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Distant View Of Antioch.
"And Tyre's proud piers lie shattered in the main."—Byron. The series of coins, extending over two hundred and fifty years, which numismatists designate under the head of "Syria," really represent a much wider district.
The catastrophe of Alexander's early death left in a dazed unsettled condition that eastern world which he had overrun with his conquering armies. There were still, scattered over a vast region, great military organisations under experienced generals trained by him.
But none of the generals was able to fill Alexander's place. He had said it was " for the most worthy"—none of them felt himself fit to rule the world, each concerned himself with the district he best understood, and in the space of a dozen years, there were nearly as many independent states.
Seleucus was the son of Antiochus, one of the officers of Philip of Macedon. He was one of Alexander's most efficient generals in his Indian campaign, and when ultimately a partition of the Macedonian Empire was made among them, the province of Babylon fell to the lot of Seleucus, as a sort of satrapy under Macedonian rule.
Eventually, however, Seleucus became sole ruler of this province and its dependencies, and in 312 B.C. founded the royal line, afterwards known as the Seleucid Dynasty. In 301 B.C. Seleucus and Lysimachus together conquered Antigonus. Lysimachus fell, fighting against Seleucus, 281 B.C.
( 395 )
Syria, and a great part of Asia Minor, from the Euphrates to the Mediterranean, came to Seleucus in the division of the spoil. Increased westwards as well as eastwards, thus was formed the great Seleucid Empire. It at first extended to what had been Persia, to Parthia, and as far as Bactria, but these countries were never tightly held, and broke off their allegiance early.
Lysimachus being conquered and slain, Seleucus intended to seize the throne of Macedonia and crossed the Hellespont with a great army; but was murdered on his way to Macedon. His son and successors contented themselves with the Syrian and adjacent provinces. They seem soon after to have neglected Babylon as a capital, and established Antioch as their headquarters
and founded other cities near the Mediterranean. Thus they came to be regarded as Syrian potentates.
But it is strange how little we know of the life of these remarkable men.
Amid much internecine strife and domestic quarrels and tragedies they managed to continue their sway for nearly 250 years. Their coins afford us a series of historical portraits, unequalled by those of any country the world ever knew. We seem to gaze upon the men themselves. But of their life, we know little, of the cities where they resided, we know almost nothing. In so far their personal history is a sealed book, or rather a lost record. We know infinitely more of the Pharaohs who ruled Egypt several thousand years before their time. Indeed, by recent discoveries we begin to know more of the kings of the I. to III. Dynasties of Egypt—of 6500
The (so-called) Sarcophagus Of Alexander, Constantinople.
(Found near Sidon.)
years ago, than we know of the doings of the Seleucid Kings, who came into existence when Egypt's life, as an independent nation, was no more.
Mr. Mahaffy has given us a fascinating volume on "The Empire Of The Ptolemies "; Mr. Oman one equally interesting on "The Byzantine Empire." We have many works on Alexander's conquests and explanations of his grand ideas for universal sway. But will none of these historians give us "The Seleucid Empire "? Until they do we must remain in ignorance. And when the time comes let the tale be told by one who knows the region where these powerful rulers held their sway; let him illustrate for us by good photographs, or sketches taken on the spot, the present condition of the ancient sites.
Till then not much can be known beyond what we learn from the portrait gallery of these wonderful men (Plates XIX., XX.). One piece of light suddenly shone forth to dazzle our minds, a few years since. This was quite enough to whet the edge of appetite.
In 1887, an ancient necropolis near Sidon was accidentally discovered. It was found to contain <x collection of sarcophagi, mostly of marble from Pentelicus, near Athens, and therefore presumably of Attic sculpture, not the work of Syrian artists. The coffins were empty, save one of Egyptian stone, which contained the body;'
of a Sidonian king, with hieroglyphics showing that it had been brought from Egypt, and a text in Phoenician with his name and curses upon those that
The Sarcophaous Of The Weeping Women, Constantinople.
should dare to disturb his peace. There were no inscriptions on the other marble sarcophagi, whose intended occupants remain a mystery.
The sculpture was of the highest merit, of the style of the third century B.C. The battle-scenes shown on the finest sarcophagus, being evidently from the life of Alexander, at first gave rise to the idea that this might be the long sought-for tomb of the great Macedonian. But this was found to be impossible—he was buried at Memphis and his coffin was subsequently removed to Alexandria, where Augustus saw the corpse. Caligula stole the Great Alexander's breastplate, that he might decorate himself therewith when presiding over the National Games at Rome.
In these days of survivals, we may yet stumble on the ruins of the great man's mausoleum at Alexandria, certainty it will not be found by the shores of lonely, deserted Sidon.
Saide—(S(DON): The Crusaders' Fort.
These magnificent sarcophagi were very near coming to the British Museum. But, unfortunately for us, the Turks began to see that it might pay to preserve classic antiquities better than to smash them up for road-making or to burn them for lime. A member of the Constantinople governing classes, Hamdi Bey by name, who had been educated in Paris, advised the Sultan to bring these marble relics of Greek art to Constantinople. Here an old mosque has been converted into a museum for them, and for all future things of the kind that may be discovered in Turkish realms. This is unfortunate—for doubtless Constantinople will one day be bombarded by some union of the Christian powers. The fate of these treasures will then be that which befell the Parthenon in time of war.
I went specially all the way to Constantinople to see these sarcophagi and they are well worthy of a long journey. The sculptures are perfect and at least one of the figures is intended to represent Alexander.
The original colouring, done with great delicacy and taste, rernains in many places, and adds much to the beauty of the work. Professor Ernest Gardner thinks that the sculpture is from Attic hands and states1 that "it is certainly the most perfect in preservation of all the monuments of Greek art that have survived to our time." He also truly adds "much is learnt from the sight of the originals in the museum at Constantinople, which they have at once raised to a very high rank among the collections of Greek antiquities."
The discovery of these important specimens of Hellenic art on a lonely deserted coast, shows what we may expect to be found through the length and breadth of the wide realm of the ancient Seleucid Empire. Only let us hope that when more such finds come to the light of day they may bear some inscription to explain their mysterious origin.
There were several other marble sarcophagi found in this site at Sidon. One of a satrap has the top of the tomb in shape like the Lycian one in the British Museum from Xanthus. Another, with expressive figures of weeping women, shows a good period of Greek art. The figures are touching and refined in effect and evince deep grief without being melodramatic. It is in design the model of an Ionic temple, of purest taste, and like the other one
1 Handbook of Greek Sculpture (Macmillan).