The Hellenistic World (323 B.C. - 31 B.C.)

The Classical period of Greece was characterized by large numbers of city states of various sizes that were very jealous of their independence and found it hard to co-operate. At this time the Greek world in the East was restricted to the area of present-day Greece and the Aegean shore of Asia Minor. By the mid-fourth century Macedon under Philip II dominated the Greek city states, and his son Alexander led them in the conquest of the Persian empire. Greek colonies were set up throughout the Near East and the Greek language became the cultural lingua franca. These colonies became city states in their own right and established various relationships with the monarchies in whose territories they stood.

The Hellenistic World refers to the the spread of Greek culture and civilisation through the Mediterranean and Asia Minor following Alexander's death in 323 BC. His generals Ptolemy, Antigonus, Parmenion, Cassander, and Seleucus engaged in a bitter struggle to carve out personal kingdoms from Alexander's empire. The high period of the Hellenistic Kingdoms was the end of the 3rd century B.C.

Three major dynasties were set up in the fifty years after Alexander's death in 323 BC:

     1) Ptolemy controlled Egypt and created a Ptolemaic dynasty that ruled Egypt until its absorption into the Roman Empire by Augustus in 30 B.C. By 200 B.C. its rulers were fairly ineffectual and came increasingly under the control of Rome.

     2) Seleucus created in the Near East a large empire, sometimes stretching as far as Iran and even India. His successors (the Seleucid dynasty) had lost control of Asia Minor by 200, but Antiochus III (223-187) gained the title "the Great" by re-establishing control over the vast areas east of Mesopotamia. His defeat by Rome in 188 B.C. rendered the Seleucid Empire a lesser power, which continued to deteriorate until it was abolished by Pompey the Great in 63 B.C.

     3) Finally, in Macedon there ruled the Antigonid dynasty. It had the difficult task of trying to maintain hegemony over the old Greek city states of the mainland. These city states continued to be as jealous of their autonomy as they had been in the Classical period. Macedon entered into variance alliances, but crucial to Macedonian control of Greece were their garrisons in three towns which kept open the invasion route from Macedon into southern Greece: Demetrias in Thrace, Chalcis on the island of Euboea and the Acrocorinth (the citadel of Corinth in Arcadia) - and at Pireaus. These garrisons were known by the opponents of Macedon as the "three fetters" of Greece. Macedon was destroyed by Rome in a series of three wars in the early 2nd century B.C.

In addition to these three major kingdoms, the kingdom of Pergamum arose in western Asia Minor in the mid-third century B.C.. There a dynasty arose that was at first subordinate to the Seleucids but later gained its independence. It is called "Attalid" after the first member of the family to claim the title "king" and ruled from the city of Pergamum. In addition to Pergamem, other independent kingdoms flourished in Asia Minor during the 2nd century B.C.: Cappadocia, Bithynia, Pontus, Galatia, and Armenia.

In old Greece, certain of the Greek communities retained a precarious independence:

     The Aetolian League, (north of Gulf of Corinth) a federal grouping made up of the northern and central mainland States.

     The Achaean League, (Peloponnesus) a federal grouping made up of the Peloponnesian States.

     Sparta, independent, challenged the Achaean League.

     Athens,   Not a strong power, but a cultural center.

Independent Islands e.g. Cyprus and Rhodes. Rhodes was to become the chief commercial centre in the Aegean, also controlling some territory in Asia Minor, and very rich.

One by one, these Hellenistic kingdoms and cities fell under the sway of Rome. Phillip V of Macedon has unwisely allied himself with Carthage during the Second Punic War. Rome engaged in three Macedonia Wars (215-207 B.C., 200-197 B.C., 169-167 B.C.), the last of which witnessed the destruction of the Macedonian Kingdom.

Following the destruction of Macedon in 166 B.C., the Greek cities remained juridically independent but dependent in practice on Roman favor. Their failure to understand clearly the new power arrangements led to the Achaean War and the destruction of Corinth in 146 B.C.

The Seluecid Kingdom, under Antiochus the Great, had attempted to fill the "vacuum" left by Macedon's destruction, but was defeated by Roman arms in the 190's B.C. and pushed back into Syria. There it remained a secondary power, slowly desintegrating until it was finally abolished by Pompey the Great in 63 B.C.

The Kingdom of Pergamum was willed to the Roman People by its last king, Attalus III, in 133 B.C. The other independent kingdoms of Asia Minor quickly become client states of Rome. Mithridates the Great of Pontus led the final resistance to Rome in the East, fighting a series of wars in the 1st century B.C. before being finally defeated by Pompey the Great in 63 B.C.

No significant power existed in the Mediterranean basin independent of Rome by the 1st century B.C., when Rome entered its period of civil wars and began its transition to Empire.

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