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Athens Travel Guide

Greece History: Hellenistic Greece



The Hellenistic period of Greek history starts with the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and ends with the invasion of the Greek peninsula and islands by Rome in 146 BC. Although the authorities of Roman rule did not break the continuity of Hellenistic society and culture, which remained essentially unchanged until the advent of Christianity, it did mark the end of Greek political independence. During the Hellenistic period the importance of "Greece proper" (that is, the territory of modern Greece) within the Greek-speaking world declined sharply. The great centres of Hellenistic culture were Alexandria and Antioch, capitals of Ptolemaic Egypt and Seleucid Syria respectively. (See Hellenistic civilization for the history of Greek culture outside of Greece in this period.)

Athens and her partners revealed themselves against Macedon upon hearing that Alexander had died, but was conquered within a year in the Lamian War. Meanwhile, a struggle for power broke out among Alexander's generals, which resulted in the break-up of his empire and the establishment of a number of new kingdoms (see the Wars of the Diadochi). Ptolemy was left with Egypt, Seleucus with the Levant, Mesopotamia, and points east. Control of Greece, Thrace, and Anatolia was contested, but by 298 BC the Antigonid dynasty had replaced the Antipatrid.

Macedonian manipulation of the Greek town states was sporadic, with a number of revolts. Athens, Rhodes, Pergamum and other Greek states retained substantial independence, and joined the Aetolian Alliance as a way of defending it. The Achaean Alliance, whereas nominally subject to the Ptolemies was in effect independent, and controlled most of southern Greece. Sparta also remained independent, but generally declined to join any alliance.

In 267 BC Ptolemy II convinced the Greek towns to rebel against Macedon, in what became the Chremonidean War, after the Athenian leader Chremonides. The towns were conquered and Athens lost her independence and her democratic institutions. This marked the end of Athens as a political actor, although it remained the largest, wealthiest and most cultivated town in Greece. In 225 Macedon conquered the Egyptian fleet at Cos and brought the Aegean islands, except Rhodes, under its rule as well.

Sparta continued hostile to the Achaeans, and in 227 BC invaded Achaea and seized control of the Alliance. The outstanding Acheans chose distant Macedon to nearby Sparta, and allied with the former. In 222 BC the Macedonian military conquered the Spartans and annexed their town, it was the first time Sparta had ever been occupied by a foreign authority.

Philip V, who came to direct when Doson died in 221 BC, was the last Greek leader with both the talent and the occasion to unify Greece and preserve its independence against the "cloud rising in the west": the ever-increasing authority of Rome. He was known as "the darling of Hellas". Under his auspices the Peace of Naupactus (217 BC) brought conflict between Macedon and the Greek alliance to an end, and at this time he controlled all of Greece except Athens, Rhodes and Pergamum.

In 215 BC, however, Philip developed an alliance with Rome's adversary Carthage. Rome promptly persuaded the Achaean towns away from their nominal loyalty to Philip, and formed alliances with Rhodes and Pergamum, now the strongest power in Asia Minor. The First Macedonian War broke out in 212, and ended inconclusively in 205, but Macedon was now marked as an enemy of Rome. In 202 BC Rome conquered Carthage, and was free to turn her attention eastwards. In 198 the Second Macedonian War broke out for obscure reasons, but basically because Rome saw Macedon as a potential ally of the Seleucids, the greatest power in the east. Philip's allies in Greece deserted him and in 197 he was decisively conquered at the Battle of Cynoscephalae by the Roman proconsul Titus Quinctius Flaminius. Philip V created the hugest empire ever seen. After having conquered all the city-states of Greece, he invaded Asia Minor with 30.000 soldiers. Before dying at the age of 33 of malarial fever, Alexander the Great had conquered the Whole Persian Empire, Egypt and the Mesopotamia, Afghanistan and some parts of India. After the death of Alexander the Great, the Macedonian Empire felt into pieces and was divided in several parts: the Antigonids in Macedonia, the Seleucids in Asia Minor, Syria, Persia and the Ptolemies in Egypt.

The empire finally broke up, and Greece was invaded by the growing Roman Empire. Although weakened politically, Greek Civilization continued to flourish under Roman rule and heavily prejudiced Roman culture.

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