Laodike III and Seleucid Royal Cult

Recorded: February 20, 2020
Event: Contextualizing Iranian Religions in the Ancient World - 14th Melammu Symposium

by Deirdre Klokow (University of Southern California)

Laodike III and Seleucid Royal Cult

In 193 BCE, the Seleucid king Antiochus III, perhaps in anticipation of his upcoming campaign in the Greek west, established a new royal cult for his queen, Laodike III. Details of the queen’s cult suggest it was intended to equal the cult of Antiochus III himself in prestige, yet its promotion was weak and by the death of the king a few years later it had all but disappeared. This paper examines a bricolage of numismatic, epigraphic, and archaeological records, particularly the initial royal prostagma, as well as the bronze Nikephoros coinage, to infer on the geographic spread and intended audience for the worship of Laodike III. Seleucid queens were not typically given a cult in their own name, making the establishment of official worship for Laodike III a key moment in considering the imposition of royal cult as a Seleucid response to a particular social and political context. Epigraphic evidence suggests that there was initial intent on widespread dissemination of, and elite involvement in, the cult, with the aim of stabilizing the future security of the dynasty. Bearing in mind the success of the Ptolemaic royal cult and in particular that of the divinized queen Arsinoe II, as well as the strong familial presence in Attalid self-representation, one must ask why this particular attempt at a female ruler cult did not come to occupy a similarly central role in Seleucid royal ideology.