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