The Poleis Become
The Hellenistic World,
336-150 B.C.E
The Poleis become Cosmopolitan
Philip II of Macedonia, Alexander the Great,
359 – 336 B.C.E
337 – 323 B.C.E
Decline of the Poleis, 400 – 323 B.C.E. Antigonid Kingdom, 337 – 168 B.C.E.
Persian Empire, 550 – 330 B.C.E.
Seleucid Kingdom, 305 – 64 B.C.E.
Ptolemaic Egypt, 305 – 30 B.C.E.
500 B.C.E.
300 B.C.E.
100 B.C.E.
The Conquest of the Poleis
– Greek-speaking people in the northern
part of the Greek peninsula
– Did not adopt the polis as a political
system like Greeks further south
– Fertile coastal plain and mountainous
interior rich with resources
– Macedonia had been ruled by weak
Macedonian countryside today
kings until the rise of Philip II
– How did the Greeks in the south view the Macedonians?
The Conquest of the Poleis
Philip II (r. 359 – 336 B.C.E.)
– Name in Greek is Philippos: “Friend of Horses”
– Held as a captive in the Greek city-state of Thebes as a
young man; exposed to Greek politics and warfare
– Military Innovations
- 13-foot pikes rather than standard 9-foot weapon
- looser phalanxes than Greek ones
- mercenaries to provide arrows and javelins
- siege weapons like catapults to break city defenses
– Consolidates Macedonia and its gold and silver wealth in
the north, then sets his sights on uniting the warring Greek city-states
– Athenians debate Philip’s threat: orator Isocrates (436-338 B.C.E.) argues that
democracy has devolved into violence and corruption and that a strong leader
like Philip was needed. Demosthenes (384-322 B.C.E.) argued against a union
with a tyrant like Philip since Athenian democracy had to be preserved.
The Conquest of the Poleis
Conquest of Greece & Death of a King
– Philip invades southern Greece and meets a Greek coalition led by
Athens and Thebes at the Battle of Chaeronea (338 B.C.E) and
crushes them. Macedonian cavalry led by Philip’s son Alexander
– Victory opens up the rest of Greece to Philip’s control; only Sparta is
able to resist. Greek armies made to join along with Macedonians.
– Philip had six wives, with the most influential being Olympias, mother
of Alexander, who was from the Greek city-state of Epirus.
– Philip took a young wife in his forties and it was rumored that
Alexander would be disinherited; new political alignments alienated
many of Philip’s noblemen. One of these men, Pausanias, stabbed and
killed him in 336 B.C.E. No one knows what the exact motive was.
– Alexander took the throne and ruthlessly killed off anyone who could
be considered a potential rival for the throne.
The Conquest
of the Poleis
Macedonia at the
end of Philip’s
reign, 336 B.C.E.
The Conquest of the Poleis
Alexander’s Youth
– Alexander (lived 356-323 B.C.E.;
Reigned 337-323 B.C.E.) was raised for
rulership and military conquest, but also
with an appreciation for Greek culture.
– Aristotle (384 – 322 B.C.E.) was hired
as his tutor; the philosopher imparted a
curiosity about the broader world into his
student, but Alexander rejected the idea
Medallion depicting Alexander
wearing a lion’s skin, like Heracles
that all non-Greeks were barbarians.
– When Alexander took the throne at nineteen, the Greek city of Thebes
revolted. He showed his ruthlessness by crushing the city and killing or
enslaving its populace, and thereafter had no trouble with other Greeks.
The Conquest of the Poleis
Alexander’s Conquests
– After consolidating control of Greece, Alexander set his site on Asia Minor
and the Persian Empire, the enemy of all Greek-speaking peoples. He
invaded in 334 B.C.E., and after several victories, Alexander met the full
force of the Persian army led by Persian Great King Darius III at the
Battle of Issus in late 333 B.C.E. He met with a total victory, capturing
Darius’s family, but Darius himself and many of his men escaped.
– After Issus, Alexander went south and conquered the Phoenician cities of
Sidon and Tyre (332 B.C.E.) since they resupplied the Persian navy. He
then took the city of Gaza (332 B.C.E.) since it blocked the way to Egypt,
by then perfecting the use of siege weapons like catapults and siege towers.
– Egypt surrendered to Alexander without a fight in 332, with the priests
declaring him the incarnation of their god Amon, who the Greeks viewed
as a version of Zeus. Alexander may have started to believe in his own
The Conquest of the Poleis
Alexander fighting Darius at the Battle of Issue in 333 B.C.E., from a Roman mosaic found at Pompeii,
the House of the Faun from the first century B.C.E. (roughly 200 years later)
The Conquest of the Poleis
Alexander’s Conquests and Death
– After Egypt, Alexander headed back into Mesopotamia in pursuit of Darius.
After crossing the Tigris and Euphrates, he met Darius’s forces at the Battle of
Gaugamela in 331 B.C.E. Despite being outnumbered 250,000 to 47,000,
Alexander’s superior strategy, using a flying wedge at an angle into the center
of Persian lines, defeated the Persian force.
– Alexander was welcomed into Babylon as a liberator, and then headed
southeast to Persian capital of Persepolis, capturing and destroying it in 330
B.C.E. Darius was assassinated by one of his own guards, opening the way for
Alexander to be crowned Great King of Persia.
– Alexander was a great propagandist, casting himself as a great Greek hero like
Achilles or Heracles (Hercules in Latin).
– Alexander pressed into northern India and fought one last before his troops
refused to go any further. They returned by the desert shores along the Arabian
Sea. On reaching Babylon, Alexander died after suffering from a fever in 323
B.C.E., perhaps weakened by heavy alcohol consumption.
Alexander’s Empire
The Conquest of the Poleis
A Young Ruler’s Legacy
– Did Alexander want to make “all mankind a single people” as Plutarch
– Founding Cities: Alexander created many cities that served as sites for Greeks
to colonize and spread Hellenistic society and culture. Many across conquered
areas were called Alexandria, the most famous being the port city in Egypt.
– Intercultural Marriages: Alexander supported the marriage of Greeks and
Macedonians to women from Asia, presiding over the marriage of many of his
generals to Persian women.
– Integrated Armies: Alexander had many conquered men trained in the
Macedonian fighting style so that they could join his armies.
– Resentments: Many Greeks and Macedonians resented the equal treatment that
conquered peoples received under Alexander.
– The idea of one king ruling over a vast empire resonated across Eurasia and
across time; future conquerors would visit Alexander’s tomb in Alexandria to
pay their respects.
The Successor Kingdoms,
ca. 323 – 100 B.C.E.
• Macedonian Generals: Bitter fights broke out between top
generals after Alexander’s death.
• Alexander’s Son: Alexander’s wife, Roxane, was pregnant
with their son, Alexander IV, when the conqueror died. Both
mother and son were murdered when Alexander IV was 13.
• “Successor Kingdoms”: Even before the son’s death, the
Macedonian generals had carved up the great empire into
several different “successor kingdoms”: the Ptolemaic
Kingdom in Egypt; the Seleucid Kingdom in the Middle
East; and the Antigonid Kingdom in Macedonia and Greece.
The Successor States After the Death of Alexander, ca. 240 B.C.E.
The Successor Kingdoms,
ca. 323 – 100 B.C.E.
Egypt under the Ptolemies
– Founder of the Ptolemaic Dynasty: Ptolemy, one of Alexander’s elite cavalry,
takes troops loyal to him to Egypt to take charge of this wealthy region, and
takes Alexander’s body with him, burying it in Alexandria (it was supposed to
go back to Macedonia). His dynasty ruled as god-kings for the next 300 years.
– Continuity of Life: The Ptolemies lived a luxurious existence in Alexandria,
conducting their business in Greek, while peasants along the Nile lived under
the same ancient ways, obeying priests and tax collectors. The Ptolemies
outwardly took on the role of pharaohs.
– Hellenistic Queens: Ptolemaic queens took a more active role in politics than
their Egyptian predecessors. They controlled spending on public works and
raised armies, like the famed Cleopatra VII. Often married to their brothers.
– Alexandria: This city became the premier city of the Hellenistic world, with a
port bustling with commerce, banks, and a huge light house called the Pharos
to guide ships safely into port. It also became a great intellectual and cultural
center, with its famous museum and library that housed 700,000 volumes by 15
180 B.C.E., the largest collection in the ancient world.
The Successor Kingdoms,
ca. 323 – 100 B.C.E.
Egypt under the Ptolemies
An eighteenth-century C.E.
imagining of what the
Pharos of Alexandria may
have looked like. It was one
of the “Eight Wonders of
the Ancient World.”
The Successor Kingdoms,
ca. 323 – 100 B.C.E.
Egypt under the Ptolemies
The Rosetta Stone
Ptolemy V. (r. ca. 205 – ca. 183
B.C.E.) came under pressure
from the priests and armies of
other successors of Alexander,
as well as a revolt of Nubians
to the South.
To guarantee the loyalty of the
priests and Egyptians, Ptolemy
lowered taxes and raised the
priests’ fees. In return, the
priests made sure that Ptolmey
be worshipped in every temple.
This proclamation in 197
B.C.E. led to the creation of the
Rosetta stone, which featured
both Greek writing and
Egyptian hieroglyphs.
Rediscovered in 1799, it finally
enabled linguists to translate
Egyptian written language.
The Successor Kingdoms
The Seleucids Rule Asia
– One of Ptolemy’s lieutenants, Seleucus, entered Babylon in 311
B.C.E. and captured the imperial treasure and laid claim to the
heartland of the old Persian Empire.
– He gave up northwest India in exchange for 500 war elephants.
– He brought in Greek and Macedonian colonists to work as
bureaucrats and soldiers: 20,000 came to Asia Minor, and many
received considerable farm land and paid no taxes.
– Founded new cities like Seleucia, not far from Babylon, and
Dura Europus, on the Euphrates.
The Successor Kingdoms
Antigonids in Greece
– Rulers over Macedonia and Greece who descended from Antigonus the OneEyed (382 – 301 B.C.E.), one of Alexander’s generals. He never completely
consolidated Macedonia, but died trying in battle when he was 80 years old.
His descendents did complete the task.
– Alexander’s conquests brought widespread wealth back into Macedonia, as
evidenced by numismatic evidence: 13 million silver coins were issued soon
after Alexander’s death. Overall, life in Macedonia changed little since Philip
II’s time.
– Life in Greece did change significantly. Inequality in wealth rose significantly;
rich Greeks often took the reigns of government during this period, but did
little to help the poor. Urban poverty became particularly acute. Yet constant
warfare prevented revolutions by being a constant distraction. Jobs became
increasingly professionalized, from soldiers to athletes to politicians. Citizensoldiers were replaced by mercenaries. Talented people headed to the colonies
for better opportunities, particularly in places like Alexandria.
East Meets West in the
Successor Kingdoms
The New Cosmopolitan Economies
– The vastness of the Hellenic sphere spurred widespread trade—
common language and customs over a large area.
– A consistent currency known as the drachma is used everywhere,
although Egyptian coins contain slightly less silver.
– Athens had been the Mediterranean’s commercial capital at the time of
Alexander’s death, but a century later, Alexandria replaced it.
– The Ptolemies grew rich by trading the goods of the Nile, but also
through beer brewing, on which there was a royal monopoly.
– Command Economies: Hellenistic kingdoms developed complex
bureaucracies to regulate and control various parts of the economy,
collected taxes on imports and exports. These bureaucracies enriched
the kingdoms and employed a vast number of Greek-speaking officials.
East Meets West in the
Successor Kingdoms
Armies of the Hellenistic World
– Hellenistic world was dominated by war since Hellenistic kings
saw their legitimacy derive from conquest in the tradition of
– Hellenistic kings needed vast armies—much larger than the ones
of the old city-states—since much larger territories were in
dispute; Hellenistic kings often fielded armies of 60,000-80,000,
compared to the force of 30,000 Philip II used to conquer
– Mercenary Armies: Kings no longer used citizen-soldiers, but
mercenary soldiers who were fighting purely for money, and
thus developed a cynical attitude to war and politics.
East Meets West in the
Successor Kingdoms
Armies of the Hellenistic World
– War Elephants: The early Seleucids exchanged
land for elephants with an Indian king since they
provided a big military advantage. The
Seleucids later cut of the supply of Indian
elephants to other Hellenistic Kingdoms, forcing
the Ptolemies in Egypt to use weaker and
smaller African elephants.
– Slavery: By the late third century B.C.E., the
constant warfare led to a huge increase in the
the number of slaves; wealthy households could
own hundreds. The new scale of the institution
further dehumanized the enslaved.
War elephant used by the army of the citystate of Pergamun, in what is now the coast
of Turkey, ca. 200s-100s B.C.E.
East Meets West in the
Successor Kingdoms
A True Cultural Blending?
– A real blending didn’t occur as most places remained in control of top
10 percent of the population, who were the Macdeonian/Greek elite.
Knowledge of Greek language and culture was necessary for entry into
the elite.
– Travelers included merchants, diplomats, and spies. Even women
traveled with a freedom unheard of in the classical poleis, including
writers, musicians, artists.
– Widespread travel and intercultural contact was reflected in art;
everyday people and foreigners—like Africans—were depicted.
– Greek influence reached as far as what is now Afghanistan, where one
philosopher/traveler found a city-state with a gymnasium with a
column inscribed with moral maxims from the shrine of Apollo at
East Meets West in the
Successor Kingdoms
Struggles and Successes: Life in the Cosmopolitan Cities
– Women: The new cosmopolitan environment loosened the tight strictures
on women in public space; it was no longer required to stay seclusion to
remain respectable. Women were more independent. Some marriage
contracts insisted husbands and wives make joint decisions.
– Cities and Kings: Cities now were required to pay some sort of allegiance
to a king. Cities were governed by magistrates and councils with popularly
elected assemblies handling internal affairs. In return, kings required taxes
or tributes which were not that onerous.
– Urban Problems: To keep costs manageable, administrators controlled
grain and other commodity prices to avoid disturbances. Crime was not
uncommon in crowded marketplaces. Sewerage and water drainage also
posed big problems.
– New Opportunities: Greeks turned to big Hellenistic cities like Alexandria,
Antioch, and Seleucia for new economic and political opportunities.
East Meets West in the
Successor Kingdoms
Patronage, Planning and Passion: Hellenistic Art
– Royal Patrons: Kings did not spend money on the urban poor, but rather spent
fortunes commissioning magnificent artwork.
– The lavish architecture of the great new city of Pergamum in what is now
Turkey is an example of deep royal coffers sparing no expense:
East Meets West in the
Successor Kingdoms
Patronage, Planning and Passion: Hellenistic Art
– Sculpture: After cities were designed, kings spent lavishly on
sculpture that would adorn public spaces and complement the
magnificent buildings.
Laocoön and His Sons
By three sculptors from the island
Rhodes, ca. 25 B.C.E.
East Meets West in the
Successor Kingdoms
Resistance to Hellenism: Judaism, 323-76 B.C.E.
– Hellenized Jews: Some Jews compromised with Hellenized culture
and learned Greek, even translating ancient Hebrew texts into Greek in
a document called the Septuagint in the 200s B.C.E. (third century).
– Combining Jewish and Greek Religion: When the Seleucid King
Antiochus IV (175-163 B.C.E.) intended to combine Jewish worship
with Greek worship in the sacred temple in Jerusalem—killing swine
on an altar—it proved too much for many Jews and they revolted.
– Maccabean Revolt: In 166 B.C.E., Judas Maccabeus (“Judas the
Hammer”) led the revolt and defeated the Seleucids. The Jews were
thus able to create an independent state called Judea. The Jewish priests
rededicated the temple in 164 B.C.E. and honored the occasion
annually with an eight-day feast of lights: Hanukkah.
The Search for Truth: Hellenistic
Thought, Religion, and Science
A Life of Learning, Theater, Literature
– Education: Hellenistic kings encouraged education systems for
boys. At 7, they went to private schools to practice writing, and
then at 14 there curriculum was expanded to literary exercises,
geography, and the advanced study of Homer.
– New Comedy in Theater: Comic work by playwrights like
Menander (ca. 342-292 B.C.E.) did not touch on political satire,
but focused on the plight of the individual.
– Hellenistic Novels: Romantic works in which young men fall in
love at first sight with almost unobtainable women. Both the
New Comedy plays and novels were escapism from a tough
urban reality.
The Search for Truth: Hellenistic
Thought, Religion, and Science
Cynics, Epicureans, and Stoics: Cosmopolitan Philosophy
– Cynicism: Philosophical movement founded by Diogenes that rejected the
material world as false. People would be happier if they rejected it.
Diogenes supposedly lived in a tub to demonstrate his rejection of the
– Epicureanism: This movement founded by Epicurus believed that the
whole world was purposeless collection of randomly colliding atoms, so it
makes the most sense to pursue individual pleasure to achieve happiness.
– Stoicism: This movement founded by Zeno held that the way to happiness
was to reject extremes of passion and face pain, suffering, anger, and even
joy in a calm and detached way.
The Search for Truth: Hellenistic
Thought, Religion, and Science
• New Religions of Hope
– “Mystery Religions”: These religions usually focused
around fertility goddesses like Demeter, Cymbele, and the
Egyptian goddess Isis.
– These religions involved public celebrations and feasts, and
offered their followers the hope of an afterlife—something
few other ancient religions did (and is perhaps where
Christians got the idea)
The Search for Truth: Hellenistic
Thought, Religion, and Science
• Hellenistic Science
– Medical Advances: Herophilus (ca, 335 - ca. 280 B.C.E.)
makes big advances in anatomy by breaking the Greek
taboo on dissection.
– Mathematics and Astronomy: Euclid’s elaborate and
elegant geometry formulations allows for major advances
in astronomy.
– Archimedes: A native of Syracuse on Sicily, he built on
Euclid’s insights to be the first person to express the
measure of pi and invented the compound pulley to lift
heavy objects.

3.2) Ch. 3 Lecture PowerPoint