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Having just written a really big paper, I node. The original paper was roughly twice the length of this, and covered the works of the sculptor Phidias as well, however, it would be bad to do two relatively unrelated things in one node.

What is the Hellenistic Age?

The word "Hellenistic" is derived from the word "Hellenes", which is simply the Greek word for a Greek. The Hellenistic Age was a post-classical civilization normally associated with Greece; however, this is not entirely accurate. It came after the earlier classical Hellenic period, and preceded the Byzantine civilization, but Greece was in existence long before Hellenism appeared and exists long after Hellenism has died. While Hellenism did, in fact, cover much of Greece, the land on which the Hellenistic civilization existed never fully covered Greece. Furthermore, not all Hellenes spoke Greek, and not all Greek-speaking people were Hellenistic. Hellenism can be simply defined as a civilization that existed from 323 BC to 30 BC, that consisted of elements from many cultures, from Persia, Greece, Egypt, India and Asia Minor.

A little history of pre-Hellenistic Age Greece

The Greeks absorbed many ideas from neighboring Mesopotamia and Egypt. Plato boasted, "Whatever the Greeks have acquired from foreigners, they have turned into something finer." Greece is divided by mountains, partitioning the country into many isolated valleys. Most of these valleys touched the sea, resulting in Greece having a large amount of contact with the Aegean Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. The Greeks became excellent sailors, trading with Egypt, the Middle East, and Asia Minor, returning with both raw goods and foreign ideas. The Greeks, as a whole, adapted their ideas for their own use. For example, the alphabet of the text you are reading right now originated in Phoenicia, albeit in a different form. Then it traveled to Greece, where it was modified, and then to Rome, where it was modified yet again into this.

Overcrowding in Greek city-states resulted in many Greeks voyaging across the water into neighboring Asia Minor, Egypt, and the Middle East, and founding Greek colonies, foreshadowing the Hellenistic Age.

One of the ideas the Greeks modified was the Mesopotamian idea of the city-state, which the Greeks called the polis. The polis consisted of the acropolis, or high city, which was located on an elevated hill and contained the temples, and the lower ground, which housed the populace and the more common buildings.

Over the course of a few hundred years, Greek power shifted down. The Greeks began with a monarchy, where one person holds power. Then the power shifted to land-holding nobles, which is an aristocracy. Power shifted, yet again, to a new class of wealthy merchants, which is an oligarchy. Then, slightly before the Age of Pericles (c. 500 BC), power shifted to the populace, in the form of a direct democracy.

More history

All was not well in Greece. Persia, under Darius' and later his son, Xerxes' rule, demanded tribute from the Greek city-states. Athens and Sparta refused, causing Darius to attack Athens in the First Persian War. Athens was victorious, and then ten years later, Darius' son, Xerxes, led the Persians to attack and be defeated by Athens yet again, in the Second Persian War. These victories led Greeks to place great pride and trust into their city-states, seeing them as a way to unify Greeks while retaining the individual.

Athens and Sparta, after defeating Persia together, began to sniff each other, preparing to fight. Sparta formed the Peloponnesisan League to counter Athen's Delian League. In 431 B. C., Sparta besieged Athens, and war broke out for 27 years. During the siege, a plague broke out in Athens, killing a third of the population, and claiming the great ruler Pericles as well. Athens broke down after Pericles died, because they did not have a leader to show them the way. Athens lost the war, and never truly regained it's former greatness.

One of the greatest philosophers ever, Socrates, had a student named Plato. When Socrates died, Plato took on an Athenian student named Aristotle. Aristotle went on to teach a boy named Alexander, later to be known as Alexander the Great. Alexander went on to conquer almost half of the known world. He also was one of the first true strategists, who was adept at commanding large armies of men. In his travels to and from conquering various cities and armies, Alexander was exposed to foreign culture, and decided he liked it, especially Greek culture. He encouraged his men to marry Persian women and did the same in example. He also founded many cities throughout Egypt, Macedonian, and Asia Minor. These cities came to be populated by Greek settlers and traders and artisans, carrying with them their Greek culture into other countries. When Alexander the Great died of malaria, he pledged his empire "to the strongest." Three of his generals fought for control over his empire. None succeeded, but in their forty years of fighting, they helped spread Greek culture throughout the lands.

The death of Alexander the Great marks the beginning of the Hellenistic Age. Many Hellenistic centers of population were city-states, due to the Greek pride in their city-states. The main center of Hellenism was in Egypt, in one of the Alexandrias founded by Alexander the Great. Hellenistic culture was spread over many countries, including Greece, Egypt, Persia, Macedonian and Asia Minor. Because Hellenism stretched over many countries, almost everybody spoke different languages.

What makes the Hellenistic Age noteworthy?

If there was no one official language spoken by Hellenes, and the civilization was confined to the borders of no single country, then what can define the Hellenistic Age? What makes the Hellenistic Age especially noteworthy? In a way, the very lack of one country that Hellenism has is a definition: the spread of Greek ideas and culture to surrounding countries like Egypt and the India. However, the essence of the Hellenistic Age lies in the social, cultural, intellectual, and philosophical milestones achieved during the regime.

Hellenistic culture "borrowed" many other things besides the polis, which is the most notable idea borrowed (Sumerian city-states were in existence in 3000 BC, almost two and a half millennia before Hellenes utilized the concept). Humanism was a "borrowed" philosophy. Also known as man-worship, Humanism is usually practiced by a developing civilization after it has mastered nature, but is not yet master of himself.

However, Humanism was not they only philosophy practiced by the Hellenistic people. Philosophers of the time concentrated on achieving piece of mind. Epicureans, who preached "a little pleasure and very little pain is best" were in existence. Stoics, who believed that happiness resulted when people became resigned to events beyond their control, and Cynics, who tried to disregard all desires and pleasures and pursue virtue, all existed in the Hellenistic period.

However, by far outshining the philosophical aspect of Hellenism are the people that Hellenism produced. Many very intelligent people who left lasting marks on history with their discoveries and achievements, people like: the historian Polybius. The mathematician Euclid is almost single-handedly responsible for modern geometry, and has an entire branch of geometry named after him (Euclidean Geometry), and discovered many mathematical formulae. The geographers Eratosthenes (he accurately calculated the circumference of the world) and Poseidonius were both born in the Hellenistic Age. The linguist Dionysius Thrax was also born in the Hellenistic Age. And, of course, no list of important Hellenistic thinkers would be complete without the great Archimedes. Archimedes was one of the most intelligent people in history. Archimedes was the man who first understood the concept of displacement. Archimedes was able to apply the method of exhaustion, which is the early form of integration, to obtain a whole range of important results and we mention some of these in the descriptions of his works below. Archimedes also gave an accurate approximation to pi and showed that he could approximate square roots accurately. He also invented a system for expressing large numbers. In mechanics, Archimedes discovered fundamental theorems concerning the center of gravity of plane figures and solids. His most famous theorem gives the weight of a body immersed in a liquid, called Archimedes' principle (Archimedes' principle states that any body completely or partially submerged in a fluid is acted upon by an upward force which is equal to the weight of the fluid displaced by the body). It is said that "Archimedes...gave birth to the calculus of infinity..." There is a myth that Archimedes used huge mirrors, in addition to ingenious mechanical instruments of war, to focus the sun to burn enemy ships in defense of his home, Syracuse, and today, mirrors are used in tandem to produce temperatures reaching thousands of degrees Celsius from the power of the sun alone! By a very curious coincidence, Archimedes' father's name was none other than... Phidias! But this is another Phidias, an astronomer. The sculptor Phidias died in 430 BC; Archimedes was born in 287 BC, in Syracuse.

The End of the Line

During the Hellenistic Period, the arts, the economy, creativity, pretty much everything flourished. However, as the years tick closer to the birth of Christ, especially in the first century BC, greed, sloth, pride, various other sins, and the increasing power of Rome brought about the downfall of Hellenism. In 30 BC, the Romans conquered Alexandria, the last stronghold of the Hellenistic Period, and Hellenism perished.

Annotated Bibliography

Africa, Thomas W.. "Hellenistic Age." The World Book
Encyclopedia. New York, NY: World Book, Inc., 1987. p

Burstien, Stanley M.. The Hellenistic Age in World History.
01-08-02. The American History Association. .

Botsford, George Willis, and Charels Alexander Robinson, Jr..
Hellenic History. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1956.
pgs. 169, 193, 247, 248, 250.

Toynbee, Arnold. The Greeks and their Heritages.
New York: Oxford University Press, 1981. p 24 thru 72.

Boorstin, Daniel J.. The Creators. New York: Random House, 1992.
p 99, 100, 171, 17.

Toynbee, Arnold J.. Hellenism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1959.

Taplin, Oliver. Greek Fire. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company,
1989. P 14, 16, 71, 72, 75, 88

Unknown. "Hellenistic Age." The New Encyclopædia Britannica:
Micropædia: Volume 5. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 1994. p 815.

The Ancient Greek World - Hellenistic Period. 01-08-02. University of Pennsylvania Museum.

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