What are the similarities and differences of the Hellenic and Hellenistic periods of Greek history?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Hellenic world describes the Greek-speaking world from the sixth century BCE to the exploits of Alexander the Great in the fourth century BCE. This is the period usually imagined as "classical" Greece. The areas under Greek control during this period mostly consisted of the Greek archipelago, Asia Minor, and...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

The Hellenic world describes the Greek-speaking world from the sixth century BCE to the exploits of Alexander the Great in the fourth century BCE. This is the period usually imagined as "classical" Greece. The areas under Greek control during this period mostly consisted of the Greek archipelago, Asia Minor, and islands throughout the Mediterranean, including Sicily. During this period, many Greek polises—and it is not correct to speak of a unified Greek empire—were ruled by governments that were, in form at least, democratic.

The art, architecture, and religion commonly associated with ancient Greece held sway, though it was never hegemonic. Greek was spoken, at least by elites, throughout the Hellenic world, as it would be during the Hellenistic world.

The Hellenistic period generally refers to the time after Alexander the Great's death in 323 BCE. By this point, the Macedonian leader had established a sprawling empire, carrying Greek influence throughout the Mediterranean world and into Central Asia by conquering the Persian Empire. When he died, his generals divided his conquests among themselves, with each establishing a dynasty in his territory.

One major political difference was that the Hellenistic empires were not united in the way that the Greek-speaking world had been during the Hellenic period. Another difference was that these new rulers abandoned any pretense of democratic rule, ruling instead as absolute monarchs. Culturally, the Hellenistic period was characterized by combinations of external influences—particularly Persian—on Greek art, architecture, and even religion.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

I think by "Hellenic history", the questioner probably means Greek history before the so-called Hellenistic Period, the latter of which dates from 323 BCE (the death of Alexander the Greek) to 31 BCE (the Battle of Actium).

In both periods, the Greeks must deal with the issue of the Persians. In the 490s and 480s, the Greeks were trying to repel the Persian invasions, and one of the major reasons given for Alexander's campaigns in the 330s was to take vengeance upon the Persians for their incursions into Greece in the previous century, as well as the continued Persian control of Ionian Greeks living along the coast of what is modern Turkey.

Prior to the rise of Macedonians in the 300s, the Greeks did not have anything resembling a united Greek government. They lived in city states, each of which had its own form of government and was an independent political entity. Alexander's father Philip helped bring about the fall of the city state. After his defeat of the Greeks at the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BCE, the Greeks came under the control of Philip, then Alexander, and then Antigonus and his successors, until the advent of the Romans in the 100s BCE.

From an artistic standpoint, we might say that before the rise of Alexander the Greeks appear more idealistic, whereas during and after the time of Alexander the Greeks seem more realistic. A comparison of the famous Doryphorus statue with the Dying Gaul provides one example of this.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team