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Hellenism's influence


  • The Hellenistic empires far outlasted Alexander the Great and spread Greek culture through Europe, West Asia, and North Africa.
  • Hellenism's social, cultural, political, and economic influence continued to spread and affect subsequent states and empires.

The Hellenistic Period

According to Diodorus, an ancient Greek historian, Alexander's companions asked him on his deathbed to whom he bequeathed his kingdom. His laconic reply was, tôi kratistôi—"to the strongest." Another more plausible story claims that Alexander passed his signet ring to Perdiccas, a bodyguard and leader of the companion cavalry, thereby nominating him as his official successor.
Alexander’s empire might have been short-lived, but the empires that succeeded his, known as the Hellenistic empires, lasted for hundreds of years and spread Greek culture over huge territories. Forty years of war between the Diadochi—or successors—ensued, before the Hellenistic world settled into stable political blocks. Ultimately, Alexander the Great’s empire was mostly carved up between Antigonus, Seleucus, and Ptolemy. Seleucus founded the Seleucid Empire, comprising Mesopotamia, Anatolia, and parts of India. Ptolemy founded the Ptolemaic Dynasty in Egypt which would last until 30 BCE. Antigonus ruled over much of Asia Minor and northern Syria.
A map showing the Hellenistic empires.
A map showing the Hellenistic empires. Image credit: Wikimedia
During the Hellenistic Period, which lasted from Alexander’s death until the first century CE, Greek thought and culture became entwined with that of the indigenous populace, a process which is called Hellenization. In addition to the Hellenistic empires, a new wave of Greek colonization infused these regions with Greek influence.

The Influence of Hellenism

The word Hellenistic comes from the Greek word meaning "imitating the Greeks." Hellenism introduced and spread the Greek language, art, culture, political ideas, and philosophy across the Mediterranean and Middle East.
What were some of the most widespread, enduring, and historically significant effects of the spread of Hellenism?
Politically, the rulers who divided Alexander's empire all followed the principle of rule by monarchy. Like Alexander, they used military force to maintain their rules in the form of autocratic power. This development points to a continuity with early forms of autocratic rule in Classical Greece and other early states, but a change from the democratic traditions founded in the Greek polis. When the Romans began forming an empire, they similarly adopted these characteristics of social and political rule that dominated the Hellenistic period.
Socially and culturally, Hellenistic civilization spread Greek language, philosophy, and art, an influence that is still felt in the linguistic, intellectual, and artistic foundations of Western civilization today.
Importantly, these ideas were spread in part through the commercial connections between Europe, the Middle East, and Asia formed during Alexander's reign.
Notice the similarities in style and clothing drapery in the Hellenistic era Greek sculpture and the Gandhara Buddha sculpture below.
Marble Gravestone of an Enthroned Woman with an Attendant, East Greece; about 100 B.C.
Hellenistic era marble gravestone of an enthroned woman with an attendant, East Greece; about 100 B.C. Image credit: Wikipedia
One of the first representations of the Buddha, 1st-2nd century CE, Gandhara, Pakistan.
One of the first representations of the Buddha, 1st-2nd century CE, Gandhara, Pakistan. Image credit: Wikipedia
The cultural and economic links strengthened through the expansion of Alexander the Great's empire continued in later empires, such as the Persian and Roman empires, solidifying connections between those regions in subsequent periods.

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