Hellenistic period

Article

July 1, 2022

It is called the Hellenistic period, Hellenism or Alexandrian period (by Alexander the Great) to a historical stage of Antiquity whose chronological limits are marked by two important political events: the death of Alexander the Great (323 BC) and the suicide of the last Hellenistic sovereign, Cleopatra VII of Egypt, and her lover Mark Antony, after their defeat at the Battle of Actium (31 BC). It is the heritage of the Hellenic culture of classical Greece that the Greek world receives through the hegemony and supremacy of Macedonia, first with the person of Alexander the Great and after his death with the diadochi (διάδοχοι) or successors, kings who founded the three great dynasties that would predominate at the time: Ptolemaic, Seleucid and Antigonid. These sovereigns knew how to preserve and encourage the Greek spirit, both in the arts and in the sciences. Among the educated and aristocratic people, "the Greek" was the important thing, and in this concept they educated their children. The rest of the population of the kingdoms located in Egypt and Asia did not participate in Hellenism and continued their customs, their language and their religions. The Greek city-states (Athens, Sparta and Thebes, among others) went into decline and were replaced in importance by the modern cities of Alexandria, Pergamon and Antioch, whose urban planning and construction had nothing to do with the previous ones. In all of them Greek was spoken in its variant called koiné (κoινή), a Greek adjective meaning "common". That is to say, the common or Panhellenic language, the main vehicle of culture. This was used a lot at the time. It is considered a transition period between the decline of the classical Greek era and the rise of Roman power. However, the splendor of cities such as Alexandria, Antioch or Pergamon, the importance of economic changes, cultural miscegenation and the dominant role of the Greek language and its spread are factors that profoundly modified the ancient Middle East at this stage. This cultural heritage will be assimilated by the Roman world, thus emerging with the fusion of these two cultures what is called "classical culture", the foundation of Western civilization. The term "Hellenistic" was used for the first time by the German historian Johann Gustav Droysen in Geschichte des Hellenismus (1836 and 1843), based on a linguistic and cultural criterion, that is, the diffusion of the culture of the regions in which Greek was spoken (ἑλληνίζειν – hellênizein), or directly related to Hellas through the language itself, a phenomenon encouraged by the ruling classes of Hellenic origin of those territories that never had a direct relationship with Greece, as could be the case of Egypt, Bactria or the territories of the Seleucid Empire. This process of Hellenization of the Eastern peoples, and the fusion or assimilation of Eastern and Greek cultural traits, continued, as mentioned, under the Roman Empire. Recent archaeological and historical works lead to the revaluation of this period and, in particular, to two characteristic aspects of the time: the importance of the great kingdoms led by dynasties of Greek or Macedonian origin (Lagids, Seleucids, Antigonids, Attalids, etc.), together with the determining role of dozens of cities whose importance was greater than the commonly accepted idea for a long time. After the Peloponnesian wars, the Greek polis continued to fight each other. This situation was taken advantage of by the Kingdom of Macedonia, located in northern Greece. Their king Philip II subdued the Greek cities.

The political evolution of the Hellenistic world

The conquest of Alexander the Great, 4th century BC. C In the year 336 a. C., at 20 years of age, the son of Philip II was proclaimed king of Macedonia as Alexander III, being recognized as the ruler of