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The Hellenistic civilization
• The Hellenistic period
• Political History and Institutions
• Significant Economic and Social Developments
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• A Foretaste of Modernity?

 

 

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                                                     The Hellenistic Kingdoms
 
The hellenistic world in 300 BC

The disputes within the empire continued until Antigonus, who occupied the Asia Minor, Greece and Syria, declared himself emperor (306 BC), and later gave this title to his son, Demetrius I (the Besieger). Very soon, the successors allied, and the fate of the Empire judged in 301 BC, in the battle which took place in Ipsus of Phrygia, where Antigonus defeated and killed.

The result of this defeat was the creation of four kingdoms

 : Egypt by Ptolemy, Syria with Seleucus, Macedonia by Cassander, and Lysimachus in Thrace. Thus kings became the generals-winners, who had also distributed the territories of the empire. The conflicts, however, did not stop. Major opponents were Lysimachus and Seleucus, until the battle of Corupedium in Lydia (281 BC) and the death of Lysimachus. The territories were distributed between Seleucus and Cassander, and established also a kingdom centered in Pergamon, giving the impetus to be created more. After the death of Ptolemy I Soter in 283 BC, of Lysimachos in 281 BC and Seleucus in 280 BC, none of the companions of Alexander left, who together had managed to impose the macedonian domination from Thrace to India. The four kingdoms, Macedonia, Egypt, Syria and Pergamum survived enough to have been part of a new large empire, the Roman.

 

The kingdoms of the East

Alexander created a new type of kingship, the personal, which continued his successors to perform in the East. In consolidating on this type of power contributed the prices and the titles that were given lavishly to Alexander, as the title of the pharaoh which was offered to him by the conquered Egyptians. The most important kingdoms in the East was Egypt and Syria, which were ruled by the Ptolemies and the Seleucids, respectively.

The Kingdom of Egypt

The kingdom of Egypt was established by the general of Alexander, Ptolemy, and Cyprus belonged to it as it's naval base. Egyptians coexisted in this kingdom with other various ethnic groups.
Egypt was ruled by the Ptolemies for three consecutive centuries, preserving the old administrative system of the pharaohs. The leaders took care the Greeks to keep the management positions, and the natives in the other positions of the state machine. Their authority relied on the army and the navy, while the economic growth- that made Alexandria the largest commercial port in the Mediterranean - based on the organized trade and it's taxation. The Ptolemies took care in developing even more the culture, encouraging the presence of scholars. But from the 2nd century BC several riots happened in the kingdom of Egypt, and got several external attacks, so gradually began to decline, with the final surrender, in 31 BC, to the Romans.

The kingdom of Syria

The kingdom of Syria, which was founded by the powerful general of Alexander, Seleucus, was extensively and it's center was the region of Syria.
The Seleucids kept the cohesion of the state, sometimes with their strong army and sometimes with the establishment of cities. Their kingdom had become the greatest power in the area, as it had a rich economy, based on the agriculture and trade, and considered to be the continuation of the empire of Alexander the Great, having the same boundaries. As regards the administrative system, the Seleucids followed the policy of the Persian empire: the creation of satrapies. But by the early 2nd century BC, the state began to show the first signs of decline.

The kingdoms of Greece, the city-states and the confederations

In the Greek mainland, the Hellenistic era was marked by two major events: the fights against the Gauls, which ended when Antigonus was able to expel them in 277 BC, and the reviving of the state of Epirus, which was interrupted in 272 BC, right after the death it's king, Pyrrhus. An important role continued to play the kingdom of Macedonia, in which, - as in that of Epirus - the king was elected by the army - even if the kingship was hereditary - , a practice which retained at all Greek tribes in antiquity which were not organized into city-states.

The kingdom of Macedonia

The Kingdom of Macedonia was organized on a racial basis , and was distinguished by it's single cultural identity. The mines and the forest lands belonged to the king, who ceded them to the nobles as donations, of a revocable type.
Also, many small and medium farmers were the macedonian army. Large estates were assigned for farming to liberated self-employed or slaves. The kingdom was infected primarily by two factors: the lack of strong authority, with the parallel invasion of the Gauls, and the persistence of the Kings, from the 2nd century BC, to dominate in southern Greece, a fact that weakened and the makedonian state and the other Greek forces.

Kingdom of Epirus

The Kingdom of Epirus was mostly occupied by Dorians who where not evolved cultural or social, having as a result to remain in obscurity until the Hellenistic period. During Philip's and Alexander's era Epirus was under the Macedonian subjection. The most powerful tribe were the Molossians, and Olympias - the mother of Alexander - was their descentant.
The Molossians introduced a different type of government, with the royal power to be limited to a superior ruler, who represented the people. The king and the people gathered once a year in Passaron- a political and religious center - in order to exchange vows of loyalty for a fair and equitable governance. Pyrrhus a capable and great king, managed to make Epirus a major power. His ambition, which never accomplished, was to create a state similar in power to that of Alexander, and conquer Macedonia and southern Greece. In his effort to dominate in the west and subjugate
the Peloponnese, he exhausted and weakened his army. In 272 BC ingloriously died in a battle near Argos.

Athens, Sparta, Rhodes

In summary, the absolute monarchy that was imposed across the macedonian territory, and the competition between the rulers did not allow the growth and the development of the city-states, which fell into decline. Most of the Greek city-states were absorbed by the Hellenistic kingdoms, others maintained their internal organization (Sparta, Rhodes, Delos, etc.), while others created confederations, ie federal states, with more importants the Aetolian League - in the patterns of it's ancient league - and the Achaean League, results of the antimacedonian spirit of the period.
The peace of 311 BC and the independence of the Greek cities-states did not returned their full autonomy, having been surrounded by much larger forces. The years that followed were agitated, by the presence of foreign generals, with looting, and political passions. In a better situation were the greek cities of Asia Minor, in Thrace and Pontus, as well as Rhodes, Cyzicus and Byzantium, which became socially autonomy or ensured neutrality that allowed them to develop commercially.
Magna Grecia (South Italy) fortunate to have in an hegemonic position the rich city of Taras (Taranto), providing security and development even in smaller cities.
In Greece, however, especially in the Peloponnese, there was full political and economic decline. In Athens, Cassander appointed as a tyrant, Demetrius of Phalerum (317-307 BC) and then Demetrius I of Macedon (the Besieger).

Athens, once again, rebelled against Antigonus II Gonatas, led by the stoic philisopher Chremonides. But the outcome was the same as used to be in the past. Antigonus defeated Athens (the Chremonidean War 267-262 BC), which had made a coalition with other cities, and forced Chremonides to flee to the Ptolemie's court.

Sparta, following an isolation policy in the 3rd century BC, faced a serious social crisis, from which tried to recover by a land reform and a debt erase for the citizens, who had already begun to abandon the city. From the 700 free citizens, only the one hundred had an agricultural piece of land. According to Plutarch, "wealth not too late, was collected in the hands of the few, and the city fell in poverty, with the result of moral decadence and intensity of jealousy and hatred against the rich". It's king, Agis IV (244 BC), attempted to face the social problem of Sparta with reformations, upgrading the round residents (perioeci) to citizens.
But the strong reaction of the rich class, nullified his plans and led to his murder. The same tried to do also Cleomenes III, but with slow and controlled changes, which had an impact on the rest of the Peloponnese, where the lower classes faced similar situations.
The general of the Achaean League, facing the danger of rebellions, asked for the help of Macedonia, which defeated Cleomenes in Sellasia on the northern frontier of Laconia, and installed guard in Sparta. The riots, however, did not deterred, when Nabis took the power in Sparta, a descentant of the royal family (206 BC), who tried to continue the reforms of Cleomenes. He was murdered also (192 BC) after the reactions of the other cities that feared the expansion of the social changes. From then and until it's conquest by Rome, Sparta was a member of the Achaean League.

Rhodes, due to its geographical position and its navy, managed to evolve as Delos did with its holy nature, in a commercial and financial center. Strabo argued that the Rhodians, although didn't have a democratic polity, were caring for their people. The rich people, according to an old custom, helped those in need, and provided employment to the poor, in order the city not to produce deficit in human resources, especially in manning the fleet.

The Leagues

The Aetolian and the Achaean League managed to avoid stagnation, which was the fate of many other greek cities. The Aetolian confederation was founded in the mid-4th century BC, with a loose political association, the Aetolian Koinon (public), and resulted in it's completed form after the repulse of the Gauls (278 BC), and the undertaking of the protection of the Oracle of Delphi. The regime was democratic and all citizens were entitled to participate in the meetings and decisions. In the 3rd century BC acquired even more power and authority, including all the cities of the central Greece from Maliakos to the Corinthian Gulf and the estuary of Achelous River.

The Achaean League in the early 3rd century BC included the association of certain cities of Achaia, but until the 2nd cent. BC, included almost the whole Peloponnesus. The way that the Achaean League was organized was different from that of the Aetolian, because it incorporates elements of the monarchy system. The cities retained their governments, and the confederation was governed by a council which was attended by all the citizens who had reached the age of 30, and by the rulers who had increased their powers. The League retained a parliament (or senate) with 120 members, which mainly concentrated on the external relations.

It is worth noting that the Achaean League, which played an important role in Greek affairs during the leadership of Aratus and Philopoemen, was the last resistance against the Romans in 145 BC. Philopoemen from Megalopolis distinguished for his administrative abilities in organizing the army, and was considered as a charismatic leader; Plutarch named him "the ultimate of the Greeks". Both two leagues followed the same antimacedonian policy, so often came into conflict with Macedonia. The fights, however, of the Greek cities and especially the Aetolean League against the Macedonians, gave to the Romans the opportunity to involve to the Greek events. From the 2nd century BC emerged the gradual extension of the Romans, who sought to defeat Macedonia and were prepared for the conquest of Greece.


Hellenistic civilization

In the last three pre-Christian centuries, the culture who developed in the Hellenistic kingdoms and became universal, called Hellenistic. Came from the intermixture of the Greek culture of the classical era with the east, and spread because of the people's moving, the idea's and the good's. This certainly was helped by the development of big cities such as Alexandria, Antioch and Pergamum, which converted into great cultural centers.

Alexandria

Founded in 331 BC by Alexander the Great as the capital of Egypt and acquired glory because it's privileged position in the Nile's delta, which enabled the city to become a financial and cultural center of the period. The museum - dedicated to the Muses - and the big Library, where the processing of papyrus favored the production of manuscripts, were two of the marvelous works of the first Ptolemies which helped to make the city the major cultural center of the Hellenistic world, which attracted the greatest minds of that time. The teaching of the young successors of the throne had been entrusted to the wise man. The scholars were allowed for the first time to collect all old works, which were corrected, filed, and were a source of inspiration and admiration. The Alexandrian poetry and art remained famous. The poetry revealed the hymn, the epic and the epigram, which had hitherto been neglected, or new kind, such as the pastoral elegy, the mime, etc. The Alexandrian art, although cannot be assumed that was a development of the classic, was influenced by the new ideas of the age. In the capital of Egypt were living Greeks,
Egyptians and Jews, and important role in it's development played the port, which was protected in it's entrance, by the famous Lighthouse. The lighthouse, one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world, was a constructed tower on a small island.

Antioch

Antioch was founded by the king of Syria, Seleucus, in 300 BC, near the Orontes River. It was called and Tetrapolis also, because it's division in four settlements, with each of them surrounded by walls, like the whole town. Originally settled by Macedonians, Athenians, Cretans and Cyprians, and then several Asian ethnic groups put the foundations of a multicultural center.

Pergamon

Pergamum, which was a fortified citadel and was extended in three levels, was the capital of the state of Attalids. Became an important cultural center because of it's library, the museum and the famous altar of Zeus, a gigantic work of the 2nd century BC, built to commemorate the victory against the Gauls by the Pergamenes. The Altar of Zeus is the most representative example of the style of Pergamon and a benchmark among the sculptors of the hellenistic and the classical period. It is worth noting that because the lack of papyrus, the Pergamenes discovered a new kind of paper, the parchment (pergamene).

 

 


 

 

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