Israel Antiquities Authority

Antiochus IV and the Levant in the Light of Archaeological Finds

Gerald Finkielsztejn, Israel antiquities Authority

The relations between Antiochus IV of Syria (175-163 BCE) and the Land of Israel is best known from written sources relating to the revolt of the Jews of Judea, which was caused by the actions of this ruler. Much more is known today about his relations with the entire Levant, mostly thanks to recent archaeological finds and studies.
New coin types displaying the portrait of Antiochus IV on the obverse and local “national” symbols on the reverse were minted in several cities of Syria, Cilicia and Phoenicia (on the coast, from Tripolis to Ascalon). These so-called “pseudo-autonomous” or “quasi-municipal” coins are evidence for a policy of promotion of civic identities, with the aim of full cooperation with the central power, but not autonomy. In addition, a type attributed to Jerusalem appears to have been minted in Scythopolis.
It is now understood that Scythopolis was renamed Nysa by Antiochus IV after the name of his elder daughter. This was part of a policy of re-foundation of cities under dynastic names (mainly his own) or grant of special recognition to their inhabitants: Berytus-Laodicea, the Antiocheans of Ptolemais-Akko, the Antiocheans of Jerusalem, Antiochia-on-the Chrysorrhoas-Gerasa, etc. These promotions were probably aimed at creating a “metropolis” in each area that may have been meant to serve an administrative division of the kingdom, as may be seen from the topographical distributions of the relevant cities. Evidence for this is found in the claims of precedence appearing (in Phoenician script) on the coins of the main Phoenician cities, each one expecting to lead over its region: “of Tyre, mother of the Sidonians”, Sidon “mother of Cambe, Hippone, Citium and Tyre”, Berytus-Laodicea “Mother in Canaan”.
Lead Weights also give evidence for the reform of Antiochus IV: the oldest dated ones known, so far, from the Southern Levant and Tyre were molded in 173/2 and 169/8 BCE (respectively). The office of the agoranomos is known only from this king’s reign in the region. He himself was “crazily” (Polybius: epiphanes/epimanes) interested in this office, which he reputedly held in Antioch (a weight bears his name too). He seems to have unified the weight standards of the Southern Levant, by imposing as a standard the Syrian mina of his time (ca. 550-560 g.; this corresponds, perhaps by mere chance, with about 50 shekels of the old Judean standard of 11.3 g.).
Similarly, the oldest dated evidence for administrative institutions and offices in Hellenistic Tyre appears on bilingual clay seals of documents stamped in 165/4 BCE: the shophtim [of the] koinodemion (“league of peoples”?), the xenodikion (“court-law for foreigners”), and, later, the koinodikion (“court-law common to a league”?). However, it is not clear who promoted them - Antiochus IV or the Ptolemies - as these names do not appear to be translations of traditional local institutions.
Finally, Rhodian stamped amphora handles are indirect evidence for the extension of cities around their ancient Tell (thus becoming an acropolis), obviously accompanying these administrative reforms. The graphs of the chrono-topographical distribution of the stamps show that in Nysa-Scythopolis (Beth Shean), Tel Istabah was settled only in Antiochus IV’s reign. The same is true for the development of the “lower city” of Ptolemais-Akko west of the ancient Tell. In Maresha, a Rhodian fabricant stamp found under the floor of one of the earliest insulas of the lower city proves that it was established not before ca. 183 BCE, maybe already in the reign of Seleucus IV (187-175 BCE), who may have promoted that city himself. The graph of the stamps shows a depression that lasted for about 15 years after the battle waged at Maresha by Judas the Maccabee. However, considering its location, Maresha should have been formally placed as the head of the “district” of Idumea by Antiochus IV. Probable evidence for this exists in the oldest known dated lead weight found there.
These moves in the Levant conquered by Antiochus III could have become possible only in the beginning of Antiochus IV’s reign, due to a new situation: both Ptolemy V and his wife, Cleopatra (daughter of Antiochus III and sister of Antiochus IV) were dead in 175 BCE. Indeed, Cleopatra received these territories as a dowry and they most probably were still administrated to a certain extent by the Ptolemies during all her life. Antiochus IV had a free hand to administer these areas to the full benefit of the Seleucid kingdom.
However, the concomitant need of the king for levying taxes and his plundering of temples seem to have created an unbearable burden for these cities. It may be surmised that Byblos tried to escape the desecration by proclaiming special holiness on its “pseudo-autonomous” coins: “of Gebal, the holy”? The cities eventually revolted, as may be seen by interruptions in the mints of their “pseudo-autonomous” coins and a late text by Porphyry. This revolt, contemporary to that of the Maccabees, as well as the exaggerated ambitions of the king toward Egypt, put an end to these “reforms”.
Nevertheless, later evidence shows that Antiochus IV initiated a process that was followed and expanded in the next century and under the Romans (such as the leading roles of the agoranomos and of metropolis).

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