The Seleucid Empire was both the largest and the least stable of the empires that were carved out of the empire of Alexander the Great. Its greatest leader was probably its founder, Seleucus I, but close behind was Antiochus III. He inherited an empire that was in serious decline (his father was murdered on campaign in Asia Minor and large parts of the Empire had become independent) and managed to regain control of large areas that had been claimed by his predecessors, most famously in the east, but also in Coele Syria and Asia Minor. Antiochus is such a major figure that he is given an entire volume in NN's three volume history of the Seleucid Empire, and he rather deserves that accolade.
The author looks beyond Antiochus's military successes and failures and also examines his attempts to improve the long term stability of his Empire. This included treating his eldest son as a co-ruler (although clearly subordinate to Antiochus), and attempts to include his son in diplomatic agreements, so that they would outlive Antiochus. Although Antiochus successfully restored Seleukid control of much of the original Empire, he failed in his biggest challenge - to give the Seleukid Empire a more stable structure that would allow it to survive under less able monarchs. Some of his work on this is visible to us - the establishment of a religious cult devoted to the Imperial family for instance, but he failed to give the Empire any central institutions, or a workable government, and after his death the story is one of near constant decline, the loss of territory (at first on the outer edges of Empire, but eventually in its Syrian heart), civil wars and breakaway kingdoms, before eventually the last remnants of the Empire were swept away by a decree of Pompey the Great.
To a certain extent Antiochus's life feels like it falls into two very different parts. The early part of his life, where he was dealing with the Ptolomies, the eastern satrapies or the minor powers of Asia Minor feels like it belongs to the period of Alexander the Great. The second part of his life, when the Romans came onto the scene, feels rather more familiar. One gets the impression that Antiochus didn't really understand the Romans - his intervention in mainland Greece in the aftermath of their wars with Philip V of Macedon were always likely to trigger a military reaction from the Romans, but he doesn't appear to appreciated that. Having been defeated in Greece, he attempted to make peace, a move that was again unlikely to succeed (and he had the advantage of having Hannibal at his court by this time).
This is a useful biography of a major figure in the Hellenistic World, bringing him to life in his own right, rather than as just another stepping stone during Rome's rise to dominance in the Ancient World.
1 – The New King's Survival
2 – The Fourth Syrian War
3 – Akhais and Attalos
4 – The Expedition to the East
5 – Asia Minor Again
6 – The Fifth Syrian War: Syrian
7 – The Fifth Syrian War: Asia Minor
8 – Thrace, Peace, and the Romans
9 – The Roman War: Greece
10 – The Roman War: Asia
11 – Return to the East
Author: John D. Grainger
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military