Historical & Artistic Developments of Greece's Hellenistic Period

Historical & Artistic Developments of Greece's Hellenistic Period
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  • 0:01 Artistic Rebels of Greece
  • 0:42 The Hellenistic Period
  • 2:50 Hellenistic Art
  • 5:24 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In this lesson, you will explore the cultural and artistic changes of the Hellenistic Period, the last major era of Ancient Greece. Then, test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Artistic Rebels of Greece

Everybody loves a rebel. Bonnie and Clyde. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. James Dean. We love rebels. But rebels come in all shapes and sizes, breaking different sets of rules or expectations. In the Hellenistic Period, the last period of Ancient Greece that lasted from 323 BC to 31 BC, artists picked up the rebel cause and began creating new masterpieces that both built on, and challenged, centuries of Greek artistic traditions.

The Hellenistic Period

The Hellenistic Period was a point when Greek cultural influence reached its absolute highest in the Mediterranean region. This was largely due to the rise of the Macedonian Empire, when the city of Macedon rose to power and conquered the Persian Empire. The most famous of the Macedonian kings was Alexander the Great, who pushed the boundaries of the empire into central Asia. By bringing these territories under Greek control, Alexander began the process of introducing Greek culture across the world, a process known as Hellenization.

Amongst the most important areas that fell under Greek influence was Egypt, still a major intellectual and economic center. The Egyptian town Alexandria, founded by Alexander, became one of the most important cultural centers of the Western world and a leading force in spreading Greek culture across the Mediterranean. The death of Alexander in 323 BC is officially considered the start of the Hellenistic Period, as the empire was divided amongst Alexander's generals who introduced a lasting Greek culture to their territories.

The Hellenistic Greeks were the first to look back on the era before the Macedonian Empire, the Classical Era, as a golden age in their history and they did their best to preserve the Greek masterpieces of theater, literature, philosophy, and math. The famed Library of Alexandria was part of this effort.

However, Hellenistic Greeks also developed their own intellectual culture. In philosophy, this period saw the development of Stoicism, which argued that moral and intellectual perfection prevented destructive emotions. In math, Euclid set the standards for modern geometry, writing textbooks that students would use well into the 20th century.

This period ended with the incorporation of Egypt into the Roman sphere of control, following the Battle of Actium in 31 BC and the deaths of Mark Antony and Cleopatra. This moment marked the official end of Greek cultural dominance, leading to the rise of Roman cultural and military expansion across the Western world.

Hellenistic Art

Now, back to those rebels we were talking about. Artists in the Hellenistic period were involved in the preservation of Classical Greece, but also came to challenge those traditions in many ways. Architecturally, the division of the Macedonian Empire under several Greek generals resulted in the rise of tremendously powerful kings who had massive temples, palaces, and cities constructed that blended Greek and local styles. Whereas Classical temples were based on ideal, geometric ratios, Hellenistic temples embraced novel appearances. The Temple of Appollo in Didyma, Turkey, has a disproportionately small inner temple, extra rows of columns, and oh yeah, no roof! This would have been unacceptable in the Classical Era, but the rebels of the Hellenistic Period made many adjustments like this in their architecture.

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