Notes on The Hellenistic Age: Cultural Diffusion

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Chapter 5

During the first phase of Hellenism, the polis was the center of political life. With the coming of the Hellenistic Age, this situation changed. Kingdoms and empires eclipsed the city-state power and importance. Cities retained a large measure of autonomy in domestic affairs but lost their freedom of action in foreign affairs.

* Monarchy--the essential form of government in the Hellenistic world.

* As a result of Alexander the Great's conquests of the lands between Greece and India--it widened the Greeks' horizon and weakened their ties to their native cities.

* Greek philosophers had a limited conception of humanity, dividing the world into Greek and barbarian. In the Hellenistic Age, the intermingling of Greeks and peoples of the Near East caused a shift in focus from the city to the oikoumene (the inhabited world); parochialism gave way to cosmopolitanism and universalism as people began to think of themselves as members of a world community.

* Alexander the Great:

- After the assassination of Philip of Macedon in 336 B.C., his twenty-year-old son, Alexander, succeeded to the throne.

- His conquests brought West and East closer together.

- Although Alexander never united all the peoples in a world-state, his career pushed the world in a new direction, toward a fusion of disparate peoples and the intermingling of cultural traditions.

* HELLENISTIC SOCIETY--Cosmopolitanism:

- Hellenistic society was characterized by a mingling of peoples and an interchange of cultures. Greek traditions spread to the Near East, while Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Hebrew, and Persian traditions--particularly religious beliefs--moved westward.

- In the Hellenic Age, the law had expressed the will of the community, but in this new age of monarchy, the kings laid down the law.

- The greatest city of the time and the one most representative of the Hellenistic Age was Alexandria, in Egypt, founded by Alexander. Strategically located at one of the mouths of the Nile, it became a hub of commerce and culture.

- Aside from the proliferation of Greek urban institutions and ideas, Hellenistic cosmopolitanism expressed itself in an increased movement of peoples, the adoption of common currency standards, and an expansion of trade. International trade was made easier by improvements in navigation techniques, better port facilities, the extension of the monetary economy at the expense of barter, and the rapid development of banking.

* During the Hellenistic Age, Greek scientific achievement reached its height.


- The Hellenistic Age encompassed the period from the death of Alexander to the formation of the Roman Empire. During these three centuries, Greek civilization spread eastward as far as India and westward to Rome.

- Rome, conqueror of the Mediterranean world and transmitter of Hellenism, inherited the universalist tendencies of the Hellenistic Age and embodied them in its law, institutions, and art.

- A parallel can be drawn between the Hellenistic Age, in which Greek civilization spread to the Near East, and our own age, in which the ideas, institutions, and technology of Western civilization have been exported throughout the globe.