Hellenistic civilization

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Hellenistic civilization represents the zenith of Greek influence in the ancient world from 323 BC to about 146 BC (or arguably as late as 30 BC); note, however that Koine Greek language and Hellenistic philosophy and religion are also indisputably elements of the Roman era until Late Antiquity. It was immediately preceded by the Classical Greece period, and immediately followed by the rule of Rome over the areas Greece had earlier dominated – although much of Greek culture, art and literature permeated Roman society, whose elite spoke and read Greek as well as Latin.

After the conquest of the Persian Empire by Alexander the Great, Hellenistic kingdoms were established throughout south-west Asia (the 'Near' and 'Middle East') and north-east Africa (ancient Egypt and Cyrene in ancient Libya). This resulted in the export of Greek culture and language to these new realms, and moreover Greek colonists themselves. Equally, however, these new kingdoms were influenced by the indigenous cultures, adopting local practices where beneficial, necessary or convenient.

Hellenistic civilization thus represents a fusion of the Ancient Greek world with that of the Near East, Middle East and Southwest Asia, and a departure from earlier Greek attitudes towards "barbarian" cultures. The extent to which genuinely hybrid Greco-Asian cultures emerged is contentious; consensus tends to point towards pragmatic cultural adaptation by the elites of society, but for much of the populations, life would probably have continued much as it had before.[1]

The Hellenistic period was characterized by a new wave of Greek colonization[2] (as distinguished from that occurring in the 8th-6th centuries BC) which established Greek cities and kingdoms in Asia and Africa.[3] Those new cities were composed of Greek colonists who came from different parts of the Greek world, and not, as before, from a specific "mother city".[3] The main cultural centers expanded from mainland Greece to Pergamon, Rhodes, and new Greek colonies such as Seleucia, Antioch and Alexandria. This mixture of Greek-speakers gave birth to a common Attic-based dialect, known as Hellenistic Greek, which became the lingua franca through the Hellenistic world.

The term Hellenistic itself is derived from Ἕλλην (Héllēn), the Greeks' traditional name for themselves. It was coined by the historian Johann Gustav Droysen to refer to the spreading of Greek culture and colonization over the non-Greek lands that were conquered by Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC, compared to "Hellenic" which describes Greek culture in its native form. There has been much debate about the validity of Droysen's ideas, leading many to reject the label 'Hellenistic' (at least in the specific meaning of Droysen)[4] However, the term Hellenistic can still be usefully applied to this period in history, and, moreover, no better general term exists to do so.

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