Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic Age

Course No. 327
Professor Jeremy McInerney, Ph.D.
University of Pennsylvania
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Course No. 327
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Course Overview

This series of lectures examines a crucial period in the history of the ancient world, the age ushered in by the extraordinary conquests of Alexander the Great. In all the annals of the ancient world, few stories are more gripping than that of the Hellenistic Age. Between the conquests of Alexander the Great and the rise of Rome, Greek culture became the heart of a world-historical civilization whose intellectual, spiritual, and artistic influence endures to this day.

Caesar's Shame

Julius Caesar lamented when he was in his early 30s that by his age Alexander had conquered the world, "and I have done nothing."

In just 10 years, this young prince from the small, hill kingdom of Macedon subdued the largest tract of the earth's surface ever conquered by one individual. His vast empire—encompassing all or part of 23 present-day countries—stretched from Mount Olympus and the Sahara Desert to the frontiers of India and Central Asia.

In the opening lectures, we explore the enigma of Alexander, son of a brilliant father, yet always at odds with the man whom he succeeded. We trace his early campaigns against the Persians and follow him to Egypt, where he was acclaimed as the son of god.

We look at his career after this and find in him a blend of greatness and madness as he strove to replace the Persian empire of the Achaemenid dynasty with a new, mixed ruling class of Macedonians and Persians.

Alexander's death in 323 BC ushered in a period of catastrophic change as ambitious warlords carved up Alexander's realm into their own separate empires. It is said that as the 33-year-old Alexander lay dying in Babylon in 323 B.C., he was asked who would inherit his empire. "The strongest," he answered.

Their struggle created three kingdoms, ruled by a small group of Macedonian nobles, that spanned from the eastern Mediterranean to the Hindu Kush:

  • Ptolemaic Egypt (323-31 B.C.), whose last ruler was Cleopatra
  • Seleucid Syria (323-64 B.C.), whose attack on the Temple in Jerusalem in 166 B.C. led to the Maccabean revolt
  • The Attalid Empire in Asia Minor (281-133 B.C.), which, while smaller than the other two, produced a cultural flourishing in its capital Pergamum that rivaled Alexandria in Egypt.
North Africa. In the Nile valley, the Ptolemies played the role of pharaohs and were treated by their subjects as gods. At the same time, however, their capital, Alexandria, was cut off from Egypt and run by Greek bureaucrats. Greek culture thrived here in the museum and library, and the Ptolemies were great patrons of the arts. The library itself boasted half a million books.

The Middle East. In the Seleucid empire, the rulers also built Greek cities, such as Antioch, but in older regions, including Mesopotamia, they too were ready to be worshipped as living gods. On the edges of the Hellenistic world, in places as far away as Afghanistan and Pakistan, Greek cities grew up around trading posts and military settlements. Here, philosophy and literature from old Greece went hand in hand with gymnasiums and theaters to plant Greek culture far from the Mediterranean. By military and cultural conquest, then, much of central Asia was incorporated into the Greek world.

Despite the geographic extent of this civilization, we see that the heartland remained the eastern Mediterranean. It was here, in such new cities as Alexandria and Pergamum and such old ones as Athens, that Greek culture developed its distinctive Hellenistic appearance.

Hellenistic Culture

Philosophy. Philosophy became more academic, as different schools of philosophy emerged. Stoicism, epicureanism, and skepticism all looked for ways to teach people to avoid the emotional upheavals of life in an age of anxiety.

Art and Architecture. At the same time, art rejoiced in exploring the very same turmoil of the age. Hellenistic sculptors looked at the old, the young, the ugly, and the tortured instead of merely fashioning images of the perfect athlete. Differing sharply from the Classical art that precedes it, Hellenistic art is gargantuan, often "excessive," and nakedly emotional. It explores aspects of human experience previously outside the concerns of the Greeks.

Literature. Novelists also played with themes of the reversal of fortune in the lives of their characters, because such tumult was part of the experiences of so many people. Piracy, brigandage, physical hardship, and the supreme power of great kings were all realities of the age and left their marks on ordinary people.

Religion and Magic. As we see, these conditions helped spawn a vital interest in magic, spells, and incantations and in religions that offered people the promise of redemption and salvation. The cults of Isis, Serapis, and Cybele all grew in popularity throughout the Hellenistic world. This was the climate of the world in which Christianity was born.

Captured Greece? Captured Rome?

Although the Hellenistic Age would result in some of the greatest accomplishments in Greek culture, especially in the poetry of Callimachus, Theocritus, and Apollonius, the political power of the age was overshadowed by the growth of Rome.

Hence, we conclude the lectures with a study of the growth of Roman power, its expansion into the eastern Mediterranean, and the inevitable clash of Greek and Roman civilizations. We see that Rome conquered, but Rome would be forever changed by the contact with Greek culture. In the words of the Roman poet Horace, "Captured Greece took captive her captor."

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Greeks and Macedonians
    By conquering Greece in 338 B.C., Philip II of Macedon set the stage for the rise of his son, Alexander the Great. When Alexander invaded the Persian territory of Asia Minor in 334 B.C. and drove his spear into its soil, he was embarking on the greatest career of conquest the world had ever seen. x
  • 2
    Alexander the Divine?
    Alexander's path was prepared by Philip, but few could predict how the son would eclipse the father. After only two battles, Alexander would command more land than any Greek before him and would order the Persian emperor to address him as an equal. At the height of his power he would visit Egypt, there to assume the title of pharaoh and be hailed as a deity. x
  • 3
    The Blazing Star
    Did his Egyptian sojourn convince Alexander that he was a god or just teach him the political value of blurring the lines between human and divine? As he left Egypt and resumed his drive eastward, how would he bring the Persian emperor to battle? x
  • 4
    Alexander—Myth and Reality
    Alexander had an astonishing effect on the political development of the eastern Mediterranean, yet opinions remain deeply divided about him. This was so in antiquity and remains so now. Can we discern the historical Alexander, or has the myth swallowed the man? x
  • 5
    The Formation of the Kingdoms
    A generation of warfare among Alexander's successors split his empire. After these "wars of the Diadochi," three major Hellenistic kingdoms would emerge under the control of Alexander's former officers. x
  • 6
    Egypt Under the Early Ptolemies
    Ptolemaic Egypt is probably the most familiar and best-documented Hellenistic kingdom. In Egypt, Ptolemy, one of Alexander's companions and bodyguards, transformed himself into a new pharaoh even as he remained separate from the conquered Egyptians. How did Ptolemy and his successors blend pharaonic and Macedonian practices to create a new kingdom? x
  • 7
    Alexandria and the Library
    Alexandria was the seat of Ptolemy's court. The city's library and museum were the premier cultural institutions of the Hellenistic world. Was Alexandria, with its library and museum, a blend of Greek and Egyptian elements, or did it represent the imposition of one culture over the other? x
  • 8
    The Seleucid Realm
    The second great Hellenistic kingdom was ruled by the Seleucid dynasty, which built cities from Syria to Iran. How did the Seleucids rule a kingdom that stretched across all of Central Asia? x
  • 9
    Pergamum
    The Attalids, the third of the great Hellenistic dynasties, ruled from Pergamum in Asia Minor. The city had begun as a simple garrison, but at the Attalid kings' peak, its library and cultural influence rivaled Alexandria's. x
  • 10
    Bactria, the Edge of the Hellenistic World
    Hellenism, the transplanted culture of the Greeks, flourished primarily along the shores of the eastern Mediterranean. Yet Greeks did penetrate the hinterlands and left their imprint on areas far from the coast. One such region was Ai Khanum, far to the east, in what is now Afghanistan. x
  • 11
    Sculpture
    Differing sharply from the Classical art that precedes it, Hellenistic art is gargantuan, often "excessive," and nakedly emotional. It explores aspects of human experience previously outside the concerns of the Greeks. x
  • 12
    Poetry
    Hellenistic poetry reflects a complex world in which the Greek language is part of an international culture. Great poets such as Callimachus, Theocritus, and Apollonius powerfully combine anxiety, nostalgia, and refinement in works that highlight the concerns of the day and make Hellenistic verse something new in the story of literature. x
  • 13
    The Greek Novel
    The novel, which is still going strong as one of our most cherished and familiar literary forms, was a creation of late Hellenism. Full of adventures set in the contemporary world, prose narratives such as "Daphnis and Chloe" remain invaluable guides to the spirit of the Hellenistic Age and lasting contributions to the interpretation of the human condition. x
  • 14
    Stoics, Epicureans, and Skeptics
    Hellenistic philosophy embodies a very different response to the anxieties of the new age. We examine the major schools of thought and relate them to the social setting in which the work of philosophy went forward. x
  • 15
    Kingship and Legitimacy
    The far-flung Hellenistic monarchs were Greeks or Macedonians descended from Alexander's lieutenants. As such, they could not rest their rule on the usual grounds of tradition or inheritance. How did they meet the challenge of sustaining their authority in theory and asserting it in practice? x
  • 16
    Benefaction
    The Hellenistic Age would witness an increasing reliance on individual citizens, often of extraordinary wealth, to keep cities from starving or going bankrupt. Earlier city-state institutions provided a model for this, but in the Hellenistic Age euergetism (voluntary gift-giving) became critical to the survival of cities. x
  • 17
    The Maccabean Revolt, Part I
    The best-documented example of a rebellion against Hellenistic overlords by their non-Greek subjects is the Maccabean revolt, beginning in 166 B.C.E. The revolt came in response to the desecration of the Temple in Jerusalem by the soldiers of Antiochus IV. In two lectures we will examine these events, asking how and why this persecution of the Jews arose and what the revolt tells us about the relationship between Greeks and their non-Greek subjects. x
  • 18
    The Maccabean Revolt, Part II
    In December of 167 B.C.E., agents of the Seleucid king Antiochus IV systematically defiled the Temple in Jerusalem. We have seen that this persecution must be set against the collapse of Seleucid fortunes in the eastern Mediterranean between 190 and 167 B.C.E. Now we examine these events from the viewpoints of the outraged Jewish subjects. x
  • 19
    Rulers and Saviors
    The Hellenistic Age saw traditional Greek religion develop in new ways. An emphasis on personal faith and experience led to the flourishing of mystery cults. At the same time, religion became one of the principal means of recognizing the immense power of Hellenistic kings. The public face of religion changed as more and more rulers were hailed as saviors. x
  • 20
    Economic Growth and Social Unrest
    The Hellenistic world witnessed a rapid expansion of economic activity but also an increase in social distress and even resistance to the status quo. This lecture explores evidence for these developments and shows how similar the Hellenistic Age is to our own. x
  • 21
    The Mood of the Hellenistic Age
    The Hellenistic Age witnessed cultural contact on an unprecedented scale, as the Greeks took over areas once ruled by Egyptian pharaohs and Persian kings. The result was something radically different from the Classical Age of mainland Greece, and in this lecture we identify some of the most characteristic features of the Hellenistic world: internationalism, individualism, and a fascination with fate. x
  • 22
    Hellenism and the Western Mediterranean
    Following Alexander, the Macedonians marched all the way to the Hindu Kush. Yet the western Mediterranean, much nearer to Greece and Macedon, was never politically under the control of Alexander's successors. What prevented Hellenism from moving west? And what was the relationship between the Greeks and their western neighbors? x
  • 23
    The Freedom of the Greeks
    The political end of the Hellenistic world came at the hands of the expanding Roman Empire. How was Rome able to exert the kind of control that no single Hellenistic king had wielded since Alexander? Did Rome plan its march of conquest, or was the process more fortuitous? x
  • 24
    Pax Romana
    After the defeats of Macedon and the Seleucid dynasty, the Hellenistic east became the backdrop for the final conflict between Antony and Caesar's heir Octavian. Antony's alliance with Cleopatra raised the prospect of a joint Roman-Hellenistic hegemony of the eastern Mediterranean, but Octavian had other ideas. x

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Jeremy McInerney

About Your Professor

Jeremy McInerney, Ph.D.
University of Pennsylvania
Dr. Jeremy McInerney is Davidson Kennedy Associate Professor of Classical Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. McInerney earned his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley. He was the Wheeler Fellow at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens and has excavated in Israel, at Corinth, and on Crete. He serves on the Managing Committee of the American School of Classical Studies in Athens, Greece....
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Reviews

Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic Age is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 58.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another Excellent Course by Prof. McInerney I purchased this course (audio download) after listening to Prof. McInerney's course, Ancient Greek Civilization. They go together well, this one picking up where that one left off. Between the two of them, I feel I received a very detailed and comprehensive historical, cultural, linguistic & religious account of ancient Greek life. Time & money well spent.
Date published: 2016-08-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic Age There are a few teachers that I seem to enjoy more than others and this is one of them. I purchase all of his courses because he has such a great command of his subjects. It is evident he enjoys making these presentations and wants us to enjoy it right along with him.. This course starts with Alexander but goes far beyond from the Classical age to Hellenistic and I've listened to this one about 3 times so that I could master the subject matter. If you love history and want a great survey overview of a dynamic age you'll love this course.
Date published: 2016-07-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Alexander and Macedonian and Hellenistic ages I listened to "Alexander the Great and the Macedonian Empire" by Professor Harl and "Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic Age" by Professor McInerney back to back. I bought them at very separate times and when I noticed I had both of them, after having just finished "Ancient Empires Before Alexander" by Professor Dise, I decided it was time to get to know Alexander a little better -- like 60 lectures better. Since I would be constantly comparing the two courses I decided to write one review for both of them. There is a hint as to the coverage in these courses by the slight difference in the titles. The Macedonian Empire is mostly before and during Alexander's reign; the Hellenistic period is during and after Alexander. In my review of "Ancient Empires before ..." I noted that a lot of time was spent on wars. I was nervous that this would be the case with the two courses I am reviewing now. I was very pleased that this was not the case with either of these courses although I 'felt' the presence of battles more in "Hellenistic" than in "Macedonian." I truly appreciated Professor Harl's getting more into the person of Alexander, rather than just his conquests. He also spent a lot of time on his relationships with his generals which explains how the Empire was split up after Alexander's death. We get to Alexander's death in lecture 27 -- 27 of 36. in "Hellenistic" we hear very little of Alexander himself after lecture 4 -- 4 of 24. I was quite surprised at what topics were discussed in "Hellenistic." Although interesting I feel it was a stretch to include two lectures on the Jewish Maccabean Revolt and four lectures on sculpture, poetry, novels and philosophers in a course titled "Alexander and ..." Don't get me wrong -- I thoroughly enjoyed these lectures but saw little relationship to Alexander. I got the impression that Professor Harl knew so much more than he could squeeze into each half hour lecture, and his presentation was flawless, while I felt that Professor McInerney was reading as he frequently apologized and corrected himself. So, if you were to ask me which course to buy, I would have to say both; "Macedonian" to get to know what led up to Alexander and about the man and his era, and "Hellenistic" to see the effect he had on history. This is highlighted by the Timeline in each course book -- "Macedonian" is from 1250 to 272 BCE, while "Hellenistic" is from 359 to 31 BCE.
Date published: 2016-04-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent overview course The course presents an excellent overview of the Hellenistic period: beginning with the Macedonian political background, moving up to Alexander's campaigns, it leads the student throughout a whole series of different aspects of the greek legacy in Europe, Africa and Asia. Besides the vast range of subjects dealt with by the professor (including sculpture, literature and religion), his modern approach - challenging and changing old crystallized views about some aspects of this period - is quite exciting. I highly recommend this course to anyone willing to be introduced in this rather odd period in humankind's history: between the age of Classical Greece and Classical Rome, some sort of post-Greek-pre-Roman Classical period. But Classical still...
Date published: 2016-01-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Ever Wonder What Happened Between Greece and Rome? This is a fine, if too brief, overview of the ancient eastern Mediterranean world between the decline of Greece and the death of Alexander, and the beginnings of the Roman Empire, a time which, at least in my experience, is often overlooked in histories of the ancient (western) world. Introduced by several lectures on Alexander himself, the body of the course then describes the formation and fate of the various kingdoms into which his empire was divided. In addition to covering the usual "big man history" themes of kings and wars, Professor McInerney provides a look at social and cultural aspects of this age, including sculpture, poetry, literature, religion, and economics. And I found the coverage of the Maccabean revolt particularly interesting. Our professor is generally excellent - he is enthusiastic and knowledgeable, and his lectures are clear, organized, and often eloquent (except for those not infrequent times when he either loses his place or his train of thought.) My only complaint is that I feel he spends too much time reading from the sources, time which would have been better devoted to summary and analysis. As for audio or video- Because this is an early course for TGC, they are not up to speed on visuals, which are not nearly adequate in number or quality. Audio would be almost as good. The Course Guidebook is a well done, straightforward review of the lectures. So - a very worthwhile way to fill in your (or at least my) missing knowledge of this important period in western history.
Date published: 2015-09-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very Good Survey Course An excellent course - not perfect but would say 4.5 stars. Content is broad in extent but hits the high points of political, social, etc... history. Professor is very good.
Date published: 2015-08-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from evaluation and insight, not just description Engaging Professor McInerney is an engaging speaker. What makes this course great, however, is that unlike many of the other Great Courses teachers of the ancient world, McInerney does not bury the listener under a mountain of descriptive detail. While always precise and systematic, he offers evaluation, analysis and insight, (as well as description). Refreshing and informative.
Date published: 2015-06-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Alexander & Pan-Hellenism: History, Myth, Logos The usual historical omission between the age of Classical Greece and the rise of the Roman Empire (323-31 B.C.) is here surveyed and explained in “Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic Age” by Professor Jeremy McInerney. The historical portrait of Alexander’s Dream – the man, the myth, and the Hellenistic momentum of the Greek Logos spreading eastward from Greece to India is explored and documented through four Hellenistic kingdoms that emerged after his death: the Ptolemaic, Seleucid, Attalid, and Macedonian dynasties. After their dynastic rise, military conflicts, and fall of these kingdoms concurrent with the emergence of the Roman Empire also affected by contact with Hellenistic culture -- you can hear and understand the roman poet Horace claim, “Captured Greece, took captive, her captor.” Egypt under the Ptolemies will build the city of Alexandria, an international library, and a museum that will attract scholars from around the Mediterranean world. This house of the muses with Judaic priests at Ptolemy’s request, will translate the Hebrew bible of Judaic Law (Septuagint) into standardized Greek further Hellenizing the world-view with the Greek Logos. The Seleucids will administer Syria and Babylon, and Hellenize the ruler-cult of these territories becoming in-the-flesh a semi-divine epiphany in their subject’s eyes. The Attalids will build the city of Pergamum in Asia Minor that will rival Alexandria in cultural influence. For 300 years Egypt, Syria, Asia Minor, and Macedon will influence and be transformed by the Hellenistic Logos – classical culture on steroids! This Logos according to the professor will transform the arts, literature, drama, philosophy, and culture in general – similar to today’s Western civilization. The internationalism, individualism, and reversals of fortune due to rapid social and economic uncertainties of the age are rooted in the fateful-ISM of Hellenism. Stoicism, Epicurean, and Skeptical philosophies will address issues of kingship, intellectuals, benefactors, administration, legitimacy, the mind and emotional upheavals in these turbulent times. In turn, these will influence the rise in mystery cults of salvation (Isis, Serapis, and Cybele), early Christianity, apocalyptic traditions, and generate religious-political conflicts such as the Maccabean rebellion (166 B.C.) -- where altar and throne battle for legitimacy and further the apocalyptic imagination, literature, and understanding of early Judaism. Did Alexander’s dream / divine-madness include a Western campaign for the future? Although subject to much scholarly debates, the reality of Carthage as a western Mediterranean power (Punic Wars), the internal civil unrest of Rome’s social classes (Social Revolution), and the empire pressures placed upon republican institutions derived from earlier city-states will claim Rome’s attention before it commits itself to major campaigns in the East. It is mainly through the changing political alliances among the Hellenistic kingdoms that Rome is forced into Eastern alliances to protect allies and its interests without annexation as a political and ideological motive – there were no recognizable imperial ambitions or decrees from the Roman Senate. But responding to frequent uprisings and threats to her allies, Rome realized the limits of military solutions alone, and eventually annexation of the kingdoms into the Roman Empire was necessitated (Macedonian Wars). In this sense, Rome was the true inheritor of Alexander’s dream / divine-madness which was unrealized by his successor-generals but made manifest under Octavian / Augustus, Caesar’s heir and the first Emperor of Rome. To quote the professor in ending: “Though Rome triumphed, it had been thoroughly Hellenized in the process…the real irony…a people that had lost their political independence would live on as a powerful culture.” For historians, social scientists, and lovers of the humanities, this is a lively symposium of excellent food for thought. I was surprised that the reviews were silent on the following points: Alexander’s tutor – Aristotle and philosophy; his pillar companion – Homer’s Iliad and heroes; his tragic nemesis – Persia who sacked Greece a 150 years prior and required revenge; and Carthage -- the tragic nemesis of Rome which possibly is why a Western campaign other than Italy was contemplated by Alexander or his generals (Pyrrhus of Epirus). Again -- one of the very best *** Very Highly Recommended ***.
Date published: 2015-04-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great overview This course really covers the material, showing how Greek culture spread throughout the Mediterranean world and further east as a result of Alexander's conquests. It is impossible to understand much of later Western history without understanding how pervasive Greek culture became. I especially liked the way the course explicitly tied Greek Hellenism to the Maccabee revolt in Palestine and to the development of Roman civilization to the west. The course ends by contrasting the Roman view on conquest to that of the Greeks. This allows the viewer to make a smooth transition to a followup course on the history of Rome. Wonderful material and an engaging lecturer.
Date published: 2014-12-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I want more! This course covered a lot of material in its 24 lectures, and covered it very well. The professor is really outstanding. Not only is he knowledgeable, but he is able to share his knowledge in a manner that is organized, informative, and interesting. I originally purchased this course to learn specifically about Alexander the Great and his conquests. Professor McInerney went far beyond that simple mandate! HIs lectures also covered pre-Alexandrian Macedon, the fate of the conquered territories after Alexander's death, various aspects of life in the Hellenistic world, and the rise of Rome. It's an excellent survey course...broad enough to provide the big picture and a general understanding of the era, detailed enough that it in no way feels superficial. For me, a novice to studying ancient Greek history - aside from the required Euripides and Homer in middle school - the scope and content were perfect. I can't wait to start Professory McInerney's "Age of Pericles" course.
Date published: 2014-10-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from From calssic to Hellenistic This is the third TGC course I have heard by Professor McInerney on the history of Greece; the other two being "Ancient Greek Civilization", and Age Of Pericles". In this course too, as I have already come to expect, the presentation of the subject was flawless! His insights are often profound, and the course is very well organized and thought out. Only a small portion of the course follows a historical narrative - the bits concerning Alex's conquests and central battles, the partitioned empire that consists of splitting his empire between his generals, and a small bit describing the revolt of the Macabis in Judea. Instead, The course focuses on different aspects of the Hellenistic empire such as arts (Poetry and sculpture), Hellenistic Philosophy as an extension of classical Greek philosophy, and political structure and rule to name only a few. It describes the evolution from classical Greek culture to Hellenism and the merge of the latter into the Roman culture, providing in many ways its core. So in this fashion, we are left understanding that Hellenism is in an indirect way, the core of our own modern Western culture.
Date published: 2014-02-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Hellenistic Age—History’s Neglected Period Here is a unique opportunity to become engaged in the often neglected, yet enormously influential, historical period of the Hellenistic age. Spanning the defeat of the Greek city-states by Philip of Macedon in 338 BCE and the stirrings of the Roman empire three hundred years later, this course addresses the lengthy transitional phase between the Greek and Roman cultures. Drawing upon the achievements of the classical period in the fifth century BCE, the new Hellenistic age witnessed the spread of Greek ideas and the imposed order of the Greeks, extending from Egypt through the Near East and even reaching India and Central Asia. Many academic history surveys stop with Alexander’s death and jump directly to Rome with only a cursory look at the Hellenistic era. Not only does this course fill a void; it argues that the Hellenistic age is a seminal period worthy of our reflection. Professor Jeremy McInerney provides thorough coverage of nearly three centuries of history, beginning with the conquest of Greece by the Macedonians and the pivotal moment of the “long march” of Alexander the Great. Alexander’s conquest of the Persian empire and the three major kingdoms that emerged in the Antigonid, Seleucid, and Ptolemaic dynasties are the framework for the course. The lecturer offers detailed analysis of the developments in science, art, philosophy, and religion that characterize the Hellenistic age. The magnificent library (“Museaum” or “shrine of the muses”) at Alexandria would eventually include more than 500,000 volumes in papyrus. Sculpture became more realistic and dramatic. New fields and disciplines arose in ideas and science. Aristarchus of Samos proclaimed that the earth revolves around the sun. The Stoics advocated self-control, duty, and the search for inner strength. Epicurus lent his name to a philosophy of abstinence that was later mistakenly associated with hedonism. The Cynics sought to live in accordance with nature while rejecting social convention. The lecturer makes a strong case for the influence of the rogue Hellenistic philosophies on Christianity three centuries later. In carving up the entirety of the Near East following the death of Alexander, the Macedonian generals ruled with little or no input from the native inhabitants. As the victors, the Greek power elite was acting much like the allied nations of World War I, who redrew the map of the Middle East to reward the European imperial empires meeting at the Paris conference of 1919. The voices of Arab nationalism, expressed through the charismatic T. E. Lawrence (“Lawrence of Arabia”) were lost in the desire to “punish” Germany and expand the empires of the victors after the Great War. With a remarkable similarity to the aftermath of World War I, the Hellenistic period witnessed Alexander’s generals ruling as potentates over the conquered territories of Egypt, Anatolia, Syria, and Bactria, and even developing economic interests in the region of the Western Mediterranean. Throughout the Hellenistic age, the people of the Near East lived under the yoke of Greek rule without a complete “fusion” of cultures. This was a top-down rule of the Greeks, as the efficient Hellenic bureaucratic system was imposed on the people. There were no vestiges of the participatory system that infused the lifeblood of classical Athens. In two of the most fascinating lectures in this course, Professor McInerney unpacks the complicated Maccabean revolt of the second century BCE, demonstrating the degree to which Hellenic culture had trickled down to factions within the Judeans, whose entire history had been defined by resistance to assimilation. Even after the successful Maccabean rebellion against the Seleucid king, Antiochus IV, the resulting Hasmonean political structure included “a bureaucracy full of Greek names” and “the unmistakable sign of Hellenistic kingship: royal coinage with Greek inscription.” In one of the most prodigious scholarly projects of the age, the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek in the version known as the Septuagint in the late second century BCE. In the closing lectures, the professor cites example after example of the influence of Greek culture not only on this era, but in the fledgling Roman empire and well beyond. Until the year 1453, at which time the eastern part of the Roman empire finally fell to the Ottomans, the official spoken language of the empire was Greek! The starting point for this enormous Greek influence was in the Hellenistic age. Historians often point to the Crusades in the high Middle Ages as a watershed in the clash of civilizations in the region we know today as the Middle East. But much earlier, the Hellenistic Age is worthy of study for the uses and abuses of imperialist power. In the immediate aftermath of the Persian Wars in the fifth century BCE, the Greek city-states took pride in their victory over the invading Persians as a triumph of freedom over tyranny and order over chaos. But in the wake of Alexander’s long march and the ensuing Greek rule over the former Persian empire, there was no liberty afforded to the conquered peoples and no freedom in determining their forms of government. Under the Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt, the Greek kings adopted the cosmetic title of Pharaoh, but ruled from a purely Greek city, Alexandria, whose name derives from the man who had marched through Egypt and apparently had been acclaimed a god by the prophet at Siwa. The underlying question raised for thoughtful listeners in this course is, based on the consequences of his military exploits, was Alexander really “great”? The course is successful in tracing the development of Greek civilization over the Hellenistic age, surveying new developments in art, poetry, the novel, and theater, as well as significant contributions in science. But the lecturer is wise enough never to let the listener forget that the Hellenistic Age was one in which a new imperial identity was forged by the Greeks—one that was precisely the opposite of the great ideals of the freedom-loving people of the polis in the classical age of Greece. COURSE GRADE: A
Date published: 2013-12-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Jackles! Jackles around a Carcass I have bought a couple of this professors courses and I have enjoyed them. with that said, his constant moralizing and sarcasm is irritating. I find myself rolling my eyes while listening to him. He approaches the subject matter from the perspective of a social psychologist rather than a military historian. its not that his points are bad, or wrong, its just the emotionally exhasperated way he delivers is a bit distracting. Otherwise this course makes an enjoyable compliment to Harl's course on Alexander and the Macedonian Empire.
Date published: 2013-06-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Survey of the Hellenistic Era The Hellenistic Age spanned from Alexander the Great's death in 323 BCE to Queen Cleopatra VII's suicide in 30 BCE. Dr McInerney provides the necessary background by summarizing Philip II's (Alexander's father) reign earlier in the 4th Century BCE, then condsidering Alexander's meteroic rise to power and his amazing and rapid conquest of the lands stretching from modern-day Turkey to eastern Pakistan. As McInerney tells it Alexander was more interested in conquering than administering so perhaps it was inevitable that his empire quickly dissolved following his death in Babylon in 323. The remaining nineteen lectures cover the Hellenistic Age proper, explaining how the newly acquired empire was carved by Alexander's bodyguards and generals. He goes on to explain the main characteristics of the most important ones (Ptolemic, Selecuid, Attalid and Bactrain). Then he takes a stimulating side route, temporarily leaving the military and political events to show in good detail the high culture of the time, namely sculpture, poetry, the novel and philosophy. Professor McInerney returns to the political and military events for the remainder of the course but this time in a topical manner, focusing on issues such as the most important rebellion (the Macabbean Revolt of 167 BCE), economic conditions and the rise of Rome and how it gradually annexed the remaining Hellenisitic kingdoms. Dr McInerney provides numerous explanations for events. For example Alexander invaded Egypt before moving east again to preclude a Ptolemic invasion of Greece. He carefully explains how the Selecuid king Antoch III was very respectful of the Jews living in the semi-autonomous province of Judea (but strangely how his son Antioch IV was not). McInerney's presentations are no-nonsense and provide considerable information (although not overwhelming). I appreciated his occasional opinions and found them convincing. His vocal delivery is clear. Like others have noted, however, he reads his lecture notes too often, which I found distracting. Also he does not summarize at the end of each lecture (instead he summarizes the preceding lecture in the next one). For better context it would be helpful if the viewer has a background in the previous era in ancient Greek history, the Classical Age. This is an informative, interesting course of a lesser-known time in Greek history. Highy recommended.
Date published: 2013-04-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Teaching at its Best The quality of this instructor and the content of this course, in our opinion, could hardly be improved upon. It was thorough and instructive. Dr. McInerney is truly a stellar teacher who is completely familiar with and enthusiastic about his subject.
Date published: 2013-03-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A worthwhile purchase I enjoy history. However, the Hellenistic Age was a period to which I’ve had little exposure. In viewing recent sale items in TGC, I found this course, and purchased the DVD version. I do feel that the DVD format is preferable as it makes for easy visualization of the various kingdoms and peoples. It would appear to be essential in understanding the lecture on sculpture. Professor McInerney , speaks clearly and has no annoying “tics” to distract from his presentation. To emphasize points he wishes to make, on occasion, he reads from source material. That’s OK by me unless it is carried to the extreme and he doesn’t do so. Although pretty dependent on lecture notes, he’s a good lecturer and well-organized. His presentation is a “just the facts” style not given to humor or anecdotes. Although this style is great for relaying information, and therefore its pretty hard to criticize, it does require more than passing interest in the subject matter in order to hold attention.On a personal level, I found the lectures on poetry and prose to be the least interesting of the course and found my mind wandering a bit. I freely acknowledge that a course such as this would be incomplete without that material and my particular interests are no fault of the professor. However, I felt the more anecdotal and energetic styles of some of the other TGC professors, Harl for example, would have been more effective in holding my interest in those two lectures. As pointed out by others, be advised that this is primarily a course on the Hellenistic Age…not Alexander the Great who is essentially confined to the first four lectures. If you want an in-depth discussion of this man, look elsewhere in TGC. Since I am in no way an expert on the Hellenistic Age, I can’t critique the accuracy of content. However, I learned a great deal and felt the Age was well covered so rate it highly. In many history courses, there is a tendency to jump from Alexander the Great to the Roman Age, mentioning the Hellenistic Age only in passing. This course does an excellent job in extensively covering that sometimes poorly covered period. I recommend it to anyone wishing a more complete knowledge of that period in history.
Date published: 2013-03-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Almost Perfect! In this lecture series, Professor McInerney succeeds in describing the Hellenistic period not as a time of decadence but as an age of expansion and creativity. He not only covers political and military history but also cultural developments, whole lectures being devoted to Hellenistic novels, sculpture and poetry. The points of view presented are enlightening and often original. This is true for instance with respect to Alexander the Great who appears as a possible megalomaniac war-monger who had no clear objectives and, had he not died young, would have been unable to govern the lands he had conquered. This is quite different from the quasi divine hero status that he is usually awarded! Nothing is perfect, however. Though lively and quite natural, Professor McInerney reads out his text and all too often stumbles on a word. Worse, he makes comments that are probably intended to be humorous but that are disparaging for his listeners. Conditions of ‘100 % research and 0 % teaching’ in the Alexandria Musaeum are described as any university professor’s dream. Why then does Professor McInerney go beyond his university duties and tape lectures for Teach12? Overall, this series is still strongly recommended to all interested in Ancient History.
Date published: 2013-01-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent review and presentation Alexander the Great created an age of sweeping power, bridging Greek and Roman history ~~ an important period to study especially in relation to the early days of Christianity. This course covers the Hellenistic age masterfully and clearly. Other reviewers have pointed out that the concentration on Alexander himself is relatively short and not in-depth, but it must be said that Alexander was a conqueror warrior who created and bequeathed an era in his short life, and that era is dealt with powerfully and in detail in this course which shows that while Alexander was a monumental soldier strategist, he was not an effective politician. The case for his being a meglomaniac is persuasively presented. Professor McInerney starts with Philip II, King of Macedon, Alexander's father, who conquered Greece, moves to Alexander's victories in lecture 2. We quickly arrive at Alexander's death in 323BC, following 11 years of victorious campaigning, as he forces his army to march home through the harshest terrain instead of sailing back along the coast. The lecturer has an engaging style, is very easy to follow. He delivers all his points with conviction and factual support where applicable. He makes the subject matter a living entity, exciting and impressive, providing a memorable review of the Hellenistic Age. This is a "don't miss" course; five-stars all round! Highest recommendation. (lectures recorded in 2000)
Date published: 2012-11-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Thorough coverage of Alexander to the rise of Rome I enjoyed this course, which starts with a useful 5-lecture review of Philip of Macedon and the achievement of Alexander the Great, then devotes 19 lectures to what happened next. I learned a lot of detail about the Greek kingdoms that emerged after Alexander's empire was divided among his generals. Prof. McInerney covers the personalities, politics, battles, and culture very well. I found him to be an interesting and engaging speaker. I found the first ten lectures and 17 - 24 most compelling. The two lectures on the Maccabean Revolt were standouts.
Date published: 2011-11-09
Rated 2 out of 5 by from not really about Alexander This is a 24 lecture series on Alexander the great and Alexander is dead in the third lecture, and he is not king until the second. He goes into no depth about Alexander but more about what happended after he died, which is mostly covered in other lecture series at great courses.
Date published: 2011-07-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exemplary Educational Experience This is one of the finest courses I've taken whether in person or virtually. Professor McInerney demonstrates pedagogical excellence in his clear and well organized presentations, always beginning a session with a summary of previous lectures. His knowledge of Hellenistic Greece is extensive; his experience in the field invaluable to the content. I learned a great deal from this course which consistently held my attention and fostered a desire to learn more.
Date published: 2011-04-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from I echo the sentiment of "Good, but . . ." I received this course as a christmas present, and in almost all of the lectures, I was enrapt. The content supported some of the work I was doing, and I was finding it a wonderful experience. THEN, I chanced upon something I actual know about because it lies in an area of a decade's worth of research. And that was the material on the Hasmonean revolt. He certainly understood properly the split in the people between the religious Jews and Greek party, but he lost a lot of material he never mentioned. Now, I am not Jewish, but I felt strongly that the lecturer ignored the place of the High Priest in the two hundred years after the return from the Babylonian Captivity during the time they were under the Persian suzerains when the High Priest was not only the religious head of the people, but also the political head of state. When Antiochus IV deposed Onias III and replaced him with Jesus/Jason, it represented a profound rupture in the fabric of the Jewish religious worship. Also, I have never in any reading encountered such a sypathetic description of the unfortunate Antiochus IV. Much was never mentioned, including the murder of Onias III and the uses to which the Persian put the moneys paid by Jason. Nor was it mentioned that the citadel, a stone's throw from the Jerusalem Temple was continuously manned by Persians troops for twenty years after the festive cleansing of the templet. This is an incredibe period rich in treachery, meaning, and history. It was not dealt with even minimally. The rest of the course was, in my opinion, superb. And I would most heartily recommend it. But the haunting thought is, if I found flaws in the material about which I happen to know a bit, what was happening in the other areas to which I came with an open (empty) mind? Nevertheless, I must say that overall, this was a Great course for a fact. I'm just sorry that for me, it just wasn't quite complete in one area. Take it for what it's worth.
Date published: 2011-02-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from It Nicely Bridges Classical Greece and Rome If you're looking for a course on the Hellenistic Age, this is a good one. The professor is quite proficient in describing the formation of empires out of the lands conquered by Alexander. He begins with a discrete analysis of the political evolution of each region and then broadly explores the cultural, philosophical, and economic developments of the Hellenistic world. One gets a keen sense in these middle lectures of the movement from the "classical" at the high point of Greek culture to, as the professor astutely calls it, a sort of "baroque" orientation in the arts and thought of the new age. These insights are valuable. I found his discussion of the Maccabean Revolt to be a refreshing turn in an overview course to a deeper and nuanced probe of a fascinating piece of history of the Age. Likewise, though only two lectures in length, his teaching of the transition to Roman power and control is elegantly and sharply done. The course does have its flaws, though. The treatment of Alexander is way too brief and shallow. The organization of the course is often bewildering. The shift from the particular in the politics of each region to the general in the art, philosophy, and economics is rough. One's left too often with the sense that the politics were very unique to each region but that the art and culture were generic to the Age and the whole Hellenistic world. This is not right. Nevertheless, I strongly recommend this course, especially for those who have a solid background in earlier Greek and later Roman history but little understanding of this intervening period.
Date published: 2011-01-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from good, but I give this course 5 stars, but just barely. The traditional history lectures (facts, dates, etc) were great, but the social history (art, literature, etc) were a little stretched. I would still recommend this course to others interested in this era.
Date published: 2009-07-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Slightly less than superb This course is a continuation of Professor McInerney's Ancient Greek Civilization and shares most of the virtues of that superb course. Inexplicably, however, the course guide does not contain maps that were so helpful in the previous course--although the lectures make liberal and effective use of them. In many of the lectures, Professor McInerney reads from source documents, which are extremely interesting. Unfortunately, he is not at ease in reading aloud and that lack of facility detracts somewhat from the presentation. This a quibble, however. The course is another outstanding product and highly recommended.
Date published: 2009-05-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Bit Too Much Post-Alexander Subject Matter I agree with some of the other reviewers that this course could have been a little heavier on Alexander himself. I appreciated learning some useful information about the Hellenistic Kingdoms that followed Alexander, but I would have preferred to at least hear a bit more about the "old-fashioned" history of the era (i.e. rulers, battles, kingdoms) than some of the social history that is presented in the later lectures (i.e. Hellenistic philosophy and literature). Overall the course is still worth listening to, but I'd start with some other courses in this area of history first.
Date published: 2009-05-10
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Covers the subject matter but sometime a bit dry Professor McInerny certainly knows his subject and gives a good overview of Alexander and the Hellenistic period. I'd suggest listening to his Ancient Greek Civilization TC course prior to this one. The most engaging part of the course is when he covers Alexander's life story. I also found his focus on art of the period to be entertaining and enlightening. I like the way he offers his own interpretations of an event, on occasion, along with other more commonly held views. A couple of criticisms: He quotes fairly often from various sources, but sometimes doesn't mention the source. Also, more maps in the course guide would have been nice.
Date published: 2009-02-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Information We all learned about Alexander the Great in high school. This course not only provides extra Alexandrian insights, but shows how his influence affected the entire Mediterranean region. For the first time, I understood why so many famous Egyptians had Greek names! This course should be a requirement for anyone working in the Middle East.
Date published: 2009-01-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from excellent, but first take Ancient Greek Civ If you are new to Classical studies then before taking this course you should first take McInerney's "Ancient Greek Civilization". The essence of the Hellenistic Age (the strict focus of this course) is the drive to spread the culture of the age that immediately preceded it, and you'll need to understand that culture to fully appreciate this course. That said, the two courses together offer a wide (if not deep) treatment of that period of Greek history that influenced Western civilization.
Date published: 2009-01-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good, but would have liked more on Alexander As someone else mentioned, this is a good course not only because its interesting and well taught, but because it fills what for most people is a large gap in their understanding. That said, I felt it could have used some more emphasis on Alexander himself. We were into the Hellenistic Kingdoms before you knew it.
Date published: 2009-01-19
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