Alexander the Great
Alexander the Great was a Macedonia king who succeeded in conquering an empire that stretched from Balkans to what is now called Pakistan. Historians describe him as a courageous and inspiring visionary, a great strategist, and a man with the ability to motivate his army to do things that were considered impossible (Owens, 2017). Despite all these great qualities, his character remains a paradox, especially in his later years, where despite being a great conqueror, he ended up murdering the people closest to him.
Alexander won a lot of battles in his lifetime and ended up conquering many lands. However, his most significant impact on ancient Greek history was the fact that he brought about the beginning of a new era in history known as the Hellenistic Age (Roisman and Worthington, 2010). As Alexander travelled and conquered many lands, he spread Greek culture and thought to all these lands, thereby “Hellenizing” all these lands. This means that he made Greek culture the prevailing culture and way of thought in all the places he conquered. After his death in 323 BC, Hellenic influence continued to spread throughout Alexander’s conquests. All these lands adopted a common currency and language (Greek) which led to the unity of all the people of the empire (Harrison, 1971). Spread of the Greek culture was mostly attributed to trade since most of Alexander’s conquests were located on trade routes which facilitated increased movement of commodities between the East and the West. Hellenic influence continued to flourish even after the Republic of Rome rose through these trade routes. The Roman conquest further spread Greek Culture, language, philosophy and attitudes to the other parts of the East and the North of Europe which led to the Hellenizing of the entire world.
Before the Hellenistic Age. Ancient Greek experienced the Classic Greek period which produced Greek’s most noble philosophers, writers and statesmen. Greek culture during this age was uncorrupted by other cultures and was regarded as pure. This period lasted from about 500 BC to the death of Alexander the Great (Martin, 1996).During the Hellenistic Age, other cultures were amalgamated into the Greek culture which led to the some significant differences between it and the Classical Greek Period. Major differences between these two periods include differences in Religion, Philosophy and Art.
Religion in the Classical age was focused on rituals, oracles, sacrifices and magic. Greek belief was centered on the 12 Greek gods and goddesses: Zeus, Hera, Aphrodite, Athena, Hades, Poseidon, Dionysus, Ares, Apollo, Artemis, Hermes, and Hephaistos. Every Deity had a specific sacred place of worship and a devoted following. All the sacrifices (Animal sacrifices mostly of oxen and goat) to the deity took place in these places of worship on an altar that was at the front of the temple with the participants of the rituals consuming the innards of the animals. There were four most illustrious festivals that had very specific processions and sacrifices that were held every four years at Nemea, Delphi, Isthmia and Olympia (Historyplex, 2017). On the other hand, Religion in the Hellenistic Age was still dominated by worship of the deities and observing of the various rituals. However, new religions were merged into these practices especially the Egyptian religion (belief in the Egyptian gods and goddesses). Rulers in this age believed themselves to be god-kings and founded their own monotheistic religions. Examples of these religions include Zoroastrianism and Mithraism.
Philosophy was birthed in the Classical Age, gifting us with many individual philosophical thinkers. Each of these great philosophers had his own followers who often branched out from their teacher’s train of thought leading to a new thought altogether (Isselhardt, 2016). The most notable philosophers of this time include Plato, Aristotle and Socrates. Plato’s Republic is considered to be the pioneer of the methodical treatment of political philosophy. Quest for truth was the main focus of philosophical studies in this age. Hellenistic philosophers were more inclined to reason and saw this as the only way to solve problems. Additionally, they refused that there was a way to attain truth. Most of the philosophical thought in this age came in the form of radical groups including: Stoics (this group propagated that the universe was ruled by destiny and that man should accept and believe in his destiny); Cynics (this group propagated pure naturalism); Epicureans (this group propagated fear of death and supported living a pleasurable life until one’s death); and Skeptics. In this age, individual philosophers outside of the above named groups were few, if any at all (Historyplex, 2017).
Art in the Classical Age was the embodiment of liveliness, sensuality and rough-cut. Beautiful marble statues served as representation of human sensuality (Isselhardt, 2016). Architecture in this age thrived with the Doric and Ionic columns serving as the most notable representation of this era. Art in this period is what we recognize today as Ancient Greek Art. On the other hand, the Hellenistic Age saw the quality of art deteriorated as works of art were regarded more as commodity and less of art. Therefore, this led to the creation of “cheap art”. Art was pursued as an extravagance rather than for its own pleasure (Idyllic beauty) as the Classical Age did. Architecture also exhibited this extravagance. However, there were significant architectural accomplishments including Corinthian column, the citadel of Alexandria, and the first lighthouse (Isselhardt, 2016).
The Hellenistic Age brought with it many changes and led to the amalgamation of various cultures into one. It also led to the unity of various groups of people. Alexander the Great was responsible for bringing about the beginning of this period.
Harrison, E. F. (1971). The language of the New Testament. Wm B Eerdmans. p. 508. ISBN 0-8028-4786-2.
Historyplex. (2017). Comparison of Hellenic and Hellenistic Greek civilization. Retrieved from https://historyplex.com/comparison-of-hellenic-hellenistic-greek-civilization#back-to-top
Isselhardt, Tiffany. (2016). Differences between Hellenistic and Hellenic Greek civilization. Retrieved from https://owlcation.com/humanities/Hellenistic-versus-Hellenic-Civilization-The-istic-ic-difference
Martin Thomas. (1996). Ancient Greece. Yale University Press, p. 94.
Owen Jarus (2017). Alexander the Great: Facts, biography and accomplishments. Retrieved from https://www.livescience.com/39997-alexander-the-great.html
Roisman, J. & Worthington, I. (2010). A companion to Ancient Macedonia. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.