Outline of the Hellenistic World

This post outlines history, philosophy, literature, and art and architecture and goes from Alexander the Great (356-323) to Caesar Augustus (31 BCE to 14 AD).

If you’re in a hurry, use the ctrl-f search to find your term.

At the end is a Conclusion about these data points and asks the Western world to remember some things.

Outline of Archaic Greece

Outline of Classical Athens

I.  Introduction

A.  Time

1.  Alexander the Great (r. 336-323)

2.  Destruction of Corinth (146 B.C.)

3.  Augustus (31 B.C. to A.D. 14)

B.  Life of Alexander (356-323)

1.  Parents

a.  Father Philip II, king of Macedonia (ca. 382-336)

b.  Mother Olympias (d. 316)

2.  Education

a.  Several tutors, notably Aristotle

3.  Army

a.  Fights in Battle of Chaeronea (338)

b.  Escorts Athenian dead into city because he loves Athens

4.  Kingship

a.  Feud with father in 337 drives him out of Pella, capitol of Macedonia

b.  Reconciliation soon afterwards

c.  In 336 father assassinated by disgruntled noble

d.  Alex ascends throne without problems

5.  Ambition

a.  Two years later he embarks on father’s plan to revenge Greeks on Persian empire

II.  Fulfillment of Ambition (334-323)

A.  Conquests

1.  Hellespont (334)

a.  40k Macedonian and Greek Troops conquer Persian advance forces

2.  Western and southern Asia Minor (334)

3.  Plains of Issus (333)

4.  Borders of Cilicia, SE Asia Minor

5.  Persian King Darius III

a.  Defeats him but not decisively, for Darius escapes

b.  Darius’ wife, children and mother fell into his hands

c.  Alexander ignores ransom money, but treats them kindly

6.  Phoenicia and Tyre (332)

a.  Tyre was an island city of coat of Phoenicia

7.  Egypt (332)

a.  Persian satrap was wise to submit because Egyptians saw him as their avenger

b.  Alex sacrifices to Aspis in Memphis and declares himself Pharaoh

8.  Persia (331)

a.  Defeats Darius across Euphrates

9.  Babylon (331)

a.  Babylon submits

b.  Alex restores all native customs

c.  Even gives the satrapy to Persian governor, but not the military power

10. Far East (with 27-30k men)

a.  India

b.  Then returns homeward because army refuses to march further

B.  Policy

1.  Announcement

a.  At Opis (Babylonia)on the Tigris in 324 Alex announces policy to rule empire in some sort of collaboration with conquered peoples

2.  Central Feature

a.  Establish Greek monarchies by Alexander and his Successors

C.  End

1.  Attempted mutiny

a.  At Opis

2.  Death

a.  Dies in Babylon in 323, from typhoid? Alcoholism? Poisoning?

III.  Legacy

A.  Successors

1.  Antigonus

a.  Macedonia, though a league of Greek city-states harassed him

2.  Ptolemy

a.  Egypt, the richest prize of all

3.  Seleucus I Nicator

a.  Syria, Israel and Far East

B.  City-States

1.  Monarchy (?)

2.  Leagues or confederacies

a.  e.g. Aetolia

b.  President, annually elected

c.  Assembly meets twice a year made up of delegates; upper class vote was decisive

C.  Prosperity

1.  Trade

a.  Many city-states increase in trade and production

b.  Trade routes open up across conquered territories

2.  Money

a.  Circulation greatly increases

b.  Alex instituted his international coinage

3.  Class

a.  Haves and Have-nots widens

b.  Monarchs

c.  Nobility

d.  Retainers

e.  Urban merchants and traders

f.  Artisans

g.  Urban laborers

h.  Peasants

i.  Slaves

Graph of Class Structure


This graph is intended for the Greek East around New Testament times, but it still holds true throughout the Hellenistic Age.

The polis or city-state combines the city (e.g. Rhodes) and is a state overseeing surrounding region. It greatly expands its power and own politics, without a centralized power in Rome, which comes later.

Source of above graph: James Malcolm Arlandson, Women, Class and Society: Models from Luke-Acts (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1997).

D.  Island of Rhodes

1.  Independence

a.  Repel siege of a successor, Demetrius I (305-304)

2.  Government

a.  Limited democracy

b.  Still controlled by aristocracy

c.  Earns reputation for being best-ruled city in world

3.  Commerce and trade

a.  In 170, receive two percent import-export duty

b.  This earns the city one million dr.

c.  Other cities prosper with such duty taxes

d.  Headquarters of international finance and banking

4.  Education and charity

a.  First to feed its poor systematically at expense of community and wealthiest

b.  Limited public education highly developed

5.  Army service

a.  All have to serve for a time in fleet

b.  Clear eastern Mediterranean of pirates (before and after 200)

6.  Arts

a.  Artistic center of Greek world

E.  Alexandria, Egypt

1.  Learning Center

a.  Ptolemy lavishes funds on library and scholarship

b.  Nearly half a million book-rolls

c.  Ships were searched and books confiscated; “borrowed” master scrolls of Greek dramatists but kept them

d.  Systemized production of papyrus increases production in books

e.  Anthony gave Cleopatra 200k rolls of Pergamum Library

f.  Library broken up and partially destroyed by Aurelian in A.D. 272

2.  Greek is lingua franca (common language)

F.  Sciences

1.  Math

a.  Euclid (fl. ca. 300) of Alexandria who created rigorous proofs for geometry

b.  Archimedes (287-212) of Syracuse breaks new ground in solid geometry and prepared way in integral calculus, devised new system for expressing large numbers, virtually invented hydrostatics, and excelled as engineer

c.  Aristarchus of Samos (fl. 1st half 3rd C.) discovers earth revolves around sun

2.  Medicine

a.  Hippocratic Corpus fifty-eight works in seventy-three books, a series of attacks on non-rational theory, including Hippocratic oath; dates in Hellenistic period

b.  Advances in anatomy (dissection), digestion tract, circulatory system, nervous system

IV.  Hellenistic Philosophy

A.  Later Cynics

1.  Earlier Cynics

a.  Renounce the polis

2.  Polis

a.  More balanced view

b.  They work and have families

c.  Still reject pursuit of luxury and excess

3.  Christianity?

a.  Some cynics travelled throughout Roman Greek east preaching simplicity

b.  Some scholars see similarity with a certain brand of Christian teaching

B.  Skeptics

1.  Pyrrho of Elis (ca. 365-275)

a.  Life

1)  Elis in Greek Peloponnese, NW corner

2)  First a painter

3)  Journeys to East with the Indians

2.  Tenets

a.  Definition of Skepticism

1)  Skepticism orig. meant thorough investigation

2)  For them it means suspension of truth judgment

3)  Abstain from making a truth judgment

b.  Nothing can be known

1)  Nothing could be known, for equally strong arguments can be adduced for either side of any question

c.  Withhold assent

1)  Therefore, assent should be withheld

2)  Even developed ten standard arguments against knowledge

a)  Infinite regress from proving one thing from another thing from another thing

d.  Ataraxy

1)  Undisturbed, tranquil state

2)  Eternal good was beyond vicissitudes of life

e.  Moral conduct

1)  Behavior and ethics based on convention and custom of a given society

3.  Polis

a.  Skepticism

b.  Not popular with the masses or regular people who seek for ways to live in polis

C.  Epicureanism of Athens (341-270

1.  Epicurus (341-270)

a.  Life

1)  Acquires property outside Athens

2)  Calls school the Garden

3)  Students live communally

4)  Includes women and slaves

2.  Tenets

a.  Three criteria of truth

1)  Sensations: stand by themselves; further knowledge beyond them is based on reason

2)  Preconception: a universal notion stored in mind from external sensation often perceived

3)  Feelings: pleasure and pain

b.  Pleasure

1)  Goal of life is to avoid pain and fear, so one must pursue pleasure, not in necessarily in sexual sense; debauched life does not lead to pleasure

2)  Prudence must be used, such as a diet of bread and water can bring more ultimate lasting pleasure than rich foods

c.  Distortion

1)  Disingenuous enemies accuse them of hedonism, hot pursuit of pleasure

d.  Piety and Impiety

1)  Honor the gods socially

2)  Gods do not influence our lives, so do not fear them

3)  Death, therefore, is not an evil to be dreaded, for it is a deprivation of sensations

3.  Polis

a.  Withdrawal

b.  Ideally, a man should withdraw from polis with whatever means he has

D.  Stoicism

1.  Zeno (362-264 or 357-259)

a.  Life

1)  Phoenician? with thoroughly Greek education

2)  Comes to Athens to learn philosophy

3)  Opened his own school ca. 300

4)  Teaches inside Athens at the Stoa, or porch, whence derives the name

5)  Community of the wise include wives and children

2.  Tenets

a.  Cosmology:  two principles

1)  Passive, matter

2)  Active, called Logos, god, mind, fate, Zeus

b.  Logos

1)  Divine reason governs universe

2)  Man can participate in this god

c.  Ethics:  apatheia

1)  Live according to nature of whole cosmos

2)  Right reason is in accord with nature

3)  Virtue is living according to right reason

4)  Pleasure is the by-product, not the goal, not country life

5)  Passion and emotion were irrational

6)  Therefore, wise man is passionless

d.  Suicide

1)  May be necessary for the good of homeland or friends

2)  Extreme suffering or incurable disease

3.  Polis

a.  Contemplative life

1)  Stoic withdraws from hustle and bustle

b.  Active life

1)  Stoic participates in politics

V.  Art and Architecture

A.  Architecture

1.  Corinthian Temple

a.  Column taller, more slender and ornamented

B.  Sculpture

1.  Continues with classical ideals and themes, e.g., contrapposto and religion and morals

2.  Realism, eroticism, and violence, expressed and enjoyed for own sake

3.  Genre subject, a scene taken from everyday life

4.  Females can now be nude

C.  Rhodes:  Late Hellenistic Style

1.  Concentration of scientists, artists and humanists

2.  Lighthearted and gay, and colossal and theatrical

a.  Muse

b.  Laocoön group

1) Influences Michelangelo

VI.  Hellenistic Literature

A.  Context

1.  Expansion

a.  Hellenistic world separates Greeks from their roots and past

2.  Reaction

a.  Intensify and reaffirm traditional values

3.  Number of writers

a.  1,100 are known

1)  Includes scientists and philosophers

2)  Only names survive

B.  Athens

1.  Menander (342-ca.292)

a.  Life

1)  Born, lived and died in Athens

2)  Wrote over 100 plays in New Comedy Style

2.  New Comedy

a.   Comedy of manners

1)  Reflection and mild critique of society

2)  Not as political as those of Aristophanes

b.  Standard plot elements

1)  Abandoned or kidnapped children

2)  Recognitions by trinkets

3)  Seductions of well-brought-up girls at night festivals

4)  Amazing coincidences

c.  Standard characters

1)  The talkative

2)  Self-important cook

3)  Bragging soldier (Falstaff)

4)  Angry, strict father

5)  Clever but cowardly slave

6)  Kind-hearted prostitute

d.  Influence

1)  Romans borrows from New Comedy

2)  Shakespeare and Molière borrow from Romans

3.  Tragedy

a.  Continues but no works survive

C.  Alexandria in Egypt

1.  Ptolemaic family

a.  City is prosperous

b.  Patron of arts and scholarship

2.  Callimachus (310/05-240’s)

a.  Life

1)  Cyrene in N. Africa

2)  Organize and catalogue Library

b.  Works (most do not survive)

1)  Hymns, only six

2)  Aetia or “origins” of Greek myths and customs in four books

3)  Reworks traditional grand themes with realism

3.  Theocritus (fl. 280’s-60’s)

a.  Life

1)  From Syracuse

2)  Arrives in Alexandria in 275/4

b.  Works

1)  In Doric dialect, which would have been a curiosity

2)  Theme is predominantly rustic or country or pastoral

3)  Idyll is from Greek eidyllion, little form, describing idealized scene of rural life

4.  Apollonius (ca. 295-215)

a.  Life

1)  Librarian at Alexander

2)  Not much else known of him

3)  Poss. spent time in later life on Rhodes after rejection from being librarian at Alexandria

b.  Epic: Argonautica

1)  Other epics have romance, but this one is focused on inner feeling and psychology of mood

2)  Subconscious is explicitly important

5.  Conclusion

a.  Writers

1) Extremely well educated and learned

b.  Poetry reflects deliberately complex syntax and rare words

c.  Poetry not primarily written for public performances for religious festivals and competitions, except for Drama

d.  For private consumption, primarily a select few assoc. with royal courts

D.  Greek Literature / Writings of the Empire (31 B.C.–A.D. 4th C.)

1.  Roman Empire

a.  Annexes Macedonia and Greece (148)

b.  Annexes Asia Minor (120-63)

1)  In series of wars

c.  Annexes Egypt (30)

1)  After Octavian defeats Anthony at Actium (31)

2.  Geography

a.  Strabo (64 B.C- after A.D. 24)

1)  From Pontus

2)  Comes to Rome in 44 to complete education and traveled widely

b.  Pausanius (fl. 160’s)

1)  Travelogue

3.  History

a.  Dionysius of Halicarnassus (fl. 30’s & 20’s B.C.)

1)  History of Rome survives

b.  Appian (fl. A.D. 160’s)

1)  History of Roman conquests

4.  Poetry

a.  Limited interest

b.  Bulk of surviving lit is in prose, showing limited interest in poetry

c.  Sterile epic and didactic poetry

5.  Second Sophistic (2nd & early 3rd C.)

a.  Description

1)  Performing rhetoricians won unprecedented prestige and popularity through patriotic declamation before large audiences

2)  Many acquired success, wealth and influential friends

b.  Dio Chrysostom (ca. A.D. 40– after 111)

c.  Aelius Aristides (A.D. 117-189)

6.  Biography

a.  Plutarch (A.D. 46– ca. 120)

1)  Also essayist, Moralia)

7.  Satire

a.  Lucian (ca. A.D. 115– after 120)

8.  Novels

a.  Chariton, Chaereas & Callirhoe (1st C.)

b.  Joseph and Asenath (1st C. B.C. or A.D.)

c.  Longus, Daphnis and Chloe (3rd C)

d.  Achilles Tatius, Leucippe and Cleitophon (3rd C.)

e.  Heliodorus, Aethiopica (3rd-4th C.)

f.  Conclusion: Realism within limits


The Western world needs to wake up, stop the self-loathing, and learn from the good in the past, and forget the bad.

The Hellenistic world carried forward the themes in Classical Athens, but power shifted to the poleis (plural of polis) or city-states, not to a centralized power in Alexander the Great or Rome (until later). Even when Alexander and Rome grew, they let the polis govern itself, as long as it paid its taxes.

Western world, live as free people!


Outline of Minoan Civilization

Outline of Archaic Greece

Outline of Classical Athens

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