Hellenistic Period


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XII. Hellenistic Period ( 330 - 30 BCE )

Hellenistic Period covers from the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BCE, to the death of Cleopatra and annexation of Egypt by the Romans in 30 BCE. It was the age of many Kings who were former generals of Alexander. Kings constantly fought with each other for territory, wealth and glory. Many kings died at the battlefields fighting against their rivals. These frequent wars came to weaken the Hellenistic kingdoms, and they were all absorbed by first Parthian kings and later by the Romans in the 2nd and 1st centuries BCE. 

The Diadochi (Successors) of Alexander the Great;

Alexander's empire grew quickly, but the collapse was even quicker. His untimely death, without making any provision for his succession led his empire into a big turmoil. When he died in Babylon, in 323 BCE, he left behind, a mentally ill half-brother, Philip Arrhidaeus who was hailed as Philip III, and his pregnant wife Roxane who had later given birth to a baby who was proclaimed Alexander IV of Macedon.  Only indication Alexander made on his death bed when asked who would be his successor, he replied hopelessly "The kingdom shall go to the strongest " Legend had it that Alexander gave his ring to his regent Perdiccas before his death, that was taken a sign that he had wanted him as his successor. 

Perdiccas who attempted to hold the empire united for Alexander's son was assassinated while he was on a campaign against Ptolemy in Egypt in 321 BCE. Macedonia and Greece were taken by Antigonus I (Monophthalmos-the one eyed), Egypt was secured by Ptolemy I, and Anatolia, Syria and Parthia along with the rest of the Alexander's empire in Asia were controlled by Seleucus I. Later, Lysimachus another general who sided with Seleucids and Ptolemies against Antigonus in the battle of Ipsus set his control over Thrace and claimed himself as an independent king and built his capital Lysimacheia on the Dardanelles. Aided by the Romans, Pergamum kingdom literally swept the other kingdoms from Anatolian stage and Pergamene kings became the master of Western Anatolia until the annexation by the Roman Empire in 133 BCE. The borders of these three kingdoms have never been stable and kept changing hands in various times, by means of either politics or wars. Even Antigonus' extraordinary efforts to hold the Empire in one hand, that was his, brought about no results. These three kings and later some more others had to learn living side by side in a continuous warfare. 

Discussions initiated by the generals to assign a new king;

First Meeting at Babylon

The next day following his death, his generals met at Babylon to discuss the new situation. They, as representatives of Alexander the great had to choose a successor. Normally, Arrhidaeus the brother of Alexander, under normal circumstances was supposed to be the obvious candidate, but he was epileptic and mentally ill, so his capacity was found not enough to manage such a large empire. Perdiccas' offer was to wait until Alexander's pregnant wife Roxane has given a birth, if it were a son, he would be the legal successor. Other generals knew that Perdiccas would have been in sole command until the boy had grown up and this offer did not get much support from the other generals. Another offer by Nearchus, the navy commander, who said that Alexander had already a three years old son Heracles from Barsine, one of Alexander's concubines and this could be the legal heir to his father's throne, but Nearchus was married to one of the daughters of Barsine and this relationship would make him way too powerful in the future. This offer was also rejected. Ptolemy showed his strong objection to the idea that either sons of Alexander could be the king on the basis that none of them was pure Macedonian. Instead, the critical and most important decisions concerning the state affairs could be taken by those who were present there at the meeting. This proposal gained though not strong but some support. All the other proposals by the generals and negotiations produced no results to settle the question and the Empire was obviously to be split by the warfare. At least twenty years were go by before the outlines of the Hellenistic world began to take shape. The three major monarchies emerged out of the Wars of the Diadochi that have lasted from 323 to 301 BCE. 

Decisions taken at Triparadeisus ; Alexander's Empire dissolves :

Decisions taken at the meeting held at Triparadeisus in 321 BCE, by the former generals of Alexander, and new warlords brought new regulations and led to the division of the Alexander's Empire. The partition of the Empire was not end of the problems, but the beginning of a long period of warfare between the Generals. New administrative system was suggested by Antipater and supported by the other generals. Old Antipater was appointed as the responsible for the state affairs and Antigonus was appointed, in place of Perdiccas, as the chief commander of the Macedonian forces and Cassander was appointed as the chief commander of the cavalry forces. There was no change made in the Satrapies, with the exception that Seleucus, one of the generals who murdered Perdiccas, was made the Satrap of Babylon. 

Now let's see how the Alexander's empire had been divided. The information about the settlement at Triparadeisus comes from Anabasis, a work written by Arrian of Nicomedia who lived in 1st CE.  

  • Egypt and Libya and the vast territories beyond them were left to Ptolemy I.

  • Syria was given to Laomedon

  • Babylonia went to Seleucus I.

  • Caria was held by Asander

  • Great Phrygia, Lycaonia and Pamphylia were assigned to Antigonus 

  • Cilicia to Philoxenus

  • Mesopotamia and Arbelis to Amphimachus

  • Persis entrusted to Peucestas

  • Parthia was given to Philip 

  • Cappadocia and northward from Taurus mountains to Nicanor

  • Lydia to Clitus

  • Hellespontine Phrygia to Arrhidaeus 

  • Carmania to Tlepolemus

  • Media as far as the Caspian Sea to Peithon

  • Stasander became the ruler of Arians and Drangians

  • Stasanor was to rule Sogdia and Bactria

  • The land of Parapamisians left to Oxyartes, Alexander's father in law

  • The countries on the river Indus along with the city Pattala were assigned to Porus

 

Successor Dynasties;

Antigonid Dynasty

Antigonid dynasty was founded by Antigonus I (Monophthalmos), following the Alexander's death. Antigonids ruled over Asia Minor, Macedonia and Thrace. Antigonus I claimed himself the king of Macedonians in 306 BCE that led to the opposition by other generals and to a continuous series of wars between them. Antigonus almost caught the chance to reunify the Alexander's empire, if he had not been defeated and killed at the battle of Ipsus in 301 BCE by the allied forces of Seleucids and Ptolemies. When he died at the battlefield at Ipsus, he was well over the age of 80 and in his hand was his sword. His son Demetrius was also a great commander and did so much for his small kingdom. His tragic end came in the palace of Seleucus after he has been taken captive. Although he has been treated kindly by Seleucus, being a forced guest by Seleucus was something he could not carry and he gave himself to drinking and soon died. 

Ptolemaic Dynasty

Ptolemy I Soter (preserver) was appointed as the ruler of Egypt by Alexander the Great and he was one of the most possible successors to the Alexander's Empire. He always took a leading part in Alexander's campaigns. After the Alexander's death, he took Egypt and surrounding area as his own share, but also intervened in the affairs of the other Hellenistic Kingdoms. It is said that Ptolemy, during the turmoil, had brought the mummified body of Alexander the Great to the city of Memphis in Egypt, and the remnant of this mummy was later taken to Rome by Augustus after his conquest of Egypt. As the struggle between the other Generals was going on, he has been able to strengthen his political and military position in his realm. Ptolemy I taking advantage of the conflict between Seleucids, Antigonus and Lysimachus, proclaimed himself as the King of Ptolemy Kingdom of Egypt in 305 BCE. Ptolemy was a great patron of culture and learning. He made his capital Alexandria, an important cultural center and its museum was the first known and its library was the largest in the ancient world. He was the author of a lost history of the Alexander's campaigns. After his death, Ptolemy I's successors had to deal with Seleucids in many ways, over the control of Syria, Asia Minor, Palestine and Cyprus. All Ptolemy's efforts for making his kingdom stronger were proven to be true that he and his later family members have been able to maintain their independent status until when the last member on the line, Cleopatra (of Antony  died in 30 BCE. Cleopatra drew the wrath of Rome over her alliance with Mark Antony, and after their defeat at the naval battle of Actium in 31 BCE, Egypt was annexed to Roman Empire by Octavian. 

Seleucid Dynasty 

Seleucus I the Nicator (means conqueror) was, in comparison to his colleagues, a General of minor importance in Alexander's army, but he was made satrap of Babylonia where he later claimed himself a king. Following the split of Alexander's Empire, the territory he secured for himself stretched from eastern Anatolia and Syria into what is now Pakistan. They had two capitals, one was Antioch on the Orontes, and the other one was Seleucia on Tigris. The area controlled by the Seleucid dynasty was the hardest to manage, as there were many different ethnic groups who were used to be ruled by local rulers and satraps and being ruled by a central authority was something that they did not like at all. For this reason, the borders of Seleucid Kingdom have always been subject to continual fluctuations. The Seleucids were often involved in wars with Ptolemies. Seleucids built numerous cities in their dominion of which most were named Seleucia (named after Seleucus) or Antioch (named after Antiochus the father of Seleucus). Seleucids tried to spread the Hellenistic culture in their dominions. 

 

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