The Hellenistic Age

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MOST HISTORIANS DO NOT LIKE PERIODS, PARTICULARLY THOSE THATbegin at a precised ate. But few would deny that Alexanderw, henhe crossed the Hellespont in 334 B.C., opened a new era, dubbed bymodern scholars the Hellenistic age. I would, myself, make animportantr eservation. For the territorieso f the Persiane mpire-Asia Minor, Syria, Egypt, Mesopotamia and Iran Alexander'sconquest undoubtedly marked the beginning of a fundamentaltransformation

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http://www.jstor.orgThe Hellenistic AgeAuthor(s): A. H. M. JonesSource: Past and Present, No. 27, (Apr., 1964), pp. 3-22Published by: Oxford University Press on behalf of The Past and Present SocietyStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/649758Accessed: 20/05/2008 02:28Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available athttp://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp. JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unlessyou have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and youmay use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use.Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained athttp://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=oup.Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printedpage of such transmission.JSTOR is a not-for-profit organization founded in 1995 to build trusted digital archives for scholarship. We enable thescholarly community to preserve their work and the materials they rely upon, and to build a common research platform thatpromotes the discovery and use of these resources. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.THE HELLENISTICAGE MOST HISTORIANS DONOTLIKE PERIODS, PARTICULARLYTHOSE THAT begin at a precisedate.But few would deny that Alexander,when he crossedthe Hellespontin 334 B.C.,openeda new era, dubbedby modern scholarstheHellenistic age.Iwould, myself, make an importantreservation. For the territoriesof the Persianempire- Asia Minor, Syria, Egypt, Mesopotamiaand IranAlexander's conquest undoubtedlymarked thebeginning ofafundamental transformation.But I would questionwhetherfor Greeceand the Aegeanthere was any great change.Many historiansspeak asif under Macedoniandominationthe life ofthe city states withered away.But were things sovery differentinthefifth and fourth centuriesand in the third?There had rarelybeen a time when the majorityofGreek cities had not been subject tosome dominant power, Sparta,Athens or Thebes; real freedomhad been for most a rare experience. Inthe Hellenisticage the controlof Macedon overGreece ^7vasincomplete andintermittent,andmany cities maintainedtheir freedom for long periods.Theleaders had, of course,changed.Athens,afteralastgallantstruggle,the Chremonideanwar in 267, had to submitto a Macedoniangarrison, andwhen shesucceeded inexpelling it,retreatedinto dignified neutrality.Sparta,after a Iast effort in33I,sank into impotence untilKingCleomenescarried through hissocial revolution and achieveda brief dominancein the 220S.Thebes never recovered from itsdestructionbyAlexander. Butnewpowers arose, the Aetolianleaguein the northwest and laterthe Achaeanleaguein the Peloponnese,andthesemaintaineda strugglewhichwas on the whole successful against Macedoniandominance. Noonewhoreads Polybiuscan believe that the city state was dead or even dying in the third century.The internalpoliticallife of the cities was very muchalive,and as in the precedingcenturiesbitterfactionalstruggles were only too common.In externalaffairsthere was some progress in the formationof stableleaguesnot dominatedby one leader,but the old internecinefeuds betweencities persisted.It was not until Greecefinallysuccumbedto the iron hand of Romein I46B.C.that the cities had to forgo foreignpolitics and submit to an oligarchic form of governmentimposedby the conqueror.l 1 Noterminal date can beassigned totheHellenistic age.Politically the Greek East fell piecemeal under Roman rule from I48B.C.,when Macedonia became a province, to30 B.C.,when the last Hellenistic kingdom, Egypt, was annexed.But culturalHellenizationwent on under Romanrule into the second century and later.The best short accountof the Hellenistic age is WW.Tarn Hellenistic Civilization, 3rdedn.,revised bytheauthor andG.TGriffith (London, I952). 4 PAST ANDPRESENTNUMBER 27 In the Aegean and on the west coast of Asia Minor, too, were things so very different?Duringthe fifth centurythe cities in this areahad been subjectto Athens,duringthe fourththe mainlandwas underPersianruIe,and manyof the islandsunderSpartanand then Athenian control.IntheHellenistic age thePtolemies and the Seleucidsbrought many ofthecities under their suzerainty,but anumber maintainedtheirindependenceHeraclea Pontica, Byzantium,Cyzicus,and above all, Rhodes, and not a few of the Seleucidcities successfullydefiedtheir overlordsfrom time to time. Here, again,it is diEcult to detectany decayof civic spirit until the Romanoccupationin I33B.C. In the Persianempire, on the other hand, the changesbrought aboutby Alexander'sconquestwererevolutionary. There had, it is true, been some penetrationof Persiaby the Greeksfor a long while past.Greekmerchantshad tradedwith Levantineports, and had even establisheda factoryat Naucratisin Egypt,andanotherit would seemat the mouthof the Orontes.Greekdoctorshadbeenemployed by the Persiankings, and Greekartistsby the Phoenicianprinces. Greekshad often served as generals,and) above all, thousandsof Greekmercenarieshadbeen enlistedin the serviceof the GreatK;ng, his satraps,and the rebelkingsof Egypt.But now the empirecame underthe ruleof Macedoniandynastiesand amassiveimmigrationof Greek and Macedoniansettlers began.Thefinal result was the receptionof the Greeklanguageandcultureby the orientalpopulation -or)at least, itsupper stratum.How did this transformation come about? Both the absolutemagnitudeand the relativeimportanceof the Greekand Macedonianimmigrationhas) I think, been exaggerated. We have,of course,veryfew figures,andthe wholequestionis highly problematical. Wehave nomeans oftelling how many Greeks migratedspontaneouslyto the East, hoping to find employmentas civil servantsinthe new kingdoms,or tomake their fortunes as governmentcontractorsormerchantsBut thenumber ofsuch immigrantsmust have been smallas comparedwith those who were brought inbythekings toman their newcities andmilitary settlements. Here, again, wehave nostatisticsand much ofour informationis unreliable. The Hellenistickings pepperedthe map withtowns named after themsellresand their families, andby collectingall the namesaIlimpressivepictureof royalcolonizationcan be presented.But a criticalanalysisof the sourcesrevealsthat very few of the townswhichboredynasticnameswerecolonialsettlements. Nor have we much informationon the size of these settlements,but THEHELLENISTICAGEs what there issuggests that they were small.According toMalalas the settlers at Antigoneia, the forerunner of Antioch ontheOrontes, numbered 5,300,andPolybiusgivesthepopulation ofSeleucia in Pieriaas6,ooo.Thesefigures,ofcourse,refertocitizens,adult males, and if the settlers brought their wives and families with them, should be multiplied by four or Eve.2 In Egypt there were two new cities only, Alexandriaand Ptolemais. Ptolemais was always a small town, and probably contained no more than 25,000settlers all told.Alexandria grew to be a great city; its population according toDiodorus was by his time300,000.But of thesethemajority wouldhavebeenEgyptians, and therewasalso alarge bodyofJews and many other foreigners.Wemightallow Ioo,OOOfor the citizen body and theGreek metics.ThePtolemies, furthermore,plantedlargenumbersofMacedoIiianandGreek soldiersassettlers(