Reading for the Weekend: The Rise of the Seleukid Empire

Screen Shot 2015-10-01 at 9.07.15 PMI have long tried to find some definite accounts about Alexanders Successors, especially those that would shed some light to somewhat difficult subject of Seleukid Empire. By sort of accident, while browsing for completely different topics through e-book library, a title came into focus. The Rise of the Seleukid Empire – Seleukos I to Seleukos III by John D. Grainger (ISBN 978-1-78303-053-8, eISBN 9781473838604) promised to deal with the rise of the Empire. There appears to be also second part that covers the Antiochus III reign and therefore the period when Seleukids contacted Rome, the rising Empire in the West. Considering the composition of my Impetus armies, the second part would be something of essential read.

Seleucid Empire starts from the fall of Alexander, and as such places Seleukos I to his proper place as one of the ambitious lieutenants of Alexander. Coverage of the Seleukos whereabouts during the years of turmoil are quite comprehensive, barring what is not known or recorded (which unfortunately happens to be quite a lot). Seleukos is represented as brilliant and ambitious leader who used every trick in the book to position himself favorably in the game of Alexanders Successors. The whole era of plotting and tedious single man quest to carve out Eastern Empire from the ashes is quite fantastic story. Once his rule over the Babylon had been stabilized somewhat, and various coalitions terminated the careers of the other successors (Antigonos, Eumenes to name but few), essentially defensive and dug in Egypt under Ptolemy and expansionist Eastern part of the empire under Seleukos remained as major players. The developing geopolitical tensions are well described, and the difficult political positions of varying factions are well presented.

Before Seleukos I completed what he intended to achieve, he went out to yet another war but did not return. While his succeeding co-king was able, he, and subsequent kings did not perhaps possess same faculties to deal with the ever increasing complexities that the Empire presented. Seleukid Empire had some serious internal problems, a list of which the book does admirable job going through starting from the vast territorial gains and ever present revolts, schemes and possible usurpation of the throne. It is, at least in my opinion rather important to pay attention to the administrative and strategic difficulties that Seleukid Empire faced, and very rarely does one make good use of the available sources than author of this book.

As the title points out, the book covers the more Empires more flourishing years, and does not quite end at the dawn of the long and painful collapse. In fact, the second part does not either – during the reign of Antiochus III, the empire is still very much alive – fragmenting but alive and powerful nevertheless. It is very good read if interested on the regions (geo)politics. While the book does offer some insights to the military matters – primary interest of those in wargaming hobby, there is rather little that one would not be able to come by elsewhere. Perhaps the largest benefit would be to have some sense in the whole affair that followed the death of Alexander, and to point out who engaged whom, when and with what resources. If I would own GMT’s Successors, I’d definitely have this one on my reading list.

I did like, and would recommend at least the first part and I am considering getting the second one as well on my reading list. That said, I have to admit that at times the book was somewhat tedious to read, but that was probably not the fault of the book but the reader.

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