In the aftermath of Alexander the Great’s conquests, the Seleucid kings ruled a vast territory stretching from Central Asia to Anatolia, Armenia to the Persian Gulf. In a radical move to impose unity and regulate behavior, this Graeco-Macedonian imperial power introduced a linear and transcendent conception of time. Under Seleucid rule, time no longer restarted with each new monarch. Instead, progressively numbered years, identical to the system we use today—continuous, irreversible, accumulating—became the de facto
measure of historical duration. This new temporality, propagated throughout the empire, changed how people did business, recorded events, and oriented themselves to the larger world. Challenging this order, however, were rebellious subjects who resurrected their pre-Hellenistic pasts and created apocalyptic time frames that predicted the total end of history. The interaction of these complex and competing temporalities led to far-reaching religious, intellectual, and political developments. Time and Its Adversaries in the Seleucid Empire
(Harvard University Press, 2018) by Paul J. Kosmin
, John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University, opens a new window onto empire, resistance, and the meaning of history in the ancient world.
Ryan Tripp is an adjunct faculty member in history at Southern New Hampshire University.