Home > Antiochus IV > E.R. Bevan on Antiochus IV and the Conquest of Egypt

E.R. Bevan on Antiochus IV and the Conquest of Egypt

December 25, 2014

Below is E.R. Bevan’s account of the campaign of Antiochus IV in Egypt

Bevan, Edwyn Robert, 1902.


Edward Arnold, London.


Pages 126-147.

IT is probable that after assassinating Seleucus Philopator, Heliodorus proclaimed the infant son of Seleucus king.  He intended, of course, to wield the whole royal power himself, and he would have lost more than he gained by assuming the diadem. The real heir was Demetrius, the elder son of Seleucus, now a boy of some nine years, growing up as a hostage in Rome.  And there was yet another member of the royal house to be reckoned with.

Antiochus, the brother of Seleucus Philopator, was in Athens when the news of the coup d’dtat in Syria reached him.  He had betaken himself thither on being set at liberty, and had not only become an Athenian citizen, but had even been elected to the chief magistracy (that of …). Then whilst playing at being the successor of Pericles the prospect suddenly opened before him of being the successor of Seleucus Nicator.  It was not from Syria only, but from Pergamos that the call came to him.

The situation created by the murder of Seleucus jumped well with the policy of Eumenes.  The action of Seleucus during the war with Pharnaces shows that the hopes of Eumenes to heal the quarrel with the Seleucid house had so far been vain. But the irreconcilable sovereign was now gone, and instantly Eumenes saw his chance of securing that the vacant throne should be held by a friend. He offered Antiochus the help of the Pergamene arms in seizing the inheritance.

Antiochus left Athens and crossed over to Asia Minor. He had probably at this moment no resources.  But every-thing was provided.  Eumenes and his brother Attalus escorted him with a Pergamene army along the eastern road to the frontier of the two realms.  At their expense Antiochus was furnished with the externals of royalty.  A solemn treaty of friendship between the Attalid and the new Seleucid king was made with sacrifice, and, surrounded by the troops of Eumenes, Antiochus descended upon Syria.

The position of Antiochus in Syria does not seem to have been at first an easy one.  We have no exact information as to the sort of opposition he met with, but we can see that not only would Heliodorus confront him, but that his manifest usurpation, while children of Seleucus lived, would set against him many loyal adherents of the Seleucid house.  We also gather that in southern Syria there was a faction at work for the restoration of the province to Egypt.  Antiochus seems to have proceeded with a mixture of calculated mildness and equally calculated bloodshed. “And there shall arise in his (Seleucus IV’s) place a contemptible man, upon whom they have not conferred royal dignity, but he shall come in unawares, and shall seize the kingdom by guile.  And forces shall be utterly overwhelmed before him. . . . He shall practise fraud, and shall rise and become strong with (but) few men.  And by stealth he shall assail the mightiest men of (each) province, and he shall do what his fathers have not done; nor the fathers of his fathers.  Spoil and plunder and riches shall he scatter among them, and against strongholds shall he devise his devices.”

Whatever those manoeuvres were which we can no longer trace, Antiochus succeeded in bringing all his brother’s kingdom under his authority. The opposition melted away.  Heliodorus is no more heard of. Apollonius, one of the persons of greatest influence with the late king, retired to Miletus. The Jew Hyrcanus, who had made himself a petty prince in the country east of Jordan, committed suicide.  To get rid of the infant son of Seleucus, Antiochus resorted to the familiar device of employing an agent, whom he afterwards disowned. The child was assassinated at Antiochus’ word by Andronicus; Autiochus then turned upon Andronicus and put him to death

The man who had set himself upon the Syrian throne had for his contemporaries, and has for us, the fascination of enigma.  No other king of his house had been such as he. We must take into account, of course, that no other king had had the same sort of education. Instead of growing up in a palace among eunuchs and courtiers, he had grown up in Rome.  There was already in Rome the. beginning of that corruption which reached such fearful proportions later on, but the tradition of a purer time had not lost its power. Nowhere else was there found the same proud and ordered freedom, and the political morality of the Republic was still (in comparison with that of his native land) the admiration of the contemporary Greek.  The young Macedonian prince was received on friendly terms by the youth of the Roman aristocracy, and became intimate with many of the men in whose hands the destiny of the world rested. The effect of such surroundings can be traced in the character of Antiochus IV. He had come into contact with a political system more vigorous and effective than that of Asiatic monarchy, and a new vigour and elan, as we say, marked his rule.  He had consorted as an equal with equals, and his character acquired a republican bent, his manner scandalized the court by its unceremonious freedom, its undignified familiarity.  He had, besides that, violently caught the fashionable Hellenism with its republican ideals and shibboleths.  We have seen that on being set at liberty he had at once gone to the metropolis of Hellenic culture, to Athens, and entered upon the life of a citizen.

These influences acting upon some temperaments might have made it tell powerfully in the world to valuable ends. But in Antiochus they were thrown away, owing to the incurable superficiality of his character. That quality in his father which had made him to be affected by the ex­ternal aspect of things rather than by their real import, by what was showy rather than by what was sound-this was reproduced more saliently in Antiochus IV.  His imagination and sentiment outran his reason.  Pageantry, theatrical display were his delight. The reign of his quiet brother looked tame beside his, with its spirited movement and bold action, but it was Seleucus Philopator who amassed the money, and Antiochus Epiphanes who left the kingdom bankrupt.

Antiochus had something, I think, of the “Bohemian” in him, an unsubstantialness of mental frame, to which the common prose of life is too ponderous, which needs to be continually gratified with new colour and sensation. While therefore he loved the splendour of royalty, its gold and purple, its fanfares and grandiloquent titles, the restraint and solemnity of court etiquette he found intolerable boredom.

At night, when the great city hummed around his palace with the murmur of obscure revelry, he was often drawn forth by a craving to share in the free life that went on in those populous streets.  He would give his courtiers the slip and plunge down into the alleys with one or two intimates.  Often some party of young men drinking late together might hear the noise of a fresh company of revellers drawing near with horns and psalteries and be startled by the sudden apparition of the King. Sometimes at mid-day he would be seen, flushed with wine, tossing money by handfuls into the street.  People had met him, crowned with roses and habited in cloth of gold, wandering on some unknown quest; it was not advisable to follow him; from such curiosity he was capable of defending himself with stones! Even the life of grooms and porters had a curiosity for him, and any one of the cosmopolitan crowd which flowed through Antioch might find that he had the King for a boon-companion.  He bathed in the public baths, and once, when his slaves brought the unguents which furnished the royal toilet – precious gems for which Asia was ransacked – some fellow of the crowd called out, “You kings are lucky people to use such things as that and smell so good!” Antiochus marked him, and the next day ordered a vessel of choice myrrh to be broken upon the man’s head.  There was a general rush to wallow in the spilt unguent, a scrimmage and tumble on the slippery floor, in which among shrieks of laughter the King joined.

It was the formality, the routine of life against which Antiochus warred.  With all his republican bonhomie he had fundamentally the nature of the tyrant.  He would suffer no conventional restraint upon his impulse.  He loved to do the unexpected.  To some grave councillor he would ceremoniously present a handful of knuckle-bones or dates; at another time he would catch a chance man in the street, to bestow upon him a thing of price; in both cases for the pure delight of watching their faces.  His caprices ran near insanity.  Or again, his engaging geniality might be assumed to cover some deadly purpose.  His incalculable vein had its sinister aspect. He felt no difficulty in pleasantries with the man at whom he designed to strike.  There was something horribly dangerous and panther-like in his caresses.

In such a nature one might expect to find, with all its defects, some aesthetic sensibilities.  And Antiochus was an enthusiastic virtuoso. When he escaped from the palace he was most commonly found among the workers in gold and silver, the engravers and jewellers, discussing with passionate intensity some nice point of technique.  On a larger scale he gratified his love of art in his sumptuous building, in the adorn­ment of his cities; Greek artists thronged to Antioch from all parts; new temples and public buildings rose under his eye.

Bearing in mind the general character of Antiochus, we can form some estimate of the quality of his Hellenism.  It was the temples and external glories of the Greek states, the consecrated forms of their religious and civil life, which by their visible grace or their historic associations possessed his mind. One who looked deeper might have seen that Greek religion, its mythology and its ritual, however much it had received some stamp of beauty and comeliness from the people among whom it took shape, was yet one of the least distinctive things in Hellenic civilization, a legacy from days when there was as yet no antithesis between Hellene and barbarian.  Or again it might have been felt that the forms of the republican state had a value beyond the academic, only when they were the vehicle of a certain spirit. To Antiochus the forms themselves were dear.  Antioch was compelled sometimes to enact the comedy of being Rome.  The King himself appeared in the Roman toga, and canvassed in public places for the office of aedile or tribune.  Being duly elected, he took his seat upon the regular curule chair and adjudged the disputes of the market-place with solemn concentration and care.  Even so ugly and coarse a feature of Roman life as gladiatorial combats this apostle of Hellenism must introduce into Antioch. It was held to be a triumph when the Antiochene crowd was gradually accustomed, first to the sight of wounds, and then of butchery.

We have only to divine that Antiochus united to all his extravagances and enthusiasms some undefinable charm of boyish high spirits, of happy recklessness-some curious beauty of face I think one gathers from the coins-in order to understand the perplexity of contemporary opinion concerning him. There seemed no reconciling the strange contradictions of his personality. Was he a creature of splendid and effectual energy, princely in the scale of his undertakings and his large munificence? or a man of profound and devilish guile, a “king of fierce countenance and understanding dark sentences” or a simple child of nature?  or a fantastical madman? Moderate men really did not know what to say of him.

Having made himself master of Syria, Antiochus, says our authority, ruled with a strong hand. What we are told of his internal administration does not, it must be confessed, show it in a good light.  His chief counsellors were two youths, brothers, Heraclides and Timarchus of Miletus, who had obtained his favour in the vilest of ways; Heraclides was made minister of finance (….) and Timarchus governor of the eastern provinces. Again, the principal cities of Cilicia, Tarsus and Mallus, found themselves made over to the King’s mistress, Antiochis, and as a consequence Antiochus soon had an insurrection in that quarter upon his hands.

But there were certain forms of patronage which the cities of the realm no doubt found that the new king was ready enough to give.  The pomp and display of a great civic festival would attract his interest. Tyre celebrated a festival with games every fourth year -a periodic principle almost certainly showing imitation of such Greek institutions as the Olympic games and the Panathenaea.  And at the first of these, which came round after the accession of Antiochus, he himself was present, and caused the other communities of Palestine to send contributions to the expense of the games and the great sacrifice to Heracles (Melkarth).

The foreign policy of Antiochus during these early years had of course for its chief question the line to be pursued in view of the general anti-Roman movement of which King Perseus of Macedonia was the centre.   There was this difference in tile situation of the Seleucid court under the new king, that it had now a close understanding with Perganios. Pergamos, Cappadocia and Syria formed a sort of triple alliance in the East.  The policy of the three powers was pronouncedly philo-Roman, and yet the mere fact of their alliance (as they all were well aware) put a certain check upon Rome, so that, although no handle for complaint was given, Rome was profoundly annoyed and visited Eumenes later on with conspicuous displeasure.

Antiochus observed a studiously deferential attitude to the Western power.  The instalments of the war indemnity fell indeed into arrear during the first years after 176, years in which no doubt Antiochus was occupied in making his throne secure.  But in 173 one of the chief persons of the court, a certain Apollonius, of apparently marked Roman sympathies, was sent at the head of an embassy to bring all that was owing, and beg for the confirmation of Rome’s friendship to the new king.  The embassy was well received and a formal renewal of amity accorded.

But it was well understood that the Seleucid King was at heart no friend to Rome.  Perseus did not despair of his alliance.  There had been goings to and fro between Pella and Antioch of which Rome did not fail to get intelligence.  Yet Antiochus was able to convince the Roman mission which visited Antioch in 173-172 that he had been deaf to the tempter, and was absolutely at the command of Rome. And meanwhile he was quietly contravening the stipulations of the Peace, and new ships of war were being built in the Phoenician docks. There were still elephants, which we hear of in 170, stabled at Apamea.

Before it had come to actual war between Macedonia and Rome the thoughts of Antiochus were occupied in another quarter.  When he had established himself in Syria, Egypt was being governed by his sister Cleopatra, the widow of Ptolemy Epiphanes who had died in 182; she was regent for her young son, Ptolemy Philometor.  This circumstance relieved him of all anxiety on his southern frontier; but in 173 Cleopatra died.  Then the anti-Seleucid party, represented by Eulaeus the chief eunuch, and Lenaeus, a native of Coele-Syria, came to the helm. Already Apollonius the son of Menestheus, whom Antiochus sent to represent him at the inaugural festivities of the young Ptolemy, reported the temper of the Alexandrian court as menacing.  An immediate attack was apprehended.  Antiochus advanced promptly with a force to repel an invasion, as far at any rate as Joppa. After satisfying himself that things were safe for the moment, he returned north. Yet the danger was only deferred.  The party which now ruled Egypt had never acquiesced in the loss of Coele-Syria.  It had been wrested from the kingdom at a moment of weakness; but the question which for a hundred and thirty years bad been the standing ground of quarrel between the rival houses should not be closed to the disadvantage of the Ptolemaic.  Preparations for renewing the appeal to arms were vigorously pressed forward in Egypt. Antiochus could not be expected to wait quietly till they were completed; but if he were the first to open war he feared setting Rome against him.  And now the storm in the West, which had been gathering so long, at last burst. In 171 actual war between Rome and Perseus began, and the Macedonian kingdom entered upon its supreme struggle for existence. The ambassador Meleager, whom Antiochus sent to lay before the Senate the aggressive attitude of Egypt and justify his own measures of defence, found that Rome at that moment was fully engaged elsewhere.

Early in 169 another embassy of Antiochus was in Rome. It was headed, like the former one, by Meleager.  He was accompanied by Heraclides, the insinuating, unwholesome minister of finance, who knew to perfection how to touch the palm of every venal Senator.  The mission of the embassy was to convince the Senate that in the conflict which was impending, or bad even now begun, Egypt, not Antiochus, was the aggressor.  Its work in Rome was watched by an embassy from Alexandria.  But till the Macedonian business was decided, the Senate would give neither party a definite answer. It would put upon Quintus Marcius, the consul, who was about to sail for Greece, all responsibility for expressing the will of Rome to King Ptolemy.

Egypt about the same time took the offensive (170-169). The regents, Eulseus and Lenaeus, marched out with an army to invade Coele-Syria. Before they left Alexandria they delivered a harangue to the populace.  They would make short work with the enemy; they would do a great deal more than barely win back the lost province; they would make the whole Seleucid realm an appendage of the Egyptian crown. A strange accompaniment to the army were waggons of bullion, of gold and silver plate, of jewels and rich feminine attire, even furniture from the palace.  These, the regents explained, were the means by which they would prevail over the constancy of Seleucid cities and strongholds.

Not many days had passed before the Egyptian army was in headlong rout and the Seleucid King stood at the doors of the land.

Antiochus had gathered a large army with the purpose of proceeding beyond the defensive.  It is now that we find his son Antiochus, a child of three or four years, associated in the throne, a measure which implies that he expected to he engaged in warfare at a distance from the capital. He had already nearly crossed the desert between Palestine and Egypt, had passed Mount Casius and almost reached the frontier-fortress of Egypt, Pelusium, when the army of Eulaeus and Lenaeus were encountered on their way.  The battle which ensued was a crushing defeat for the generals of Ptolemy. The news threw Alexandria from its vain confidence into unreasoning panic.  Although Pelusium still blocked the way of the invader, all was given up for lost. The young king was hurriedly packed on hoard ship to escape, if he could, to the sacred island of Samothrace. It was a foolish step. Ptolemy was intercepted by the Syrian vessels, and fell into the hands of Antiochus.

The Alexandrian people showed in this crisis more spirit than the boasters who had so lightly entered into the war. They determined on resistance, and, since their king had deserted them, called his younger brother to the throne, a boy of about fifteen. He was given the auspicious surname of Euergetes, to which clung memories of that earlier Ptolemy who had marched victoriously through the heart of the Seleucid realm.

These measures, however, Antiochus, having got Ptolemy Philometor into his hands, conld turn to his own account.  He now represented himself as the champion of the legitimate king against the usurping brother. He had a specious pretext ready to hand for an invasion of Egypt.  But first there was the obstacle of Pelusium to be surmounted.  And the new government in Alexandria, alive to the emergency, sent a fleet to secure the frontier city.  But it was engaged by the Seleucid ships, and the naval battle went, as the land battle had done, against the Egyptians. To win Pelusiurn, Antiochus trusted not less to subtilty than to arms.  He had already half-won the hearts of those who served King Ptolemy. In the first battle near Mount Casius, when the horror of flight was upon the Egyptian army, Antiochus had suddenly appeared riding amongst them as an angel of deliverance and ordering his troops to hold their hand.  The impression thence conceived of him made for his advantage.  Many of those who “ate of the meat” of King Ptolemy deserted to the invader. The garrison of Pelusium listened to his overtures, and then swiftly, without violating the letter of any agreement, Antiochus seized the city.   It was an incident in his career which his admirers did not like to reflect upon.

The way into Egypt now lay open.  A bridge was rapidly constructed over the Pelusiac branch of the Nile, and the Syrian army poured into the Delta.  Lower Egypt was soon entirely in the hands of Antiochus, except Alexandria, which still held out for Ptolemy Euergetes. Antiochus fixed the seat of the rival government, for which Ptolemy Philometor was to serve as figure-head, at Memphis.

At Alexandria the formal life of the court went on unbroken.  Euergetes espoused, as a matter of course, the royal sister Cleopatra whom his brother had left behind. He entered upon his majority with the usual ceremonies (…). Memphis was shut off from the larger world, and it was the king at Alexandria who was King Ptolemy to foreign states. The Achaean League sent an embassy to obtain from him a confirmation of the privileges accorded to its citizens (early summer 169).  His patronage was solicited for the festivals in the various states of Greece.  A second embassy from the Achaeans came in the matter of the Antigonea, and Athens sent no less than three for similar purpose.

But it was certain that Antiochus would not leave Alexandria unmolested, and it must look to its defences.  The administration was conducted for the young king by Comanus and Cineas. They formed a consultative board from the most distinguished officers in the Egyptian service. Campaigns were no longer to be conducted after the notions of eunuchs and clerks.  It seemed also advisable to try what could be done by negotiation with the invader, and the happy thought occurred of using the services of the foreign ambassadors, who were certain to command the respect of the phil-Hellenic king.  Antiochus had already sent on an envoy to state his demands and was advancing on the city.

The missions just mentioned from Athens and from the Achaeans were in Alexandria at the moment, and besides these there were envoys from Miletus and from Clazomenae. All these, accompanied by ambassadors from the Alexandrian court, took boat up the Nile to meet Antiochus. Their reception was gracious and magnificent.  On the second day after their arrival Antiochus gave them a polite bearing.  He learnt that the Alexandrian court fully admitted that Egypt had been in the wrong in opening war, but the blame for that wrong lay with the party, now fallen, of Eulaeus and Lenaens, and the voices of the Greek ambassadors appealed to Antiochus not to visit the transgressions of those wretched men upon his sister’s son, one little more than a boy.  It seemed from the King’s response that the kindly emotions to which the ambassadors appealed needed no quickening; he more than assented to all they said.  And then he dexterously shifted to the question of Coele-Syria, and went into the arguments on the Seleucid side with great convincingness.

But the ambassadors were uncomfortably conscious that this was wide of their niission.  The Coele-Syrian question no longer held the field; that had been stopped by the defeat of Eulaens; the Alexandrian court no longer justified the attack; it was the Seleucid occupation of Egypt which was in question. Antiochus, in the best diplomatic manner, had given the envoys an elaborate answer which was no answer at all.

The ambassadors remained in the company of Antiochus as he pursued his way down the river.  At Naucratis, the old Greek city of Egypt, every citizen who could show his Hellenic nationality received a gold piece from Antiochus. And he still gave the ambassadors no real answer.  He detained them till his own envoys to Alexandria, Aristides and Theris, should return; he wished, he said, to take Hellas in the person of the ambassadors to witness as to the righteousness of his cause.

The demand which Antiochus had addressed to the Alexandrian court was, no doubt the recognition of Philometor instead of Euergetes as king. Such a demand could only meet with a refusal.  Accordingly the great city had for the first time in its existence to experience the pains of a siege. Alexandria besieged!  It was an event which shook the whole commercial world.  At Rhodes the tidings caused especial dismay.  Not only mercantile considerations, but that growing dread of Rome which led the maritime republic to desire above all things concord between the Greek kings of the East, made the Rhodians forward to negotiate peace. They sent an embassy to Antiochus, and urged upon him their friendship with both belligerents, his own affinity with the Ptolemies, and the interest which both powers had in peace at such an hour as this.  To all this Antiochus had a ready answer. Peace existed already between himself and the king of Egypt; nay, more, they were good friends and allies. Let the capital open its gates to the real king and he would have nothing further to say.

The distress in that populous city, flow that it was cut off. from the interior, although its communications with the sea were still open, soon became acute.  Of course it appealed to Rome.  “Unwashed and unshaven, with olive branches in their hands, the ambassadors came before the Senate and flung themselves upon the ground; and piteous as their appearance was, their words were more lamentable still.”  Within a little Antiochus would possess himself of all the riches of Egypt. An embassy – only let Rome send an embassy, and he would not refuse to go away.

An embassy indeed was all that could be expected of Rome so long as the Macedonian war was on its hands. Whether the effect of an embassy at that moment was not rather overstated by the Alexandrian envoys may be a question.  But suddenly Antiochus, after vainly attempting to take the city by storm, raised the siege and evacuated Egypt!  The meaning of this abrupt move (dependent upon the secret history of the times or the impulses of a strange nature) is dark to us. It is easy to invent hypotheses.  He had at any rate the satisfaction of leaving the kingdom in a state of civil war, Ptolemy Philometor reigning at Memphis in opposition to his brother at Alexandria.  Antiochus also took the precaution of keeping the door unbolted against his return by leaving a strong garrison in Pelusium.

Antiochus, when he returned to Syria in 169, was in a different situation from that of the year before.  He was covered with the glory of conquering the country which had exalted itself over his ancestors.  He had burst the treasuries, which since the days when it repulsed Perdiccas and Antigonus the Ptolemaic house had gone on securely filing.  He had come back laden with spoil.  The Seleucid kingdom was in the giddy position of some one who, after living on the verge of bankruptcy, suddenly acquires a fortune.  Moreover, Antiochus had changed the balance in the East, not only without the consent of Rome, but against its liking.  Even though Rome sent a special embassy to Antioch under Titus Numisius to make peace between Antiochus and the Alexandrian court, it returned, with fair words doubtless, but with nothing  else. Perseus in the deadly grapple conceived new hopes of his alliance. He sent a last appeal to the Seleucid from the Antigonid to intervene as mediator or ally before it was too late.

But Antiochus still saw his advantage in honouring Rome the more, that his actions ran contrary.  Fifty talents of his new wealth would, he conceived, be not unprofitably spent in a “crown” to be presented to the Romans.  It was carried by the same ambassadors, Melesger, Heraclides and Sosiphanes who had gone the year before. They also carried a hundred talents more to bestow upon various Greek cities which they took on their way.

But the triumph of Antiochus was soon crossed by dis­appointment. Ptolemy Philometor, as the rest of his life shows, was not apt for the part of puppet.  He had been under no musions as to the real purport of his uncle’s friend­liness, and the suavity had been equally hollow on both sides. “And as for both these kings, their hearts shall be to do mischief and they shall speak lies at one table.” The Seleucid garrison at Pelusium now made further doubt impossible, No sooner was Philometor left to himself than he Bent an emissary into Alexandria to Cleopatra, his sister and but recently his wife, to feel after a reconciliation.  It soon appeared that while the people who had called Energetes to the throne would not desert him, they were willing to receive back Philometor as joint-king.  Cleopatra reverted to the elder brother.  On these terms Philometor re-entered Alexandria and the schism in the kingdom was at an end.

At this unexpected break-down of his plans Antiochus was instantly strung for swift and deadly action.  He was in an awkward position for retaining his hold on Egypt.  He had proclaimed to the whole Greek world that his interference in Egypt had been solely in order to support the legitimate king. His letters to this effect were in the archives of numerous cities.  But all that was now thrown to the winds.  He flung his troops upon Cyprus, and in the spring of 168 led an army south to invade Egypt a second time.  Greek public opinion last year had justified him; in his present designs it was against him.  Polybius regards the second invasion of Egypt as an instance of virtue breaking down under temptation.

The attack of Antiochus was exactly what Ptolemy Philometor had expected when he reconciled himself with Euergetes.  He had bestirred himself to meet it.  Envoys had come during the winter in the name of the two brother­kings to the Peloponuesus to invite condottieri like Theodoridas of Sicyon to raise bends for the Ptolemaic  service. They approached the Achaean League with a request for 1000 foot and 200 horse under the command of Lycortas and his son Polybius (the historian who tells the tale).  Polybius warmly supported the appeal and carried the people, he assures us, with him, till the party who favoured inaction circumvented him by producing a letter-which they had forged-from Marcius, the consul commanding against Macedonia, wherein he requested the Achaeans to remain neutral and second the Roman efforts at mediation. Instead, therefore, of the troops asked for, only another useless embassy embarked for Alexandria.

Nothing adequate seems to have been accomplished for the defence of Egypt when Antiochus early in 168 again marched south.  At Rhinocolura, on the desert-road between Palestine and Egypt, he met the envoys of Ptolemy Philometor. With a careful correctness they thanked him in the name of their king for the support which had restored him to the throne of his fathers, and then proceeded to remonstrate against warlike demonstrations, which had the less reason in that any desires he niight express to the Alexandrian court would be considered in the friendliest spirit.  The only answer of Antiochus was an ultimatum demanding the formal cession of Cyprus and Pelusium within a fixed time.

The demands, we must allow, would not have been out­rageous had they been preferred before.  After the unpro­voked aggression of Egypt, Antiochus had, when victorious, every right to exact guarantees for his kingdom’s peace. Pelnsium in Seleucid occupation would lock the door against an attack by land, whilst Cyprus would be the base for a naval attack on Syria.  But in that case the demands should have been made before Antiochus conchided peace with Philometor.  The official contention of the Seleucid court had been last year that Antiochus made peace with the king of Egypt at the time when Ptolemy fell into his hands, or, as the Seleucid version seems to have had it, sought refuge in the camp of his uncle. Antiochus had no longer any right to raise fresh demands without a fresh offence.

The time specified in the ultimatum expired, and Antiochus again advanced.  Once more his armies crossed the Egyptian frontier, and, as on the former occasion, seem to have struck first for Memphis. The natives had come to hate the Macedonian dynasty, and an invader gathered adherents as he went.  Then Antiochus turned north and slowly drew down upon Alexandria.

But while the Seleucid king was moving among the ancient cities and luxuriant fields of the Delta, the last fight of the house of Antigonus was fought out.  The battle of Pydna (22nd June 168) ended the struggle of Perseus and extinguished Macedonia as an independent state for ever. This entirely altered the situation; Rome was now free to act strongly in Egypt.  Galus Popillius Laenas, the chief of the embassy which had been sent out early in the year to induce Antiochils to retire, was awaiting in Delos the issue of the Macedonian war when he received the news of Pydna. He immediately set sail for Egypt.  Antiochus had almost reached Alexandria; he had crossed the Canobic branch of the Nile at a place called Eleusis, and was encamped in the sandy region to the east of the city when the Roman mission arrived.  The historic scene which followed was one which Roman pride never allowed to be forgotten.  Antiochus was prepared to receive Popillius-whom he had known in Rome-with that easy familiarity which belonged to him.  As soon as he saw the ambassadors approaching he greeted Popillius in a loud glad voice and held out his hand as to an old friend.  But the Roman came on with a grim and stony irresponsiveness  He reached the King a little tablet which he carried in his hand, and curtly bade him first read that through.  Antiochus looked at it; it was a formal resolution of the Senate that King Antiochus should be required to evacuate Egypt. Then there sprang to his lips one of those diplomatic phrases which came so readily to him, something as to laying the matter before his Friends. But the Roman was determined he should not wriggle free.  To the amazement of the courtiers, he drew with his walking-stick a circle in the sand all round the King: Yes or No before he stepped outside of it  Such methods were certainly a new sort of diplomacy, and Antiochus collapsed.  When he got his voice, it was to say that he would agree to anything. The next minute he found the Romans shaking his hand and inquiring cheerfully how he did.

Within a limited time prescribed by the ambassadors Antiochus withdrew completely from Egypt.  “Groaning and in bitterness of heart” he retraced his way along the coast of Palestine. The “ships of Kittim had come against him, and he was grieved and returned.” And meanwhile the Roman ambassadors proceeded to Cyprus, where the forces of Antiochus were carrying all before them.  Ptolemy Macron, the governor of the island, had gone over to the Seleucid. But the appearance of the Roman ambassadors changed all this.  They did not leave the island till they had seen the last Seleucid soldier out of it.  It was shown that Rome set as strict a limit to the Seleucid dominion on the side of the Ptolemaic realm as on that of Asia Minor. The humiliation of Eleusis was in a way worse than the humiliation of Magnesia.

After inflicting it upon Antiochus the Senate may have apprehended that he would feel some soreness.  Not in the least! so they were assured by his ambassadors, who presently came to bring his congratulations on the victory over Perseus. The satisfaction of pleasing the Senate was so great that no conquest seemed to Antiochus worth grasping at in comparison; orders delivered him by Roman envoys were equivalent to divine commands.  The Senate replied that he had done well.

But if Antiochus had been robbed of the substance of triumph, he could still rejoice in its outward circumstance. In the following year (167) Lucius Aemilius Paullus, the conqueror of Macedonia, celebrated triumphal games at Amphipolis, to which the whole Greek world wits invited.

In this department Antiochus would not be bettered by a Roman.  His envoys soon came in the track of those of Aemilius, bidding the Greeks to the great spectacle which a Greek king, the conqueror of Egypt, would display in Daphne, the paradise of Antioch.  The invitation drew immense crowds from all shores of the eastern Mediterranean.

The procession is described for us in some detail. Its first part was a military display men of many nations in all sorts of gorgeous armour, gold, silver, and wonderful embroideries, horses of the purest Nisaean breed with bridles and frontlets of gold, mailed Scythian cavalry, Indian elephants, gladiators. And then followed the civil procession-the epheboi of Antioch with golden crowns, a thousand oxen dressed for sacrifice, nearly three hundred sacred legations from the Greek cities, ivory tusks, statues of every conceivable god or demi-god gilt or in cloth of gold, allegorical figures, splendid vessels, painted women who flung perfumes from golden jugs or were carried in litters with golden feet.  It was an astounding profusion of treasure. Dionysius, the secretary of state  (…), was represented by a thousand slaves who bore silver vessels) none of which weighed less than a thousand drachmas.

The festivities – games, gladiatorial shows, wild beast fights – went on for a month.  The chief city fountain sometimes ran with wine. Choice unguents were served from golden jars to the people in the gymnasium without price.  At the palace, couches were laid for a thousand or fifteen hundred guests.

Antiochus was in his element.  He outdid himself in indiscriminate familiarity. Functions which would naturally have been left to subordinates he insisted on performing himself-riding up and down the procession, shouting orders, standing at the palace door to usher in the guests, marshalling the attendants.  He was up and down among the banqueters, sitting, standing, declaiming, drinking, or bandying jests with the professional mummers.  The crowning moment was one evening towards the end of a feast, when the company had begun to grow thin.  The mummers brought in a swaddled figure and laid it upon the ground. Suddenly, at the notes of the symphonia, it started from its wrappings and the King stood there, naked.  The next moment he whirled away in the fantastic dance of the buffoons. The banquet broke up in confusion.

The festivities were hardly over and Antioch clear of the mob of revellers when the ominous face of the Roman envoy thrust itself upon the scene.  Tiberius Sempronius Gracehus headed a mission which came, after all this blare of trumpets, to see what was really going on. They were on the watch for some sign of ill-will in the Seleucid King, some coolness in their entertainment.  But never had Antiochus been more genial and charming.  He put his own palace at their disposal; he surrounded them with the state of kings.  They returned declaring that it was incredible that this man could be cherishing any serious designs.  There were few who could cover so deadly a hate with such disarming manners.


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  1. February 27, 2015 at 1:31 am
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