Day of Eleusis

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In ancient historical research, the day of Eleusis is the early July day in 168 BC. On which the envoy of the Roman republic called upon the Seleucid king Antiochus IV to withdraw from Ptolemaic Egypt . The event thus marks the final establishment of Roman hegemony over the eastern Mediterranean.

initial situation

Antiochus IV had in 169 BC In the so-called Sixth Syrian War, an Egyptian invading army was defeated near the border town of Pelusion . As a result of this victory, a Seleucid army marched into Egypt, where it met with little resistance. Internal power struggles raged at the Ptolemaic royal court, which Antiochus was able to exploit: the Seleucid came to an understanding with Ptolemy VI. , while a counter-government formed under Ptolemy’s younger brother Ptolemy VIII and continued to resist. Antiochus, who did not succeed in conquering Alexandria , broke off the campaign for the time being due to domestic political problems, but returned the following year to Egypt, where the divided Ptolemaic siblings had in the meantime reconciled.

The Alexandrian court had unsuccessfully sought an alliance with the Achaean League and now all hopes were placed in Rome, the new hegemonic power in the eastern Mediterranean. For the time being, however, the Roman troops were still tied up in Macedonia , where Rome waged war against King Perseus of Macedonia . Antiochus had deliberately refused his alliance so as not to provoke the Romans. Nevertheless, he was now apparently planning to weaken the Ptolemaic Empire as much as possible, if not to annex it entirely. Because almost at the same time as the renewed invasion of Egypt in the spring of 168 BC A successful expedition to Cyprus was also undertaken, which was also Ptolemaic.

Antiochus could work out that Rome would resolutely oppose a union of the Ptolemaic Empire with the Seleucid Empire, and so he initially only demanded that Cyprus, the fortress of Pelusion and the surrounding country should be handed over to him. These (relatively modest) demands probably also took account of the Seleucid "security interests", as this would put a stop to another Ptolemaic invasion for the time being. In Alexandria, however, this was not addressed.

Antiochus then occupied large parts of Upper Egypt, including the old metropolis of Memphis , which he captured without a fight. Apparently he was now planning a permanent annexation of the occupied territories, since he also installed his own administrator in Memphis. Whether Antiochus was also crowned Pharaoh is uncertain and controversial in research. He then advanced a second time against Alexandria. The Seleucid victory seemed to be imminent when suddenly a Roman embassy arrived, which had previously been on Delos and had learned about the invasion there. At the same time it had just become known that the Romans had meanwhile decisively defeated Perseus in the Battle of Pydna .


The delegation's spokesman, the respected Senator Gaius Popillius Laenas , met with Antiochus in early July 168 BC. In Eleusis , a suburb of Alexandria. What followed is well documented by the report of his contemporary Polybius : Without bothering with diplomatic formalities - he ignored the king's greeting - Popillius opposed Antiochus and ultimately urged him to end the war immediately and end the war as soon as possible To withdraw. Antiochus IV was clearly taken by surprise and asked for time to think it over. Popillius is said to have drawn a circle around the king in the sand with a staff and asked him to give a binding answer here and now. Should he leave the circle without having given the desired answer, he is at war with Rome. Deeply humiliated, Antiochus had to agree: The war was ended and the Seleucid troops withdrew from Egypt and Cyprus. Antiochus left Pelusion by sea at the end of July; But he had hardly any other choice: the king could not allow Roman intervention, as the example of Macedonia showed him, where the Antigonid monarchy after Pydna was eliminated by Rome.


It is unclear whether Popillius had hoped that his disrespectful behavior could provoke a war with Antiochus. One consequence of this extremely powerful, but also harsh approach of Popillius (in addition to the humiliating demonstration of the Seleucids through Rome) was in any case the impressive underpinning of the Roman claim to hegemony in the eastern Mediterranean, where the former Hellenistic great powers had been degraded to almost powerless extras. Subsequent Roman policy endeavored to weaken the remaining powers wherever possible and to prevent any shift in power. The tumbling Ptolemaic rule over Egypt was confirmed once again, but only at the price of being no more than a Roman protectorate from now on, if the independence was also formally preserved. The end of this development was in the 1st century BC. When the remains of the Seleucid Empire in Syria (64/63 BC) and finally Egypt (30 BC) became Roman provinces.


See also the various overviews of the history of the Roman Republic and Hellenism.

  • Erich S. Gruen : The Hellenistic World and the Coming of Rome. 1st paperback printing. University of California Press, Berkeley CA et al. 1986, ISBN 0-520-05737-6 (original 1984 in 2 volumes).
  • Heinz Heinen : The political relations between Rome and the Ptolemaic Empire from its beginnings to the day of Eleusis (273–168 BC). In: Hildegard Temporini (ed.): The rise and fall of the Roman world . History and culture of Rome as reflected in recent research. Section 1: From the beginnings of Rome to the end of the republic. Volume 1. de Gruyter, Berlin et al. 1972, ISBN 3-11-001885-3 , pp. 633-654.
  • Peter Franz noon : Antiochus IV. Epiphanes. A political biography (= Klio . Supplements NF Vol. 11). Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 2006, ISBN 3-05-004205-2 (Also: Freiburg (Breisgau), University, habilitation paper, 2004).


  1. On Antiochus' campaigns cf. now especially Peter Franz Mittag: Antiochos IV. Berlin 2006, p. 159 ff.
  2. See Polybios 29:27.
  3. See Peter Franz Mittag: Antiochos IV. Berlin 2006, p. 214 ff.
  4. See Klaus Bringmann : History of the Roman Republic. From the beginning to Augustus. Beck, Munich 2002, ISBN 3-406-49292-4 , pp. 142f.
  5. However, Gruen has tried to downplay this aspect, cf. Erich S. Gruen: The Hellenistic World and the Coming of Rome. Berkeley CA et al. 1986, pp. 691 f .; see. but the contrary statements, excerpts collected, ibid. p. 692, note 99.