The state-party on the other hand relied for support on intelligence brought into contact with the influences of Hellenism, on the army, in which numerous Pisidian and Cilician mercenaries served, and on the abler kings, who here strove with the ecclesiastical power much as a thousand years later the Hohenstaufen strove with the Papacy. Jannaeus had kept down the priesthood with a strong hand; under his two sons there arose (685 et seq.) a civil and fraternal war, since the Pharisees opposed the vigorous Aristobulus and attempted to obtain their objects under the nominal rule of his brother, the good-natured and indolent Hyrcanus. This dissension not merely put a stop to the Jewish conquests, but gave also foreign nations opportunity to interfere and thereby obtain a commanding position in southern Syria.


This was the case first of all with the Nabataeans. This remarkable nation has often been confounded with its eastern neighbours, the wandering Arabs, but it is more closely related to the Aramaean branch than to the proper children of Ishmael. This Aramaean or, according to the designation of the Occidentals, Syrian stock must have in very early times sent forth from its most ancient settlements about Babylon a colony, probably for the sake of trade, to the northern end of the Arabian gulf; these were the Nabataeans on the Sinaitic peninsula, between the gulf of Suez and Aila, and in the region of Petra (Wadi Mousa). In their ports the wares of the Mediterranean were exchanged for those of India; the great southern caravan-route, which ran from Gaza to the mouth of the Euphrates and the Persian gulf, passed through the capital of the Nabataeans--Petra--whose still magnificent rock-palaces and rock-tombs furnish clearer evidence of the Nabataean civilization than does an almost extinct tradition. The leaders of the Pharisees, to whom after the manner of priests the victory of their faction seemed not too dearly bought at the price of the independence and integrity of their country, solicited Aretas the king of the Nabataeans for aid against Aristobulus, in return for which they promised to give back to him all the conquests wrested from him by Jannaeus. Thereupon Aretas had advanced with, it was said, 50,000 men into Judaea and, reinforced by the adherents of the Pharisees, he kept king Aristobulus besieged in his capital.

Syrian Cities

Amidst the system of violence and feud which thus prevailed from one end of Syria to another, the larger cities were of course the principal sufferers, such as Antioch, Seleucia, Damascus, whose citizens found themselves paralysed in their husbandry as well as in their maritime and caravan trade. The citizens of Byblus and Berytus (Beyrout) were unable to protect their fields and their ships from the Ityraeans, who issuing from their mountain and maritime strongholds rendered land and sea equally insecure. Those of Damascus sought to ward off the attacks of the Ityraeans and Ptolemaeus by handing themselves over to the more remote kings of the Nabataeans or of the Jews. In Antioch Sampsiceramus and Azizus mingled in the internal feuds of the citizens, and the Hellenic great city had wellnigh become even now the seat of an Arab emir. The state of things reminds us of the kingless times of the German middle ages, when Nuremberg and Augsburg found their protection not in the king's law and the king's courts, but in their own walls alone; impatiently the merchant-citizens of Syria awaited the strong arm, which should restore to them peace and security of intercourse.

The Last Seleucids

There was no want, however, of a legitimate king in Syria; there were even two or three of them. A prince Antiochus from the house of the Seleucids had been appointed by Lucullus as ruler of the most northerly province in Syria, Commagene.(13) Antiochus Asiaticus, whose claims on the Syrian throne had met with recognition both from the senate and from Lucullus,(14) had been received in Antioch after the retreat of the Armenians and there acknowledged as king. A third Seleucid prince Philippus had immediately confronted him there as a rival; and the great population of Antioch, excitable and delighting in opposition almost like that of Alexandria, as well as one or two of the neighbouring Arab emirs had interfered in the family strife which now seemed inseparable from the rule of the Seleucids. Was there any wonder that legitimacy became ridiculous and loathsome to its subjects, and that the so-called rightful kings were of even somewhat less importance in the land than the petty princes and robber-chiefs?

Annexation Of Syria

To create order amidst this chaos did not require either brilliance of conception or a mighty display of force, but it required a clear insight into the interests of Rome and of her subjects, and vigour and consistency in establishing and maintaining the institutions recognized as necessary. The policy of the senate in support of legitimacy had sufficiently degraded itself; the general, whom the opposition had brought into power, was not to be guided by dynastic considerations, but had only to see that the Syrian kingdom should not be withdrawn from the clientship of Rome in future either by the quarrels of pretenders or by the Covetousness of neighbours. But to secure this end there was only one course; that the Roman community should send a satrap to grasp with a vigorous hand the reins of government, which had long since practically slipped from the hands of the kings of the ruling house more even through their own fault than through outward misfortunes. This course Pompeius took. Antiochus the Asiatic, on requesting to be acknowledged as the hereditary ruler of Syria, received the answer that Pompeius would not give back the sovereignty to a king who knew neither how to maintain nor how to govern his kingdom, even at the request of his subjects, much less against their distinctly expressed wishes. With this letter of the Roman proconsul the house of Seleucus was ejected from the throne which it had occupied for two hundred and fifty years.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

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