Demetrius II Nicator

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For the similarly named Macedonian ruler, see Demetrius II of Macedon. For the Macedonian prince, see Demetrius the Fair.

Coin of Demetrius II. The reverse shows Zeus bearing Nike. The Greek inscription reads ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΔΗΜΗΤΡΙΟΥ ΘΕΟΥ ΝΙΚΑΤΟΡΟΣ i.e. "of king Demetrius God victorious". The date ΔΠΡ is year 184 of the Seleucid era, corresponding to 129–128 BC.

Demetrius II (Greek: Δημήτριος Β` died 125 BC), called Nicator (Greek: "Νικάτωρ", i.e. "Victor"), was one of the sons of Demetrius I Soter, brother of Antiochus VII Sidetes and his mother could have been Laodice V. He ruled the Seleucid Empire for two periods, separated by a number of years of captivity in Hyrcania in Parthia.[1]

In exile[edit]

As a young boy, he fled to Crete after the death of his father, his mother and his older brother, when Alexander Balas usurped the Seleucid throne.

First reign[edit]

About 147 BC he returned to Syria, and with the backing of Ptolemy VI Philometor, king of Egypt, regained his father's throne. The Egyptian king also divorced his daughter Cleopatra Thea from Balas and remarried her to Demetrius.[2] Alexander fled to the Nabateans who, anxious to stay on good terms with Egypt, cut off his head.

However, Demetrius was not a popular king. The people of Syria had little respect for the young boy, who had come to power with the help of Egypt and Cretan mercenaries led by the ruthless condottiere Lasthenes. The Antiochenians offered the Seleucid throne to Ptolemy VI, who had already conquered most of southern Syria for his own interest. However, he insisted Demetrius would become king, knowing that Rome would never tolerate a unified Hellenistic state, and the year after Ptolemy VI was killed when Alexander Balas made a last desperate attempt to regain his throne. The Egyptian troops marched home, leaderless and disillusioned, and with Balas dead as well Demetrius became sole master of the Seleucid kingdom.

But new troubles soon arose. The pillaging of the Cretan soldiers caused the Antiochenians to rise in rebellion, and only after terrible massacres was order restored. Soon after, the general Diodotus conquered Antioch and had his protégé Antiochus VI Dionysus, the infant son of Alexander Balas, proclaimed king. Demetrius proved unable to retake the capital, instead establishing himself in Seleucia. Diodotus had Antiochus VI deposed a few years later, and made himself king as Tryphon, but the division of the kingdom between the legitimate Seleucid heir and the usurper in Antioch persisted.

Defeat and captivity[edit]

In 139 BC Parthian activity forced Demetrius to take action. He marched against Mithradates I, king of Parthia and was initially successful, but was defeated in the Iranian mountains and taken prisoner the following year. The Babylonian province of the Seleucid empire became Parthian, but in Syria was the dynasty's grip was reassured under Antiochus VII Sidetes, the younger brother of Demetrius, who also married Cleopatra Thea.

King Mithradates had kept Demetrius II alive and even married him to a Parthian princess named Rhodogune, with whom he had children. However, Demetrius was restless and twice tried to escape from his exile in Hyrcania on the shores of the Caspian sea, once with the help of his friend Kallimander, who had gone to great lengths to rescue the king: he had travelled incognito through Babylonia and Parthia. When the two friends were captured, the Parthian king did not punish Kallimander but rewarded him for his fidelity to Demetrius. The second time Demetrius was captured when he tried to escape, Mithradates humiliated him by giving him a golden set of dice, thus hinting that Demetrius II was a restless child who needed toys. It was however for political reasons that the Parthians treated Demetrius II kindly.

In 130 BC Antiochus Sidetes felt secure enough to march against Parthia, and scored massive initial successes. Now Phraates II made what he thought was a powerful move: he released Demetrius, hoping that the two brothers would start a civil war. However, Sidetes was defeated soon after his brother's release and never met him. Phraates II set people to pursue Demetrius, but he managed to safely return home to Syria and regained his throne and his queen as well.

A failed second reign[edit]

However, the Seleucid kingdom was now but a shadow of its former glory, and Demetrius had a hard time ruling even in Syria. Recollections of his cruelties and vices - along with his humiliating defeat - caused him to be greatly detested. The Egyptian queen Cleopatra II set up an army for Demetrius, hoping to engage him in her civil wars against her brother king Ptolemy VIII, but this only added to his grief. The troops soon deserted, and king Ptolemy VIII reacted by setting up yet another usurper, a man named Alexander II Zabinas against Demetrius.

In 126 BC Demetrius was defeated in a battle at Damascus. He fled to Ptolemais but his wife Cleopatra Thea closed the gates against him.[3] He was killed on a ship near Tyre, after his wife had deserted him. His miserable death after being captured and possibly tortured, was a fitting epitaph to the many shortcomings of his reign. Demetrius II was certainly incapable of handling the developing threats to the Seleucid empire, but his reputation for cruelty was probably undeserved. He was only around fourteen at his coronation, and the real power was in the hands of others. He was succeeded by his queen Cleopatra Thea and then by two of their sons, Seleucus V Philometor and Antiochus VIII Grypus.

References[edit]

Notes[edit]

Demetrius II Nicator
Born: Unknown Died: 125 BC
Preceded by
Alexander Balas
Seleucid King
146–139 BC
with Antiochus VI Dionysus (145–142 BC)
Diodotus Tryphon (142–139 BC)
Succeeded by
Antiochus VII Sidetes
Preceded by
Antiochus VII Sidetes
Seleucid King
129–126 BC
with Alexander II Zabinas (129–123 BC)
Succeeded by
Cleopatra Thea