Born: 215 BC
Died At Age: 51
Also Known As: Mithradates
Born Country: Greece
Famous as: Macedonian Hellenistic King
Emperors & Kings
Spouse/Ex-: Laodice IV
father: Antiochus III the Great
mother: Laodice III
siblings: Seleucus IV Philopator
children: Alexander Balas, Antiochis, Antiochus V Eupator, Laodice, Laodice VI
Died on: 164 BC
place of death: Fars Province, Iran
Antiochus IV Epiphanes was a king from the Seleucid dynasty, which ruled the Hellenistic Syrian Empire. His rule lasted for a little over a decade, between 175 BC and 164 BC. Before he took control of the Seleucid Empire, he was held as a political hostage in Rome due to his father, Antiochus III the Great’s loss to the Romans, but he was released in exchange for his nephew in 175 BC. Immediately after his return, his brother, King Seleucus IV Philopator, the incumbent ruler, was then murdered by usurper Heliodorus. Antiochus managed to oust Heliodorus and declared himself the co-regent with his minor nephew. A few years later, at Antiochus’s orders, his nephew was killed, and Antiochus became the sole ruler. After Antiochus was crowned the king, he waged wars against Egypt, tried to suppress the Maccabean revolt, and died during the campaign against the Parthians. During his rule, he promoted Greek religious practices and tried to oppress other minor religions, especially Judaism. A lot of Jewish pilgrim centers and temples, including the temple at Jerusalem, were attacked. Jews and people following oriental religions were persecuted and killed. Due to his intolerant religious policies, he is projected as a villain in the holy books of Abrahamic religions. The Jewish celebration of Hanukka marks the renovation, purification, and rededication of the temple of Jerusalem that followed his attack.
Childhood & Early Life
Antiochus was born in 215 BC. He was the third son of Antiochus III the Great, the Seleucid king of the Hellenistic Syrian Empire.
It is believed that his birth name was Mithradates. He adopted the name Antiochus after he gained power and became the ruler.
According to the ‘Treaty of Apamea’ (188 BC), which followed his father’s defeat to the Romans, Antiochus was taken as a political hostage to Rome. While in Rome, Antiochus learned Roman philosophy and policies.
In 187 BCE, Antiochus’ brother, Seleucus IV Philopator, succeeded Antiochus III to the throne. In 175 BCE, Seleucus had Antiochus released from the Romans in exchange for his son, Demetrius I Soter.
In the same year, Heliodorus killed Seleucus and usurped the kingdom. Thereafter Antiochus avenged his brother’s death and restored the Seleucid dynasty on the throne. He declared himself the co-regent with his nephew, also named Antiochus, his brother Seleucus’ five-year-old son.
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Reign, Battles & Death
Antiochus IV conspired and killed the minor co-ruler, Antiochus, and proclaimed himself the monarch in 170 BCE.
Immediately after Antiochus ascended the throne, the Egyptians loyal to King Ptolemy VI Philometor wanted to reannex Coele-Syria. Sensing the attack from Egypt, Antiochus led an anticipatory attack on them and captured most parts of Syria except for Alexandria and took Ptolemy captive. However, Antiochus released Ptolemy and made him his puppet ruler.
Two years later, in 168 BCE, Antiochus set out to attack Egypt again. But he was dissuaded by the Roman diplomat Gaius Popillius Laenas. Fearing the Romans, he retreated from continuing his march against the Egyptians.
He supported the Hellenized Jews (Reformed Jews due to Greek influence) against the orthodox Hasidean Jews and backed the high priest of the temple of Jerusalem Menelaus, the rival of the deposed high priest, Jason. He promoted the Hellenized Judaism as it had imbibed Greek elements. He made it illegal to follow orthodox Jewish religious practices and customs. He even framed a law to worship Zeus as the supreme god.
The Jews vehemently opposed these laws and rebelled under the leadership of Jason, while Antiochus was in Egypt and succeeded in driving Menelaus from Jerusalem.
After Antiochus returned from Egypt, he plundered Jerusalem and punished many Jews. His policies towards Jews were a U-turn from those adopted by his predecessors of the Seleucid dynasty.
His intolerance towards Jews, their persecution and desecration of the temple at Jerusalem resulted in the ‘Maccabean Revolt’ led by Judas Maccabbeus, leader of the Hasidean Jews.
In 167 BC, he faced a threat on the eastern front as King Mithridates I of Parthia captured Herat, a place in present-day Afghanistan. Antiochus led the expedition against the Parthians, while his commander fought the guerillas led by Maccabeus.
Though Antiochus was initially successful and was able to regain control over certain parts occupied by the Parthians, he suddenly fell ill due to an injury during the war and succumbed to it in 164 BC.
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Family & Personal Life
Antiochus IV was the son of King Antiochus III, who was married to Laodice III of Pontus and Euboea of Chalcis.
His siblings were Antiochus, Seleucus IV Philopator, Ardys, Laodice IV, Cleopatra I Syra, Antiochis and an unnamed sister.
He was married to his sister Laodice IV. Laodice’s children from her marriages, including that to Antiochus, were Nysa, Antiochus, Demetrius I Soter, Laodice V, Antiochus V Eupator, and Laodice VI.
According to unconfirmed records, Alexander I Theopator Balas and his presumed sister Laodice, wife of King Mithridates III of Pontus, were also Antiochus’ children.
The title ‘Epiphanes’ means God Manifest, and it was used on the coins issued during Antiochus’ rule.
He was also called Antiochus Epimanes (the mad). He was named so by a few groups of people who thought his methods to familiarize himself with ordinary people was a departure from the set standards of a monarch. Some of his enthusiastic measures to mingle with the commoners were to visit the public bathhouses and applying for government offices. The byname ‘Epimanes’ was also a pun on his title, Epiphanes.’
His bust can be viewed at Altes Museum, Museum Island, Berlin.
He has been mentioned in the ‘Book of Maccabees’ and ‘Books of Daniel,’ which are portions of the Bible (The Holy Scripture of Christians) and ‘Tanakh’ (The Holy Scripture of Jews). In these books, he is depicted negatively because of his intolerance against Jews and violent efforts to suppress the practice of Judaism and promotion of faith followed by the Greeks.
It is claimed that while fighting against the Parthians he was injured by a fall. This injury led to an infection and eventually led to a death filled with a lot of pain and suffering. This gruesome death is considered as a punishment for his persecution of the Jews.
Inspired by this belief, the French artist, Paul Gustave Louis Christophe Dore made the engraving called ‘Punishment of Antiochus.’
The renovated temple of Jerusalem was rededicated after purification by the Maccanbeans. The Jews commemorate this event as Hanukkah, a celebration that is observed for eight nights and days. It occurs either in late November or late December. The dates of the festival are decided according to the Hebrew calendar.