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Hellenistic Age (323BC – 30BC)

The Age of Alexander

The conquests of Alexander the Great spread Hellenism immediately over the Middle East and far into Asia. After his death in 323 B.C., the influence of Greek civilization continued to expand over the Mediterranean world and W Asia. The wars of the Diadochi marked, it is true, the breakup of Alexander\'s brief empire, but the establishment of Macedonian dynasties in Egypt, Syria, and Persia (the Ptolemies and the Seleucidae) helped to mold the world of that day into a wider unity of trade and learning.

The Hellenistic period was an international, cosmopolitan age. Commercial contacts were widespread and peoples of many ethnic and religious backgrounds merged in populous urban centers. Advances were made in various fields of scientific inquiry, including engineering, physics, astronomy and mathematics. Great libraries were founded in Alexandria, Athens and the independent kingdom of Pergamum. The old beliefs in Olympian gods were infused with foreign elements, especially from the east; "Oriental" ecstatic cults, such as those of Cybele, Isis, and Mithras, become popular in the Hellenized world.

The 3rd century BC saw the rise of ancient Rome. After securing most of the Italic peninsula, Rome entered into a protracted conflict with the Carthaginians for control of Sicily, Spain and the other regions of Punic domination in the Punic Wars. The former empire of Alexander was taken steadily and methodically into Roman hands. The great city of Corinth was destroyed (146 BC), Athens captured (86 BC), and Cleopatra and Mark Antony defeated at the Battle of Actium (31 BC). Their defeat marks the end of the Hellenistic Age.


While the city-states of Greece itself tended to stagnate, elsewhere cities and states grew and flourished. Of these the chief was Alexandria. So great a force did Alexandria exert in commerce, letters, and art that this period is occasionally called the Alexandrian Age, and the end of Hellenistic civilization is generally set at the final triumph of Roman power in Alexandria in the 1st cent. B.C. Pergamum was also prominent, and there were other cities of influence (e.g., Dura).

In the Hellenistic period, although the cities were no longer independent, as they had been in the Hellenic era, they were the centers of trade and craft industry. It was in the cities that the descendants of the Greco-Macedonian conquerors became a professional class of rulers and soldiers and merchants, which provided a cultural and economic bond throughout the area, even though political unity did not survive the death of Alexander. Among the Greek ruling class, the old loyalties to the Polis had given way to a dedication to the profession. As the administrators and the merchants of their world, in spite of being in the minority, they had an influence out of proportion to their numbers. The city of Alexandria, founded by Alexander, located on the Mediterranean at the mouth of the Nile, became the most prominent center of commerce and learning. The library in Alexandria became the depository for recording many of the literary and scientific achievements of the time.

Although women continued to have a subordinate status, some lucky few of the wealthy and ruling classes, would have the opportunity to become involved in commerce or in intellectual activities. For the most part, however, women had no part in public life.


Navigators, who learned, for example, about the North Sea, extended the bounds of the known world. The upsurge of commerce brought a great increase of wealth to merchants and in general to the upper classes; this wealth was also reflected in a tendency toward the ornate and impressive in architecture, although town plans and buildings of the period have proportions and grace rarely excelled. It should be noted, however, that the increase of wealth did not reach the poor, who in general were more impoverished than they had previously been.
Agriculture, small plots of land worked by farmers, industry and ventures in commerce were small entrepreneurs in Classical Greece but with the Hellenistic Age came large scale industry and trade. The Hellenistic world brought ambitious Greeks that migrated to Egypt and the Near East. They introduced new crops and new techniques in agriculture i.e.: new improved Egyptian wines and improved irrigation. Long distance trade grew and rulers encouraged this by establishing a sound money system, building roads and