|The Macedonians, though the language they spoke was undoubtedly a Greek dialect, and though they were probably Greeks by blood, were none the less reckoned barbarians by the Greeks of the classic culture. The Macedonian conquest of the East was therefore, from its beginning, a victory for a “Grecianism” that had never been purely classical, for a culture almost entirely Greek but a culture already mixed, and ready therefore to adapt itself to other cultures. The opportunity came with Alexander’s conquest of the Persian Empire|
Philip Hughes ‘A History of the Church Volume 1′ page 4
|The lack of unity among the Greek city-states, the wars between them — the long Peloponnesian War 431-403 B.C. — were an eternal invitation to Persian aggression. To defend the West against this, unity was essential; and to unite Greece in a league directed by himself was the aim of Philip of Macedon (360-336). By 337 he had accomplished it. The following year, however, he was assassinated, and it was Philip’s son, Alexander , who led the alliance to victory|
Philip Hughes ‘A History of the Church Volume 1′ page 4
|Alexander had dreamed of a real union of all the races he conquered, their fusion into one new people. He had planned the administration of his Empire on this principle and had himself married a Persian. This fusion of Europe and Asia on a basis of Greek culture, Hellenism did not achieve; nor did it ever make Greeks of the Orientals. Nevertheless it transformed the East for centuries, and for this transformation the chief credit once more is Alexander’s. He promised to be as great a ruler as he had been a general in the field. His conquests he welcomed as enlarging the scope and opportunity for the development of the Greek mind, the spread of Greek ideas and ideals of life, of the Greek scientific achievement. Aristotle had been his tutor and the cultural sequel to his conquest was natural. He was the world’s great city founder, and the seventy which claim him as their founder were all of them Greek in form and spirit, so many active centres whence diffused Greek thought and life. Alexander’s successors were, in this respect, his enthusiastic imitators. A vast scheme of colonisation went with the foundations, and soon the East was filled with Greek traders, Greek artisans, Greeks to organise and exploit native talent, native industry, and especially land. The superiority of Greek methods and policies whether in diplomacy, in politics, or in the exploitation of natural resources, brought a new age of prosperity and peace to the East – to the profit indeed principally of the Greeks. The East — Asia Minor, Syria, Egypt — became one vast market, Greek controlled.
At the head of this new hellenised world were the Greek rulers, secure because conquerors, and more stable still because they inherited, for their native subjects, the divinity acknowledged in the native kings they had dispossessed. Between these Greek rulers and their native subjects there grew up a new, extensive and wealthy middle class of commercials, industrials and middle men of all kinds. This class again was almost entirely Greek. The centres of its wealth were the hellenised towns; and the natives, dispossessed, were bound to the soil, a despised and impoverished class. Between the town and the country, drained for its advantage, there was inevitably a chronic hostility, and an allied hostility between natives and foreigners. The new social and political strain gave to the old native religions a new importance — they were the one means left for the corporate expression of “national” feeling. Of all these countries Egypt affords the best example of this oppression, for in Egypt the government owned and controlled everything — agriculture, industry, trade. The country was one vast royal estate, its people the ruler’s slaves or serfs.
Hellenism, then, was but a veneer, its cities a superstructure. There was never any real fusion between Greeks and natives, although the higher classes of the natives were almost always Greek in thought, speech and habits of life. Nevertheless, although the older life still ran on, below the surface and beyond the attention of this Greek-educated world, the hellenistic veneer was universal and the unity it gave, through the centuries before the political unity was achieved and for long after that political unity was lost, was very real. Such is the value of Greek thought even when it exists, as in Hellenism, in combination with nonGreek elements. All through this cultural Empire all who were educated — and indeed the whole population of the towns — were Greek in speech; they read the same classical poets, saw the same classical plays, listened to the same classical oratory, studied the same classical thinkers. Their schools, their gymnasia, their temples, their theatres, their very cities were of the one type. They shared the one common, cultural ideal, what the Romans were to call humanitas, the gift proper to this culture, for lack of which the rest of the world was “barbarian,” and with this they shared the complementary notion of the “civilised world.” This culture had the same attraction for those outside it as, in later centuries, the material order and prosperity of the Roman Empire had for the Germanic tribes beyond the frontier. The powerful ideas latent in it travelled far beyond the limits of the material expansion of the race — and, much later, they were to assist in that re-birth of the East which characterised the late Empire and early Middle Ages, Sassanian Persia for example, and the Arabia of Mohammed.
In religion Hellenism helped to spread the new idea of a connection between religion and morality — the result partly of contact with eastern religions — and the idea also of a relation between present conduct and the life after death. It assisted the development and spread of Greek mystery religions from Italy to Egypt and the Caucasus. It favoured the gradual introduction of Eastern cults into the Greek world. In Art and Letters the Hellenistic Age adds the Comedy of Manners, the Mime, a satirical, topical “revue”, and the first of the Idylls, those idealisations of country life by the products of town civilisation in which every sophisticated culture delights. We can note, too, a new intelligent, scientific interest in the non-Greek peoples, no longer dismissed, undiscussed, as “barbarians;” and the appearance in history of another characteristic product of sophistication, the myth of the “noble savage.” Hellenism produced, also, romances and fairy tales, influenced here by the East. One feature all these forms of literary activity share — they are the product of careful attention to literary form. The history of the “writer by profession” has begun, of the study of language, of letters, of the History of Letters, of the first public libraries. The use of books spreads; to possess books becomes the mark of a gentleman and the book trade develops. Historians especially flourish, are in demand even, and each monarchy, each city has its official historiographer. Translations are popular and translators busy. One subject that occupies them is the Sacred Books of the Eastern Religions. The Bible is now for the first time translated into Greek — the Septuagint.
Of the hellenistic achievement in Architecture, Sculpture, Painting, its systematic and scientific town-planning — which gives to the West its first well-ordered towns — we can only make a mention. It is an age also of scientific discovery, and of amazing inventions through the application of the natural sciences -especially is there progress in Anatomy, in Physiology, in Astronomy, Mathematics and Mechanics. It is an age of learning, and an age where learning becomes the concern of the State. Schools, libraries, learned societies even — at Alexandria the Museum -are maintained at the State’s expense. All this is, in the main, the product of Greek culture working in an immensely wider field, and in that field influencing, slowly and never completely, but influencing none the less, the ancient East. In one respect only does the East in return seriously influence the Greek culture, in the point where that culture was so poor in thought as to be childish — its religion. Here Hellenism truly is debtor to the East.
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