by Michael Taylor
Barnesley, S.York.: Pen & Sword / Philadelphia: Casemate, 2013. Pp. xviii, 190.
Illus., maps, appends., notes, biblio., index. $39.95. ISBN: 1848844638
The Last Great Seleucid King
In this work, military historian Taylor treats Antiochus III the Great (r. 222 BC-187 BC), who inherited the throne of a declining Seleucid Empire at about age 18 or 19, and quickly proved one of the ablest rulers of his dynasty. Taylor opens with some background on the origins and history of the Seleucids, from their founder’s service under Alexander the great, and the origins of his kingdom in the squabbling among “The Successors” to the height of the Hellenistic Age, when for a time the empire under Antiochus III, through the declining fortunes of the family until 222 BC.
Taylor follows this with a detailed an account of Antiochus’ accession and consolidation of his hold on the kingdom against rebellion, while giving us a look at the nature Seleucid governmental and military institutions. He then traces Antiochus through several wars, mostly successful, except notably that against Ptolemid Egypt, which stopped him cold in 217 BC in the rather unusual Battle of Raphia, the only time in history that African elephants fought Indian elephants. Nevertheless, by the mid-190s BC Antiochus’ empire reached from the Indus to Europe, rivaling that of Alexander himself.
But then, urged to it by the Carthaginian exile Hannibal, in 192 BC Antiochus undertook an invasion of Greece, which led the Romans to bring him to heel, in a dramatic demonstration of Roman military and political might.
Taylor writes well, often adding interesting detail. He takes note of the limitations of our sources, goes into some detail on special topics (such as war elephants) and often gives alternative interpretations of events. This is an excellent work for anyone interested in ancient history; informative, lively, and quite readable.