The Influence of Hellenization in the Near East in the wake of Alexander’s Conquests
The death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC led to a power vacuum in the near east that was filled by his former generals and governors, leading to clashes and power struggles between them. The Macedonian governors of the old Persian satrapies emerged as the significant players, with most being veterans of Alexander’s campaigns. The period following his death was marked by the Hellenization of the east, involving the adoption of Greek culture by non-Greek subjects, driven from below rather than by royal policy. Hundred of new Greek cities were established across the breadth of the oikoumenē. The adoption of Greek civic life in the Near East saw the widespread use of Greek institutions and public buildings, such as theaters and council-houses, silver, and bronze coinage, athletics, and the culture of the gymnasium.
Table of Contents
- The Power Struggle after Alexander’s Death
- The Hellenization of the East
- The Resistance to Hellenization
- The Ptolemaic Dynasty and the Celebration of Hellenism
- The Establishment of the Museum of Alexandria
Q: What happened after Alexander’s death in 323 BC?
A: Alexander’s empire was left in the hands of his half-brother Arrhidaeus and his unborn child, and the period following his death was marked by clashes and power struggles between self-appointed regents, with none possessing enough authority to hold the empire together. Most of those who emerged as significant players were Macedonian governors of the old Persian satrapies, who were veterans of Alexander’s campaigns.
Q: What was the process of Hellenization in Alexander’s former empire involved in?
A: The process of Hellenization in Alexander’s former empire involved the adoption of Greek culture by non-Greek subjects, driven from below rather than by royal policy. Hellenization was linked to power, and those with Greek ancestry were given favorable treatment. In the late fourth and third centuries BC, many non-Greek cities in Asia Minor claimed Greek gods and heroes in their family trees to gain tax-exemption and political autonomy.
Q: What was the Ptolemaic Dynasty and their influence on Hellenism?
A: The Ptolemaic dynasty was one of the significant players in the power struggle after Alexander’s death, and they flaunted their philhellenism through the Ptolemaieia festival, which celebrated the return of Dionysus from India, and a procession featuring a statue of Alexander himself on a chariot pulled by four elephants. Native Egyptian culture was absent from this procession, as the Ptolemies wished to be seen as defenders of Greek liberty.
Q: What were some of the contributions of the Museum at Alexandria?
A: The establishment of the Museum at Alexandria and the critical inventory of surviving Greek literature produced by Callimachus of Cyrene were significant cultural developments. Eratosthenes, another scholar at the Museum, produced the first critical chronology of Greek history. Their works reflect a new way of thinking about the past, and the scholars of the Museum attempted to classify their cultural heritage through the compilation of dictionaries, handbooks, and encyclopedias.
Q: What were some of the ways the Jews in the second century BC resisted Hellenization imposed by Antiochus IV?
A: The Jews in the second century BC resisted the enforced Hellenization imposed by Antiochus IV. The apocryphal Book of Daniel is a prophetic text written during the Jewish resistance.
The Hellenization of the east had profound and far-reaching impacts, with new Greek cities established across the breadth of the oikoumenē, and the widespread adoption of Greek culture by non-Greek subjects. However, not all inhabitants of the Near East found it easy to assimilate their local cultures to that favored by the ruling power. The establishment of the Museum at Alexandria and the critical inventory of surviving Greek literature produced by Callimachus of Cyrene were significant cultural developments, but the resistance of the Jews in the second century BC reflected the challenges that cultural Hellenization posed for some groups. Overall, the legacy of Hellenization in the Near East is a complex and multi-layered story.