Alexander I ‘Balas’

Ruled 152-145 b.c.

Son of Antiochus IV, mother unknown

Married to Cleopatra Thea, daughter of Ptolemy VI

    -Antiochus VI Dionysus


Silver tetradrachm bearing the jugate portrait of Cleopatra Thea and Alexander Balas

Alexander I Balas

Son of Antiochus IV and an unknown mother, perhaps the concubine Antiochis mentioned in II.Macc.4.30. Ogden 1999, 143-5, and Dodd 2009, 99-103 provide the best review of ancient and modern discussions of his potential paternity. Josephus (AJ 13.103) and I.Macc. 10.1 support his claim to descent from Antiochus IV, while Polybius seems rather more skeptical (33.18) and Appian outright states that he was lying (Syr.67). To consider him a son, by either a concubine or another wife, of Antiochus IV is not in my mind a far-fetched conclusion. He enjoyed the support of the Attalids and the acknowledgment of the Roman Senate at Livy.Epit.52, though of course both parties could have supported him out of sheer self-interest. A point raised by Dodd seems to me particularly simple yet convincing: his marriage to Cleopatra Thea must be at least an implicit recognition from the Ptolemies of his legitimacy, as the Ptolemies would never have contemplated marrying one of their princesses off to a mere commoner, no matter what his political utility (Dodd 2009, 100-101). This, along with Ogden’s comments, make it difficult to deny him at least some shred of legitimacy through Antiochus IV (Ogden 1999, 143-6.

The preceding identification aside, in terms of genealogy his reign is rather straightforward: as a sign of Ptolemaic endorsement of his claim to the throne and in addition to the financial and military support he had already received, Balas was married to Cleopatra Thea, daughter of Ptolemy VI, at Ptolemais in 150 B.C. (Jos.AJ.13.109-110, Diod.32.9c, App.Syr.67, Justin 35.2.3-4, Grainger 1997, 6-7). From there he invaded Syria, took over Antioch, and seized the throne. Cleopatra Thea would have been barely fourteen or fifteen years old at the time, and her introduction into the house of Seleucus would have far-reaching dynastic implications (Whitehorne 2001, 150, and Bevan 1902a, 2.212).

The couple only had one child, a son named Antiochus VI Dionysus, who was residing with a foster arab chieftain at the time of his father’s death (Diod.32.9d, Jos.AJ.13.131, Eus.Chron.1.40.17). The young boy reigned only briefly (145-142) under the regency of the to-be usurper Diodotus/Tryphon, and later died mysteriously during a surgical procedure. Ancient and modern commentators alike have little difficult in identifying Diodotus as the likely perpetrator (Jos.AJ.13.145-7).