Rolf Strootman

Rolf Strootman, Associate Professor of Ancient History, University of Utrecht: “Anchoring Empire in the Hellenistic Near East: The Seleucid Appropriation of the Babylonian Past”


It is a commonplace in Hellenistic scholarship to describe the Seleucid Empire as essentially a continuation of the Achaemenid Empire. Based on Babylonian evidence in particular, many have argued moreover that the Seleucids’ attitude towards non-Greek cities was characterized by their respect for pre-existing, local forms of rulership, about which the dynasty was informed by local agents. New studies, however, have challenged this continuity paradigm, questioning both the alleged passive character of Seleucid imperialism and the antiquity of the local ‘traditions’ that the Seleucids supposedly adopted. It is now becoming clear that the Seleucid Empire exerted more influence on the development of Near Eastern monarchical and imperial cultures than has previously been assumed.

Taking as my point of departure the Babyloniaca of Berossus and the Antiochus Cylinder from Borsippa, I will argue that the establishment of Macedonian, viz., Seleucid imperial rule in Babylonia was accompanied not only by the active manipulation of local monarchical customs, but also by a deliberate ‘rewriting’ of Babylonian history. Specifically, the Seleucids and their agents created an image of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar (c. 604–562), and other rulers of his dynasty, as Babylon’s Golden Age. By associating themselves with the Neo-Babylonian kings in various ways, the Seleucids presented their own rule as a restoration, or even a continuation, of this Golden Age. Thus, instead of portraying the new rulers as the heirs of the Achaemenids, the intermediate period of Persian rule was cast as an irrelevant interlude of foreign occupation. This reorganization of Babylonian social memory was neither a top-down nor a bottom-up affair; it was the result of a dynamic process of negotiation between the dynastic court and members of the Babylonian elite.


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