Hellenistic period

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The Nike of Samothrace is considered one of the greatest masterpieces of Hellenistic art.
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The Hellenistic period covers the period of ancient Greek (Hellenic) history and Mediterranean history between the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and the emergence of the Roman Empire as signified by the Battle of Actium in 31 BC[1] and the subsequent conquest of Ptolemaic Egypt the following year.[2] At this time, Greek cultural influence and power was at its peak in Europe, Africa and Asia, experiencing prosperity and progress in the arts, exploration, literature, theatre, architecture, music, mathematics, philosophy, and science. It is often considered a period of transition, sometimes even of decadence or degeneration,[3] compared to the enlightenment of the Greek Classical era. The Hellenistic period saw the rise of New Comedy, Alexandrian poetry, the Septuagint and the philosophies of Stoicism and Epicureanism. Greek Science was advanced by the works of the mathematician Euclid and the polymath Archimedes. The religious sphere expanded to include new gods such as the Greco-Egyptian Serapis, eastern deities such as Attis and Cybele and the Greek adoption of Buddhism.

Hellenistic period. Dionysus sculpture from the Ancient Art Collection at Yale.

After Alexander the Great's invasion of the Persian Empire in 330 BC and its disintegration shortly after, the Hellenistic kingdoms were established throughout south-west Asia (Seleucid Empire, Kingdom of Pergamon), north-east Africa (Ptolemaic Kingdom) and South Asia (Greco-Bactrian Kingdom, Indo-Greek Kingdom). This resulted in the export of Greek culture and language to these new realms through Greek colonization, spanning as far as modern-day Pakistan. Equally, however, these new kingdoms were influenced by the indigenous cultures, adopting local practices where beneficial, necessary, or convenient. Hellenistic culture thus represents a fusion of the Ancient Greek world with that of the Near East, Middle East, and Southwest Asia, and a departure from earlier Greek attitudes towards "barbarian" cultures.[4] The Hellenistic period was characterized by a new wave of Greek colonization[5] (as distinguished from that occurring in the 8th–6th centuries BC) which established Greek cities and kingdoms in Asia and Africa.[6] Those new cities were composed of Greek colonists who came from different parts of the Greek world, and not, as before, from a specific "mother city".[6] The main cultural centers expanded from mainland Greece to Pergamon, Rhodes, and new Greek colonies such as Seleucia, Antioch, Alexandria and Ai-Khanoum. This mixture of Greek-speakers gave rise to a common Attic-based dialect, known as Koine Greek, which became the lingua franca through the Hellenistic world.

Scholars and historians are divided as to what event signals the end of the Hellenistic era. The Hellenistic period may be seen to end either with the final conquest of the Greek heartlands by Rome in 146 BC following the Achean War, with the final defeat of the Ptolemaic Kingdom at the Battle of Actium in 31 BC, or even the move by Roman emperor Constantine the Great of the capital of the Roman Empire to Constantinople in 330 AD.[7][8] "Hellenistic" is distinguished from "Hellenic" in that the first encompasses the entire sphere of direct ancient Greek influence, while the latter refers to Greece itself.


The word originated from the German term hellenistisch, from Ancient Greek Ἑλληνιστής (Hellēnistḗs, "one who uses the Greek language"), from Ἑλλάς (Hellás, "Greece"); as if "Hellenist" + "ic".

Left image: The Sampul tapestry, a woolen wall hanging from Lop County, Xinjiang, China, showing a possibly Greek soldier from the Greco-Bactrian kingdom (250-125 BC), with blue eyes, wielding a spear, and wearing what appears to be a diadem headband; depicted above him is a centaur, from Greek mythology, a common motif in Hellenistic art
Right image: painted clay and alabaster head of a Zoroastrian priest wearing a distinctive Bactrian-style headdress, Takhti-Sangin, Tajikistan, 3rd-2nd century BC

"Hellenistic" is a modern word and a 19th-century concept; the idea of a Hellenistic period did not exist in Ancient Greece. Although words related in form or meaning, e.g. Hellenist (Ancient Greek: Ἑλληνιστής, Hellēnistēs), have been attested since ancient times,[9] it was Johann Gustav Droysen in the mid-19th century, who in his classic work Geschichte des Hellenismus (History of Hellenism), coined the term Hellenistic to refer to and define the period when Greek culture spread in the non-Greek world after Alexander's conquest.[10] Following Droysen, Hellenistic and related terms, e.g. Hellenism, have been widely used in various contexts; a notable such use is in Culture and Anarchy by Matthew Arnold, where Hellenism is used in contrast with Hebraism.[11]

The major issue with the term Hellenistic lies in its convenience, as the spread of Greek culture was not the generalized phenomenon that the term implies. Some areas of the conquered world were more affected by Greek influences than others. The term Hellenistic also implies that the Greek populations were of majority in the areas in which they settled, but in many cases, the Greek settlers were actually the minority among the native populations. The Greek population and the native population did not always mix; the Greeks moved and brought their own culture, but interaction did not always occur.


While a few fragments exist, there is no surviving historical work which dates to the hundred years following Alexander's death. The works of the major Hellenistic historians Hieronymus of Cardia (who worked under Alexander, Antigonus I and other successors), Duris of Samos and Phylarchus which were used by surviving sources are all lost.[12] The earliest and most credible surviving source for the Hellenistic period is Polybius of Megalopolis (c. 200-118), a statesman of the Achaean League until 168 BC when he was forced to go to Rome as a hostage.[12] His Histories eventually grew to a length of forty books, covering the years 220 to 167 BC.

The most important source after Polybius is Diodorus Siculus who wrote his Bibliotheca historica between 60 and 30 BC and reproduced some important earlier sources such as Hieronymus, but his account of the Hellenistic period breaks off after the battle of Ipsus (301). Another important source, Plutarch's (c.50—c. 120) Parallel Lives though more preoccupied with issues of personal character and morality, outlines the history of important Hellenistic figures. Appian of Alexandria (late 1st century AD-before 165) wrote a history of the Roman empire that includes information of some Hellenistic kingdoms.

Other sources include Justin's (2nd century AD) epitome of Pompeius Trogus' Historiae Philipicae and a summary of Arrian's Events after Alexander, by Photios I of Constantinople. Lesser supplementary sources include Curtius Rufus, Pausanias, Pliny, and the Byzantine encyclopedia the Suda. In the field of philosophy, Diogenes Laertius' Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers is the main source.


Ancient Greece had traditionally been a fractious collection of fiercely independent city-states. After the Peloponnesian War (431–404 BC), Greece had fallen under a Spartan hegemony, in which Sparta was pre-eminent but not all-powerful. Spartan hegemony was succeeded by a Theban one after the Battle of Leuctra (371 BC), but after the Battle of Mantinea (362 BC), all of Greece was so weakened that no one state could claim pre-eminence. It was against this backdrop that the ascendancy of Macedon began, under king Philip II. Macedon was located at the periphery of the Greek world, and although its royal family claimed Greek descent, the Macedonians themselves were looked down upon as semi-barbaric by the rest of the Greeks. However, Macedon had a relatively strong and centralised government, and compared to most Greek states, directly controlled a large area.

Philip II was a strong and expansionist king and he took every opportunity to expand Macedonian territory. In 352 BC he annexed Thessaly and Magnesia. In 338 BC, Philip defeated a combined Theban and Athenian army at the Battle of Chaeronea after a decade of desultory conflict. In the aftermath, Philip formed the League of Corinth, effectively bringing the majority of Greece under his direct sway. He was elected Hegemon of the league, and a campaign against the Achaemenid Empire of Persia was planned. However, while this campaign was in its early stages, he was assassinated.[3]

Alexander's empire at the time of its maximum expansion.

Succeeding his father, Alexander took over the Persian war himself. During a decade of campaigning, Alexander conquered the whole Persian Empire, overthrowing the Persian king Darius III. The conquered lands included Asia Minor, Assyria, the Levant, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Media, Persia, and parts of modern-day Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the steppes of central Asia. The years of constant campaigning had taken their toll however, and Alexander died in 323 BC.

After his death, the huge territories Alexander had conquered became subject to a strong Greek influence (hellenization) for the next two or three centuries, until the rise of Rome in the west, and of Parthia in the east. As the Greek and Levantine cultures mingled, the development of a hybrid Hellenistic culture began, and persisted even when isolated from the main centres of Greek culture (for instance, in the Greco-Bactrian kingdom).

It can be argued that some of the changes across the Macedonian Empire after Alexander's conquests and during the rule of the Diadochi would have occurred without the influence of Greek rule. As mentioned by Peter Green, numerous factors of conquest have been merged under the term Hellenistic Period. Specific areas conquered by Alexander's invading army, including Egypt and areas of Asia Minor and Mesopotamia "fell" willingly to conquest and viewed Alexander as more of a liberator than a victor.[13]

In addition, much of the area conquered would continue to be ruled by the Diadochi, Alexander's generals and successors. Initially the whole empire was divided among them; however, some territories were lost relatively quickly, or only remained nominally under Macedonian rule. After 200 years, only much reduced and rather degenerate states remained,[8] until the conquest of Ptolemaic Egypt by Rome.

The Diadochi[edit]

The distribution of satrapies in the Macedonian Empire after the Settlement in Babylon (323 BC).

When Alexander the Great died (June 10, 323 BC), he left behind a huge empire which was composed of many essentially autonomous territories called satrapies. Without a chosen successor there were immediate disputes among his generals as to who should be king of Macedon. These generals became known as the Diadochi (Greek: Διάδοχοι, Diadokhoi, meaning "Successors").

Meleager and the infantry supported the candidacy of Alexander's half-brother, Philip Arrhidaeus, while Perdiccas, the leading cavalry commander, supported waiting until the birth of Alexander's child by Roxana. After the infantry stormed the palace of Babylon, a compromise was arranged – Arrhidaeus (as Philip III) should become king, and should rule jointly with Roxana's child, assuming that it was a boy (as it was, becoming Alexander IV). Perdiccas himself would become regent (epimeletes) of the empire, and Meleager his lieutenant. Soon, however, Perdiccas had Meleager and the other infantry leaders murdered, and assumed full control.[14] The generals who had supported Perdiccas were rewarded in the partition of Babylon by becoming satraps of the various parts of the empire, but Perdiccas' position was shaky, because, as Arrian writes, "everyone was suspicious of him, and he of them".[15]

The first of the Diadochi wars broke out when Perdiccas planned to marry Alexander's sister Cleopatra and began to question Antigonus I Monophthalmus' leadership in Asia Minor. Antigonus fled for Greece, and then, together with Antipater and Craterus (the satrap of Cilicia who had been in Greece fighting the Lamian war) invaded Anatolia. The rebels were supported by Lysimachus, the satrap of Thrace and Ptolemy, the satrap of Egypt. Although Eumenes, satrap of Cappadocia, defeated the rebels in Asia Minor, Perdiccas himself was murdered by his own generals Peithon, Seleucus, and Antigenes (possibly with Ptolemy's aid) during his invasion of Egypt (c. 21 May to 19 June, 320).[16] Ptolemy came to terms with Perdiccas's murderers, making Peithon and Arrhidaeus regents in his place, but soon these came to a new agreement with Antipater at the Treaty of Triparadisus. Antipater was made regent of the Empire, and the two kings were moved to Macedon. Antigonus remained in charge of Asia Minor, Ptolemy retained Egypt, Lysimachus retained Thrace and Seleucus I controlled Babylon.

The second Diadochi war began following the death of Antipater in 319 BC. Passing over his own son, Cassander, Antipater had declared Polyperchon his successor as Regent. Cassander rose in revolt against Polyperchon (who was joined by Eumenes) and was supported by Antigonus, Lysimachus and Ptolemy. In 317, Cassander invaded Macedonia, attaining control of Macedon, sentencing Olympias to death and capturing the boy king Alexander IV, and his mother. In Asia, Eumenes was betrayed by his own men after years of campaign and was given up to Antigonus who had him executed.

The Kingdoms of Antigonos and his rivals c. 303 BC.

The third war of the Diadochi broke out because of the growing power and ambition of Antigonus. He began removing and appointing satraps as if he were king and also raided the royal treasuries in Ecbatana, Persepolis and Susa, making off with 25,000 talents.[17] Seleucus was forced to flee to Egypt and Antigonus was soon at war with Ptolemy, Lysimachus, and Cassander. He then invaded Phoenicia, laid siege to Tyre, stormed Gaza and began building a fleet. Ptolemy invaded Syria and defeated Antigonus' son, Demetrius Poliorcetes, in the Battle of Gaza of 312 BC which allowed Seleucus to secure control of Babylonia, and the eastern satrapies. In 310, Cassander had young King Alexander IV and his mother Roxane murdered, ending the Argead Dynasty which had ruled Macedon for several centuries.

Antigonus then sent his son Demetrius to regain control of Greece. In 307 he took Athens, expelling Demetrius of Phaleron, Cassander's governor, and proclaiming the city free again. Demetrius now turned his attention to Ptolemy, defeating his fleet at the Battle of Salamis and taking control of Cyprus. In the aftermath of this victory, Antigonus took the title of king (basileus) and bestowed it on his son Demetrius Poliorcetes, the rest of the Diadochi soon followed suit.[18] Demetrius continued his campaigns by laying siege to Rhodes and conquering most of Greece in 302, creating a league against Cassander's Macedon.

The decisive engagement of the war came when Lysimachus invaded and overran much of western Anatolia, but was soon isolated by Antigonus and Demetrius near Ipsus in Phrygia. Seleucus arrived in time to save Lysimachus and utterly crushed Antigonus at the Battle of Ipsus in 301 BCE. Seleucus' war elephants proved decisive, Antigonus was killed, and Demetrius fled back to Greece to attempt to preserve the remnants of his rule there by recapturing a rebellious Athens. Meanwhile, Lysimachus took over Ionia, Seleucus took Cilicia, and Ptolemy captured Cyprus.

Kingdoms of the Diadochi after the battle of Ipsus, c. 301 BC.
  Kingdom of Ptolemy I Soter
  Kingdom of Cassander
  Kingdom of Lysimachus
  Kingdom of Seleucus I Nicator

After Cassander's death in 298 BCE, however, Demetrius, who still maintained a sizable loyal army and fleet, invaded Macedon, seized the Macedonian throne (294) and conquered Thessaly and most of central Greece (293-291).[19] He was defeated in 288 BC when Lysimachus of Thrace and Pyrrhus of Epirus invaded Macedon on two fronts, and quickly carved up the kingdom for themselves. Demetrius fled to central Greece with his mercenaries and began to build support there and in the northern Peloponnese. He once again laid siege to Athens after they turned on him, but then struck a treaty with the Athenians and Ptolemy, which allowed him to cross over to Asia Minor and wage war on Lysimachus' holdings in Ionia, leaving his son Antigonus Gonatas in Greece. After initial successes, he was forced to surrender to Seleucus in 285 and later died in captivity.[20] Lysimachus, who had seized Macedon and Thessaly for himself, was forced into war when Seleucus invaded his territories in Asia minor and was defeated and killed in 281 BCE at the Battle of Corupedium, near Sardis. Seleucus then attempted to conquer Lysimachus' European territories in Thrace and Macedon, but he was assassinated by Ptolemy Ceraunus ("the thunderbolt"), who had taken refuge at the Seleucid court and then had himself acclaimed as king of Macedon. Ptolemy was killed when Macedon was invaded by Gauls in 279—his head stuck on a spear—and the country fell into anarchy. Antigonus II Gonatas invaded Thrace in the summer of 277 and defeated a large force of 18,000 Gauls. He was quickly hailed as king of Macedon and went on to rule for 35 years.[21]

At this point the tripartite territorial division of the Hellenistic age was in place, with the main Hellenistic powers being Macedon under Demetrius's son Antigonus II Gonatas, the Ptolemaic kingdom under the aged Ptolemy I and the Seleucid empire under Seleucus' son Antiochus I Soter.

Southern Europe[edit]

Kingdom of Epirus[edit]

Pyrrhus and his elephants.

Epirus was a northwestern Greek kingdom in the western Balkans ruled by the Molossian Aeacidae dynasty. Epirus was an ally of Macedon during the reigns of Philip II and Alexander.

In 281 Pyrrhus (nicknamed "the eagle", aetos) invaded southern Italy to aid the city state of Tarentum. Pyrrhus defeated the Romans in the Battle of Heraclea and at the Battle of Asculum. Though victorious, he was forced to retreat due to heavy losses, hence the term "Pyrrhic victory". Pyrrhus then turned south and invaded Sicily but was unsuccessful and returned to Italy. After the Battle of Beneventum (275 BCE) Pyrrhus lost all his Italian holdings and left for Epirus.

Pyrrhus then went to war with Macedonia in 275, deposing Antigonus II Gonatas and briefly ruling over Macedonia and Thessaly until 285. Afterwards he invaded southern Greece, and was killed in battle against Argos in 272 BCE. After the death of Pyrrhus, Epirus remained a minor power. In 233 BCE the Aeacid royal family was deposed and a federal state was set up called the Epirote League. The league was conquered by Rome in the Third Macedonian War (171–168 BCE).

Kingdom of Macedon[edit]

Main article: Antigonid dynasty
Philip V, "the darling of Hellas", wearing the royal diadem.

Antigonus II, a student of Zeno of Citium, spent most of his rule defending Macedon against Epirus and cementing Macedonian power in Greece, first against the Athenians in the Chremonidean War, and then against the Achaean League of Aratus of Sicyon. Under the Antigonids, Macedonia was often short on funds, the Pangaeum mines were no longer as productive as under Philip II, the wealth from Alexander's campaigns had been used up and the countryside pillaged by the Gallic invasion.[22] A large number of the Macedonian population had also been resettled abroad by Alexander or had chosen to emigrate to the new eastern Greek cities. Up to two thirds of the population emigrated, and the Macedonian army could only count on a levy of 25,000 men, a significantly smaller force than under Philip II.[23]

Antigonus II ruled until his death in 239 BC. His son Demetrius II soon died in 229 BC, leaving a child (Philip V) as king, with the general Antigonus Doson as regent. Doson led Macedon to victory in the war against the Spartan king Cleomenes III, and occupied Sparta.

Philip V, who came to power when Doson died in 221 BC, was the last Macedonian ruler with both the talent and the opportunity to unite Greece and preserve its independence against the "cloud rising in the west": the ever-increasing power of Rome. He was known as "the darling of Hellas". Under his auspices the Peace of Naupactus (217 BC) brought the latest war between Macedon and the Greek leagues (the social war 220-217) to an end, and at this time he controlled all of Greece except Athens, Rhodes and Pergamum.

In 215 BC Philip, with his eye on Illyria, formed an alliance with Rome's enemy Hannibal of Carthage, which led to Roman alliances with the Achaean League, Rhodes and Pergamum. The First Macedonian War broke out in 212 BC, and ended inconclusively in 205 BC. Philip continued to wage war against Pergamon and Rhodes for control of the Aegean (204-200 BCE) and ignored Roman demands for non-intervention in Greece by invading Attica. In 198 BC, during the Second Macedonian War Philip was decisively defeated at Cynoscephalae by the Roman proconsul Titus Quinctius Flamininus and Macedon lost all its territories in Greece proper. Southern Greece was now thoroughly brought into the Roman sphere of influence, though it retained nominal autonomy. The end of Antigonid Macedon came when Philip V's son, Perseus, was defeated and captured by the Romans in the Third Macedonian War (171–168 BCE).

Rest of Greece[edit]

Main article: Hellenistic Greece
Greece and the Aegean World c.200 BCE.

During the Hellenistic period the importance of Greece proper within the Greek-speaking world declined sharply. The great centers of Hellenistic culture were Alexandria and Antioch, capitals of Ptolemaic Egypt and Seleucid Syria respectively. The conquests of Alexander greatly widened the horizons of the Greek world, making the endless conflicts between the cities which had marked the 5th and 4th centuries BC seem petty and unimportant. It led to a steady emigration, particularly of the young and ambitious, to the new Greek empires in the east. Many Greeks migrated to Alexandria, Antioch and the many other new Hellenistic cities founded in Alexander's wake, as far away as modern Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Independent city states were unable to compete with Hellenistic kingdoms and were usually forced to ally themselves to one of them for defense, giving honors to Hellenistic rulers in return for protection. One example is Athens, which had been decisively defeated by Antipater in the Lamian war (323-322) and had its port in the Piraeus garrisoned by Macedonian troops who supported a conservative oligarchy.[24] After Demetrius Poliorcetes captured Athens in 307 and restored the democracy, the Athenians honored him and his father Antigonus by placing gold statues of them on the agora and granting them the title of king. Athens later allied itself to Ptolemaic Egypt to throw off Macedonian rule, eventually setting up a religious cult for the Ptolemaic kings and naming one of the cities phyles in honor of Ptolemy for his aid against Macedon. In spite of the Ptolemaic monies and fleets backing their endeavors, Athens and Sparta were defeated by Antigonus II during the Chremonidean War (267-261). Athens was then occupied by Macedonian troops, and run by Macedonian officials.

Sparta remained independent, but it was no longer the leading military power in the Peloponnese. The Spartan king Cleomenes III (235–222 BCE) staged a military coup against the conservative ephors and pushed through radical social and land reforms in order to increase the size of the shrinking Spartan citizenry able to provide military service and restore Spartan power. Sparta's bid for supremacy was crushed at the Battle of Sellasia (222) by the Achaean league and Macedon, who restored the power of the ephors.

Other city states formed federated states in self-defense, such as the Aetolian League (est. 370 BCE), the Achaean League (est. 280 BCE), the Boeotian league, the "Northern League" (Byzantium, Chalcedon, Heraclea Pontica and Tium)[25] and the "Nesiotic League" of the Cyclades. These federations involved a central government which controlled foreign policy and military affairs, while leaving most of the local governing to the city states, a system termed sympoliteia. In states such as the Achaean league, this also involved the admission of other ethnic groups into the federation with equal rights, in this case, non-Achaeans.[26] The Achean league was able to drive out the Macedonians from the Peloponnese and free Corinth, which duly joined the league.

The Colossus of Rhodes, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

One of the few city states who managed to maintain full independence from the control of any Hellenistic kingdom was Rhodes. With a skilled navy to protect its trade fleets from pirates and an ideal strategic position covering the routes from the east into the Aegean, Rhodes prospered during the Hellenistic period. It became a center of culture and commerce, its coins were widely circulated and its philosophical schools became one of the best in the mediterranean. After holding out for one year under siege by Demetrius Poliorcetes (305-304 BCE), the Rhodians built the Colossus of Rhodes to commemorate their victory. They retained their independence by the maintenance of a powerful navy, by maintaining a carefully neutral posture and acting to preserve the balance of power between the major Hellenistic kingdoms.[27]

Initially Rhodes had very close ties with the Ptolemaic kingdom. Rhodes later became a Roman ally against the Seleucids, receiving some territory in Caria for their role in the Roman–Seleucid War (192–188 BCE). Rome eventually turned on Rhodes and annexed the island as a Roman province.


Painting of a groom and bride from the Hellenistic Thracian Tomb of Kazanlak, near the ancient city of Seuthopolis, 4th century BCE.

The west Balkan coast was inhabited by various Illyrian tribes and kingdoms such as the kingdom of the Dalmatae and of the Ardiaei, who often engaged in piracy under Queen Teuta (reigned 231 BC to 227 BCE). Further inland was the Illyrian Paeonian Kingdom and the tribe of the Agrianes. Illyrians on the coast of the Adriatic were under the effects and influence of Hellenisation and some tribes adopted Greek, becoming bilingual[28][29][30] due to their proximity to the Greek colonies in Illyria. Illyrians imported weapons and armor from the Ancient Greeks (such as the Illyrian type helmet, originally a Greek type) and also adopted the ornamentation of Ancient Macedon on their shields[31] and their war belts[32] (a single one has been found, dated 3rd century BC at modern Selce e Poshtme, a part of Macedon at the time under Philip V of Macedon[33]).

The Odrysian Kingdom was a union of Thracian tribes under the kings of the powerful Odrysian tribe centered around the region of Thrace. Various parts of Thrace were under Macedonian rule under Philip II of Macedon, Alexander the Great, Lysimachus, Ptolemy II, and Philip V but were also often ruled by their own kings. The Thracians and Agrianes were widely used by Alexander as peltasts and light cavalry, forming about one fifth of his army.[34] The Diadochi also used Thracian mercenaries in their armies and they were also used as colonists. The Odrysians used Greek as the language of administration[35] and of the nobility. The nobility also adopted Greek fashions in dress, ornament and military equipment, spreading it to the other tribes.[36] Thracian kings were among the first to be Hellenized.[37]

After 278 BC the Odrysians had a strong competitor in the Celtic Kingdom of Tylis ruled by the kings Comontorius and Cavarus, but in 212 BC they conquered their enemies and destroyed their capital.

Western Mediterranean[edit]

Southern Italy (Magna Graecia) and south-eastern Sicily had been colonized by the Greeks during the 8th century. In 4th century Sicily the leading Greek city and hegemon was Syracuse. During the Hellenistic period the leading figure in Sicily was Agathocles of Syracuse (361 – 289 BCE) who seized the city with an army of mercenaries in 317 BCE. Agathocles extended his power throughout most of the Greek cities in Sicily, fought a long war with the Carthaginians, at one point invading Tunisia in 310 and defeating a Carthaginian army there. This was the first time a European force had invaded the region. After this war he controlled most of south-east Sicily and had himself proclaimed king, in imitation of the Hellenistic monarchs of the east.[38] Agathocles then invaded Italy (c. 300 BCE) in defense of Tarentum against the Bruttians and Romans, but was unsuccessful.

Gallo-Greek inscription: "Segomaros, son of Uillū, citizen[39] (toutious) of Namausos, dedicated this sanctuary to Belesama"

Greeks in pre-Roman Gaul were mostly limited to the Mediterranean coast of Provence. The first Greek colony in the region was Massalia, which became one of the largest trading ports of Mediterranean by the 4th century BCE with 6,000 inhabitants. Massalia was also the local hegemon, controlling various coastal Greek cities like Nice and Agde. The coins minted in Massalia have been found in all parts of Ligurian-Celtic Gaul. Celtic coinage was influenced by Greek designs,[40] and Greek letters can be found on various Celtic coins, especially those of Southern France.[41] Traders from Massalia ventured inland deep into France on the Rivers Durance and Rhône, and established overland trade routes deep into Gaul, and to Switzerland and Burgundy. The Hellenistic period saw the Greek alphabet spread into southern Gaul from Massalia (3rd and 2nd centuries BCE) and according to Strabo, Massalia was also a center of education, where Celts went to learn Greek.[42] A staunch ally of Rome, Massalia retained its independence until it sided with Pompey in 49 BCE and was then taken by Caesar's forces.

Hellenistic Middle east[edit]

The Hellenistic states of Asia and Egypt were run by an occupying imperial elite of Greco-Macedonian administrators and governors propped up by a standing army of mercenaries and a small core of Greco-Macedonian settlers.[43] Promotion of immigration from Greece was important in the establishment of this system. Hellenistic monarchs ran their kingdoms as royal estates and most of the heavy tax revenues went into the military and paramilitary forces which preserved their rule from any kind of revolution. Macedonian and Hellenistic monarchs were expected to lead their armies on the field, along with a group of privileged aristocratic companions or friends (hetairoi, philoi) which dined and drank with the king and acted as his advisory council.[44] The monarch was also expected to serve as a charitable patron of the people; this public philanthropy could mean building projects and handing out gifts but also promotion of Greek culture and religion.

Ptolemaic kingdom[edit]

Bust of Ptolemy I Soter wearing a diadem, a symbol of Hellenistic kingship, Louvre Museum.
Main article: Ptolemaic kingdom

Ptolemy, a somatophylax, one of the seven bodyguards who served as Alexander the Great's generals and deputies, was appointed satrap of Egypt after Alexander's death in 323 BC. In 305 BC, he declared himself King Ptolemy I, later known as "Soter" (saviour) for his role in helping the Rhodians during the siege of Rhodes. Ptolemy built new cities such as Ptolemais Hermiou in upper Egypt and settled his veterans throughout the country, especially in the region of the Faiyum. Alexandria, a major center of Greek culture and trade, became his capital city. As Egypt's first port city, it was the main grain exporter in the Mediterranean.

The Egyptians begrudgingly accepted the Ptolemies as the successors to the pharaohs of independent Egypt, though the kingdom went through several native revolts. The Ptolemies took on the traditions of the Egyptian Pharaohs, such as marrying their siblings (Ptolemy II was the first to adopt this custom), having themselves portrayed on public monuments in Egyptian style and dress, and participating in Egyptian religious life. The Ptolemaic ruler cult portrayed the Ptolemies as gods, and temples to the Ptolemies were erected throughout the kingdom. Ptolemy I even created a new god, Serapis, who was combination of two Egyptian gods: Apis and Osiris, with attributes of Greek gods. Ptolemaic administration was, like the Ancient Egyptian bureaucracy, highly centralized and focused on squeezing as much revenue out of the population as possible though tariffs, excise duties, fines, taxes and so forth. A whole class of petty officials, tax farmers, clerks and overseers made this possible. The Egyptian countryside was directly administered by this royal bureaucracy.[45] External possessions such as Cyprus and Cyrene were run by strategoi, military commanders appointed by the crown.

Under Ptolemy II, Callimachus, Apollonius of Rhodes, Theocritus and a host of other poets made the city a center of Hellenistic literature. Ptolemy himself was eager to patronise the library, scientific research and individual scholars who lived on the grounds of the library. He and his successors also fought a series of wars with the Seleucids, known as the Syrian wars, over the region of Coele-Syria. Ptolemy IV won the great battle of Raphia (217 BCE) against the Seleucids, using native Egyptians trained as phalangites. However these Egyptian soldiers revolted, eventually setting up a native breakaway Egyptian state in the Thebaid between 205-186/5 BCE, severely weakening the Ptolemaic state.[46]

Ptolemy's family ruled Egypt until the Roman conquest of 30 BC. All the male rulers of the dynasty took the name Ptolemy. Ptolemaic queens, some of whom were the sisters of their husbands, were usually called Cleopatra, Arsinoe or Berenice. The most famous member of the line was the last queen, Cleopatra VII, known for her role in the Roman political battles between Julius Caesar and Pompey, and later between Octavian and Mark Antony. Her suicide at the conquest by Rome marked the end of Ptolemaic rule in Egypt though Hellenistic culture continued to thrive in Egypt throughout the Roman and Byzantine periods until the Muslim conquest.

Seleucid Empire[edit]

Main article: Seleucid Empire

Following division of Alexander's empire, Seleucus I Nicator received Babylonia. From there, he created a new empire which expanded to include much of Alexander's near eastern territories.[47][48][49][50] At the height of its power, it included central Anatolia, the Levant, Mesopotamia, Persia, today's Turkmenistan, Pamir, and parts of Pakistan. It included a diverse population estimated at fifty to sixty million people.[51] Under Antiochus I (c. 324/3 – 261 BC), however, the unwieldy empire was already beginning to shed territories. Pergamum broke away under Eumenes I who defeated a Seleucid army sent against him. The kingdoms of Cappadocia, Bithynia and Pontus were all practically independent by this time as well. Like the Ptolemies, Antiochus I established a dynastic religious cult, deifying his father Seleucus I. Seleucus, officially said to be descended from Apollo, had his own priests and monthly sacrifices. The erosion of the empire continued under Seleucus II, who was forced to fight a civil war (239-236) against his brother Antiochus Hierax and was unable to keep Bactria, Sogdiana and Parthia from breaking away. Hierax carved off most of Seleucid Anatolia for himself, but was defeated, along with his Galatian allies, by Attalus I of Pergamon who now also claimed kingship.

The Hellenistic world c. 200 BCE.

The vast Seleucid Empire was, like Egypt, mostly dominated by a Greco-Macedonian political elite.[50][52][53][54] The Greek population of the cities who formed the dominant elite were reinforced by emigration from Greece.[50][52] These cities included newly founded colonies such as Antioch, the other cities of the Syrian tetrapolis, Seleucia (north of Babylon) and Dura-Europos on the Euphrates. These cities retained traditional Greek city state institutions such as assemblies, councils and elected magistrates, but this was a facade for they were always controlled by the royal Seleucid officials. Apart from these cities, there were also a large number of Seleucid garrisons (choria), military colonies (katoikiai) and Greek villages (komai) which the Seleucids planted throughout the empire to cement their rule. This 'Greco-Macedonian' population (which also included the sons of settlers who had married local women) could make up a phalanx of 35,000 men (out of a total Seleucid army of 80,000) during the reign of Antiochos III. The rest of the army was made up of native troops.[55] Antiochus III ("the Great") conducted several vigorous campaigns to retake all the lost provinces of the empire since the death of Seleucus I. After being defeated by Ptolemy IV's forces at Raphia (217), Antiochus III led a long campaign to the east to subdue the far eastern breakaway provinces (212-205) including Bactria, Parthia, Ariana, Sogdiana, Gedrosia and Drangiana. He was successful, bringing back most of these provinces into at least nominal vassalage and receiving tribute from their rulers.[56] After the death of Ptolemy IV (204), Antiochus took advantage of the weakness of Egypt to conquer Coele-Syria in the fifth Syrian war (202-195).[57] He then began expanding his influence into Pergamene territory in Asia and crossed into Europe, fortifying Lysimachia on the Hellespont, but his expansion into Anatolia and Greece was abruptly halted after a decisive defeat at the Battle of Magnesia (190 BCE). In the Treaty of Apamea which ended the war, Antiochus lost all of his territories in Anatolia west of the Taurus and was forced to pay a large indemnity of 15,000 talents.[58]

Much of the eastern part of the empire was then conquered by the Parthians under Mithridates I of Parthia in the mid-2nd century BC, yet the Seleucid kings continued to rule a rump state from Syria until the invasion by the Armenian king Tigranes the Great and their ultimate overthrow by the Roman general Pompey.

Attalid Pergamum[edit]

Main article: Pergamum
External video
Athena and Nike fight Alkyoneus, Gaia rises up from the ground (5336871341).jpg
The Pergamon Altar, Smarthistory[59]

After the death of Lysimachus, one of his officers, Philetaerus, took control of the city of Pergamum in 282 BC along with Lysimachus' war chest of 9,000 talents and declared himself loyal to Seleucus I while remaining de facto independent. His descendant, Attalus I, defeated the invading Galatians and proclaimed himself an independent king. Attalus I (241–197 BC), was a staunch ally of Rome against Philip V of Macedon during the first and second Macedonian Wars. For his support against the Seleucids in 190 BCE, Eumenes II was rewarded with all the former Seleucid domains in Asia Minor. Eumenes II turned Pergamon into a centre of culture and science by establishing the library of Pergamum which was said to be second only to the library of Alexandria[60] with 200,000 volumes according to Plutarch. It included a reading room and a collection of paintings. Eumenes II also constructed the Pergamum Altar with friezes depicting the Gigantomachy on the acropolis of the city. Pergamum was also a center of parchment (charta pergamena) production. The Attalids ruled Pergamon until Attalus III bequeathed the kingdom to the Roman Republic in 133 BC[61] to avoid a likely succession crisis.


Main article: Galatia
The Dying Gaul is a Roman marble copy of a Hellenistic work of the late 3rd century BC. Capitoline Museums, Rome.

The Celts who settled in Galatia came through Thrace under the leadership of Leotarios and Leonnorios c. 270 BC. They were defeated by Seleucus I in the 'battle of the Elephants', but were still able to establish a Celtic territory in central Anatolia. The Galatians were well respected as warriors and were widely used as mercenaries in the armies of the successor states. They continued to attack neighboring kingdoms such as Bithynia and Pergamon, plundering and extracting tribute. This came to an end when they sided with the renegade Seleucid prince Antiochus Hierax who tried to defeat Attalus, the ruler of Pergamon (241–197 BC). Attalus severely defeated the Gauls, forcing them to confine themselves to Galatia. The theme of the Dying Gaul (a famous statue displayed in Pergamon) remained a favorite in Hellenistic art for a generation signifying the victory of the Greeks over a noble enemy. In the early 2nd century BC, the Galatians became allies of Antiochus the Great, the last Seleucid king trying to regain suzerainty over Asia Minor. In 189 BC, Rome sent Gnaeus Manlius Vulso on an expedition against the Galatians. Galatia was henceforth dominated by Rome through regional rulers from 189 BC onward.

After their defeats by Pergamon and Rome the Galatians slowly became hellenized and they were called "Gallo-Graeci" by the historian Justin[62] as well as Ἑλληνογαλάται (Hellēnogalátai) by Diodorus Siculus in his Bibliotheca historica v.32.5, who wrote that they were "called Helleno-Galatians because of their connection with the Greeks."[63]


Main article: Bithynia

The Bithynians were a Thracian people living in northwest Anatolia. After Alexander's conquests the region of Bithynia came under the rule of the native king Bas, who defeated Calas, a general of Alexander the Great, and maintained the independence of Bithynia. His son, Zipoetes I of Bithynia maintained this autonomy against Lysimachus and Seleucus I, and assumed the title of king (basileus) in 297 BCE. His son and successor, Nicomedes I, founded Nicomedia, which soon rose to great prosperity, and during his long reign (c. 278 – c. 255 BCE), as well as those of his successors, the kingdom of Bithynia held a considerable place among the minor monarchies of Anatolia. Nicomedes also invited the Celtic Galatians into Anatolia as mercenaries, and they later turned on his son Prusias I, who defeated them in battle. Their last king, Nicomedes IV, was unable to maintain himself against Mithridates VI of Pontus, and, after being restored to his throne by the Roman Senate, he bequeathed his kingdom by will to the Roman republic (74 BCE).


Main article: Cappadocia

Cappadocia, a mountainous region situated between Pontus and the Taurus mountains, was ruled by an Iranian dynasty. Ariarathes I (332–322 BCE) was the satrap of Cappadocia under the Persians and after the conquests of Alexander he retained his post. After Alexander's death he was defeated by Eumenes and crucified in 322 BCE, but his son, Ariarathes II managed to regain the throne and maintain his autonomy against the warring Diadochi.

In 255 BCE, Ariarathes III took the title of king and married Stratonice, a daughter of Antiochus II, remaining an ally of the Seleucid kingdom. Under Ariarathes IV, Cappadocia came into relations with Rome, first as a foe espousing the cause of Antiochus the Great, then as an ally against Perseus of Macedon and finally in a war against the Seleucids. Ariarathes V also waged war with Rome against Aristonicus, a claimant to the throne of Pergamon, and their forces were annihilated in 130 BCE. This defeat allowed Pontus to invade and conquer the kingdom.

Kingdom of Pontus[edit]

Main article: Kingdom of Pontus
Bust of Mithridates VI sporting a lion pelt headdress, a symbol of Herakles.

The Kingdom of Pontus was a Hellenistic kingdom on the southern coast of the Black Sea. It was founded by Mithridates I in 291 BC and lasted until its conquest by the Roman Republic in 63 BC. Despite being ruled by a dynasty which was a descendant of the Persian Achaemenid Empire it became hellenized due to the influence of the Greek cities on the Black Sea and its neighboring kingdoms. Pontic culture was a mix of Greek and Iranian elements; the most hellenized parts of the kingdom were on the coast, populated by Greek colonies such as Trapezus and Sinope, the latter of which became the capital of the kingdom. Epigraphic evidence also shows extensive Hellenistic influence in the interior. During the reign of Mithridates II, Pontus was allied with the Seleucids through dynastic marriages. By the time of Mithridates VI Eupator, Greek was the official language of the kingdom, though Anatolian languages continued to be spoken.

The kingdom grew to its largest extent under Mithridates VI, who conquered Colchis, Cappadocia, Paphlagonia, Bithynia, Lesser Armenia, the Bosporan Kingdom, the Greek colonies of the Tauric Chersonesos and, for a brief time, the Roman province of Asia. Mithridates VI, himself of mixed Persian and Greek ancestry, presented himself as the protector of the Greeks against the 'barbarians' of Rome styling himself as "King Mithridates Eupator Dionysus"[64] and as the "great liberator". Mithridates also depicted himself with the anastole hairstyle of Alexander and used the symbolism of Herakles, from whom the Macedonian kings claimed descent. After a long struggle with Rome in the Mithridatic wars, Pontus was defeated; part of it was incorporated into the Roman Republic as the province of Bithynia, while Pontus' eastern half survived as a client kingdom.


Tigranes the Great's Armenian Empire

Orontid Armenia formally passed to the empire of Alexander the Great following his conquest of Persia. Alexander appointed an Orontid named Mithranes to govern Armenia. Armenia later became a vassal state of the Seleucid Empire, but it maintained a considerable degree of autonomy, retaining its native rulers. Towards the end 212 BC the country was divided into two kingdoms, Greater Armenia and Armenia Sophene, including Commagene or Armenia Minor. The kingdoms became so independent from Seleucid control that Antiochus III the Great waged war on them during his reign and replaced their rulers.

After the Seleucid defeat at the Battle of Magnesia in 190 BC, the kings of Sophene and Greater Armenia revolted and declared their independence, with Artaxias becoming the first king of the Artaxiad dynasty of Armenia in 188. During the reign of the Artaxiads, Armenia went through a period of hellenization. Numismatic evidence shows Greek artistic styles and the use of the Greek language. Some coins describe the Armenian kings as "Philhellenes". During the reign of Tigranes the Great (95–55 BC), the kingdom of Armenia reached its greatest extent, containing many Greek cities, including the entire Syrian tetrapolis. Cleopatra, the wife of Tigranes the Great, invited Greeks such as the rhetor Amphicrates and the historian Metrodorus of Scepsis to the Armenian court, and—according to Plutarch—when the Roman general Lucullus seized the Armenian capital, Tigranocerta, he found a troupe of Greek actors who had arrived to perform plays for Tigranes.[65] Tigranes' successor Artavasdes II even composed Greek tragedies himself.


Main article: Parthian Empire
Coin of Phraates IV with Hellenistic titles such as Euergetes, Epiphanes and Philhellene (admirer of the Greeks)

Parthia was a north-eastern Iranian satrapy of the Achaemenid empire which later passed on to Alexander's empire. Under the Seleucids, Parthia was governed by various Greek satraps such as Nicanor and Philip. In 247 BC, following the death of Antiochus II Theos, Andragoras, the Seleucid governor of Parthia, proclaimed his independence and began minting coins showing himself wearing a royal diadem and claiming kingship. He ruled until 238 BCE when Arsaces, the leader of the Parni tribe conquered Parthia, killing Andragoras and inaugurating the Arsacid Dynasty. Antiochus III recaptured Arsacid controlled territory in 209 BC from Arsaces II. Arsaces II sued for peace and became a vassal of the Seleucids. It was not until the reign of Phraates I (168–165 BCE), that the Arsacids would again begin to assert their independence.[66]

During the reign of Mithridates I of Parthia, Arsacid control expanded to include Herat (in 167 BC), Babylonia (in 144 BC), Media (in 141 BC), Persia (in 139 BC), and large parts of Syria (in the 110s BC). The Seleucid–Parthian wars continued as the Seleucids invaded Mesopotamia under Antiochus VII Sidetes (r. 138–129 BC), but he was eventually killed by a Parthian counterattack. After the fall of the Seleucid dynasty, the Parthians fought frequently against neighbouring Rome in the Roman–Parthian Wars (66 BC – 217 AD). Abundant traces of Hellenism continued under the Parthian empire. The Parthians used Greek as well as their own Parthian language (though lesser than Greek) as languages of administration and also used Greek drachmas as coinage. They enjoyed Greek theater, and Greek art influenced Parthian art. The Parthians continued worshipping Greek gods syncretized together with Iranian deities. Their rulers established ruler cults in the manner of Hellenistic kings and often used Hellenistic royal epithets.

Nabatean Kingdom[edit]

Main article: Nabatean Kingdom
Al-Khazneh in Petra shows the Hellenistic influences on the Nabatean capital city

The Nabatean Kingdom was an Arab state located between the Sinai Peninsula and the Arabian Peninsula. Its capital was the city of Petra, an important trading city on the incense route. The Nabateans resisted the attacks of Antigonus and were allies of the Hasmoneans in their struggle against the Seleucids, but later fought against Herod the great. The hellenization of the Nabateans occurred relatively late in comparison to the surrounding regions. Nabatean material culture does not show any Greek influence until the reign of Aretas III Philhellene in the 1st century BCE.[67] Aretas captured Damascus and built the Petra pool complex and gardens in the Hellenistic style. Though the Nabateans originally worshipped their traditional gods in symbolic form such as stone blocks or pillars, during the Hellenistic period they began to identify their gods with Greek gods and depict them in figurative forms influenced by Greek sculpture.[68] Nabatean art shows Greek influences and paintings have been found depicting Dionysian scenes.[69] They also slowly adopted Greek as a language of commerce along with Aramaic and Arabic.


Main article: Coele-Syria
Further information: Hellenistic Judaism and Hasmonean dynasty
Model of Herod's Temple (renovation of the Second Temple) in the Israel Museum

During the Hellenistic period, Judea became a frontier region between the Seleucid Empire and Ptolemaic Egypt and therefore was often the frontline of the Syrian wars, changing hands several times during these conflicts.[70] Under the Hellenistic kingdoms, Judea was ruled by the hereditary office of the High Priest of Israel as a Hellenistic vassal. This period also saw the rise of a Hellenistic Judaism, which first developed in the Jewish diaspora of Alexandria and Antioch, and then spread to Judea. The major literary product of this cultural syncretism is the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible from Biblical Hebrew and Biblical Aramaic to Koiné Greek. The reason for the production of this translation seems to be that many of the Alexandrian Jews had lost the ability to speak Hebrew and Aramaic.[71]

Between 301 and 219 BCE the Ptolemies ruled Judea in relative peace, and Jews often found themselves working in the Ptolemaic administration and army, which led to the rise of a Hellenized Jewish elite class (e.g. the Tobiads). The wars of Antiochus III brought the region into the Seleucid empire; Jerusalem fell to his control in 198 and the Temple was repaired and provided with money and tribute.[72] Antiochus IV Epiphanes sacked Jerusalem and looted the Temple in 169 BCE after disturbances in Judea during his abortive invasion of Egypt. Antiochus then banned key Jewish religious rites and traditions in Judea. He may have been attempting to Hellenize the region and unify his empire and the Jewish resistance to this eventually led to an escalation of violence. Whatever the case, tensions between pro and anti-Seleucid Jewish factions led to the 174–135 BCE Maccabean Revolt of Judas Maccabeus (whose victory is celebrated in the Jewish festival of Hanukkah).

Modern interpretations see this period as a civil war between Hellenized and orthodox forms of Judaism.[73][74] Out of this revolt was formed an independent Jewish kingdom known as the Hasmonaean Dynasty, which lasted from 165 BCE to 63 BCE. The Hasmonean Dynasty eventually disintegrated in a civil war, which coincided with civil wars in Rome. The last Hasmonean ruler, Antigonus II Mattathias, was captured by Herod and executed in 37 BCE. In spite of originally being a revolt against Greek overlordship, the Hasmonean kingdom and also the Herodian kingdom which followed gradually became more and more hellenized. From 37 BCE to 6 CE, the Herodian dynasty, Jewish-Roman client kings ruled Judea. Herod the Great considerably enlarged the Temple (see Herod's Temple), making it one of the largest religious structures in the world. The style of the enlarged temple and other Herodian architecture shows significant Hellenistic architectural influence.


The Greco-Bactrian kingdom at its maximum extent (c. 180 BC).
Silver coin depicting Demetrius I of Bactria (reigned c. 200–180 BC), wearing an elephant scalp, symbol of his conquests in India.

The Greek kingdom of Bactria began as a breakaway satrapy of the Seleucid empire, which, because of the size of the empire, had significant freedom from central control. Between 255-246 BCE, the governor of Bactria, Sogdiana and Margiana (most of present-day Afghanistan), one Diodotus, took this process to its logical extreme and declared himself king. Diodotus II, son of Diodotus, was overthrown in about 230 BC by Euthydemus, possibly the satrap of Sogdiana, who then started his own dynasty. In c. 210 BC, the Greco-Bactrian kingdom was invaded by a resurgent Seleucid empire under Antiochus III. While victorious in the field, it seems Antiochus came to realise that there were advantages in the status quo (perhaps sensing that Bactria could not be governed from Syria), and married one of his daughters to Euthydemus's son, thus legitimising the Greco-Bactrian dynasty. Soon afterwards the Greco-Bactrian kingdom seems to have expanded, possibly taking advantage of the defeat of the Parthian king Arsaces II by Antiochus.

According to Strabo, the Greco-Bactrians seem to have had contacts with China through the silk road trade routes (Strabo, XI.XI.I). Indian sources also maintain religious contact between Buddhist monks and the Greeks, and some Greco-Bactrians did convert to Buddhism. Demetrius, son and successor of Euthydemus, invaded north-western India in 180 BC, after the destruction of the Mauryan Empire there; the Mauryans were probably allies of the Bactrians (and Seleucids). The exact justification for the invasion remains unclear, but by about 175 BC, the Greeks ruled over parts of north-western India. This period also marks the beginning of the obfuscation of Greco-Bactrian history. Demetrius possibly died about 180 BC; numismatic evidence suggests the existence of several other kings shortly thereafter. It is probable that at this point the Greco-Bactrian kingdom split into several semi-independent regions for some years, often warring amongst themselves. Heliocles was the last Greek to clearly rule Bactria, his power collapsing in the face of central Asian tribal invasions (Scythian and Yuezhi), by about 130 BCE. However, Greek urban civilisation seems to have continued in Bactria after the fall of the kingdom, having a hellenising effect on the tribes which had displaced Greek rule. The Kushan Empire which followed continued to use Greek on their coinage and Greeks continued being influential in the empire.

Indo-Greek kingdoms[edit]

Main article: Indo-Greeks
Indo-Greek territory, with known campaigns and battles.[75][76][77]
Heracles as Buddha protector Vajrapani, 2nd century Gandhara.

The separation of the Indo-Greek kingdom from the Greco-Bactrian kingdom resulted in an even more isolated position, and thus the details of the Indo-Greek kingdom are even more obscure than for Bactria. Many supposed kings in India are known only because of coins bearing their name. The numismatic evidence together with archaeological finds and the scant historical records suggest that the fusion of eastern and western cultures reached its peak in the Indo-Greek kingdom.

After Demetrius' death, civil wars between Bactrian kings in India allowed Apollodotus I (from c. 180/175 BCE) to make himself independent as the first proper Indo-Greek king (who did not rule from Bactria). Large numbers of his coins have been found in India, and he seems to have reigned in Gandhara as well as western Punjab. Apollodotus I was succeeded by or ruled alongside Antimachus II, likely the son of the Bactrian king Antimachus I.[78] In about 155 (or 165) BC he seems to have been succeeded by the most successful of the Indo-Greek kings, Menander I. Menander converted to Buddhism, and seems to have been a great patron of the religion; he is remembered in some Buddhist texts as 'Milinda'. He also expanded the kingdom further east into Punjab, though these conquests were rather ephemeral.

After the death of Menander (c. 130 BC), the Kingdom appears to have fragmented, with several 'kings' attested contemporaneously in different regions. This inevitably weakened the Greek position, and territory seems to have been lost progressively. Around 70 BC, the western regions of Arachosia and Paropamisadae were lost to tribal invasions, presumably by those tribes responsible for the end of the Bactrian kingdom. The resulting Indo-Scythian kingdom seems to have gradually pushed the remaining Indo-Greek kingdom towards the east. The Indo-Greek kingdom appears to have lingered on in western Punjab until about 10 AD, at which time it was finally ended by the Indo-Scythians.

After conquering the Indo-Greeks, the Kushan empire took over Greco-Buddhism, the Greek language, Greek script, Greek coinage and artistic styles. Greeks continued being an important part of the cultural world of India for generations. The depictions of the Buddha appear to have been influenced by Greek culture: Buddha representations in the Ghandara period often showed Buddha under the protection of Herakles.[79]

Several references in Indian literature praise the knowledge of the Yavanas or the Greeks. The Mahabharata compliments them as "the all-knowing Yavanas" (sarvajnaa yavanaa); e.g., "The Yavanas, O king, are all-knowing; the Suras are particularly so. The mlecchas are wedded to the creations of their own fancy",[80] such as flying machines that are generally called vimanas. The "Brihat-Samhita" of the mathematician Varahamihira says: "The Greeks, though impure, must be honored since they were trained in sciences and therein, excelled others....." .[81]

Other states and Hellenistic influences[edit]

Greco-Scythian golden comb, from Solokha, early 4th century, Hermitage Museum[82]

Hellenistic culture was at its height of world influence in the Hellenistic period. Hellenism or at least Philhellenism reached most regions on the frontiers of the Hellenistic kingdoms. Though some of these regions were not ruled by Greeks or even Greek speaking elites, certain Hellenistic influences can be seen in the historical record and material culture of these regions. Other regions had established contact with Greek colonies before this period, and simply saw a continued process of Hellenization and intermixing.

Before the Hellenistic period, Greek colonies had been established on the coast of the Crimean and Taman peninsulas. The Bosporan Kingdom was a multi-ethnic kingdom of Greek city states and local tribal peoples such as the Maeotians, Thracians, Crimean Scythians and Cimmerians under the Spartocid dynasty (438–110 BCE). The Spartocids were a hellenized Thracian family from Panticapaeum. The Bosporans had long lasting trade contacts with the Scythian peoples of the Pontic-Caspian steppe, and Hellenistic influence can be seen in the Scythian settlements of the Crimea, such as in the Scythian Neapolis. Scythian pressure on the Bosporan kingdom under Paerisades V led to its eventual vassalage under the Pontic king Mithradates VI for protection, c. 107 BCE. It later became a Roman client state. Other Scythians on the steppes of Central Asia came into contact with Hellenistic culture through the Greeks of Bactria. Many Scythian elites purchased Greek products and some Scythian art shows Greek influences. At least some Scythians seem to have become Hellenized, because we know of conflicts between the elites of the Scythian kingdom over the adoption of Greek ways. These Hellenized Scythians were known as the "young Scythians".[83] The peoples around Pontic Olbia, known as the Callipidae, were intermixed and Hellenized Greco-Scythians.[84]

Statuette of Nike, Greek goddess of victory, from Vani, Georgia (country)

The Greek colonies on the west coast of the Black sea, such as Istros, Tomi and Callatis traded with the Thracian Getae who occupied modern-day Dobruja. From the 6th century BCE on, the multiethnic people in this region gradually intermixed with each other, creating a Greco-Getic populace.[85] Numismatic evidence shows that Hellenic influence penetrated further inland. Getae in Wallachia and Moldavia coined Getic tetradrachms, Getic imitations of Macedonian coinage.[86]

The ancient Georgian kingdoms had trade relations with the Greek city-states on the Black Sea coast such as Poti and Sukhumi. The kingdom of Colchis, which later became a Roman client state, received Hellenistic influences from the Black Sea Greek colonies.

In Arabia, Bahrain, which was referred to by the Greeks as Tylos, the centre of pearl trading, when Nearchus came to discover it serving under Alexander the Great.[87] The Greek admiral Nearchus is believed to have been the first of Alexander's commanders to visit these islands. It is not known whether Bahrain was part of the Seleucid Empire, although the archaeological site at Qalat Al Bahrain has been proposed as a Seleucid base in the Persian Gulf.[88] Alexander had planned to settle the eastern shores of the Persian Gulf with Greek colonists, and although it is not clear that this happened on the scale he envisaged, Tylos was very much part of the Hellenised world: the language of the upper classes was Greek (although Aramaic was in everyday use), while Zeus was worshipped in the form of the Arabian sun-god Shams.[89] Tylos even became the site of Greek athletic contests.[90]

Carthaginian hoplite (Sacred Band, end of the 4th century BC)

Carthage was a Phoenician colony on the coast of Tunisia. Carthaginian culture came into contact with the Greeks through Punic colonies in Sicily and through their widespread Mediterranean trade network. While the Carthaginians retained their Punic culture and language, they did adopt some Hellenistic ways, one of the most prominent of which was their military practices. In 550 BCE, Mago I of Carthage began a series of military reforms which included copying the army of Timoleon, Tyrant of Syracuse.[91] The core of Carthage's military was the Greek-style phalanx formed by citizen hoplite spearmen who had been conscripted into service, though their armies also included large numbers of mercenaries. After their defeat in the First Punic War, Carthage hired a Spartan mercenary captain, Xanthippus of Carthage, to reform their military forces. Xanthippus reformed the Carthaginian military along Macedonian army lines.

By the 2nd century BCE, the kingdom of Numidia also began to see Hellenistic culture influence its art and architecture. The Numidian royal monument at Chemtou is one example of Numidian Hellenized architecture. Reliefs on the monument also show the Numidians had adopted Greco-Macedonian type armor and shields for their soldiers.[92]

Ptolemaic Egypt was the center of Hellenistic influence in Africa and Greek colonies also thrived in the region of Cyrene, Libya. The kingdom of Meroë was in constant contact with Ptolemaic Egypt and Hellenistic influences can be seen in their art and archaeology. There was a temple to Serapis, the Greco-Egyptian god.

Rise of Rome[edit]

Eastern hemisphere at the end of the 2nd century BC.

Widespread Roman interference in the Greek world was probably inevitable given the general manner of the ascendency of the Roman Republic. This Roman-Greek interaction began as a consequence of the Greek city-states located along the coast of southern Italy. Rome had come to dominate the Italian peninsula, and desired the submission of the Greek cities to its rule. Although they initially resisted, allying themselves with Pyrrhus of Epirus, and defeating the Romans at several battles, the Greek cities were unable to maintain this position and were absorbed by the Roman republic. Shortly afterwards, Rome became involved in Sicily, fighting against the Carthaginians in the First Punic War. The end result was the complete conquest of Sicily, including its previously powerful Greek cities, by the Romans.

Roman entanglement in the Balkans began when Illyrian piratical raids on Roman merchants led to invasions of Illyria (the First and, Second Illyrian Wars). Tension between Macedon and Rome increased when the young king of Macedon, Philip V, harbored one of the chief pirates, Demetrius of Pharos[93] (a former client of Rome). As a result, in an attempt to reduce Roman influence in the Balkans, Philip allied himself with Carthage after Hannibal had dealt the Romans a massive defeat at the Battle of Cannae (216 BC) during the Second Punic War. Forcing the Romans to fight on another front when they were at a nadir of manpower gained Philip the lasting enmity of the Romans—the only real result from the somewhat insubstantial First Macedonian War (215–202 BC).

Once the Second Punic War had been resolved, and the Romans had begun to regather their strength, they looked to re-assert their influence in the Balkans, and to curb the expansion of Philip. A pretext for war was provided by Philip's refusal to end his war with Attalid Pergamum and Rhodes, both Roman allies.[94] The Romans, also allied with the Aetolian League of Greek city-states (which resented Philip's power), thus declared war on Macedon in 200 BC, starting the Second Macedonian War. This ended with a decisive Roman victory at the Battle of Cynoscephalae (197 BC). Like most Roman peace treaties of the period, the resultant 'Peace of Flaminius' was designed utterly to crush the power of the defeated party; a massive indemnity was levied, Philip's fleet was surrendered to Rome, and Macedon was effectively returned to its ancient boundaries, losing influence over the city-states of southern Greece, and land in Thrace and Asia Minor. The result was the end of Macedon as a major power in the Mediterranean.

As a result of the confusion in Greece at the end of the Second Macedonian War, the Seleucid Empire also became entangled with the Romans. The Seleucid Antiochus III had allied with Philip V of Macedon in 203 BC, agreeing that they should jointly conquer the lands of the boy-king of Egypt, Ptolemy V. After defeating Ptolemy in the Fifth Syrian War, Antiochus concentrated on occupying the Ptolemaic possessions in Asia Minor. However, this brought Antiochus into conflict with Rhodes and Pergamum, two important Roman allies, and began a 'cold war' between Rome and Antiochus (not helped by the presence of Hannibal at the Seleucid court).[3] Meanwhile, in mainland Greece, the Aetolian League, which had sided with Rome against Macedon, now grew to resent the Roman presence in Greece. This presented Antiochus III with a pretext to invade Greece and 'liberate' it from Roman influence, thus starting the Roman-Syrian War (192–188 BC). In 191 BC, the Romans under Manius Acilius Glabrio routed him at Thermopylae and obliged him to withdraw to Asia. During the course of this war Roman troops moved into Asia for the first time, where they defeated Antiochus again at the Battle of Magnesia (190 BC). A crippling treaty was imposed on Antiochus, with Seleucid possessions in Asia Minor removed and given to Rhodes and Pergamum, the size of the Seleucid navy reduced, and a massive war indemnity invoked.

Perseus of Macedon surrenders to Paullus. Painting by Jean-François Pierre Peyron from 1802. Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest.

Thus, in less than twenty years, Rome had destroyed the power of one of the successor states, crippled another, and firmly entrenched its influence over Greece. This was primarily a result of the over-ambition of the Macedonian kings, and their unintended provocation of Rome, though Rome was quick to exploit the situation. In another twenty years, the Macedonian kingdom was no more. Seeking to re-assert Macedonian power and Greek independence, Philip V's son Perseus incurred the wrath of the Romans, resulting in the Third Macedonian War (171–168 BC). Victorious, the Romans abolished the Macedonian kingdom, replacing it with four puppet republics; these lasted a further twenty years before Macedon was formally annexed as a Roman province (146 BC) after yet another rebellion under Andriscus. Rome now demanded that the Achaean League, the last stronghold of Greek independence, be dissolved. The Achaeans refused and declared war on Rome. Most of the Greek cities rallied to the Achaeans' side, even slaves were freed to fight for Greek independence. The Roman consul Lucius Mummius advanced from Macedonia and defeated the Greeks at Corinth, which was razed to the ground. In 146 BC, the Greek peninsula, though not the islands, became a Roman protectorate. Roman taxes were imposed, except in Athens and Sparta, and all the cities had to accept rule by Rome's local allies.

The Attalid dynasty of Pergamum lasted little longer; a Roman ally until the end, its final king Attalus III died in 133 BC without an heir, and taking the alliance to its natural conclusion, willed Pergamum to the Roman Republic.[95] The final Greek resistance came in 88 BC, when King Mithridates of Pontus rebelled against Rome, captured Roman held Anatolia, and massacred up to 100,000 Romans and Roman allies across Asia Minor. Many Greek cities, including Athens, overthrew their Roman puppet rulers and joined him in the Mithridatic wars. When he was driven out of Greece by the Roman general Lucius Cornelius Sulla, the latter laid siege to Athens and razed the city. Mithridates was finally defeated by Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (Pompey the Great) in 65 BC. Further ruin was brought to Greece by the Roman civil wars, which were partly fought in Greece. Finally, in 27 BC, Augustus directly annexed Greece to the new Roman Empire as the province of Achaea. The struggles with Rome had left Greece depopulated and demoralised. Nevertheless, Roman rule at least brought an end to warfare, and cities such as Athens, Corinth, Thessaloniki and Patras soon recovered their prosperity.

Contrarily, having so firmly entrenched themselves into Greek affairs, the Romans now completely ignored the rapidly disintegrating Seleucid empire (perhaps because it posed no threat); and left the Ptolemaic kingdom to decline quietly, while acting as a protector of sorts, in as much as to stop other powers taking Egypt over (including the famous line-in-the-sand incident when the Seleucid Antiochus IV Epiphanes tried to invade Egypt).[3] Eventually, instability in the near east resulting from the power vacuum left by the collapse of the Seleucid Empire caused the Roman proconsul Pompey the Great to abolish the Seleucid rump state, absorbing much of Syria into the Roman Republic.[95] Famously, the end of Ptolemaic Egypt came as the final act in the republican civil war between the Roman triumvirs Mark Anthony and Augustus Caesar. After the defeat of Anthony and his lover, the last Ptolemaic monarch, Cleopatra VII, at the Battle of Actium, Augustus invaded Egypt and took it as his own personal fiefdom.[95] He thereby completed both the destruction of the Hellenistic kingdoms and the Roman Republic, and ended (in hindsight) the Hellenistic era.


The Library of Alexandria in the Ptolemaic Kingdom, here shown in an artist's impression, was the largest and most significant library of the ancient world.[96]
"A large dark grey-coloured slab of stone with text that uses Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, demotic and Greek script in three separate horizontal registers"
The Rosetta Stone, a trilingual Ptolemaic decree establishing the religious cult of Ptolemy V.

In some fields Hellenistic culture thrived, particularly in its preservation of the past. The states of the Hellenistic period were deeply fixated with the past and its seemingly lost glories.[97] The preservation of many classical and archaic works of art and literature (including the works of the three great classical tragedians, Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides) are due to the efforts of the Hellenistic Greeks. The museum and library of Alexandria was the center of this conservationist activity. With the support of royal stipends, Alexandrian scholars collected, translated, copied, classified and critiqued every book they could find. Most of the great literary figures of the Hellenistic period studied at Alexandria and conducted research there. They were scholar poets, writing not only poetry but treatises on Homer and other archaic and classical Greek literature.[98]

Athens retained its position as the most prestigious seat of higher education, especially in the domains of philosophy and rhetoric, with considerable libraries and philosophical schools.[99] Alexandria had the monumental Museum (i.e. research center) and Library of Alexandria which was estimated to have had 700,000 volumes.[99] The city of Pergamon also had a large library and became a major center of book production.[99] The island of Rhodes had a library and also boasted a famous finishing school for politics and diplomacy. Libraries were also present in Antioch, Pella, and Kos. Cicero was educated in Athens and Mark Antony in Rhodes.[99] Antioch was founded as a metropolis and center of Greek learning which retained its status into the era of Christianity.[99] Seleucia replaced Babylon as the metropolis of the lower Tigris.

The spread of Greek culture and language throughout the Near East and Asia owed much to the development of newly founded cities and deliberate colonization policies by the successor states, which in turn was necessary for maintaining their military forces. Settlements such as Ai-Khanoum, situated on trade routes, allowed Greek culture to mix and spread. The language of Philip II's and Alexander's court and army (which was made up of various Greek and non-Greek speaking peoples) was a version of Attic Greek, and over time this language developed into Koine, the lingua franca of the successor states.

The identification of local gods with similar Greek deities, a practice termed 'Interpretatio graeca', facilitated the building of Greek-style temples, and the Greek culture in the cities also meant that buildings such as gymnasia and theaters became common. Many cities maintained nominal autonomy while under the rule of the local king or satrap, and often had Greek-style institutions. Greek dedications, statues, architecture and inscriptions have all been found. However, local cultures were not replaced, and mostly went on as before, but now with a new Greco-Macedonian or otherwise Hellenized elite. An example that shows the spread of Greek theater is Plutarch's story of the death of Crassus, in which his head was taken to the Parthian court and used as a prop in a performance of The Bacchae. Theaters have also been found: for example, in Ai-Khanoum on the edge of Bactria, the theater has 35 rows – larger than the theater in Babylon.

The spread of Greek influence and language is also shown through Ancient Greek coinage. Portraits became more realistic, and the obverse of the coin was often used to display a propaganda image, commemorating an event or displaying the image of a favored god. The use of Greek-style portraits and Greek language continued under the Roman, Parthian and Kushan empires, even as the use of Greek was in decline.

Hellenization and acculturation[edit]

One of the first representations of the Buddha, and an example of Greco-Buddhist art, 1st-2nd century AD, Gandhara: Standing Buddha (Tokyo National Museum).
Bull capital from Rampurva, Maurya Empire, 3rd century BC, Indian Museum, Calcutta. The subject matter is Indian (zebu), the global shape is influenced by Achaemenid styles, and the floral band incorporates Hellenistic designs (flame palmettes).[100]
Further information: Hellenization

The concept of Hellenization, meaning the adoption of Greek culture in non-Greek regions, has long been controversial. Undoubtedly Greek influence did spread through the Hellenistic realms, but to what extent, and whether this was a deliberate policy or mere cultural diffusion, have been hotly debated.

It seems likely that Alexander himself pursued policies which led Hellenization, such as the foundations of new cities and Greek colonies. While it may have been a deliberate attempt to spread Greek culture (or as Arrian says, "to civilise the natives"), it is more likely that it was a series of pragmatic measures designed to aid in the rule of his enormous empire.[101] Cities and colonies were centers of administrative control and Macedonian power in a newly conquered region. Alexander also seems to have attempted to create a mixed Greco-Persian elite class as shown by the Susa weddings and his adoption of some forms of Persian dress and court culture. He also brought Persian and other non-Greek peoples into his military and even the elite cavalry units of the companion cavalry. Again, it is probably better to see these policies as a pragmatic response to the demands of ruling a large empire[101] than to any idealized attempt to bringing Greek culture to the 'barbarians'. This approach was bitterly resented by the Macedonians and discarded by most of the Diadochi after Alexander's death. These policies can also be interpreted as the result of Alexander's possible megalomania[102] during his later years.

After Alexander's death in 323 BC, the influx of Greek colonists into the new realms continued to spread Greek culture into Asia. The founding of new cities and military colonies continued to be a major part of the Successors' struggle for control of any particular region, and these continued to be centers of cultural diffusion. The spread of Greek culture under the Successors seems mostly to have occurred with the spreading of Greeks themselves, rather than as an active policy.

Throughout the Hellenistic world, these Greco-Macedonian colonists considered themselves by and large superior to the native "barbarians" and excluded most non-Greeks from the upper echelons of courtly and government life. Most of the native population was not Hellenized, had little access to Greek culture and often found themselves discriminated against by their Hellenic overlords.[103] Gymnasiums and their Greek education, for example, were for Greeks only. Greek cities and colonies may have exported Greek art and architecture as far as the Indus, but these were mostly enclaves of Greek culture for the transplanted Greek elite. The degree of influence that Greek culture had throughout the Hellenistic kingdoms was therefore highly localized and based mostly on a few great cities like Alexandria and Antioch. Some natives did learn Greek and adopt Greek ways, but this was mostly limited to a few local elites who were allowed to retain their posts by the Diadochi and also to a small number of mid-level administrators who acted as intermediaries between the Greek speaking upper class and their subjects. In the Seleucid Empire, for example, this group amounted to only 2.5 percent of the official class.[104]

Hellenistic art nevertheless had a considerable influence on the cultures that had been affected by the Hellenistic expansion. As far as the Indian subcontinent, Hellenistic influence on Indian art was broad and far-reaching, and had effects for several centuries following the forays of Alexander the Great.

Despite their initial reluctance, the Successors seem to have later deliberately naturalized themselves to their different regions, presumably in order to help maintain control of the population.[105] In the Ptolemaic kingdom, we find some Egyptianized Greeks by the 2nd century onwards. In the Indo-Greek kingdom we find kings who were converts to Buddhism (e.g., Menander). The Greeks in the regions therefore gradually become 'localized', adopting local customs as appropriate. In this way, hybrid 'Hellenistic' cultures naturally emerged, at least among the upper echelons of society.

The trends of Hellenization were therefore accompanied by Greeks adopting native ways over time, but this was widely varied by place and by social class. The farther away from the Mediterranean and the lower in social status, the more likely that a colonist was to adopt local ways, while the Greco-Macedonian elites and royal families usually remained thoroughly Greek and viewed most non-Greeks with disdain. It was not until Cleopatra VII that a Ptolemaic ruler bothered to learn the Egyptian language of their subjects.


Main article: Hellenistic religion
Bust of Zeus-Ammon, a deity with attributes from Greek and Egyptian gods.

In the Hellenistic period, there was much continuity in Greek religion: the Greek gods continued to be worshiped, and the same rites were practiced as before. However the socio-political changes brought on by the conquest of the Persian empire and Greek emigration abroad meant that change also came to religious practices. This varied greatly by location. Athens, Sparta and most cities in the Greek mainland did not see much religious change or new gods (with the exception of the Egyptian Isis in Athens),[106] while the multi-ethnic Alexandria had a very varied group of gods and religious practices, including Egyptian, Jewish and Greek. Greek emigres brought their Greek religion everywhere they went, even as far as India and Afghanistan. Non-Greeks also had more freedom to travel and trade throughout the Mediterranean and in this period we can see Egyptian gods such as Serapis, and the Syrian gods Atargatis and Hadad, as well as a Jewish synagogue, all coexisting on the island of Delos alongside classical Greek deities.[107] A common practice was to identify Greek gods with native gods that had similar characteristics and this created new fusions like Zeus-Ammon, Aphrodite Hagne (a Hellenized Atargatis) and Isis-Demeter. Greek emigres faced individual religious choices they had not faced on their home cities, where the gods they worshiped were dictated by tradition.

Cybele, a Phrygian mother Goddess, enthroned, with lion, cornucopia and Mural crown.

Hellenistic monarchies were closely associated with the religious life of the kingdoms they ruled. This had already been a feature of Macedonian kingship, which had priestly duties.[108] Hellenestic kings adopted patron deities as protectors of their house and sometimes claimed descent from them. The Seleucids for example took on Apollo as patron, the Antigonids had Herakles, and the Ptolemies claimed Dionysus among others.[109]

The worship of dynastic ruler cults was also a feature of this period, most notably in Egypt, where the Ptolemies adopted earlier Pharaonic practice, and established themselves as god-kings. These cults were usually associated with a specific temple in honor of the ruler such as the Ptolemaieia at Alexandria and had their own festivals and theatrical performances. The setting up of ruler cults was more based on the systematized honors offered to the kings (sacrifice, proskynesis, statues, altars, hymns) which put them on par with the gods (isotheism) than on actual belief of their divine nature. According to Peter Green, these cults did not produce genuine belief of the divinity of rulers among the Greeks and Macedonians.[110] The worship of Alexander was also popular, as in the long lived cult at Erythrae and of course, at Alexandria, where his tomb was located.

The Hellenistic age also saw a rise in the disillusionment with traditional religion.[111] The rise of philosophy and the sciences had removed the gods from many of their traditional domains such as their role in the movement of the heavenly bodies and natural disasters. The Sophists proclaimed the centrality of humanity and agnosticism; the belief in Euhemerism (the view that the gods were simply ancient kings and heroes), became popular. The popular philosopher Epicurus promoted a view of disinterested gods living far away from the human realm in metakosmia. The apotheosis of rulers also brought the idea of divinity down to earth. While there does seem to have been a substantial decline in religiosity, this was mostly reserved for the educated classes.[112]

Magic was practiced widely, and this, too, was a continuation from earlier times. Throughout the Hellenistic world, people would consult oracles, and use charms and figurines to deter misfortune or to cast spells. Also developed in this era was the complex system of astrology, which sought to determine a person's character and future in the movements of the sun, moon, and planets. Astrology was widely associated with the cult of Tyche (luck, fortune), which grew in popularity during this period.


Relief with Menander and New Comedy Masks (Roman, AD 40-60) - the masks show three New Comedy stock characters: youth, false maiden, old man. Princeton University Art Museum

The Hellenistic period saw the rise of New Comedy, the only few surviving representative texts being those of Menander (born 342/1 BCE). Only one play, Dyskolos, survives in its entirety. The plots of this new Hellenistic comedy of manners were more domestic and formulaic, stereotypical low born characters such as slaves became more important, the language was colloquial and major motifs included escapism, marriage, romance and luck (Tyche).[113] Though no Hellenistic tragedy remains intact, they were still widely produced during the period, yet it seems that there was no major breakthrough in style, remaining within the classical model. The Supplementum Hellenisticum, a modern collection of extant fragments, contains the fragments of 150 authors.[114]

Hellenistic poets now sought patronage from kings, and wrote works in their honor. The scholars at the libraries in Alexandria and Pergamon focused on the collection, cataloging, and literary criticism of classical Athenian works and ancient Greek myths. The poet-critic Callimachus, a staunch elitist, wrote hymns equating Ptolemy II to Zeus and Apollo. He promoted short poetic forms such as the epigram, epyllion and the iambic and attacked epic as base and common ("big book, big evil" was his doctrine).[115] He also wrote a massive catalog of the holdings of the library of Alexandria, the famous Pinakes. Callimachus was extremely influential in his time and also for the development of Augustan poetry. Another poet, Apollonius of Rhodes, attempted to revive the epic for the Hellenistic world with his Argonautica. He had been a student of Callimachus and later became chief librarian (prostates) of the library of Alexandria. Apollonius and Callimachus spent much of their careers feuding with each other. Pastoral poetry also thrived during the Hellenistic era, Theocritus was a major poet who popularized the genre.

This period also saw the rise of the Ancient Greek novel, e.g., Daphnis and Chloe and the Ephesian Tale.

Around 240 BCE Livius Andronicus, a Greek slave from southern Italy, translated Homer's Odyssey into Latin. Greek literature would have a dominant effect on the development of the Latin literature of the Romans. The poetry of Virgil, Horace and Ovid were all based on Hellenistic styles.


Zeno of Citium founded Stoic philosophy.

During the Hellenistic period, many different schools of thought developed. Athens, with its multiple philosophical schools, continued to remain the center of philosophical thought. However, Athens had now lost her political freedom, and Hellenistic philosophy is a reflection of this new difficult period. In this political climate, Hellenistic philosophers went in search of goals such as ataraxia (un-disturbedness), autarky (self-sufficiency) and apatheia (freedom from suffering), which would allow them to wrest well-being or eudaimonia out of the most difficult turns of fortune. This occupation with the inner life, with personal inner liberty and with the pursuit of eudaimonia is what all Hellenistic philosophical schools have in common.[116]

The Epicureans and the Cynics rejected public offices and civic service, which amounted to a rejection of the polis itself, the defining institution of the Greek world. Epicurus promoted atomism and an asceticism based on freedom from pain as its ultimate goal. Cynics such as Diogenes of Sinope rejected all material possessions and social conventions (nomos) as unnatural and useless. The Cyrenaics, meanwhile, embraced hedonism, arguing that pleasure was the only true good. Stoicism, founded by Zeno of Citium, taught that virtue was sufficient for eudaimonia as it would allow one to live in accordance with Nature or Logos. Zeno became extremely popular; the Athenians set up a gold statue of him, and Antigonus II Gonatas invited him to the Macedonian court. The philosophical schools of Aristotle (the Peripatetics of the Lyceum) and Plato (Platonism at the Academy) also remained influential. The academy would eventually turn to Academic Skepticism under Arcesilaus until it was rejected by Antiochus of Ascalon (c. 90 BCE) in favor of Neoplatonism. Hellenistic philosophy had a significant influence on the Greek ruling elite. Examples include Athenian statesman Demetrius of Phaleron, who had studied in the lyceum; the Spartan king Cleomenes III, who was a student of the Stoic Sphairos of Borysthenes; and Antigonus II, who was also a well known Stoic. This can also be said of the Roman upper classes, where Stoicism was dominant, as seen in the Meditations of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius and the works of Cicero.

The spread of Christianity throughout the Roman world, followed by the spread of Islam, ushered in the end of Hellenistic philosophy and the beginnings of Medieval philosophy (often forcefully, as under Justinian I), which was dominated by the three Abrahamic traditions: Jewish philosophy, Christian philosophy, and early Islamic philosophy. In spite of this shift, Hellenistic philosophy continued to influence these three religious traditions and the renaissance thought which followed them.


Eratosthenes' method for determining the radius and circumference of the Earth.
One of the oldest surviving fragments of Euclid's Elements, found at Oxyrhynchus and dated to c. AD 100 (P. Oxy. 29). The diagram accompanies Book II, Proposition 5.[117]

Hellenistic culture produced seats of learning throughout the Mediterranean. Hellenistic science differed from Greek science in at least two ways: first, it benefited from the cross-fertilization of Greek ideas with those that had developed in the larger Hellenistic world; secondly, to some extent, it was supported by royal patrons in the kingdoms founded by Alexander's successors. Especially important to Hellenistic science was the city of Alexandria in Egypt, which became a major center of scientific research in the 3rd century BC. Hellenistic scholars frequently employed the principles developed in earlier Greek thought: the application of mathematics and deliberate empirical research, in their scientific investigations.[118]

Hellenistic Geometers such as Archimedes (c. 287 – 212 BC), Apollonius of Perga (c. 262 – c. 190 BC), and Euclid (c. 325 – 265 BC), whose Elements became the most important textbook in mathematics until the 19th century, built upon the work of the Hellenic era Pythagoreans. Euclid developed proofs for the Pythagorean Theorem, for the infinitude of primes, and worked on the five Platonic solids.[119] Eratosthenes used his knowledge of geometry to measure the circumference of the Earth. His calculation was remarkably accurate. He was also the first to calculate the tilt of the Earth's axis (again with remarkable accuracy). Additionally, he may have accurately calculated the distance from the Earth to the Sun and invented the leap day.[120] Known as the "Father of Geography ", Eratosthenes also created the first map of the world incorporating parallels and meridians, based on the available geographical knowledge of the era.

The Antikythera mechanism was an ancient analog computer[121][122] designed to calculate astronomical positions.

Astronomers like Hipparchus (c. 190 – c. 120 BC) built upon the measurements of the Babylonian astronomers before him, to measure the precession of the Earth. Pliny reports that Hipparchus produced the first systematic star catalog after he observed a new star (it is uncertain whether this was a nova or a comet) and wished to preserve astronomical record of the stars, so that other new stars could be discovered.[123] It has recently been claimed that a celestial globe based on Hipparchus's star catalog sits atop the broad shoulders of a large 2nd-century Roman statue known as the Farnese Atlas.[124] Another astronomer, Aristarchos of Samos developed a heliocentric system.

The level of Hellenistic achievement in astronomy and engineering is impressively shown by the Antikythera mechanism (150–100 BC). It is a 37-gear mechanical computer which computed the motions of the Sun and Moon, including lunar and solar eclipses predicted on the basis of astronomical periods believed to have been learned from the Babylonians.[125] Devices of this sort are not found again until the 10th century, when a simpler eight-geared luni-solar calculator incorporated into an astrolabe was described by the Persian scholar, Al-Biruni.[126][not in citation given] Similarly complex devices were also developed by other Muslim engineers and astronomers during the Middle Ages.[125][not in citation given]

Medicine, which was dominated by the Hippocratic tradition, saw new advances under Praxagoras of Kos, who theorized that blood traveled through the veins. Herophilos (335–280 BC) was the first to base his conclusions on dissection of the human body and animal vivisection, and to provide accurate descriptions of the nervous system, liver and other key organs. Influenced by Philinus of Cos (fl. 250), a student of Herophilos, a new medical sect emerged, the Empiric school, which was based on strict observation and rejected unseen causes of the Dogmatic school.

Bolos of Mendes made developments in alchemy and Theophrastus was known for his work in plant classification. Krateuas wrote a compendium on botanic pharmacy. The library of Alexandria included a zoo for research and Hellenistic zoologists include Archelaos, Leonidas of Byzantion, Apollodoros of Alexandria and Bion of Soloi.

Technological developments from the Hellenistic period include cogged gears, pulleys, the screw, Archimedes' screw, the screw press, glassblowing, hollow bronze casting, surveying instruments, an odometer, the pantograph, the water clock, a water organ, and the Piston pump.[127]

The interpretation of Hellenistic science varies widely. At one extreme is the view of the English classical scholar Cornford, who believed that "all the most important and original work was done in the three centuries from 600 to 300 BC".[128] At the other is the view of the Italian physicist and mathematician Lucio Russo, who claims that scientific method was actually born in the 3rd century BC, to be forgotten during the Roman period and only revived in the Renaissance.[129]

Military science[edit]

Further information: Hellenistic armies
A syntagma of 256 phalangites in a 16x16 pike square formation

Hellenistic warfare was a continuation of the military developments of Iphicrates and Philip II of Macedon, particularly his use of the Macedonian Phalanx, a dense formation of pikemen, in conjunction with heavy companion cavalry. Armies of the Hellenistic period differed from those of the classical period in being largely made up of professional soldiers and also in their greater specialization and technical proficiency in siege warfare. Hellenistic armies were significantly larger than those of classical Greece relying increasingly on Greek mercenaries (misthophoroi; men-for-pay) and also on non-Greek soldiery such as Thracians, Galatians, Egyptians and Iranians. Some ethnic groups were known for their martial skill in a particular mode of combat and were highly sought after, including Tarantine cavalry, Cretan archers, Rhodian slingers and Thracian peltasts. This period also saw the adoption of new weapons and troop types such as Thureophoroi and the Thorakitai who used the oval Thureos shield and fought with javelins and the machaira sword. The use of heavily armored cataphracts and also horse archers was adopted by the Seleucids, Greco-Bactrians, Armenians and Pontus. The use of war elephants also became common. Seleucus received Indian war elephants from the Mauryan empire, and used them to good effect at the battle of Ipsus. He kept a core of 500 of them at Apameia. The Ptolemies used the smaller African elephant.

Ancient mechanical artillery: Catapults (standing), the chain drive of Polybolos (bottom center), Gastraphetes (on wall)

Hellenistic military equipment was generally characterized by an increase in size. Hellenistic-era warships grew from the trireme to include more banks of oars and larger numbers of rowers and soldiers as in the Quadrireme and Quinquereme. The Ptolemaic Tessarakonteres was the largest ship constructed in Antiquity. New siege engines were developed during this period. An unknown engineer developed the torsion-spring catapult (c. 360) and Dionysios of Alexandria designed a repeating ballista, the Polybolos. Preserved examples of ball projectiles range from 4.4 kg to 78 kg (or over 170 lbs).[130] Demetrius Poliorcetes was notorious for the large siege engines employed in his campaigns, especially during the 12-month siege of Rhodes when he had Epimachos of Athens build a massive 160 ton siege tower named Helepolis, filled with artillery.


Head of an old woman, a good example of realism.
Main article: Hellenistic art
Sculpture of Cupid and Psyche, an example of the sensualism of Hellenistic art. 2nd century CE Roman copy of a 2nd-century BCE Greek original.

The term Hellenistic is a modern invention; the Hellenistic World not only included a huge area covering the whole of the Aegean, rather than the Classical Greece focused on the Poleis of Athens and Sparta, but also a huge time range. In artistic terms this means that there is huge variety which is often put under the heading of "Hellenistic Art" for convenience.

Hellenistic art saw a turn from the idealistic, perfected, calm and composed figures of classical Greek art to a style dominated by realism and the depiction of emotion (pathos) and character (ethos). The motif of deceptively realistic naturalism in art (aletheia) is reflected in stories such as that of the painter Zeuxis, who was said to have painted grapes that seemed so real that birds came and pecked at them.[131] The female nude also became more popular as epitomized by the Aphrodite of Cnidos of Praxiteles and art in general became more erotic (e.g., Leda and the Swan and Scopa's Pothos). The dominant ideals of Hellenistic art were those of sensuality and passion.[132]

People of all ages and social statuses were depicted in the art of the Hellenistic age. Artists such as Peiraikos chose mundane and lower class subjects for his paintings. According to Pliny, "He painted barbers' shops, cobblers' stalls, asses, eatables and similar subjects, earning for himself the name of rhyparographos [painter of dirt/low things]. In these subjects he could give consummate pleasure, selling them for more than other artists received for their large pictures" (Natural History, Book XXXV.112). Even barbarians, such as the Galatians, were depicted in heroic form, prefiguring the artistic theme of the noble savage. The image of Alexander the Great was also an important artistic theme, and all of the diadochi had themselves depicted imitating Alexander's youthful look. A number of the best-known works of Greek sculpture belong to the Hellenistic period, including Laocoön and his Sons, Venus de Milo, and the Winged Victory of Samothrace.

Developments in painting included experiments in chiaroscuro by Zeuxis and the development of landscape painting and still life painting.[133] Greek temples built during the Hellenistic period were generally larger than classical ones, such as the temple of Artemis at Ephesus, the temple of Artemis at Sardis, and the temple of Apollo at Didyma (rebuilt by Seleucus in 300 BCE). The royal palace (basileion) also came into its own during the Hellenistic period, the first extant example being the massive 4th-century villa of Cassander at Vergina.

This period also saw the first written works of art history in the histories of Duris of Samos and Xenokrates of Athens, a sculptor and a historian of sculpture and painting.

There has been a trend in writing the history of this period to depict Hellenistic art as a decadent style, following the Golden Age of Classical Athens. Pliny the Elder, after having described the sculpture of the classical period, says: Cessavit deinde ars ("then art disappeared").[134] The 18th century terms Baroque and Rococo have sometimes been applied to the art of this complex and individual period. The renewal of the historiographical approach as well as some recent discoveries, such as the tombs of Vergina, allow a better appreciation of this period's artistic richness.

Hellenistic period and modern culture[edit]

Further information: Decadence and Degeneration

The focus on the Hellenistic period over the course of the 19th century by scholars and historians has led to an issue common to the study of historical periods; historians see the period of focus as a mirror of the period in which they are living. Many 19th century scholars contended that the Hellenistic period represented a cultural decline from the brilliance of classical Greece. Though this comparison is now seen as unfair and meaningless, it has been noted that even commentators of the time saw the end of a cultural era which could not be matched again.[135] This may be inextricably linked with the nature of government. It has been noted by Herodotus that after the establishment of the Athenian democracy:

...the Athenians found themselves suddenly a great power. Not just in one field, but in everything they set their minds to...As subjects of a tyrant, what had they accomplished?...Held down like slaves they had shirked and slacked; once they had won their freedom, not a citizen but he could feel like he was labouring for himself"[136]

Thus, with the decline of the Greek polis, and the establishment of monarchical states, the environment and social freedom in which to excel may have been reduced.[137] A parallel can be drawn with the productivity of the city states of Italy during the Renaissance, and their subsequent decline under autocratic rulers.

However, William Woodthorpe Tarn, between World War I and World War II and the heyday of the League of Nations, focused on the issues of racial and cultural confrontation and the nature of colonial rule. Michael Rostovtzeff, who fled the Russian Revolution, concentrated predominantly on the rise of the capitalist bourgeoisie in areas of Greek rule. Arnaldo Momigliano, an Italian Jew who wrote before and after the Second World War, studied the problem of mutual understanding between races in the conquered areas. Moses Hadas portrayed an optimistic picture of synthesis of culture from the perspective of the 1950s, while Frank William Walbank in the 1960s and 1970s had a materialistic approach to the Hellenistic period, focusing mainly on class relations. Recently, however, papyrologist C. Préaux has concentrated predominantly on the economic system, interactions between kings and cities, and provides a generally pessimistic view on the period. Peter Green, on the other hand, writes from the point of view of late 20th century liberalism, his focus being on individualism, the breakdown of convention, experiments, and a postmodern disillusionment with all institutions and political processes.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Art of the Hellenistic Age and the Hellenistic Tradition. Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2013. Retrieved 27 May 2013. Archived here.
  2. ^ Hellenistic Age. Encyclopædia Britannica, 2013. Retrieved 27 May 2013. Archived here.
  3. ^ a b c d Green, Peter (2008). Alexander The Great and the Hellenistic Age. London: Orion. ISBN 0-7538-2413-2. 
  4. ^ Green, p. xvii.
  5. ^ Professor Gerhard Rempel, Hellenistic Civilization (Western New England College).
  6. ^ a b Ulrich Wilcken, Griechische Geschichte im Rahmen der Altertumsgeschichte.
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  8. ^ a b Green, P. Alexander The Great and the Hellenistic Age. p. xiii. ISBN 978-0-7538-2413-9. 
  9. ^ Ἑλληνιστής. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project.
  10. ^ Chaniotis, Angelos (2011). Greek History: Hellenistic. Oxford Bibliographies Online Research Guide. Oxford University Press. p. 8. ISBN 9780199805075. 
  11. ^ Arnold, Matthew (1869). "Chapter IV". Culture and Anarchy. Smith, Elder & Co. p. 143.  Arnold, Matthew; Garnett, Jane (editor) (2006). "Chapter IV". Culture and Anarchy. Oxford University Press. p. 96. ISBN 978-0-19-280511-9. 
  12. ^ a b F.W. Walbank et al. THE CAMBRIDGE ANCIENT HISTORY, SECOND EDITION, VOLUME VII, PART I: The Hellenistic World, p. 1.
  13. ^ a b Green, Peter (2007). The Hellenistic Age (A Short History). New York: Modern Library Chronicles. 
  14. ^ Green, Peter (1990); Alexander to Actium, the historical evolution of the Hellenistic age. University of California Press. Pages 7-8.
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Further reading[edit]

  • Austin, Michel M. (1981). The Hellenistic world from Alexander to the Roman conquest: a selection of ancient sources in translation. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-22829-8. 
  • Cary, Max (1932). A History of the Greek World from 323 to 146 B.C. London: Methuen & Co. Ltd. 
  • "Under the Influence: Hellenism in Ancient Jewish Life" Biblical Archaeology Society
  • Chamoux, F. (2002). Hellenistic Civilization. Wiley/Blackwell. 
  • Tarn, W; Griffith, G. T. (1952). Hellenistic Civilization. 
  • Walbank, F. W. (1981). The Hellenistic World. Harvard University Press. 

External links[edit]