Syria at the Death of Alexander the Great -- Seleucus Nicator -- The Extent of the Emplire -- Oracles and Prodigies concerning Seleucus -- Cities founded by him -- Seleucia-on-the-Tigris
In this book of Syrian history I have told how the Romans came into possession of Syria, and how they brought it to its present condition. It will not be amiss to tell how the Macedonians, who ruled Syria before the Romans, acquired the same country. After the Persians, Alexander became the sovereign of Syria as well as of all other peoples whom he found. He died leaving one son very small and 546 another yet unborn. The Macedonians, who were loyal to 547 the race of Philip, chose Ardius, the brother of Alexander, as king during the minority of Alexander's sons, although he was considered to be hardly of sound mind, and they changed his name from Ardius to Philip. They also kept careful guard over the wife, who was enceinte. Meanwhile Alexander's friends continued in charge of the conquered nations, divided into satrapies, which Perdiccas parcelled among them by the authority of King Philip. Not long afterward, when the true kings died, these satraps became kings. The first satrap of Syria was Laomednon of Mitylene, who derived his authority from Perdiccas and from Antipater, who succeeded the latter as prime minister. To this Laomedon, Ptolemy, the satrap of Egypt, came with a fleet and offered him a large sum of money if he would hand over Syria to him, because it was well situated for defending Egypt and for attacking Cyprus. When Laomedon refused Ptolemy seized him. Laomedon bribed his guards and escaped to Alcetas in Caria. Thus Ptolemy ruled Syria for a while, left a garrison there, and returned to Egypt.
Antigonus was satrap of Phrygia, Lycia, and Pamphylia. 549 Having been left as overseer of all Asia when Antipater went to Europe, he besieged Eumenes, the satrap of Cappadocia, who had been publicly declared an enemy of the Macedonians. The latter fled and brought Media under his power, but Antigonus afterward captured and killed him. When he returned he was received magnificently 550 by Seleucus, the satrap of Babylon. One day Seleucus 551 punished one of the governors without consulting Antigonus, who was present, and the latter became angry and demanded an accounting of his money and possessions. As Seleucus was inferior to Antigonus in power he fled to Ptolemy in Egypt. Thereupon Antigonus removed Blitor, the governor of Mesopotamia, from office, because he allowed Seleucus to escape, and took upon himself the government of Babylon, Mesopotamia, and all the countries from Media to the Hellespont, Antipater having died in the meantime. The other satraps at once became envious of his possession of so large a share of the territory; for which reason chiefly, and at the instance of Seleucus, Ptolemy, Lysimachus, the satrap of Thrace, and Cassander, the son of Antipater and leader of the Macedonians after his father's death, entered into a league with each other. They sent a joint embassy to Antigonus and demanded that he should share with them and with the other Macedonians who had lost their satrapies, his newly acquired lands and money. Antigonus treated their demand with scorn, and they jointly made war against him. Antigonus prepared to meet them. He drove out all of Ptolemy's garrisons in Syria and stripped him of all the possessions that he still retained in Phoenicia and Cle-Syria.
Then he marched beyond the Cilician gates, leaving his son Demetrius, who was about twenty-two years of age, at Gaza with an army to meet Ptolemy, who was coming from Egypt, but the latter defeated the young man badly in a battle near Gaza and compelled him to fly to his father. Ptolemy immediately sent Seleucus to Babylon to resume the government and gave him 1000 foot-soldiers and 300 horse for the purpose. With this small force Seleucus took Babylon, the inhabitants receiving him with enthusiasm, and within a short time he augmented his power greatly. Nevertheless Antigonus warded off the attack of Ptolemy and gained a splendid naval victory over him near Cyprus, in which his son Demetrius was the commander. On account of this very notable exploit the army began to call both Antigonus and Demetrius kings, as their own kings (Ardius, the son of Philip and Olympias, and the two sons of Alexander) were now dead. Ptolemy's army also 552 saluted him as king lest by inferiority of rank he should be 553 deemed less lofty than the victors in the late battle. Thus for these men similar consequences followed contrary events. All the others followed suit, and all the satraps became kings.
In this way Seleucus became king of Babylonia. He also acquired the kingdom of Media, slaying with his own hand in battle Nicator whom Antigonus had left as satrap of that country. He afterward waged many wars with Macedonians and barbarians. The two principal ones were with Macedonians, the second with Lysimachus, king of Thrace, the first with Antigonus at Ipsus in Phrygia, where Antigonus commanded in person and fought in person although he was above eighty years of age. Antigonus 554 was killed in battle, and then all the kings who had been 555 in league with Seleucus against him divided his territory among themselves. At this division all Syria from the Euphrates to the sea, also inland Phrygia, fell to the lot of Seleucus. Always lying in wait for the neighboring nations, strong in arms and persuasive in council, he acquired Mesopotamia, Armenia, the so-called Seleucid Cappadocia, the Persians, Parthians, Bactrians, Arabs, Tapyri, Sogdiani, Arachotes, Hyrcanians, and other adjacent peoples that had been subdued by Alexander, as far as the river Indus, so that the boundaries of his empire were the most extensive in Asia after that of Alexander. The whole region from Phrygia to the Indus was subject to Seleucus. He crossed the Indus and waged war with Androcottus, king of the Indians, who dwelt on the banks of that stream, until they came to an understanding with each other and contracted a marriage relationship. Some of these exploits were performed before the death of Antigonus and some afterward.
It is said that while he was still serving under Alexander and following him in the war against the Persians he consulted the Didyman oracle to inquire about his return to Macedonia and that he received for answer: --
"Do not hurry back to Europe; Asia will be much better for you."
It was said also that in Macedonia a great fire burst forth on his ancestral hearth without anybody lighting it; also that his mother saw in a dream that whatever ring she found she should give him to carry, and that he should be king at the place where he should lose the ring. She did find an iron ring with an anchor engraved on it, and he lost it near the Euphrates. It is said that at a later period, when he was returning to recover Babylon, he stumbled against a stone and that when he caused this stone to be dug up an anchor was found under it. When the soothsayers were alarmed at this prodigy, thinking that it portended delay, Ptolemy, the son of Lagus, who accompanied the expedition, said that an anchor was a sign of safety, not of delay. For this reason Seleucus, when he became king, used an engraved anchor for his signet-ring. Some say that while Alexander was still alive and looking on, another omen of the future power of Seleucus was made manifest in this wise. After Alexander had returned from India to Babylon and while he was sailing around the Babylonian lagoons with a view to the irrigation of the Assyrian fields from the Euphrates, 556 a wind struck him and carried away his diadem 557 and hung it on a bunch of reeds growing on the tomb of an ancient king. This of itself signified the early death of Alexander. They say that a sailor swam after it, put it on his own head, and, without wetting it, brought it to Alexander, who gave him at once a silver talent as a reward for his kind service. The soothsayers advised putting the man to death. Some say that Alexander followed their advice. Others say the contrary. Other narrators skip that part of the story and say that it was no sailor at all, but Seleucus who swam after the king's diadem, and that he put it on his own head to avoid wetting it. The signs turned out true as to both of them in the end, for Alexander departed from life in Babylon and Seleucus became the ruler of a larger part of his dominions than any other of Alexander's successors.
Such are the prophecies I have heard of concerning Seleucus. Directly after the death of Alexander he became the leader of the Companion cavalry, which Hephstion, and afterwards Perdiccas, commanded during the life of Alexander. After commanding the horse he became satrap of Babylon, and after satrap, king. As he was very successful in war he acquired the surname of Nicator. At 558 least that seems more probable than that he received it 559 from the killing of Nicator. He was of such a large and 28 powerful frame that once when a wild bull was brought for sacrifice to Alexander and broke loose from his ropes, Seleucus held him alone, with nothing but his hands, for which reason his statues are ornamented with horns. He built cities throughout the entire length of his dominions and named sixteen of them Antioch after his father, five Laodicea after his mother, nine after himself, and four after his wives, that is, three Apamea and one Stratonicea. Of these the two most renowned at the present time are the two Seleucias, one on the sea and the other on the river Tigris, Laodicea in Phnicia, Antioch under Mount Lebanon, and Apamea in Syria. To others he gave names from Greece or Macedonia, or from his own exploits, or in honor of Alexander; whence it comes to pass that in Syria and among the barbarous regions of upper Asia many of the towns bear Greek and Macedonian names, such as Berrha, Edessa, Perinthus, Maronea, Callipolis, Achaia, Pella, Orophus, Amphipolis, Arethusa, Astacus, Tegea, Chalcis, Larissa, Hera, and Apollonia; in Parthia also Sotera, Calliope, Charis, Hecatompylos, Achaia; in India Alexandropolis; in Scythia Alexandreschata. From the victories of Seleucus come the names of Nicephorium in Mesopotamia and of Nicopolis in Armenia very near Cappadocia.
They say that when he was about to build the two Seleucias a portent of thunder preceded the foundation of the one by the sea, for which reason he consecrated thunder as a divinity of the place. Accordingly the inhabitants worship thunder and sing its praises to this day. They say, also, that when the Magi were ordered to indicate the propitious day and hour for beginning the foundations of Seleucia-on-the-Tigris they falsified as to the hour because they did not want to have such a stronghold built against themselves. While the king was waiting in his tent for the appointed hour, and the army, in readiness to begin the work, stood quietly till Seleucus should give the signal, suddenly, at the true hour of destiny, they seemed to hear a voice ordering them on. So they sprang to their work with such alacrity that the heralds who tried to stop them 560 were not able to do so. When the work was brought to an 561 end Seleucus, being troubled in his mind, again made inquiry of the Magi concerning his city, and they, having first secured a promise of impunity, replied, "That which is fated, O King, whether it be for better or worse, neither man nor city can change, for there is a fate for cities as well as for men. It pleases the gods that this city shall endure for ages, because it was begun on the hour on which it was begun. We feared lest it should be a stronghold against ourselves, and falsified the appointed time. Destiny is stronger than crafty Magi or an unsuspecting king. For that reason the deity announced the more propitious hour to the army. It is permitted you to know these things so surely that you need not suspect us of deception still, for you were presiding over the army yourself, as king, and you had yourself ordered them to wait; but the army, ever obedient to you in facing danger and toil, could not now be restrained, even when you gave them the order to stop, but sprang to their work, not a part of them merely, but all together, and their officers with them, thinking that the order had been given. In fact it had been given. That was the reason why not even you could hold them back. What can be stronger in human affairs than a king, unless it be a god, who overcame your intention and supplanted us in giving you directions about the city; for the god is in hostility to us and to all the people round about? What can our resources avail hereafter with a more powerful race settled along side of us? This city of yours has had a fortunate beginning, it will be great and enduring. We beg that you will confirm your pardon of our fault which we committed from fear of the loss of our own prosperity." The king was pleased with what the Magi said and pardoned them. This is what I have heard about Seleucia.