In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Greek History: Hellenistic

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Series
  • Political History
  • The Wars of the Successors
  • Founders of Hellenistic Kingdoms
  • The Roman Expansion and the Decline of the Antigonids and the Seleucids (C. 217–133 BCE)
  • The Last Phase of the Roman Expansion (133–30 BCE)
  • The Institutions of the Hellenistic Poleis
  • The Institutions of the Federal States
  • Education

Classics Greek History: Hellenistic
Angelos Chaniotis
  • LAST REVIEWED: 14 December 2009
  • LAST MODIFIED: 14 December 2009
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0022


The Hellenistic period, from the conquests of Alexander the Great (334 BCE) to the conquest of the Ptolemaic kingdom by Rome (30 BCE), marks the greatest expansion of Greek culture but also the beginning of a transformation of Greek political institutions, society, religion, and culture. Politically, this period saw the creation, conflicts, and decline of new kingdoms (Ptolemaic, Seleucid, Attalid, minor kingdoms in Asia Minor and the East), the domination of mainland Greece and the Aegean by the Antigonids of Macedonia and the federal states of the Aetolians and the Achaeans, and the expansion of Rome. Although the role of the poleis (Greek plural of “polis”) in “international” politics declined, the polis remained the predominant form of political organization, and many new poleis were founded. Major phenomena in social history are the preponderance of elites and benefactors, a stronger presence of women in public life, increased social complexity, and mobility. The incorporation of Egypt and of large areas in the East (up to the western border of India) into a political, economic, and social network resulted in an intensive exchange of ideas and mutual influence between the Greek and non-Greek cultures and in the development of new centers of culture. Because of the continual discovery of new texts (inscriptions and papyri), our understanding of this period changes faster and more substantially than that of earlier periods. For this reason, this bibliography lays emphasis on recent studies, in which one can find further bibliography and references to new source materials. English is not the lingua franca and not even the most important language for the study of Hellenistic history, and no profound study of the Hellenistic world should be attempted without reading knowledge of French, German, and Italian.

General Overviews

Because of the wide geographical range and complexity of Hellenistic history, no general overview covers all its aspects. Green 1990, Gehrke 2008, and Walbank 1993 include chapters on culture, and Shipley 2000 considers Hellenistic mentality. Gehrke 2008 is very useful for his critical overview of recent research. Green 1990 and Walbank 1993 are very good general introductions, suitable for undergraduate students; Préaux 1978 emphasizes the kingdoms (especially the Ptolemaic kingdom). Schneider 1967–1969 is a useful overview of cultural developments. Chaniotis 2005, although focusing on war, sketches the major developments in all aspects of the Hellenistic world. Droysen 1877–1878, with an emphasis on political history, has historical value.

  • Chaniotis, Angelos. 2005. War in the Hellenistic world: A social and cultural history. Malden, MA, and Oxford: Blackwell.

    A survey of how wars shaped the Hellenistic world (political institutions, society, economy, religion, art, literature).

  • Droysen, Johann Gustav. 1877–1878. Geschichte des Hellenismus. 3 vols. 2d ed. Gotha: Perthes.

    Reprinted with CD-ROM, Berlin: Directmedia, 2007. Droysen's work (1st edition, 1833–1843) marks the beginning of the study of Hellenistic history. Droysen coined the term “Hellenistic” to refer to the merging of Greek and Oriental cultures as a result of Alexander's conquest and, according to Droysen, of Alexander's intentions. Out of date in details, Droysen's work is still a classic.

  • Gehrke, Hans-Joachim. 2008. Geschichte des Hellenismus. 4th edition. Munich: Oldenburg.

    In addition to a narrative section, the author offers a critical discussion of research on the Hellenistic world and excellent bibliography.

  • Green, Peter. 1990. Alexander to Actium: The historical evolution of the Hellenistic age. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

    Well-written general account of the period, not always up to date as regards recent research.

  • Préaux, Claire. 1978. Le monde hellenistique: La Grèce et l'Orient de la mort d'Alexandre à la conquête romaine de la Grèce (323–146 av. J.-C.). 2 vols. Paris: Presses Univ. de France.

    Excellent overview of the major developments by an expert on Ptolemaic Egypt, monarchy, and Hellenistic economy.

  • Prost, Francis, ed. 2003. L'Orient méditerranéen de la mort d'Alexandre aux campagnes de Pompée. Pallas 62. Toulouse: Presses Universitaires du Mirail.

    Seventeen essays by leading scholars who treat aspects of monarchy, economy, war, and culture (with emphasis on the Seleucids and the Attalids).

  • Schneider, Carl. 1967–1969. Kulturgeschichte des Hellenismus. 2 vols. Munich: Beck.

    General survey of Hellenistic literature, science, and culture; although antiquated, it has not yet been replaced.

  • Shipley, Graham. 2000. The Greek world after Alexander 323–30 BC. London: Routledge.

    It combines an up-to-date political history with a study of the major aspects of the Hellenistic world (political institutions, organization of kingdoms, society, economy, religion) and a particular emphasis on the history of ideas and Hellenistic mentality (e.g., negotiation of power, social identity).

  • Walbank, Frank W. 1993. The Hellenistic world. Revised ed. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

    A concise and authoritative account that outlines the political history and gives introductions to the basic aspects of the period; very useful as a first short introduction.

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