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SELEUCIDS (sĕ-lū’sĭds, Gr. Seleukos). The Seleucids took their name from Seleucus, a cavalry officer of Alexander. He was one of the Diadochi, or “Successors,” the name given to those remarkable military personalities who successfully divided Alexander’s empire after his death. By 312 b.c. Seleucus had established himself in command of Babylonia, Susiana, and Media, and from this date his dynasty and era can be conveniently reckoned. By 301 he was master of Syria, founding Antioch and Seleucia to express the westward expansion of his kingdom and to balance Seleucia on the Tigris, its eastern bastion.

The Seleucids were the true heirs of the kingdom of Alexander. Their borders fluctuated, but for over two centuries of independent rule the Seleucids held the major portion of Alexander’s realms. Their empire was frequently called Syria from their holdings on the NE corner of the Mediterranean, where their major centers were located and where they sought to establish an eastern Macedonia. In many ways they followed Alexander’s policies. They sought to Hellenize their domains, to mingle immigrant Greeks with Asiatics. In so doing they set the stage for Paul of Tarsus, heir of two cultures, and for the Greek NT. The clash between the Seleucids and the Jews that brought on the Maccabean revolt inhibited to a great extent Hellenizing influences in Israel. The Greek cities, which the Seleucids founded all over their empire, were in general a civilizing force that prepared the way for the fruitful mingling of Palestine, Greece, and Rome, and hence for the development of Europe in the West. Greek life and thought took root in the Middle East and penetrated far into Asia. Royal authority, in spite of its Greek democratic foundations, was shaped by the Seleucids on the autocratic model favored by Alexander. The Seleucid monarchy, therefore, prepared the eastern half of the Roman Empire for the later deification of the emperor. This imperial cult helped to precipitate the damaging contest between the Christians and the Roman State in NT times.——EMB