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Monday, October 5, 2009

Monday Ground Up: The Political, Artistic, and Military State of the Hellenistic World

After the reigns of both Phillip II and his son Alexander the Great, the united empire started to disintegrate. Macedonian leaders were engaged in a struggle of unity, the political and military states of the Hellenistic Kingdom were refusing to accept the new status quo and periodically engaged in wars with each other. Consequently, the new Greco-Macedonian ruling class was under quite a strain.

The Hellenistic monarchies emerged after Alexanders reign. The Antigonid kingdom of Macedonia believed that although control over the Greeks was essential, outright conquest was not necessary.

The Seleucid Kingdom, which controlled much of Alexanders Persian Empire from Turkey to India, found it difficult to control so the Mauryan Empire was established, forcing out Seleucid forces.

The conversion of Greek communities in Northwestern India to the Buddhist religion by Asoka, a Buddhist, was a clear indication that Alexanders ideals for the spread of eastern cultures was still a large influence. It was Pergamum that started to bring Romans into the area seeking aid against the Seleucids and the Antigonids.

Cleopatra Image

The Ptolemaic Kingdom in Egypt, where Alexander was seen as a Pharaoh before Ptolemy took over, was the longest lasting of the monarchies. However, Cleopatra VII allied herself with the wrong side in Roman civil wars allowing Egypt to fall in 30BC.

The Political System

There was a common political system in place in the Hellenistic Kingdom which represented a break from the Greek past. The Greeks believed that a monarchy was barbaric, and although democratic forms were still being practiced, the Greeks had to accept monarchy as a new way of political life. Previously, Alexander the Greats vision was to unite the cultures, as well as the easterners, however the monarchs relied solely on Macedonians and Greeks to form the ruling class. Leadership positions were privileged so non Greeks were excluded from this position. Within these tightly structured monarchies, the kingdoms were being maintained by military force.

The use of a phalanx, as well as innovations such as elephants that were procured from Indian and North African allowed the monarchies to learn tricks in the event of war. Alexander was known for this type of machinery to defeat his enemies, as was his father Phillip II whose military reforms transformed Macedonia into a major military power using longer spears and innovative catapults. In the case of the Hellenistic rulers, they had even greater resources to build larger worships and weapons.

The Military Settlements

The Military settlements and cities that Alexander had founded were still meant to maintain order, and the Hellenistic Kings were still quite active in founding new cities for expansion. The Greek columnists were encouraged to spread to the Near east because of their intrinsic value to the new monarchies. Greeks and Macedonians provided a military ground for the army and also contributed to economic development.

Artisans were in high demand in Greek cities, however the Greeks and Macedonians also the opportunities in the Near east. Within the cities, the political institution of the Greek poleis was still in existence. the centers were dominated by the Greeks, so it was difficult for easterners to enter the ranks of the ruling class. In most cases, they had to abandon their own culture, which was far from the visions of Alexander the Great.

The Greeks tried to re-create the poleis of their homeland, however with the constraints of the monarchy, it was no longer possible. During the days of Phillip II of Macedonia the Greek city states had autonomy in domestic affairs, as opposed to a rigid monarchy. Phillip and Alexander both were developing a unified state that would end the destruction of the Greek states by imposing Macedonian rule.

With the decline In political barriers, there was a huge increase in commercial trade. There was still war between the monarchies, however due to the conquests of Alexander and the policies of his successors, greater trade was possible between east and west.

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Hellenistic Greek tomb door bas relief, Leeds City Museum.

Macedo-Ptolemaic soldiers of the Ptolemaic kingdom, 100 BC, detail of the Nile mosaic of Palestrina.

Laocoön Group, Vatican Museums, Rome

The golden wreath of Philip II found inside the golden larnax.

The Winged Victory of Samothrace


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