The Ancient Greek Hellenistic period or Hellenistic era as it is also referred to as that period in the history of ancient Greece which is followed by the conquests of Alexander the Great. This era was named after the historian J. G. Droysen. During this time, Greek cultural influence and power were at its pinnacle in Europe and Asia. Hence, this period is also considered as a period of transition, as well as that of decline or self-indulgence.
Characteristics of Hellenistic Period
- The shift from city-states to a more centralized form of government.
- The division of the empire that was set up by Alexander the Great, by his generals after his death. The three kingdoms were in continuous conflict with each and war was a constant event throughout the Hellenistic period.
- The spread of Greek culture beyond the Aegean. The Greek language and culture spread far and ahead from the Aegean to the Mediterranean up to the borders of India through the generals of Alexander.
- The flourishing of arts, science and philosophy characterised this period. The famous treatise ‘On Floating Bodies’ written by Archimedes was written during this period. Architecture also witnessed a lot of progress and even the famous ancient library of Alexandria was created during this period.
- The Romans became exceedingly involved in Greek politics and it was ultimately captured by the Romans.
Ancient Greek Hellenistic Period Timeline
This period is said to have been commenced with the death of Alexander in 323 BC and is believed to have come to end either with the final conquest of the Greek heartlands by Rome in 146 BC; or the final defeat of the last remaining successor-state to Alexander’s empire, the Ptolemaic kingdom of Egypt in 31-30 BC, after the Battle of Actium. Ancient Greek Hellenistic period was characterized by a new wave of colonists which established Greek cities and kingdoms in Asia and Africa.
Quests of Alexander
The quests of Alexander concluded in a number of consequences for the Greek city-states. It greatly widened the horizons of the Greeks, making the infinite differences between the cities a steady emigration, particularly of the young and ambitious, to the New Greek empires in the east.
Many Greeks migrated to Alexandria, Antioch and a number of new Ancient Greek Hellenistic cities came to be founded during Alexander’s reign, as far away as the present-day Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom, as well as the Indo-Greek Kingdom, survived until the end of the 1st century BC.
The defeat of the Greek cities by Philip and Alexander also taught the Greeks that their city-states could never again be powers in their own right and that the hegemony of Macedon and its successor states could not be challenged unless the city-states united, or at least federated.
The Greeks valued their local independence too much to consider actual unification, but they made several attempts to form federations through which they could hope to reassert their independence.
Post Alexander period
However, after Alexander’s death, a struggle for power broke out among his generals, resulting in the break-up of his empire and the establishment of a number of new kingdoms like for instance, Macedon fell to Cassander who was the son of Alexander’s leading general Antipater.
Antigonus II who ruled the Macedonian Empire till 238BC died in 239 BC. His death witnessed the emergence of another revolt of the city-states of the Achaean League, in which the most dynamic figure was Aratus of Sicyon.
Antigonus’s son Demetrius II died in 229 BC, leaving a child, Philip V asking, with the general Antigonus Doson as regent. The Achaeans, while nominally subject to Ptolemy, were actually independent, and controlled most of southern Greece. Athens, however, remained detached from this conflict by common consent.
Sparta, on the other hand, remained hostile to the Achaeans, and in 227 BC Sparta’s king Cleomenes III invaded Achaea and seized control of the League. Aratus allied himself with Dodson, who in 222 BC defeated the Spartans and annexed their city.
Roman Interference in Greece
Philip V, came to power when Dodson died in 221 BC, was the last Macedonian ruler and had both the talent as well as the opportunity to unite Greece and preserve its independence against the ever-increasing power of Rome. Under his reign, the Peace of Naupactus in 217 BC brought the conflicts between Macedon and the Greek leagues to an end and controlled all of Greece except Athens, Rhodes, and Pergamum.
In 215 BC, Philip formed an alliance with Rome’s enemy Carthage, by which Rome directly interfered into Greek affairs for the first time. Rome lured the Achaean cities away from their nominal loyalty to Philip, and formed alliances with Rhodes and Pergamum and evolved as the strongest power in Asia Minor. The First Macedonian War broke out in 212 BC and ended conclusively in 205 BC, but Macedon was now marked as an enemy of Rome.
Roman captures power
In 202 BC Rome defeated Carthage, and turned her attention eastwards, urged on by her Greek allies, Rhodes and Pergamum. In 198 the Second Macedonian War broke out for some reasons which were difficult to understand, but very likely because Rome considered Macedon as a potential supporter of the Seleucids, the greatest power in the east.
Philip’s allies in Greece deserted him and in 197 BC he was decisively defeated at the Cynoscephalae by the Roman proconsul Titus Quinctius Flamininus. Subsequently, all the cities except Rhodes got included in a new League which was under the control of Rome ultimately and democracies were replaced by aristocratic regimes.
In 192 BC war broke out between Rome and the Seleucid ruler Antiochus III in which Antiochus was defeated and made to retreat by the Roman army and by the Peace of Apamea in 188 BC Rome acquired a dominant position throughout Greece.
In the subsequent years, Rome was drawn deeper into Greek politics, since in any dispute the defeated party requested Rome for help. Macedon was nominally independent, as a Roman ally. With the death of Philip V in 179 BC, he was succeeded by his son Perseus, who like all the Macedonian kings dreamed of uniting the Greeks under Macedonian rule.
However, Macedon by that time was extremely weak to achieve this objective, but Rome’s ally Eumenes II of Pergamum instigated Rome that Perseus was a potential threat to Rome’s position resulting in Rome declaring war against Macedon in 171 BC, by bringing 100,000 troops into Greece.
Macedon could not stand up against this army, and Perseus was unable to gather the other Greek states to come to his rescue. Poor generalship by the Romans enabled him to hold out for three years, but in 168 BC the Romans sent Lucius Aemilius Paullus to Greece, and at Pydna, the Macedonians were defeated.
Perseus was captured and taken to Rome and the Macedonian kingdom came to be split up into four smaller states, and all the Greek cities who aided it were punished. Rome’s allies Rhodes and Pergamum also lost their independence.
Under the leadership of an adventurer called Andriscus, Macedon rebelled against Roman rule in 149 BC, as a result of which it was directly annexed in the subsequent year and became a Roman province. Rome then demanded the dissolution of the Achaean League which was the last stronghold of Greek independence.
The Achaeans refused and instead declared war on Rome. Most of the Greek cities rallied to the Achaeans’ side. The Roman diplomat Lucius Mummius advanced from Macedonia and defeated the Greeks at Corinth.
In 146 BC the Greek peninsula excluding the islands became a Roman part. Except in Athens and Sparta, Roman taxes came to be imposed. In 133 BC the last king of Pergamum died and left his kingdom to Rome which brought most of the Aegean peninsula under the direct Roman rule as part of the province of Asia.
The final downfall of Greece came in 88 BC when King Mithridates of Pontus rebelled against Rome and massacred up to 100,000 Romans and Roman allies across Asia Minor. Although Mithridates was not Greek, many Greek cities, including Athens, overthrew their Roman puppet rulers and joined him.
When he was driven out of Greece by the Roman general Lucius Cornelius Sulla, Roman revenge fell upon Greece again, and the Greek cities never recovered thereby resulting in Mithridates being finally defeated by Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus in 65BC.
Further ruin was brought to Greece by the Roman civil wars, which were partly fought in Greece. Finally, in 27 BC, Augustus directly annexed Greece to the new Roman Empire as the province of Achaea leaving Greece depopulated and demoralized.
Nevertheless, the Roman rule at least brought an end to warfare, and cities such as Athens, Corinth, Thessaloniki, and Patras soon recovered their once upon a time lost prosperity.
Ancient Greek Hellenistic culture definition
Greek People, like goods, and raw materials moved around the Greek Hellenistic kingdoms. Koine was a unifying cultural force: No matter where a person came from, he could communicate with anyone in this cosmopolitan Hellenistic world.
At the same time, many people felt alienated in this new cultural landscape and political. In Ancient Hellenistic art and literature, this alienation expressed itself in a rejection of the collective demos and an emphasis on the individual.
How did Hellenistic sculpture differ from classical sculpture in ancient Greece?
The classical period focused much more on accurate representation of the human body. While the Hellenistic sculptures captured the emotional side of humans in their portraits.
The classical portraits are more idealized and static while the Hellenistic sculptures depict dramatic features like anger, happiness, sadness, etc.
The classical period concerned itself with more religious or natural themes while the Hellenistic period was more of a dramatic expression of the spiritual aspects.
The Hellenistic period sculptures also did not follow a rigid form or tiles and were more open to experiments.