Political system of Syrian cities founded by Seleukid kings

Founded 30-Dec-2009
Last update 30-Dec-2009/p>

John D. Grainger, The Cities of Seleukid Syria


The fact that these cities cannot be described as autonomous, still less independent, does not mean that they did not possess the standard political and administrative equipment of the Greek polis. Ptolemy III’s account of his welcome at Seleukeia-in-Pieria and at Antioch in 246 provides a clear illustration of this. He was greeted by ‘the priests, the (magistrates, the) other citizens, the officers and the soldiers’ at Seleukeia, and ‘the ... satraps, and the other officers (and soldiers), the priests, the boards of magistrates and (all the) young men from the gymnasium, and the rest of the (crowd)’ at Antioch.63 Sixty years later Seleukos IV’s ‘request’ to Seleukeia-in-Pieria that the city confer its citizenship on his Friend Archilochos is known to us in the form of a decree proposed by the epistates and the magistrates, and the inscription attests the existence of magistrates, a magistrates’ office, a deme Olympios, and a tribe Laodike.64 Antioch had a bouleuterion from c. 170,65 even if the king gave it to the city, and hence it had a boule. The magistrates at Laodikeia-ad-Mare were called peliganes, apparently a Macedonian term.66 These cities, and by a reasonable presumption, the other cities in Syria as well, had all the usual apparatus of a Greek city: demes and tribes, magistrates and priests, people called citizens, and people who were not citizens.

The actual constitutions of the cities were probably democratic, in a formal sense, but the evidence is, as always, tenuous in the extreme. Antigonos recruited Athenians to populate Antigoneia,67 and it seems unlikely that such people would accept any other type of constitution than a democracy. These became inhabitants of Antioch and/or Seleukeia after 300. In the reign of Antiochos III the city of Teos in Asia Minor recorded that it had concluded isopoliteia agreements with Laodikeia-ad-Mare, Seleukeia-in-Pieria, and Antioch-by-Daphne, and each agreement was said to be with the demos of the respective cities.68 In the confusion of the 140s Antioch and Seleukeia issued coins recording that they were ‘brother peoples’ (adelphoi demoi).69

On the other hand, democratic constitutions do not necessarily imply that actual power lay with the demos. Given the enormous power and influence wielded by the king – the founder or descended from the founder, he appointed the epistates, he was the fount of favours70 – the power of any city government was automatically weakened. It is likely that the effective local power was oligarchic, though it must be said that this is little more than an assumption.71 The king would prefer to deal with a small group of councillors – the peliganes at Laodikeia or Seleukeia-on-the-Tigris, for example.72

John D. Grainger, The Cities of Seleukid Syria, pp. 151-153
(Oxford University Press, New York, 2004 reprint of 1990 edition)


63 P. Gurob.

64IGLS 1183.

65 Mal. 205.

66 P. Roussel, ‘Décret des Péliganes de Laodicée sur Mer’, Syria 23 (1942-3), 21-32, especially pp. 28-31.

67 Mal. 201; Lib. Or. 11.92.

68 P. Herrmann, ‘Antiochos der Grosse und Teos’, Anadolu 9 (1965), 29-160. The relevant section of the long inscription is on fragment II, block D, lines 100-4.

69 W. Wroth, Catalogue of the Greek Coins of Galatia, Cappadocia and Syria (1878), 151-2.
[P. Vesely’s note: Some specimens are presented on this website, see the page Municipal Coins of Seleukid Syria – Seleukeia in Pieria.]

70 The isopoliteia agreements of Teos and the Syrian cities (cf. Herrmann, note 8) were clearly sponsored by the king, presumably as a means of tying Teos in with the rest of his kingdom.

71 A. H. M. Jones, The Greek City from Alexander to Justinian (Oxford, 1940), ch. 10, pp. 157-69.

72 Roussel (note 66).


Abbreviations used in notes:

IGLS: Inscriptions grecque et latine de la Syrie
Lib.: Libanios
Mal.: Johannes Malalas, Chronographia
P. Gurob: Papyrus Gurob, trans. in N. M. Austin, The Hellenistic World from Alexander to the Roman Conquest (Cambridge, 1981), no. 220


Herrmann, P.: ‘Antiochos der Grosse und Teos’, Anadolu 9 (1965), 29-160.
Jones, A. H. M.:The Greek City from Alexander to Justinian (Oxford, 1940).
Roussel, P.: ‘Décret des Péliganes de Laodicée sur Mer’, Syria 23 (1942-3), 21-32.
Wroth, W.:Catalogue of the Greek Coins in the British Museum: Galatia, Cappadocia and Syria (London, 1878).



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