The Hellenistic kingdoms were the dominant powers of the eastern Mediterranean from their foundation in the collapse of Alexander the Great’s empire to their eclipse by the rising power of Rome. This book focuses on the first part of their story – the original conquests, the wars for Alexander’s empire and the initial wars between the major successor kingdoms, as well as a more general examination of life in the Hellenistic world.
The book deliberately finishes well before the first clashes between the Romans and the major Hellenistic states (although it does cover the period of Pyrrhus’ campaigns in Italy), and before the start of the long decline of the Seleucid Empire. The aim is to look at the Hellenistic World in its own right, and not as the ‘buffer’ between Classical Greek and the rise of Rome.
The first third of the book looks at the exploits of Alexander the Great, the remaining two thirds focus on his successors and the kingdoms they established. I’d have preferred to see slightly less on Alexander, whose exploits are very well known, and more on his successors, who are rather less familiar to most readers
One big point that the author keeps making is that this was an age of ‘humanism, intellectual and scientific development’, but we don’t get quite enough of that. The last three chapters are where most of this material is found, with each focusing on a particular part of the Hellenistic world and moving away from the more familiar succession of wars. Admittedly this probably won’t stand out as much for readers less familiar with the Wars of the Diadochi and their heirs, but I would still have liked more on the wider subject and less on the wars. However the author does make a good case for his view that the Hellenistic world was more than just a filler between the generally better known periods immediately before and after it.
Having said that the section on the collapse of Alexander’s empire is good, making it clearer than normal that at least the idea of a single unified Empire survived for some time after the death of Alexander. This helps explain one of the later points – despite the regular series of wars between the successors it was perfectly safe for merchants, artists, writers and thinkers to move around the wider Hellenistic world, so although the empire might have gone, the ‘hellenistic world’ remained.
This is a good overview of the heyday of the Hellenistic kingdoms, one of the most interesting periods of Ancient history, if not always one of the best documented!
1 – Before Alexander
2 – Alexander Conquers the World (Part I)
3 – Alexander Conquers the World (Part II)
4 – The Wars of the Diadochi (‘Successors’)
5 – Wars of the Successors – Part II
6 – Hellenism: the Next Generation
7 – The West
8 – The Seleucid Empire
9 – Ptolemaic Egypt
Author: Philip Matyszak
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military