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The Seleucid Empire

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Donal O’Shea has recently written an excellent book on The Poincare Conjecture, intended for a popular audience.  On p. 14 he writes, “After Alexander’s death, his empire fell apart.  The largest share fell to his general, Ptolemy Soter I, who chose as his capital Alexandria at the mouth of the Nile.”  This is not entirely true.  By far the largest portion of Alexander’s empire eventually came under the control of Seleucus I Nicator, first ruler of the Seleucid Empire—not Ptolemy I Soter.  The death of Alexander was followed by a lengthy and chaotic series of wars among the several generals seeking control of as much of Alexander’s empire as they could get their hands on.  These conflicts are known as the Wars of the Diadochi (the Successors).  Early on, Ptolemy gained control of Egypt, and thus became the first ruler of the so-called Ptolemaic Kingdom in Egypt.  (This would turn out to be the longest lasting of the Alexandrine successor states.)  However, Seleucus was able to establish himself as ruler of the majority of the Alexander’s Asian possessions.  At its peak, the Seleucid Empire consisted of virtually the entirety of the old Achaemenid Persian empire, with the exception of Egypt and a large portion of Anatolia.  However, the Seleucid Empire very quickly began to disintegrate.  After a war with the great Indian king Chandragupta Maurya, Seleucus I Nicator was compelled to cede large territories in the east to the Mauryan, in exchange for a large number of elephants.  (These elephants eventually proved to be very helpful to Seleucus in his later warfare.)  The next major loss was the secession of Bactria.  The governor of Bactria declared independency, thus forming the so-called Greco-Iranian kingdom of Bactria, which survived for more than a century.  Eventually the Parthians formed an independent state, and would go on to establish themselves as a very powerful and long-lasting empire.  The Seleucid Empire would eventually collapse after a long series of losses to the Romans and Parthians coupled with rebellions within the empire.

Written by uncudh

May 2, 2009 at 8:39 pm