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OUTLINE FOR HELLENISTIC ART (Copyright Sept. 27, 2011 - John F. Kenfield) HISTORICAL BACKGROUND 323 BCE (Death of Alexander the Great) - 31 BCE (The Battle of Actium): After Alexander's untimely death in Babylon (near modern Baghdad) at the age of 31, the empire that he had conquered fragmented into various kingdoms ruled by his surviving companions, members of his court (the Hetairoi ). Alexander's dream of a "global community" in which one's role would be determined not by ethnicity, but by one's abilities was never completely realized. Nevertheless, the Alexander’s revolutionary philosophy of oikoumene , the brotherhood of Mankind, became one of the guiding principles of Hellenistic culture often manifested in its arts. In practice, however, being a "player" in this newly created Hellenistic society required a Greek education, paideia , which only wealthy non-Greeks could afford. As a result, the great mass of people, the peasantry, was disenfranchised by these new colonial European rulers and their wealthy indigenous collaborators. This imposition of European culture on the older civilizations of the Near and Middle East had (and is still having!!!) profound consequences, at first during the rise of Christianity, and later in the rise of Islam. The form of government in each of these Hellenistic successor kingdoms (and also in the Roman Empire which would follow and continue the policies of its Hellenistic predecessors) was a monarchy, an autocracy supported by an enormous bureaucracy. Each of these kingdoms had a new capital founded either by Alexander or his successors. In Egypt, ruled now by a dynasty founded by Ptolemy and called Ptolemaic , the capital had been moved by Alexander from inland Upper Egypt to the sea at Alexandria . The capital of the Seleucid Empire (founded by Seleukis , another companion of Alexander), which initially stretched from the eastern shores of the Mediterranean to the Indus River Valley, was Antioch (founded by Antiochos, successor to Seleukis ) near the mouth of the Orontes River in western Syria (within the borders, however, of modern Turkey and now called Antakya). The capital of Hellenistic culture in Asia Minor became the impregnable fortress site of Pergamon (website images) . The new polyethnic Hellenistic culture is primarily the product of these new capitals. The Classical city states of the old Greek world remained culturally important, especially Athens, which became essentially a university town, but politically and to a certain extent economically unimportant. Many enterprising Greeks left this old world to seek their fortunes in the new cities, forsaking their secure sense of identity within the homogeneous
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This note was uploaded on 10/07/2011 for the course ART HISTOR 105 taught by Professor Kenfield during the Fall '11 term at Rutgers.

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