip V had the same idea and started to do the same; the two Kings reached an agreement over areas of interest and thus avoided conflict. Still no one bothered to finish off the Attalids in Pergamum.

Chapters Six/Seven: the Fifth Syrian War
Egypt was in real trouble, Ptolemy V , the new King was only six years old so the kingdom was run by various regents, which, similar to the start of Antiochus reign, schemed against each other to the detriment of the Kingdom. It was also now that arming and forming an Egyptian phalanx by Ptolemy IV for the Battle of Raphia was to rebound, a huge revolt started in the south resulting in a breakaway kingdom and over twenty years of fighting. It paralysed the Ptolemaic kingdom until it was finally defeated (The Rosetta stone is from this period).

The Egyptian regents knew that after Antiochus had finished in Asia Minor he would be very quickly heading south so they had already done some preparation in advance by hiring as many mercenaries as they could get their hands on, mostly Greeks from Aitolia.

Antiochus learning from his mistakes in the Fourth Syrian War prepared the ground in advance, he bribed all the key governors beforehand to change sides and those cities he couldn't bribe he captured.

This time the big battle was much further north (Raphia was on the Egyptian border SW of Gaza). The not so well known battle of Panion was a major Seleucid victory and resulted in the complete take over of Coele-Syria. Antiochus then returned to Asia Minor to mop up any remaining Cities and to start expanding further towards the Bosporus.

Chapter Eight: Thrace, Peace and the Romans
This chapter is the build up to Antiochus’ clash with Rome; in it Grainger starts to outline the causes that leads to eventual war although at first everything appears quite normal. By now, Rome had defeated Phillip V in the 2nd Macedonian war and whilst they had left him in power they had however “freed “all of the Greek states and then imposed a political settlement over all of Greece, which half of them liked and the which the other half hated. Unaware of the chaos they had left behind the Romans then went back home.

Antiochus had crossed the Bosporus and was now busy campaigning in Thrace with the intention of re-taking what he considered to be hereditary lands, he rebuilt cities and subdued various tribes. Frankly at this time the Romans didn't care but of course we all know that they reserved the right to change this opinion the minute it didn't suit them. Envoys were sent to discus two small problems, keep away from Rhodes who were Rome’s allies and the status of three small towns in Asia Minor previously held by Phillip and that Antiochus had not yet taken over.

Chapter Nine: The Roman War: Greece
There was a lot of unhappiness around at this time; Rhodes and Pergamum were constantly badgering Rome to attack Antiochus out of fear, one half of Greece didn't like the Roman settlement and badgered Antiochus to join them, the other half did the same with Rome. Everyone wanted war apart from the two main players and yet that’s what happened.

As they would do again some years later with Mithradates VI of Pontus, the Aitolian league pulled Antiochus into a war with Rome over Greece. It’s a relatively short affair as Antiochus only sends 10,000 men who are defeated and withdrawn back to Asia, oddly they initially try and hold the Romans at Thermopylae, the Seleucid Phalanx blunts the Romans frontal attack and so they do exactly what the Persians did and marched around the side, this works again despite everyone knowing the original story.

The Aitolians rapidly agree a temporary truce and the Romans head off to Asia Minor.

Chapter Ten: The Roman War: Asia
The Romans eventually cross into Asia Minor where they are joined by Eumenes II the current King of Pergamum with fresh supplies and troops; meanwhile there is a struggle for control of the seas with the Rhodians joining in with Rome and Hannibal helping out the Seleucids as a temporary admiral. Outnumbered the Seleucids lose all the sea battles and Hannibal is unable to fight his way past the Rhodians to reinforce the main fleet.

Battle of Magnesia
Antiochus has used his time to gather reinforcements and is waiting for the Romans and their allies at Magnesia, interestingly his army is relatively small considering his empire and is nowadays estimated at being slightly less than the Roman army who had around 50,000 men. Well he loses as we know and the Peace Treaty sees him pay a huge fine, strips him of Thrace, Asia Minor, elephants and ships.

Chapter Eleven: Return to the East
Whilst this defeat was bad news it wasn’t terrible, he had only really lost what he had recently regained, everything else was still under control, more annoying perhaps was the permanent loss of a strong recruiting area for the future.

But this is were the book quickly comes to the end, after some time spent settling affairs resulting from the war with Rome, Antiochus decides its time to go back East and to quell signs of possible rebellion, also the old Bactrian king had recently died thus making the treaty null and void. The new king had already started to expand out into areas that he shouldn't have so a sharp reminder perhaps was in order and more importantly a new treaty needed to be put in place.

After leaving Babylon and still heading eastwards, he heard about a Temple containing a lot of treasure, Temples at this time were used not only for offerings but also as a type of bank for the local population. He had done this thing before when he was last out in the East and he decided that whilst the army kept marching he and a few men would make a short diversion to the Temple and make a withdrawal. What he had forgotten was that previously when he had done this he always had the
entire army behind him, one King and a few men cannot stop an angry mob of outraged bank customers. He seized the treasure and then the mob seized him. No one survived, well, apart from the mob that is.

And that’s it; there is no conclusion just footnotes and the Index.

My conclusion:
I enjoyed the book, Grainger does a good job of taking the available information and not only comparing all the versions to decide on what is the most plausible but also gathering together tiny snippets of information from other things like coins, inscriptions, dedications and decrees etc. At first glance some of this may not immediately appear to be relevant but his analysis of names, dates and locations is well done and he can thus put forward a believable case for his assumptions. This has
become very common nowadays and sometimes this leads to wild claims based on a single word, name or archaeological discovery but in this case it’s very well done throughout all three books.

So bar the one dull chapter in Book One this is a good set of books and I enjoyed reading them all.
Pages: 228
Main Text: 195 pages
Priced at £19.99
Best Price I found today was: £13.76 ABE Books

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