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E.R. Bevan on Antiochus IV

December 23, 2014

The following is an account by E. R. Bevan of some aspects of the reign of Antiochus IV, king of Syria, Palestine, and Mesopotamia in the first part of the second century B.C.

Bevan, Edwyn Robert, 1902. THE HOUSE OF SELEUCUS, Vol II, Edward Arnold, London.
Pages 148-161.




WHILE Rome circumscribed the activity of Antiochus as a conqueror, he had great scope left him as the radiant champion and patron of Hellenism, both within his own dominions and abroad.  He sustained this character abroad by bestowing magnificent presents upon the old seats of Hellenism in Asia Minor and Greece, and by throwing open to their artists and craftsmen lucrative employment in Syria.  We may question whether any principal city did not look on some new em­bellishment, a temple, an altar, a colonnade, which declared continually the glory and the munificence of King Antiochus. The beloved Athens was, of course, chosen for special honour. To the south-east of the Acropolis stood the noble beginnings of a temple of Zeus Olympius, which Pisistratus had planned some 360 years before and left unfinished.  Antiochus under­took to replace it by a new and more splendid fane.  On his commission the Roman architect Decimus Cossutius began the construction of a gigantic temple gurrounded by a double colonnade of Corinthian pillars, not in stone, like those of Pisistratus, but in Pentelic marble-” one of the largest Greek temples in the world,” whose remaining columns, standing in bare isolation, make even to-day a principal feature of Athens. But Antiochus also did not live to finish what he began. His temple too stood for 300 years incomplete, the marvel of the world, till it was finished and opened by the Emperor Hadrian (130 A.D.).  Another conspicuous gift of Antiochus in Athens was the gilt Gorgon’s head upon a golden aegis, which flamed upon the southern wall of the Acropolis above the theatre.  In Syria special privileges were conferred upon Athenian citizens.

Ruins of the temple of Zeus at Athens

Of the gifts of Antiochus elsewhere the following are recorded; at Delos, some statues about the altar;  at Olympia, a curtain of Oriental embroidery; at Megalopolis, a wall (not completely carried out) about the city; at Tegea, a marble theatre (also not finished); at Cyzicus, golden plate for one of the tables in the public hall.

Within his own dominions the activity of Antiochus in the cause of Hellenism could be more various.  Besides lavishing his treasure upon the adornment of existing Greek cities, he could create new ones.  He could also adjust the constitutions and forms of city life more closely to the Hellenic ideal.

The capital naturally received a great share of his attention. He added a new quarter, Epiphanea, which climbed the slopes of Mount Silpius behind the older Antioch, and included within its wall precipitous places and rushing torrents.  This made Antioch to be a complex of four cities, a tetrapolis, each city being divided off from the rest by an inner wall, while one outer wall embraced the whole complex, scaling the steep sides of the mountain and spanning the ravines.

The theatre, whose remains can still be traced, was in this region.  It had perhaps existed before the time of Antiochus Epiphanes, only without the city.  Here too was the Senate-house, erected doubtless by Antiochus, and perhaps already adorned with the porticoes and pictures described by Libanius. High up in the new city, near the “Citadel,” which tradition asserted to be the site of the pre-historic Greek settlement, Antiochus reared a temple of Jupiter Capitolinus – at once gratifying his passion for splendour and advancing his policy.

It was in keeping with his other sumptuous works, and had not only the usual gilt ceiling, but the walls covered with plates of gold.

There are evidences that of all the Greek deities it was Zeus Olympius who called forth the most enthusiasm in Antiochus.  Not only was it for him that Antiochus built the vast temple in Athens, but this god now reappears upon the coins, where he had ceased to figure since the days of Seleucus I. At Daphne, in the temple of Apollo, there was an image of him which Antiochus set up.  It was a close copy in form, material and size of the great chryselephantine work of Phidias at Olympia.  The Nike, which it carried in its hand, was of gold.  Daphne, of course, like Olympia, was a place for athletic contests; the stadion seems to have been close under the temple, and it would be as the dispenser of victory that Zeus would be worshipped.

On the cliffs above the city one can still trace the outlines of a sculptured colossal bust, feminine seemingly, with a mystic head-gear and lappets falling over the shoulders.  This is the remains of a group of sculptures which was known as the Charonion.  According to Malalas, it was made by Antiochus Epiphanes as a charm against pestilence.  Nothing is left of any of the other works with which Antiochus embellished his capital-such as the statue of a man quelling a bull, which represented, according to the local tradition, Antiochus himself subduing the robber tribes of the Taurus.

Besides adding to the material splendours of Antioch, Antiochus gave its political institutions, in accordance with a plan which we shall see extended to other of the cities of the kingdom, a form which corresponded more nearly to the autonomy required by Hellenic theory.  Now first do bronze coins appear, issued, not in the name of the King, but of Antioch-near-Daphne.  Only the head of Antiochus appears as that of a patron-deity, invested with rays.  It is significant that the Senate-house (…) was in the new city which owed its origin to him. It may be owing to him that the Athenian model was copied in Antioch.  The people (…) assembled in the theatre to pass decrees.  Antiochus perhaps introduced the names of the Athenian months.  Antioch even had a body of citizen cavalry, like the Athenian “knights.” They rode in the procession at Daphne with crowns of gold and silver.

The extension of the freedom of Antioch appears, it has just been said, as part of a general scheme by which Antiochus adjusted the status of the cities of the kingdom.  In many cases it involved the adoption by the city of the name of Antioch or Epiphanea.  In Cilicia, Adana becomes Antioch­-on-Sarus, and Tarsus Antioch-on-Cydnus, and both issue coins in their new name. Oeniandus became Epiphanea. Mopsu-hestia strikes with the head of Antiochus and the name of Seleucia-on-Pyramus; Castabala with the head of Antioclius and the name Hieropolis.

In Syria, not only the capital, but the other principal cities now strike bronze-Seleucia, Apamea, Laodicea-on-the-­sea, Alexandria (mod. Alexandretta), Hieropolis, all in their own names, but with the radiate head of Antiochus and a type connected with Zeus upon the reverse. In all these cases the existing name was safe from change, but in other places new Antiochs and Epiphaneas appeared.  The ancient Hamath in the Orontes valley (mod. Hamat), the rival of Damascus in the time of David, became Epiphanea; an Antioch and an Epiphanea are mentioned close together on the Euphrates. In the country conquered from Ptolemy by Antiochus III, Gadara bore for a time the names of Antioch and Seleucia. In the same region there was an Antioch-near-Hippus. Ptolemais strikes bronze of a similar type to that already mentioned, calling itself Antioch-in-Ptolemais. Lastly, Jeru­salem, when reconstructed as a Greek city, took rank among the Antiochs.

The coins (bronze) which the Phoenician cities and Ascalon strike with the radiate head of Antiochus differ from those before mentioned in having not only the image of the King, but the superscription (…).  Does this corre­spond to any difference in their status, any imperfection in their Hellenic character?  The superscription of the city usually appears in addition to that of the King, sometimes in Greek-(…) – sometimes in Phoenician-” (Coin) of Gebal the Holy,” “Of Tyre, Mother of the Sidonians,” “Of Sidon, Mother of Chamb (Carthage), Hippo, Cheth (Citium in Cyprus), Tyre,” Of Laodicea which is in Canaan.”

In Mesopotamia the two chief cities strike bronze with the head of Antiochus.  Nisibis had probably already the name of Antioch-in-Mygdonia.  Even Edessa, where the Aramsean element was so strong, is now Antioch-on-Callirho. But the Hellenism which Antiochus propagated went further than political forms, or even real political privileges. It extended to the sphere of social and private life, to the manner of thought and speech, to religious practice. “And king Antiochus wrote to his whole kingdom, that all should be one people, and that each should forsake his own Jaws.” Beneath the naive phrase of the Hebrew writer there lies the truth that the transformation which he saw going on around him in the life of the Syrian peoples was forwarded by the active encouragement of the court.  It worked in with a policy deliberately adopted by those that ruled. Imaginative and sentimental Hellenism was no doubt in part the motive which governed Antiochus, but there were considerations of policy as well. Some principle was needed to unite and fuse a realm whose weakness was that it had no national unity.  And Antiochus, like Alexander, of whom indeed he often reminds us-an Alexander run wild-sees such a principle in a uniform culture, resting upon a system of Greek cities, and obliterating or softening the old differences of race and tradition.  It was not exactly a new idea, but it no doubt revived with a new sort of splendour, it stood out more distinctly as an imposing ideal, in the glow and colour it took from the strange fire of Antiochus the Fourth.

Perhaps we are in some danger of misconceiving this process of Hellenizing.  We think of it chiefly in connexion with the peculiar case of the Jews, or with the opposition of “Oriental conservatism” to “Western ideas” in our own day, and are inclined to picture Antiochus as forcing at the point of the sword an alien civilization upon an unwilling people. Nothing could be further from the truth.  There is no trace of opposition to Hellenism from the Orientals generally.  “All the nations agreed according to the word of the King.” The conversion to Hellenic cities was not something which the King compelled ancient communities to undergo, it was something which he conceded as a favour.  Envoys from such communities were seen about the court, petitioning that it might be allowed them “through the King’s authority to set up a gymnasium and form a body of epheboi, and to register the inhabitants of the city as Antiochenes.” There was enough force and attraction in Hellenism itself to render compulsion, had Antiochus contemplated it, superfluous.

It must be taken into account that Hellenism, as understood by Antiochus and the Syrian cities, was not the Hellenism of the great days of Greece.  That had implied some sterner virtues-reverence for the ideal of Law, sacrifice for the ideal of the City, self-respect  honour, sobriety.  Without these qualities perhaps Hellenic culture had never grown, but, once grown, it yielded certain products, certain political and religious forms, articulate ideas, intellectual methods, which might be imparted without the moral strength of the old Hellenic character. The reception of this easy Hellenism put no demand upon the will and offered gratifications to self-conceit.  Between Hellenic religion and the religion of the heathen Syrians there was no incompatibility.   The Phoenician had no objection to celebrating fourth-year festivals after the Greek manner, or to calling Melkarth Heracles when he spoke Greek, and the Seleucid court did not object to the ancient Phoenician script appearing on the same coin as the head of the deified Antiochus.

The deified Antiochus! For this later Hellenism could not only supply the kingdom with a uniform culture but with a common cult.  And here again Antiochus did no more than accentuate what he inherited from his predecessors.  The worship of the Macedonian kings in the Greek cities goes back, as we saw, to the time of Alexander.

But undoubtedly Antiochus IV lays more stress upon his deity than former kings. His surname Theos Epiphanes declares him to be an effulgence in human form of the Divine, a god manifest in flesh.  Now first the addition of Theos is put upon the money, and the head which appears on the new coinage of the cities is crowned with rays.  There is even ground to believe that Antiochus identified himself with the Supreme God, with Zeus; he sometimes adds to his surname the epithet Nikephoros, which distinguished the Nike-bearing Zeus of Olympia. It was no doubt in part his love of theatrical pomp, of what kindled the imagination, which made Antiochus magnify himself above all gods,” but he was also acting consistently with his great plan.  It seemed natural to the ancients that every association-the family, the club, the city, the nation-should be bound together by some common worship, and when a number of communities and peoples were brought under a single sceptre, the unorganized medley of religions presented a serious difficulty.  Merely to Hellenize them superficially by identifying the various deities with this or that Greek god hardly met the case; the Zeus of this place remained as different from the Zeus of that place as when they had had no common name.  Hellenic religion in itself was too unorganized to be a means of organization.

But the God-King gave a fixed object of worship among the chaos of the local cults. His worship, regarded in one way, agreed with the rationalistic tendencies developed in later Hellenism while, on the other hand, if there were circles in which it was mingled with any real faith, it might so far supply the need which, now that the barriers of the old societies were done away, the world was feeling-the need of a God.  And his worship corresponded with the actual facts, for if, as has been said, in antiquity “Church and State were one,” and the monarchical state with no bond of union but the subjection to one man had to find its religious meeting-place, the identification of God and King was not far to seek.

Nor do we hear of any opposition to this worship on the part of the peoples of Syria generally.  Had their national worships been suppressed by it, there might have been trouble, but their gods were not jealous gods, and tolerated the new deity in their midst quite comfortably.  One may see on a coin of Byblos, the “holy Gebal,” its ancient Oriental deity, with his six wings and branching head-dress, on one side, and on the other side Autiochus with his crown of rays.  Even the Samaritans, if the letter in their name is genuine, addressed him as the Manifest God.

That a point of union was consciously sought in this worship the new coinage of the cities immediately suggests, struck in different places from Adana to Ascalon, but all with the same glorified head.  And the uniformity extends beyond the King’s head.  Nearly all have for their reverse type a form of Zeus.  But if Antiochus identified himself with Zeus, this further uniformity receives a clear explanation.  The identifica­tion, again, with Zeus, over and above the abstract claim to deity, may have had some motive in policy.  We find in Egypt that the Ptolemies turned their deity to profitable account by diverting religious revenues from the temples to their own treasury.  And although the case of Egypt, where the deification of kings was traditional and taken seriously, differs from the case of Hellenistic cities, we may still suspect that the identification of the King with Zeus in Syria gave him a pretext for appropriating the funds of the temples. And that this was so is borne out by what we are told of the actual dealings of Antiochus.  He identified the God of the Jews with Zeus Olympius and he took the treasures of the Temple.  At Hieropolis, where the deity was feminine, but identified with Hera, he claimed the temple treasures as his wife’s dowry.  His spendthrift magnificence drove him to perpetual necessity, and before the end of his reign he had laid hands on the riches of nearly all the temples in Syria.

The regeneration of what remained of the Seleucid Empire by means of Hellenism was perhaps joined in the thought of Antiochus Epiphanes with the restoration of it to something of its former extent  He knew himself not strong enough, as he was, to break with Rome, but in the north and east the field was held only by native powers, and, once conqueror of the East, he might face the western situation with quite another countenance.  Where Rome forbad him be would not yet intrude, but in Asia Minor at any rate he disap­pointed Rome of its advantage by his alliance with the ruling courts.

In Cappadocia his sister Antiochis was queen, and seems to have had her mild husband, Ariarathes IV Eusebes, corn­pletely in her hands.  It was afterwards said (with what truth we cannot judge) that the two elder sons, with whom she presented him, Ariarathes and Orophernes, were suppositious; it was at any rate the youngest, called at first Mithridates, upon whom his parents fixed their affection’s. The two elder were sent to be educated away from Cappadocia, Ariarathes at Rome, and Orophernes in Ionia. Mithridates was designated for the throne. Perhaps it was already during the life of Antiochus Epiphanes that Antiochis came with one of her daughters to Syria  Whether it was merely on a visit to her brother that she came, or to reside in her old home, we do not gather. But that she died in Antioch we may infer from the fact that her bones were there in 163.

In Armenia, it will be remembered, Artaxias in the northern country, and Zariadris in Sophene, had declared themselves independent kings after Magnesia.  later on their example had been followed in a region as near to the capital as Commagene, whose governor, Ptolemy, renounced his allegiance to the Seleucid court, and tried to wrest from
Cappadocia the district of Melitene across the Euphrate- In this he was foiled by Ariarathes Eusebes.

In the summer of 166 or 165 Antiochus marched out from Antioch at the head of an army for the reconquest of the North and East.  He left behind him his child Antiochus Eupator, who had been associated in the throne since 170, and Lysias to be guardian and regent.  He was propelled not only by the desire of glory, but by the urgent necessity of money, since neither the savings of Seleucus Philopator, nor the spoils of Egypt, nor the treasures of the Syrian temples had been able to meet his reckless expenditure, and it was no longer possible to do without the tribute from the revolted provinces.

His first attack seems to have fallen upon Armenia.  It was a brilliant success.  The defence of Artaxias collapsed. But Antiochus, in accordance with the policy of his father in this region, did not remove him.  He contented himself with the acknowledgment of fealty, and, still more important no doubt, the payment of tribute.

From Armenia Antiochus moved to Iran.  But in doing so he moves, as Seleucus Nicator and Antiochus III did, out of our field of vision.

The most serious part of his task would be to try con­clusions with the house of Arsaces, now represented by the able Mithridates I (Arsaces VI, 171-138). Already his father Phriapatius or his brother Phraates had torn from Media the northern region about Rhagae before his accession; the southern Media with Ecbatana still obeyed the Milesian Timarchus who ruled the eastern provinces for King Antiochus.  There were also other princes of lesser power with whom Antiochus would have to reckon, such as the king of Lesser Media (Atropatene), or the ruler of Persis, not to speak of the petty chiefs of the hills.  Persis had probably already broken away under a native dynasty on whose coins are emblems of the Zoroastrian religion and the title “Lord of lords.” Their forces even set foot on the opposite Arabian coast, and were engaged there by Numenins, the Seleucid satrap of Mesene.

The attempt of Antiochus Epiphanes to reconquer the East was one of several attempts made by the house of Seleucus in the last century of its rule.  And it is important to realize once for all the existence of the element there which gravitated towards union and gave the Seleucid kings an immense advantage-if they were able to use it.  In the provinces which passed under barbarian rule the Greek cities planted by Alexander, Seleucus and Antiochus Soter continued to exist; yes, and to form, we may be sure, the centres of the life, the commerce and the energy of the lands in which they were.  But the barbarian yoke only made them more passion­ately Hellenic; they turned with a sort of national sentiment to the house of Seleucus, the mightiest and most glorious representative of Hellenic supremacy in the East.  We have seen that at the time of Antiochus III’s invasion of Hyrcania his adversaries had thought it necessary to put the Greek population of Sirynca to the sword. But the Arsacid kings were too shrewd to think of exterminating the Greeks; they tried hard to conciliate them. To what extent Hellenism had penetrated the Parthian court at this time we do not know, but it is obvious that the Arsacids were fain to present themselves to their Greek subjects as sympathetic protectors. The money of the kingdom was stamped exclusively with Greek legends, and from the time of Mithridates I they commonly added to their other surnames that of “Phil-Hellene.” But they were unable to make the Greeks overlook the differ­ence between a barbarian and a western dynasty; the cities of the Parthian kingdom were always ready to make common cause with a Seleucid, and later on with a Roman, invader. This condition of things was a conspicuous justification of the colonizing policy of Alexander and his successors.  It made the reconquest of the East by Oriental dynasties enormously more difficult and slow, and with a stronger Hellenic power than the later Seleucid, or a nearer than Rome, might have saved Western Asia for Hellenism.

Bearing all this in mind, we see that an important part of the task of Antiochus Epiphanes in the East would be the strengthening of the Greek cities.  And in fact there are indications that he did not neglect it.  Ecbatana exchanged even its old and famous name for Epiphanea, perhaps on receiving a new Greek colony. The Alexandria on the lagoon between the Tigris and Eulaens, which had been destroyed by floods (“an indication that the canal-system of Babylonia had been allowed again to fall out of repair”) he restored as an Antioch.  Antiochus also resumed the work of Alexander in having a survey made of the coast westward from this Antioch, and it was not improbably in accomplishing this that Numenius, the satrap of Mesene, came into collision with the Persians.

In contrast with measures which have every appearance of wise policy is the fresh attempt of Antiochus to get the treasures which were heaped up in the Elymaean temples into his hands.  He tried to break into a temple of some native goddess, Istar or Anaitis, and fared so far better than his father that he escaped with his life.  Against a people filled with religious frenzy the royal mercenaries could not make head.  The same thing was appearing, as we shall shortly see, in other fields.

It was soon after this repulse, in the midst of his hopes and projects, that Antiochus Epiphanes was seized by a fatal malady-epilepsy, perhaps, or something which affected the brain. He died at Tabae in Persia in the winter of 165-164.