Alexander the Great and Hellenization

greek empire under alexander
Greek Empire at its largest point under Alexander

Alexander the Great was one of the most important and most successful military leaders of all time. By the age of 32, he had pressed the Greek empire all the way to the far side of Persia and probably would have proceeded further if his army hadn’t absolutely insisted on returning home (almost revolting at the thought of moving any further east).


His military tactics were revolutionary for the time. Alexander’s father Philip had introduced to the Macedonian (Greek) army a spear called a sarisa, approximately 16 feet long. Reports all told of wise tactical positioning of troops by Alexander. His army moved in columns, also referred to as a phalanx. The block of soldiers – flanked by cavalry – proved impossible to defeat.

alexander's military tactics

Along with his empire, Alexander brought Greek culture and Greek language to much of the inhabited world. Alexander himself had studied under the Greek philosopher Aristotle. Throughout all the areas conquered, Alexander introduced Greek ways of life – theaters, public baths, and gymnasiums. He encouraged the people in conquered territories to speak Greek and to adopt Greek customs. As a result, much of the world conquered by Alexander began to speak a “common” form of Greek known as koine. This process of introducing Greek culture became known as Hellenization. This is perhaps the most important effect of Alexander’s military successes (Strauss, 96).

hippodrome Jerusalem Aristotle and Plato sepphoris the roman theater

After Alexander’s untimely death (and questionable death – malaria and alcoholism?, poison?), Alexander’s empire was divided into four parts – each ruled by one of his generals. The two most important parts for the purpose of biblical history are the southern part which is ruled by the dynasty of the Ptolemies (Egypt) and the northern parts referred to as the group of Seleucids (Syria). Palestine, situated between these two groups, was desired by both groups. These two groups controlled Palestine in alternating periods for a considerable length of time.

greek divided empire


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