Did Laodice, Daughter of Seleucus IV of Syria and Wife of
Perseus of Macedonia, Later Marry Her Brother Demetrius I?

Don C. Stone, don@donstonetech.com

Version of Aug. 20, 2015

Oliver Hoover (“A Dedication to Aphrodite Epekoos for Demetrius I Soter and his Family,” Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 131 (2000), p. 106) shows that an inscribed marble plaque in a private collection gives the name of the wife of Demetrius I Soter as Laodice: “For the well-being of King Demetrius and Queen Laodice and their children, Apollophanes the son of Apollophanes, the priest [dedicated] the altar to Aphrodite Epekoos.” In discussing this wife Laodice, Hoover later says (p. 107, note 7):

J. M. Helliesen, Classical Journal 75 (1979/80) 297-298 denies that [Laodice, wife of Perseus of Macedonia] returned to Syria [after Perseus’ defeat] because the sources are silent about the details. They are equally silent about the fate that [s]he assumes her to have suffered at the hands of the Romans.

However, do we really have a symmetric situation here? Silence in some contexts is much more significant than in others. Jean M. Helliesen, “A Note on Laodice Number Twenty,” Classical Journal 75 (1979/80), pp. 296-7):

The historians who accept [the identity of Perseus’ widow and the wife of Demetrius I of Syria] do not explain how Laodice, alone of the entire Macedonian royal family, eluded the Roman forces, arranged passage across a sea dominated by the enemies’ fleet and was conveyed in safety to Syria, land of her birth. Not only are there no details of her miraculous escape, there is also no mention of how she was received by her uncle, Antiochus IV, for whom she must have been somewhat of an embarrassment. One cannot help but wonder how he explained her presence to the Roman embassy headed by Tiberius Gracchus when it visited Antioch in 166 or how she was treated by Lysias in the period between the death of Antiochus and the arrival of her brother [Demetrius] in Syria in 162. [Note 7: Demetrius offered a sister in marriage to Ariarathes (Just. 35. 1. 2; Diod. 31. 28). The sister is not named….] I see two possible explanations for the disappearance of Laodice from the literary tradition after 168. Either she shared the fate of the rest of the family and has been inadvertently dropped from our fragmentary and epitomized sources, or, quite simply, she died sometime between the capture of her family and the triumph of Aemilius Paulus.

Alex McAuley (http://seleucid-genealogy.com/Demetrius_I.html):

While most scholars have presumed that [Demetrius] married his sister Laodice, widow of Perseus, after her return to Syria, I stand convinced by Helliesen’s erudite argument that would scarcely have been possible.

On the other hand, the lesser importance of the royal wife/widow in Roman eyes is emphasized by Dolores Miron Pérez in “Transmitters and Representatives of Power: Royal Women in Ancient Macedonia,” Ancient Society 30 (2000), pp. 35–52 (esp. pp. 47-8, quoted below; I have added bolding at end and have spelled out abbreviations in notes):

From this perspective, we could explain the association, shown on coins, of Demetrius Soter with his sister Laodice, widow of the last Macedonian king, Perseus49. He may even have married her50. One might wonder if it were not a way, albeit covert, by which the Seleucid king could present himself as an alternative to the extinguished Macedonian royal dynasty, in the event of a change in the situation. In fact, this was not the only link he tried to demonstrate51. Also we may remark that, although Laodice was with her husband when he was captured in Samothrace52 in 168 BC, she would later appear free in her homeland, and may have married her brother there. That Rome was interested in eliminating the entire Macedonian royal family is demonstrated by the fact that all its members, except the wife, were conducted to Rome and exhibited in a humiliating way in Aemilius Paulus' triumphal parade, including the daughter (Diod. XXXI 8.12; Plut., Aem. 33.6-9). The girl, as well has her brothers, represented the continuity of the dynasty, a future that had to be eliminated or neutralized. The inclusion of all the king's offspring, male and female, would be directly related to Roman ideas about the family, where daughters and sons had similar worth for the purpose of succession, as we will observe in the succession to imperial power53. Actually, it is a pattern common to dynastic monarchies, in which power depended on a particular family, and access to power was conditioned to being a member of it. Nevertheless, in Roman republican ideology, wives were not as valuable as representatives of their husbands. No doubt Demetrius Soter's point of view was different, as well as that of the Hellenistic kingdoms.

49 U. Kahrstedt, “Frauen auf antiken Münzen,” Klio 10 (1910), p. 278.

50 Cf. G.H. Macurdy, Hellenistic Queens, Baltimore 1932, p. 75, and Cl. Vatin, Recherches sur le mariage et la condition de la femme mariée à l'époque hellénistique, Paris 1970, p. 88.

51 Cf. J.M. Helliesen, “Demetrius I Soter: a Seleucid King with an Antigonid Name,” in Ancient Macedonian Studies in Honor of Charles F. Edson, Thessaloniki 1981, p. 219-228.

52 Plut., Aem. 26.4-6. She was captured by the Romans (Zonar. IX 24.3).

53 Cf. M.D. Miron Pérez, Mujeres, religión y poder: el culto imperial en el Occidente Mediterráneo, Granada 1996, p. 118-133.

Can we get any help from coin evidence? Oliver Hoover (“A Dedication to Aphrodite Epekoos…,” 2000, pp. 107-8) discusses the significance of the coins with jugate busts of Demetrius I and Laodice:

In 161/0 BC Demetrius I began to issue silver and bronze coinages bearing an obverse type depicting the jugate busts of the king and a royal woman wearing a stephane. The latter can hardly be anyone other than the new wife of Demetrius I. The date of, and the political circumstances surrounding, the production of these coins both help to support the possibility that his wife, Laodice, might also have been his sister. If we consider that the obverse design was probably developed to celebrate the wedding of Laodice and Demetrius I, the union must have taken place late in 161, close on the heels of the rebuff of Ariarathes V. The literary sources, deficient as they are, give no hint that Demetrius I had any marriage prospects at this time, making it tempting to think that he may in part have married his sister to salvage some honor from the debacle with his cousin. Demetrius’ later attempts to destroy the power of Ariarathes in Cappadocia suggest that he had taken the insult to his sister and himself very seriously.

[Then follows a discussion of some political advantages to Demetrius of marriage to his sister, concluding as follows:] It is hard to think of a stronger appeal to the pro-Macedonian sentiments of his subjects than by marrying the ex-wife of Perseus.

Comments (via email of 5/2/2012) of Catherine Lorber, co-author of the Seleucid Coins volumes (SC):

There is no support in Seleucid numismatic practice for the idea that Demetrius I portrayed himself with his mother on these coins [e.g., Fig. 67, mislabeled as Fig. 66, on p. 205 (206 in PDF file) at http://theses.gla.ac.uk/938/01/2009dodd1phd.pdf]. The only certain examples of jugate portraits of mothers and sons are the following:

Gold octadrachms of Laodice IV and Antiochus, son of Seleucus IV (SC 1368): the queen appears in the foreground (the position of honor, equivalent to the right in a facing pair) as the regent for her very young son;

Tetradrachms of Cleopatra Thea and Antiochus VIII: the queen appears in the foreground as the senior monarch, having ruled alone, briefly, before associating her son in her rule.

In both cases the mother is portrayed because she was the official, legal ruler of the kingdom, and her son is also an official, legal ruler but of subordinate status. A jugate portrait of Demetrius and his mother would not fit this paradigm. Since Demetrius occupies the position of honor, the jugate portrait would imply that he had associated his mother in his rule as a coruler of slightly lesser status. Is there an example of such an arrangement anywhere in Hellenistic history? I can't think of one.

For me, the coins clearly indicate that the queen in the background is Demetrius' wife and that she was in some sense a coruler. What they don't tell us is her name.

However, there is a chronological constraint that makes it unlikely that Demetrius I married his sister. As pointed out by Mark Passehl (via emails of 7/5 and 7/10/2012), Demetrius' oldest son, Demetrius [II], had attained his majority (i.e., 14 or older) when he began his campaign against Alexander Balas in (summer?) 147 B.C. (Justin 35.2.2: “Demetrius, annos pubertatis egressus,” i.e., “Demetrius, having passed through puberty” or “..., passing through puberty”), and thus was born no later than 161 B.C. (probably by the end of September, which is also the end of the year 151 SEM [ = Seleucid Era by the Macedonian calendar] ). Hence his parents had likely married by autumn 162, and in any case there hardly seems time for his father (Demetrius I) to take power in Syria (in winter 162/161, according to Bringmann1), negotiate with another king about a marriage to his widowed sister, and then (after failure of the negotiations) marry this sister himself, this couple then becoming parents of a son born probably by early autumn of 161 B.C.

For the present we may have to content ourselves with the conclusion that the background of the wife of Demetrius I of Syria is uncertain.

1 Klaus Bringmann, Hellenistische Reform und Religionsverfolgung in Judäa: eine Untersuchung zur jüdisch-hellenistischen Geschichte (175-163 v. Chr.), 1983, p. 17. Specifically, Bringmann proposed that the accession of Demetrius I took place before the Babylonian month I of 151 SE (25 March 161 BC), according to R. J. van der Spek on pp. 167-8 of “New Evidence from the Babylonian Astronomical Diaries Concerning Seleucid and Arsacid History,” Archiv für Orientforschung 49/50 (1997/1998): 167-175 (https://www.academia.edu/826620/New_Evidence_from_the_Babylonian_Astronomical_Diaries_concerning_Seleucid_and_Arsacid_history). Quoting from van der Spek's note 6, p. 168, “The Macedonian Seleucid era started in October 312 BC, the Babylonian era in April 311 BC. This means that months I-VI of the Babylonian calendar belong to the same Seleucid year as the corresponding Macedonian months, while months VII-XII lag one year behind.” For more detail, see http://www.tyndalehouse.com/egypt/ptolemies/chron/babylonian/chron_bab_intro_fr.htm.