Persia 39: The Successors of Alexander (Seleucus)

Seleucus was not initially one of the most important figures in the court of Alexander the Great, however he became one of the most interesting and by the end of his life the most powerful.

Seleucus was referred to as the son of Antiochus (of Macedon), and presumed to have been a commoner. The name Antiochus curiously has no definition in Greek, however when viewed as a hybrid Greek-Persian name the meaning is obvious. Antiochus should be parsed as Anti-Ochus, “Like/After Ochus”, that is, continuing the line of Persian Great King Ochus (Artaxerxes III). Ochus, in addition to his ill-fated successor Artaxerxes IV, had many other children. And Artaxerxes IV, although not surviving long as Great King, had many children of his own. Anti-Ochus/Antiochus therefore emerges as a princely son or grandson of Artaxerxes III. (It should however also be noted that Great King Darius III also had a son by Queen Statiera named Ochus.)

The first Persian king named Ochus had been Darius II. During the reign of Darius II there was a prominent figure named Antiochus as well. Prince Alcibiades (Persian Prince Cyrus) had left this Antiochus in charge of his fleet and directed him to avoid any conflict with Lysander of Sparta. Antiochus ignored the order and attached Lysander anyway, and with disastrous results. Antiochus was said to have been killed and Lysander went on to win the Peloponnesian War for Sparta (and Greece) by defeating Athens. Because the fall of Athens was actually the goal of Prince Cyrus/Alcibiades at this time, we must reconsider the actions of Antiochus. It appears he was deliberately set up to fail or secretly directed to lose the naval battle, in which case he was not quite the loose canon he’s been made out to be.

The later Seleucus son of Antiochus did not lack in daring either. He first distinguished himself in Alexander’s India campaign, and among the Diadochi (Successors of Alexander) was the most concerned with claiming Alexander’s rights in the East. Upon the death of Alexander, Seleucus was appointed prime minister (Chiliarch/Vizier/Joseph) in Babylon under the Regent Perdiccas. Seleucus shortly thereafter played a part in the undoing of Perdiccas when Perdiccas tried to invade Ptolemy’s Egypt. After this, Seleucus was forced to take refuge with Ptolemy after being threatened by Antigonus. With the support of Ptolemy, Seleucus defeated Antigonus and returned to his chosen power base in the East. Seleucus was given a daughter of Antigonus’ son Demetrius in marriage, and Seleucus later also captured Demetrius further solidifying his position.

Seleucus campaigned in India and deposed the king Pacorus who had been installed by Alexander. He later gave his own daughter in a marriage pact with another Indian king Chandra-Gupta/Sandrocottus. Seleucus appointed an ambassador to India, Megasthenes, and sent many delegations eastward. One such mission appears to have been welcomed by the Chinese province of Qin (Chin). A plan to unify all of China was accepted by the aspiring young king of Qin. The author of the takeover plan, “Li Si” (an adaptation of Seleucus?), was subsequently recognized as chief minister. China was then stunningly conquered by the Qin dynast, known thereafter as Chin Huang Di, “First Emperor of Chin/China”. Upon the death of Chin, Li Si conspired against Chin’s son the crown prince and established a new Emperor of his own making.

The name Seleucus (Greek Seleukos), like that of his father Antiochus, has no certain meaning in Greek. (However, compare Greek leukos meaning “white”, and the kingly Roman name of Lucius.) As with the name Antiochus, we must expect some kind of hybrid definition that incorporated a Persian or Eastern element. There is certainly an echo of Seleukos in the later dynastic name Seljuk(os), associated with a people brought from the direction of China to dominate the West.

The New Testament analog of Seleucus is the cool-hand Luke/Lucus. Luke (“new-Seleucus”) is a partner with Paul (“new Ptolemy”) and determines to set the record straight with respect to the life of Jesus (“new Alexander”). Accordingly, the standing of the historical Luke within the Julio-Claudian/Herodian royal family must have been very high. The expectations of this prince would also have far exceeded that of a mere physician, which was only a commoner guise and secondary calling (to royal his relatedness). As a physician, Luke recalls after another famous royal historian Ctesias, who strove to place his beloved savior king Cyrus the Great in the best possible light for future generations, and was willing to stretch the imagination to do so.

How far should we stretch our own imaginations in looking for the true extent of imperial Persian power? The Persian Period is best known for events that occurred in the West, especially Greece. The East was apparently quiet. Did that mean it was not of interest to the Persians or just the opposite? Was Persian authority spreading or prospering to the east with little resistance? Did the Roman Emperors emulate Persia because of their achievement in the West alone, or because Persia also was so supremely successful in the East, even the Far East? The direct control of Persia is generally thought to have been limited by Athens in the West and the Indus River in the East. It has already been shown that Persia was directly in control of all Greece (with Persian princes using Greek aliases) and therefore likely controlling territories well beyond Greece, at least indirectly. Had Persian influence actually extended across Asia from Atlantic to Pacific? Was this the origin of Alexander’s intense drive to reach the “the ends of the earth”? Was this also the basis for Roman veneration of Persia and their desire to carefully replicate Persian typology?

According to legend, Alexander built a wall to keep out the “Unclean Nations” of the north. Beyond this barrier (at the “Caspian Gates”) were said to be 22 kings over people that ate detestable things such as worms, dogs, snakes, and even human flesh. Around this time or shortly afterwards, the first Chinese Emperor, guided by Li Si, also completed the first version of China’s Great Wall, and for the same essential purpose, to cut off the “barbarians” to their north from overrunning their glorious “civilization”. Was China being directed by Middle Eastern policy through Middle Eastern advisers. Were provinces as far-flung as China already conditioned to accept appointees from the Middle East to rule over them? Was this the main reason no Chinese commoner was allowed to gaze upon their Emperor and live?

In legend, Alexander’s intent was always to reach “Paradise”, a “Blessed Land” in the vicinity of China. This region was also the general location where a much later savior king arose during the Crusades. His name was “Prester John”, and it was hoped that he would bring a vast army from the East to help Christians in their struggle against Islam. Interestingly enough, belief in Prester John emerged at about the same time that legends of Alexander’s “Journey to Paradise” took their final form. Forces were again at work to bring East and West together. And again it did not happen exactly as planned. The original Prester John did not come as expected.

That John was the Great Khan called Ong. The name Ong (like a later Ming dynast Yangli) suggests affiliation with the expansive northern Anglo/Norman/Verangian/Frank super-dynasty, but whose nominal Christianity was that of his subjects. They had long been converted by Nestorian missionaries from Mesopotamia! Ong was succeeded by another John, whose local name was Temu-Jin, later called Genghis Khan. Stephen Howarth (“The Knights Templar”, p 211) writes:

“Rumours were still prevalent of that mysterious Christian potentate, Prester John; and in fact the rumours had a very slight basis in truth. Far to the East, in Mongolia, was a man named Toghrul, chief of the Kerait clan of the Mongols. A hundred years earlier, the Keraits had been converted to Nestorian Christianity. Toghrul was nominally Christian, and his title, Ong0Khan, was altered by Nestorian missionaries to a more comprehensible form: Khan was translated (wrongly) as priest – pretre, prester – and Ong became the French name Jean. Vague reports of the Mongols’ deeds had been filtering through to Europe and the Holy Land and, though they were not exaggerated, the reports were somehow sterilized in the telling. The bloodthirsty slaughters in the distant steppes became victories won in the name of Christ; and when Toghrul was killed in 1203 by the Great Khan – Jenghiz – the supposed Christian virtues of the Ong-Khan, Prester John, were transferred to Jenghiz. People in Europe and Outremer sincerely believed that help for the Holy Land would come not only from the West, but from the East, from Jenghiz and his family, the founders of the Golden Horde …”

Genghis and his immediate successors were in fact favorable toward Christianity and did bring relief to the Christian West. They also brought a new ruling dynasty to China, the Yuan (also an adaptation of John). However, many future Khans converted to the Islamic faith of their conquered subjects.

In 1203, the new King of England was named John, younger brother of Richard the Lionhearted. John was an unusual king name in the West and his entire reign was strangely anomalous. He was a fifth son (i.e., John/Issachar) and also the youngest prince, and therefore not expected to ever succeed to the throne, at least within the strict rules of succession (based on primogeniture) followed by Norman kings. As a very young boy John was designated to become a priest. His father changed his mind when a profitable marriage match was being considered for him. As a teenager he was sent to rule Iceland. Later, he was set up to become king of Ireland, but his lack of couth alienated the Irish lords.

At the same time that Richard was declared king of England in 1189, Genghis declared himself a Khan in the East, even though he had accomplished nothing worthy of mention there and had little following. Yet, by the time his brother Richard died a decade later and John unexpectedly became king of England, Genghis had just as unexpectedly begun to make serious headway in his goal of becoming Great Khan. This presented an even more serious dilemma. How could one man pursue two kingships so vastly separated geographically? The answer of course was that he could not, at least not effectively. When John could not maintain his holdings in the West, he tried to declare them as a gift to the Pope (and in penance for his crimes)! When English lords rose up against his negligent rule (and trying to dump the country), he signed the Magna Carta.

At the very moment John became (on paper) the most democratic ruler of the West, Genghis became a Caesar like none other in the East. The woes of John in England corresponded exactly with the stupendous victories of Genghis Khan on the Steppes. What’s more, John’s death in 1216 was highly suspicious and coincided closely with Genghis’ greatest triumph. In 1216 the crown jewels of England vanished. When John's coffin was opened centuries later it contained a 6’6” corpse wearing a monk’s collar.

In 1216, the primitive island of England was turned over to a son of John. Genghis and his (other) sons became rulers of an entire continent, arguably the largest land empire ever. As a finishing touch, it was claimed by the Mongols that Genghis had descended from the Greeks! Richard Stoneman (Alexander the Great: A Life in Legend, p 33) writes: “The Great Mongol Shahnameh of the 1330s (of which detached plates are scattered through the world’s libraries since the MS was broken up in the early twentieth century) is just the culmination of Mongol interest, which even went so far as to make Genghis Khan a direct descendant of Olympias [mother of Alexander the Great].

And, so, we come full circle. "It’s a small world after all", even if the people of the world think this scholarship is “Mickey Mouse”.

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