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Attalid Dynasty › Ancient History

Definition and Origins

by Donald L. Wasson
published on 10 October 2016
The Hellenistic Prince (Detail) (Jehosua)
The Attalid dynasty ruled an empire from their capital at Pergamon during the 3rd and 2nd century BCE. Fighting for their place in the turbulent world following the death of Alexander the Great, the Attalids briefly flourished with Pergamon becoming a great Hellenistic city famed for its culture, library, and Great Altar. However, the Attalid's short-lived dynasty came to an abrupt end when mighty Rome began to flex its muscles and show greater ambition in Asia Minor and beyond.
With the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BCE, the empire he created was left without leadership - no heir and no successor. Out of a number of possible options, the immediate solution reached by his loyal commanders was to divide the kingdom among themselves. The young general and bodyguard Lysimachus received the strategically valuable province of Thrace - a small kingdom located along the Hellespont. The Wars of the Diadochi brought him into a power struggle for lands in both Asia Minor and Macedon. His thirst for power enabled him to build alliances with a number of his fellow “kings” and even marry the daughter of Ptolemy I of Egypt, Arsinoe. Unfortunately, his death at the Battle of Corupendium in 261 BCE left him without an heir and his throne vacant. His rich territories in Asia Minor, most importantly Pergamon, fell to the Syrian king Seleucus I. However, a new dynasty would soon emerge and eventually wrestle control away from the Seleucids - Pergamon would shortly become an important power along the Aegean Sea under the guidance of the Attalids.


Little is known of the early life of Philetaerus. Possibly of Macedonian origin, he was the son of Attalus and Boa, a native of Paphlagonia. While there is some disagreement among historians, his adopted son, Eumenes I, always considered Philetaerus to be the true founder of the Attalid dynasty. Originally, he served under the Macedonian commander Antigonus the One-eyed until in 302 BCE when he deserted Antigonus amid the growing tension among the various kings and joined the Thracian sovereign Lysimachus. After the death of Antigonus in 301 BCE at the Battle of Ipsus, he was rewarded for his loyalty by being appointed to oversee the king's treasury situated in the Asia Minor city of Pergamon. Regrettably, when Lysimachus, at the urging of his Egyptian wife Arsinoe, executed his only son Agathocles on the trumped-up charge of treason, Philetaerus, along with several other loyal commanders, abandoned Lysimachus and joined Seleucus I - Philetaerus made sure to hand-over the treasury and Pergamum to the Seleucids. After the death of Lysimachus at the hands of the Seleucid forces, Philetaerus assumed control of Pergamon. He would govern there, although still under the umbrella of Seleucus I, from 282 to 263 BCE.


During his two decades on the throne, Philetaerus was able to both expand his territory into the Caicus valley as well as defend it (278 – 276 BCE) against the neighboring Galatians, a people to the east of Pergamum. Instead of waging war his successors would occasionally pay to keep them away. Although there is no substantial proof, history depicts him as a eunuch.While there is little evidence as to how this condition arose, his family may have chosen that path because it often enabled a person to obtain a high position at court. Under his guidance, and that of his successors, the city and territory of Pergamon would become a Hellenistic showcase.
Despite being located in Asia Minor, Pergamon was, by definition, a Greek city identifying with its neighbor Athens across the sea with the city even adopting the goddess Athena as its presiding deity. She was its protector in time of battle, earning the name “Nikephoros” or “victory bearer.” While the Attalids may have adopted the civil organization of Athens, the king would continue to stand “outside the constitution,” maintaining the power to appoint the city's magistrates. Since Philetaerus was unable to have children, his adopted nephew, Eumenes I, succeeded him in 263 BCE, serving until 241 BCE. It was Eumenes who proposed a break from the control of Seleucids. After defeating the successor to the Seleucid dynasty, Antiochus I, at Sardis, Eumenes expanded his territory into northwestern Asia Minor by absorbing Mysia and Aelis as well as Pitane.
Theatre of Pergamon

Theatre of Pergamon


Having no children of his own, Eumenes I was succeeded by his nephew and cousin Attalus I (241 – 197 BCE) who would assume the title of Soter or Savior. It would be Attalus who would be credited by most historians with founding the kingship of the Attalids - although he personally gave credit to Philetaerus. Since the defeat of Lysimachus, the Seleucids had never been able to maintain control over their Asia Minor territories, and it was for this reason, that the territories of Pergamon, Bithynia, Nicomedia, and Cappadocia emerged into independence. Like his predecessor, Attalus was able to expand his small empire, although he would later relinquish much of this conquered territory to Seleucus II (223 -212 BCE). Like his predecessor, he was also able to protect Pergamon against the menacing forces of the bordering Galatians.
It was Attalus I who was instrumental in establishing positive relations with the Roman Republic and for involving them in the First Macedonian War. He was also influential, along with the island of Rhodes, with bringing Rome back to Greece to wage war against Philip V of Macedon - at the time Rome was recovering from the Second Punic War with Carthage. In the Second Macedonian War (200 – 197 BCE) Philip V had set his sights on expanding his power into Greece and the Aegean, threatening the Achaeans, Pergamon, and Athens. After a bitter fight, he eventually was forced to make peace and relinquish all conquered lands In Greece, Thrace and Asia Minor. Unfortunately, before the peace agreement could be signed, Attalus I died at Thebes from a stroke in 197 BCE and his body was returned to Pergamon. Eumenes II (197 to 159 BCE) the eldest son of Attalus and Apollones assumed power and immediately continued his father's war only this time against the son of an old enemy, Antiochus III of Syria.


The heir to the Seleucid's dynasty longed to reclaim his family's lost territory in Asia Minor. After an appeal from the Attalids, Rome urged Antiochus to withdraw to Syria; however, instead, he attacked Rome's ally, Greece. After suffering a defeat at Thermopylae, he fled to Asia Minor where he was engaged and defeated at the Battle of Magnesia in Lydia (189 BCE). In the battle Eumenes's forces drove Antiochus to retreat, causing his elephants to run wild. Antiochus had incorrectly assumed his scythed chariots would cause panic among the Romans, but Eumenes, instead, wisely sent his cavalry, Cretan archers, and light-armed slingers against the charging horses. The Syrian forces fell susceptible to the Roman legions under the leadership of Cornelius Scipio Africanus. The resulting Peace of Apamea crippled the Seleucid Empire by forcing Antiochus III to pay reparations to Eumenes (he would become extremely wealthy) and withdraw from Asia Minor - the territory north of the Taurus would be split between Pergamum and Rhodes. Rome would later intervene in Eumenes's wars against Bithynia (187 to 183 BCE) and Pontius (183 to 179 BCE).
Empires of the Mediterranean, 218 BCE.

Empires of the Mediterranean, 218 BCE.

Oddly, an old enemy of Rome from the Second Punic War reappeared in the war with Bithynia. The old Punic commander Hannibal Barca had initially sought refuge with Antiochus III after his exile from Carthage but quickly fled to Bithynia. Although he would win a naval victory over Eumenes, the subsequent peace agreement called for the release of Hannibal to the Romans. Refusing to surrender, the old commander reportedly committed suicide by taking poison in 182 BCE.


Afterwards, Eumenes II (also calling himself Soter) went on a building program in Pergamon, erecting the Great Altar and establishing a massive library, second only to Alexandria. In the War of the Brothers he helped Antiochus IV succeed to the throne of Syria after the death of his brother Seleucus IV (175 BCE). Unfortunately, however, his efforts to bring Rome into another Macedonian war caused him to fall into disfavor with the Romans, especially the Roman Senate. Supposedly, he was to keep Rome informed of the actions of Perseus, the successor of Philip V of Macedon. When Eumenes II travelled to Rome (167 to 166 BCE), the Senate would not receive him, claiming they no longer received kings. Apparently, his enemies in Rome maintained he had planned to abandon Rome in favor of Perseus if the right price was right. To Rome the king had already demonstrated far too much independence and power - especially after he provided aid to Antiochus IV and made war with Bithynia. Apparently, Rome did not appreciate any attempt to diminish their influence in Asia Minor.
Reconstruction of the Pergamon Altar

Reconstruction of the Pergamon Altar


Attalus II Philadelphus ('brother–loving') was the second son of Attalus I and at the urging of Rome, he became co-ruler with his brother, serving from 160 to 138 BCE. He had functioned as both a commander under Eumenes II against Antiochus III as well as the war opposing the Galatians. He had also served as a diplomat to Rome where he fell into favor with the Romans.After his brother's death in 159 BCE, Attalus assumed sole control of the throne, marrying his brother's widow Stratonice and adopting his nephew, the future Attalus III. During his reign, he would maintain close ties with Rome, recognizing their supremacy. His armies supported Nicomedes II of Bithynia, Alexander Balas in Syria, but opposed Andriscus in Macedon.While continuing his brother's building program at home, he founded the cities of Philadelphia in Lydia and Attaleia in Pamphylia. Unfortunately, his adopted son, Attalus III (138 to 133 BCE), would be the last Attalid king. Considered by many to be brutal and unpopular, he was disinterested in public life and relinquished control of Pergamon to Rome. Although there was another claimant - a supposed illegitimate son of Eumenes II named Eumenes III Aristonius - the dynasty came to an abrupt end.
Unlike the dynasties of the Ptolemys and the Seleucids, the Attalid dynasty lasted barely a century and a half with much of that under the leadership of a father and his two sons. The family had gained power over Pergamon after the death of Lysimachus, eventually freeing themselves from the rule of the Seleucids. Although Pergamon lay in Asia Minor, the city and province were, by any definition Greek, identifying with the city of Athens, even adopting Athena as their deity and protector. However, a series of long wars against Macedon and Syria brought the expanding Roman Republic onto the scene. After defeating Carthage in the Punic Wars, the Republic had set its sights eastward to Greece and Asia. In the end, Pergamon, under the poor leadership of Attalus III, surrendered without incident to Rome. The short-lived dynasty was no more.

Selinus › Antique Origins

Definition and Origins

by Mark Cartwright
published on 02 May 2014
Temple of Hera, Selinus (Jehosua)
Selinus (or Selinous, modern: Selinunte ), located on the south-west coast of Sicily, was founded in the mid-7th century BCE by Greek colonists from Megara Hyblaea on the eastern side of the island. Selinus was the most western Greek colony on Sicily, and it became an important polis or city-state in the Classical period. The site covered an unusually large and well-planned urban and sacred area, the latter once having at least ten separate temples from the 6th to 5th century BCE. The site also acquired extensive fortifications of which long sections, and especially the North Gate, survive today. The Temple of Hera, Temple C to an unknown deity (perhaps Apollo ), and several other sacred buildings also survive and their spread across the valleys of the site indicates the impressive size and status Selinus once enjoyed in the ancient Mediterranean.


According to Thucydides, in 628 BCE Greek colonists from Megara Hyblaea on the eastern side of Sicily chose the site around the Manuzza hill, as it benefitted from a natural port and was surrounded by fertile plains ideal for agriculture, especially wheat and olive production. The town was named after the river Selinos on whose mouth it is situated. The name comes from the Greek word for wild celery ( sélinon ) which grew (and still grows) abundantly in the area.
The site was specifically planned as a megalopolis and so its urban spread is impressive; the residential area on the Manuzza plain, for example, covered at least 20 acres. Planned along two separate grid patterns which joined via a trapezoid agora, the city was completely re-designed between 580 and 570 BCE. Selinus is, therefore, one of the best examples of ancient town planning, and there is evidence that along the central streets building façades were deliberately made uniform to present a pleasing urban landscape. In 444 BCE, the health of the city was greatly improved when the marshland around the settlement was drained by Empedocles, the famed scientist and philosopher from Agrigento, in order to rid the area of pestilent diseases.


The sacred area with its public buildings was even more impressive with no fewer than ten temples constructed. Other indicators of the city's wealth are the presence of a theatre, the fact that Selinus had its own mint producing coins with symbols of the city, such as the river god Selinus and wild celery, and the presence of satellite colonies such as Eraclea Minoa, established in 570 BCE.
As Selinus was the westernmost Greek colony in Sicily, the polis was in close proximity to the Phoenician and Elymi peoples.Indeed, Selinus allied itself with Carthage from 480 BCE and was often at war with local rival Segesta on the northern coast of the island. Although initially ruled by an oligarchy, Selinus, as with most Sicilian cities, was governed by tyrants throughout the 5th century BCE. These included Terone, Polienus, Pythagoras, and Eurileonte.
Embroiled in the conflict between Segesta and her ally Athens against Syracuse on the east coast in 415 BCE, Selinus was ultimately sacked by Carthage in 409 BCE. Hannibal led the attack, besieging the city for nine days and finally slaughtering some 16,000 of the town's inhabitants. The city was rebuilt by the Syracusan exile Hermocrates, but in the 4th century BCE, back under Carthaginian control, fortifications were added to the acropolis area, and many buildings were also adapted to the worship of Punic gods such as Tanit and Baal Hammon. By the first Punic war with Rome, Carthage forced the residents of Selinus to re-locate to Lilybaeum, and so Selinus was definitively abandoned by 250 BCE.
Fortifications, Selinus

Fortifications, Selinus


The site of Selinus today presents itself as a sprawling mish-mash of ruined temples and jumbled architectural rubble. The grandeur of the city is still hinted at, though, by the sheer scale of today's evocative physical remains and, indeed, as Guy de Maupassant wrote in 1885 CE, 'These shapeless stones can be interesting only to archaeologists or poetic souls, moved by all these traces of the past' ( Journey to Sicily ). It is not known which deities many of the temples were dedicated to, and so they have been classified using letters.
Temple A
Built between 480 and 470 BCE, the temple measured around 40 x 16 metres and had six columns on the façade with 14 along the sides. It was possibly dedicated to Artemis or Lethe. The interior flooring contains a mosaic depicting the Punic goddess of fertility Tanit.
Temple B
Constructed in the 3rd century BCE it measured 8.4 x 4.6 metres. Typical of Hellenistic temples, it mixes both Doric and Ionic architectural elements.
Temple C
This is the largest and oldest temple on the acropolis (around 64 x 24 metres) and may have been built in honour of Apollo, Artemis, or Hercules. Constructed between 580 and 560 BCE it commands a spectacular view of the sea. The Doric temple had six columns on each façade and 17 along the sides, each 8.62 metres high.
Temple D
Built around 540 BCE, this temple measure 56 x 24 metres and had 6 x 13 columns around the exterior, each 7.5 metres high.
Interior, Temple of Hera, Selinus

Interior, Temple of Hera, Selinus

Temple E
Dedicated to Hera 480-460 BCE, the Doric style temple measures approximately 70 x 27.5 metres and has six columns on each façade and 15 along the sides, each 10.2 metres high. Unusually, parts of the inner cella survive.
Temple F
Possibly dedicated to Dionysos or Athena between 550 and 520 BCE, the Doric temple measured 65.7 x 27.4 metres with a 6 x 14 arrangement of columns, each 9.11 metres high. The surviving metopes from the temple depict scenes from a gigantomachy.
Temple G
Probably dedicated to Zeus, this is the largest temple at Selinus and was begun in c. 525 BCE but was never completed. It measured a huge 110 x 50 metres and used tufa quarried from nearby Cusa. The façade had eight columns with 17 along the long sides, each 16.27 metres high. Today it is a mass of tumbled column drums and broken blocks with only a single column still standing.
Temple O
Dating to 480-470 BCE, the temple measured approximately 40 x 16 metres with 6 x 14 external columns.
North Gate & Fortifications
The original 6th century BCE acropolis was fortified, but the walls visible at the site today date to the 5th to 3rd centuries BCE.The fortifications include regular-shaped towers and the impressive three-towered North Gate with its preceding street of shops. Built with fixed catapult emplacements in mind, the fortifications took on an offensive aspect rather than solely defensive with the incorporation of regularly placed exits and even a three-tiered tunnel. The northern-facing wall also has a dry moat and two small arched bridges cross it.
The Sanctuary of Demeter Malaphoros
Built from the 6th century BCE, the sanctuary included several buildings, most important amongst them being the temple of Demeter. All of these structures were enclosed within a boundary wall, measuring approximately 50 x 60 metres. The sacred area also included a field of stelae, sacrificial altars, and a portico. Many votive offerings have been excavated at the site ranging from precious metal artwork to thousands of clay statues of a female deity, probably Demeter.
Perseus and Medusa

Perseus and Medusa


Aside from the impressive structures at Selinus, the city's legacy is also represented in the splendid temple metopes which now reside in the Archaeological Museum of Palermo. The 6th and 5th century BCE sculptures depict vibrant scenes from Greek mythology ; often they are male/female confrontations, and amongst these are representations of Zeus and Hera and, most famously, Perseus slaying Medusa who grasps in her arms Pegasus whilst Athena looks on from the left side. Other metopes show a frontal view of a four-horse chariot driven by Apollo and Hercules holding the upside-down Cercopes. All are exceptional examples of Greek Archaic style sculpture. Finally, the 85 cm tall bronze statue known as the Ephebus of Selinus, now in the town museum of Castelvetrano, is a rare and very fine example of 5th century BCE Greek bronze sculpture.



Article based on information obtained from these sources:
with permission from the Website Ancient History Encyclopedia
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