|Demetrius II Nicator|
|Basileus of the Seleucid Empire |
(King of Syria)
|Reign||September 145 – July/August 138 BC|
|Reign||129 – 126 BC|
|Predecessor||Antiochus VII Sidetes|
|Successor||Alexander II Zabinas or Cleopatra Thea|
|Born||c. 160 BC|
|Died||125 BC (Aged 35)|
|Father||Demetrius I Soter|
Demetrius II (Ancient Greek: Δημήτριος Β`, Dēmḗtrios B; died 125 BC), called Nicator (Ancient Greek: Νικάτωρ, Nikátōr, "Victor"), was one of the sons of Demetrius I Soter. His mother may have been Laodice V, as was the case with his brother Antiochus VII Sidetes. Demetrius ruled the Seleucid Empire for two periods, separated by a number of years of captivity in Hyrcania in Parthia, first from September 145 BC to July/August 138 BC, and again from 129 BC until his death in 125 BC. His brother Antiochus VII ruled the Seleucid Empire in the interim between his two reigns.
As a young boy, Demetrios fled to Crete after the death of his father, his mother and his older brother, when Alexander Balas usurped the Seleucid throne.
About 147 BC he returned to Syria with a force of Cretan mercenaries led by a man called Lasthenes, while Alexander Balas was occupied with a revolt in Cilicia. In 145 BC Ptolemy VI Philometor, king of Egypt, ostensibly in support of Alexander Balas, but he switched his support to Demetrius. Ptolemy sealed the alliance by divorcing his daughter Cleopatra Thea from Alexander and remarrying her to Demetrius. Shortly after, Antioch surrendered to the Egyptian forces and offered the kingship to Ptolemy VI. However, he insisted Demetrius would become king, believing that Rome would not tolerate the unification of Egypt and Syria. Ptolemy pledged to serve as "a tutor in goodness and a guide" to Demetrius II. He probably intended for Demetrius to serve as a puppet ruler.
Alexander returned from Cilicia with his army, but Ptolemy VI and Demetrius II defeated his forces at the Oenoparas river. Alexander then fled to Arabia, where he was killed. Ptolemy was wounded in the battle and died three days later. With both his rival and his self-appointed guardian gone, Demetrius took the opportunity to assert his control over his kingdom. By late 145, Demetrius II had expelled all Ptolemaic troops from Syria and reasserted Seleucid control by leading his own forces all the way down to the Egyptian border.
However, new troubles soon arose. Once he had expelled the Egyptian forces, he demobilised a large portion of his army. It appears that his financial situation led him to cut the soldiers' wages and debase the coinage. Demetrius had also punished the city of Antioch severely for having supported Alexander against his father and for speaking to him disrespectfully. He disarmed the citizens and the Cretan mercenaries under Lasthenes slaughtered those who resisted, including women and children. This led the Antiochenes to rise up and besiege Demetrios in his palace. Jewish troops violently restored Demetrius' control, burning down a large portion of the city in the process. This left the city even more hostile to him.
In order to secure his hold on power, Demetrius had eliminated officials associated with Alexander Balas. One of these officials, the general Diodotus, fled into Arabia, where he secured the infant son of Alexander Balas and proclaimed him king as Antiochus VI Dionysus. Many of Demetrius' soldiers defected to Diodotus, out of anger at his conduct or the cuts to their pay. Demetrius was defeated in battle and lost control of Apamea and Antioch to Diodotus. Numismatic evidence indicates that Apamea was lost in early 144 and Antioch in late 144 or early 143.
Demetrius proved unable to retake the capital, instead establishing himself in Seleucia Pieria. Antiochus VI died in 142 or 141, but Diodotus made himself king as Tryphon, but the division of the kingdom between Demetrius in Seleucia and Diodotus in Antioch persisted. Initially, Diodotus succeeded in bringing the leader of the Jews, Jonathan Apphus, onto his side, but this relationship broke down; ultimately Diodotus captured and executed Jonathan. By means of adroit diplomacy and grants of extensive freedoms, Demetrios II was able to secure the Jonathan's brother Simon Thassi as a close ally. These grants were later seen by the Hasmonean Jewish state as the moment when they achieved full independence.
Mithridates I, king of Parthia had taken advantage of the conflict between Demetrius and Tryphon to seize control of Susa and Elymais in 144 and of Mesopotamia in mid-141 BC. In 139/8, Demetrius journeyed east to reclaim these territories from the Parthians. He was initially successful, but was defeated in the Iranian mountains and taken prisoner in July or August of 138 BC. Parthian control of Mesopotamia was thus reaffirmed. In Syria, Tryphon was briefly left as uncontested ruler of the remaining Seleucid territories, but the Seleucid dynasty's grip was reestablished under Antiochus VII Sidetes, the younger brother of Demetrius, who also married Cleopatra Thea.
King Mithridates had kept Demetrius II alive and even married him to a Parthian princess named Rhodogune, with whom he had children. However, Demetrius was restless and twice tried to escape from his exile in Hyrcania on the shores of the Caspian Sea, once with the help of his friend Kallimander, who had gone to great lengths to rescue the king: he had travelled incognito through Babylonia and Parthia. When the two friends were captured, the Parthian king did not punish Kallimander but rewarded him for his fidelity to Demetrius. The second time Demetrius was captured when he tried to escape, Mithridates humiliated him by giving him a golden set of dice, thus hinting that Demetrius II was a restless child who needed toys. It was however for political reasons that the Parthians treated Demetrius II kindly.
In 130 BC Antiochus Sidetes felt secure enough to march against Parthia, and scored massive initial successes. Now Phraates II made what he thought was a powerful move: he released Demetrius, hoping that the two brothers would start a civil war. However, Sidetes was defeated soon after his brother's release and never met him. Phraates II sent people to pursue Demetrius, but he managed to safely return home to Syria and regained his throne and his queen as well.
However, the Seleucid kingdom was now but a shadow of its former glory, and Demetrius had a hard time ruling even in Syria. Recollections of his cruelties and vices – along with his humiliating defeat – caused him to be greatly detested. The Egyptian queen Cleopatra II set up an army for Demetrius, hoping to engage him in her civil wars against her brother king Ptolemy VIII, but this only added to his grief. The troops soon deserted, and king Ptolemy VIII reacted by setting up yet another usurper, a man named Alexander II Zabinas against Demetrius.
In 126 BC, Demetrius was defeated in a battle at Damascus. He fled to Ptolemais but his wife Cleopatra Thea closed the gates against him. He was captured and then killed on a ship near Tyre, after his wife had deserted him. Demetrius II was certainly incapable of handling the developing threats to the Seleucid empire, but his reputation for cruelty was probably undeserved. He was only around fourteen at his coronation, and the real power was in the hands of others.
He was succeeded by his queen Cleopatra Thea in co-regency with two of their sons, Seleucus V Philometor and Antiochus VIII Grypus.
Incidents from the life of Demetrius II Nicator and Cleopatra Thea are the basis of the libretto Demetrio by Pietro Metastasio. First set by the composer Antonio Caldara for the imperial court of Vienna in 1731, it was one of Metastasio's most popular librettos, eventually set by dozens of 18th-century composers up to the year 1790.
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