Zeus and Apollo in the religious program of the Seleucids

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference proceeding contributionpeer-review


This paper discusses the appropriation of eastern cults by the Seleucus I Nikator and his son Antiochus in their struggle to establish their dynasty. I, therefore, examine the roles of Zeus and Apollo, the foremost divine protectors of the Seleucids, against near eastern royal traditions. The evidence indicates that the tradition of Apollo as Seleucus’ father was of a late date and limited circulation. Instead, at the start of the dynasty Seleucus seems to have promoted Zeus as his divine protector, while it was Antiochus who was primarily associated with Apollo. Although the phenomenon is often explained as the result of Antiochus’ more systematic religious policy, a more accurate explanation can be reached if we examine the solar aspects of Babylonian kingship which are transferred to both Zeus and Apollo during the Hellenistic period.
In Babylon, kings relied on the benevolence of Shamash, the Sun-god, for maintaining their just, god-sanctioned rule, often publicized on royal inscriptions. But while Shamash for responsible for the legislative duties of the king, Marduk, the protector of the city, determined its military supremacy. Marduk, identified in the Hellenistic period with Zeus Belos, acquired solar aspects in the same way that the divinity of a number of local Baals came to be praised in solar terms. Zeus was often worshipped as Zeus Helios, while Apollo was eventually identified with the Sun. However, Seleucus and Antiochus who posed as Babylonian kings did not assimilate the sun-god with Apollo: Seleucus relied on the favour of Zeus/Marduk to establish his kingdom, while Antiochus received the protection of Apollo who was identified with Nabu, Marduk’s son. Therefore, the first two Seleucids applied their insight of Babylonian traditions to the interpretatio graeca encouraging the identification of Marduk and Nabu with Zeus and Apollo respectively; thus, they promoted the father-son relationship of the gods, also projected on their kingship.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationASCS 33 Selected Proceedings
PublisherAustralasian Society for Classical Studies
Number of pages23
Publication statusPublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes
EventAustralasian Society for Classical Studies (33rd : 2012) - Hellenic Museum, Melbourne, Australia
Duration: 5 Feb 20129 Feb 2012


ConferenceAustralasian Society for Classical Studies (33rd : 2012)


Dive into the research topics of 'Zeus and Apollo in the religious program of the Seleucids'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this