“A magisterial contribution to this hitherto obscure but clearly important restructuring of time in the ancient Mediterranean world.”—G. W. Bowersock, New York Review of Books
“Tells the story of how the Seleucid Empire revolutionized chronology by picking a Year One and counting from there, rather than starting a new count, as other states did, each time a new monarch was crowned…Fascinating.”—Harper’s
“The new dating system was intended to make the king master of time. It ultimately transformed the historical consciousness of the empire’s populations, triggered the nostalgic desire to keep the memory of a pre-Seleucid past, and shaped expectations of the future. With erudition, theoretical sophistication, and meticulous discussion of the sources, Paul Kosmin sheds new light on the meaning of time, memory, and identity in a multicultural setting.”—Angelos Chaniotis, author of Age of Conquests
In this eye-opening book, Paul J. Kosmin explains how the Seleucid Empire’s invention of a new kind of time—and the rebellions against this worldview—transformed the way we organize our thoughts about the past, present, and future.
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, Kosmin argues, led to far-reaching religious, intellectual, and political developments.
Time and Its Adversaries in the Seleucid Empire opens a new window onto empire, resistance, and the meaning of history in the ancient world.