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Books

The Seleucids and Iran

Plischke, Sonja. 2014. Die Seleukiden und Iran: die seleukidische Herrschaftspolitik in den östlichen Satrapien. (Classica et Orientalia 9). Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag.
This revised doctoral thesis surveys the eastern provinces of the Seleucid Empire. Much work has been done in the last decades, especially on the documents from Babylon, which allows for certain periods a much more certain chronology than was possible earlier. Plischke makes good use of this material and provides in general a sound survey of the sources and the voluminous secondary literature on the Seleucid kingdom, although her main focus is on Iran. She begins with a survey of recent research and follows it up with a rather long-winded listing of the literary, epigraphic and numismatic sources, which offers nothing new and could have been more sharply focussed – does a reader of this highly complex work really need to be told that Polybios is “generally regarded as reliable” or that Livy wrote his History of Rome in the Augustan period? The preliminary chapter also offers a cursory account of well-known events from Kyros II until the death of Roxane and Alexander IV. This makes a reader wonder whether the book is intended for a professional or a general readership. (R. Malcolm Errington, BMCR)*
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Articles

Seleukid Sacred Architecture, Royal Cult and the Transformation of Iranian Culture in the Middle Iranian Period

Matthew P. Canepa. 2014. Seleukid sacred architecture, royal cult and the transformation of Iranian culture in the Middle Iranian period. Iranian Studies 48(1). 1-27.

This article proposes a new approach to three of the most persistent problems in the study of Iranian art and religion from the coming of Alexander to the fall of the Sasanians: the development of Iranian sacred architecture, the legacy of the Achaemenids, and the development of the art and ritual of Iranian kingship after Alexander. Canepa explores the ways in which the Seleukids contributed basic and enduring elements of Iranian religious and royal culture that lasted throughout late antiquity. Beyond stressing simple continuities or breaks with the Babylonian, Achaemenid or Macedonian traditions, this article argues that the Seleukids selectively integrated a variety of cultural, architectural and religious traditions to forge what became the architectural vocabularies and religious expressions of the Middle Iranian era.

 

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Books

Space, territory, and ideology in the Seleucid Empire

Kosmin, Paul J. 2014. The land of the elephant Kings: Space, territory, and ideology in the Seleucid Empire. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

The Seleucid Empire (311–64 BCE) was unlike anything the ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern worlds had seen. Stretching from present-day Bulgaria to Tajikistan—the bulk of Alexander the Great’s Asian conquests—the kingdom encompassed a territory of remarkable ethnic, religious, and linguistic diversity; yet it did not include Macedonia, the ancestral homeland of the dynasty. The Land of the Elephant Kings investigates how the Seleucid kings, ruling over lands to which they had no historic claim, attempted to transform this territory into a coherent and meaningful space.

Based on recent archaeological evidence and ancient primary sources, Paul J. Kosmin’s multidisciplinary approach treats the Seleucid Empire not as a mosaic of regions but as a land unified in imperial ideology and articulated by spatial practices. Kosmin uncovers how Seleucid geographers and ethnographers worked to naturalize the kingdom’s borders with India and Central Asia in ways that shaped Roman and later medieval understandings of “the East.” In the West, Seleucid rulers turned their backs on Macedonia, shifting their sense of homeland to Syria. By mapping the Seleucid kings’ travels and studying the cities they founded—an ambitious colonial policy that has influenced the Near East to this day—Kosmin shows how the empire’s territorial identity was constructed on the ground. In the empire’s final century, with enemies pressing harder and central power disintegrating, we see that the very modes by which Seleucid territory had been formed determined the way in which it fell apart.