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| Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic Age
The Hellenistic Age 336-30 BC(from Alexander’s crowning to the death of Cleopatra)
The word Hellenistic comes from the root word Hellas, whichwas the ancient Greek word for Greece. The Hellenic Age was the time when Greek culture was pure and unaffectedby other cultures.The Hellenistic Agewas a time when Greeks came in contact with outside people and their Hellenic, classicculture blended with cultures from Asia and Africa to create a blended culture. One man, Alexander, King of Macedonia, a Greek-speaker, is responsible for this blending of cultures.
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To understand how the Kingdom of Macedoniadominated the Greek world, we need tofirst take a look at the Battle of Leuctra in 371 BC, betweenSparta and Thebes. As you read in the last chapter, Sparta defeated Athens in 404 BC, ending the Peloponnesian War. Though Sparta was victorious, it was also weakened by this war. Thebes, an ally of Sparta during the Peloponnesian War,became powerful after the conflict. Sparta and Thebes went to war over territory close to Thebes.The battle took place in Boeotia, near the city-state of Leuctra in July 371 BC.
Epaminondas, the Theban general, introduced a new fighting technique at Leuctra. As you remember, the Greeks fought in a phalanx, a solid block of men. The best men would form on the right side, or weak side, as a place of honor. The Spartan phalanx at Leuctra was twelvemen deep. In the traditional formation, the best soldiers of one army would always face the weakest of the other. Epaminondas placed his best soldiers on the left, guaranteeing that they would face the best Spartans. He also took no chances, forming his left side 50-men deep. Epaminondasheld the Theban right-side back, refusing to fight the Spartan left. The Theban left of 50-men deep pushed the Spartan right, trampling men and killing the Spartan king. Sparta was not used to losing battles. Sparta would go on, but this was the end of Sparta as the dominant Greek city-state, and the end of its control over most of the Peloponnese.
The Battle of Leuctra in Boeotia, Greece, just north of Athens. 1) The larger Spartan army in blue tries to out-flank the Theban right side. 2) Spartan cavalry is chased off the battlefield by the Theban cavalry. 3) The Theban right side includes peltasts, javelin throwers, which harass the Spartan left side. 4) The Theban left side includes a super phalanx 50-rows deep, which bears down on the Spartan right. 5) The Theban super phalanx, including the Theban “Sacred Band” of three-hundred men, rolls over the Spartan right, killing the Spartan king.
Watching the Battle of Leuctra and learning Theban tactics was a young man from Macedonia name Philip. Philip was a hostage in Thebes, as Thebes controlled Macedonia at this time. Philip returned to Macedonia in 365 BC. Six years later, in 359 BC, Philip became King of Macedonia. As king, Philip used both diplomacy and war to expand Macedonian territory. Philip married into the families of the surrounding kingdoms, and captured a gold mine, which provided Macedonia with wealth. Philip is given credit for creating the sarrisa, a long pike used inthe Macedonian phalanx.
The Macedonian phalanx, created by Philip II, was sixteenrows deep and sixteen rows wide. Each man carried a sarrisa, a 20 ft.long pike, which was held with two hands. A small shield was attached to a leather strapthatwentaround each soldier's neck.
In 338 BC, at the Battle of Chaeronea, King Philip II of Macedoniaused similar tacticsto thosethat he witnessed at the BattleofLeuctra to defeat a Theban and Athenian army sent to meet him. Philip was now clearly the master of the Greek-speaking world. He created the Corinthian League of Greek allies. These allies vowed not to fight each other, and to provide troops for Philip's planned invasion of the Persian Empire.
The Macedonian phalanx, combined with the companion cavalry crushed the Theban/Athenian alliance at Chaernea. The Theban Sacred Band was cut down to a man, and buried at a burial mound. King Philip's 18-year-old son, Alexander, commanded the Macedonian cavalry, which found a gap and attacked the enemy phalanx from behind.
Philip expanded Macedonian influence by diplomacy and by waging war. Notice the Greek city-states that were part of Philip's Corinthian League (Yellow area). Macedonian garrisons are troops left behind in certain areas, like Thebes, and Corinth, where there was a strong possibility of a rebellion.
Philip's plan of conquest was cut short when, in 336 BC, at his daughter's wedding, he was assassinated by one of his own body guards. Many people believe the assassin did not act alone, and that Olympias, Philip's fourth wife, was behind the plot to murder the king. The crown of Macedonia passed to Alexander, Philip's son by Olympias. Alexander was only twenty years old when he became king, but had fought at Chaeronea two years before, leading the left wing of his father's cavalry.
Prince Alexander gains valuable military experience, as he leads his father's cavalry attack on the left flank at Chaeronea. Macedonia was ruled by an aristocracy who could afford the horses necessary to form a cavalry.
In 335 BC, inthe first year of his reign, Alexander was challenged by a rebellion in Thebes. Thebes resisted as Alexander's army advanced to the city. Alexander made an example of Thebes by totally destroying the city except for the temples and the home of Pindar, one of his favorite poets.
After destroying Thebes, Alexander moved on to Corinth, where he established himself as the new leader of the Corinthian League. Alexander pardoned those city-states that had rebelled against him. Like his father, Alexander wanted to conquer the Persian Empire with the help of the Greeks. While in Corinth, Alexander sought out his favorite philosopher, Diogenes. Diogenes lived in the streets of Corinth in a barrel. When Alexander found the old man, he asked Diogenes if there was anything he could do for him. Diogenes replied, “Yes, you can stand a bit to the side, you are blocking my sunlight.” When Alexander's body guards laughed at the old man, Alexander quieted them by saying, “If I were not Alexander, I would be Diogenes!”
In 334 BC, Alexander crossed the Hellespont with his Macedonian and Greek army and into the Persian Empire. His first stop was the ruins of the City of Troy. The Iliad and Odyssey were Alexander's favorite books, and it was said that he always carried a copy of them wherever he went. It was natural then,that he would want to visit the legendary city. It was at Troy that Alexander pulled the shield of Achilles from off the wall of a small museum amid the ruins. He would use the 900-year old shield in all of his battles. Alexander learned to appreciate the Iliad and nature from his teacher Aristotle, a Macedonian who studied in Athens at Plato's Academy.
At Granicus River, Alexander metthe first resistance to his invasion as he was blocked by a Persian army. The King of Persia at this time was Darius III. Darius was not overly concerned about the young Macedonian king, and was not present at this battle. Though he was almost killed, Alexander rallied his army and defeated the Persians. Darius blamed the victory on his general, he would be sure to be with his army at the next battle.
After the Battle of Granicus River, Alexander travelled along the coast,making sure these city-states were now on his side. Alexander could not afford to go deep into the Persian Empire with enemies at his back. Next, Alexander marched inlandto the city of Gordion, the location of the famous Gordian Knot. It was said that anyone who could removethe oxcart from the temple, by untying the knot, would be the king of theworld. Alexander could no resist this challenge. The knot was tied so the ends could not be found. Crying out, “It doesn't matter how it's done!” Alexander took a swing with this sword, broke the rope, and pulled the oxcart away from the temple.
In 333 BC, Alexandermet a largePersian army led by the Great King, Darius III at Issus. Darius had blamed the loss at Granicus River onthe fact that he wasnot there; this time he would leadhis army against the young Macedonian king. Alexander always led from the front of his army, he was the first tomeet the enemy, this gave his army much courage. Darius, on the other hand, led from behind, on his chariot, surrounded by body guards. Although this may seem cowardly compared to Alexander, it was the safe thing to do. The king, being at the battle, gave the Persians courage, but he was safe from harm. Although the Persian's out-numbered Alexander's army, the battle location was between the sea and a mountain range, and the Great King could not out-flank Alexander's smaller army. Alexander won the battle by moving around the Persian army and charging on his horse withhis Companion Cavalrystraight for Darius. Darius fled the scene, leaving his mother, wife, and two daughters behind.Alexander captured the royal family, and treated them with kindness and respect.Daruis' mother became one of Alexander's most trusted advisors, and was at his bed-side when he died in Babylon.
Alexander built two moles, or land bridges, in an attempt to connect Tyre to the mainland. The first was unsuccessful, but the second featured two large siege towers the same height as the Tyrian walls. Every level of the tower has a lithobolos, or rock thrower, used to smash walls. The Tyrians shot arrows an let loose hot sand, when the windwas at their back.
In 332 BC, Alexander reached the city-state of Tyre in Phoenicia, now part of the Persian Empire. Tyre was important to King Darius, because it was the navy base for his fleet of triremes. Alexander needed to control this fleet if he wished to go further into the Persian Empire. Alexander asked the Tyrians to hand over their fleet to him, but they refused. Tyre was on an island about a quarter mile off the shore and had massive defensive walls. The Assyrians and Babylonians had previously attempted a siege of Tyre and had failed. Alexander built two land bridges in an attempt to connect Tyre to the mainland. Next, he attacked the Persian fleet with ships of his own. It took seven months, but Alexander finally took Tyre. He could now advanceinto Persia without a threat to his supply lines.
In 331 BC, Alexander and his army entered Egypt. The Egyptians, always unhappy with their Persian rulers, handed the city of Memphisover to Alexander. Alexander wasproclaimed pharaoh, and wore the double crown. Alexander, with a few of his friends, travelled through the Egyptian desert to the Oasis of Siwa. Here Alexandervisited the temple to Ammon-Zeus. Alexander asked the oracle at Siwa aquestion. Alexander was always closer to his mother. His father was always off to war, and showedvery littleemotion toward his son. Alexander's mother, named Olympias, was from the Kingdom of Epirus. WhenOlympias separated from Philip, she brought young Alexander back to her homeland. It wasin Epirusthat Olympias told her son that Zeus, the king of the god's was his father, and not Philip. Alexander asked the oracleif this was true, and the oracle seemed to reply that he was indeed the son of Zeus. When Alexander returned from the desert, he made plans for a new port city in Egypt which he called Alexandria, after himself. Alexander left Egypt behind and headed into the heart of the Persian Empire, determined to defeat Darius again.
In the same year that Alexander left Egypt, he moved deep into the Persian Empire; and at a place called Gaugamela (camel's back) a large battle took place in 331 BC. King Darius was taking no chances at this battle. Darius assembled an army twice as large as Alexander's.Darius alsoseemed to have an answer for the Macedonian phalanxand sarrisa. Darius brought war elephants to the battlefield, along with scythed chariots. Elephants are used in war like tanks, they trample everything in their path, this was also the first time Greeks had seen these beasts, and Alexander's army was in awe of the elephants. The scythed chariots could cut into and break up the phalanx. However, both of these elements proved disappointing. The elephants fell asleep during the battle, and were captured by Alexander. Alexander's men simply moved to the side and let the scythed chariots pass through the lines. Alexander won the Battle of Gaugamela, and Darius, for the second time fled the battlefield. Whereat Granicus, Darius could blame the fact that he wasn't there for failure, and at Issus he could blame the narrow battlefield, he had no excuse atGuagamela.
Alexander's forces (in red) spread out, forcing Darius' army to move in an attempt to out-flank Alexander, this created a gap in Darius' line where Alexander, leading the Companion Cavalry, shoots through the gap and directly at Darius, who is behind his lines. Darius flees the battlefield. His special forces, the scythed chariots and elephants were a big disappointment, making no differencein the outcome.
After the defeat of Darius at Gaugamela, there was nothing to stop Alexander's army from marching to Persepolis, the capital of the Persian Empire. Alexander was now clearly the King of Persia, not Darius. Alexander spent many days in Persepolis, rather than pursuing Darius. One night, in 330 BC,the city was set onfire. It is unclear whether Alexander authorized this destruction, but what is clear is that he did not move to stop it.
The Persian capital of Persepolis is sacked and burned by Alexander's army. Items stolen by Xerxes in the Persian War were returned to Athens. Was this payback for the burning of Athens by Xerxes one-hundred fifty years earlier?
Alexander moved on and tracked Darius down. When he caught up with Darius, Alexander found him wounded and dying;Darius had been attacked by his own subjects. Darius died as Alexander gave him his last drink of water. Darius thanked Alexander for treating his family kindly and said, “Who would have thought, that with all the people in the world,I should receive a last act of kindness from you.”
Alexander moved on into what is now the country of Afghanistan, where he hadhis most difficult time defeating the people in this area. Afghanistan is mountainous and, as we've seen many times in history, impossible to control. Alexander was the first to learn this lesson.Alexander did create an alliance with one group of people in this area by marrying Roxanne, and local princess.
From Afghanistan, Alexanderturned east with hisarmy. In 326 BC, in the what is now the country of India, Alexander encountered his most difficult opponent, Porus,a local ruler. Porus had 200 war elephants as part of his army. Porus prevented Alexander's army from crossing the Hydaspes River. Alexander used trickery to cross the Hydaspes, and, in a hard-fought battle, in which Alexander lost several men, defeated Porus. Alexander was so impressed by Porus, that he allowed him to continue as the local ruler of the region.Alexander acquiredsome war elephants and riders from Porus.
The Battle of Hydaspes River, the porcupine bristle of the sarrisa against the ancient tank, the war elephant.
After the Battle of Hydaspes River, with a friend in Porus to the west, Alexander wished to continue east to China on his quest of total world domination, however, after the hard-fought victory against Porus, his troops had had enough. Many soldiers hadn't seen their families for ten years, and wanted to return toGreece and Macedonia.Alexander's army refused to follow the king any farther east. After retreating to his tent to sulk for two days, Alexander emerged saying that the gods willed that he should return home.
Alexander's army made the difficult march south in what is now Pakistan. Many obstacles and people unfriendly to Alexander fought him along the way.During a siege of a city,Alexander was almost killed. When Alexander reached the coast at Pattala, he used ships to bringmany of the original soldiers of his army back to Greece and Macedonia, the others he marched back through a desert. There was little water, and many of his soldiers died during this desert crossing.Alexander survived the crossing,making itback to Babylon, the capital of his empire. In 323 BC, while in Babylon, Alexander got very sick with a fever and died. He had no plans for a successor to his empire, and his infant son was too young to rule. As his generals gathered around their dying king, they asked him whom he would leave his empire to, Alexander replied, “To the strongest!”
Alexander's generals took his advice, and began to fight against each other, each general trying to carve out a large portion of the empirefor himself. This period was known as the Wars of the Diadochi (Successors). The first battle was over Alexander's body.Whilehis coffinwas returning to Macedonia, the body was hijacked by Ptolemy,one of theDiadochi, and brought to Alexandria, in Egypt, where it remained for years on display. In 301 BC, the Battleof Ipsus, in Asia Minor, involving most of the Diadochi,saw one of the successors, Antigonus, killed. Ipsusproved that nosingle ruler would control the entire empire, as the others would form alliances to defeat the strongest.It was during these wars that Greek armies learned how to use war elephants, turning these ancient tanks against each other. The riders of the elephants were always from India, asthe Greek-speakerscould not control the beasts.
Alexander spread Greek culture throughout the Persian Empire, including parts of Asia and Africa. Alexander respected the local cultures he conquered, and allowed their customs to continue. Alexander himself embraced local customs, wearing Persian clothes and marrying Persian women. Alexander encouraged hissoldiers to marry Persian women, in this way, the children of these marriages would share both Persian and Greek cultures.
Alexandercreated the Hellenistic Age, a time when Greek culture mixed with the various cultures of Alexander's Empire. This was a time of advances in learning, math, art, and architecture. Some of the great names of learning in this Age include Archimedes, Hero, and Euclid.It was a time of relative peace, after the Wars of the Diadochi (322-275 BC).
Because of the relative peace during the Hellenistic Age, travel and trade increased.Antipater of the city of Sidon, created a poem around 140 BC that listed seven wonders of the world. Antipater picked these buildings and statues for there art and architecture. The list became a set of tourist attractions for people of the ancient world.
The great cities of the Hellenistic Age included Antioch in Syria, Pergamum in Asia Minor, and Alexandria in Egypt, with its Library of Alexandria, the largest library of the ancient world. Although none of these cities were in Greece, they allhad Greek architecture.
Art in the Hellenistic Agewas very different from the Greek art of the the Hellenic Age. Earlier Hellenic art was idealistic, and perfect. Hellenic statues resembled Greek gods, however in the Hellenistic Age, art looked realistic, the way people really are, including their flaws.
As we read earlier, Ptolemy stole the body of Alexander and brought it to Alexandria, Egypt. Ptolemy, a general to Alexander,became Ptolemy I, pharaoh of Egypt, and the first king of the last dynasty of Egypt, the Ptolemaic Dynasty.The Ptolemys ruled Egypt for about 300-years, even though Cleopatra VII, was the only one to learn the Egyptian language. We willread more about Cleopatra when we learn about the Romans.
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