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The Seleucid Empire was a Hellenistic state ruled by the Seleucid dynasty, which lasted from 312 BC to 63 BC. It was established by Seleucus I Nicator after the division of the Macedonian Empire, which Alexander the Great had greatly expanded.
See the fact file below for more information on the Seleucid Empire or alternatively, you can download our 22-page Seleucid Empire worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.
Key Facts & Information
- The Seleucid Empire was a Hellenistic kingdom from 312 BC to 63 BC.
- It was ruled by the Seleucid dynasty and founded by Seleucus I Nicator after Alexander the Great created division in the empire. Seleucus married his daughter, Helena, to Chandragupta Maurya of the Mauryan Empire when she was just 16 years old.
- Chandragupta sent 500 war elephants in a return gesture, a military decision that would play a decisive role in the Battle of Ipsus in 301 BC.
- Seleucus took control of Babylonia, and from there, he extended its dominions to include most of the near-eastern territories of Alexander.
- This included central Anatolia, Persia, the Levant, Mesopotamia, and what is now Kuwait, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, and northwestern parts of India.
- The Seleucid Empire consisted of nothing more than Antioch and some Syrian cities by 100 BC. Given the apparent collapse of power and the fall of the empire around them, nobles continued to regularly play kingmakers with occasional interference from Ptolemaic Egypt and other external forces.
FOUNDATION AND EXPANSION
- Alexander the Great defeated the Persian Achaemenid Empire by 330 BC. After his death, his generals were left with a wide empire that encompassed Greece, Mesopotamia, Anatolia, Egypt, the Levant, and Central Asia.
- After a power struggle, they split it between themselves, with Cassander taking Athens, Ptolemy I Soter Egypt, Lysimachus Thrace and Anatolia, Antigonus – who had held Anatolia – dying in 301 BC in the Battle of Ipsus, and Seleucus, claiming Babylon as his own and taking Mesopotamia and Central Asia.
- Alexander had expanded his scope to India, founding cities and leaving them to administer satraps (governors). In 305 BC, King Chandragupta Maurya took back a number of these regions, and Seleucus launched the Seleucid-Mauryan War (305-303 BC), which resulted in a treaty in which Seleucus, in return for trade agreements and protection for its borders, surrendered the regions concerned.
- To rule the eastern regions, he established a capital, the city of Antioch on the Orontes River, which would govern the western part of his empire. He also established the city of Seleucia on the Tigris River.
- Seleucus ruled from Antioch and was co-ruler of Seleucia with his son, Antiochus I Soter (co-ruler 291-281 BC, ruler 281-261 BC.
DEVELOPMENT AND GOVERNMENT
- Antiochus I Soter became emperor and continued the policies of his father to promote a homogeneous empire that combined Hellenistic cultural values with those of the Near East. Scholar Cormac O’Brien explains the policy on Seleucid:
“To rule as Greeks in an immense sea of non-Greeks would have been foolish, if not impossible, and so the Seleucids became both. With their own administration forming merely the newest of a series of ethnic layers that went back centuries, Seleucus and his successors were happy to embrace the cults, gods, and practices of the venerable states that came before them. That was the spirit of Hellenism – the amalgamation of West and East that forged a dynamic new era. And the Seleucid enterprise was its clearest manifestation.”
- The Achaemenid Persian Empire had functioned as well as it did through a policy of centralized government with decentralized administration. The king (emperor) was the supreme power, but he took counsel from his advisors, who passed his decrees to secretaries, who then relayed these to regional governors (the satraps).
- Each satrapy was governed by a governor who had jurisdiction over administrative-bureaucratic matters only, while another official – a trusted general – supervised military/police affairs. This division of responsibilities in every satrapy reduced a regional governor’s chance to amass enough power from a loyal army to attempt a coup. A region’s governor lacked military force, and the general lacked funds to bribe an army to support a takeover of force.
ANTIOCHUS III THE GREAT
- After Seleucus’ death, the Seleucid Empire began declining, but another power was rapidly growing. While the Seleucids were masters of land battle and commerce, the seas (economically and militarily) were ruled by the North African city of Carthage.
- Carthage came into conflict with the small city-state of Rome in 264 BC over a dispute between two Sicilian kingdoms in which each had a vested interest.
- This rivalry culminated in the First Punic War (264-241 BC), which concluded with Rome as the new superpower, and in defeat, Carthage was responsible to pay a large war fee.
- Nevertheless, whatever happened to Rome and Carthage was of little interest to the rulers of Seleucid, as it was opposed to their efforts to hold the empire intact.
- With all the protections against rebellion in place and lenient policies about the cultural and religious traditions of the peoples, the Seleucids also could not contain the appetite of the people for independence to decide their own destiny.
- The fall of the Seleucid Empire was halted and then reversed by the son of Seleucus II Callinicus, Antiochus III (ruler 223-187 BC, known as The Great). He personally led troops across the empire, defeating upstart states and restoring them to the fold.
- Antiochus III campaigned from the Levant to India for six years (c. 210-204 BC), subduing Bactria, making peace with Parthia, and winning out of Egypt, Judea, and Syria.
Seleucid Empire Worksheets
This is a fantastic bundle which includes everything you need to know about the Seleucid Empire across 22 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use Seleucid Empire worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about the Seleucid Empire which was a Hellenistic state ruled by the Seleucid dynasty, which lasted from 312 BC to 63 BC. It was established by Seleucus I Nicator after the division of the Macedonian Empire, which Alexander the Great had greatly expanded.
Complete List Of Included Worksheets
- Seleucid Empire Facts
- Antiochus III
- Fact or Fiction
- The Kingdoms
- Draw a Line
- Dynasty Wordscape
- Questions Addressed
- The Importance
- Empire Fall
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