Hellenistic Period


by Antoine Simonin
published on 28 April 2011

The Hellenistic Period is a part of the Ancient Period for the European and Near Asian space. The use of this period is justified by the extent of the Hellenic culture in most of these areas, due to the Greek political presence especially in Asia after Alexander's conquests, but also to a new wave of Greek colonization. In consequence, the Hellenistic Period is usually accepted to begin in 323 BC with Alexander's death and ends in 31 BC with the conquest of the last Hellenistic kingdom by Rome, the Lagid kingdom of Egypt. For the Asian part, we could lengthen it to 10 BC, when the last Indo-Greek kingdom was conquered by Indo-Sakas.

Politically, the Hellenistic Period is characterized by a division and a split from Alexander's former empire, with endless wars between the Diadochi and their successors. Thus the Hellenistic kingdoms weakened themselves and thus gradually created space for competing kingdoms, such as Pontus or Bactria. At the same time, Roman power was in exponential expansion, annihilating other political presence in Italy, and then the Carthaginian dominance of the Mediterranean in the three Punic Wars. At the end of the Hellenistic Period the young Roman empire had almost reached its maximum expansion, from Lusitania (modern Portugal) to Syria and from South-Britain to Egypt.

Other general political evolution can be seen too: The Celts were shaken once more by a big wave of migration (from which arose among others the famous Galatians in Anatolia). The growing pressure of the Celts' neighbours, though, especially from Germanic Tribes and the Romans, reduced their dominion drastically at the end of the period. In the endless northern steppes of Asia, nomad pressures continued in a similar way as before, Sarmatians pressuring Scythes and Yuezhei pressuring Sakas, who increased so their attacks against the Bactrian and then Indo-Greek kingdoms.

In general, some things characterized this period in opposition of the previous one: The model of the city-state which dominated before was replaced by the different kinds of kingdoms, with more centralized power. Moreso, it is the basic idea of administration which changed: It was no longer a matter of managing the civic affairs in the name of the community, but by delegation in the name of one personal authority. At the same time, mercenaries were more frequently used in Hellenistic armies, in order to face the military and technical evolution which greatly increased the cost for equip a civic army. The best example is the fame and the use of the Galatians by the Hellenistic kingdoms.

Culturally, this period is not an intermediary era between the prosperous Classic and Imperial ones, as it was described in the past. Aristotle the father of modern sciences, Menander the great comedies' author, Epicure the moralist, Eratosthenes, but also Euclid, Archimedes, and Polybius lived and worked during the Hellenistic Period. This period showed progress in architecture, a lot of great euergetism (altruistic donattions to the community), a multiplication of feast days and celebrations (shown by the great number of created theatres), the development of art and the creation of libraries, with the most famous being in Alexandria.

Written by , published on under the following license: Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike. This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon this content non-commercially, as long as they credit the author and license their new creations under the identical terms.


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Visual Timeline
  • 330 BCE - 64 BCE
    Hellenistic Period in Byblos.
  • 323 BCE
    Death of Alexander the Great, beginning of The Hellenistic Period / The Hellenistic World.
  • 312 BCE
    Seleucos conquers Babylon and founds the Seleucid dynasty.
  • 310 BCE
    Assassination of Roxanne and Alexander IV, wife and son of Alexander the Great.
  • 306 BCE
    Epicurus buys a garden in Athens in which he begins to teach Epicureanism.
  • 304 BCE - 64 BCE
    Rule of the Seleucids in Mesopotamia.
  • c. 301 BCE - c. 320 BCE
    Doric temple to Athena and fortifications of Lysimachos built at Troy.
  • 287 BCE - 212 BCE
    Life of Archimedes, physician, mathematician and engineer.
  • 285 BCE - 282 BCE
    Rome defeats the Celts in Italy. Rome's dominance in central Italy is secured.
  • 279 BCE
    Celts invade Thrace and Anatolia.
  • 272 BCE
    Death of Pyrrhus of Epeiros in a street battle in Argos.
  • 270 BCE
    Aristarchos of Samos proposes a heliocentric world view.
  • 262 BCE
    Eumenes rebels and wins against the Seleucid Antiochos I. Beginning of the Pergamon Empire.
  • 250 BCE
    Former satrap Diodotos rebels against Seleucid king Antiochos I, creating the Greco-Bactrian kingdom.
  • 218 BCE - 201 BCE
    Second Punic War. Hannibal leads 50,000 foot soldiers, 9000 cavalry, and 37 war elephants over the Pyrennees and the Alps.
  • c. 190 BCE
    First appearance of multiple Euthydemid kings at the same time. Beginning of the Indo-Greek kingdoms.
  • c. 189 BCE
    The treaty of Apameea Kibotos. Peace and alliance is established between the Seleucid Kingdom and Rome joined by her allies, such as Pergamon and Rhodes. The Seleucids have to evacuate all the land and the cities from Asia Minor and to pay a huge war indemnity.
  • 172 BCE - 168 BCE
    Third Macedonian War: Perseus of Macedon challenges Rome and is defeated.
  • 147 BCE - 139 BCE
    The Lusitanian commander Viriatus bleeds Roman armies.
  • 146 BCE
    End of the Third Punic War. Carthage is destroyed and its lands become the Roman province Africa.
  • 133 BCE
    Attalus III, the last king of Pergamon, bequeathes the whole of Pergamon to Rome.
  • 129 BCE
    Parthians conquer Mesopotamia. The Silk Road to China is now controlled by the Parthians.
  • 88 BCE - 63 BCE
    Mithridatic Wars between Mithridates VI and Roman Republic .
  • 83 BCE
    Tigranes II invades and destroys the Seleucid Empire.
  • 58 BCE - 51 BCE
    Julius Caesar’s conquest of Gaul.
  • 37 BCE - 4 BCE
    Herod the Great is installed as King of Judaea. Rebuilding of the Temple of Jerusalem.
  • 32 BCE - 31 BCE
    Battle of Actium: Octavian (the later Emperor Augustus) defeats Cleopatra of Egypt.
  • c. 30 BCE - c. 18 BCE
    Roman poet Virgil writes his Aeneid.
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