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The Hellenistic Period
• Hellenistic kingdoms
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• A Foretaste of Modernity?


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                                                            The Hellenistic Period

The death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C.. marked the beginning of a new stage in world history. Hellenic civilization, properly defined, was now at an end. The fusion of cultures and intermingling of peoples resulting from Alexander's conquests had accomplished the overthrow of most of the ideals represented by the Greeks in their prime. Gradually a new pattern of civilization emerged based upon a mixture of Greek and Oriental elements. To this new civilization, which lasted until about the beginning of the Christian era, the name Hellenistic is the one most commonly applied. While the Hellenistic Age is sometimes regarded as simply a final chapter in the history of Greece, this is by no means correct. The centuries which followed the death of Alexander were so markedly different from the

Golden Age of Greece that they cannot be accurately regarded as a continuation of it.

Though the language of the new era was Greek, and though persons of Greek nationality continued to play an active role in many affairs, the spirit of the culture was largely the spirit of the Orient.

The classical ideal of democracy was now superseded by despotism perhaps as rigorous as any that Egypt or Persia had ever produced. The Hellenic devotion to simplicity and the golden mean gave way to extravagance in art and to a love of luxury and riotous excess. The Athenian economic system of small-scale production was supplanted by the growth of big business and ruthless competition for profits.


Though progress in science continued, the sublime confidence in the power of the mind   which had characterized the teachings of most of the philosophers from Thales to Aristotle was swallowed up in defeatism and ultimately in the sacrifice of logic to faith.

In view of these changes it seems justifiable to conclude that the Hellenistic Age was really the era of a new civilization as distinct from the Greek as modern civilization is from the culture of the Middle Ages.

                                     Hellenistic map                                                                                         Map of Hellenistic Age. The Kingdoms of Alexander's successors 100 BC.

After the death of Alexander the Great, Perdiccas took the role of regent of the kingdom, after he shared with the other generals the duties of the governance. Craterus became his prime minister, Lysimachus took over the rule of Thrace, Ptolemy in Egypt, Antigonus in the great Phrygia, Leonnatus the Hellespontine Phrygia, Laomedon in Syria, and Antipater, whom Alexander had defined as a viceroy in Europe, the government of Macedonia and southern Greece.

However, the absence of a strong man who would controlled the rivalries the ambitions and the competitions of those leaders, as Alexander did, proved disastrous for the unity of the great empire. As a result, backstage intrigues appeared, and obvious conflicts also, and just two years after the death of Alexander, and after the neutralization of Crateros and Perdiccas, the empire led to a new division, in which Antipater was a viceroy, Antigonus the overall commander of the army with his assistant Cassander, son of Antipater, Seleucus took Babylon, and Ptolemy kept Egypt.

Two years later (319 BC) the death of Antipater rekindled the controversy until Antigonus, who was the governor of the Asia Minor, Greece, and Syria, recognized himself the title of the king in 306, and the other diadochi followed him immediately. Neither this, however, ended the fighting. In 301 BC the successors united and managed to make Antigonus inactive, who defeated and killed in the battle of Ipsus.

With the death of Ptolemy I Soter in 283 BC, Lysimachus in 281 BC and Seleucus in 280 BC the last companions of Alexander were lost. The fightings for the prevalence in the eastern Mediterranean continued. Finally four kingdoms were created, quite stable and resistant: Macedonia, Egypt, Syria and Pergamon, who survived, some of them for several decades and others for centuries, until all of them attached to the Roman Empire: Macedonia in 168 BC after the battle of Pydna, southern Greece in 146, Pergamon in 133, which the king Attalus III, who died without leaving descendants, inherited it to the Romans, Syria in 64 BC and everything that left from the kingdom of the Seleucids became by Pompey the Great a Roman province, and Egypt in 31 BC after the battle of Actium.

The Asian nations, after the death of Alexander the Great

The Asian nations, after the death of Alexander the Great, did not rebelled, not because of the weapons of the macedonian administration and discipline. The reason was the stability throughout Asia. There was a reaction from the side of the Greek settlers (who had left from the expedition of Oxus), and wanted to return. Approximately 20,000 soldiers and 3,000 cavalry, without the fear of Alexander the Great and led by Philo the Ainian, left their units and with their weapons marched to the West. Against them moved the satrap of Media, Peithon, and forced them to capitulate. However, the Macedonians, not wanted to lose the rich spoils of the rebels, and - according to Diodorus-, they attacked to the unarmed soldiers, killing many of them.

Athens - The years after the death of Alexander

Both the death of Alexander the Great and the long-term war between the successors, helped to enhance the anti-makedonian spirit in Greece. The start was made by the Athenians and the Aetolians, followed by other cities. According to Plutarch, the first who announced the death of the great commander in Athens was Asclepiades, son of Hipparchus. To avoid hasty moves, and to be prepared for any eventuality and to deceive Antipatros not to move against them, the Athenians sent 50 talants to Leosthenes in order to set up mercenary army and to be armed with weapons from the public warehouses.

However, the news that, from Babylon, the cities of Asia Minor and Rhodes had already driven out the macedonian guard, had begun to arrive to all the macedonian territory. Initiators of antimakedonian front were the Athenians orators Demosthenes and Hypereides, who drifted the people and began to persecute and to condemn all the supporters of the Macedonians.

Leosthenes proceeded with the Aetolians to Thermopylae, while Athenian ambassadors were traveling from town to town and called for establishment of an anti-makedonian alliance. Locris and Fokis allied with them. Antipatros with 13,000 soldiers and 600 cavalry, marched against Thessaly leaving the general Sippas in Macedonia. In the battle, according to Plutarch, Antipatros was forced to retreat, a fact that excited the athenian alliance front and caused the whole Thessaly to rebel and join the allies, with 2,000 cavalry.

The battle of Lamia

In the final battle in Lamia (322 BC), while everything showed that the situation was in Leosthene's benefit and that the surrender of Antipatros was a matter of time, Leosthenes was deathly wounded in a fight, and Leosthenes was replaced by Antiphilus. Were followed battles and a preparation of an even larger fleet of the Athenians. Meanwhile, in the summer of 322 BC, Craterus arrived from Asia with 10,000 veterans, joined with Antipater and conquered Thessaly. Then, many cities were asked to capitulate to the Macedonians, including Athens. Antipatros asked for the orators to surrender, this request was not accepted. Soon the Macedonians were able to prevail, resulting in the oligarchic regime to replace the democracy in Athens, and the Athenians to pay a financial compensation. The condition which imposed and specified that only those who had a property more than 2,000 drachmas would be considered as citizens, - according to Diodorus- , excluded many landless and economically weaker classes from executing their political rights.

The danger of a disorder caused the Macedonians to the offer them to resettle to Thrace. Thus, the Athenians decreased to 9,000 people. Hypereides murdered and Demosthenes, to avoid the dishonor, killed himself. Many participants in the revolution from other allied cities were murdered or exiled. Finally enforced the presence of makedonian guards in almost the whole Greek region. The only who continued to resist were the Aetolians, who got peace with very favorable conditions.

Redistribution of power in Triparadisus

Regent Perdiccas came from the upper-class, was clever, tough and experienced military man, but in no case could replace the hegemonic character of Alexander, and keep united the empire, dealing efficiently the ambition, the intrigues and the competition among the descendants. The natural consequence was, two years after the end of Alexander, to be murdered by his own cavalry (321 BC), and a re-distribution of the kingdoms to be established. He was not able to consolidate the unity of macedonian empire and to establish its monocracy, blinded by his pride that made him unjust and despotic.

The new distribution of power (known also as the Partition of Triparadisus) which took place in Triparadisus (a greek settlement in Syria near the sources of the Orontes), had as a result the choice of Antipatros as regent of the kingdom, Antigonus as the general commander of the army , Seleucus and Ptolemy as governors of Babylon and Egypt. With the new division the kingdom was restored to the European territories from Asia, in which Alexander had moved it's center. The Hellenistic Macedonia had lost the characteristics that enabled to overcome the barriers of different cultures and languages, and the ability to administer the territories of the empire.

The admixtures of different cultures, the major conflicts and -in fact- the decomposition of the single kingdom, set the basis for multiple transformations and new shapes. The Macedonian leaders to ensure their dominance in Europe, Asia and Africa, served first in an effort to weak their own makedonian state. The result of all these alterations was, finally, to create new kingdoms with their own ethnicities, and a culture that had its own characteristics.

Phocion and Demades

Meanwhile, Athens was still the source from which the macedonian state exported culture to Asia or just another military base. The once strong city ruled by the friends of Macedonians, Phocion and Demades. They were different characters, seeking to establish their own perception of governance. Phocion who was mild and honest, refused to accept gifts from kings and generals, removed the restless people from the policy and took care for the Athenians to occupy with the agriculture and rural life. Demades was ambitious, dishonest, with moves which aimed to promote his own plans and profits. Antipatros consider them both as his friends and, according to Plutarch, he used to say that he was not able to persuade Phocion to accept not even a simple gift, while he could not satisfy Demades with all that he offered him.

In the meantime the Athenians asked Phocion to mediate for removing the macedonian guards , however, the only he succeeded was to reduce the fees and increase the repayment period. From his side, Demadis with his son, Demeas, wanting to prove his influence to Antipatros, visited him at the end of 320 BC in Macedonia. Antipatros, however, had discovered some letters of Demades to Perdiccas (who was Antipatro's opponent), with which he called him for intervention, to free the Greeks, in his words "as they were holding from an old and rotten rope". Therefore he ordered to tie them, and his son Cassander, decided to kill Demeas first in the arms of his father, and then him.

Antipatros did not live long after the death of Demades. Feeling not enough strong, he called Cassander from Asia and assigned him some of his duties. Although he had significant assets, he failed to fill the big gap from the loss of Alexander. Since the Macedonians hated his son, mainly because of his hardness, handed over his power to Polyperchon, a capable general and dear to the people and the army.

He urged, according to Diodorus, Polyperchon and Cassander not to allow the power to pass into the hands of the women of the royal family. Antipatros died in 319 BC, at the age of 80 years, and although he had undertook the governance by showing restraint and forgiving the generals who had turned against him in the campaign of Egypt, he defined by an irregular way his successor, stirring up once again, the battle of succession.


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