The Hellenistic era is basically the time span from Alexander the Great’s passing in 323 BC until the rise of the Roman Empire, which was established by the Battle of Actium (Shipley 255-59). Greek culture had a significant impact on many areas of the world throughout this time, including Europe, Africa, and Asia. Theater, literature, the arts, music, and science, among other Greek cultural pursuits, predominated throughout this period in history, which is frequently referred to as the time of transition. Philosophy, comedy, and science all began to flourish at this time. There is a sense in which the spread and diffusion of the Greek culture led to the sprouting and spread of cities founded by Alexander and his successors.
First of all the conquering of the Achaemenid Empire created avenues for Greek Culture penetration in Asia and India in a manner that had never happened before (Martin 126-30). This followed the colonization of cities within these regions which had remained non-functional for long periods of time. One of the main reason for setting up of cities was for administrative purposes. These cities were used as centers for issuing command and rules were used to administer the newly colonized regions. For instance, the Alexandria City which was founded by Alexander himself was primarily used as a capital center for his empire. Other cities included the city of Damascus and Antioch in the Middles East. The establishment of these cities led to the penetration of Greek cultural ways including Greek language and the way of life. The Greek language was then established as the official language for major regions which were under Hellenism. The Greek language is still spoken in some of these regions including Egypt, Ukraine, Italy, and Turkey among others (Mairs 566-67)
One of the most important components in conquering territories is to have a strong military power. Military garrisons were needed in order to have a strong power to conquer more regions. This then called for the construction of more cities with robust walls which could serve as army garrisons to defend the cities and new colonized territories. I was a source of power and defense for Alexander. Cities, as opposed to military camps, were preferred more because they were not vulnerable to attacks by enemy groups. During 330BC the cities of Alexandria Areia and Alexandria Arachosia were founded to form a military base to fight Bessus after Alexander killed Darius and claimed Asian territory. He was able to conquer enemies using these cities and prevent the territories which were newly acquired. There is a sense in which Alexander the Great found it reasonable to establish more cities to serve as military bases in order to make it easier to conquer new regions while preventing the already acquired ones. Some of these cities exist up to today with many of them having been vandalized.
Other cities like the city of Athens, Corinth, Miletus, and Syracuse emerged and flourished as cultural centers. They were utilized in the performance of the Greek culture such as music, sports as well as art. These cities led also to re-emergence of other cities like Pergamum and Tapezus whose effect and history remains fresh up to today. And many of them today serve as cultural centers and host for Greek cultural activities like the city of Athens in the present Greece. The Alexandria of Egypt also served as a cultural center alongside being an administrative center. During the Hellenistic era, the Greek culture spread in all these cities that were under the successors of Alexander like Ptolemy and Seleucus.
Development of cities within trade routes also facilitated the spread of Greek culture. The active participants were traders. In this case, there were various centers where the exchange of goods was taking place, which attracted people from other regions to come and engage in trading. Greek commodities like artifacts among others were used in the trading. There was also the issue of interactions and intermarriage which led to the incorporation of the Greek way of life in regions even outside Greece. Examples of cities that served as trade centers include Damascus. Majority of exchange of goods took place here and this led to the development of the city. Greek culture also became dominant even in the regions surrounding Damascus including Greek language, religion, and social-cultural practices (Mairs 563-67). There was also the marriage that happened between soldiers and the people that lived in the conquered regions, and this perpetuated the spread and diffusion of Greek culture.
There was also the establishment of Greek theatres, gymnasia, and temples during the reign of Alexander and also during Hellenism after his death. These facilities were built throughout in all the territories that he conquered. This was one factor that accelerated the spread of Greek culture in the sense they brought together people from diverse backgrounds and provided an opportunity for cultural exchange. The colonized people were able to adjust to the new cultural system of the Greek. Even after Alexander’s death these temples and theaters continued to function as cultural epicenters for Greek culture of worship, art, education among others.
In the area of architecture, a majority of cities built during Hellenistic era are based on Greek architecture. There was the Corinthian order which was first used in the building of the Temple of Olympian Zeus located in the city of Athens (Martin 125-27). Some of these cities include Athens, Damascus, and Antioch. These buildings were incorporated with Greek statues and inscriptions that communicated Greek culture and empire. Some of these statutes have survived up to today. An example of them is the Alexander the Great’s statue found in the city of Alexandria in Egypt. Others are found in Rome, Ukraine, and Turkey.
In the Hellenistic era, there was also the re-emergence of artists who came up with crafted works which remained reputable for hundreds of years throughout the world. In the area of philosophy, there were Stoics, Epicureans and the Skeptics which led to the Greek philosophy. In this era, poetry was also promoted to a higher notch through the hard work by Theocritus, Menander among others. There was so much art done during the Hellenistic era that remained relevant even in the Roman Empire. For instance, the sculpture done by Polykleitos remained reputable and were even copied up until the Italian Renaissance. Majority of cities in Egypt and Italy bore Greek poetry artistic features.
Hellenism also led to the sprouting of numerous kingdoms after the death of the Alexander the Great. Some of these kingdoms include the Kingdom of Epirus which was under the rule of the Molossian Aeacidae, the Kingdom of Macedon under the rule of Antigonus II among others. These kingdoms were set by the succeeding generations of Alexander over hundreds of thousands of years. A lot of Hellenistic civilization was felt with massive set up of kingdom cities for administrative purposes in Greek, Italy, and Egypt. These kingdoms perpetuated the spread of Greek cultural practices
Hellenism is seen by scholars as a mirror or a reflection of today’s way of living. Majority of 19th scholars have so much focused on studying Hellenistic era trying to establish its impact and effect to the current way of life and the people themselves. A lot of research has shown that the Hellenistic era represents a gradual fall and decline of the Greek culture and effect on the people’s way of living. However, one indisputable fact is that Greek culture is alive.
Mairs, Rachel. The Hellenistic Far East: Archaeology, Language, and Identity in Greek
Central Asia. Univ of California Press, 2016: 563-589
Martin, Thomas R. Ancient Greece: from prehistoric to Hellenistic times. Yale University
Press, 2013: 125-130
Shipley, Graham. The Greek World after Alexander 323-30 BC. Routledge, 2014: 255-273