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Seleucus 'Nicator', son of Antiochus

In some ways it is easier to say what we don’t know about Seleucus, for even though he is one of the better known names of Alexander’s companions this is largely because of his career after 323BC, rather than because of his exploits during Alexander’s lifetime. In fact, he appears very little in the sources and, had he not achieved so much, eventually, following the council of Triparadeisos, he would possibly have been little more than a half-remembered name on the roster of Alexander’s marshals.

The first thing we don’t know (for sure) is when he was born, or where. Various sources give his birth as 358BC (Justin), 356BC (Eusebius, although this date was fixed possibly merely for obvious propaganda reasons), 354BC (Appian). Heckel suggests 358 as the most likely. As for where he was born, we do know that the town was Europos, although there were two places of that name in Macedonia. The most probable is that which stood on the river Axios, near Macedonia’s northern border (Heckel, ‘Marshals’, p.254; Grainger, ‘Seleukos Nikator’, p.4). More certain is that his father was Antiochus (Justin 13.4.17), his mother Laodice (Justin 15.4.3). A late source credits him with a sister, Didymea; and there is a slight possibility that he had an uncle, Ptolemaios, although neither of these two relatives can be claimed with any certainty.

Antiochus is not known to us, but he was probably of some rank, for Seleucus entered Philip’s corps of Pages between 345 and 340BC (depending on when he was actually born).

Other than this scanty evidence, the Alexander sources are silent about Seleucus until he is named as the commander of the agema of hypaspists, shortly before the battle of the Hydaspes in 326BC. It is possible that he was given the command in 330, as Hephaestion would have had to relinquish the post (which he had held at Gaugamela) when he was appointed co-commander of the Companions. But this is speculation only, even if it is logical. For ten years of Alexander’s reign, therefore, we hear nothing of the son of Antiochus, apart from his appearance in one of Alexander’s letters (Plut. ‘Alex’, 42.1). After the Hydaspes – in which he must have played a prominent part as commander of the agema – there are a few references to him during the campaigns in the Punjab; then there is nothing until the mass wedding at Susa in 324BC. There Alexander gave him Apama, daughter of Spitamenes, as his wife, whose high aristocratic descent is certainly a testimony of the esteem and trust in which Alexander held his compatriot. Even if we haven’t heard much of his actions in the years of campaigning, his marriage to Apama indicates that he was no slouch, and was loyal to boot.

Seleucus is one of those credited with keeping vigil in the temple of Serapis during Alexander’s last illness. Although the general fact of a vigil of some sort might be true, the story as it is preserved is almost certainly propaganda put about by Antigonus in 315BC (see Grainger, ‘Seleukos Nikator’, 1990, p.14). He also appears in a story that has him rescuing Alexander’s crown or wreath from the Euphrates – a story about the transfer of kingship which has a likely date of 307BC or shortly thereafter (see below).

Seleucus really came into his own after Alexander’s death. Perdikkas appointed him commander of the Companion Cavalry, but he turned against his new patron. Only one source, Cornelius Nepos, says that he was one of the conspirators who plotted against Perdikkas, but the fact that he kept his life after the regent’s death suggests that, even if he was not an active participant in the murder, he was sympathetic to the conspirators. By the time of the conference at Triparadeisos Seleucus was one of the leaders of the anti-Perdikkan army, and he helped to save Antipater from the wrath of the un-paid soldiers. His reward was the satrapy of Babylonia.

To begin with he appears not to have been taken very seriously by the other generals, but a series of battles against Antigonus and Demetrius proved that he was a formidable general, and they didn’t attack him again after around 308BC. Seleucus then spent some years growing his territory in the east, bringing most of Alexander’s old eastern empire under his control, during which time the news of Alexander IV’s murder was made public, and the satraps all proclaimed themselves king – Seleucus included. (It’s interesting that the Babylonians accepted that he had been their king since 312BC – see Grainger, p.112.) But as all the Diodochoi considered themselves to be ‘king of the Macedonians’, and there could realistically only be one king of all the Macedonians, there was bound to be trouble, and Seleucus moved westwards to take on his only serious rival – Antigonus. The result was the great battle of Ipsus, where Seleucus and Lysimachus (and reinforcing troops provided by Cassander) took on Antigonus and Demetrius. The result was a victory - Antigonus was killed in the fight and Demetrius fled, and the victors carved up more territory amongst themselves – Seleucus took Syria and Mesopotamia.

For the next twenty years Seleucus consolidated his kingdom, founding cities and holding Ptolemy at bay. He made his son Antiochus (son of Apama, whom Seleucus kept on after Alexander’s death) ruler of the ‘Upper Satrapies’ from 292BC – effectively his co-king, and one of the reasons why the large kingdom didn’t fall apart on Seleucus’ death, but continued as a cohesive empire (albeit gradually diminishing in size) until around 130BC.

Seleucus’ end came in 281BC, when he had already reached a venerable age. The previous year he had started a war against Lysimachus, whom he defeated and killed in battle near Sardis. His next objective was to cross over to Europe, but he was stabbed to death as he approached Lysimachea in Thrace. The murderer was Ptolemy Ceraunus, son of Ptolemy I and half-brother of Ptolemy II, who contrived to see the aged king alone in his tent and did away with him.

Written by marcus