Who was Seleucus I Nicator?
Seleucus I Nicator was a Macedonian army officer who emerged as a prominent Diadochus in taking control over the vast empire of Alexander the Great, following the latter’s death. From being governor of Babylon, Seleucus rose to power and founded the Seleucid Empire covering most of the territory conquered by Alexander in the Near East. Initially Seleucus supported Perdiccas, the regent of intellectually disabled half-brother and successor of Alexander, Philip Arridaeus. Seleucus was inducted Commander of the Companions and chiliarch at the Partition of Babylon, but the military failures of Perdiccas, followed by a mutiny of his troops later led Seleucus and others to conspire and assassinate Perdiccas. In a turn of events, Seleucus fled from Babylon only to return later to expand his dominions. He went on to conquer and rule the entire eastern region of Alexander’s empire. His unsuccessful war efforts in retaking the Indian satrapies of the Macedonian Empire from Emperor Chandragupta Maurya of the ‘Maurya Empire’ forced him to get into a settlement that included marrying his daughter to King Chandragupta. Following his assassination by Ptolemy Ceraunus, his son Antiochus I succeeded to the Seleucid throne.
Childhood & Early Life
Seleucus I Nicator was born around c. 358 BC in Europos, in the northern region of Macedon, to Antiochus, originally from Orestis, and his wife, Laodice, a Greek noblewoman. Antiochus, who hailed from an upper noble family of Macedonia, possibly served Philip II of Macedon as an officer and later rose to the rank of military general. Seleucus had a sister, Didymeia. After he became the king, Seleucus named several cities after his parents, including the Seleucid military outpost, Antioch, Pisidia, and the Syrian city of Antioch.
According to customs followed by male children of noble families, Seleucus served the king as his page (paides) during his teens.
Several legends are associated with Seleucus. According to one, it was pretended, in consequence of a dream that Seleucus’ mother had, that the real father of her child was God Apollo. Legends mention that before leaving for a battle with Alexander against the Persians, Antiochus told Seleucus that his real father was Apollo. The latter left a ring for Laodice that had a picture of an anchor. It is said that Seleucus, his sons, and grandsons all had birthmarks in the shape of an anchor.
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Serving Alexander the Great
Seleucus went to Asia with Alexander in the spring of 334 BC and in the late 327 BC he was elevated to command the "Shield-bearers,"the élite infantry corps in the Macedonian army.
Greek historian and philosopher Arrian mentioned that Seleucus, Perdiccas, Lysimachus, and Ptolemy I Soter accompanied Alexander while crossing the Hydaspes River on a boat. It is said that Seleucus led his troops against King Porus’ elephants during the 'Battle of the Hydaspes' and the Royal Hypaspistai of Seleucus took part in the Indus Valley campaign.
According to historical sources, Seleucus took part in a sailing trip near Babylon with Alexander, accompanied the latter in a dinner party of Medeios the Thessalian, and visited the temple of 'Serapis' with Alexander.
Death of Alexander & Aftermath
In June 323 BC, Alexander died sans a chosen successor. This created a dispute among his generals regarding the successor of Alexander. In a turn of events, Perdiccas, the leading cavalry commander of Alexander, was successful in becoming the regent of the empire and a compromise was arranged that Alexander's physically and mentally disabled half-brother, Arrhidaeus, should become king under the name Philip III and rule jointly with Alexander’s as-on-then unborn child through Roxana (assuming it was a boy who would become Alexander IV).
Perdiccas rewarded all those cavalry generals who supported him by making them satraps in different parts of the empire during the ‘Partition of Babylon’ in June 323 BC. Seleucus was made commander of the Companion cavalry (hetairoi) and was inducted as first or court chiliarch that made him a senior officer in the Royal Army only after Perdiccas.
Conflicts between Perdiccas and other Diadochi started soon. After the 'Wars of the Diadochi' began in 322 BC, Perdiccas faced military failures in Egypt against Ptolemy, paving the way for mutiny of his troops in Pelusium. Ptolemy then conspired with Peithonand Antigenes and assassinated Perdiccas. According to Roman biographer Cornelius Nepos, Seleucus was also part of the conspiracy but its certainty is not validated by any concrete evidence.
Antipater became the new regent following Perdiccas’s death and Seleucus was inducted as Satrap of Babylon during the Partition of Triparadisus in 321 BC. In no time, the wars resumed leading to the assassination of Antipater, the Second War of the Diadochi and the eventual escape of Seleucus from Babylon to Egypt amidst threats from Antigonus I Monophthalmus. According to legends, the Chaldean astrologers prophesied to Antigonus that Seleucus would rule Asia as the master and kill Antigonus, hearing which the latter sent forces after Seleucus, who fled to Mesopotamia first and thereafter to Syria.
While staying in Egypt, Seleucus succeeded in convincing fellow Diadochi Cassander and Lysimachus against Antigonus. This led to a coalition of Ptolemy, Lysimachus and Cassander against Antigonus. The coalition sent a proposition to Antigonus with several demands, including returning Babylon to Seleucus. Refusal of Antigonus led to the 'Third War of the Diadochi.' During the first phase of the war, Seleucus served as an admiral to Ptolemy.
A Ptolemaic victory against Demetrius, son of Antigonus, in the 'battle of Gaza' in 312 BC and the death of Peithon, son of Agenor (who was made the new satrap of Babylon by Antigonus) led Seleucus to return to Babylon in 312 BC. Meanwhile, the murder of young King Alexander IV and his mother, Roxane, by Cassander marked the end of the Argead dynasty.
Return to Babylon, Conquests & Rule
Seleucus quickly conquered Babylon and captured the fortress. His re-capture of Babylon in 312 BC was officially considered as the beginning of the Seleucid era and the foundation of the Seleucid empire. After establishing control over Babylon, Seleucus aggressively expanded his dominions and conquered the Median and Persian lands.
The conquests of Seleucus led to the 'Babylonian War' that he fought between 311–309 BC against Antigonus. The war ended with Seleucid victory and Seleucus secured control over Babylon, Media, and Elam. He also gained control over eastern satrapies of the erstwhile empire of Alexander.
Seleucus founded the city of Seleucia on the west bank of the Tigris River (opposite Ctesiphon), probably in 307 or 305 BC and made it the capital of the Seleucid Empire around 305 BC. The mint of Babylon was also transferred to Seleucia. Conflicts among the Diadochi saw Antigonus proclaiming himself as king in 306 BC, only to be followed by Ptolemy, Cassander, Lysimachus and Seleucus. The latter assumed the title of Basileus (king) of the Seleucid Empire in 305 BC.
Seleucus then moved to the east in pursuit of re-capturing Indian satrapies of the Macedonian Empire, which were then occupied by Emperor Chandragupta Maurya of the Maurya Empire. Seleucus entered India and occupied the territory reaching up to the Indus valley. This led to the Seleucid–Mauryan War (305-303 BCE). Although the war resulted in a Mauryan victory, a settlement was reached that saw the annexation of the Indus Valley region and Arachosia to the Maurya Empire, while Seleucus kept Sogdia. A marriage pact was also reached; Seleucus got his daughter married to Chandragupta.
Seleucus received 500 War Elephants from the Mauryans that eventually played an influential role in his coalition victory with Cassander and Lysimachus against Antigonus at the 'Battle of Ipsus' in 301 BC, against Lysimachus in 281 BC, and at the 'Battle of Corupedium,' the last battle between the Diadochi.
His victory at the 'Battle of Corupedium' was, however, short-lived. Although it gave him a nominal control over almost all the regions of Alexander's empire except the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt, Seleucus was assassinated by Ptolemy Ceraunus near Lysimachia, after he crossed the Hellespont and arrived in Thrace, in 281 BC to take hold of the European holdings of Lysimachus. Following his death, Seleucus’ son Antiochus I became the king of the Seleucid Empire.
Family & Personal Life
Seleucus married Apama, daughter of the Sogdian baron Spitamenes, in the spring of 324 BC at the great marriage ceremony at Susa, where several Macedonians married Persian women, including Alexander (who married the late Persian King Darius III’s daughter). Apama became the Queen consort of the Seleucid Empire. She gave birth to three children with Seleucus: sons Antiochus I and Achaeus, and a daughter, Apama.
In 300 BC, Seleucus married Stratonice of Syria, daughter of king Demetrius Poliorcetes. The two had a daughter, Phila. After Seleucus became aware of his son, Antiochus’ passionate love for Stratonice, he married Stratonice off to Antiochus in 294 BC.