Antiochus IV (Epiphanes)

175-163BC (12)

Antiochus IV Epiphanes ([ænˈtɑi̯əkəs.ɛˈpɪfəniːz] Αντίοχος Επιφανής, Greek: "The Shining One") (ca. 215–164 BC) ruled the Hellenistic Seleucid Empire from 175 BC until his death.

He was a son of Antiochus III the Great and brother of Seleucus IV Philopator. He was originally named Mithradates, but renamed Antiochus, either upon his ascension, or after the death of his elder brother Antiochus. Notable events during his reign include the near-conquest of Egypt, which was halted by the threat of Roman intervention, and the beginning of the Jewish revolt of the Maccabees.

Rise to power

Antiochus took power after the death of Seleucus Philopator. He had been hostage in Rome following the peace of Apamea in 188 BC, but had recently been exchanged for the son and rightful heir of Seleucus IV, the later Demetrius I Soter. Antiochus took advantage of this situation, and proclaimed himself co-regent with another of Seleucus' sons, the infant Antiochus, whose murder he orchestrated a few years later.

First invasion of Egypt

Because the guardians of Ptolemy VI of Egypt were demanding the return of Coele-Syria, Antiochus, in 170 BC, decided on a preemptive strike against Egypt, and invaded, conquering all but Alexandria. He then captured Ptolemy, and agreed to let him continue as King, but as his puppet. (This had the advantage of not alarming Rome.) Alexandria thereupon chose Ptolemy's brother Ptolemy Euergetes as King. In Antiochus' absence, the two brothers agreed to rule jointly.

Second invasion

Hence, in 168 BC, Antiochus again invaded, and overran all Egypt, except for Alexandria, while his fleet captured Cyprus. Near Alexandria he was met by Gaius Popillius Laenas, who told him that he must immediately withdraw from Egypt and Cyprus. Antiochus said he would discuss it with his council, whereupon the envoy drew round him a line in the sand, and said, "Before you cross this circle I want you to give me a reply for the Roman senate".The implication was that, were he to step out of the circle without an immediate commitment to withdraw from Egypt, the Syrian king would find himself at war with Rome. Being ambitious but not crazy, Antiochus promised to withdraw and only then Popillius agreed to shake hands with him.

Sack of Jerusalem

In a spirit of revenge, he organized an expedition against Jerusalem, which he destroyed; he put many of its inhabitants to death most cruelly. He had soldiers enter the Jewish Temple and slaughter a pig (which was considered "unclean" by the Jews) on the Altar of the Lord. They set the pig ablaze and then took the meat and tried to make some Jewish men eat it. The men refused and he cut their tongues out, scalped them, cut off their hands and feet, and burnt them on the Altar of the Lord. After this, the Jews began the war of independence under their Maccabean leaders, defeating the armies that Antiochus sent against them. Enraged at this, Antiochus is said to have marched against them in person, threatening to exterminate the nation; but, on the way, he suddenly died(164 BC). The exact causes of the Jewish revolt, and of Antiochus' response to it, are uncertain; the Jewish accounts are in the Books of the Maccabees, and the successful revolt is commemorated by the holiday of Hanukkah.

The Jews he oppressed mockingly referred to him as Antiochus Epimanes ("The Mad One") in a play of his name Epiphanes [1]

Final years

His last years were spent on a campaign against the rising Parthian empire, which seems to have been initially successful, but which terminated upon his death.

The reign of Antiochus was a last period of strength for the empire, but in some way it was fatal; since he was an usurper, and left his infant son Antiochus V Eupator as his successor, devastating dynastic wars followed his death.

See also Book of Daniel


Preceded by Seleucus IV Philopator
Succeeded by Antiochus V Eupator


  1. Encyclopædia Britannica Online: Antiochus IV Epiphanes
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