Alexander Balas

[Alexander Balas] Introduction

Alexander I Theopator Euergetes, surnamed Balas, was the ruler of the Seleucid Empire from 150 BC to August 145 BC. He was plucked from obscurity and backed by the Roman-allied Attalid kingdom, Alexander marched into Phoenicia in 152 BC and started a civil war against Seleucid King Demetrius I Soter. He was supported by mercenaries and dissidents of the Seleucid Empire, allowing him to achieve victory in 150 BC. Following his victory, he sealed an alliance with the neighbouring Ptolemaic kingdom by marrying princess Cleopatra Thea. During Alexander's reign, the eastern border of the Seleucid Empire slowly decreased, with important eastern provinces such as Media being lost to the Parthian Empire. In 147 BC, Demetrius II Nicator, the son of Demetrius I, initiated a campaign against Alexander. The Ptolemaic king Ptolemy VI Philometor, who had previously supported Alexander, switched sides and started to support Demetrius II. At the Battle of the Oenoparus River in Syria, Alexander was defeated by Ptolemy VI and he died shortly afterwards.

[Alexander Balas] Life

Alexander Balas claimed to be the son of Antiochus IV Epiphanes and Laodice IV and heir to the Seleucid throne. Ancient sources Polybius and Diodorus say that this claim was false and that he and his sister Laodice VI were really natives of Smyrna of humble origin. However, modern scholars disagree about whether the story of Attalus finding a commoner who looked the part is true or was propaganda put about by Alexander's opponents.

In 153 BC, Alexander was presented to the Roman Senate by his guardian Heracleides, who was a former minister of Antiochus IV. Both Attalus II of Pergamum and Demetrius I Soter also met with the Senate, though it is unclear how this was connected to the recognition of Alexander - if at all. To reinforce his military prowess and attract soldiers, Alexander heavily advertised his (claimed) connection to Antiochus IV. On his coinage, he was depicted in the guise of Alexander the Great with divine attributes and it was only the second time a queen, Cleopatra Thea, appeared on Seleucid coinage. The alliance was sealed by their marriage sealed and was advertised on a special coinage.

Alexander won over Jonathan Apphus, the leader of the ascendant faction in Judaea, by granting him a high position and the high priesthood in Jerusalem. With Jonathan's help, Alexander defeated Demetrius I in a decisive battle and quickly secured his kingship. Alexander and his chancellor Ammonius subsequently murdered Demetrius' family. Alexander was not able to stay in power for long, however, as the Seleucid positions in the eastern Upper Satrapies collapsed due to the Parthians and other local nobles proclaiming their own ephemeral independence. Ancient historians hostile to him depict him as too distracted by a life of debauchery to take action to stop the Parthians. To make matters worse, Ptolemy VI of Egypt switched sides and Alexander was defeated and killed in battle. His severed head was brought to Ptolemy, who also died shortly after. Alexander's infant son Antiochus was declared king in 130 BC by Diodotus, a general who had rebelled against Demetrius II.

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