So you heard about the Hellenistic period? And you now want to immerse yourself deeper into this wonderful yet complex period of Greek History? Then you have come ot the right place. Here you can find a whole list of resources I have created to get you started! These include a basic bibliography, an overview of the important Hellenistic figures and places, a list of primary sources for each period of Greek history and several timelines. But let’s start with some very important questions that you might have!
What is the Hellenistic Period and where does the name come from?
The Hellenistic period is part of Greek History which starts with the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and ends with Cleopatra and Marc Anthony’s defeat at the battle of Actium in 31 BC, when the Romans conquered the last of the areas once controlled by the Macedonian king. The word Hellenistic orginated from the German hellenistisch which was created by the German historian J. G. Droysen in the 19th century. This to refer to the period in which Greek culture spread through the non-Greek world after Alexander’s conquests. While the term is easy to use, it is important to point out that this is a modern concept and for the ancient Greeks there was no such thing like the Hellenistic period. Even more, the use of the term Hellenistic implies that Greek culture was successfully spread throughout Alexander’s empire, which definitely was not the case.
What are some key events or developments that took place during the Hellenistic period?
The Hellenistic period is marked by several events and developments that changed the Ancient World forever. The conquests of Philip V of Macedon and his son Alexander the Great had already changed the Greek world before the start of the Hellenistic period and the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC without a proper marks the beginning of the Hellenistic period and leads to a series of wars among his successors (the Successor Wars 322 -275 BC) that saw his large empire crumble into the three large Hellenistic Kingdoms: the Ptolemies in Egypt, the Seleucids in the East and the Antigonids in Macedon. From that point onwards, the Hellenistic kingdoms and Rome, for this is also the period in which the Romans turned their interest to the East, become the most important players in the Greek speaking world. The Roman conquest of Macedon in 168 and Greece in 146 BC is the start of a long process in which step by step the Hellenistic world becomes part of the Roman empire. This ends with the defeat of the last of the Hellenistic rulers, the famous Cleopatra VI, at Actium by the soon-to-be-emperor Augustus. Even though the defeat of Cleopatra and Marc Anthony in generally considered to be the end of the period, there is some discussion among scholars for alternative dates such as 146 BC.
How did the Hellenistic world differ from the classical world that preceded it?
The Hellenistic World was different form the classical period in several ways. The Greek mainland was no longer the centre of influence, this position had been taken up by new cities such as Alexandria. These new centres of power and learning resulted in progress in science, literature and art which are marked by a new more complex, individual nature. Because of Alexander’s vast expansion of his empire, the ‘Greek’ world had become so much bigger and the interactions between Greek society and the indigenous people created a new and multicultural society and world that was vastly different than that of the 5th century. Greek culture and language became more widespread than before and the Greek gods were often syncretised with local gods, creating new deities such as Greco-Egyption god Serapis. Even though there were plenty of Greek poleis, the world was now ruled by kings and consuls in stead of the smaller Greek democracies – which does not mean however that they ceased to play a role in the Hellenistic period. If we compare the Hellenistic and Classical world, one can say that the conquests of Alexander created a cosmopolitan, multicultural society which transcended classical Greece.