There is a great deal of history to sort through to understand the reduction of the Diadochi, how they related to each other, and how they understood the boundaries of their dominions. However, if we are to take seriously the prophetic implications of the visions of Daniel, the period between 288 and 281 B.C. is of paramount importance, and we should become familiar with it. No eschatology can be complete without understanding it. It is the only post-Alexandrian period during which Hellenism enjoyed exactly four successor kings in Asia Minor, Egypt, Syria and Macedonia—north, south, east and west—respectively. Their identities and territories matter.
Their identities and territories matter to us first because the Book of Daniel repeatedly describes—both explicitly and figuratively—four successor kingdoms after Alexander, “divided toward the four winds of heaven” (see Daniel 7:6, 8:8, 8:22, 11:4). Before 288 B.C., there were too many kings, and after 281 B.C. there appear to be too few. Something significant happened during those seven years in the early 3rd century B.C., and as we shall demonstrate, the contemporary Greek world took note of it. They knew very well that Alexander’s dominions had been divided four ways, a status quo that endured even when only three families of the Diodochi remained.
Second, their identities and territories matter to us because the ensuing conflict between the king of the north and the king of the south occupies a significant portion of the narrative of Daniel 11. Each king is repeatedly invading the other’s territory. Unless we can identify their territories, we can make no sense of the conflict. What makes the chapter especially challenging is that the nations and boundaries of the warring kings are never explicitly described. The angel refers repeatedly and explicitly to countries, regions, territories, cities and other locations with varying degrees of geographic specificity: Media (v. 1), Persia (v. 2), Greece (v. 2), Egypt (vv. 8, 42, 43), Israel (i.e., the glorious land, vv. 16, 41, 20, cf. Ezekiel 20:15), the Greek Isles (v. 18), Chittim (v. 30), Edom, Moab and Ammon (v. 41), Libya, (v. 43), Ethiopia (v. 43), and the temple mount (v. 45). Yet despite the extensive use of specific geographic designations, the angelic narrator nonetheless refrains from referring to the territories of the warring kings except by the cardinal directions, north and south. Their boundaries are unknown to us except in the fulfillment of prophecy.
Although the text does not actually specify it, the king of the north has traditionally been identified with the territory of Syria. We propose that upon examination of the Scriptural evidence and the historical record, the king of the north should instead be identified with Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) and Thrace. We do not deny that the early prophecies of Daniel 11—from verses 5 to 39—deal exclusively with a Syrian king in conflict with an Egyptian king. In fact we insist that such is the case. What we shall demonstrate, however, is that the Syrian king is called “king of the north” only during the periods when he held both the eastern crown and the northern crown, reigning over both Syria and Asia Minor. Although the Syrian king fulfills the prophecies of Daniel 11:5-39, he is never called “king of the north” unless he is actually ruling over the northern territory of Asia Minor and Thrace.
This, of course, has significant implications for our understanding of Daniel 11:40-45, the last time the “king of the north” is mentioned in Scripture. But let us for now turn our attention to the Diadochi.
Reduction to Five (323 – 301 B.C.)
The most notorious reductions of the Diadochi were performed by Alexander’s own bereaved mother, Olympias, and his general Cassander. Olympias murdered Alexander’s half-brother Aridæus in 317 B.C. (Diodorus Siculus, Library of History, Book 19.11.5), and Cassander then murdered Olympias in 316 B.C, to safeguard his claims to the Macedonian throne (Diodorus Siculus, Book 19.51.4-5). Cassander then put to death Alexander’s mistress, Barsine, and his son by her, Hercules, in 309 B.C. (Diodorus Siculus, Book 20.28.1-3; Pausanias, Description of Greece 9.7.2; Justinus, Epitome 15.2) and eliminated Alexander’s wife, Roxanne, and her son Alexander IV in 310 B.C. (Justinus, Epitome 15.2, Pausanias, Description of Greece 9.7.2).
With Alexander’s mother, wife, mistress, brother and sons removed from the picture, the remaining Diadochi each began to claim the right of succession. Alexander’s general, Antigonus, was first to take the crown, claiming it also for his son Demetrius as co-regent (Diodorus Siculus, Library of History, Book 20.47-53; Justinus, Epitome 15.2). Alexander’s other friends and generals—Seleucus, Ptolemy, Lysimachus and Cassander—quickly followed suit and took crowns as well (Diodorus Siculus, Library of History, Book 20.53.2-4; Justinus, Epitome 15.2; Plutarch, Life of Demetrius 18:1-2). Fearing the growing dominance and belligerence of the co-regents of the Antigonid line, “Ptolemy and Cassander, forming an alliance with Lysimachus and Seleucus, made vigorous preparations for war by land and sea” (Justinus, Epitome 15.1). Antigonus in turn summoned Demetrius to his side “since all the kings had united against him” (Diodorus, Book 20.109.5).
This was the prelude to the watershed Battle of Ipsus in 301 B.C. where Antigonus and Demetrius together “made war against a coalition of four kings, Ptolemy, son of Lagus, king of Egypt, Seleucus, king of Babylonia, Lysimachus, king of Thrace, and Cassander, son of Antipater, king of Macedonia” (Diodorus Siculus, Library of History, Fragments of Book 21.4b). At the conclusion of that battle, Antigonus was dead (Plutarch, Life of Demetrius, 29.5) and Demetrius was on the run with only 5,000 soldiers and 4,000 horses remaining (Plutarch, Life of Demetrius, 30.1). The remainder of Alexander’s empire was thus left to the victors, Ptolemy, Cassander, Seleucus and Lysimachus (Plutarch, Life of Demetrius, 30.1). Or so it would seem. But it would be a mistake to count out the Antigonid line so soon. Demetrius had been defeated but he was not dead. He had merely retreated to fight another day.
Defeated but not destroyed, Demetrius retired to Ephesus to regroup (Diodorus Siculus, Library of History, Fragments of Book 21.4b; Plutarch, Life of Demetrius, 30.2; Eusebius, Chronicle (p. 247)), “and gathered up … the remnants of his [father’s] imperium” (Justinus, Prologi, XV). He retained Cyprus and controlled the eastern Mediterranean Sea (Plutarch, Life of Demetrius, 33.1-4). Within a few years he was a regional superpower again, fielding both an army and a navy almost as impressive as any that Alexander had ever deployed (Plutarch, Life of Demetrius, 44.1). Ipsus had not reduced the Diadochi to four. It had only reduced them to five:
• The Antigonid Line: Demetrius, son of Antigonus;
• The Seleucid Line: Seleucus I “Nicator”;
• The Lagid Line: Ptolemy I “Soter,” son of Lagus;
• The Lysimachæan Line: Lysimachus of Thrace; and
• The Antipatrid Line: Cassander of Macedonia
Reduction to Four (301 – 288 B.C.)
Within four years of Ipsus, Cassander died, leaving his unstable Macedonian kingdom to his three sons, Philippus, Alexander and Antipater. Philippus “died soon after his father,” and the remaining two “were perpetually at variance” (Plutarch, Life of Demetrius, 36.1), and Demetrius was now threatening the unstable kingdom. Lysimachus, king of Thrace and with vast holdings in Asia Minor, failed to persuade the warring brothers to make peace with each other (Justinus, Epitome 16.1). Demetrius soon had Cassander’s son, Alexander, killed (Plutarch, Life of Demetrius, 36:1-6), and then convinced the people of Macedonia that it would be unfitting for anyone in Cassander’s line—which was responsible for the murder of Alexander’s mother, wife, mistress and children—to occupy Alexander’s former throne. Accepting this rationale, the people made Demetrius king of Macedonia in 294 B.C. (Plutarch, Life of Demetrius 37:2-3; Justinus, Epitome 16.1).
About this time Ptolemy had taken back Cyprus from Demetrius (Plutarch, Life of Demetrius, 35.3) and maintained control of his territories in “Egypt, with the greater part of Africa, Cyprus, and Phoenicia” (Justinus, Epitome 15.1). Seleucus was firmly entrenched in the eastern provinces “from India to the Syrian Sea” (Plutarch, Life of Demetrius, 32.7) and Demetrius was king of Macedonia. With Cassander’s line no longer in contention for a crown, the Diadochi had been reduced to four.
With only four left, each of sufficient strength to engage but not dominate the others, new alliances formed. Seleucus married Demetrius’ daughter in an attempt to forge an east-west alliance with Macedonia. Lysimachus and his son each married a daughter of Ptolemy, in an attempt to forge a north-south alliance with Egypt (Plutarch, Life of Demetrius, 31.5). The alliances did not last long.
Demetrius seized Cilicia from his new brother-in-law, and refused Seleucus’ offer to purchase it back from him (Plutarch, Life of Demetrius, 46.7). Nor would Demetrius cede to him control of Tyre and Sidon (Plutarch, Life of Demetrius, 32.7). Demetrius, having now regained his strength (Plutarch, Life of Demetrius, 31.3) was also “master of Macedonia and Thessaly,” as well as a “great part of Peloponnesus too, and the cities of Megara and Athens” (Plutarch, Life of Demetrius, 39.1). Attempting to restore the empire of his father (Plutarch, Life of Demetrius, 43.2), he now set his sights on Asia Minor. He raised an army of 98,000 men and 12,000 horses and was building 500 ships (Plutarch, Life of Demetrius, 43.3-4), preparing “such an armament for the invasion of Asia as no man ever had before him, except Alexander the Great” (Plutarch, Life of Demetrius, 44.1).
With Demetrius renewing his belligerence, the others—Seleucus in the east, Ptolemy in the south, and Lysimachus in the north—had no option but once again to form an alliance against him. They invited Pyrrhus, king of Epirus to join them (Plutarch, Life of Demetrius, 44.1). As Lysimachus invaded Macedonia from Thrace, and Ptolemy sent a fleet from Egypt, Pyrrhus was troubling Demetrius from the west, and in the end, Lysimachus and Pyrrhus divided Macedonia between themselves (Plutarch, Life of Demetrius, 44.2-3).
Despairing, but not defeated, Demetrius’ hope for a kingdom seemed to be entirely extinguished. “[A]nd yet,” Plutarch informs us, “it broke out again, and shone with new splendour. Fresh forces came in, and gradually filled up the measure of his hopes.” Demetrius “collected all his ships, embarked his army, which consisted of 11,000 foot, besides cavalry, and sailed to Asia,” hoping to take some of Lysimachus’ territories in Asia Minor (Plutarch, Life of Demetrius, 45:4). He marched through Caria and Lydia, and on to Phrygia in Asia Minor “with an intention to seize Armenia, and then to try Media and the Upper Provinces” of Asia Major (Plutarch, Life of Demetrius, 46.7). Lysimachus’ son, Agathocles, followed at a distance through Asia Minor, cutting off Demetrius’ supply lines, and when Demetrius crossed the Taurus Mountains into Cilicia, Agathocles sealed off the mountain passes, trapping him there (Plutarch, Life of Demetrius, 46.7-47.2). Seeing Demetrius unable to retreat, Seleucus recognized the opportunity to recover a coveted territory. “Seleucus marched into Cilicia with a great army,” and engaged in multiple skirmishes and battles with Demetrius, and at some considerable cost finally gained the upper hand (Plutarch, Life of Demetrius, 47.5-49).
Hungry, and without options, his forces diminished by plague, famine, attrition and abandonment, Demetrius finally surrendered to Seleucus, and was held under arrest until his death (Plutarch, Life of Demetrius, 47-50). In 288 B.C., while in Seleucus’ custody, Demetrius formally abandoned his ambitions, and released his claim to the crown by a letter to his son, Antigonus Gonatas, ceding to him his “cities and all his remaining estates” (Plutarch, Life of Demetrius, 51.1). It is at this point that Antigonus Gonatas took the crown in his father’s stead, but was not to regain control of Macedonia for another ten years (Eusebius, Chronicle (p. 237)). After Demetrius’ abdication, a period of chaos resulted as rulership of Macedonia changed hands repeatedly, but finally returned to Antigonus Gonatas, and remained in Antigonid hands for more than 100 years, until Macedonia finally capitulated to Rome in 168 B.C. (Eusebius, Chronicle (p. 239)).
Thus, were the lines of the Diadochi finally reduced to four, and it is here at last that we can identify their respective territories. Lysimachus was in possession of Thrace and the territories within the Taurus Mountains of Asia Minor to the north; Ptolemy was secure in Egypt, Africa, Cyprus, and Phoenicia to the south, also having gained control of the southern coast of Asia Minor, just a sliver of land south of the Taurus Mountains; Seleucus had taken all the territory east of the Taurus range from Cilicia and Syria to Babylon; and Demetrius’ son, Antigonus Gonatas, was claiming sovereign rights over Macedonia in the west.
Reduction to Three (288 – 281 B.C.)
Four kingdoms were thus established—north, south, east and west—forged over a 35-year period in the chaotic crucible of a post-Alexandrian world, resulting in what would turn out to be a brief, unsustainable equilibrium. Each king kept his covetous gaze warily focused on his neighbor’s territory, and in 281 B.C., the equilibrium collapsed. Seleucus crossed the Taurus Mountains into Asia Minor and engaged Lysimachus at the Battle of Corupedium. He defeated and killed Lysimachus, and shortly thereafter, Seleucus himself was murdered after his conquest of Thrace (Pausianas, Description of Greece, Book 1.16.2). His son, Antiochus I, thus took the crown and ruled over the territory.
The Seleucid Dynasty in Asia Minor (281 – 190 B.C.)
The outcome of the Battle of Corupedium is one of the most remarkable and most frequently overlooked facts of post-Alexandrian Hellenism. From this point forward, until the Battle of Magnesia in 190 B.C., the Seleucids reigned in Asia Minor. They retained their territories in the east, but lived in, and reigned primarily from, the north, holding court in Sardis and living in Ephesus.
Esteemed historian of the Seleucid dynasty, Edwyn Robert Bevan, arrived at precisely this conclusion in his two-volume work, The House of Seleucus. Once Seleucus defeated Lysimachus at Corupedium, the descendants of the Seleucid line made their home quite comfortably in Asia Minor and Thrace, and in fact preferred it over their other dominions. It was the seat of the Seleucid empire until their catastrophic defeat at the hands of the Romans at Magnesia. It is only then that the Seleucids go back to being “Syrian” kings. Of this astonishing fact, Bevan writes,
“… Asia Minor rather than Syria or the East seems, till after Magnesia, the chief sphere of Seleucid activity. One may well believe that it was the part of their dominions to which the Seleucid kings attached the greatest value. It is never so inappropriate to speak of the dynasty as ‘Syrian’ as in these earlier reigns.” (Bevan, Edwyn Robert, The House of Seleucus, vol 1, London: Edward Arnold (1902) 150-51)
“Asia Minor was in fact considered the real home of the earlier Seleucids.” (Bevan, The House of Seleucus, vol 1, 151n)
It is from Asia Minor that the Seleucids administered their vast empire, from 281 B.C. onward, until Magnesia. Shortly after Corupedium, Seleucus was murdered in Thrace (Pausianas, Description of Greece, Book 1.16.2) and his son, Antiochus I stepped in and ruled over the territory. Antiochus I’s activities within the Taurus Mountains were extensive, and we have numismatic evidence that Antiochus I’s rule was recognized as far as Thrace, for coins have been found in Europe bearing his name and image (Ernest Babelon, Catalogue des monnaies grecques: Les rois de Syrie, d’Arménie, et de Commagène (Bibliothèque nationale (1890) XLVIII).
When Antiochus I died (261 B.C.), his son Antiochus II rose up in his place, earning the appellation Theos for rescuing the Bithynians from the tyrant Timarchus (Appian, History of Rome, The Syrian Wars, 65; OGIS 26). At times, Antiochus II is found pressing his affairs well into Europe, as when he “besieged Cypsela, a city in Thrace,” for “he had in his army many Thracians of good rank and family” (Polyaenus, Strategems, Book 4, Chapter 16.1). Antiochus II reigned in Asia Minor until his death in 246 B.C.. His son and grandsons after him would call Asia Minor home, and would continue claiming sovereign rights to the northern territory for another six decades.
The Two Wives, and Two Kingdoms, of Antiochus II
This obscure period during which the Seleucids lived, loved and reigned in Asia Minor and Thrace is significant to us because the 11th chapter of Daniel does not even make mention of the “king of the north” until the reign of Antiochus II (261 to 246 B.C.) by which time the Seleucids had been established in the north for generations. It is only when Ptolemy, “king of the south,” arranges the marriage of his daughter, Berenice, to Antiochus II that the “king of the north” is mentioned in the narrative:
“…for the king’s daughter of the south shall come to the king of the north to make an agreement…” (Daniel 11:6)
The year is 252 B.C., and Antiochus II is currently living in Ephesus with his wife, Laodice. But Ptolemy has made an offer that he cannot refuse. Lest his most precious properties in Asia Minor fall into the hands of Berenice by marriage, Antiochus II hastily deeds them to Laodice as part of the terms of divorce, recording the settlement in temples throughout Asia Minor and Thrace (Orientis graeci inscriptiones selectae (OGIS) 225).
His Northern kingdom thus arranged, Antiochus II crossed the Taurus Mountains to Antioch to be with Berenice in the East. The divorce, however, had been but a formality. Antiochus II in reality was maintaining “two wives, Laodice [in Ephesus] and Berenice [in Antioch], the former a love-match, the latter a daughter pledged to him by Ptolemy [II]” (Appian, History of Rome, The Syrian Wars, 65). The arrangement in Syria would not last long. Political necessity had brought him to Antioch, but love brought him back to Ephesus. The Taurus Mountains could not keep Antiochus away from his first love, and before he dies, he is back in the arms of Laodice (Eusebius, Chronicle). But Laodice does not suffer bigamists well, and is believed to have poisoned him (Appian, History of Rome, The Syrian Wars, 65), lest his affections drift eastward again to Syria, and her children lose their crown rights to the interloper queen from Egypt. It is in Ephesus that Antiochus dies.
The King of the North was King of the North
Lest we fail to state the obvious, Antiochus II was living in the north (Asia Minor) rather than the east (Syria) when Ptolemy, king of the south, approached him with the offer of marriage to Berenice. He was in possession of both the northern crown and the eastern crown at the time, but both his heart and his throne were in Asia Minor. He was not living in Antioch when the offer was made, and his marriage and living arrangements with Ptolemy’s daughter in Syria were crafted in such a way as to maximize political gain, but minimize the risk of losing his northern kingdom. As Bevan noted above, “Asia Minor was in fact considered the real home of the earlier Seleucids” (Bevan, The House of Seleucus, vol 1, 151n). Asia Minor, with Thrace, was the northern territory of Daniel’s narrative in chapter 11, not Syria.
The Eviction of the Seleucids
This matter of the northern king’s territory becomes strikingly apparent when a later Seleucid king, Antiochus III, evokes the ire of the nascent Roman republic to the west. His activities in Thrace were interpreted as a threat, but Antiochus III insists that he is simply maintaining Seleucid territories that had been in his family since Corupedium (Polybius, The Histories, Book 18.49-51). Antiochus III underestimates the resolve of the new western republic and advances undaunted into the Greek Isles. It was a momentous miscalculation.
Rome had had enough, moved in to meet him on the field of battle, and “completely defeated Antiochus in the great battle of Magnesia” in 190 B.C. (Livius, History of Rome, Book 38.58). The Seleucid reign in the north was over. According to the terms dictated to them at the Treaty of Apamea in 188 B.C., the Seleucids “must retire from Europe and from all Asia on this side [of the] Taurus” (Polybius, The Histories, Book 21.17.3). After being evicted from his Northern territory, Antiochus III returned to the East and died in Elam (Babylonian King List 6(r); Diodorus Siculus, Library of History, Book 28.3, Book 29.15)). These events fulfilled the prophecy of Daniel 11:18-19:
“After this shall he turn his face unto the isles, and shall take many: but a prince for his own behalf shall cause the reproach offered by him to cease; without his own reproach he shall cause it to turn upon him. Then he shall turn his face toward the fort of his own land: but he shall stumble and fall, and not be found.”
From the East the Seleucids had come. To the East they had returned. But from 281 – 190 B.C., they were truly, and emphatically, kings of Asia Minor and Thrace, the northern kingdom.
Remarkably, from this point forward in Daniel 11, no king of the Seleucid line is ever called “king of the north” again. The Seleucids six times had been styled by the narrator as “king of the north” (Daniel 11:6, 7, 8, 11, 13 & 15), but when they were evicted from Asia Minor and Thrace, the title was no longer applied to them.
Undoubtedly, with only brief interruptions, the Seleucid kings were truly kings over the Syrian territory throughout the entire period depicted in Daniel 11:5-39. As we noted above, the wars between the king of the north and the king of the south were between the Seleucids and the Ptolemies, the kings of Syria and Egypt, respectively. We do not deny it. What is significant to us, however, is that the appellation “king of the north” is a geographic one, not a dynastic one—it follows the territory, not the family. Whoever reigned over Asia Minor and Thrace was “king of the north,” and it is for this reason alone that the Seleucids were so designated from Daniel 11:5 to Daniel 11:17. During that period, they wore both crowns, East and North. Once evicted from Asia Minor and Thrace, they lost the northern crown and from that point forward in the prophetic record the Seleucids are no longer identified as “king of the north” (Daniel 11:18-39).
Our conclusion, upon examination of the Scriptural evidence and the historical record, is that “the king of the north” in Daniel 11 should be identified with Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) and Thrace instead of Syria. The prophetic evidence and the historical record support that proposition.
We will examine more evidence in support of this proposition and its eschatological implications in part 2.