Supreme command of the Seleukid army

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Bezalel Bar-Kochva, The Seleucid Army: Organization and Tactics in the Great Campaigns


The supreme command in the main campaigns was usually held by the king himself: Seleucus I at Ipsus, Cyrrhestica, and Curupedion; Antiochus I against the Galatians; Antiochus III against Molon, in the Fourth Syrian War (Seleucia, Porphyrion, Rabatamana, Raphia), against Achaeus (Sardis), in the expedition to the upper satrapies, in the Fifth Syrian War (Gaza, Panion), and in the Roman war (Thermopylae and Magnesia); Antiochus IV in his expeditions to Egypt and to the east; Demetrius I against Alexander Balas and Antiochus VII Sidetes in his campaign against the Parthians.1 In exceptional cases, when the terrain prevented him from fighting among his cavalry Guard, we find the king content to direct operations from behind the front line, or on its periphery, as at Porphyrion, Seleucia, Rabatamana, Sardis, and the Elburz. Occasionally he supervised one of the flanks, usually the traditionally more prestigious right,2 as in the battle against Molon, at Raphia, Thermopylae, and Magnesia, but more often took personal command of the storm troops, mainly cavalry, as at Cyrrhestica, Raphia, Bactria, and Magnesia. Although by actively participating in the battle the kings were unable to keep an eye on the tactical developments and often virtually lost control over their various contingents (a fact which led to the disasters of Raphia and Magnesia), their direct involvement in the actual fighting certainly boosted the morale of the troops and reinforced the settler-soldiers’ sense of identification with the crown. In contrast to the notorious effeminate reputation of some of the Ptolemaic monarchs3 who only rarely led their troops personally, the personal example set by the Seleucid kings was of inestimable value, although of course the Seleucids were only following the lead of all Greek and nearly all Macedonian commanders in acting in this way.

The king was occasionally replaced as the supreme commander of the army or of expeditionary forces by various other functionaries: the viceroy and regent, Lysias, in the two expeditions to Judaea; the crown prince, Seleucus, in the siege of Pergamon, 191 B.C.; Achaeus, Seleucus II’s uncle, and his son Andromachus against Antiochus Hierax; provincial governors like Bacchides in Judaea; and even professional soldiers like Xenoitas the Achaean, Xenon, and Theodotos Hemiolios in the campaign against Molon.4

Bezalel Bar-Kochva, The Seleucid Army: Organization and Tactics in the Great Campaigns, pp. 85-86
(Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1976 and 1979)


1 Ipsus – Plut. Demetr. 19.3; Cyrrhestica – Plut. Demetr. 29.3; Polyaenus 4.9.3; Curupedion – App. Syr. 62(328); Galatians – Lucian, Zeuxis, 8-11, see also OGIS 220; Molon – Polyb. 5.53.7, 54.1; Fourth Syrian War – Polyb. 5.59.1, 60.3 (Seleucia), 69.6 (Porphyrion), 71.7 (Rabatamana), 82.8, 84.1, 8, 11-13 (Raphia); Achaeus – Polyb. 7.16.1-2, 17.6; The Eastern Expedition – Polyb. 10.29, 49; Thermopylae – Livy 36.18-19; App. Syr. 17-19; Magnesia – Livy 37.41.1, 42.7-8, 43; App. Syr. 32-6; Antiochus IV – I Macc. 1.16-20, 3.37; Demetrius I – Jos. Ant. 13.59; Antiochus VII – Justin 38.10.9-10.

2 On this Macedonian tradition see Kromayer, Schlachtfelder, I.166; Kromayer-Veith, Heerwesen, 84-5.

3 Especially Ptolemy II and IV, see e.g. Polyb. 5.34.4-10, 87.3, etc.; cf. E. Bevan, A History of Egypt Under the Ptolemaic Dynasty, 57, 220; G.H. Macurdy, Hellenistic Queens, 119-20. The later Antigonids were not distinguished for bravery either: Philip V evidently tried to escape from the battlefield at Cynoscephalae at an early stage, and Perseus’ notorious flight from Pydna is repeatedly dwelt on by ancient historians (Plut. Aem. 19.3, 23; Livy 44.42.1-2, etc.).

4 I Macc. 4.26-35, 6.28-54 (Lysias); App. Syr. 26 (Seleucus); Polyaenus 4.17 (Achaeus); I Macc. 9.1 (Bacchides); Polyb. 5.42.5, 45.6, 46.6, 59.2 (Xenoetas, Xenon, Theodotus).


Bevan, E.R.:A History of Egypt Under the Ptolemaic Dynasty. London, 1927.
Kromayer, J.:Antike Schlachtfelder in Griechenland. Berlin, 1903-31.
Kromayer, J. & Veith, G.:Heerwesen und kriegführung der Griechen und Römer. Munich, 1928.
Macurdy, G.H.:Hellenistic Queens. Baltimore, 1932.



The original numbering of the footnotes is preserved. Only sources cited in the excerpts are listed in the bibliography.