Antiochus III Megas (“The Great”) (r. 223–187 BCE) extended the territory of the Seleucid Empire both to the east and the west, strengthened royal authority, improved relations with powerful leagues and cities in the rest of the Greek world, and opposed Roman penetration into Greece. His eventual defeat by the Romans signified the establishment of permanent Roman control over mainland Greece and Asia Minor.
The younger son of Seleucus II Callinicus (“Beautiful Victor”) (r. 246–225), Antiochus came to power after the assassination of his elder brother, Seleucus III Ceraunus (“Thunder”) (r. 225–223). He faced revolts by satraps (Molon in Media, Alexander in Persis) and incursions by neighbors attacking and occupying parts of the Seleucid territory (the Ptolemies in Syria, the Attalids in western Asia Minor, Diodotus in Bactria, and Arsaces in Parthia). Initial successes were mixed with setbacks: he quickly managed to recover the territories from the Attalids with the help of his general Achaeus, who then revolted and proclaimed himself king over all of Asia Minor to the west of the Taurus. Antiochus' initially successful campaign against Egypt (219–218) ended with his defeat by Ptolemy IV Philopator at the Battle of Raphia, near Gaza (217), whose preliminaries, course, and outcome were thoroughly described by Polybius (5.79–87).
It took Antiochus ten years to restore stability within his empire: he crushed the revolts of Molon and Alexander (221), regained Syria (219), and completely reestablished his authority over western Asia Minor by 213. His subsequent campaign (anabasis) further to the east (212–206) gave him control over Commagene and Armenia, and restored his authority over Bactria and Parthia. Having crossed the Hindu Kush, he secured trade access to Mauryan India by establishing a friendship with the king Sophagasenos. On his return to the west he mounted an expedition against the Gerrhaeans in the northern Arabian Peninsula (205–204). While acknowledging their independence, he established effective control over the Persian Gulf. It is at about this time that he received his cognomen “the Great.”
The death of Ptolemy IV Philopator (late summer or fall of 204?) allegedly led to a secret agreement between Antiochus III and Philip V of Macedonia (r. 221–179) with the aim of dividing (some of) the territorial possessions of the Ptolemies, as Ptolemy V was too young and inexperienced to offer any meaningful resistance. The whole matter is highly debated, because Roman historiography would later present this royal agreement as a justification for Roman interference in Greek politics. But the fact remains that both Philip V and Antiochus III acquired some Ptolemaic territories: Antiochus III had thus permanently established Seleucid control over northern Syria and Judaea, and took over Ptolemaic possessions in southern Asia Minor (198).
Once the Romans defeated Philip V in the Second Macedonian War (200–197), Antiochus III turned to the Aegean coast of Asia Minor with the aim of extending his rule over Philip's former possessions and over free Greek cities in that region. He claimed to have an ancestral right to these territories, as well as to Thrace (which he invaded in 196, 195, and 192), as they had once belonged to the founder of the dynasty, Seleucus I (king: 305–281). Antiochus III and the Romans then held a series of diplomatic negotiations from 196 to 192, trying to dispute each other's right to interfere in Greek affairs. While Antiochus III, a lawful ruler of Greek descent with recognized dynastic rights, held a better-justified position in the eyes of the Greeks, the Romans received support from several local Greek cities (Smyrna, Lampsacus, Alexandria, Troas) and states (the kingdom of Pergamum, the republic of Rhodes) that had appealed for Roman interference and protection. Rome thus presented her stance as the defense of Greek freedom against the aggression of Antiochus. This was first demonstrated by the declaration of Greek freedom, pronounced by the Roman general Titus Quinctius Flamininus at the Isthmian Games, near Corinth (spring 196), soon after his victory over Philip V.
Antiochus established military alliances with some of his neighbors (the Galatians, the kings of Cappadocia and Pontus) and appealed to the Greek sentiment through his own successful slogan of protecting Greek freedom against the Roman barbarians from the west. His richly documented relationship with many individual cities of Asia Minor (e.g., Iasus, Teos, Ilium, Lysimachea, and Xanthus) shows that he treated them in a manner typical of a Hellenistic ruler, by offering to preserve their status as “free and autonomous” cities in return for their loyalty and support. “Freedom and autonomy” were considered quite compatible with exacting tribute and establishing garrisons in these cities. The Greek cities of Asia Minor not only founded local cults, but also joined in the state cults of Antiochus III, his wife Laodike, and his ancestors, thus further strengthening his control over that region.
In 192 the Aetolian League invited Antiochus III to come to Greece with his army, comprised of about ten thousand soldiers, five hundred cavalry, and six elephants, in the name of Greek freedom. The Aetolians proclaimed Antiochus III the commander-in-chief of all the allied forces. The Romans defeated Antiochus III in two major land battles. By overcoming him in the first battle, near Thermopylae, in central Greece (late April 191), the Roman consul Manius Acilius Glabrio forced Antiochus to return to Asia Minor, thus leaving his Aetolian allies behind to suffer the rage of the Romans. In the fall of 190, the Romans transferred their forces to Asia Minor and fought against Antiochus near Magnesia by the Sipylus, in Lydia (mid-December 190), for which Livy provides a very detailed description (37.38–44). The Romans were led by the consul L. Cornelius Scipio (Asiaticus), the brother of the famous Scipio Africanus. Having been defeated once again, Antiochus sent envoys to negotiate conditions of his settlement with the Romans in the city of Apamea, in Phrygia. The treaty of peace, also known as the Treaty of Apamea, required Antiochus III to evacuate all of Asia Minor up to the Taurus (retaining only some territories in the southeast); to pay war indemnity to Rome and compensation to her allies; to surrender exiles and enemies of Rome, including Hannibal (who managed to escape to the court of Prusias I of Bithynia); and to give hostages to the Romans, including his youngest son. Antiochus III soon staged another campaign to the east, during which he died in Elymais.
SEE ALSO: Greek warfare (ancient); Roman warfare.
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