The Rise of the Seleukid Empire 323-223 BC, John D Grainger

The Rise of the Seleukid Empire 323-223 BC, John D Grainger

Despite the title this book actually looks at the rise and first fall of the Seleucid Empire. After a strong start the succession to the throne caused an increasing number of problems, peaking with the War of the Brothers of c.241-236, and Antiochus III the Great inherited an empire that had lost most of its eastern and western provinces to usurpers and invaders.

Seleucus I emerges as the most successful member of the dynasty. At the death of Alexander the Great he was a fairly junior army officer. In the immediate aftermath of Alexander's death he established himself as satrap of Babylon, but he was expelled from this position by Antigonus Monophthalmus, and fled into exile in Egypt. After a few years he was able to re-establish his rule in Babylon, and from then on his empire kept on expanding, until at his death he controlled all of Alexander's empire apart from Egypt and Macedonia. None of his successors were able to control quite such a large area, with bits of Anatolia falling away very quickly, but the system he set up survived Seleucus's death, and his son inherited one of the most powerful empires of the ancient world.

This isn't a well documented empire. If it produced any historians of its own their work hasn't survived. An increasing number of Babylonian records have emerged in recent years, and they are adding to our understanding of the period, but even major events such as the repeated wars with Egypt are often poorly recorded, while events in the east of the empire are often very obscure. Grainger has done an excellent job of bringing together our limited sources to produce a coherent history of this ancient power, while still acknowledging that there are areas where we simply don't know what happened.

My only quibble with this book is the use of 'k' instead of 'c'. This may well be more technically accurate, and in some places it doesn't really matter (Seleukid vs Seleucid), but for others, such as Cilicia, which appears in the text and index as Kilikia it becomes a bit of a problem. It is also applied somewhat inconsistently, with Cyrene instead of Kyrene, Cyprus instead of Kyrus.

This is only a minor quibble, and I am greatly looking forward to reading the second book in the series, on Antiochus II, and the final book, looking at the century-long second collapse of the empire.

1 - The Collapse of Alexander's Empure
2 - Ptolemy's Commander
3 - Seleukos and Babylon
4 - Seleukos' First Kingdom
5 - Expedition to the East
6 - The Grand Alliance
7 - New Enmities, New Cities
8 - Antiochos in the East
9 - Seleukos in the West
10 - Antiochos I and the Galatians
11 - The New State
12 - Creeping Imperialism
13 - Antiochos II
14 - War, Collapse, and Fragmentation
15 - Failure

Author: John D Grainger
Edition: Hardcover
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military

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