The Age of Alexander
The conquests of Alexander the Great spread Hellenism immediately over the Middle East and far into Asia. After his death in 323 B.C., the influence of Greek civilization continued to expand over the Mediterranean world and W Asia. The wars of the Diadochi marked, it is true, the breakup of Alexander's brief empire, but the establishment of Macedonian dynasties in Egypt, Syria, and Persia (the Ptolemies and the Seleucidae) helped to mold the world of that day into a wider unity of trade and learning.
The Hellenistic period was an international, cosmopolitan age. Commercial contacts were widespread and peoples of many ethnic and religious backgrounds merged in populous urban centers. Advances were made in various fields of scientific inquiry, including engineering, physics, astronomy and mathematics. Great libraries were founded in Alexandria, Athens and the independent kingdom of Pergamum. The old beliefs in Olympian gods were infused with foreign elements, especially from the east; "Oriental" ecstatic cults, such as those of Cybele, Isis, and Mithras, become popular in the Hellenized world.
The 3rd century BC saw the rise of ancient Rome. After securing most of the Italic peninsula, Rome entered into a protracted conflict with the Carthaginians for control of Sicily, Spain and the other regions of Punic domination in the Punic Wars. The former empire of Alexander was taken steadily and methodically into Roman hands. The great city of Corinth was destroyed (146 BC), Athens captured (86 BC), and Cleopatra and Mark Antony defeated at the Battle of Actium (31 BC). Their defeat marks the end of the Hellenistic Age.
While the city-states of Greece itself tended to stagnate, elsewhere cities and states grew and flourished. Of these the chief was Alexandria. So great a force did Alexandria exert in commerce, letters, and art that this period is occasionally called the Alexandrian Age, and the end of Hellenistic civilization is generally set at the final triumph of Roman power in Alexandria in the 1st cent. B.C. Pergamum was also prominent, and there were other cities of influence (e.g., Dura).
In the Hellenistic period, although the cities were no longer independent, as they had been in the Hellenic era, they were the centers of trade and craft industry. It was in the cities that the descendants of the Greco-Macedonian conquerors became a professional class of rulers and soldiers and merchants, which provided a cultural and economic bond throughout the area, even though political unity did not survive the death of Alexander. Among the Greek ruling class, the old loyalties to the Polis had given way to a dedication to the profession. As the administrators and the merchants of their world, in spite of being in the minority, they had an influence out of proportion to their numbers. The city of Alexandria, founded by Alexander, located on the Mediterranean at the mouth of the Nile, became the most prominent...