Powerful Syrian dynasty, which exercised an influence on the history of the Jews for two centuries (312-112 B.C.).

Seleucus I., Nicator ("the victorious"):

Founder of the line; born about 357; died about 280. He was one of the generals of Alexander the Great, and was engaged in prolonged warfare with his rivals, the other Diadochi. His victory at Gaza (312) secured for him dominion over Babylon and a great part of Asia Minor, while the battle of Ipsus (301) added Syria and Armenia to his kingdom.

The Seleucidan Era.

Seleucus reckoned the years of his reign from 312, which thus marks the beginning of the Seleucidan era (see Era). Since legal documents were dated according to this epoch, the Jews called it the "era of contracts" ("æra contractuum," "minyan sheṭarot"), although later both Jews and Syrians termed it the "Greek era" ("minyan Yewanim"). It is generally reckoned from Oct. 1, 312, although the Babylonians, Syrians, and Jews, following an old custom, regarded it as beginning with the spring of the year 311 (see Ideler, "Handbuch der Chronologie," i. 450-453; Clinton, "Fasti Hellenici," 2d ed., iii 472; Wachsmuth, "Einleitung in das Studium der Alten Geschiehte, p.306, Leipsic, 1895; comparative tables of the Greek Olympian, the Seleucidan, the Roman, and the Christian eras are given by Schürer in his "Gesch." 3d ed., i., appendix v.). The Seleucidan era was adopted in the Books of the Maceabees, as well as in those passages of Josephus which he based on these apocrypha. It was likewise used by the Oriental Jews and Syrians until late in the Middle Ages, and is still occasionally employed by Jews in the East.

Seleucidan Cities.

The Hellenization of the Orient, begun by Alexander the Great, was eagerly furthered by the Seleucidæ, and the Jews also were involved in the movement. Like the other Diadochi, the Seleucidæ were founders of cities; and some of the Greek towns in Palestine may well date from the time of the first members of this dynasty, although the country was still vassal to Egypt. Among the most important of these cities were Abila, Gadara, and Seleucia. The last-named, which was situated on the shores of Lake Merom, is frequently mentioned by Josephus and in rabbinical literature. In all cities founded by Seleucus in Asia Minor and Syria he granted the Jews full civil rights, especially in Antioch, the capital; and they retained these privileges until the time of Josephus (see Josephus, "Ant." xii. 3, § 1; idem, "Contra Ap." ii. 4). This was a deed worthy of a great ruler, such as Seleucus I. proved himself to be; but the account of Josephus is very much doubted, and justly so, since it is intended only as an apology for the Jews. This same monarch is by implication referred to in Dan. xi. 5.

According to Josephus ("Ant." xii. 3, § 2), the rights of citizenship were conferred both on the Jews and on the Ionians of Asia Minor by Antiochus II., Theos (261-246), but in the year 14 B.C. the Hellenic population besought Marcus Agrippa to restrict these privileges to themselves exclusively. The limitations of paganism rendered it impossible for the Jews of Hellenic cities to obtain civic rights at this time except when they were sufficiently numerous to form a separate community, in which case a royal act of grace sometimes placed them on an equal footing with the Greek communities (see Tarsus).

Seleucidæ and Ptolemies.

Although Seleucus I. had regarded Cœle-Syria and Judea as his rightful domains and had left the Ptolemies in possession only because he had been obliged to do so, it was not until the reign of Antiochus III. the Great (223-187) that the Seleucidæ felt themselves sufficiently strong to press their claim: and from 218 to 198 Judea was racked by violent wars between the Ptolemies and their rivals. Antiochus III. lost the great battle at Raphia in Judea (218); but by his victory at Paneas on the Jordan (198) he won Judea and Phenicia. Judea then remained under Seleucidan sovereignty until 142, when it regained its independence through Simon Maccabeus. The Syrian rule, however, caused the inhabitants long to remember the milder and more tranquil Egyptian sway; and a Ptolemaic faction, to which the Jews, as a body, adhered, was maintained at Jerusalem, where it devoted its energies to the interests of the Tobiads.

The Seleucidæ in Palestine followed in general outlines the policy of the Ptolemies. With them, as with the Egyptian dynasts, the high priests continued to be the heads of the Jewish communities; but the political governors of Palestine exercised greater powers under the Syrian rule, although they, in their turn, were subordinate to the governor-general of Cœle-Syria. The well-known high priests and so-called Tobiads, Jason and Menelaus, are, according to Büchler, to be considered as political governors; and, since tradition generally regards them as high priests, Josephus is justified in saying ("Ant." xx. 10, § 3) that Antiochus V., Eupator and his viceroy Lysias were the first to depose a high priest (i.e., Menelaus). This reference is apparently an evidence of a favorable attitude on the part of the Syrians; but the financial burdens imposed upon the Jews make their condition appear very wretched. References to these taxes are found in a pseudo-Antiochian decree exempting the elders, the priests, the scribes, and the singers in the Temple from the payment of the poll-tax, the crown-tax, and other dues (ib. xii. 3, § 3).

Additional information is derived from incidentsof the reign of Seleucus IV., Philopator (187-175), when Heliodorus forced his way into the Temple at Jerusalem to seize its treasures for the king. In addition to the high priest Onias III., a certain Simon seems to have officiated as political governor at that time; and it was apparently he, and not the high priest, who was responsible for the taxes, and who consequently called the king's attention to the treasure in the Temple (II Macc. iii. 4).


During the reign of Antiochus IV., Epiphanes (175-164) Jason paid 360 talents for the dignity which the king had conferred upon him, and an additional 80 talents from another source of revenue (II Macc. iv. 8). The fact that part of this sum is mentioned as an "additional" sum justifies the inference that it represents an excess offered by Jason over the regularly established amount of the tax; indeed, it is probable that even the sum of 360 talents included such an excess, the established sum evidently being 300, which very likely had been paid during the reign of Seleucus IV. as well. Indeed, Sulpicius Severus asserts ("Sacra Historia," ii. 17) that the Jews under the high priests paid Seleucus 300 talents, and he also mentions a similar sum as having been given to Antiochus Epiphanes. This statement agrees with the circumstance that Jonathan, offered King Demetrius II. the sum of 300 talents to exempt Judea from taxation (I Macc. xi. 28).

Seleucus IV. was extolled because he held the Temple in high honor, and also because he personally defrayed the cost of the sacrifices (II Macc. iii. 3); but the only statements concerning Antiochus IV. record his brutal excesses against the Temple as well as against the Jewish people and their religion. How this policy finally caused a crisis and put an end to the Seleucidan dominion in Judea is described elsewhere (See Jonathan Maccabeus; Judas Maccabeus; Simon Maccabeus).

The Later Seleucidæ.

The succeeding members of the Seleucidan dynasty may be more briefly enumerated. The saying, generally ascribed to Josephus, that after the death of Antiochus VII., Sidetes, the Seleucidæ were no cause of concern to Hyrcanus I., must be considerably modified; for the dynasty had not yet relinquished its claims to Judea, and it was still to cause the Jews many difficulties. Antiochus IX., Cyzicenus devastated Judea; and it was only when he had been deserted by his Egyptian allies and had suffered great losses in warfare against his brother, that Hyrcanus, ventured to besiege Samaria. Antiochus hastened to relieve the city, but was repulsed by the sons of Hyrcanus; so that, after another raid through Judea, he was obliged to leave the Jews in peace.

Alexander Jannæus was much more powerful than his father, Hyrcanus, yet he was attacked and completely defeated by the Seleucid Demetrius III. at Shechem during the civil war brought on by the Pharisees, while even one of the last of the Seleucidæ, Antiochus XII., Dionysus , was strong enough to break through the fortifications of Alexander Jannæus and to march straight across Judea against the Arabs.

The Seleucidan dynasty gradually degenerated into condottieri, who served the powerful Greek cities with their mercenaries. As lords without lands, they led a precarious existence, and were able to demonstrate their military strength only when the vital interests of the Hellenic cities were at stake. Such an occasion was the war against the Jews which threatened the very existence of the Greek cities. The civil year which raged uninterruptedly after the year 112 B.C. finally broke the power of the Seleucidæ (Gutschmid, "Kleine Schriften," ii. 309).

In Rabbinical Literature.

The Seleucidæ are mentioned but rarely in rabbinical literature. An allusion in Seder 'Olam Rabbah xxx., which Zunz, however, declares to be an interpolation, runs as follows: "In the Diaspora [Babylon being the place especially implied] documents were dated according to the era of the Greeks" (comp. 'Ab. Zarah 10: "in the Diaspora they reckon only according to the kings of the Greeks"). Eight monarchs are then enumerated (all Diadochi, excepting Alexander the Great), among them Seleucus (Nicator), Antiochus (III., the Great), and Antiochus Epiphanes (comp. Seder 'Olam Zuṭa, ed. Neubauer, in "M. J. C." ii. 71). A midrash on Ps. ix. 8 (comp. Yalḳ., Ps. 642) says that Alexander built Alexandria; Seleucus, Seleucia, i.e., Seleucia on the Tigris (see "R. E. J." xliv. 38); and (this is stated first in the midrash) Antiochus, Antioch. The Jewish sources show a more intimate knowledge of Antiochus Epiphanes only, this being due to I Macc., which makes him the immediate successor of Alexander the Great, as do also various other chronicles ("R. E. J." xlv. 28).

  • In addition to the passages in Polybius, Diodorus, Livy, and Justin, the main sources are I and II Macc.;
  • Josepbus, Ant. books xii., xiii.;
  • Eusebjus, Chronicon;
  • and Jerome on Dan. xi. See also Clinton, Fasti Hellenici;
  • Droysen, Gesch. des Hellenismus, 2d ed., 1877-78;
  • Holm, Griechische Geschichte, vol. iv., Berlin, 1874;
  • Niese, Gesch. der Griechischen und Makedonischen Staaten, 1899;
  • Herzfeld, Gesch. des volkes Jisrael. i., passim;
  • Grätz, Gesch. ii., iii., passim;
  • Schürer, Gesch. 3d ed., i. 165-179;
  • Wellhausen, I. J. G. 4th ed., pp. 258 et seq.
J. S. Kr.
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