What is the Hellenistic period Beginning Characteristics and End

Hellenistic period (4th century BC – 1st century BC)

Thanks to the great conquests of Alexander the Great , a new stage was born in the Ancient Age called the Hellenistic period . It spread throughout Europe and Asia Minor, leaving an important mark on history.

What is the Hellenistic period?

The Hellenistic period, also known as the Alexandrian period or Hellenism, is a stage of antiquity from the 4th century to the 1st century BC Its chronological limits are marked by two important political events: The premature death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and the death of Cleopatra and Marco Antonio, after being defeated at the battle of Accio in 30 BC.

This period is considered today of great importance in relation to the study of Antiquity. Very different from what was thought for a long time, since it was considered as a simple stage of decline of Greek culture.

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Beginning of the Hellenistic period

This period was born due to the decline of the city-states of ancient Greece (Sparta, Athens, Corinth, etc.) which generated two effects:

  • The domain Macedonia in the Greek world.
  • One of the greatest expansions in the ancient world took place, through Alexander the Great . This encompassed the regions of Macedonia, Egypt, Greece, Persia, Palestine, and Mesopotamia .

After the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC his generals divided their empire and created the Hellenistic Kingdoms. They formed the three great dynasties : Antigónida (Greece and Macedonia), Seleucid (Mesopotamia, Asia Minor and Persia) and Ptolemaic (Palestine and Egypt).

Characteristics of the Hellenistic period

This important period of ancient history is marked by outstanding characteristics. The most outstanding are:

A NEW CULTURE ARISES – Greek culture becomes universal incorporating the contributions of the eastern peoples. In this way a hybrid culture is born in which classical custom and Orientalism are combined, called Hellenistic culture . This was clearly cosmopolitan in character, unlike the local culture of the polis .

THE LANGUAGE IS UNIVERSALIZING  – Koiné Greek , which means common language or common to all, came to become the international language , with a great importance that other languages ​​of the time did not possess. It became the main vehicle of Hellenistic culture.

ART PREDOMINATES IN HELENISM  – The ideas of the famous philosopher Aristotle were reflected in this area. This philosopher appreciated the experiences that man obtained through the senses, which were used for the knowledge of himself and of reality. This way of thinking had a very notable influence on the visual arts.

Thus, in the field of sculpture, the idealization of the human being was left behind, giving way to more realistic models , dealing with aspects such as ugliness, old age, childhood, facial expressions, etc. The portraits of people emerged , the twisting of the figures, the chiaroscuro of the modeling and the muscular tension were accentuated . Works with measures superior to natural ones stood out.

ARCHITECTURE BLOOMS – Hellenistic cities were designed according to a geometric plan with regular figures, including circular shapes with a center that highlighted streets connected to each other by grouped circles. The use of ornamental elements of the Corinthian order was preferred.

From this complicated style, new architectural models appeared, such as buildings for the senate and gymnasiums, with abundant decoration. Some of the works of extraordinary beauty and monumentality were: The Colossus of Rhodes and the altar of Zeus . Libraries, porticoes, triumphal arches and theaters were built.

CHANGES IN THE PHILOSOPHY – The philosophy of the Hellenistic period, unlike the previous ones, is created as a unitary knowledge, divided into logic, ethics and physics. Its purpose is mainly moral giving advice and creating life projects on how to adapt to unfavorable situations.

Many schools emerge, of which the three main currents of thought were: Stoicism, Epicureanism and Skepticism. All give special emphasis to moral philosophy and focus on how to achieve happiness

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Important landmarks of the Hellenistic period

Among the most important landmarks of the Hellenistic period are:

  • The foundation of important schools: Epicureanism, Stoicism and Cynics .
  • Great progress in the world of medicine, science, astronomy and mathematics.
  • Philology emerged . Many men of letters and librarians dedicated their studies and their lives to shaping grammar, literary works, words, book classification, literary criticism, etc.
  • Famous Hellenistic monuments were built , including two of the Seven Wonders of the World: The Colossus of Rhodes and the Lighthouse of Alexandria . Likewise, important works such as the Altar of Zeus in Pergamum and the Temple of Apollo also stand out.
  • The Alexandria Museum was founded .
  • Famous statues of Diana the Huntress, Venus de Milo, Apollo of Belvedere and Victoria of Samothrace were created. 

Outstanding figures

During the three centuries that spanned the Hellenistic period, many characters emerged that left their mark. Some of them were:

  • Alexander the Great : He was born in Pela, Macedonia, on July 20, 356 BC and for 13 years he was King of Macedonia . He was one of the greatest military men in ancient history who conquered the ancient world. It extended the domain of Greek civilization giving rise to a new period, the Hellenistic.
  • Epicurus : He was born on the island of Samos, in February 341 BC. He was an outstanding Greek philosopher who founded the famous Epicurean school called The Garden. This school sought to find the path to happiness. It was famous for being open to the admission of women, unlike the Platonic Academy and the Aristotelian Lyceum , which only admitted men.
  • Antisthenes : He was one of the most outstanding philosophers of his time and a student of Socrates . He exerted a decisive influence on certain schools that were created in that period, not only because of his theories, but also because of his attitude and way of lifeHe was the forerunner of the Cynical school through his followers Diogenes and Crates and of the Stoic through Zeno of Cito.


After the defeat of Philip V and Perseus, kings of Macedonia, the territories of the Macedonian kingdom, including Greece, were annexed by the Romans . In the unstoppable expansion of Rome into the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, almost all the Hellenistic kingdoms were subdued.

The last was Egypt , which disappeared with the death of its queen Cleopatra after being defeated in 30 BC In this way, the Romans seized all the territories that belonged to the Greeks and integrated them into their empire as provinces.  

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