Ancient Greece—Hellenistic Era

336 to 146 B.C.
Reign of Alexander to Rome Destroys Corinth

Era Summary       Characters       Timeline       Reading Assignments      

Era Summary—Hellenistic Era

Philip of Macedonia died shortly after the battle of Chaeronea leaving his young son Alexander the Great to the throne. The Greeks, led by Thebes, immediately tried to throw off the Macedonian garrison, but Alexander, only twenty years old at the time, quickly put down all revolts with an iron hand. He razed Thebes to the ground, sold their citizens into slavery, and prevented a revolution in Athens by a combination of threats and diplomacy.

Alexander the Great
Immediately after pacifying Greece, he started planning for an ambitious Invasion of Persia. The idea was not originally his, since his father had already laid the groundwork by building up the Macedonian army into the finest fighting force of the ancient world. Alexander also had his father’s favorite generals, including Parmenio, and Antipater to rely on. Nevertheless, Alexander’s own military instincts were near genius, as his subsequent series of victories against enormous Persian armies showed. Macedonia was a very poor nation and Alexander crossed the Hellespont with only about 40,000 Greek and Macedonian soldiers. With this, he set about to conquer an empire of around forty million people, the largest and wealthiest in the ancient world.

The story of Alexander’s conquest of Persia is full of interest, but boils down to several large scale battles, in each of which the Macedonian forces prevailed over a vastly larger Persian host. The four great battles of Alexander’s conquest of Persia were Granicus, Issus, Guagamela, and Hydaspes, which won for him the Near East, Syria, Media, and Hindustan respectively. The entire conquest took only seven years and was completed before Alexander’s 30th birthday. It was his very youth that caused his downfall however, not to a conqueror, but to dissipation. Only a few years after returning from his farthest campaign in India he succumbed to an illness undoubtedly brought on by excessive drink.

The results of Alexander’s conquests were enormous both culturally and politically, but when he died, he left neither a legitimate heir, nor an outstanding general strong enough to hold his empire together. It was therefore divided, after twenty years of civil war, between four of his generals. The main divisions early in the wars were Ptolemy I in Egypt, Seleucus in the Far East, Antigonus I in the Near East, and Antipater in Macedonia and Greece, but in the final settlement, the descendents of Antipater lost their kingdom to those of Antigonus. The kingdoms were all of the traditional despotic variety, with no pretense of self-rule or democratic government.

The cultural effects of Alexander’s conquests were, therefore, much more striking than his political legacy. Alexander, who had grown up with Aristotle as a tutor, believed that Greek culture was superior to any other and did all he could to spread the Greek language and learning throughout the regions he conquered. Both Alexander and his generals founded many new cities based on the Greek model, with streets laid out in grids, market places, gymnasiums, theatres, council halls, and baths. The Greek language became the one used for education and higher learning. Libraries and schools of learning were maintained in most major cities. In the east, many of the towns founded by the Macedonians never really took root, but in the Mediterranean regions, Greek culture became dominant, and prevailed until the Moslem Conquests of the seventh century.

Fall of Corinth
The first contact between Roman and Greco-Macedonian powers occurred during the Pyrrhic Wars in Italy in 291 BC when the Greek city states in southern Italy invited the Pyrrhus, King of Epirus and the greatest general of his age to help them resist Rome. Although Pyrrhus was at first successful, he was eventually overcame by Rome and the Greek cities in Italy were absorbed in Rome's growing sphere of influence. It was not until 80 years later, however, that a Roman Army was sent into Macedonian territory to punish the Macedonian king for making an alliance with Hannibal. Three Roman Macedonian Wars followed, with Rome increasing its influence over Macedonia in each.

The first phase of the Roman Macedonian Wars occurred during the Second Punic War, and the last, culminating in the Battle of Pydna, resulted in the complete overthrow of Macedonian rule over mainland Greece. About this time, several of the city-states in the Peloponnese fought a series of Wars of the Achaean League to defend their interests. Their intrigues led to an uprising in 146 BC against Roman rule, and as a result, a Roman army invaded Greece and destroyed the city of Corinth. After this, mainland Greece was ruled as a Province of the Roman Empire.

The influence of Greek culture on that of Rome was tremendous. Even before the Roman conquest of Greece, Greek scholars and teachers were very influential in Rome, since Greek was the language of learning throughout the Mediterranean. The Roman religion, art, philosophy, literature, and even the formalization of Latin grammar was heavily influenced by Greek culture. Educated Greek slaves were very expensive and sought after by aristocratic Romans families as teachers for their children. But just as in Classical Greece, where there was tension and distrust between stoic Sparta, and cultured Athens, the Greek influence was resisted by stoic Romans, such as Cato (the censor), who feared its decadent influence.

Eventually Rome conquered the eastern portion of the territory that was once part of Alexander’s Hellenistic empire. By that time, however, Greek culture was so well-established that it remained the language of commerce and learning in the eastern Mediterranean long after Rome’s political domination of the area. It was only the western part of the Empire, including Italy, Gaul, and Britain, where Latin became the predominant language. The Greek centers of learning in the east, including Athens, Alexandria, Rhodes, Ephesus, Tarsus, Perganum, continued to prosper under the Pax Romana, and produced many of the greatest scholars of Roman times, in the fields of literature, medicine, geography, astronomy, philosophy, and many others. Among them were Archimedes, one of the greatest scientists of Ancient times, Plutarch, the great biographer, Eratosthenes, who correctly measured the size of the earth, Galen, who made great advances in medicine, and Hypatia, a female philosopher and teacher. In addition, Christianity thrived in the eastern empire, and produced many of the most important early saints and missionaries of the time.

Characters—Hellenistic Era

Character/Date Short Biography

Age of Alexander

Alexander the Great
356–323 BC
Greatest general of ancient times. Conquered Persian Empire with 40,000 soldiers.
410–330 BC
Chief general of both Philip of Macedon and Alexander the Great. Eventually killed by Alexander.
d. 319 BC
One of Philip's most trusted generals. Left in charge of Macedonia during Alexander's conquests.
d. 316 BC
Wife of Philip of Macedon. Alexander's mother. Quarreled with Antipater over charge of Macedonia.
Darius III
d. 330 BC
Last king of Persia, overthrown by Alexander the Great.
~ 325 BC
Proud King of India, defeated by Alexander, but then restored as Satrap of the region.

Diadochi - Early Division of Empire

d. 321 BC
Took over the empire of Alexander at his death, but couldn't keep it.
Ptolemy I
d. 283 BC
General of Alexander, founded Egyptian Dynasty that lasted for 300 years.
361–316 BC
Enemy of Antigonus, allied with Perdiccas; controlled Asia Minor until killed by Antigonus.
Antigonus I
382–301 BC
Allied with Antipater and Ptolemy I in early Diadochi Wars. Won control of Asia Minor and Syria.
358–297 BC
Son of Antipater. Wrestled control of Macedonia from Polyperchon. Enemy of Olympias.
355–281 BC
Bodyguard of Alexander. Took control of Thrace on his death. Engaged in Wars of Diadochi.

Later Hellenistic Empires

337–284 BC
Son of Antigonus, active in the wars of the Diadochi.
d. 280 BC
Son of a general of Alexander. Founded Seleucid Dynasty, in Syria and Central Asia.
318–272 BC
Renowned general, won victories in Macedon, Italy, and Greece, but failed to follow up wins.
~ 280 BC
Minister of Thessaly, and friend and advisor of Pyrrhus of Epirus.
Antigonus II
320–239 BC
Son of Demetrius. After many battles, ended with control of Macedon and established Antigonid Dynasty.
Antiochus III
241–187 BC
King of Syria who warred with Rome in Thrace and Asia Minor.
Judas Maccabee
d. 160 BC
Lead a Jewish rebellion during the reign of the Syrian King Antiochus V.

Sparta vs. Achaean League

Agis IV
d. 241 BC
King who tried to reform Sparta and return to laws of Lycurgus. Killed for his efforts.
Cleomenes III
236–220 BC
Successfully implemented many reforms in Sparta, but was resisted by Achaean League.
d. 213 BC
Leader of Achaean League; First resisted Macedonia, then forced an alliance to defeat Sparta.
252–182 BC
Lead the Achaean League. Tried to unite Greeks, shortly before Greece fell to Rome.

Hellenistic Era Science

340–300 BC
Most eminent mathematician of his age, wrote Elements of Geometry.
287–212 BC
Eminent scientist and inventor. Held off Roman siege of Syracuse with clever defenses.
Eratosthenes of Cyrene
275–192 BC
Early Greek scientist from Alexandria who correctly predicted the precise size of the earth in 200 BC.
203–120 BC
Taken as Greek hostage during Macedonian wars; historian of Punic Wars.

Greco-Roman Science and Literature

Greek Geographer and philosopher. Well known for a 17 volume geographic history of the world.
Most outstanding moralist and biographer of ancient times. Wrote Lives of Greeks and Romans.
Greatest map-maker of Roman times. Renowned expert in Astronomy and Geography.
Renowned physician and philosopher whose works on the human body were studied until the 17th century.
Philosopher and teacher who lived in Alexandria.

Timeline—Hellenistic Era

BC YearEvent
334-323 Alexander the Great leads Macedonian Conquest of Persia.
335 Alexander destroys Thebes when it rebels against Macedonia.
334 Alexander invades Persia. Battle of the Granicus delivers Asia Minor.
333 Alexander cuts Gordian Knot; Victory at Battle of Issus delivers Syria.
332 Siege of Tyre ends in a hard-won victory. Egypt opens its doors to Alexander.
331 Alexander meets Darius III in Battle of Guagamela (aka Arabela) —conquers all of Persia.
327 Alexander invades central Asia and conquers India at the Battle of Hydaspes.
323 Death of Alexander and the division of his Empire.
322 Demosthenes kills himself after failure of Greek Rebellion against Macedonia.
321-280 Wars of the Diadochi fought among Alexander's generals over control of his empire.
331 Ptolemy I wins control of Egypt at the Battle of Pelusium.
302 Seleucus wins control of Syria at the Battle of Ipsus, Antigonus I is killed.
281-271 Pyrrhus Conquers Southern Italy and much of Greece but fails to hold his territory.
200-146 Roman Macedonian Wars are fought for control Greece.
197 Romans punish the Macedonians for supporting Hannibal at the Battle of Cynoscephalae.
168 Romans, under Aemilius Paulus conquer Macedonia at the Battle of Pydna.
226-146 AD Achaean League Civil Wars are fought among Greek city states for control of the Peloponnese.
226 Spartans, under Cleomenes III destroy the Achaean league capital of Megalopolis.
221 The Achaeans, led by Aratus, ally with Macedonia to defeat Sparta.
183 Achaean League under Philopoemen defeats Nabis, the tyrant of Sparta.
146 Achaean League resists Roman domination and is defeated. Corinth is destroyed.

Recommended Reading—Hellenistic Era

Book Title
Selected Chapters (# chapters)

Core Reading Assignments

Guerber - The Story of the Greeks   Birth of Alexander to Greece a Roman Province (25)
Macgregor - The Story of Greece   Alexander and Bucephalus to Demosthenes in the Temple (13)

Supplemental Recommendations

Morris - Historical Tales: Greek   Alexander and Darius to The Literary Glory of Greece (7)
Church - Helmet and Spear   The Irresistible Phalanx to The Army of the Hundred Provinces (2)
Kaufman - Our Young Folks' Plutarch   Demosthenes to Philopoemen (9)
Abbott - Alexander the Great    entire book
Abbott - Pyrrhus    entire book
Church - The Hammer    entire book
Church - A Young Macedonian    entire book

Easy Reading Selections

Haaren - Famous Men of Greece   Alexander the Great to The Fall of Greece (7)
Shaw - Stories of the Ancient Greeks   Alexander the Great to How Death Was Conquered (5)
Gould - Tales of the Greeks: The Children's Plutarch   The Orator to The Last of the Greeks (7)