Antiochus The Great by Michael Taylor
Antiochus Megas is remembered by history as the loser at Raphia to the Ptolemies, and at Magnesia to the Romans. his storied life has been overshadowed by these defeats. His anabasis to the east, which followed Alexander's foot steps and won back the majority of the Seleucid lands, is all but forgotten. Michael Taylor's biography brings Antiochus and his times to life again. Even Hannibal has a walk-on part in the tale of Antiochus
Antiochus III Megas inherited the Seleucid throne as a teenager, after his older brother Seleuces was killed by his own mutinous army. The Seleucid kingdom was a shadow of its former greatness. All that was left to Antiochus was a rump of a few states in nowadays Turkey, Iraq, and Syria. The kingdom under his great-great-grandfather Seleuces I ranged from Thrace in Greece to the borders of modern day Egypt and India. Being a second son, Antiochus was not groomed for the throne. It is true he was given some schooling in the ability to govern, but certainly not to the extent his older brother was. As a teenage king he was surrounded by armed foes on all sides of his small inheritance. It was plain at the start of his reign that his gifts as a warrior, general, and administrator put him into the highest echelon of Alexander's successors, along with Seleuces I and the greatest of them all, Antigonus. He fended off most of his rivals by his early twenties. It is true that he lost at Raphia to Ptolemy IV, but the peace treaty between them was still advantageous to Antiochus. After removing his cousin (the usurper Acheaus) from the field, his spear-won territory was at peace.
The extent of his kingdom in 191 B.C.
It was then that he set his sights on the east, and the lands that had broken away from Seleucid rule. In a testament to his rule, no enemy or usurper attacked the kingdom while he was away for almost a decade in the east. Polybius speaks of his personal bravery and generalship. Unfortunately, Antiochus' early years coincide with the second Punic War between Carthage and Rome. If this had not occurred at that time we might have much more information about these years from ancient authors. Mr. Taylor does an excellent job of piecing together the various snippets we do have to make a coherent tale of his life.
Antiochus returns from the east to finally conquer Palestine and its environs from the Ptolemies. He next returns most of Asia Minor back to the Seleucid fold. With his invasion of Europe and the capture of Thrace, he now is king of almost all of the lands Seleuces I left to his descendants. Unfortunately, Antiochus now involves himself with Grecian politics, which arouses the ire of Rome. After a long campaign he is defeated by Rome and forced to give up all of his territories in Europe and Asia Minor. Not too long after, he is killed in Elam while despoiling a native temple. He was, however, able to leave his son a much stronger kingdom than he himself had inherited.
The author goes into the Seleucid kingdom in detail. He shows us its history up until Antiochus III, and describes the army and naval forces. The Seleucid economy and its dealings with the other countries on its borders are also gone into.
The battle of Magnesia was much closer than is usually depicted. Antiochus was able to crush the left wing of the Romans and allies, before losing on his own left flank. The battle also is the first in which large numbers of armored cavalry, cataphracts, were first used. Some ancient authors have them riding down a Roman legion during the battle.
Michael Taylor's biography of this all but forgotten conqueror is a well done and needed work to shed the light of day on this era of the Hellenistic kingdoms.
Book: Antiochus The Great
Author Michael Taylor
Publisher: Pen & Sword
Distributor: Casemate Publishing
Date of Review: 9/15/2016