Friday, January 4, 2013

Review of "The Hellenistic Age: A Short History" by Peter Green

The Hellenistic Age: A Short History is basically the, well, short version of Green's longer work (and magnum opus) Alexander to Actium: The Historical Evolution of the Hellenistic Age. Even more, this book has the benefit of being the result of 20 more years of scholarship and reflection on Green's part.

In the Introduction, Green discusses both terms, and the state of Hellenistic scholarship. In addition to the standing-Classical-world problem of lack of sources, Hellenistic scholarship also suffers from over-specialization. That is, there are all sorts of focused studies on coins, inscriptions, papyri, politics, and so on, but few comprehensive narrative studies. This book is an attempt to correct that lack.

Unfortunately, the Hellenistic Age (roughly from the death of Alexander through death of Mark Antony and Cleopatra) is one of the least understood and studied eras of the Classical period. This is unfortunate, because it is an era so much like our own. Huge nation states are regularly at war with each other, the poor are trampled by the rich, massive mechanized armies march across the landscape, and arts and sciences have functionally died. Even more, the politics of the day are a tangled nightmare of dynastic intrigue, backstabbing, and calling on powerful outsiders to solve local problems. Dr. Green untangles this mess in a way that makes this three hundred year stretch a delight to learn about. Not that the period itself is particularly delightful- all the nasty stuff that goes on today (extermination of minorities, persecution of the Jews, destruction of the environment) was going on then too, but without the softening influence of 2000 years of Christian history.

Recommended for those interested in Ancient history.

Demetrius the Besieger's Soldiers

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