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BC 330 - 247 BC Macedon - Selucid Persia

Envisioning a new world empire based on a fusion of Greek and Iranian culture and ideals, Alexander the Great of Macedon accelerated the disintegration of the Achaemenid Empire. He was first accepted as leader by the fractious Greeks in 336 B.C. and by 334 had advanced to Asia Minor, an Iranian satrapy. In quick succession he took Egypt, Babylonia, and then, over the course of two years, the heart of the Achaemenid Empire--Susa, Ecbatana, and Persepolis--the last of which he burned. Alexander married Roxana (Roshanak), the daughter of the most powerful of the Bactrian chiefs (Oxyartes, who revolted in present-day Tadzhikistan), and in 324 commanded his officers and 10,000 of his soldiers to marry Iranian women. The mass wedding, held at Susa, was a model of Alexander's desire to consummate the union of the Greek and Iranian peoples.

These plans ended in 323 BC, however, when Alexander was struck with fever and died in Babylon, leaving no heir. His empire was divided among four of his generals. Seleucus, one of these generals, who became ruler of Babylon in 312, gradually reconquered most of Iran. Seleucus employed his great abilities in annexing the eastern provinces of the Persian empire. By 302 B.c., after nine years of successful warfare, his empire extended to the Jaxartes in one direction and to the confines of the Panjab in the other. In India he came into contact with the famous conqueror Chandragupta, better known to us by his classical name of Sandrocottus, grandfather of the still more famous Asoka. At first he prepared to attack this monarch; but realizing that the advantages to be gained were far outweighed by the risks, he came to terms with him, ceding the Greek possessions in India up to the Hindu Kush, in exchange for 500 trained war elephants and large sums of money. Seleucus sealed the treaty by giving his daughter to the Indian monarch, and it was faithfully observed on both sides.

During this period Seleucus organized his vast empire into seventy-two satrapies, an arrangement which lessened the chances of revolt by preventing any single subject from becoming too powerful. Furthermore, Seleucus had moved the capital to Seleucia, a city which he founded on the Tigris some forty miles north of Babylon. His object in building it was probably to strengthen the influences of Hellenism, which must have been weak in face of the great traditions and associations of Babylon.

At the end of 302 BC Seleucus marched into Cappadocia with a veteran army of 20,000 infantry, 12,000 mounted troops, 480 elephants, and 100 scythed chariots. In the spring of 301 BC a decisive 'battle was fought at Ipsus, in the province of Phrygia. This victory was a most important one; for, although Demetrius still maintained his hold on parts of Hellas and on Cilicia, Cyprus, Tyre and Sidon, and possessed an unbeaten fleet, Syria was annexed by Seleucus and Asia Minor by Lysimachus. Seleucus became thenceforward the paramount king, as Antigonus had been before him, and consequently, to preserve the balance of power, Ptolemy and Lysimachus united against him. Probably it was on this account that the Seleucid capital was again transferred, this time from the centre of the empire to the Orontes, where Antioch arose in great splendour foreshadowing its future importance. But the fates were against the realization of his desire. As he was proceeding towards Macedonia in 281 BC, after crossing the Hellespont, he was assassinated while listening to the legends connected with an ancient altar. Thus fell Seleucus Nicator, or "the Conqueror," who was perhaps the greatest and most attractive of the "Successors." His death may be said to close a chapter of history.

The house of Seleucus was shaken to its foundations. But Antiochus was no raw youth but a man with considerable experience both in war and in administration. Under Seleucus's son, Antiochus I, many Greeks entered Iran, and Hellenistic motifs in art, architecture, and urban planning became prevalent. A terrible inroad of Gauls, or as the Greeks termed them Galatians, spread desolation far and wide, and in the spring of 280 BC Macedonia was overrun by the terrible invaders, who, not content with murdering, ravishing, and burning, apparently even ate the Greek children. Antiochus I. gained his title of Soter or the "Saviour" by a great victory gained over these invaders. Lucian tells us that the Gauls, who possessed forty thousand cavalry and many war chariots, were preparing to charge when the elephants of Antiochus moved to the front and by their mere appearance terrified the horses and caused a mad stampede.

There were only three empires or kingdoms left, with a fringe of independent states. The most important in area, population, and resources was ruled by the house of Seleucus. The later years of Antiochus are wrapped in some obscurity. The reign of Antiochus II, Antiochus Theus, 262-246 BC, whose tide of the "Deity" was bestowed by the city of Miletus, was marked for some years by a continuance of the dreary war with Egypt. It was during this reign that Bactria, in conjunction with Soghdiana and Margiana, broke away from the empire under its governor Diodotus, who was allowed to organize his kingdom undisturbed for many years before a Seleucid monarch attempted to reassert his claims. A few years later, in 249 BC, Parthia also revolted and established its independence. Little did the Seleucids realize that the small cloud on the northern confines of the empire was destined before long to overcast the whole horizon of Anterior Asia.

Although the Seleucids faced challenges from the Ptolemies of Egypt and from the growing power of Rome, the main threat came from the province of Fars (Partha to the Greeks). Arsaces (of the seminomadic Parni tribe), whose name was used by all subsequent Parthian kings, revolted against the Seleucid governor in 247 BC and established a dynasty, the Arsacids, or Parthians. The events of this period are extremely difficult to follow, but the death of Seleucus Callinicus ["Splendid Victor"] in 226 BC prevented any attempt to reunite the vast but unwieldy possessions of the house of Seleucus.

During the second century BC, the Parthians were able to extend their rule to Bactria, Babylonia, Susiana, and Media, and, under Mithradates II (123-87 BC), Parthian conquests stretched from India to Armenia. After the victories of Mithradates II, the Parthians began to claim descent from both the Greeks and the Achaemenids. They spoke a language similar to that of the Achaemenids, used the Pahlavi script, and established an administrative system based on Achaemenid precedents.

Meanwhile, Ardeshir, son of the priest Papak, who claimed descent from the legendary hero Sasan, had become the Parthian governor in the Achaemenid home province of Persis (Fars). In AD 224 he overthrew the last Parthian king and established the Sassanid dynasty, which was to last 400 years.

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Page last modified: 20-11-2011 19:25:25 ZULU