Alexander Balas

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Alexander I Balas
Coin of Alexander I Balas, Antioch mint.jpg
Coin of Alexander I Balas, Antioch mint
Basileus of the Seleucid Empire
(King of Syria)
Reign150 BC – August 145 BC
PredecessorDemetrius I Soter
SuccessorsDemetrius II Nicator or Antiochus VI Dionysus
BornSmyrna
DiedAugust 145 BC
SpouseCleopatra Thea
IssueAntiochus VI Dionysus (first son with Cleopatra Thea)
DynastySeleucid
FatherAntiochus IV Epiphanes (unconfirmed)
MotherLaodice IV (unconfirmed)

Alexander I Theopator Euergetes, surnamed Balas (Ancient Greek: Αλέξανδρος Βάλας, romanizedAlexandros Balas), was the ruler of the Greek Seleucid kingdom in 150/Summer 152 – August 145 BC.[1] Alexander defeated Demetrius I Soter for the crown in 150 BC. Ruling briefly, he lost the crown to Demetrius II Nicator during his defeat at the Battle of Antioch (145 BC) in Syria, dying shortly after.

Life[edit]

Origins and mission to Rome[edit]

Alexander Balas claimed to be the son of Antiochus IV Epiphanes and Laodice IV and heir to the Seleucid throne. The ancient sources, Polybius and Diodorus say that this claim was false and that he and his sister Laodice VI were really natives of Smyrna of humble origin.[2] Modern scholars disagree about whether this is true or was propaganda put about by Alexander's opponents.[3]

According to Diodorus, Alexander was originally put forward as a candidate for the Seleucid throne by Attalus II of Pergamum. Attalus had been disturbed by the Seleucid king Demetrius I's interference in Cappadocia, where he had dethroned king Ariarathes V.[4] Boris Chrubasik is sceptical, noting that there is little subsequent evidence for Attalid involvement with Alexander.[5] However, Selene Psoma has proposed that a large set of coins minted in a number of cities under Attalid control in this period was produced by Attalus II in order to fund Alexander's bid for the kingship.[6]

Alexander and his sister were maintained in Cilicia by Heracleides, a former minister of Antiochus IV and brother of Timarchus, an usurper in Media who had been executed by the reigning king Demetrius I Soter.[7] In 153 BC, Heracleides brought Alexander and his sister to Rome, where he presented Alexander to the Roman Senate, which recognised him as the legitimate Seleucid king and agreed to support him in his bid to take the throne. Polybius mentions that Attalus II and Demetrius I also met with the Senate at this time but does not state how this was connected to the recognition of Alexander - if at all.[8]

War with Demetrius I (152-150 BC)[edit]

Silver coin of Alexander I "Balas". The Greek inscription reads ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΑΛΕΧΑΝΔΡΟΥ (king Alexander). The date ΓΞΡ is year 164 of the Seleucid era, corresponding to 149–148 BC.

After recruiting mercenaries, Alexander and Heracleides departed to Ephesus. From there, they invaded Phoenicia by sea, seizing Ptolemais Akko. [9] Numismatic evidence shows that Alexander had also gained control of Seleucia Pieria, Byblos, Beirut, Tyre by 151 BC.[10] On this coinage, Alexander heavily advertised his (claimed) connection to Antiochus IV, depicting Zeus Nicephorus on his coinage as Antiochus had done. He also assumed the title of Theopator ('Divinely Fathered'), which recalled Antiochus' epithet Theos Epiphanes ('God Manifest'). The coinage also presented Alexander Balas in the guise of Alexander the Great, with pronounced facial features and long flowing hair. This was intended to emphasise his military prowess to his soldiers.[11][12]

Alexander and Demetrius I competed with another to win over Jonathan Apphus, the leader of the ascendant faction in Judaea. Jonathan was won over to Alexander's side by the grant of a high position in the Seleucid court and the high priesthood in Jerusalem.[13][14] Reinforced by Jonathan's hardened soldiers, Alexander fought a decisive battle with Demetrius in July 150 BC, in which Demetrius was killed. By autumn, Alexander's kingship was recognised throughout the Seleucid realm.[15][16]

Reign (150-147 BC)[edit]

Marriage commemorative of Alexander I Balas and Cleopatra Thea.

Alexander gained control of Antioch at this time and his chancellor, Ammonius, murdered all the courtiers of Demetrius I, as well as his wife Laodice and his eldest son Antigonus.[17] Ptolemy VI Philometor of Egypt entered into an alliance with Alexander, which was sealed by Alexander's marriage to his daughter Cleopatra Thea. The wedding took place at Ptolemais, with Ptolemy VI and Jonathan Apphus in attendance. Alexander took the opportunity to shower honours on Jonathan, whom he treated as his main agent in Judaea.[18][19] The marriage was advertised by a special coinage issue, depicting the royal pair side by side - only the second depiction of a queen on Seleucid coinage. She is shown with divine attributes (a cornucopia and a calathus) and is depicted in front of the king. Some scholars have seen Alexander as little more than a Ptolemaic puppet, arguing that this coinage emphasises Cleopatra's dominance over him and that the chancellor Ammonius was a Ptolemaic agent.[20] Other scholars argue that the alliance was advertised as an important one, but that the arguments for Alexander's subservience have been overstated.[21]

Being now master of the empire, he is said to have abandoned himself to a life of debauchery, handing the administration of Antioch over to two commanders, Hierax and Diodotus.[22] This representation is partially a product of his opponents' propaganda, but Alexander is not recorded to have achieved anything in this years. Meanwhile, the Parthians took advantage of the unsettled situation to invade Media. The region had been lost to Seleucid control by the middle of 148 BC.[23][24]

War with Demetrius II and death (147-145 BC)[edit]

In early 147 BC Demetrius' son Demetrius II returned to Syria with a force of Cretan mercenaries led by a man called Lasthenes. Much of Coele Syria was lost to him immediately, possibly as a result of the succession of the regional commander. Jonathan attacked Demetrius's position from the south, seizing Jaffa and Ashdod, while Alexander Balas was occupied with a revolt in Cilicia.[25] In 145 BC Ptolemy VI of Egypt invaded Syria, ostensibly in support of Alexander Balas. In practice, Ptolemy's intervention came at a heavy cost; with Alexander's permission, he took control of all the Seleucid cities along the coast, including Seleucia Pieria.[26] He may also have started minting his own coinage in the Syrian cities.[27][28]

While he was at Ptolemais Akko, however, Ptolemy switched sides. According to Josephus, Ptolemy discovered that Alexander's chancellor, Ammonius, had been plotting to assassinate him, but when he demanded that Ammonius be punished, Alexander refused.[29] Ptolemy remarried his Cleopatra Thea to Demetrius II and continued his march northward. Alexander's commanders of Antioch, Diodotus and Hierax, surrendered the city to Ptolemy.[30][28]

Alexander returned from Cilicia with his army, but Ptolemy VI and Demetrius II defeated his forces in a battle at the Oenoparas river.[31] Earlier, Alexander had sent his infant son Antiochus to an Arabian dynast called Zabdiel Diocles. Alexander now fled to Arabia in order to join up with Zabdiel, but he was killed. Sources disagree about whether the killer was a pair of his own generals who had decided to switch sides or Zabdiel himself. Alexander's severed head was brought to Ptolemy, who also died shortly after from wounds sustained in the battle.[32][33]

Zabdiel continued to look after Alexander's infant son Antiochus, until 145 BC when the general Diodotus declared him king, in order to serve as the figurehead of a rebellion against Demetrius II. In 130 BC, another claimant to the throne, Alexander Zabinas, would also claim to be Alexander Balas' son; almost certainly spuriously.[34] Alexander is the title character of the oratorio Alexander Balus, written in 1747 by George Frideric Handel.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Alexander I Balas". Livius.org.
  2. ^ Polybius 33.18.5-18; Diodorus Bibliotheca 31.32a.
  3. ^ Chrubasik, Boris (2016). Kings and Usurpers in the Seleukid Empire: The Men who would be King. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 162 n. 139. ISBN 9780198786924.
  4. ^ Diodorus Bibliotheca 31.32a
  5. ^ Chrubasik, Boris (2016). Kings and Usurpers in the Seleukid Empire: The Men who would be King. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 130 and 163. ISBN 9780198786924.
  6. ^ Psoma, Selene E. (2013). "War or Trade? Attic-Weight Tetradrachms from Second-Century BC Attalid Asia Minor in Seleukid Syria after the Peace of Apameia and Their Historical Context". In Thonemann, Peter (ed.). Attalid Asia Minor: Money, International Relations, and the State. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 265–300.
  7. ^ Smith, Philip Peter (1867). "Alexander Balas". In William Smith (ed.). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. 1. Boston: Little, Brown and Company. pp. 114–115. Archived from the original on 2011-06-06.
  8. ^ Polybius 33.18; Chrubasik, Boris (2016). Kings and Usurpers in the Seleukid Empire: The Men who would be King. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 130. ISBN 9780198786924.
  9. ^ Polybius 33.18.14; Josephus AJ 13.35
  10. ^ Chrubasik, Boris (2016). Kings and Usurpers in the Seleukid Empire: The Men who would be King. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 131. ISBN 9780198786924.
  11. ^ Bohm, Claudia (1989). Imitatio Alexandri im Hellenismus; Untersuchungen zum politischen Nachwirken Alexanders des Grossen in hoch- und späthellenistischen Monarchien. Munich. pp. 105–116.
  12. ^ Chrubasik, Boris (2016). Kings and Usurpers in the Seleukid Empire: The Men who would be King. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 163–5. ISBN 9780198786924.
  13. ^ Josephus AJ 13.45; I Maccabees. 10.3-6, 10.20
  14. ^ Chrubasik, Boris (2016). Kings and Usurpers in the Seleukid Empire: The Men who would be King. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 165–166. ISBN 9780198786924.
  15. ^ Josephus AJ 13.59–61; I Maccabees 10.48–50; Justin Epitome of Pompeius Trogus 35.1.9–11. Astronomical Diaries III 149 A rev. 1–13 and B obv. 1
  16. ^ Chrubasik, Boris (2016). Kings and Usurpers in the Seleukid Empire: The Men who would be King. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 130–1. ISBN 9780198786924.
  17. ^ Livy, Periochae 50; Chrubasik, Boris (2016). Kings and Usurpers in the Seleukid Empire: The Men who would be King. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 132 n. 33. ISBN 9780198786924.
  18. ^ I Maccabees 10.61-65; Josephus AJ 13.80-85
  19. ^ Chrubasik, Boris (2016). Kings and Usurpers in the Seleukid Empire: The Men who would be King. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 131–2. ISBN 9780198786924.
  20. ^ Volkmann, Hans (1925). "Demetrios I. und Alexander I. von Syrien". Klio. 19: 406.; Ehling, Kay (2008). Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der späten Seleukiden (164–63 v. Chr.): Vom Tode des Antiochs IV. bis zur Einrichtung der Provinz Syria unter Pompeius. Stuttgart. pp. 155–156.
  21. ^ Chrubasik, Boris (2016). Kings and Usurpers in the Seleukid Empire: The Men who would be King. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 167–169. ISBN 9780198786924.
  22. ^  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Alexander Balas". Encyclopædia Britannica. 1 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 565–566.
  23. ^ Inscriptiones d;Iran et d'Asie centrale n. 70; Justin, Epitome of Pompeius Trogus 41.6.6; Le Rider, Georges (1965). Suse sous les Séleucides et les Parthes: Les trouvailles monétaires et l’histoire de la ville. Paris. p. 339-340.
  24. ^ Chrubasik, Boris (2016). Kings and Usurpers in the Seleukid Empire: The Men who would be King. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 132. ISBN 9780198786924.
  25. ^ I Maccabees 10.69–89; Josephus AJ 13.88–102
  26. ^ I Maccabees 11.3-8
  27. ^ Lorber, Catharine C. (2007). "The Ptolemaic Era Coinage Revisited". Numismatic Chronicle. 167: 105–17.
  28. ^ a b Chrubasik, Boris (2016). Kings and Usurpers in the Seleukid Empire: The Men who would be King. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 133–134. ISBN 9780198786924.
  29. ^ Josephus Antiquities of the Jews 13.106-107; I Maccabees does not mention the episode and presents Ptolemy as planning to supported Demetrius II from the start. Josephus presents Ptolemy as genuinely supporting Alexander until this moment.
  30. ^ I Maccabees 11; Josephus Antiquities of the Jews 13.106-107, 115
  31. ^ Strabo 16.2.8.
  32. ^ Diodorus 32.9d & 10.1; Zabdiel: I Maccabees 11.17; Josephus AJ 13.118.
  33. ^ Chrubasik, Boris (2016). Kings and Usurpers in the Seleukid Empire: The Men who would be King. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 134–5. ISBN 9780198786924.
  34. ^ Porphyry FGrH 260 F 32.21; Chrubasik, Boris (2016). Kings and Usurpers in the Seleukid Empire: The Men who would be King. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 142. ISBN 9780198786924.

Bibliography[edit]

Primary
Secondary
  • Maas, Anthony John (1907). "Alexander" . In Herbermann, Charles (ed.). Catholic Encyclopedia. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  • Mørkholm, Otto (1981). "Sculpture and Coins: the Portrait of Alexander Balas of Syria". Numismatica e Antichità Classiche. Industria Grafica Gaggini-Bizzozero. 10. ISSN 1420-1739. OCLC 715323965.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Chrubasik, Boris (2016). Kings and Usurpers in the Seleukid Empire: The Men who would be King. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780198786924.

External links[edit]

Alexander Balas
Born: Unknown Died: 146 BC
Preceded by
Demetrius I Soter
Seleucid King
(King of Syria)

150–146 BC
Succeeded by
Demetrius II Nicator or Antiochus VI Dionysus