Hellenism (from Greek Ελληνισμός hellēnismós ”Greekness”) refers to the period of ancient Greek history from the accession of Alexander the Great of Macedonia in 336 BC to the incorporation of Ptolemaic Egypt, the last major Hellenistic empire, into the Roman Empire in 30 BC.
However, these epochal boundaries, which focus on the Alexander empire and the successor empires of the Diadochi, are meaningful primarily for political history, and even for this only to a limited extent, because by the middle of the 2nd century BC most Greeks had already come under the direct or indirect rule of the Romans or Parthians. In terms of cultural history, on the other hand, Hellenism not only picked up on older developments, but also continued to have an effect, especially beyond the Roman imperial period and into late antiquity. Angelos Chaniotis therefore places the epochal boundary only at the death of Emperor Hadrian in 138 AD: he had completed the integration of the Greeks into the Roman Empire.
The German historian Johann Gustav Droysen first used the term “Hellenism” around the middle of the 19th century. He understood Hellenism to mean the period from the death of Alexander the Great (323 B.C.) to the Battle of Actium (31 B.C.) and the end of the last Greek empire in Egypt. However, in the sense of “imitating the Greek way of life,” the noun “hellenismós” and the verb “hellenizein” were already used in ancient times. It is derived from Hellenes, the proper name of the Greeks.
An important characteristic of this period of history is considered to be increased Hellenization – the penetration of the Orient in particular by Greek culture – and, in turn, the growing influence of Oriental culture on the Greeks. The Hellenistic world encompassed a vast area that stretched from Sicily and lower Italy (Magna Graecia) to Greece to India and from the Black Sea to Egypt, as well as to present-day Afghanistan. The Hellenization of the Oriental population ensured that as late as the 7th century, in addition to Aramaic, a form of Greek was still used at least by the urban population of Syria, the Koine (from κοινός koinós “general”), which persisted considerably longer in Asia Minor. The cultural traditions of Hellenism survived the political collapse of the monarchies and continued to have an effect for centuries in Rome and the Byzantine Empire.
The Macedonian king Alexander III “the Great”, under whose father Philip II. Macedonia had become the hegemonic power over Greece, conquered the Persian Achaemenid Empire from 334 B.C. on (Alexander campaign) and advanced as far as India. After Alexander”s death in 323 BC, civil wars broke out over his succession. Since no one succeeded in gaining control of the entire empire, his leading generals, the so-called Diadochi, eventually rose to local power. Since 3065, most of them held the title of king. A reunification of the Alexander Empire seemed hopeless in 301 B.C. at the latest, when Antigonos I Monophthalmos was defeated by his rivals in the Battle of Ipsos. The so-called diadochal struggles for Alexander”s inheritance finally ended in 281 BC after a total of six wars. Three major Hellenistic empires were formed that would dominate the eastern Mediterranean until the 2nd century BC and were ruled by Macedonian dynasties: Macedonia proper and large parts of Greece fell to the Antigonids, the descendants of Antigonos I; Asia Minor, Syria, Mesopotamia, and Persia came under the rule of the Seleucids; and Egypt, Cyrenaica, and the Levant fell to the Ptolemies. All three Macedonian dynasties also rivaled for influence in the Aegean region, often exploiting intra-Greek conflicts, and they never gave up pro forma claims to Alexander”s overall empire. In addition, there were middle powers such as Attalid Pergamum, Rhodes, and the Achaian League.
After the end of the diadochal wars, the political situation initially stabilized as the three great empires neutralized each other. From 200 BC, however, Rome began to become involved in the Hellenistic world, first in Greece, then in Asia Minor, and also intervened in the Seleucids” conflict with the Ptolemies over Palestine. In 188 B.C., the Romans forced the Seleucid Antiochos III to renounce parts of his empire; he had to give up most of Asia Minor. Before that, Philip V of Macedonia had already had to accept a narrowing of his room for maneuver in Greece and Asia Minor after the smaller states of the region, such as Pergamum, which feared for their independence because of Antiochus” and Philip”s expansive aspirations, had provided the Romans with pretexts for military intervention, resulting in an initially indirect regional hegemony by Rome. At the latest since the Day of Eleusis in 168 BC, when the Seleucid Antiochos IV had to abandon a victorious campaign against the Ptolemies on Roman instructions, the new balance of power was obvious.
These severe setbacks were not without consequences for the monarchies, whose existence rested largely on the military prowess of the kings: In Iran, until then under Seleucid control, the Parthians had already been spreading since the 3rd century BC, ruled by the Arsakids, who initially presented themselves to the West as heirs to the Hellenistic tradition. After 188 B.C., their advance accelerated considerably. When the Arsakids also took possession of Mesopotamia around 141 B.C., they confined the Seleucids, who had already lost their eastern territories to the Greco-Bactrian kingdom in the 3rd century, to an insignificant residual state in Syria. The Hellenistic kings in Bactria, on the other hand, whose empire fell around 130 B.C., had previously extended their sphere of influence to northwestern India, where Greek monarchs were able to hold on at least until the end of the 1st century B.C.
In 168 B.C., after a final war, the Romans divided Macedonia into four districts and abolished the Antigonid monarchy; in 148 B.C. they finally transformed it into a Roman province and stationed troops permanently in the region for the first time. The Greek motherland thus also finally came under Roman control; a signal event was the conquest and sacking of Corinth by the general Mummius in 146 B.C. In 133 B.C. the Attalid Empire fell to Rome and soon after became the province of Asia. Around 88 BC, Roman hegemony was challenged for the last time when many Greeks aligned themselves with King Mithridates VI, but he was eventually defeated by Rome. In 63 BC, Pompey”s annexation of Syria eliminated the last remnants of Seleucid rule; in 30 BC, Octavian took Alexandria and incorporated the Ptolemaic Empire, which had in any case been little more than a Roman protectorate since the late 2nd century BC, into the empire. In 27 B.C., Greece was finally placed under direct Roman rule as the province of Achaea, even though some poleis in Hellas and Asia Minor remained externally free. This ended the political independence of Greek states for almost two millennia, and thus also the political history of Hellenism, while the cultural aura of Hellenism remained until late antiquity (see also Byzantine Empire).
The kingship of the Hellenistic rulers stood on two pillars: the succession of Alexander (διαδοχή, diadochē) and acclamation by the armies (the Seleucid rulers, for example, were not kings of Syria, but only kings in Syria; one reason for this may have been that every Hellenistic basileus theoretically laid claim to the entire Alexander Empire, if not to the entire world. In the diadochic empires, there was no separation between sovereign and person. Kingship (basileia) was not a state office but a personal dignity, and the monarch saw the state, which was not conceptually distinct from it, as his affairs (pragmata). Theoretically, all the conquered land was in the king”s possession, which is why he could also transfer it by will to a foreign power such as the Romans (as happened in 133 BC in Pergamon).
Initially, the military successes of the Diadochi in their participation in Alexander”s campaigns were sufficient to provide them with charisma and legitimacy. However, due to the lack of kinship between the Diadochi and the Argeads, a problem of legitimacy arose. Since military excellence was the first means of legitimation, the Diadochi tried to tie in with Alexander”s military genius in an idealistic way as well. Even the possession or burial place of Alexander”s body, for which there was fierce competition, and his insignia of rule, such as his signet ring, served to legitimize him. Above all, however, the cult of personality that had developed around Alexander was promoted by the Diadochi in order to legitimize their own position of power. The problem of legitimacy intensified in the second generation. Therefore, in the course of a strategic marriage policy with the female members of the Argeads, genealogy was used as a central means of legitimation. In some cases, relationships with the Macedonian ruling house or a sonship with God were simply invented. For example, the rumor arose that Ptolemy was a half-brother of Alexander. Overall, the changes of throne rarely went smoothly; competing pretenders to the throne were often eliminated.
The Diadochi had their portraits, decorated with cultic symbols such as bulls” or rams” horns, placed on the obverse of the coins, where traditionally the portraits of the gods found their place. Ammon horns were already used in the iconography of Alexander the Great and established a connection with the divine sphere. They were adopted by the Diadochi initially for the purpose of their legitimation. However, the cultic worship of the Hellenistic rulers was not demanded by them, at least initially, but was brought to them from outside, by the “free” poleis of Greece. Unlike in Macedonia and in the former territories of the Persian Empire, monarchy was fundamentally rejected in Greece, which forced kings and subjects alike to proceed diplomatically. One way to cast the kings” de facto supremacy into an acceptable form was the ruler cult, through which the poleis could recognize the kings as lords without accepting them de iure as monarchs. Here, one could fall back on precursors from late classical times (e.g., Lysander). For the time being, the rulers were only called “godlike. However, as early as 304 BC, the Rhodians referred to Ptolemy I as a god and called him σωτήρ (Sōtēr, “savior”). The Diadochi apparently accepted such cult acts, related to themselves, rather hesitantly, while the following Hellenistic kings deliberately pushed the ruler cult, also in order to pursue dynasty formation. After precursors under the first two Antigonids, the typical Hellenistic ruler cult began on a broad front under their successors. A distinction must be made between the centrally imposed dynastic cult of the Ptolemies and late Seleucids and the cultic veneration enjoyed by many kings in the Greek poleis, to whom they in turn acted as euergetes.
Hans-Joachim Gehrke in particular, drawing on Max Weber”s sociology, has interpreted the Hellenistic monarchy as a strongly charismatic form of rule in which victoriness and personal success were decisive for the legitimacy of the king. The ruler”s costume was that of a Macedonian commander, supplemented by the diadem, and many kings went into battle personally, with the corresponding consequences: 12 of the first 14 Seleucid rulers died in battle. More recently, it has been pointed out that it became increasingly difficult to live up to this claim in late Hellenism. These interpretations, however, have not gone unchallenged; some scholars consider them to be true at best for the Diadochi, others not at all.
The diadochi and their successors ruled by means of written decrees, which were formulated as letters (ἐπιστολή, epistolē) or ordinances (πρόσταγμα, prostagma). The official responsible for these decrees was called epistoliagraphos. The ruler was advised by a body of friends (φίλοι, philoi) and relatives (συγγενεῖς, syngeneis). Various court offices, especially in the fiscal sphere, were held by eunuchs. Probably the most important office was that of steward (διοικητής, dioikētēs), who was responsible for administration, economy, and finance. One can already speak of an “absolutist” state at the time of the Diadochi. The form of rule of the Hellenistic empires gained decisive influence on the younger Greek tyranny, the Carthaginians and the Roman Empire.
The territorial structure of the diadochic empires still goes back to Alexander the Great himself, who had essentially retained the administrative division of the Persian Empire. The royal lands administered by strategists and satraps comprised most of Alexander”s empire. Alexander had handed over the military powers of the native satraps to Macedonian strategists, who after his death gradually took over the entire administrative work of their gaue (νόμοι, nomoi). The strategists were now also responsible for settlement and justice, and were assisted by a royal scribe (βασιλικὸς γραμματεύς, basilikos grammateus).
One is particularly well informed about the conditions in the Ptolemaic Empire, which, however, was partly a special case. Here, the king could assign parts of the royal land, which was subdivided into districts (τόποι, topoi) and villages (κώμαι, kōmai), or the income from them to his subjects. Gau administration found its final form in the 3rd century B.C. under Ptolemy III. (246-221). The outlying possessions did not belong to the king”s land with its Gau structure. They formed a separate type of territory, but were also under the control of strategists. The external possessions of the Ptolemaic Empire included Cyrene, parts of Syria and Asia Minor, Cyprus, and the coasts of the Red and Indian Seas.
In the Seleucid Empire, the outlying possessions were organized somewhat differently; depending on their size and political system, they were called peoples (ἔθνη, ethnē), cities (πόλεις, poleis), or kingdoms (δυναστεία, dynasteia). These enclaves, which were not under the direct administration of the diadochal ruler, persisted in this form until the end of Hellenism. However, some of them became independent over time, especially on the periphery of the Seleucid Empire. In the third great Hellenistic empire, Macedonia, the Antigonids drew more heavily on older traditions than the other monarchs.
More than their structure, the administration of the Diadochan empires has influenced posterity. As a rule, it was centralized and organized by professional officials. This civil service was not an invention of Greek polar culture, but was in the tradition of the Achaimenid and Pharaonic empires. In ancient Greece, something comparable existed only in the private estate administration. Like the employees of an estate were dependent on its owner, the officials of the Hellenistic rulers were dependent on their king, who appointed, paid, promoted, and dismissed them. The administration of the diadochi laid the foundation for the finely chiseled and personnel-intensive bureaucracy of the Hellenistic period, although native officials were rarely admitted to higher offices. These were usually filled by Macedonians or Greeks.
For most Greeks who settled in the motherland, in Asia Minor, in the Black Sea region or in Lower Italy, the polis remained the most important social and legal organizational framework during Hellenism. The view widespread in older research that the great age of the poleis came to an end with the Greek classical period is no longer held today; rather, at least early Hellenism is now regarded as a golden age of cities. Many originally non-Greek towns also began to organize themselves as poleis. Alexander and the Diadochi had also founded numerous new poleis, especially in the Near East, some of which were based on the Greek model and others on the less autonomous Macedonian model, because the urban elites represented important instruments for the monarchs to be able to exercise their rule in the area in a direct or indirect way. While some cities were also de iure subject to a king, others were considered free. But even large poleis such as Athens, Sparta, Corinth, Ephesus or Taranto now had trouble maintaining their foreign policy independence. In some cases, however, they were able to try to maintain a large degree of autonomy in the area of tension between the great powers by acting skilfully; the polis of Rhodes in particular was quite successful in this respect for a long time. As in the Archaic and Classical periods, they were often threatened by internal conflicts (stasis ice), which sometimes escalated into civil wars.
Economically, many cities flourished during Hellenism, as evidenced by numerous public buildings to this day. It is disputed how long democratic forms of government were able to survive in the majority of Hellenistic poleis. Most ancient historians currently assume that in many places the decisive break in this respect did not occur until the middle of the 2nd century B.C., when the Romans had established their hegemony over the Greek East; others assume that most cities had already been dominated by a wealthy upper class since the 4th century, which is particularly visible in the context of euergetism. It is undisputed that in the course of Hellenism there was an aristocratization, as a result of which, at the latest in the imperial period, the poleis were no longer ruled by the people”s assembly, but by the oligarchic elite assembled in the city council, which visibly took on the character of a hereditary nobility.
Most Hellenistic poleis were too small to assert their freedom of action against the great powers on their own. With the late Greek city federations or federal states (κοινά, koina), another form of government developed alongside the Hellenistic kingdoms, especially in mainland Greece, out of older cult and fighting federations. Its most important representatives were the Aitolian League in northwestern Greece and the Achaian League in the Peloponnese. These confederations originally formed mostly in economically and culturally underdeveloped areas that were not dominated by a powerful polis such as Athens or Thebes; however, under Hellenism, the confederations became central to Greek politics and even stood up to the kings. The Arcadian League, which merged into the Achaian League in the 3rd century, established its own federal capital, Megalopolis, to avoid falling under the domination of one member. Other federated republics chose ancient places of worship as meeting places for their councils; the Aitolian federation, for example, chose the sanctuary of Apollo at Thermos, which was also a means of strengthening the cohesion of the federation. In addition, there was the (often fictitious) claim to be connected to each other through common ancestors.
The Greek federal states consisted of several, formally mostly independent poleis, which had delegated their foreign policy and military powers to superior bodies in whose bodies they were represented by delegates. As a rule, there was a common army and institutions such as a federal assembly, council and magistracies, and sometimes a common currency and units of measurement. However, the internal autonomy of individual cities was in principle preserved as long as they did not violate covenant allegiance or fall under the rule of tyrants (though the accusation of tyranny was probably sometimes only a pretext to justify intervention). Some “tyrants” therefore voluntarily resigned and sought a career at the federal level. The former tyrant Aratos of Sikyon was even eight times strategist (federal field commander) of the Achaian League. Otherwise, the federation generally interfered in the internal affairs of the cities only exceptionally; it did, however, oppose radical social reforms and attempts at subversion and intervened in a balancing manner in conflicts between its members, for example by sending arbitrators as mediators of disputes to prevent stasis ice.
A typical feature of the Hellenistic koina was a common federal or civic law, which, however, did not replace the polis civic law. The overarching political authority was a federal assembly, whose powers varied from confederation to confederation and which also elected, as a rule, annually changing federal officials, who were responsible for representing the confederation externally and for commanding the common army. The federations often tried to expand their sphere of power and certainly used force; an example is the attempt of the Achaian League to integrate Sparta against the will of many citizens. If a polis tried to leave a confederation, this was sometimes stopped by force.
The Koina reached their peak in the late 3rd century B.C. In the course of the 2nd century, the Greek confederations then gradually fell under Roman control, although some still existed after the end of the Hellenistic period, such as the Lycian Confederation in Asia Minor, which was still responsible for rites under Roman suzerainty and served as a mouthpiece for the Lycian poleis vis-à-vis Roman authorities. The historian Polybios, whose father Lycortas had been one of the leading politicians of the Achaian League, idealized this League in his work and saw in it the completion of “true” democracy (i.e. controlled by aristocrats like him). Modern state theory long held a similarly positive view of the Hellenistic koina; Montesquieu, for example, called the Lycian League an ideal federal republic, and the ancient historian Karl Julius Beloch called the late Greek federal republics “the most accomplished creation in the political field that the Hellenes and antiquity ever managed.” Only in more recent research has the power-political reality behind the noble claims of the federal states been more clearly identified.
The federal states of the Hellenistic period, whose actual heyday lasted only a few decades, thus gained decisive influence on posterity. Even the fathers of the American constitution based their drafting on Polybios” and Strabon”s accounts of it. The Koina were considered the best way to organize pre-modern territorial states without a monarchical center. The capital of the United States, Washington, like the Achaian megalopolis, was therefore also refounded specifically for this purpose, after the American Congress had previously met alternately in different cities.
The army was of fundamental importance, especially for the Diadochan empires. It can basically be divided into three major groups: the Macedonian guard (ἄγημα, agēma), which consisted of hoplites and horsemen, the Greek-Macedonian phalanx of heavy-armed men, and a growing number of foreign mercenaries, most of whom were loyal, but who could not always be relied upon, especially in the late period, if they did not receive their pay on time.
From the Macedonian army assembly (ἐκκλησία πάνδημος, ekklēsia pandēmos), the Hellenistic armies had assumed four tasks in particular, in addition to national defense: the proclamation or confirmation of a king (acclamation), the appointment of guardians for minor kings, the recognition of royal wills, and the condemnation of political opponents of the ruler. In the diadochal period, among others, Ptolemy had Eumenes, Kassandros had Olympias, and finally Antigonos had Kassandros condemned by the army. However, the influence of the army, which was still very great at this time, declined more and more, and later only the garrisons of the capitals were able to impose their will on the political leadership. Nevertheless, the military commander-in-chief (χιλίαρχος, chiliarchos) remained the second man in the state next to the dioikētēs.
An estimate of the size of these armies is provided by Appian, among others, who reports that the Ptolemaic Empire had 200,000 foot soldiers, 40,000 horsemen, 300 war elephants, 2,000 chariots, 1,500 large and 2,000 small warships. However, the exact numbers are hard to determine, as ancient historians often exaggerated in this regard. Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that the Hellenistic armies, compared to the armies of the classical period, were formidable. The figures for the battles of Ipsos (301 B.C.), Raphia (217 B.C.) and Magnesia (190 B.C.), which are a good 70,000 soldiers per side, may well be realistic.
Hellenism also saw the introduction of some new types of weapons. The use of war elephants goes back to Seleucus, who kept 500 Indian elephants in Apameia, which he had received from the Maurya king Chandragupta. In addition, camels, armored horsemen (κατάφρακτοι, kataphraktoi), and siege engines were used on a large scale for the first time, with siege technology making tremendous advances. Most poleis were no longer capable of independent campaigns during Hellenism, but precisely because of the constant threat of siege, many cities endeavored to provide military training for their citizens.
Demetrios Poliorketes, the son of Antigonos, had huge capital ships built with up to sixteen rows of oarsmen and thus gave important impetus to the navy. The size of warships grew unusually fast in the Diadochian period. The largest ships in Alexander the Great”s Euphrates fleet had only five rows, but by the time of the Battle of Ipsos in 301 B.C., Demetrios was having thirteen-row ships built. The sixteen-row Hekkaidekere (ἑκκαιδεκήρης) then marked the culmination of ship development focused on practical utility. The twenty-, thirty-, and forty-row ships built later by the Ptolemies, on the other hand, were probably pure showpieces, built only in very small numbers.
Already the Diadochi had a standing army that was mobile and constantly ready for action. In times of war, it was supplemented by a large number of military settlers (κάτοικοι κληροῦχοι, katoikoi klērouchoi), who were settled in cities by Seleucus and in villages by Ptolemy. With the system of military settlers, the Hellenistic rulers achieved two goals at the same time: On the one hand, their pay could be compensated in whole or in part with the proceeds of the land cultivated by the soldiers in peace; on the other hand, they were agricultural laborers during this period and thus taxpayers who helped finance the greatly expanded administration and the constant wars. The military settlers were mostly Greek immigrants and built the new cities founded for them themselves. However, mercenaries were also recruited and – at first only sporadically, in later times regularly – native troops were integrated into the phalanx.
Alexander”s conquests in the East, according to many scholars, freed the Greek world from a crisis into which it had fallen due to overpopulation, impoverishment of the masses, decline of trade, and extreme concentration of wealth in the hands of a few. The conquered territories offered opportunities for emigration and expansion of trade with the Orient. They ushered in a period of prosperity, albeit relatively brief, through intensification of trade and increase in exports, which was admittedly soon disrupted by the diadochal wars.
The empires of the Diadochi pursued a planned economic policy based on an agriculture that was organized down to the last detail. In Seleucid Babylonia, the Macedonians introduced viticulture, and Egypt, with the help of modern cultivation methods, became the most important exporter of grain in the eastern Mediterranean. For the Ptolemaic Empire, whose ruler received about one third of the agricultural yield, papyrus finds suggest a genuine state planned economy. The principle of this economic system, which still goes back to the pharaohs, is summed up in a papyrus from Tebtunis:
By eliminating corruption, economic idleness and often chaotic private initiatives, Egypt became the most prosperous country and the Ptolemaic king the richest man in the ancient world. He benefited not least from the inclusion of the rich temple districts, which had previously formed a kind of state within a state. His capital, Alexandria, remained the largest trading center in the then known world until the time of the Roman Emperor Augustus.
The minting of coins was also under the control of the king. At first, the Attic coinage foot was the basis of the Hellenistic monetary system; later, the Ptolemaic Empire, whose second most important port was the Phoenician city of Tyros, switched to the Phoenician coinage foot. In circulation were coins of gold for foreign policy purposes, of silver for the Greek-born subjects, and of bronze for the use of the natives. Money exchange, like banking as a whole, was in the hands of the state. In Egypt, the royal state bank (βασιλικὴ τράπεζα, basilikē trapeza) handled foreign monetary transactions through its headquarters in Alexandria and domestic payments through numerous branches throughout the empire. The bank on the island of Delos was also of international importance. All banking transactions were documented in writing using the accounting system developed in Athens.
The royal warehouses (θησαυροί, thēsauroi) also played an important role in the economic life of the Hellenistic monarchies. In addition to trading in kind, such as grain, they also offered numerous financial services. The revenues of the warehouses, together with the proceeds of the crown estates, which were managed by an idiologos (ἰδιολόγος), customs duties, and taxes collected by tax tenants (τελώναι, telōnai), formed the basis of the state budget. This included as its most important items court maintenance, payment of soldiers and officials, fleet construction, and foreign policy expenditures such as tribute. Tax evasion was punished by imprisonment or sale into slavery.
In the area of trade, private entrepreneurs were given more leeway. However, this was limited by extensive monopoly regulations. The state was responsible for basic foodstuffs such as oil, salt, fish, beer, honey and dates, the production of papyrus, textiles, glass and luxury articles, transportation and foreign trade. The Hellenistic states protected their own economies by imposing tariffs of up to 50 percent and achieved considerable foreign trade surpluses, not least by expanding their eastern trade. The Seleucids profited from their favorable location on the Silk Road and constantly expanded their transport routes and ports. The Seleucid empire”s most important export was slaves. Since there was little need for slavery in their own country due to serfdom, captives from conquered cities were sold to Greece and Italy. However, due to the rise of Rome, trade flows gradually shifted from the second half of the 2nd century BC onwards: goods produced in the Orient were now mostly shipped directly to Italy, bypassing Greece.
The Diadochian empires had quite large populations by ancient standards: the population of the Seleucid Empire is estimated at thirty million, that of the Ptolemaic Empire at about eight million. At the same time, the states of the Hellenistic period were characterized by two major contrasts: the division into nationalities and the separation into social classes.
The more significant contrast was that between Greeks and Orientals. Philon of Alexandria attests to the existence of a two-class society: Egyptians were chastised with the whip, Greeks merely with the stick. The Diadochi largely abandoned the equality of the two groups promoted by Alexander and soon imposed a separation between native and Greek officials. Seleucus withdrew the military supreme command from native satraps in favor of Greek strategists, and Ptolemy dispensed with natives altogether in building his military and administrative apparatus, allowing them to bear political responsibility only at the level of village marshals. It fits into this picture of an apartheid society that mixed marriages were forbidden and that each population group was subject to its own law. Lawsuits between people of different ethnic groups were heard in special courts. The ethnic contrast between immigrants and Orientals was thus even greater and more significant than that between slaves and freemen. However, no more than one percent of the population was of Greek origin.
The Diadochi and their successors wanted to strengthen the Greek element in their states and therefore favored immigrants, hundreds of thousands of whom arrived over time. Greeks entered the royal service as soldiers or civil servants and settled in the Greek cities of the East, where they were immediately granted citizenship even as private citizens, as merchants, tradesmen, or as peasants (Cataeans) obliged to serve in the war, for which they received an allotment of land. Galatians and Jews were also admitted to the army, and the cities also accepted Jews and Phoenicians. Among the immigrant Greeks, differences soon leveled out: local traditions receded and an all-Greek lingua franca emerged, the κοινή, koinē. Its importance is shown by the fact that the Old Testament was translated into this language and the New was even written in it. The development of a high Greek language in the time of Hellenism thus laid the foundation, as it were, for the later spread of Christianity.
The Macedonians remained culturally independent for the longest time. However, the term “Macedonian” soon became a status term and was later used even by Jews. Belonging to the Greek culture was the goal of many Orientals. Thus Manetho, who drew up the list of pharaohs, referred to the progenitors of Greeks and Egyptians as brothers, and King Pyrrhos of Epirus traced his rule back to Achilles. Even the Romans, before Seleukos, invoked an alleged blood relationship through their legendary Trojan ancestors. Thereby the word of the philosopher Isokrates was generally valid. This had explained:
In the long run, this facilitated the mixing of Greeks and Orientals, despite the rigid separation of ethnic groups. In the Nile Valley, the Greeks were Egyptianized and the Egyptians Hellenized. Ptolemy was particularly accommodating toward the Fellahs, probably primarily to prevent possible revolts. In any case, the prosperity of the Egyptian peasants increased at times during the early Diadochan period to the point where a Fellah earned more than a Greek laborer on Delos. In Mesopotamia, only limited Hellenization occurred. The only exception was Seleucia-Ctesiphon, where only Greeks were granted citizenship. But already towards the end of the 2nd century B.C. hardly any Greek names are found in Mesopotamia.
Social stratification played a much smaller role than the contrast between the various nationalities. At first, there was no nobility in the true sense of the word. The Greeks had just immigrated and could thus hardly flaunt the achievements of their ancestors, and the importance of the native nobility, which still existed at first, especially in Persia, quickly declined. This was also in the interest of the Hellenistic rulers, whose civil service depended on offices being awarded according to ability and not birth. For this reason, ranks conferred by the king were not initially hereditary. Instead, a bourgeoisie grew rich through long-distance trade, especially in the Seleucid empire.
Slaves, too, were probably less numerous and also less important in most parts of the Hellenistic world than in other ancient states. At least for Egypt, it can be assumed with some certainty that slavery was of minor economic and social importance, but the number of slaves in the Seleucid Empire is difficult to determine. Farm labor was performed by fellahs, the laoi, who were not legally considered slaves. Marriages between free and unfree were relatively common. Apart from temple slaves (ἱεροδοῦλοι, hierodules), there were slaves mainly in the private households of wealthy Greeks, so they were hardly involved in production. They were considered luxury goods and therefore were subject to a special tax. The free purchase of slaves became common only around 200 BC. Prisoners of war in slave status, on the other hand, already occurred under the Diadochi. These worked mainly in royal quarries and mines. Several slave revolts are attested for Hellenism, among them in Sicily and Attica.
The position of women was relatively good in Hellenistic times compared to Classical times. They gained the right to run businesses independently and to testify in court on their own behalf. Also, all levels of schooling were accessible to them. Women attended the gymnasium, were active as poets or philosophers, and organized themselves into their own associations. As inscriptions from Asia Minor, Sparta and Cyrene show, women made a name for themselves through endowments and assumed political offices. In Delphi and Priene, women even held office as archons. In addition, important women were granted citizenship of foreign cities. Women from the royal family, such as Arsinoë II, the daughter of Ptolemy, and later Cleopatra, even actively intervened in politics. However, newborn girls were still abandoned far more frequently than boys. This fate, however, rarely struck the daughters of slave girls, since unfree women were generally coveted as luxury goods.
The Diadochi allowed their subjects to worship native gods. They tended to recognize their own cults and deities in the foreign religions of Asia and Egypt. Probably the most momentous innovation in religious policy was the introduction of the syncretic cult of Sarapis by Ptolemy. Sarapis was a fusion of the Egyptian gods Osiris and Apis and the Greek father of the gods Zeus. At the same time he borrowed from Dionysus and Hades. Thus, according to the Interpretatio Graeca, other Greek and Oriental gods were increasingly equated, for example, the harvest goddess Demeter with Isis, the wife of Osiris. These new syncretic gods were no longer bound to any polis or homeland; they immediately experienced international veneration. Thus, the cult of Sarapis spread throughout the Aegean. The initiation and redemption cults, which were based on the Egyptian model, formed supra-regional brotherhoods, precursors of the churches, which spread throughout the entire Mediterranean region. To the Syrian influence one must count the spreading of the Adonis cult in Hellenized form. Phrygia contributed the cult of the Great Mother Kybele, and even Yahweh appeared in the form of Sabazios, a figure of Dionysius.
While Seleucus granted the places of worship their own legal status and allowed them self-government organized through temple assemblies (ἐκκλησία, ekklēsia) and cult associations, Ptolemy attempted to integrate the rich sanctuaries of Egypt into his administrative apparatus. The Ptolemies had themselves co-worshipped as σύνναοι θεοί (synnaoi theoi) in the temples and appointed the priests themselves. Greek supervisory officials took charge of the temple economy, and even Greek priests occurred. The revenues of the temples were taxed and their right of asylum restricted, but the cult itself remained largely in its pre-Hellenistic form.
It was not only in Egypt that the Diadochi enjoyed divine honors. A hymn to Demetrios, the son of Antigonos, written on the occasion of his return to Athens, which he occupied, in about 291, gives a rare insight into the accompanying rhetoric:
The Ptolemies, the Seleucids, and later the Attalids introduced a dynastic cult, which was prescribed throughout the empire, in addition to such honors by the poleis, some of which were spontaneous, but most of which were agreed upon with the ruler. Already in 324 Alexander asked the Greek cities to worship him as the son of Zeus. Alexander had already celebrated his return from India with a lavish feast (komos) in imitation of the Dionysus myth. Dionysus himself was to play an important role in the Hellenistic ruler cult in the following period. His traits allowed him to incorporate all sorts of Thracian, Asiatic, and Egyptian elements, especially those of the gods who died young and were resurrected and offered as expiatory sacrifices for the salvation of mankind and then triumphed over death. Under Ptolemy XII, the cult was so dominant in Egypt that the king was given the epithet Neos Dionysos.
The Diadochi also continued the Alexander cult, which followed the Dionysus myth and whose center in Ptolemaic Egypt was Alexander”s tomb (σῆμα, sēma) in Alexandria. In addition, they promoted legends about their own divine ancestry. Soon there was general circulation that Heracles was the ancestor of the Ptolemies and Apollo the progenitor of the Seleucids. While there was no cultic worship of the ruler in Macedonia, it was soon practiced on a grand scale in the other two empires. With the Ptolemies there was a dynastic cult already very early (under Ptolemy II), while in the Seleucid empire corresponding steps were probably only initiated under Antiochos III. In the course of this, the institution of the chief priest (ἀρχιερεύς, archiereus), which was soon taken over by the Ptolemies, came into being. In addition to administrative tasks, which are not known in detail, the ruler”s cult also fell within his area of responsibility. Festivals modeled on the Olympic Games were held regularly in honor of the Hellenistic rulers, attracting guests from all over the world. However, with the exception of Isis, the acceptance of foreign gods in superficially Hellenized Mesopotamia was less than in other parts of the Seleucid empire.
Thus, in Hellenistic times, Greek-Macedonian concepts of the world of the gods met local Oriental cults, resulting in specific mutual influences in each case. The polytheistic attitude of the monarchs made coexistence possible. The largest Jewish community outside Jerusalem was formed in Alexandria. According to uncertain (since Jewish apologetic) news, however, the Jews in Alexandria formed their own politeuma with certain privileges. Also in Hellenistic times, work began on the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament. The oldest extra-biblical account of the Exodus comes from the Aegyptiaca of Hecataeus of Abdera (c. 300 BC). Written in the court of Ptolemy, he reports that the Jews were driven out of Egypt during a plague and led to Judea by their wise lawgiver (the biblical Moses?). The writings of Hecataios apparently also influenced Manetho, who wrote similarly about the origin of the Jews. All in all, the Jews were subjected to a process of Hellenization, which, thanks in part to the support of Seleucus and the first Seleucids, led to extensive equality with the Greeks. Thus Hellenistic Judaism came into being.
The new oriental religions of initiation and salvation with their mystical-orgiastic cults became more and more important in the Diadochi empires over time, displacing both the Olympian gods of the Greeks and rational thought. At times, mysticism even threatened public order. Economic activity also flagged. Faced with declining political freedom for the polis citizens, heavy taxation, and permanent wars and civil strife – Babylon was conquered nine times by foreign armies in the 2nd century B.C. alone – people turned to magic, astrology, and private patron gods, with the desire to influence their fate (Tyche) at least in some small way. Religion became a private matter, only the ruler cult remained as a unifying element. This development prepared the ground for the spread of Christianity, another of the Eastern religions of salvation, which promised more inwardness because they seemed foreign and exotic.
The Diadochian period ushered in the upswing in science and technology of the Hellenistic era, from which modern times were to benefit. The Alexander campaign was already accompanied by surveyors whose records were of great importance for geography. Hellenism saw the emergence of some of the most important philosophical currents (see, for example, Stoa, Epicureanism and Peripatos), while mathematics, art and medicine also continued to develop during this productive period.
Since the time of the Diadochi, Alexandria with its Museion and the associated Library of Alexandria became the center of Greek scholarship, with the patronage policy of the Ptolemies playing a major role. Located in the palace district of the city, the Museion can be most closely compared to a modern-day university. With its lecture hall, the ambulatory inviting to philosophical discussions and the common dining hall of the local philologists, it formed a scientific and cultural center. Under the direction of a head priest, natural sciences and medicine were taught in addition to philosophy. Geographical mathematics reached its full development here, as well as important contributions to philosophy and astronomy. The physicians of Alexandria, namely Herophilos and Erasistratos, were the first to venture into a comprehensive study of human anatomy and dissected executed persons for this purpose. Eratosthenes also worked here. Like the other scientists, literary figures and artists of the time, he benefited from the fact that he was free to choose his place of work. Thus, an international class of scholars emerged, which soon challenged the ridicule of satirists. In a bon mot recorded in Athenaios (22d), they are compared to birds that fattened themselves in the cage of the Museion and amused the king with their bickering.
The library attached to the Museion contained up to 500,000 rolls. Especially Ptolemy II, the son and successor of Ptolemy, took care of it in order to increase his prestige. He had the writings of the Greeks, Chaldeans, Egyptians, Romans and Jews collected, acquired the library of the philosopher Aristotle, who had died at the beginning of the Diadochian Wars, and bought more books, especially in Athens and Rhodes. Kallimachos wrote the first library catalog, and the first library director was Zenodotos of Ephesus. The great library of Alexandria aroused the ambition of the rulers of Pergamum, which was just breaking away from the Seleucid Empire. They too began to collect books and have them copied. They circumvented the export ban on papyrus (chartae) imposed by Ptolemy II by using the new type of parchment.
Even though the capital of the Ptolemies was developed by them according to plan into the cultural center of the Hellenistic world, the other cities were not neglected. The Greek motherland in particular was repeatedly donated by the Diadochi. Seleukos returned the library of Peisistratos, which had been kidnapped from Athens by the Persian Great King Xerxes I 200 years earlier. In order to influence the Greek public in their favor, the diadochi supported the poleis financially through endowment and through buildings such as the Olympieion in Athens. This superficial support of cultural life and the financial situation of the cities contrasted with their far-reaching political disempowerment. Urban self-government was preserved only internally. Foreign policy, the military and taxes were now the responsibility of the diadochal rulers, who nevertheless treated the cities relatively gently. Thus, culture and science were able to develop in them during the Hellenistic period in a way that made Hellenism the modern era of antiquity.
The astronomical work of Eudoxus of Knidos († 352 BC) was continued in the 3rd century by Aristarchus († 230 BC), who founded the heliocentric world view and recognized the rotation of the Earth, and by Eratosthenes († 202 BC), who calculated its circumference and created the system of longitudes. Already at the time of Alexander, Pytheas sailed the North Sea and discovered Britain. Ptolemy II, the son of the Diadochus Ptolemy, sent envoys to India and had the interior of Africa explored. Many advances were also made in the field of technology, which enabled Archimedes and Heron of Alexandria to make their significant inventions a few decades later. Already at the time of the Diadochi, Demetrios Poliorketes had a siege machine known as Helepolis (ἑλέπολις) constructed, with which he attacked Rhodes.
In general, it can be said that Hellenistic literature moved within the framework of already known genres (drama, elegy, epigram, epic, hymn, lyric, etc.), but developed and reshaped them.
The literature of Hellenism has produced some remarkable works. The writings of Kallimachos, the most important Alexandrian poet, and his disciples, among them Apollonios of Rhodes, who wrote his famous work on the Argonaut saga (Ἀργοναυτικά, Argonautika), a mixture of heroic and love poetry, are especially noteworthy. The poets gathered in the Museion of Alexandria cultivated a courtly style and a l”art-pour-l”art aesthetic; they were kept out at court, indeed led on a “gang-gang”, and their work appears quite remote from society. The Sicilian Theocritus was the creator of the genre of bucolic poetry, that is, pastoral poems, which in him still bear witness to a deep sense of nature.
While Attic comedy was primarily political and social satire with a schematic plot, Hellenistic comedy brought characters to the stage. Love became the main driving force of the entanglements. Comedy thus brought to the stage feelings and situations that had not been literary until then. Menander was especially important in this field, serving as ephebe in Athens together with the philosopher Epicurus. Only a few plays by him have survived; however, the types he designed entered modern European literature via Latin literature and reappear in Molière.
Only the novel (adventure, love, travel novel) is considered an original development of the Hellenistic period. Unlike the older genres, it is written in prose, which indicates reader reception instead of public performance and thus the spread of a private book culture in the cities. The romantically transfigured Alexander Romance enjoyed great popularity until modern times. In the Middle Ages, it was even the most widely read book after the Bible and was read from Europe to Southeast Asia. Likewise, the works of the Alexander historians enjoyed great popularity.
Most of the Hellenistic historiography was already lost during antiquity, as it later failed to meet the tastes of the public, making it difficult to reconstruct the history of events. The most important exception is Polybios, of whose work, written in the 2nd century BC and covering the years 220 to 146, larger parts have been preserved. He is considered one of the most important historians of antiquity. Then, at the very end of the period, around 50 B.C., Diodorus wrote a universal history, significant sections of which have also been preserved. The works of most of the other Hellenistic historians can only be grasped through direct and indirect quotations from authors of the imperial period, such as Plutarch, Arrian, Appian, Athenaios and Cassius Dio.
The process of transformation in literature was fostered by a new form of public education, such as public schools and, above all, the extensive library system of the Hellenistic period. The aforementioned libraries enabled scholars and writers for the first time on a broad basis to draw upon and engage with material that had already been analyzed. This, however, spread a philological mindset oriented to genres and styles of the past, which hindered creativity. Literature thus became more and more a matter for experts.
The philosophical thought of the 3rd century BC was characterized above all by the attempt to arm people, especially the wise, inwardly against the spreading insecurity, against wars, revolts, catastrophes and consequences of the numerous banishments. This is true for the work of Epicurus and Zeno as well as for that of their schools. If Athens remained the city of philosophers, Stoicism in particular, with its deterministic worldview, was valued in Alexandria; it gave a philosophical, “rational” justification to kingship. Although some Seleucid kings took their cue from Epicurus, the latter”s work seems to have been less popular because he “only” required kings to guarantee security and peace. The custom of kings to have philosophers accompany them as advisors and quasi-confessors and to entrust them with the education of princes in the Museion created a good living for the discipline and contributed significantly to the preservation and wide dissemination of philosophical thought, but proved detrimental to theoretical thought because it led to a preference for practical (moral) philosophy.
Subsequently, various currents of philosophy, natural sciences, and philology merged in the Alexandrian School until many Greek and Jewish scholars were expelled from Alexandria under Ptolemy VIII in 145 BCE.
Hellenism also changed the framework for the art and architecture of the Greeks. Alexander the Great and, after him, the Hellenistic rulers founded a multitude of cities according to geometric plans, which required temples, gymnasiums, theaters and squares and thus offered rich opportunities for architects and artisans to develop. Their residences became centers of a courtly art centered on the ruler himself. Pergamon is a particularly impressive example of such a residential city. But the urban upper classes were also increasingly concerned about their posthumous fame and had their work documented by honorary statues. The houses of the rich lost their unadorned, outwardly closed form; numerous villa-like variants in peristyle construction developed.
The orientation of the cities to the needs of the residences on the one hand, and to those of the growing long-distance trade on the other, led to the depoliticization of the cities. Theaters and agora lost their function as places of popular assemblies; especially in the Syrian cities, trade spread instead in more and more porticoes along the main streets and later in covered porticoes – the precursors of the later souqs (only Alexandria remained an outpost of Greece in a foreign environment.
The spreading wealth created a large market for art, including small arts and crafts such as small house altars, decorative wall paintings, etc. One of the essential features of Hellenistic art is its mass commercial production in large workshops of sculptors, painters, decorators, chasers or goldsmiths. For example, Alexander”s court sculptor, Lysippos, became known for his tremendous productivity while maintaining the highest attention to detail.
The art of the Hellenistic period differed from its predecessors primarily in its intensive engagement with the Orient and the barbarians. Mixed forms between Greek and Oriental art developed, for example in eastern Iran. At the same time, sculpture in particular was characterized by an increased striving for realism, which also included the closer observation of nature and the depiction of the lower classes, which had received little attention in the classical period, and which sometimes crossed over into the grotesque. At the same time, Hellenistic art was increasingly freighted with symbols, such as depictions of putti.
Important features of Hellenistic art are expressionistic stylistic elements and pathetic motifs (examples: The Drunken Old Woman and Barberine Faun, both in the Glyptothek) as well as a reaching out of the figures into space. This is particularly evident in the dramatic figuration of the Pergamenian sculptors. Jacob Burckhardt coined the term Pergamenian Baroque for the moving, emotional style of these sculptures.
The most outstanding works of Hellenistic art are: the Gaulish anathemas of Attalus I (handed down in Roman copies, known are the Dying Gaul and the Gaul who kills his wife), the Pergamon Altar in Berlin, the Nike of Samothrace, the Aphrodite of Melos (also Venus of Milo, both in the Louvre) and, as one of the last great artistic creations of Hellenism, the Laocoon group in Rome.
In addition, supporting the ruler”s self-portrayal was an important function of Hellenistic art. The use of divine attributes emphasized the monarch”s prominent position and victoriousness. However, this by no means always implied idealization. Their individual character traits were also emphasized more strongly on coins, for example.
Hellenism continued to have an impact even after the end of the Hellenistic monarchies in 30 BC. The most significant effect was certainly the Hellenization of the Orient that began with Alexander the Great”s conquest of Persia and the associated development of a Greek-influenced civilization that would characterize the area of the former Alexander Empire until the Islamic expansion in the 7th century. Although some Greeks already lived in the Near East before Alexander, this development was intensified by Alexander”s campaign. In Syria, Asia Minor and Egypt, Greek was still the main language of communication centuries after the dissolution of the Diadochi empires. The Greek influence on the Roman Empire should also not be underestimated. Although the Roman Empire gained political dominance over the Hellenistic world, it not only left the latter with cultural autonomy, but also opened itself up to Greek culture. Knowledge of Greek language and literature became the hallmark of the educated Roman.
Although there were still numerous democratically constituted poleis in Hellenistic times, in political terms Hellenism marked the beginning of the victory of monarchy over the polis democracy of the classical period, the last significant manifestation of which were the federal states of the Hellenistic period. The Roman Empire, too, eventually changed from a republic to a monarchy, partly by adopting Hellenistic forms of rule, which over the centuries became more and more similar to the kingship of the Diadochi empires, without ever completely losing its peculiar character. Hellenism also continued to have an effect in the religious sphere. Oriental cults such as the cult of Mithras, which often took on syncretic forms under Greek influence, spread throughout the Roman Empire. Hellenism also gained considerable early influence on Judaism and the Christianity that developed from it – the apostle Paul of Tarsus was a thoroughly Hellenized Jew, and the language of the New Testament and most of the early church fathers was also Greek. Christianity became the Roman state religion in the late 4th century and later spread worldwide. Thus, it was probably the most influential legacy of Hellenism.
From antiquity until the 19th century, Hellenism was generally viewed quite negatively. For Plutarch, freedom ended with the death of Demosthenes in 322 BC and thus at the beginning of this period. Accordingly, the Diadochic period marked the end of Greek classicism and thus the beginning of Hellenism, which was perceived as a process of decay. In late antiquity, under increasing Christian influence, Hellenism”s cultural achievements were held in such low esteem that most of the Hellenistic literature was lost. However, it was usually overlooked that the canonization of the so-called classical period did not take place until Hellenism and that the term itself did not emerge until Roman times. Likewise, it was not taken into account that the internal autonomy of the Greek poleis remained and that their freedom of action in foreign policy was only restricted to such an extent that they were no longer able to wage war against each other.
The positive appreciation of the period of Hellenism goes back mainly to the historian Johann Gustav Droysen in the 19th century, who called and formulated Hellenism as the modern period of antiquity:
Droysen, who understood the Hellenistic era as a necessary precondition for the emergence of Christianity, opposed the idealization of the classical period and believed that the Diadochi had made a successful attempt to overcome the particularistic system of polis (although the polis admittedly continued to be an important administrative unit) and to truly encompass large countries politically and economically through central planning. The assessment of the diadochic empires as parts of a comparatively modern, urban world civilization characterized by an economic boom, technical progress, mobility, individualism, and the encounter of different cultures goes back to Droysen. In the 20th century, this assessment found general recognition, the writer Gottfried Benn wrote in 1949:
In general, it remains to be noted that no unified assessment of the era has been developed to date. Michael Rostovtzeff concluded in 1941 that despite economic consolidation, the creation of a large unified market, outstanding administrative (in many cases inherited from the Persian Empire) and cultural achievements, and a wealth of agricultural as well as technical innovations, the fundamental conflict of the Hellenistic world, namely that between the Greek polis and the Oriental monarchy, between private initiative and controlled economy, which had arisen as a result of Alexander”s conquests, could not be resolved. The destructive power struggles of the successors to the Diadochi and the intensifying conflict between increasingly wealthy propertied classes and increasingly apathetic working classes would also have contributed to Rome”s easy victory. In the late Hellenistic period, the economic interest of the broad masses had waned; they had increasingly turned to religious cults.
The American historian Peter Green, in his extensive but controversial study From Alexander to Actium in 1990, comes to a rather negative assessment, unlike, for example, Graham Shipley or Hans-Joachim Gehrke, who also presented his history of Hellenism in 1990. In 1995, Alexander Demandt supports Droysen”s assessment and emphasizes the similarities between Hellenism and modernity. According to him, the period of the Diadochan empires stands in a similar relationship to classical and archaic times as modern times do to the Middle Ages and antiquity. He sees similarities in the expansion of living space, the establishment of colonial regimes over technically less developed peoples, scientific and technological progress, the emergence of a world market, and urbanization.
The importance of Hellenism for the development of new forms of foreign policy and diplomacy is largely undisputed. During this period, a system of foreign policy rules emerged that put interstate relations into fixed forms. Ludwig Mitteis noted in 1900 that this system of rules realized the unity of Greek law in the collected scope of Graeco-Macedonian Hellenism. However, this system was accompanied by a lability of the diadochal states, which was related to the fact that almost every diadoch wanted to become a great conqueror in the style of Alexander the Great. According to Tacitus, the Armenian king Tiridates summarized the self-image of a Hellenistic ruler thus:
While the Hellenistic rulers in the period around 300 B.C. primarily defended themselves against an aggressor from their ranks in alliances concluded among themselves, they were later able to turn to the Romans, who in the meantime had become the supreme power in the Mediterranean region. These – and not the Diadochi – finally established the world empire that the immediate successors of Alexander the Great could not realize. The cultural influence of Greek culture, however, remained unbroken.
In large parts a continuous tradition is missing, the source situation to the Hellenism belongs with it in the old history to the most problematic. Historians are dependent on fragments (such as those of Hieronymos of Kardia) or on the incompletely preserved writings of ancient historians (Polybios, Diodor), papyri (especially from Egypt), coins, inscriptions, and archaeological sources. For this reason, many facts are disputed, even if on the whole a framework is in place, which, however, raises complex questions of detail.
Hellenism is considered to be the period of Greek antiquity most conducive to writing. The Diadochi collected the works of contemporary authors in their libraries in Alexandria, Antioch and Pella. Nevertheless, hardly any historical or philosophical writings from that period have survived. The ancient historian Hermann Strasburger assumes a ratio of 40:1 between lost and preserved works. Most of these books were apparently lost during the Byzantine period, as they did not conform to the classical linguistic ideal espoused at the time. The destruction of the great library of Alexandria certainly also contributed to this poor survival situation.
The Greek authors Timaios of Tauromenion (345-250 BC), Duris of Samos (340-270 BC), and Hieronymos of Kardia (360-272 BC), contemporaries of the Diadochi, as well as Phylarchos of Naukratis (3rd century) and Poseidonios of Apameia (135-51 BC), survive in fragments.
The situation is much better with the Roman authors and others who wrote in Roman times. However, all of them are not contemporaries of the Diadochi, some of them even lived after the end of Hellenism, which was set around 30 BC. Nevertheless, Diodorus, for example, who wrote around the middle of the 1st century BC and who deals with the Diadochian period from the 18th book of his history, Pompeius Trogus, who is preserved in a summary by Justinus, and Appian, who wrote an overview of the Seleucids in the 2nd century AD, are important sources because they were based on good originals that are now lost. Also writing in Roman times was the Greek Plutarch, who wrote vites of Eumenes, Demetrios, and Pyrrhos, among others. Of decisive importance for the chronology of the Hellenistic period is the World Chronicle of Eusebius.
A source that at first glance seems less obvious are Jewish texts in Greek and Aramaic. These include Flavius Josephus, the historian of the Jewish War, the Book of Daniel in the Septuagint, and apocrypha such as the Epistle of Aristeas.
More extensive than the written ones are the documentary testimonies of that time. In addition to the inscriptions, which mainly contain letters from the Hellenistic kings to the cities, the Egyptian papyri, which Michael Rostovtzeff has evaluated, and the cuneiform documents from Mesopotamia of the first Seleucids are particularly significant for historiography. Of particular importance are the trilingual Rosetta Stone, which the Egyptian king Ptolemy V had erected in 197 B.C. on the occasion of his accession to power and with the help of which Jean-François Champollion deciphered the hieroglyphic script, and the archive of the Egyptian landowner Zenon, who was secretary to the Dioiketes at the time of Ptolemy II, comprising some 2000 documents. In the hot and humid climate of Mesopotamia, however, papyri could hardly be preserved.
Also important for our picture of Hellenism is the comparison of the sources with the archaeological findings. The remains of Alexandria, Antioch and Seleucias, the capitals of the great Diadochian empires, are rather meager; larger finds were made at Priene, Miletus, Ephesus, Herakleia on Latmos and Pergamon. For life in the Greco-Bactrian Empire, the finds of Ai Khanoum are of great importance. Titles and portraits of the Diadochi are known to us mainly from coinage and marble busts.
(all data B.C.)
A classic account is Droysen”s History of Hellenism, still worth reading but now out of date. More recent accounts are in English (for the German reader, Gehrke”s works, the contributions in Gregor Weber”s Kulturgeschichte, and the Lexikon des Hellenismus are very useful orientations. The following are mainly survey works, whose bibliographies can be used to easily access more specialized literature. Reference should also be made to the relevant sections in the Cambridge Ancient History (from volume 7.1).
Foreign language literature