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With Alexander the great, the time of Hellenism began (tetradrachm, Alexander with lion skin )

As Hellenism (from Greek Ελληνισμός hellēnismós , Hellenism ') is the era of ancient Greek history from the accession of Alexander the Great of Macedonia 336 v. Until the incorporation of Ptolemaic Egypt , the last Hellenistic great empire, into the Roman Empire in 30 BC. Chr. Designated.

These epoch boundaries, which focus on the great empires of Alexander and the Diadochi , are only useful for political history, and only to a limited extent for this, because as early as the middle of the 2nd century BC. Most of the Greeks came under the direct or indirect rule of the Romans or Parthians . In terms of cultural history, on the other hand, Hellenism was not only linked to older developments, but also continued to have an effect over the Roman Empire and into late antiquity . Angelos Chaniotis therefore only sets the epoch limit on the death of Emperor Hadrian in 138 AD: He completed the integration of the Greeks into the Roman Empire.

The German historian Johann Gustav Droysen first used the term “Hellenism” as an epoch designation around the middle of the 19th century. He understood Hellenism to be the time from the death of Alexander the Great (323 BC) to the Battle of Actium (31 BC) and the end of the last Greek Empire in India. In the sense of “imitation of the Greek way of life”, the noun “hellenismós” and the verb “hellenizein” were used in antiquity . It is derived from the Hellenes , the Greeks' own name.

An important characteristic of this historical epoch is an increased Hellenization , the penetration of the Orient by the Greek culture , and in return, the growing influence of oriental culture on the Greeks. The Hellenistic world encompassed a vast area that stretched from Sicily and Lower Italy ( Magna Graecia ) via Greece to India and from the Black Sea to Egypt and today's Afghanistan . The Hellenization of the oriental population ensured that up to the 7th century, in addition to Aramaic, at least the urban population of Syria used a form of Greek , the koine (from κοινός koinós "general"), which persisted in Asia Minor considerably longer . The cultural traditions of Hellenism survived the political collapse of the monarchies and continued to work for centuries in Rome and the Byzantine Empire .

Historical floor plan

Main article: History of Hellenism

The world empire that arose during Alexander's move and that he gave his successors in 323 BC. Left behind
The Hellenistic world 300 BC Chr.
The Hellenistic world 200 BC Chr.

The Macedonian King Alexander III. "The great", under whose father Philip II. Macedonia became the hegemonic power over Greece, conquered from 334 BC. To the Persian Achaemenid Empire and penetrated as far as India. After the death of Alexander in 323 BC There were civil wars over his successor, and since no one succeeded in gaining control over the entire empire, his leading generals, the so-called Diadochi , finally rose to become local rulers. Since 306/5 most of them have held the title of king. A reunification of the Alexander Empire appeared at the latest in 301 BC. Hopeless when Antigonus I Monophthalmos was defeated by his rivals in the battle of Ipsos . The so-called diadoch battles for Alexander's inheritance finally ended in 281 BC. After a total of six wars. Three Hellenistic empires were formed that lasted until the 2nd century BC. They were supposed to rule the eastern Mediterranean and were ruled by Macedonian dynasties: Macedonia proper and large parts of Greece fell to the Antigonids , the descendants of Antigonus I, Asia Minor , Syria , Mesopotamia and Persia came under the rule of the Seleucids , and Egypt, the Cyrenaica and the Levant fell to the Ptolemies . All three dynasties also competed for influence in the Aegean region and never gave up the claim to Alexander's entire empire pro forma . There were also Central Powers such as the Attalidic Pergamon , Rhodes and the Achaean League .

After the end of the Diadoch Wars, the political situation initially stabilized, as the three great empires neutralized each other. From 200 BC However, Rome began to get involved in the Hellenistic world, first in Greece, then in Asia Minor, and also intervened in the conflict between the Seleucids and the Ptolemies over Palestine . In 188 BC BC the Romans forced the Seleucids Antiochus III. to renounce parts of his empire; he had to give up most of Asia Minor. Philip V of Macedonia had previously had to accept that his room for maneuver was restricted in Greece and Asia Minor, after the smaller states in the region such as Pergamon , which feared for their independence due to the expansive aspirations of Antiochus and Philip, had provided the Romans with pretexts for military intervention which resulted in an initially indirect regional hegemony of Rome. At least since the day of Eleusis in 168 BC. The new balance of power was obvious.

These severe setbacks were not without consequences for the monarchies, whose existence was largely based on the military capabilities of the kings: In Iran, until then under Seleucid control, spread as early as the 3rd century BC. The Parthians , ruled by the Arsacids , who initially presented themselves as heirs to the Hellenistic tradition in the West. After 188 BC Their advance accelerated considerably; and when the Arsacids around 141 BC BC also took possession of Mesopotamia, they restricted the Seleucids, who had already lost their eastern territories to the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom in the 3rd century , to an insignificant remnant state in Syria. The Hellenistic kings in Bactria, on the other hand, whose empire dates from around 130 BC. B.C., their area of ​​influence had previously extended to northwest India , where Greek monarchs at least until the end of the 1st century BC. Could hold.

In 168 BC After a final war, the Romans divided Macedonia into four districts and abolished the Antigonid monarchy; 148 BC They finally converted it into a Roman province and for the first time permanently stationed troops in the region. The Greek motherland also finally came under Roman control; a beacon was the conquest and sack of Corinth by the general Mummius in 146. 133 BC. The Attalid Empire fell to Rome and soon after became the province of Asia . Around 88 BC The last time Roman hegemony was called into question when many Greeks appealed to King Mithridates VI. who was eventually defeated by Rome. 63 BC The annexation of Syria by Pompey eliminated the last remnants of the Seleucid rule; 30 BC Chr. Took Octavian Alexandria and divided the Ptolemaic empire, which since the late 2nd century BC. In any case not much more than a Roman protectorate had entered the empire. 27 BC Finally, Greece was finally placed under direct Roman rule as the province of Achaea , even if some poleis in Hellas and Asia Minor remained externally free. This ended the political independence of Greek states for almost two millennia, and thus also the political history of Hellenism, while the cultural radiance of Hellenism was preserved until late antiquity (see also Byzantine Empire ).

Hellenistic monarchies

The kingship of the Hellenistic rulers was based on two pillars: the succession of Alexander ( διαδοχή , diadochē ) and the acclamation by the armies (see below ). The states did not exist independently of their form of government; the Seleucid ruler for example, were not about kings of Syria, but only kings in Syria; one reason for this may have been that every Hellenistic basileus made theoretical claims to the whole of Alexander's empire, if not to the whole world. In the Diadochian kingdoms there was no separation between sovereign and person. The kingship ( basileia ) was not a state office but a personal dignity, and the monarch saw the state, which was not conceptually delimited from it, as his affairs ( pragmata ). Theoretically, the whole conquered land was in the possession of the king, which is why he was able to transfer it to a foreign power such as the Romans in his will (as happened in Pergamon in 133 BC ).

Ptolemy I was worshiped as a god as one of the first Hellenistic rulers

Initially, the military successes of the Diadochi in their participation in Alexander's campaigns were sufficient to gain charisma and legitimation. Due to the lack of a relationship between the Diadochi and the Argeadians , however, a legitimation problem arose. Since military excellence was paramount as a means of legitimation, the Diadochi tried to tie in ideally with Alexander's military genius. Even the possession or burial place of Alexander's corpse, for which there was fierce competition, and his regalia such as his signet ring were used for legitimation. Above all, however, the personality cult that had developed around Alexander was promoted by the Diadochi in order to legitimize their own position of power. The legitimation problem worsened in the second generation. Therefore, in the course of a strategic marriage policy with the female members of the Argead, genealogy was used as a central means of legitimation. In some cases, relationships with the Macedonian ruling house or a sons of God were simply invented. This is how the rumor arose that Ptolemy was a half-brother of Alexander. Overall, the changes to the throne seldom went smoothly; competing heir to the throne were often eliminated.

The diadochi had their portraits adorned with ritual symbols such as bull's or ram's horns on the obverse of the coins, where the portraits of the gods traditionally found their place. The Ammon's horns were already used in the iconography of Alexander the Great and established a connection with the divine sphere. They were initially adopted by the Diadochi for the purpose of their legitimation. The cultic veneration of the Hellenistic rulers was, at least initially, not demanded from them themselves, but from outside, through the “free” poleis of Greece. In contrast to Macedonia and the former territories of the Persian Empire, the monarchy in Greece was fundamentally rejected, which forced kings and subjects alike to act diplomatically. One way of casting the factual superiority of kings into an acceptable form was the cult of rulers , through which the Poleis could recognize kings as masters without accepting them de iure as monarchs. One could fall back on forerunners from the late classical period (e.g. Lysander ). The rulers were initially only called "godlike". But as early as 304 BC The Rhodians called Ptolemy I as god and called him σωτήρ ( Sōtēr , "savior"). The Diadochi apparently accepted such cult acts related to themselves rather hesitantly, while the subsequent Hellenistic kings consciously forced the ruler's cult to pursue the formation of dynasties. The typical Hellenistic ruler's cult began, after precursors under the first two Antigonids , under their successors on a broad front. A distinction must be made between the centrally decreed dynasty cult of the Ptolemies and the late Seleucids and the cultic veneration enjoyed by many kings in the Greek poleis, whom they in turn faced as Euergeten .

Above all, Hans-Joachim Gehrke , with reference to Max Weber's sociology , interpreted the Hellenistic monarchy as a strongly charismatic form of rule in which victory and personal success were decisive for the legitimacy of the king. The ruling costume was that of a Macedonian general, supplemented by the diadem , and many kings went into battle personally, with the corresponding consequences: 12 of the first 14 Seleucid rulers were killed in battle. More recently it has been pointed out that in the late Hellenism it became more and more difficult to live up to this claim.

The Diadochi and their successors ruled with the help of written edicts , which were formulated as letters ( ἐπιστολή , epistolē ) or ordinances ( πρόσταγμα , prostagma ). The official responsible for these decrees was called epistoliagraphos . The ruler was advised by a committee of friends ( φίλοι , philoi ) and relatives ( συγγενεῖς , syngeneis ). Various court offices, especially in the fiscal area, were exercised by eunuchs . Probably the most important office was that of the property manager ( διοικητής , dioikētēs ), who was responsible for administration, economics and finances. Even at the time of the Diadochi one can speak of an "absolutist" state. The form of rule of the Hellenistic empires had a decisive influence on the younger Greek tyranny , the Carthaginians and the Roman Empire.

The territorial structure of the Diadochian Empire goes back to Alexander the Great himself, who had essentially retained the administrative structure of the Persian Empire. The kingdom , administered by strategists and satraps , comprised most of the Alexander Empire. Alexander had handed over the military powers of the local satraps to Macedonian strategists who, after his death, gradually took over the entire administrative work of their districts ( νόμοι , nomoi ). The strategists were now also responsible for the settlement system and the judiciary and were supported by a royal scribe ( βασιλικὸς γραμματεύς , basilikos grammateus ).

One is particularly well informed about the conditions in the Ptolemaic Empire, which, however, was in part a special case. The king could assign parts of the kingdom , which was divided into districts ( τόποι , topoi ) and villages ( κώμαι , kōmai ), or the income from it to his subordinates. The district administration found its final form in the 3rd century BC. Under Ptolemy III. (246-221). The external possessions did not belong to the royal country with its Gaustrustruktion. They formed their own territorial type, but were also subject to strategists. The remote holdings of the Ptolemaic Empire included Cyrene , parts of Syria and Asia Minor , Cyprus and the coasts of the Red and Indian Seas .

In the Seleucid Empire, the outside possessions were organized somewhat differently, depending on their size and political system, they were called peoples ( ἔθνη , ethnē ), cities ( πόλεις , poleis ) or kingdoms ( δυναστεία , dynasteia ). These enclaves, which were not under the direct administration of the Diadoch ruler, remained in this form until the end of Hellenism. However, some of them became independent in the course of time, especially on the periphery of the Seleucid Empire. In the third great Hellenistic empire, Macedonia, the Antigonids tied to older traditions more strongly than the other monarchs.

The administration of the diadochin empires influenced posterity more than its structure. It was usually centralized and organized by professional officials. This bureaucratic apparatus was not an invention of the Greek political culture, but was in the tradition of the Achaemenid and Pharaonic empires. In ancient Greece there was something comparable only in private estate management. Like the employees of an estate from its owner, the officials of the Hellenistic rulers were dependent on their king, who appointed them, paid, promoted and dismissed them. The administration of the Diadochi laid the foundation for the finely chiseled and personnel-intensive bureaucracy of the Hellenistic period, although local officials were hardly allowed to hold higher offices. These were usually occupied by Macedonians or Greeks.

Hellenistic poleis

For most of the Greeks who settled in the mother country, in Asia Minor, in the Black Sea region or in southern Italy, the polis remained the most important social and legal organizational framework even under Hellenism. The view widespread in older research that the great Pole era also came to an end with the Greek Classics is no longer held today; rather, at least early Hellenism is now considered to be a heyday of cities. Many originally non-Greek places also began to organize as poleis. Alexander and the Diadochi had also founded numerous new poleis, especially in the Near East, which were partly based on the Greek and partly on the less autonomous Macedonian model, because the urban elites were important instruments for the monarchs to direct or indirect way of exercising. Large poleis such as Athens , Sparta , Corinth, Ephesus and Taranto now struggled to maintain their independence in foreign policy. In some cases, however, they were able to try to maintain a high degree of autonomy in the field of tension between the great powers by acting skillfully; the Polis of Rhodes in particular was quite successful here for a long time. As in the archaic and classical periods, they were often threatened by internal conflicts ( stasis ), which sometimes escalated into civil wars .

In economic terms, many cities flourished during the Hellenistic era, which numerous public buildings still bear witness to today. It is controversial how long democratic forms of government could be maintained in the majority of the Hellenistic poleis. Most ancient historians currently assume that the decisive turning point in this regard in many places only occurred in the middle of the 2nd century BC. Should be set when the Romans had established their hegemony over the Greek east; others assume that most cities have been dominated by a rich upper class since the 4th century, which is particularly visible in the context of euergetism . It is undisputed that in the course of Hellenism there was an aristocratization, as a result of which the Poleis were no longer governed by the popular assembly at the latest in the imperial era , but by the oligarchic elite assembled in the city council, which increasingly assumed the character of a hereditary nobility.


Most of the Hellenistic poleis were too small to maintain their freedom of action against the great powers on their own. With the late Greek city federations or federal states (κοινά, koina ), a further form of government developed from older cult and battle federations in addition to the Hellenistic kingdoms , especially in the Greek motherland . Its most important representatives were the Aetolian League in north-west Greece and the Achaean League in the Peloponnese . These federal states originally formed mostly in economically and culturally underdeveloped areas that were not dominated by a powerful polis like Athens or Thebes ; but in Hellenism the leagues became the focus of Greek politics and even stood up to the kings. The Arcadian League , which became part of the Achaean League in the 3rd century, founded its own federal capital, Megalopolis , in order not to come under the domination of a member. Other federal republics chose old places of worship as meeting places for their bodies, the Aitolische Bund, for example, the Apollo Shrine in Thermos , which was also a means of strengthening the cohesion of the union. In addition, there was the (often fictitious) claim to be linked by common ancestors.

The Greek federal states consisted of several, mostly formally independent poles, which had delegated their foreign policy and military powers to higher authorities, in whose bodies they were represented by delegates. As a rule there was a common army force and institutions such as the federal assembly, council and magistrates, sometimes a common currency and units of measurement. The internal autonomy of the individual cities remained in principle, however, as long as they did not violate loyalty to the Alliance or come under the rule of tyrants (the accusation of tyranny was, however, sometimes just a pretext to justify an intervention). Some "tyrants" therefore resigned voluntarily and sought careers at the federal level. The former tyrant Aratos of Sikyon was eight times strategist (federal general) of the Achaean League. Otherwise, as a rule, the federal government only interfered in the internal affairs of the cities in exceptional cases; However, he turned against radical social reforms and attempts to overthrow and intervened in a balancing act in conflicts between its members, for example by sending arbitrators to mediate to prevent stasis.

A typical characteristic of the Hellenistic Koina was a common federal or civil right, which however did not replace the polis citizenship. A federal assembly functioned as a higher-level political authority, the powers of which varied from federal to federal government and which, as a rule, elected federal officials who changed every year and who were responsible for representing the federal government externally and commanding the common army. The fraternities often tried to expand their sphere of influence and in doing so also used force; one example is the attempt by the Achaean League to integrate Sparta against the will of many citizens. If a polis tried to leave a union, this was sometimes forcibly prevented.

The Hellenistic Federal Republics inspired the fathers of the American Constitution

The Koina reached their peak in the late 3rd century BC. In the course of the 2nd century, the Greek federal states gradually came under Roman control, but some still existed after the end of the Hellenistic period, such as the Lycian League in Asia Minor, which was still responsible for rites under Roman rule, and the Lycian ones Poleis served as a mouthpiece for Roman authorities. The historian Polybius , whose father Lykortas was one of the leading politicians of the Achaean League, idealized this union in his work and saw in it the completion of the "true" (ie controlled by aristocrats like him) democracy. The modern theory of the state judged the Hellenistic Koina similarly positive for a long time, so Montesquieu called the Lycian League an ideal Federal Republic and the ancient historian Karl Julius Beloch called the late Greek Federal Republics "the most perfect creation in the political field that the Hellenes and ancient times succeeded in general". Only in more recent research has the power-political reality behind the lofty claims of the federal states been identified more clearly.

The states of the Hellenistic period, whose actual heyday lasted only a few decades, thus gained a decisive influence on posterity. Even the fathers of the American constitution based their draft on Polybios' and Strabon's reports on it. The Koina were considered the best way to organize premodern territorial states without a monarchical center. The capital of the United States , Washington , like the Achaean megalopolis, was therefore re-established especially for this purpose, after the American Congress had previously met alternately in different cities.

Army and warfare

Hoplites also played an important role in the armies of the Diadochi

The army was of fundamental importance, especially for the Diadochian empires. It can basically be divided into three large groups: the Macedonian guard ( ἄγημα , agēma ), which consisted of hoplites and horsemen, the Greco-Macedonian phalanx of heavily armed men and a growing number of foreign mercenaries, who were mostly loyal to the in particular the late days could not always be relied on if they did not receive their pay on time.

From the Macedonian Army Assembly ( ἐκκλησία πάνδημος , ekklēsia pandēmos ), the Hellenistic armies had four tasks in addition to national defense: the proclamation or confirmation of a king ( acclamation ), the appointment of guardians for minor kings, the recognition of royal wills and the condemnation of royal wills of the ruler. In the Diadochi was among others Ptolemy the Eumenes , Kassandros the Olympias and finally Antigonus the Kassandros condemn the army. The army's influence, which was still very great at that time, declined more and more; later, only the garrisons of the capitals could impose their will on the political leadership. Nevertheless, the military commander in chief ( χιλίαρχος , chiliarchos ) remained the second man in the state next to the dioikētēs .

Appian , among others , allows an assessment of the size of these armies , who reports that the Ptolemaic Empire had over 200,000 foot soldiers, 40,000 horsemen, 300 war elephants, 2,000 chariots, 1,500 large and 2,000 small warships. However, the exact numbers are difficult to determine, as ancient historians often exaggerate in this regard. Yet there can be no doubt that the Hellenistic armies were vast compared to the armies of the classical period. The figures for the battles of Ipsos (301 BC), Raphia (217 BC) and Magnesia (190 BC), which are a good 70,000 soldiers per side, should be quite realistic.

Some new branches of arms were also introduced during Hellenism. The use of war elephants goes back to Seleukos , who kept 500 Indian elephants in Apamea , which he had received from the Maurya king Chandragupta . In addition, camels, armored horsemen ( κατάφρακτοι , kataphraktoi ) and, for the first time, siege machines were used on a large scale , with siege technology making enormous progress. Most of the Poleis were no longer capable of independent campaigns during the Hellenistic period, but precisely because of the constant danger of siege, many cities tried to provide their citizens with military training.

Demetrios Poliorketes , the son of Antigonus , had huge capital ships built with up to sixteen rows of rowers, thus giving the navy an important boost. The size of the warships grew unusually quickly during the Diadoch period. The largest ships in Alexander the Great's Euphrates fleet had only five rows, as early as the time of the Battle of Ipsos in 301 BC. However, Demetrios had thirteen-row ships built. The sixteen-row Hekkaidekere ( ἑκκαιδεκήρης ) then marked the climax of the ship development aimed at practical utility. The twenty-, thirty- and forty-row ships built later by the Ptolemies, on the other hand, were probably pure showpieces that were only built in very small numbers.

Even the Diadochi had a standing army that was mobile and always ready for action. During times of war it was supplemented by a large number of military settlers ( κάτοικοι κληροῦχοι , katoikoi klērouchoi ), who were settled in cities by Seleucus and in villages by Ptolemy. With the system of military settlers, the Hellenistic rulers achieved two goals at the same time: On the one hand, their wages could be paid in full or in part with the income from the land built by the soldiers in peace; expanded administration and co-financed the constant wars. The military settlers were mostly Greek immigrants and built the cities newly founded for them themselves. However, mercenaries were also recruited and - initially only occasionally, later regularly - local troops were integrated into the phalanx .


Alexandria was the economic and cultural center of the Hellenistic world

According to many scholars, the conquests of Alexander in the east freed the Greek world from a crisis that it had entered through overpopulation, impoverishment of the masses, decline in trade and extreme accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few. The conquered areas offered opportunities for emigration and expansion of trade with the Orient. They ushered in a period of prosperity, albeit a relatively short one, by intensifying trade and increasing exports, which, of course, was soon disrupted by the Diadoch Wars.

The Diadochen empires pursued a systematic economic policy, the basis of which was an agriculture that was well organized down to the last detail. The Macedonians made viticulture at home in Seleucid Babylonia , while Egypt developed into the most important grain exporter in the eastern Mediterranean with the help of modern cultivation methods. For the Ptolemaic Empire, whose rulers received about a third of the agricultural income, papyrus finds suggest a real state- planned economy . The principle of this economic system, which dates back to the pharaohs , is summed up in a papyrus made from Tebtunis :

Nobody has the right to do what they want, because everything is well organized.

By eliminating corruption, economic idleness and often chaotic private initiatives, Egypt became the wealthiest country and the Ptolemaic king the richest man in the ancient world. He benefited not least from the inclusion of the rich temple districts, which previously formed a kind of state within the state. Its capital Alexandria remained the largest trading center in the then known world until the time of the Roman emperor Augustus .

Tetradrachm from the Hellenistic period

The minting of coins was also under the control of the king. First was Attic coin standard , the basis of the Hellenistic monetary system, later, the Ptolemaic empire, whose second most important port of the Phoenician city of Tire was on the Phoenician Münzfüß order. There were coins in circulation made of gold for foreign policy purposes, of silver for subjects of Greek descent and of bronze for the use of the locals. Currency exchange, like banking as a whole, was in the hands of the state. In Egypt, the royal state bank ( βασιλικὴ τράπεζα , basilikē trapeza ) processed foreign financial transactions through its main office in Alexandria and domestic payments through numerous branches throughout the empire. The bank on the island of Delos was also of international importance . All banking transactions were documented in writing using the accounting system developed in Athens.

The royal warehouses ( θησαυροί , thēsauroi ) also played an important role in the economic life of the Hellenistic monarchies . In addition to trading in natural produce such as grain, they also offered numerous financial services. The income from the warehouses, together with the income from the crown estates , which were directed by an idiologos ( ἰδιολόγος ), the customs duties and the taxes collected by tax tenants ( τελώναι , telōnai ) formed the basis of the state budget. This comprised the most important items of keeping the court, the payment of soldiers and civil servants, building the navy and foreign policy expenses such as tributes. Tax evasion was punishable by imprisonment or sale into slavery .

In the commercial sector, private entrepreneurs had more leeway. However, this was limited by extensive monopoly regulations. The state was responsible for staple foods such as oil, salt, fish, beer, honey and dates, the production of papyrus, textiles, glass and luxury items, and transport, but also foreign trade. The Hellenistic states protected their own economies with tariffs of up to 50 percent and achieved considerable foreign trade surpluses, not least through an expansion of trade with the East. The Seleucids benefited from their favorable location on the Silk Road and constantly expanded the transport routes and ports. The most important export goods of the Seleucid Empire were slaves. Since there was little need for slavery in their own country due to serfdom, prisoners from conquered cities were sold to Greece and Italy. However, with the rise of Rome, the trade flows shifted from the second half of the 2nd century BC. Gradually: The goods produced in the Orient were now shipped directly to Italy, mostly bypassing Greece.

Society and social structure

The Diadochian empires had a fairly large population by ancient standards: the population of the Seleucid Empire is estimated at thirty, that of the Ptolemaic Empire at around eight million. The states of the Hellenistic period were characterized by two great contrasts: the division into nationalities and the separation into social classes.

Philo of Alexandria is an important source on Hellenistic Egypt

The more important contrast was that between Greeks and Orientals. Philo of Alexandria attests to the existence of a two-class society: Egyptians were punished with the whip, Greeks only with a stick. The Diadochi largely gave up the equality of the two groups promoted by Alexander and soon separated local and Greek officials. Seleucus withdrew the military supreme command of the local satraps in favor of Greek strategists, while Ptolemy refrained from building up his military and administrative apparatus entirely on local people, who were only allowed to bear political responsibility at the level of the village mayor. It fits into this picture of an apartheid society that mixed marriages were prohibited and that each section of the population was subject to its own law. Trials between people of different ethnic groups were tried in special courts. The ethnic contrast between immigrants and Orientals was thus even greater and more important than that between slaves and free. But no more than one percent of the population was of Greek origin.

The Diadochi and their successors wanted to strengthen the Greek element in their states and therefore favored the immigrants, of whom hundreds of thousands came over time. Greeks entered the royal service as soldiers or civil servants and settled in the Greek cities of the east, in which they were immediately granted citizenship as private citizens, as traders, traders or as peasants obliged to do military service ( Katöken ), for which they received a land allocation . Also Galatians and Jews were taken into the army, the cities also took Jews and Phoenicians on. The differences among the immigrant Greeks soon leveled out: the local traditions receded and an all-Greek lingua franca emerged, the κοινή , koinē . Its importance is shown in the fact that the Old Testament was translated into this language and the new was even written in it. The development of a standard Greek language during the Hellenistic period laid the foundation stone for the later spread of Christianity .

The Macedonians remained culturally independent the longest. However, the term “Macedonian” soon became a class term and was later used by Jews themselves. Belonging to Greek culture was the goal of many Orientals. This is how Manetho , who drew up the list of pharaohs , called the ancestors of the Greeks and Egyptians brothers, while King Pyrrhus of Epirus traced his rule back to Achilles . Even the Romans invoked an alleged consanguinity before Seleucus through their legendary Trojan ancestors. The word of the philosopher Isocrates was generally used . This had stated:

One is not Greek by birth ( γένος , genos ) and appearance ( φύσις , physis ), but by reason ( διάνοια , dianoia ) and education ( παίδευσις , paideusis ).

In the long term, this made it easier to mix Greeks and Orientals, despite the rigid separation of ethnic groups. In the Nile Valley the Greeks were Egyptized and the Egyptians Hellenized. Ptolemy showed himself to be particularly accommodating towards the Fellahs , probably above all to prevent possible uprisings. In any case, the prosperity of the Egyptian peasants in the early Diadoch period increased so far that a Fellache earned more than a Greek worker on Delos . Limited Hellenization occurred in Mesopotamia. The only exception is the Seleukia Ctesiphon , where only Greeks were granted citizenship. But as early as the end of the 2nd century BC There are hardly any Greek names left in Mesopotamia.

Social stratification played a much lesser role than the contrast between the various nationalities. At first there was no nobility in the true sense of the word. The Greeks had only just immigrated and so could hardly show off the achievements of their ancestors, and the importance of the native nobility, which was initially still present in Persia, quickly declined. This was also in the interests of the Hellenistic rulers, whose bureaucratic apparatus was dependent on offices being awarded according to efficiency and not according to birth. Therefore ranks awarded by the king were initially not hereditary. Instead, a bourgeoisie became rich through long-distance trade, especially in the Seleucid Empire.

Arsinoë II (behind) with her brother Ptolemy II, who is wearing a royal armband

The slaves in most parts of the Hellenistic world were probably less numerous and also less important than in other ancient states. At least for Egypt, it can be assumed with a certain degree of certainty that slavery is of minor economic and social importance, but the number of slaves in the Seleucid Empire is difficult to determine. The farm work was done by fellahs , the laoi , who were not legally considered slaves. Marriages between free and unfree were relatively common. Apart from the temple slaves ( ἱεροδοῦλοι , Hierodulen ), there were slaves, especially in the private households of rich Greeks, so they were hardly involved in production. They were considered luxury goods and were therefore subject to a special tax. The ransom of slaves was not made until around 200 BC. Common. Prisoners of war in slave status, on the other hand, were already among the Diadochi. These worked mainly in royal quarries and mines. Several slave revolts are attested for Hellenism, including in Sicily and Attica.

The position of women in the Hellenistic period was relatively good compared to the classical period. They gained the right to run businesses independently and to testify in court on their own behalf. All levels of school education were also available to them. Women attended the gymnasium , worked as poets or philosophers and organized themselves in their own associations. As inscriptions from Asia Minor, Sparta and Cyrene show, women made a name for themselves through foundations and assumed political offices. In Delphi and Priene , women even officiated as archons . In addition, important women received the citizenship of foreign cities. Royal women like Arsinoë II , the daughter of Ptolemy, and later Cleopatra , even took an active part in politics. However, newborn girls were still exposed far more often than boys. But this fate only seldom met the daughters of female slaves, since unfree people were generally sought after as luxury goods.

Religion and cult

The diadochi allowed their subjects to worship native gods. There was a tendency to recognize one's own cults and deities in the foreign religions of Asia and Egypt. Probably the most momentous innovation in religious policy was the introduction of the syncretic cult of Sarapis by Ptolemy. Sarapis was a fusion of the Egyptian gods Osiris and Apis and the Greek father Zeus . At the same time he borrowed from Dionysus and Hades . According to the Interpretatio Graeca , other Greek and Oriental gods were increasingly equated, for example the harvest goddess Demeter with Isis , the wife of Osiris. These new syncretistic gods were no longer bound to any polis or homeland; they immediately received international admiration. So the Sarapis cult spread throughout the Aegean. The inauguration and redemption cults that arose after the Egyptian model formed supra-regional brotherhoods, forerunners of the churches, which spread over the entire Mediterranean region. The spread of the Adonis cult in Hellenized form must be added to the Syrian influence . Phrygia contributed to the cult of the Great Mother Cybele , and even Yahweh appeared in the form of Sabazios , a figure of Dionysius.

While Seleucus granted the places of worship their own legal status and allowed them a self-government organized by a temple assembly ( ἐκκλησία , ekklēsia ) and cult associations, Ptolemy tried to integrate the rich shrines of Egypt into his administrative apparatus . The Ptolemies allowed themselves to be venerated as σονναοι θεοί ( synnaoi theoi ) in the temples and appointed the priests themselves. Greek inspectors took over the supervision of the temple economy , even Greek priests appeared. The temples' income was taxed and their right of asylum restricted, but the cult itself was largely preserved in its pre-Hellenistic form.

The Diadochi enjoyed divine honors not only in Egypt. A hymn to Demetrios, the son of Antigonus, composed around 291 on the occasion of his return to Athens, which he occupied , gives a rare insight into the accompanying rhetoric:

Rejoice, son of the mighty god Poseidon [allusion to his above-mentioned fleet] and Aphrodite [flattery on his beauty] . Because the other gods are far away, or they don't exist at all, or they don't care about us. But we see you now, not made of wood or stone [like the cult images in the temples] , but really.

In addition to such - sometimes spontaneous, but mostly agreed with the ruler - honors on the part of the Poleis, the Ptolemies, the Seleucids, and later the Attalids, the empire-wide decreed dynastic cult occurred . Already in 324 Alexander asked the Greek cities to venerate him as the son of Zeus. Alexander had already celebrated his return from India with a lavish festival based on the Dionysus myth ( komos ). Dionysus himself was to play an important role in the Hellenistic cult of rulers in the period that followed. His personality traits allow him to take in all possible elements of Thracian, Asiatic and Egyptian elements, especially of the gods who died young and were resurrected and offered as atonement for the salvation of mankind and then triumphed over death. Under Ptolemy XII. The cult was so dominant in Egypt that the king was nicknamed Neos Dionysus .

The Diadochen also put to the Dionysus myth subsequent Alexander cult continued its center in Ptolemaic Egypt Alexander's grave ( σῆμα , Sema formed) in Alexandria. They also promoted legends about their own divine ancestry. Soon it became common knowledge that Heracles was the ancestor of the Ptolemies and Apollo the ancestor of the Seleucids. While there was no cultic worship of the ruler in Macedonia, it was soon practiced on a large scale in the other two realms. The Ptolemies already had a dynastic cult very early (under Ptolemy II ), while in the Seleucid Empire it was probably only under Antiochus III. appropriate steps have been taken. In the course of this, the institution of the high priest ( ἀρχιερεύς , archiereus ), which was soon taken over by the Ptolemies , came into being. In honor of the Hellenistic rulers, festivals based on the model of the Olympic Games were held regularly , which attracted guests from all over the world. However, with the exception of Isis, the acceptance of foreign gods in superficially Hellenized Mesopotamia was lower than in other parts of the Seleucid Empire.

Bust of Sarapis

In the Hellenistic period, Greco-Macedonian ideas of the world of gods carried over to local oriental cults, which resulted in specific reciprocal influences. The polytheistic attitude of the monarchs made coexistence possible. Alexandria was home to the largest Jewish community outside of Jerusalem. However, after uncertain (since Jewish apologetic) news, the Jews in Alexandria formed their own politeuma with certain privileges. Work on the Septuagint , the Greek version of the Old Testament, also began in the Hellenistic period . The oldest extra-biblical account of the Exodus comes from the Aegyptiaca of Hecataeus of Abdera (around 300 BC). In his work, written at the court of Ptolemy, he reports that the Jews were driven out of Egypt during a plague and led to Judea by their wise lawgiver (Biblical Moses ?). The writings of Hecataeus apparently also influenced Manetho, who wrote in a similar way about the origins of the Jews. Overall, the Jews were subjected to a Hellenization process, which, thanks in part to the support of Seleucus and the first Seleucids, led to extensive equality with the Greeks. This is how Hellenistic Judaism came into being .

The new oriental religions of initiation and redemption with their mystical orgiastic cults became more and more important over time in the Diadochian kingdoms and replaced both the Olympian gods of the Greeks and rational thinking. At times, mysticism even threatened public order. Economic activity also flagged. In the face of decreasing political freedom of the citizens of the polis, heavy taxation and permanent wars and civil wars - Babylon was in the 2nd century BC. Conquered by foreign armies nine times in BC alone - people turned to magic, astrology and private patron gods in order to be able to influence their fate ( Tyche ) at least on a small scale. Religion became a private matter, only the ruler's cult remained as a connecting element. This development prepared the ground for the spread of Christianity , another of the Eastern religions of salvation, which promised more inwardness because they appeared strange and exotic.

Science and Research

The philosopher Epicurus was a contemporary of the Diadochi

The Diadoch period initiated the upswing in science and technology of the Hellenistic period, from which the modern age was to benefit. The Alexanderzug was already accompanied by surveyors whose records were of great importance for geography . In Hellenism, some of the most important philosophical currents developed (see for example Stoa , Epicureanism and Peripatos ), but mathematics , art and medicine were also able to develop further during this productive period.

Since the time of the Diadochi Alexandria with its Museion and the associated library of Alexandria became the center of Greek scholarship , whereby the patronage policy of the Ptolemies played a major role. The Museion, located in the palace district of the city, can best be compared with a modern university . With its lecture room, the foyer inviting to philosophical discussions and the common dining room of the local philologists , it formed a science and cultural center. In addition to philosophy, science and medicine were also taught under the direction of a high priest. Here geographical mathematics came into full development, and important contributions to philosophy and astronomy were also made . The doctors of Alexandria, namely Herophilos and Erasistratos , were the first to venture into a comprehensive study of human anatomy and dissect those who were executed for it. Also Eratosthenes worked here. Like the other scientists, writers and artists of the time, he benefited from the fact that he could freely choose where he worked. This created an international class of scholars who soon challenged satirists' ridicule. In a bon mot from Athenaios (22d) they are compared with birds that fattened themselves in the cage of the Museion and amused the king with their bickering.

The library attached to the Museion contained up to 500,000 rolls. Above all, Ptolemy II , the son and successor of Ptolemy, did a great job for them in order to increase his prestige. He had the writings of the Greeks, Chaldeans , Egyptians, Romans and Jews collected, acquired the library of the philosopher Aristotle, who died at the beginning of the Diadoch Wars, and bought other books, especially in Athens and Rhodes. Callimachus wrote the first library catalog, the first head of the library was Zenodotus of Ephesus . The great library of Alexandria aroused the ambition of the rulers of Pergamon, which was just separating from the Seleucid Empire. They too began to collect books and have them copied. They circumvented the export ban on papyrus ( chartae ) imposed by Ptolemy II by using the new type of parchment .

Aristarchus founded the heliocentric worldview

Even if the capital of the Ptolemies was systematically developed by them into the cultural center of the Hellenistic world, the other cities did not miss out. The Greek mother country in particular was repeatedly given donations by the Diadochi. Seleucus gave back the library of Peisistratos, which had been kidnapped from Athens by the Persian king Xerxes I 200 years earlier . In order to influence the Greek public in their favor, the Diadochi supported the Poleis financially through foundations and buildings such as the Olympieion in Athens. This ostensible support of the cultural life and the financial situation of the cities contrasted with their far-reaching political disempowerment. The city's self-government was only preserved inside. Foreign policy, the military and taxes were now a matter for the Diadoch rulers, who, despite everything, treated the cities relatively cautiously. In this way, in the Hellenistic period, culture and science could develop in them in a way that made Hellenism the modern age of antiquity.

The astronomical work of Eudoxus of Knidos († 352 BC) was continued in the 3rd century by Aristarchus († 230 BC), who founded the heliocentric worldview and recognized the rotation of the earth, and by Eratosthenes († 202 BC), who calculated their circumference and created the system of longitudes . Already in the time of Alexander Pytheas sailed the North Sea and discovered Britain . Ptolemy II , the son of the Diadochus Ptolemy, sent envoys to India and had the interior of Africa explored. Many advances were also made in the field of technology, which a few decades later made possible their important inventions for Archimedes and Heron of Alexandria . As early as the time of the Diadochs, Demetrios Poliorketes had a siege engine known as Helepolis ( ἑλέπολις ) constructed with which he attacked Rhodes .

Literature and philosophy

Menander renewed the comedy

In general, it can be said that Hellenistic literature moved within the framework of already known genres ( drama , elegy , epigram , epic , hymn , poetry, etc.), but developed and redesigned them.

The literature of Hellenism produced some notable works. Above all, the writings of Callimachus , the most important Alexandrian poet, and his students should be mentioned, among them Apollonios of Rhodes , who wrote his famous work on the Argonaut saga (Ἀργοναυτικά, Argonautika ), a mixture of hero and love poetry. The poets gathered in the Museion of Alexandria cultivated a courtly style and an L'art-pour-l'art aesthetic; they were held out at court, even led by a “lead tape” and their work appears quite remote from society. The Sicilian Theokritos was the creator of the genre of bucolic poetry, i.e. the shepherds' poems, which still testify to his deep feeling for nature.

While the Attic comedy was primarily political and social satire with a schematic plot, the Hellenistic comedy brought characters to the stage. Love became the main driving force behind the entanglements. The comedy brought sensations and situations to the stage that were previously not literary. Menander , who served as Ephebe together with the philosopher Epicurus in Athens , was particularly important in this area . Only a few pieces of him have survived; the types he designed, however, entered modern European times via Latin literature and reappeared in Molière .

Only the novel (adventure, love, travel novel ) is considered an original development of the Hellenistic period. In contrast to the older genres, it is in prose , which points to reading reception instead of public performance and thus the spread of a private book culture in the cities. The romantically transfigured Alexander novel has enjoyed great popularity right up to modern times. In the Middle Ages it was the most widely distributed book even after the Bible and was read from Europe to Southeast Asia. The works of the Alexander historians were also very popular.

Most of the Hellenistic historiography was already lost during antiquity, as it later no longer corresponded to the taste of the public, which makes it difficult to reconstruct the history of the event. The most important exception is Polybius , of whom in the 2nd century BC A work that was created in BC and covered the years 220 to 146, larger parts have been preserved. He is considered one of the most important historians of the ancient world. At the very end of the epoch, around 50 BC. Then Diodorus wrote a universal story, of which significant sections have also been preserved. The works of most of the other Hellenistic historians can only be grasped through direct and indirect quotations from authors from the imperial era such as Plutarch , Arrian , Appian , Athenaios and Cassius Dio .

The reshaping process in literature was promoted by a new form of public education, such as public schools and, above all, the extensive library system of the Hellenistic period. The libraries mentioned above made it possible for the first time on a broad basis for scholars and writers to draw on material that had already been analyzed and to deal with it. As a result, however, a philologically oriented thinking, oriented towards the genres and styles of the past, spread, which hindered creativity. The literature thus became more and more a matter for experts.

The philosophical thinking of the 3rd century BC BC was mainly characterized by the attempt to arm people, especially the wise, inwardly against the spreading insecurity, against wars, uprisings, catastrophes and the consequences of the numerous banishes. This applies both to the work of Epicurus and Zeno as well as to that of their schools. Even if Athens remained the city of philosophers, it was above all stoicism with its deterministic worldview that was valued in Alexandria; he gave the kingship a philosophical, "rational" justification. Although some Seleucid kings took inspiration from Epicurus, his work seems to have been less popular because he “only” required the kings to guarantee security and peace. The custom of the kings to be accompanied by philosophers as advisers and quasi-confessors and to entrust them with the upbringing of the princes in the Museion , while the discipline made a good living and contributed significantly to the preservation and widespread dissemination of philosophical thought, it proved itself for theoretical thinking as detrimental because it led to the preference for practical (moral) philosophy.

As a result, various currents of philosophy, natural sciences and philology merged in the Alexandrian School until under Ptolemy VIII in 145 BC. Many Greek and Jewish scholars were expelled from Alexandria.

Urbanism and fine arts

Model of the city of Pergamon ( Pergamonmuseum Berlin)

Hellenism also changed the framework for art and architecture of the Greeks. Alexander the Great, and after him the Hellenistic rulers, founded a large number of cities according to geometrical plans, which required temples, high schools , theaters and squares and thus offered architects and artisans ample opportunities to develop. Their residences became centers of a courtly art in which the ruler himself stood. Pergamon is a particularly impressive example of such a residential city. But the urban upper classes were also increasingly concerned about their fame and had their work documented by statues of honor. The houses of the rich lost their unadorned, outwardly closed form; Numerous villa-like variants in peristyle design developed.

The orientation of the cities to the needs of the residences on the one hand and to those of the growing long-distance trade on the other hand led to the depoliticization of the cities. The theater and agora lost their function as places of popular assemblies; In the Syrian cities in particular, trade spread in more and more colonnades along the main streets and later in covered columned halls - the forerunners of the later souks (bazaars). The newly founded Egyptian cities had no autonomy at all; only Alexandria remained an outpost of Greece in a strange environment.

The increasing wealth created a large market for art, including small art and applied arts such as small house altars, decorative wall paintings, etc. One of the essential characteristics of Hellenistic art is its mass commercial production in large workshops of sculptors, painters, decorators, chiselers or goldsmiths . Alexander's court sculptor, Lysippus , became known for his tremendous productivity and great attention to detail.

Detail from the gigantomachy at the Pergamon Altar (Pergamon Museum Berlin): Gaia asks Athena to spare her sons

The art of the Hellenistic period differed from its forerunners primarily in its intensive engagement with the Orient and the barbarians. Mixed forms of Greek and Oriental art developed, for example in eastern Iran. At the same time, sculpture in particular was characterized by an increased striving for realism, which also included a closer observation of nature and the depiction of the lower layers, which were little noticed in the classical period, and which in some cases went over into the grotesque. At the same time, Hellenistic art was loaded with more and more symbols, e.g. B. with representations of putti .

Important features of Hellenistic art are expressionist style elements and pathetic motifs (examples: the drunken old man and Barberinian faun , both in the Glyptothek ) as well as the figures reaching out into space. This is particularly evident in the dramatic figure management of the Pergamene sculptors. Jacob Burckhardt coined the term Pergamene Baroque for the moving, emotional style of these sculptures .

In terms of outstanding works of Hellenistic art, the following can be mentioned above all: the Gaulish anathemes of Attalus I (handed down in Roman copies, known are the dying Gaul and the Gaul who kills his wife ), the Pergamon Altar in Berlin, the Nike of Samothrace, the Aphrodite von Melos (also Venus von Milo , both in the Louvre) and, as one of the last great works of art of Hellenism, the Laocoon group in Rome.

In addition, the support of sovereign self-expression was an important function of Hellenistic art. Through the use of divine attributes, the prominent position and the victoriousness of the monarchs was emphasized. However, this by no means always implied idealization. Their individual traits, for example, were emphasized more strongly on coins.


Christianity was the most momentous aftermath of Hellenism

Hellenism was still in effect after the end of the Hellenistic monarchies in 30 BC. Chr. Further after. The most significant effect was certainly the Hellenization of the Orient, which began with the conquest of Persia by Alexander the Great, and the associated development of a Greek-influenced civilization that was to shape the area of ​​the former Alexander Empire until the Islamic expansion in the 7th century. Even if some Greeks lived in the Middle East before Alexander, this development was intensified by the Alexanderzug. In Syria, Asia Minor and Egypt, Greek was the main language of communication for centuries after the Diadochian kingdoms dissolved. Also not to be underestimated is the Greek influence on the Roman Empire, which gained political hegemony over the Hellenistic world, but not only left cultural autonomy, but also opened up to Greek culture. Knowledge of the Greek language and literature became the hallmark of the educated Roman.

Although there were still numerous democratically constituted Poleis in the Hellenistic period, politically speaking, Hellenism began the victory of the monarchy over the polis-democracy of the classical period, the last significant form of which was the federal states of the Hellenistic period. The Roman Empire, too, finally changed from a republic to a monarchy - partly with the adoption of Hellenistic forms of rule - which, over the centuries, became more and more similar to the monarchy of the Diadochian empires without ever completely losing its peculiar character. Hellenism also continued to have an effect in the religious sphere. Oriental cults such as the Mithraic cult , which under Greek influence often assumed syncretistic forms, spread throughout the Roman Empire. Hellenism also gained considerable influence early on in Judaism and on the Christianity that developed from it - the apostle Paul of Tarsus was a thoroughly Hellenized Jew and the language of the New Testament and of most of the early church fathers was Greek. Christianity became the Roman state religion at the end of the 4th century and later spread worldwide. It was arguably the most influential legacy of Hellenism.

Evaluation of the epoch

From antiquity to the 19th century, Hellenism was generally viewed quite negatively. For Plutarch , freedom ended with the death of Demosthenes in 322 BC. And thus at the beginning of this time. The Diadoch period therefore marked the end of Greek Classics and thus the beginning of Hellenism, which was perceived as a process of decline, whose cultural achievements in late antiquity, under increasing Christian influence, were so underestimated that most of Hellenistic literature was lost. However, it was mostly overlooked that the canonization of the so-called Classics did not take place until Hellenism and that the term itself only emerged in Roman times. It was also not taken into account that the internal autonomy of the Greek Poleis remained and their freedom of action in foreign policy was restricted to such an extent that they were no longer able to wage war against one another.

Johann Gustav Droysen (around 1868) coined the term "Hellenism"

The positive appreciation of the period of Hellenism goes back above all to the historian Johann Gustav Droysen in the 19th century, who described and formulated Hellenism as the modern age of antiquity :

The name Alexander denotes the end of a world epoch, the beginning of a new one .

Droysen, who saw the Hellenistic epoch as a necessary prerequisite for the emergence of Christianity, turned against the idealization of the classical period and said that the Diadochi had made a successful attempt to overcome the particularist political system (even if the polis continued to be an important one Administrative unit) and to really capture large countries politically and economically through central planning. Droysen's assessment of the diadochin kingdoms as part of a comparatively modern, urban world civilization, which was shaped by an economic upswing, technical progress, mobility, individualism and the encounter of different cultures. In the 20th century, this assessment found general recognition, wrote the writer Gottfried Benn in 1949:

The Greek cosmos created the inner form of life for half the earth through Hellenism.

In general, it can be said that no uniform assessment of the epoch has been developed to date. In 1941 Michael Rostovtzeff came to the conclusion that despite economic consolidation, the creation of a large unified market, outstanding administrative (often taken over from the Persian Empire) and cultural achievements and an abundance of agricultural and technical innovations, the fundamental conflict of the Hellenistic world, namely that between the Greek Polis and the oriental monarchy, between private initiative and managed economy, which had arisen from the conquests of Alexander, could not be dissolved. The destructive power struggles of the successors of the Diadochi and the worsening conflict between increasingly wealthy property owners and increasingly apathetic working classes would have contributed to Rome's easy victory. In the late Hellenistic period the economic interest of the broad masses was flagged; they turned more and more to religious cults.

The American historian Peter Green came to a rather negative assessment in his extensive but controversial study From Alexander to Actium in 1990 , unlike Graham Shipley or Hans-Joachim Gehrke , who also presented his history of Hellenism in 1990 . In 1995, Alexander Demandt defended Droysen's assessment and emphasized the similarities between Hellenism and modernity. According to him, the time of the Diadochian empires is in a similar relationship to classical and archaic times as the modern age to the Middle Ages and antiquity. He sees similarities in the expansion of living space, the establishment of colonial regimes over technically less developed peoples, scientific and technical progress, the emergence of a world market and urbanization .

The importance of Hellenism for the development of new forms of foreign policy and diplomacy is largely undisputed. During this time, a foreign policy system of rules emerged that fixed interstate relations. Ludwig Mitteis noticed in 1900 that this system of rules had implemented the unity of Greek law in the full extent of Graeco-Macedonian Hellenism . However, this regulation was accompanied by an instability in the Diadochian states, which was due to the fact that almost every Diadoche wanted to become a great conqueror in the style of Alexander the Great. According to Tacitus, the Armenian King Tiridates summed up the self-image of a Hellenistic ruler as follows:

A private citizen deserves praise for looking after his own house, but a king when he fights over the property of others.

While the Hellenistic rulers settled in around 300 BC. BC, however, they fought against an aggressor from their ranks in alliances concluded with one another, they could later turn to the Romans, who had meanwhile become the dominant power in the Mediterranean area. It was these - and not the Diadochi - who finally established the world empire that the immediate successors of Alexander the Great could not achieve. However, the cultural influence of Hellenism remained unbroken.


Poseidonios is one of the main sources for the time of the Diadochi
Plutarch compared important Greeks and Romans in his vitae. Copper engraving by Johann Rudolf Holzhalb (1723–1806).
Inscription Ptolemy VI.
(180-145 BC)

In large parts there is no consistent tradition, so the source situation for Hellenism is one of the most problematic in ancient history. Historians rely on fragments (such as Hieronymos von Kardia ) or on the incompletely preserved writings of ancient historians ( Polybius , Diodor ), papyri (especially from Egypt), coins, inscriptions and archaeological sources. For this reason, many issues are controversial, even if on the whole a framework is in place, which, however, raises complex detailed questions.

Hellenism is considered to be the most enthusiastic time in Greek antiquity. The Diadochi already collected the works of contemporary authors in their libraries in Alexandria , Antioch and Pella . Yet hardly any historical or philosophical writings from that time have survived. The archaeologist Hermann Strasburger assumes a ratio between lost and preserved works of 40: 1. Most of these books were apparently lost in Byzantine times because they did not correspond to the classical ideals of the language that were defended at the time. The destruction of the great library in Alexandria certainly contributed to this poor tradition.

The Greek authors Timaeus of Tauromenion (345–250 BC), Duris of Samos (340–270 BC) and Hieronymos of Kardia (360–272 BC), contemporaries of the Diadochi, are preserved in fragments Phylarchus of Naukratis (3rd century) and Poseidonios of Apamea (135–51 BC).

It looks much better with the Roman and other authors who wrote in Roman times. However, none of them are contemporaries of the Diadochi, some even only lived after around 30 BC. End of Hellenism. Nevertheless, Diodorus , who lived around the middle of the 1st century BC Wrote Chr. And treated by the 18th book of his historical work to the Diadochi, in a summary of Justinus received Pompey Trogus and Appian , who in the 2nd century. Chr. An overview of the Seleucids wrote, important sources because they based on good templates that have now been lost. Also in Roman times, the Greek wrote Plutarch, who wrote, among other things, Viten von Eumenes , Demetrios and Pyrrhus . The world chronicle of Eusebius is of decisive importance for the chronology of the Hellenistic period .

At first glance, a source that is not very obvious are Jewish texts in Greek and Aramaic. These include Flavius ​​Josephus , the historian of the Jewish War , the Book of Daniel in the Septuagint and Apocrypha such as the Letter to Aristeas .

The documentary evidence of that time is more extensive than the written ones. In addition to the inscriptions , which mainly contain letters from the Hellenistic kings to the cities, the Egyptian papyri, which Michael Rostovtzeff has evaluated, and the cuneiform documents from Mesopotamia of the first Seleucids are particularly important for historiography. Of particular importance are the trilingual Rosetta Stone , which the Egyptian King Ptolemy V 197 BC. At the time of his accession to power and with whose help Jean-François Champollion deciphered the hieroglyphic writing, and the archives of the Egyptian landowner Zenon, who was at the time of Ptolemy II secretary of Dioiketes, containing around 2000 documents . In the hot, humid climate of Mesopotamia, however, papyri could hardly survive.

The comparison of the sources with the archaeological findings is also important for our picture of Hellenism . The remains of Alexandrias, Antiochias and Seleukias, the capitals of the great Diadochian empires, are rather meager, larger finds have been made in Priene , Miletus , Ephesus , Herakleia on the Latmos and Pergamon . The finds from Ai Khanoum are of great importance for life in the Greco-Bactrian Empire . We are most familiar with the titles and portraits of the Diadochi from coin images and marble busts.


(all information BC)


A classic representation is Droysen's story of Hellenism, which is still worth reading, but is now out of date. More recent representations are available in English (Peter Green, Graham Shipley, Frank W. Walbank ) and French (Édouard Will); For the German reader, Gehrke's works, the articles in Gregor Weber's cultural history, and the lexicon of Hellenism are very useful orientations. In the following, above all overview works are mentioned, on the basis of whose bibliographies more specialized literature can be easily accessed. Please also refer to the relevant sections in the Cambridge Ancient History (from Volume 7.1).

German-language literature

Foreign language literature

  • Glenn Bugh (Ed.): The Cambridge Companion to the Hellenistic World . Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2006, ISBN 0-521-53570-0 (introductory collection of essays on key topics).
  • Henning Börm , Nino Luraghi (Ed.): The Polis in the Hellenistic World . Franz Steiner, Stuttgart 2018, ISBN 978-3-515-12020-3 (essays by leading experts on the Hellenistic city).
  • Robert Malcolm Errington : A History of the Hellenistic World. 323-30 BC . Blackwell, Oxford 2008, ISBN 978-0-631-23387-9 (good introduction with an emphasis on the history of events).
  • Andrew Erskine (Ed.): A Companion to the Hellenistic World . Blackwell, Oxford 2003, ISBN 0-631-22537-4 .
  • Peter Green : Alexander to Actium. The Historical Evolution of the Hellenistic Age . University of California Press, Berkeley 1990, ISBN 0-520-05611-6 (detailed overall presentation, in the evaluation of the epoch, however, partly too negative).
  • Erich Stephen Gruen: The Hellenistic World and the Coming of Rome . University of California Press, Berkeley 1984, ISBN 0-520-04569-6 .
  • Jerome Jordan Pollitt: Art in the Hellenistic Age . Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1986, ISBN 0-521-27672-1 .
  • Susan Sherwin-White, Amelie Kuhrt: From Samarkhand to Sardis. A New Approach to the Seleucid Empire . Duckworth, London 1993, ISBN 0-7156-2413-X .
  • Graham Shipley: The Greek World After Alexander, 323-30 BC . Routledge, London and New York 2000, ISBN 0-415-04618-1 (excellent structural-historical overview of the period of Hellenism from the Diadochs to Cleopatra VII.).
  • Richard Stoneman: The Greek Experience of India. From Alexander to the Indo-Greeks. Princeton University Press, Princeton 2019.
  • Edouard Will: Histoire politique du monde hellénistique (323-30 av. J.-C.) . Éditions du Seuil, Paris 2003, ISBN 2-02-060387-X (best modern presentation of the political history of the Diadochian empires, first published 1966–1967).

Web links


  1. On Greek ἑλληνίζω , correct Greek speech, Greek language of the post-classical period in contrast to the Attic language ' cf. Walter Otto, Cultural History of Antiquity. An overview of new phenomena , Munich 1925, p. 105.
  2. Cf. Tonio Hölscher : The Greek Art , Munich 2007, p. 95: "The term Hellenism describes the last epoch of independent Greek culture between Alexander and the final integration into the Roman Empire under Augustus."
  3. Angelos Chaniotis: Age of Conquests: The Greek World from Alexander to Hadrian . Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA 2018, p. 4.
  4. Cf. the article Hellenism in the Small Lexicon of Hellenism , pp. 1-9.
  5. Cf. Polybios 5, 41. Hans-Ulrich Wiemer offers an up-to-date overview : Siegen oder unterfahren? The Hellenistic Monarchy in Recent Research . In: Stefan Rebenich (Ed.): Monarchische Herrschaft im Altertum , Berlin 2017, pp. 305–339.
  6. Sabine Müller: Legitimation of rule in the early Hellenistic dynasties , in: D. Lambach (Hrsg.): Political rule beyond the state: On the transformation of legitimacy in past and present , Wiesbaden 2011, pp. 151–176.
  7. See coin depicting Demetrios I Poliorketes, approx. 290–289 BC. Chr. Retrieved on 7 December 2019 .
  8. Gregor Weber : The Ptolemaic rulers and dynasty cults - an experimental field for Macedonians, Greeks and Egyptians. In: Linda-Marie Günther , Sonja Plischke: Studies on the pre-Hellenistic and Hellenistic ruler cult. Berlin 2011, p. 81.
  9. Cf. Angelos Chaniotis: The Divinity of Hellenistic Rulers. In: Andrew Erskine (Ed.): A companion to the Hellenistic World , Oxford 2003, pp. 431-445.
  10. See Hans-Joachim Gehrke: The victorious king. Reflections on the Hellenistic Monarchy. In: Archives for cultural history. Vol. 64, 1982, pp. 247-277.
  11. See Arthur Eckstein: Mediterranean Anarchy, Interstate War, and the Rise of Rome . Berkeley 2006, pp. 82f.
  12. See Ulrich Gotter: The Castrated King. Or: The Everyday Monstrosity of Late Hellenistic Kingship. In: Nino Luraghi (Ed.): The Splendors and Miseries of Ruling Alone. Stuttgart 2013, pp. 207-230.
  13. Richard Billows: Cities . In: Andrew Erskine (Ed.): A companion to the Hellenistic World , Oxford 2003, pp. 196-215. See also the articles in Henning Börm, Nino Luraghi (Ed.): The Polis in the Hellenistic World. Stuttgart 2018.
  14. See the fundamental contributions by Erich Gruen : The Polis in the Hellenistic World . In: Ralph Rosen, Joseph Farrell (Ed.): Nomodeiktes. Greek studies in honor of Martin Ostwald , Ann Arbor 1993, pp. 339–354, and Philippe Gauthier: Les cités hellénistique . In: Mogens Herman Hansen (Ed.): The Ancient Greek City State , Copenhagen 1993, pp. 211-231.
  15. See Peter M. Fraser: The Cities of Alexander the Great . Oxford 1996.
  16. See Henning Börm : Murderous fellow citizens. Stasis and civil war in the Greek poleis of Hellenism . Stuttgart 2019.
  17. For the discussion, cf. Hans-Ulrich Wiemer : Hellenistic Cities: The End of Greek Democracy? In: Hans Beck (Ed.): A Companion to Ancient Greek Government , Malden 2013, pp. 54–69.
  18. See Peter Scholz: The Hellenism. Der Hof und die Welt , Munich 2015, pp. 187–195.
  19. See in summary Christel Müller: Oligarchy and the Hellenistic City . In: Henning Börm, Nino Luraghi (Ed.): The Polis in the Hellenistic World , Stuttgart 2018, pp. 27–52.
  20. See Peter Funke : Poleis and Koina: Reshaping the World of the Greek States in Hellenistic times . In: Henning Börm, Nino Luraghi (Ed.): The Polis in the Hellenistic World , Stuttgart 2018, pp. 109–129.
  21. See Peter Funke, Matthias Haake (ed.): Greek Federal States and Their Sanctuaries. Identity and Integration , Stuttgart 2013.
  22. See Strabo 14.3.
  23. See Polybios 2.38.
  24. Cf. Montesquieu, L'Esprit des Lois 9:13.
  25. ^ Karl Julius Beloch, Greek History , 2nd edition, de Gruyter, Berlin 1925, 4th volume, 1st section, p. 607 [reprint 1967]. Quoted from Demandt, Antike Staatsformen , p. 259.
  26. In the Federalist Papers wrote James Madison and Alexander Hamilton in 1787: "The Achaiische covenant gives us valuable information." In the original: The Achaean league supplies us with valuable instruction. Quoted from Gustav Adolf Lehmann : Approaches to the federal order and representative constitution in antiquity and their repercussions on modern times (= history in Cologne. Volume 9). Cologne 1981, p. 74.
  27. Angelos Chaniotis: War in the Hellenistic World is fundamental to Hellenistic military history . Malden 2005.
  28. See Appian, praef. 10.
  29. Cf. Kleines Lexikon des Hellenismus , pp. 492f.
  30. Cf. introductory to the Hellenistic economic history John Davies: Hellenistic Economies . In: Glenn Bugh (Ed.): The Cambridge Companion to the Hellenistic World , Cambridge 2006, pp. 73-92. See also Sitta von Reden : Economic growth and institutional change . In: Gregor Weber (Ed.): Kulturgeschichte des Hellenismus , Stuttgart 2007, pp. 177–201.
  31. ^ Michael Rostovtzeff: Social and economic history of the Hellenistic world. Volume 2, Darmstadt 1998, p. 814.
  32. Quoted from Alexander Demandt, Antike Staatsformen , p. 310.
  33. See Diodor 1.31; Josephus , De bello Judaico 2,16,4.
  34. See Philo, In Flaccum 10.
  35. See Erich Gruen: Greeks and Non-Greeks. In: Glenn Bugh (Ed.): The Cambridge Companion to the Hellenistic World , Cambridge 2006, pp. 295-314.
  36. Quoted from Demandt, Antike Staatsformen , p. 314.
  37. See Dorothy Thompson: Slavery in the Hellenistic World . In: Keith Bradley, Paul Cartledge (eds.): The Cambridge World History of Slavery I: The Ancient Mediterranean World , Cambridge 2011, pp. 194-213.
  38. Pierre Grimal (ed.): The Hellenism and the rise of Rome. (= Fischer Weltgeschichte vol. 6.) Frankfurt 1965, pp. 202–211.
  39. Narrated by Athenaios (6,253b – f); Translation according to Demandt, Antike Staatsformen , p. 303.
  40. Pierre Grimal (ed.): The Hellenism and the rise of Rome. (= Fischer Weltgeschichte vol. 6.) Frankfurt 1965, p. 285.
  41. See David Potter: Hellenistic Religion . In: Andrew Erskine (Ed.): A Companion to the Hellenistic World , Oxford 2003, pp. 407-430.
  42. Theresia Taler Hain : Greek elements of thought in early Christianity - "Hellenization" of Christianity? German translation from Vigilia 69 (2004/4) 271-282; Philosophical-Theological University Sankt Georgen Frankfurt am Main - Virtual Reading Room PDF; 197 kB, 17 pages
  43. Werner Riess: Religious developments in Hellenism. Lecture, University of Hamburg.
  44. See Peter Green, Alexander to Actium , pp. 80ff.
  45. See Richard Hunter: Hellenism . In: Heinz-Günther Nesselrath (Ed.): Introduction to Greek Philology , Stuttgart / Leipzig 1997, pp. 246–268 (with further references); Bernd Effe : Literature as a mirror of epochal change. In: Gregor Weber (Ed.): Kulturgeschichte des Hellenismus , Stuttgart 2007, pp. 260–283.
  46. Pierre Grimal (ed.): The Hellenism and the rise of Rome. (= Fischer Weltgeschichte Vol. 6). Frankfurt 1965, pp. 186-193.
  47. Pierre Grimal (ed.): The Hellenism and the rise of Rome. (= Fischer Weltgeschichte Vol. 6). Frankfurt 1965, pp. 193-198.
  48. See Tonio Hölscher : The Greek Art , Munich 2007, pp. 95–124.
  49. Pierre Grimal (ed.): The Hellenism and the rise of Rome. (= Fischer Weltgeschichte Vol. 6). Frankfurt 1965, pp. 182-186.
  50. Cf. Gerhard Zimmer: The proximity of power. New tasks for art . In: Gregor Weber (Ed.): Kulturgeschichte des Hellenismus , Stuttgart 2007, pp. 284–309.
  51. Cf. Heinz Heinen : History of Hellenism. From Alexander to Cleopatra . Munich 2013, p. 114 . Similar to Hans-Joachim Gehrke : Hellenism as a cultural epoch . In: Gregor Weber (Ed.): Cultural history of Hellenism . Stuttgart 2007, p. 355-379, here: 376 .
  52. Plutarch, Demosthenes 3.
  53. ^ Wilhelm Schmid , Otto Stählin : The Greek literature before the Attic hegemony (= Handbook of Classical Studies . 7, 1). 2. Revision. CH Beck, Munich 1929, p. 6 f.
  54. Gellius 19.8.15.
  55. Demandt, Ancient State Forms , p. 317.
  56. ^ Johann Gustav Droysen, Historik , 1843, p. 384.
  57. ^ Johann Gustav Droysen: History of Hellenism. Volume 1. 2nd edition, Gotha 1877, p. 3.
  58. Christhard Hoffmann: Jews and Judaism in the work of German ancient historians of the 19th and 20th centuries. Brill, Leiden 1988, p. 76.
  59. Demandt, Antike Staatsformen , pp. 317/318.
  60. Quoted from Demandt, Antike Staatsformen , p. 295.
  61. See the sketch in Graham Shipley: Recent Trends and New Directions. In: Glenn Bugh (Ed.): The Cambridge Companion to the Hellenistic World , Cambridge 2006, pp. 315–326.
  62. ^ Michael Rostovtzeff: Social and economic history of the Hellenistic world. Volume 2, Darmstadt 1998, pp. 815 f., 872.
  63. Alexander Demandt, Ancient Forms of State , p. 318.
  64. Ludwig Mitteis: From the Greek papyrus documents. A lecture given at the VI. Assembly of German historians in Halle a. S. on April 5, 1900. Teubner, Leipzig 1900, p. 19 f. ( Digitized version ); quoted in Demandt, Antike Staatsformen , p. 318.
  65. Tacitus, Annals 15.1; quoted in Demandt, Antike Staatsformen , p. 318.
  66. For a general overview of the sources and the problems involved, see Graham Shipley, The Greek world after Alexander , pp. 1–32. A useful collection of sources (in English translation) is Michel Austin, The Hellenistic World from Alexander to the Roman Conquest. A Selection of Ancient Sources in Translation , Cambridge 1981.
  67. Hermann Strasburger, Umblick in the debris field of Greek history , in: Historiographia antiquarian , Festschrift for Willy Peremans, Leuven 1977, p 3-52.
This article was added to the list of excellent articles on July 19, 2006 in this version .