After learning about the Hellenistic Age (Chapter 4 lecture), answer the following question. Follow the directions carefully in order to receive full credit.
Chapter 4 Lecture Question:
What was the Hellenistic Age and how did it come to be?
Directions for Answering the Question:
Using information from the lecture,
Important Rules for all Lecture Questions:
In my last lecture, I discussed the development of Greek civilization in the Greek peninsula. In
this lecture, we're going to discuss the expansion of Greek culture throughout the Mediterranean
and beyond. This expanded Greek culture created what is known as Hellenistic civilization. Just
a quick review– in my last lecture, I explained that Greek civilization started with the Minoan
civilization, then developed into the Mycenaean civilization. The Greeks experienced a dark age
during which everyone was fighting with each other and laying claim to territory that evolved
into independent city-states. And after this, Greek civilization saw two ages– an archaic age, and
a classical age. These ages are Athens formed a democracy and Sparta formed an oligarchy. This
was also when the Greeks fought the Persians and won and then turned to fight each other in the
[SLIDE] During the archaic and classical ages, which took place between 750 and 338 BCE,
large numbers of Greeks from different city-states left their homeland to settle in distant lands. In
that, so many Greek communities were established in southern Italy that the Romans later called
this area "Magna Graecia" or "Great Greece" because so many Greeks lived there. [SLIDE]
Greek settlements were also established in southern France, eastern Spain, and Egypt, and west
of Egypt, throughout Northern Africa. And in the east, the Greeks settled along the shores of the
Black Sea in what is today, Turkey. On the map on your screen, the green shading represents the
Greek colonies in the east and the west. The Greeks settled in other lands, primarily to make
money through trade. The Greeks traded their pottery, wine, and olive oil for the resources in
these new areas. They obtained grain, metals, fish, timber, wheat, and slaves. Wherever the
Greeks went, they took their culture. But even though the Greeks introduced their culture to a lot
of different people in the archaic and classical ages, this was nothing in comparison to what
would happen in the fourth century BCE. Beginning in the 300s BCE, new rulers built the
biggest empire the world had seen up to this point. And they carried Greek culture to the far
reaches of the Earth. In doing so, they established a new civilization– the Hellenistic civilization.
This civilization existed from 323 BCE to 31 BCE.
[SLIDE] So our questions for this lecture are, who were the Macedonians? And how did they
conquer the Greeks and other civilizations? How did Macedonian rulers spread Greek culture in
the Hellenistic world? And how did the development of Hellenistic civilization impact Greek
[SLIDE] In 338 BCE, independent Greek civilization came to an end. And that year, a man
named Philip II of Macedonia invaded the Greek city-states with his armies and conquered the
entire Greek peninsula. Let's stop for just a moment and look at the development of Macedonian
civilization before we talk about why the Macedonians were able to conquer Greece. The
Macedonians were located just north of the Greek peninsula. You can see Macedonia in a light
blue color at the top-left side of the map on your screen. The Macedonians were not Greek. Prior
to the 300s BCE, the Macedonians were organized into tribes instead of city-states. And as a
result, they were very weak when it came to armies and the military. As a result, the Greeks
viewed the Macedonians as barbarians, as inferior strangers. This perspective changed, of course,
when Philip II led the Macedonians into Greece and conquered the city-states in 338 BCE.
[SLIDE] Let's look now at how Philip was able to conquer the Greeks. First, he changed the
composition of the Army. When Philip II became king, he changed the composition of the
Macedonian army. Instead of calling on regular citizens to be occasional soldiers, he created a
standing army of professional soldiers who were skilled at fighting and always ready to fight. He
also created a corps of engineers to develop siege weapons, like towers and catapults. Philip also
adopted the Greek phalanx system- remember this was the military formation used by the
hoplites in which they stood shoulder to shoulder in a rectangular shape. In addition to this,
Philip developed an effective military hierarchy within his Macedonian army. He provided each
military unit with its own commander, which allowed for better communication with the king,
who stood at the center of everything. He also developed the weapons of the military.
Macedonian soldiers looked very similar to the Greek hoplites, but with a few small but
important differences. Macedonian soldiers carried a smaller shield and a shorter sword than
Greek hoplites. And their spears were much longer. Instead of the 9-foot spear that the Greek
hoplites carried, Macedonian soldiers carried an 18-foot spear– double the size. The result was
that Macedonian soldiers could reach their opponents quicker. Philip also strengthened the bond
between the king and soldiers. To give each soldier a sense of unity and solidarity, Philip
provided uniforms and required an oath of allegiance to him. Each soldier would no longer be
loyal to a particular tribe, but would be faithful only to the king. Finally and perhaps most
importantly, King Philip fought alongside his soldiers and shared directly in the dangers of
battle. This gave his soldiers the perception that they were all in this together.
Due to these innovations, Philip's army easily crushed the Greeks in 338 BCE. The Greeks made
it all the easier due to the fact that by the time that Philip invaded, they no longer had a common
enemy. And they had a tendency to fight with each other, which weakened them. When it was
clear that Philip II had won and would be in control, he offered Greek leaders a pretty good deal.
He brought the Greek leaders together in the Greek city of Corinth and formed what became
known as the Corinthian League. Philip offered this league control over the internal affairs of
their own city-states if they agreed to submit to Philip’s authority and take an oath of loyalty to
him. This was their oath. They said, I swear by Zeus, Earth, Sun, Poseidon, Athena, Aries, and
all the gods and goddesses, I will abide by the peace. And I will not break the agreements with
Philip the Macedonian. Nor will I take up arms with hostile intent against any one of those who
abide by the oaths, either by land or by sea. Although the Greeks would now have a king rather
than forms of elected government, they could still run their city-states without too much outside
interference. At the same time, this allowed Philip to focus on continuing to expand his
kingdom- now an empire with the conquest of Greece. Ultimately, Philip intended to conquer the
Persians to the east. Unfortunately, before he could do so, he was assassinated in 336 BCE. And
his son, Alexander, took over.
[SLIDE] Alexander was only 20 years old when he became King of Macedonia. Alexander
would only be King for 12 years. But he achieved so much during those 12 years that he has ever
since been called "Alexander the Great". As a boy, Philip II had taken Alexander with him on his
military campaigns and allowed him to practice leading troops and going into battle. In fact,
Alexander had fought alongside Philip when he conquered the Greek city-states. Consequently,
Alexander was groomed from birth to be a military leader. But since Alexander was pretty young
when his father died, other military leaders threatened to take the throne from Alexander.
Recognizing this threat, Alexander moved quickly to assert his authority as soon as his father
died and he became king. One of the ways that he did this was by putting down a small Greek
rebellion in the city of Thebes. When Philip II died, the people of Thebes saw it as a good
opportunity to regain their complete independence from the Macedonians. Now, although putting
down the rebellion of Thebes was relatively easy for Alexander, he used extreme force to do so.
He sacked the city, killing most of its male residents, and selling the women and children into
slavery. And in doing so, he demonstrated his military strength and political power. And his
competition backed down.
After he demonstrated his control over Macedonia and Greece, Alexander pursued his father's
previous goal, which was to conquer the Persian Empire to the east. There's no doubt that
Alexander was taking a chance in attacking the Persian Empire. It was still a strong empire. And
Alexander's army was inferior to that of the Persians. In addition, Alexander was lacking in
money, which meant that his army was going to be forced to live off the countryside and win
quick victories in order to gain the resources it needed to continue. [SLIDE] In the spring of 334
BCE, Alexander entered the Persian Empire through Turkey with his army. Today, Turkey is
located in the region colored purple in the map on your screen. [SLIDE] Like his father before
him, Alexander also took a group of architects and engineers. He wanted them to continue to
develop weapons and instruments that would help him conquer the land. In addition, he took
historians with him so that they could document his successes. Within a year, in 333 BCE,
Alexander had conquered the western half of Turkey, which was part of the Persian Empire. It's
really interesting, because Alexander described his victories there as a liberation of people from
their Persian oppressors. With the exception of the Egyptians, most people living in the Persian
Empire didn’t wish to be liberated by Alexander. If you remember back to my previous lectures,
I mentioned that the Greeks had this tendency to think of themselves and their ways of doing
things as superior to everyone else. Alexander had adopted this way of thinking. And he thought
that he was bringing civilization to the people that he conquered. But the Persians had
historically been very tolerant of the customs of the people they conquered. After Alexander
conquered Turkey, he kept moving east. By the winter of 332, about a year and a half later,
Alexander had possession of Syria, Palestine, and Egypt. As he went along, Alexander had new
cities built and named after him– for example, Alexandria in Egypt. Alexandria became, and
remains today, one of the most important cities in the Mediterranean. By this time, Alexander
had made a really big dent in the Persian Empire. And the Persian Emperor Darius III was
feeling a little scared. He had underestimated Alexander. The Persian emperor offered Alexander
all the land west of the Euphrates River in an effort to stop his progress. But Alexander refused.
He wanted everything– not just a piece of the Persian Empire. By 330 BCE, Alexander had
conquered all of Persia. But Alexander wasn't content with Persia. He wanted more. Over the
next three years, he moved east and northeast, as far as modern Pakistan. By 326 BCE,
Alexander had conquered the Indus Valley, which is today the northwestern part of India. Up to
this point, Alexander's army had been really supportive. But by the time they got to India, they
had been fighting for eight years. They were tired. And they wanted to go home. So when
Alexander indicated that he intended to keep going, his army revolted. And they refused to go
any further. So Alexander agreed to their demands. [SLIDE] He'd led his troops through
southern Persia across the Gedrosian Desert, where, unfortunately, many died due to the heat and
the lack of food and water. You can track Alexander's route on the map on your screen by
following the purple arrows and lines. The Gedrosian Desert is located just to the bottom right
side of your screen. Alexander and his army made it back to the city of Babylon by 323 BCE.
The city of Babylon is located in the center of your map. There in Babylon, Alexander died at the
young age of 32. Historians aren’t entirely sure what Alexander died of. It may have been
malaria. Some have speculated that he was poisoned. Others believe that he died as a result of his
battle wounds and excessive alcohol. Regardless, everyone agrees that Alexander was the most
successful military leader and king in the history of mankind up to that time.
[SLIDE] Now there are a few reasons why Alexander was so successful. First, he demonstrated
superb tactical skills. He often had a much smaller army than his enemy. But Alexander was able
to assess the topography of the battlefield and make plans that took advantage of the strengths
and weaknesses of his enemies’ forces, as well as his own. He also inspired his troops through a
personal example. Alexander pushed his troops mercilessly, often catching his enemy by surprise
as a result of the quick march. But he also maintained a personal interest in his troops. And for
the most part, until his campaign in India, he kept their intense loyalty. This was because, like his
father before him, Alexander participated personally in all of the battles, often endangering his
own life. In fact, we knew that he was wounded at least eight times over the course of his long
military campaign. Alexander also recruited anywhere he could. Over time, his original troops
declined. This was due to death or because Alexander assigned his men to be administrators in
the new lands he conquered. So as he went along, Alexander recruited conquered men to
replenish his troops. And finally, Alexander encouraged the advancement of new weapons and
military technology that helped him gain an advantage over his enemies.
[SLID] But as I mentioned before, Alexander only ruled his humongous empire for 12 years and
he had no heir. His infant son, Alexander IV, was unfortunately murdered soon after his death.
With no appointed heir, Alexander’s giant kingdom was quickly divided. By 275 BCE, there
were three main kingdoms carved out by Alexander’s former generals. These generals went on to
establish dynasties that would maintain control over the Hellenistic kingdoms for the next couple
of centuries. Dynasties are families of rulers who passed down control of the kingdom to
members of that family. The three Hellenistic kingdoms and their dynasties were Ptolemaic
Egypt, Seleucid Asia, and Antigonid Macedonia and Greece.
[SLIDE] As I mentioned before, the Macedonians weren't Greek per se. But both Alexander the
Great and his father, Philip II had a huge appreciation for Greek culture. And the Macedonians
adopted much of that Greek culture for themselves. As Alexander took over new lands and
expanded his territory, he spread Greek culture. In doing so, he continued a practice that the
Greeks had begun during the archaic age, when they began moving into other parts of the
Mediterranean because of trade. But Alexander spread Greek culture and ideas far beyond what
these previous Greeks could ever imagine. The word "Hellenistic" comes from a Greek word that
means, "to imitate the Greeks". Wherever Alexander went, he established Greek culture that
conquered people adopted into their ways of living. In doing so, Alexander helped to create a
new Hellenistic civilization that extended from the western part of the Mediterranean through the
Persian Empire all the way to the northwestern part of India. Alexander died in 323 BCE. But the
Hellenistic civilization he helped to establish existed until at least 31 BCE. The years between
323 and 31 BCE are thus known as the Hellenistic era. This era marks a time when most of the
known world shared one culture- Greek culture.
[SLIDE] So the question is, how did Alexander instill Greek culture into areas he conquered?
Well, he did this in a number of different ways. First, in the places he conquered, Alexander
primarily appointed Greeks and Macedonians into important administrative positions. Starting
out, it was important for Alexander to put people in leadership positions who he knew would be
loyal to him. As a result, from the perspective of the conquered people, being Greek meant
power. Since everyone in power knew the Greek language and had Greek political ideals, if a
native person wanted to gain an administrative office, he also had to know the Greek language
and accept Greek political ideals. This gave an incentive to local people to become Greek if they
wanted political offices. Alexander and his successors also built new settlements and cities in
conquered territory. As I mentioned before, Alexander founded the city of Alexandria in Egypt.
And that city became one of the most important in the Mediterranean. [SLIDE] If you look
carefully at the map on your screen, you'll notice a few red dots. Those are all cities that
Alexander founded as he went along. And when he founded a new city, he often used Greek and
Macedonian architects and engineers to build it. [SLIDE] As a result, these new cities were laid
out in the same fashion as Greeks cities. Political buildings, temples, and amphitheaters stood at
the center of these newly established cities just like they did back in Greece. These cities also
tended to use the same Greek codes of laws. And when the cities were built, thousands of Greeks
and Macedonians moved to them in the hopes of making money through trade or acquiring
political positions. These immigrants brought with them their Greek culture and ideas. And since
the new cities that Alexander and his successors built looked nearly identical to Greek ones, this
forced the native population to live like the Greeks. Adding to this, the fact so many different
lands were combined into one giant empire under Alexander and then three Hellenistic kingdoms
that shared a Greek culture- this encouraged the trade of Greek products throughout the known
world. Being able to obtain Greek products became a symbol of elite status in conquered
territories, which made Greek culture even more widespread.
[SLIDE] But the spreading of culture didn't just happen in one direction. As people brought
Greek culture to the far reaches of the world, these people also absorbed the ideas and customs of
the new conquered territories. As a result, the Hellenistic age, over time, reveals a sort of fusion
of Greek with non-Greek ideas and practices. Let's look at the developments that were
introduced by non-Greek societies. Now, as I mentioned, Alexander's empire was eventually
split into three successor kingdoms. And the rulers of these kingdoms often mixed local practices
and traditions with their own Greek ones. This was partly due to the fact that adopting native
practices made these foreign rulers look more legitimate and thus discouraged revolts against
them. And it was partly because the Hellenistic rulers came to appreciate and see the validity of
local practices and traditions. For example, many Ptolemaic rulers in Egypt adopted the Egyptian
custom of marrying their sisters in order to keep power within the family. Of the first eight
Ptolemaic rulers, four of them married their own sister. The Seleucid rulers in what was formerly
Persia adopted the royal titles that ancient rulers like Hammurabi and Cyrus had used.
But the mixing of Greek with native practices and ideas extended beyond just the rulers of the
Hellenistic kingdoms. The Greeks who moved into other parts of the Hellenistic world were
introduced new to scientific and mathematic ideas that they integrated into their own practices.
Greeks in Alexandria picked up the practice of dissection and vivisection. Dissection is cutting
apart and examination of dead bodies. Vivisection, on the other hand, is the dissection of living
bodies. These living bodies often belong to criminals. And as a result of this practice of
dissection and vivisection, Greek society gained huge amounts of knowledge about how the
brain, eye, liver, and the reproductive and nervous systems work. In addition, Greeks and
Macedonians learned new things about the world around them, using knowledge they picked up
from the conquered societies. During the third century BCE, some Greek thinkers accepted a
heliocentric view of the universe. In other words, they believed the Sun stayed still, while the
earth and the other planets rotated around it. Prior to this time, people tended to believe that the
Earth was the center of the universe, and everything moved around it. Greeks in the Hellenistic
era also theorized that the Earth was round. And they calculated the Earth's circumference at
24,675 miles. This estimate was only about 200 miles off from the correct number. Greek society
also accepted new ideas about philosophy. In the early 300s BCE, epicureanism became very
popular. The philosophy of epicureanism is based on the idea that one’s experiences were just
random luck. There was no divine plan or higher purpose. Instead, things just happened as they
happened. And since everything that happened to you was random and without meaning, then
one might as well live a life that brought you as an individual the most pleasure. For an
Epicurean, the only duty a person had was to their self, and the only reason to live virtuously was
to increase one’s own happiness. Stoicism also developed, which had the same goal of
epicureanism, which was happiness. But stoicism achieved it through different means. Stoics
believed that happiness was only achieved by living according to divine will. And this was done
through strict, virtuous living in which you denied yourself whatever wasn't absolutely necessary
Finally, religion changed. The Greeks and Macedonians practiced syncretism when it came to
religion. This was the merging and acceptance of foreign gods and goddesses and their stories
and ideals with Greek ones. For example, in Alexandria in Egypt, there were shrines to the
traditional Greek gods, as well as the Egyptian gods, the Babylonian gods, and the Syrian gods.
In general, the Greeks had this idea that the foreign gods and goddesses they encountered were
the same Greeks gods and goddesses– just with different names. The Greeks and the conquered
people of the Hellenistic world build a pretty harmonious religious system that allowed for new
religious ideas and practices wherever it was practiced.
[SLIDE] There was one exception to this though. And this was the Jews. Judaism was, and is,
monotheistic and does not permit syncretism. Judaism asserts that Yahweh is the one and only
God and that he is unchanging. Furthermore, Judaism espouses a law code that dictates how
Jews live. Consequently, the Jews in the Hellenistic era did not accept many aspects of the Greek
culture like other conquered peoples did. But, on the other hand, the Gentiles of the Hellenistic
world were very curious about Judaism, just as they were with other religions and gods and
goddesses. Adding to this, many Jews living in places outside of Palestine started speaking
Greek as their native language, which made it difficult for them to read their religious texts.
Consequently, a Greek version of the Hebrew Bible was created. This Greek translation was
known as the Septuagint. Septuagint is the Greek word for “70” and they called it due to the
development of a pretty interesting story. Legend has it that King Ptolemy of Egypt wanted a
copy of the Hebrew Bible for his library in Alexandria. He wrote a letter to the high priest in
Jerusalem requesting 72 interpreters, 6 from each ancient tribe, to translate the Hebrew Bible into
Greek so that the king could read it. When they arrived, the king shut each translator into a
separate cell to each produce a copy of the Hebrew Bible. As each interpreter worked, a miracle
occurred. When they emerged with their finished copies, each version was word-for-word
exactly the same. Now, no one knows the truth of this story. It likely helped Hellenistic Jews
retain their religious and ethnic identities in a civilization that was so prone to mixing everything.
But what we do know is that Greek versions of the Hebrew Bible first appeared in Egypt and
copies were kept in the library of Alexandria for Hellenistic Jews and other Greek speakers to
[SLIDE] So let's return to our original questions. Our first question was, who were the
Macedonians? And how did they conquer the Greeks and other civilizations? What I told you
was that under the direction of Philip the II, the Macedonians conquered the Greek city-states in
the fourthcentury BCE. Philip II and Alexander the Great conquered the Greeks and other
civilizations through the use of their efficient armies, tactical skills, communication systems,
new instruments of war, and by building good relationships with their armies.
[SLIDE] Our second question was, how did Macedonian rulers spread Greek culture in the
Hellenistic civilization? And I told you that they instituted Greek political systems and
conquered areas that encouraged natives to become Greek culturally in order to gain power.
They also established new cities and transplanted Greek urban structures, political institutions,
and codes of law. They expanded trade so that more places received Greek products.
[SLIDE] Out last question was, how did the development of Hellenistic civilization impact
Greek culture? And what I said was that the Greeks also absorbed ideas and practices from the
people they conquered. This included royal titles, innovative scientific and mathematic concepts
and practices, new philosophical ideas, and the gods and goddesses of non-Greek people.
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