The Seleucid dynasty* was founded by Seleucus I Nicator, a Macedonian general and war companion of Alexander the Great. After Alexander’s death in 323 B.C., his empire was divided among his most able generals, including Seleucus. In 321 B.C., Seleucus became governor of Babylon, a city on the Euphrates River, which Alexander had seized from the Persians ten years earlier. Alexander’s successors fought over their possessions, and Seleucus was forced from his governorship by Antigonos I, Alexander’s successor in Macedonia. In 312 B.C. Seleucus seized Babylon and the surrounding area of Babylonia (present-day Iraq) and founded his own kingdom. This victory marked the beginning of the Seleucid dynasty.
Seleucus strengthened his control over Babylonia, and during the later 300s B.C. extended his kingdom’s borders east to the Indus River. After defeating another of Alexander’s successors in 301 B.C., Seleucus added Syria and the eastern part of Asia Minor to his kingdom. Seleucus was attempting to rebuild Alexander’s empire when he was assassinated in 281 B.C. He was succeeded by his son, Antiochus I Soter, who ruled for 20 years. Seleucus and Antiochus were the first two of approximately 26 rulers in the Seleucid dynasty.
The Seleucid kingdom was a major center of Hellenistic* culture, and much of the trade of the Mediterranean region passed through Syria. The kingdom’s most important city was Antioch in Syria. Although the ruling class used the Greek language and practiced Greek religion, the court of the king followed Babylonian traditions. The king was an absolute ruler whom the people regarded as divine. Cultural divisions between the ruling classes and the commoners of the kingdom led to problems. During the 100s B.C., the Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV erected a statue of the Greek god Zeus in the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, a terrible affront to the Jews in Palestine, who revolted against his rule. By 120 B.C. Babylonia was conquered by the Parthians, a nomadic* people from western Asia. The weakened dynasty fell to the Roman empire in 64 B.C. (See also Hellenistic Culture; Ptolemaic Dynasty.)
* dynasty succession of rulers from the same family or group
* Hellenistic referring to the Greek-influenced culture of the Mediterranean world during the three centuries after Alexander the Great, who died in 323 B.C.
* nomadic referring to people who wander from place to place to find food and pasture