Cambridge Encyclopaedia of Archaeology – The Hellenistic World

The Hellenistic world

In Classical times the focus of the Creek world had been Greece itself and the cities of the eastern Aegean seaboard such as Miletus Smyrna and Ephesus. During the later fourth century BC the centre of gravity underwent a shift to the east: to Asia Minor, northern Syria and Egypt.

The historical basis of these developments was the unification of the divided city-states of Classical Greece by the most northerly of the Greek states, the kingdom of Macedon and the struggle to free the Greeks in Asia from Persian domination. Although begun by his father, Philip II, the completion of this task and the great eastward expansion of Greek culture and political control that followed were the work of Alexander the Great whose reign covered the years 336″ 323 BO. Alexander’s conquests set the style for and began the process of Hellenizing the entire Near East.

The archaeological evidence for this process is rich but un­balanced. Hellenistic cities contained splendid and elaborate public buildings, many of which have survived to the present can easily be recovered by excavation. As a result, Hellenistic city life is well documented and has been frequently described. However, the humbler quarters of these cities, and less conspicuous settlements such as villages and farmsteads, have been more οr less neglected, with consequent damage to our understanding many of the social and economic realities of Hellenistic life. Τhe material record is complemented by excellent documental evidence for social and institutional history in the letters an edicts of kings, the decrees passed by cities to regulate intern policy and relations with other cities, and very numerous inscriptions honouring individuals for their achievements and bene factions. Inscriptions and papyri also tend to throw light on literate and wealthier sections of the community at the expense of the rest of the population. We know much about the wealth per cent of the population but too little about the remainder.

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