Babylonian War

Babylonian War

Babylonian War (311-309 BC): armed conflict between the Diadochi Antigonus Monophthalmus and Seleucus I Nicator, ending in a victory by the last-mentioned. After this war, restoration of the empire of Alexander the Great was no longer possible, a result confirmed in the Battle of Ipsus.


After the death of Alexander the Great on 11 June 323 BC, his empire disintegrated. Officers who were trying to safe it were defeated during the First War of the Diadochi. During the Second War of the Diadochi, the power of Antigonus Monophthalmus, who had created a state of his own in Anatolia and Syria, was growing; this caused alarm among the other generals, but in the Third War of the Diadochi, Antigonus managed to keep Ptolemy I Soter of Egypt and Cassander of Macedon in check. In December 311, the warring parties concluded the Peace of the Dynasts, and recognized each other. The only ruler who was excluded, was Seleucus I Nicator. Antigonus had expelled this satrap from Babylonia in 316, [All dates according to Tom Boiy, "Between High and Low. A Chronology of the Early Hellenistic Period" (2007).] but Ptolemy had given him an army, which he now used to return to his satrapy. [Diodorus Siculus, "World History", 19.90.]


Seleucus, reinforced with Macedonian veterans from Harran, reached his former capital Babylon in the second half of May 311. [ [ Chronicle of the Diadochi, rev., iv.1'.] ] He was soon recognized as the new ruler. [The Seleucid Era is reckoned from this moment: [ Chronicle of the Diadochi, rev., iv.3-4'.] ] Only the fortress remained occupied by a garrison loyal to Antigonus. Seleucus now built a dam in the Euphrates and created an artificial lake; in August, he suddenly broke the dam, and a flood wave destroyed the walls of the fortress. [ [ Chronicle of the Diadochi, rev., iv.7'.] ]

Antigonus' satraps in Media and Aria, Nicanor and Euagoras, now decided to intervene with an army of 10,000 infantry and 7,000 horsemen, but Seleucus and an army of 3,000 infantry and 400 cavalry had been waiting for them near the Tigris since September 311. [ [ Chronicle of the Diadochi, rev., iv.9-10'] ; for the numbers, Diodorus, "World History", 19.91.] By hiding his men in one of the marshes and attacking by night, Seleucus was able to defeat the Macedonian soldiers in the army of Nicanor and Euagoras, after which the Iranian soldiers decided to side with the ruler of Babylonia (November 311). [ [ Chronicle of the Diadochi, rev., iv.11'] with Diodorus, "World History", 19.91.] Without any problems, Seleucus could move through the Zagros Mountains, occupy Ecbatana (the capital of Media), and continue to Susa (the capital of Elam). He now controlled southern Iraq and the greater part of Iran.

News of the defeat of Nicanor and Euagoras must have reached Antigonus at about the time of his signing the Peace of the Dynasts (December 311). He ordered his son Demetrius Poliorcetes to restore order; he arrived in the early spring of 310, when Seleucus was still in the east. Although Demetrius managed to enter Babylon, he was not able to cope with the resistance that Seleucus' adherents were able to organize, and he returned to Syria without having achieved his goal. [Diodorus, "World History", 19.100.] His father Antigonus tried again in the autumn of 310, and also managed to enter Babylon, [ [ Chronicle of the Diadochi, rev., iv.14-20'.] ] but was forced to leave the city in March 309. [ [ Chronicle of the Diadochi, rev., iv.22'.] ] Returning to the northwest, he met the army of Seleucus, who ordered his soldiers to have their meal during the night, attacked Antigonus' soldiers while they were having breakfast, and won a decisive victory. [Polyaenus, "Strategems" 4.9.1; cf. Pat Wheatley, "Antigonus Monophthalmus in Babylonia, 310-308 B.C." in: "Journal of Near Eastern Studies" 61 (2002), 39-47.]


Antigonus retreated and accepted that Babylonia, Media, and Elam belonged to Seleucus. The victor now moved to the east and reached the Indus valley, where he concluded a treaty with Chandragupta Maurya. The raja received the Punjab and gave Seleucus a formidable force of five hundred war elephants. [Strabo, "Geography" 15.2.1.] By adding all of Iran and Afghanistan, Seleucus became the most powerful ruler since Alexander the Great. [Arrian of Nicomedia, "Anabasis", 7.22.5.] Restoration of Alexander's Empire was, after the Babylonian War, no longer possible. This outcome was confirmed in the Fourth War of the Diadochi and the Battle of Ipsus (301).


Our knowledge is based on Diodorus Siculus, "World History", 19.90-93 and 19.100. He discusses Seleucus' battle against the satraps and Demetrius and offers plausible numbers for the armies, but ignores the campaign of Antigonus. This is described in one of the contemporary Babylonian Chronicles, the [ Chronicle of the Diadochi] (= ABC 10 = BCHP 3), which also offers the chronological framework. Since the publication of this cuneiform tablet, now in the British Museum, our understanding of this conflict has much increased.


* T. Boiy, "Between High and Low. A Chronology of the Early Hellenistic Period" (2007).
* I. Finkel & R.J. van der Spek, "Babylonian Chronicles of the Hellenistisc Period" (= BCHP; forthcoming)
* A.K. Grayson, "Assyrian and Babylonian Chronicles" (= ABC; 1975, 1977)
* Pat Wheatley, "Antigonus Monophthalmus in Babylonia, 310-308 B.C." in: "Journal of Near Eastern Studies" 61 (2002), 39-47.


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