- Save 10% on selected children’s books, compliments of Amazon Family Promotion exclusive for Prime members .
Alexander to Actium: The Historical Evolution of the Hellenistic Age (Hellenistic Culture and Society) Paperback – 4 Nov 1993
Special offers and product promotions
Customers who viewed this item also viewed
What other items do customers buy after viewing this item?
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
If you are a seller for this product, would you like to suggest updates through seller support?
"A welcome addition to the study of Hellenistic history, which has been notoriously overlooked. Green's text is supplied with the most complete indexing, chronologies, and genealogies that I have ever encountered in a history survey."--M. Johnston, "The Classical Outlook
About the Author
Peter Green is Dougherty Centennial Professor of Classics at the University of Texas at Austin. A novelist and translator as well as a scholar, he is the author of many books, including The Laughter of Aphrodite: A Novel about Sappho of Lesbos (California, 1993).
Top customer reviews
This one thousand pages book, of which about one quarter is made up of notes and references, attempts to present (and very much succeeds) the three centuries of the Hellenistic Age that were the consequence of Alexander's conquests. It is a massive endeavor that tells the story of a whole civilization, and not only the political and military story of the various Successor states until the disappearance of Ptolemaïc Egypt, the last one to survive. It also includes sections on arts, the Hellenistic economies, the various philosophical schools, medecin and much, much more, including some 18 maps and a dictionary of all the main characters and their main achievements (just after the notes).
As such, it is more of a reference book for anyone interested in the 3 centuries of the Hellenistic Age, a period of history that used to be little known and largely left to a few specialized historians. However, it is an exceptional read, and very well written, provided you have masses of free time or can read it over a relatively long period.
The book begins with the sudden absence of a truly over-powering personality, Alexander. At the moment of his death, he had smashed the remnants of the autonomous Greek city states (polis) and carved out the largest empire that had then been known. Unfortunately, he had left neither a clear idea of what direction his empire should go nor named a successor in any provable way. As a result, about 6 of his top Macedonian generals began to compete in the "funeral games" to take over from him. Ptolemy, the only one shrewd enough to see that it was better to retreat to a defensible and self-sufficient chunk of the empire - he chose Egypt - was to establish the most lasting dynasty of these men. Nonetheless, Antigonous wound up with the old Greek mainland and Macedonia and Seleucis took the ill-defined, amorphous Asian Minor expanses; for the next centuries, their heirs would fight a desperate, defensive battle to keep their territories intact from encroachments by barbarians. Only the Ptolemies would operate in near safety (which led them to epically nasty intriguing against each other, but that is a long story).
In political science terms, all three of the new empires were run as the privately owned fiefs of their kings, simple despotic autocracies for their pleasures. This marked the end of a fabulous period of experimentation in modes of government as well as culture, i.e. the brief, beautiful flourishing of classical Greek culture was gone forever. As the polis died, so did many of the communal ideals of their citizens. Rather than contribute to the glory of the city, they withdrew under the authority of far away kings into their own private worlds, seeking to amass wealth and keep their privileges but fearing Tyche, or the unpredictable God of Fortune. As a result, much artistic culture became stultified into copies of past masterpieces or took on a more personal, realist cast of identifiable individuals rather than the ideal types and Gods of the past. This was true, too, for the philosophies (e.g. stoicism, cynicism, epicurianism) that emerged: they concentrated on finding freedom from anxiety and pain rather than contribute to the betterment of society. Interestingly, the 3 dynasties maintained a relative isolation from the local cultures, absorbing aspects of them only very, very slowly.
One of the most interesting topics covered is the failure of the Greeks to develop experimental science. First, the Greeks (and later the Romans) scorned "lower" professions that involved physical exertion, so get-your-hands-dirty experimentation was out; they also lacked precision instruments, any idea of statistical variance in observations, and failed to record the observations they did make in verifiable and communicable records. Anything practical, such as the military devices that Archimedes invented to protect Syracuse from the Romans, were products of necessity and otherwise little valued. Second, they preferred to speculate on and build over-arching theoretical systems, which were largely sterile without independent experimental verification by peers. It was not until the Enlightenment that all of these strands came together as the modern scientific method. Third, in this period the elites became deeply interested in astrology, divination, and mystery cults at the expense of the schools of rationality associated with Plato and Aristotle. Fourth, with a static, slave-based economy, innovations that saved labor - liberating people to have more time and energy to think - were viewed as disruptive and hence, under-valued. Nonetheless, there were many advances in this period, such as the founding of the libraries of Alexandria and certain medical innovations that the Arabs would discover and develop. Though also rather sterile, they are signs that Hellenistic culture was not completely decadent. That being said, there are many, many more topics like this that are covered in the book, including philosophy, the slave economy, and autocratic governance - anyone can find absorbing historical detail on what interests them here.
The concentration on this cultural period filled a significant gap in my perception of classical civilization. It was at this time that the uncultured Romans - they were too busy perfecting a military machine that would enable them to conquer and manage the known world for over 400 years - became impressed with Greek culture and sought to adopt it. With the Romans on the book's periphery, rising as they were, I got a very different (and highly detailed) view on the decline and absorption of this incredible civilization into a more brutish empire. The book is chock full of amazing characters and cultures, from the Jews to Cleopatra. Though this is not a narrative history and it is better to know the traditional stories, Green alludes to these people with vivid images and many wonderful illustrations (and excellent maps).
A word of warning to the general reader. This is an advanced text, at the high undergraduate level or beyond, and solidly academic. While it is not a thesis-turned-book that seeks to argue dull academic proofs and the like, it strives to present a comprehensive picture in a scholarly manner - over 1/4 of the book is footnotes and references. This will put many people off, as will the foreign words that frequently pop up. However, for those familiar with this world, this book is an indispenable masterpiece that will define scholarship on this period for many generations to come.
This is personal, but I found the book to be an utterly spell-binding intellectual adventure, putting it in a class by itself. Green often makes observations that are profound, even beautiful. For example, on an extended discussion of the slave economy, he mentions that we were unable to finally eliminate it until industrialization liberated us from menial tasks. There are many instances of this kind of philosophical observation that will speak to each reader personally. I also loved Green's writing style. Recommended with the greatest enthusiasm. This is a great book, a classic.