Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2004.01.29

Heinz Heinen, Geschichte des Hellenismus. Von Alexander bis Kleopatra.   Munich:  C.H. Beck, 2003.  Pp. 128.  ISBN 3-406-48009-8.  EUR 7.90.  



Reviewed by Roland Oetjen, Ancient History, University of Heidelberg/Center for Epigraphical and Paleographical Studies, Ohio State University
Word count: 1473 words

Heinz Heinen's book gives a concise overview of the Hellenistic Age and its history from Alexander to Cleopatra. In fact, it deals with a great variety of topics including the political events, the constitution, society, and economy of the Hellenistic states, both of the monarchies and the cities, and more generally with cultural and religious life. As is usual for the C. H. Beck Wissen series, the book is directed at a wider range of readers with a more general interest in the subject. Accordingly, Heinen cannot discuss modern (and often controversial) scholarship in great detail. That 'deficit' is however more than sufficiently compensated for by the bibliography Heinen provides at the end of the book, which gives a representative selection of monographs reflecting the diversity both of Hellenistic history and modern research on that period, and although the book primarily addresses non-specialists and demands no previous knowledge of the subject, it reflects the latest developments in research and again and again provides the reader with new interpretations of the history of the Hellenistic age. Its particular strength lies in the multitude of different approaches applied by the author to describe as comprehensively as possible the Hellenistic age and its character. Primarily, Heinen is concerned with describing the Hellenistic age as a distinct period within the history of the ancient world and to make clear its specifics to the reader.

In the introduction, Heinen gives a general definition of his subject, in fact starting from the term "Hellenismus" as it was laid out by Droysen in the 19th century to characterize that period after the end of the classical Greek polis civilization in the fourth century and before the beginning of Roman rule over the whole of the Mediterranean: not as a decadent appendix to Greek history but as a period of its own in which significant achievements for the history of mankind were reached. Droysen, who was the son of a Protestant parish priest, primarily thought of the mixing of people and cultures which started with the campaigns of Alexander the Great and led to the encounter of Greeks and Jews that would finally prepare the ground for Christianity. Even though Heinen admits that typical features of the Hellenistic period became visible before the time of Alexander and continued in existence after the last Hellenistic kingdom, Ptolemaic Egypt, was eliminated by the Romans in 31 B. C., he holds to Droysen's view that Alexander marked the beginning of a new era in the history of mankind. He considers his perception of a Hellenistic period is confirmed by the ancient authors who also saw the end of the Persian empire which Alexander brought about as the beginning of a new era, as well as they understood that the elimination of the Macedonian kingdom by the Romans (in 168) and the emergence of the Roman republic as the only great power in the Mediterranean was the beginning of another new era. Still, in the introduction Heinen outlines the achievements of Philip II in Macedonia and his plans for a military campaign to free the Greek cities in Asia Minor, which would serve as the basis for Alexander's conquest of the Persian empire.

The introduction is followed by three major chapters. The first ("Historischer Überblick") gives an overview of the political history of the Hellenistic period from Alexander to Cleopatra. He describes Alexander's military campaigns in Asia Minor and Egypt and outlines his personality and political visions for the new Greco-Persian empire he founded. Heinen does not however forget the Persian perspective and is also concerned with the impact the events in the East had on the old cities in the Greek mainland. A second subchapter deals briefly with the political history of the Hellenistic states in the years from Alexander's death to the appearance of Rome (323-215). Here, Heinen contents himself with a short overview of the wars the diadochoi fought for Alexander's heritage after his sudden death. He emphasizes the military character of the Hellenistic monarchies. For Heinen, the "balance of power" which modern research considers characteristic for the history of the Hellenistic world, at least after 281, was not the result of political strategy, but rather of the incapability of the Hellenistic rulers to defeat their rivals and to occupy their territories. In fact, the author challenges the impression of political stability and cultural heyday of the Hellenistic states in the middle of the third century when he takes a look at (and beyond) the borders of the Hellenistic states, which were under severe threat and points out the population movements which took place during the whole period in the north of the Greek world on a large scale. Heinen describes the political events (e. g. the move of the Celts into Greece in 279), the different people who lived beyond the borders of the Hellenistic world, their cultural achievements and their interaction with the Greeks. A third subchapter deals with the years of Roman supremacy over the Hellenistic world (215-30). Heinen describes the political and military events during the years in question. First of all, he deals with Macedonia. He analyses the first steps of Roman involvement in the Greek East, the three Macedonian Wars, the elimination of the Macedonian monarchy and finally the establishment of a Roman province in Macedonia. Heinen is then concerned with the situation in Asia Minor. He describes the fall of the Seleucid empire as well as the rise of the Attalid kingdom, which in the second century became the champion of Roman interests in Asia Minor. Finally, he proceeds to Egypt and the Ptolemaic kingdom. Here, Heinen's special interest lies in the end of the independent Ptolemaic state and its connection with the history of the late Roman republic and her leading politicians.

The second main part ("Die Regionen der hellenistischen Welt: Staat, Gesellschaft, Wirtschaft") gives an overview of the constitutional, social and economical structures of the Hellenistic world. Here again, Heinen proceeds region by region. Firstly, he deals with Macedonia. He gives an overview of the country and its geographical extension. Here characterizes the Macedonian monarchy, describes the administration of the kingdom and explains the role the cities, both Macedonian and Greek, played. Then Heinen shifts towards Greece and the Aegean. He is primarily concerned with the leagues (in particular the Achaian and Aitolian leagues) of cities which had not played a substantial role in the history of Greece earlier but became the major political players in the region, after the influence of the once leading city-states had decreased. In general, he ascribes no more than a marginal role to poleis like Thebes, Athens, and Sparta during the Hellenistic period. A third subchapter deals with the situation in Asia Minor, emphasizing the heterogenity of that region. Heinen deals with the Greek cities in Western Asia Minor and their relationship with the kings, as well as the smaller kingdoms and territories in the East (Bithynia, Galatia, Cappadocia, and Pontos). Another subchapter is devoted to the region around the Black Sea, before Heinen deals with the kingdoms of the Seleucids and Ptolemies. In a last section Heinen gives a summary of the previous sections and describes the common features of the different Hellenistic states he had discussed earlier. He points to the failure of the Hellenistic monarchies, which would finally ruin themselves in a series of wars, just as they had originally emerged from war. The author, however, insists that the end of the Hellenistic monarchies did not mean the end of monarchy as a successful form of government. In fact, as Heinen emphasizes, the end of the Hellenistic monarchies coincided with the dissolution of the republican constitution at Rome and its replacement by the principate.

In the (shorter) third main part ("Kulturen und Religionen des Hellenismus"), Heinen is concerned with cultural and religious life of the Hellenistic age, which in his opinion was characterized by the encounter of Greeks and natives and which, after extending as far as the Latin West, would finally last until the victory of Christendom in the fourth century. In one subchapter, Heinen deals with Greek culture and outlines the development of philosophy and literature and the role the royal courts played. Then the author turns to Hellenistic religion, in particular the integration of indigenous cults into the Greek pantheon and Hellenistic ruler cult. The third subchapter deals with regional contacts and conflicts in the Hellenistic world and describes the way the natives (e. g. the Jews) came to term with foreign rule and the Greek language. Finally, Heinen gives an overview of the fine arts.

To conclude, Heinen has written a book which despite its brevity provides the reader with a considerable amount of detail. Heinen presents the Hellenistic age as a distinct period with ancient history. The book includes chronological and genealogical tables as well as maps and pictures.

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