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Hellenic Diadochi

The Diadochi meaning Successors, were the rival generals, families and friends of Alexander the Great who fought for control over his empire after his death in 323 BC. The Wars of the Diadochi mark the beginning of the Hellenistic period.


The Hellenization of the east was achieved by the establishment of Greek cities throughout. The largest of these new cities were Alexandria in Egypt and Antioch in Syria.

Colonization was used to further Greek interest while facilitating the assimilation of many native groups. Socially, this led to the adoption of Greek practices and customs by the educated native classes in order to further themselves in public life, and at the same time the ruling Macedonian class gradually adopted some of the local traditions.

Hellenistic World

Together the territories of these kingdoms and dynasties in the east, carved out of the Greek heartlands, Macedon and the former Persian Empire made up the Hellenistic world. This Hellenic civilization that formed was an amalgamation of Greek and Macedonian cultures and some Persian and local practices.

Three Major Rivals

In time these Diadochi formed three major rival dynasties. These rival dynasties were: the Ptolemaic dynasty which centred on Egypt, the Antigonid dynasty which centred on Macedon, and the Seleucid dynasty which initially centred on Babylonia. However there were other smaller kingdoms and dynasties.

The largest and most powerful of these three rivals, was the Seleucid Empire, but the Ptolemaic dynasty was the most longlasting of the three. All three dynasties were ultimately defeated by the Romans, though the Seleucid dynasty also lost a large part of its territory to the Parthians. While some of the lesser kingdoms, like Armenia, became client states of the Roman Empire.

Other States

The fragmentary nature of the Hellenistic world meant that some early dynasties collapsed quickly and also meant that their territories were gobbled up by their neighbours. The Antipatrid dynasty for example did not last long, as did the empire of Lysimachus.

Sometimes new states would form out of the rump states of former empires, such as the Attalid dynasty or the kingdom of Pontus.

Leagues & Pirates

On other occasions where a strong authority was entirely absent, cities would sometimes band together and form leagues. With the demise of Carthage, this also led to a void of a prominent naval power on the Mediterranean sea. This power vacuum at sea combined with civil wars meant that some populations turned to piracy. The most notorious of the pirates, were the pirate strongholds in the region known as Cilicia, but the island of Crete was also known a pirate haven, as was Rhodes. The Aetolian League in Greece also had a reputation for piracy.


In the Hellenistic period, there was much continuity in Greek religion. The Greek gods continued to be worshipped, and the same rites were practiced as before. However the socio-political changes brought on by the conquest of the Persian empire and Greek emigration abroad meant that change also came to religious practices. This varied greatly on location, Athens, Sparta and most cities in the Greek mainland did not see much religious change or new gods, while the multi-ethnic Alexandria had a very varied group of gods and religious practices, including Egyptian, Jewish and Greek.

Greek emigres brought their Greek religion everywhere they went. Non-Greeks also had more freedom to travel and trade throughout the Mediterranean.


A common practice was to identify Greek gods with native gods that had similar characteristics and this created new fusions.

Ruler Cults

Hellenistic monarchies were closely associated with the religious life of the kingdoms they ruled. This had already been a feature of Macedonian kingship, which had priestly duties. Hellenestic kings adopted patron deities as protectors of their house and sometimes claimed descent from them. The Seleucids for example took on Apollo as patron, the Antigonids had Herakles, and the Ptolemies claimed Dionysus among others.

The worship of dynastic ruler cults was also a feature of this period, most notably in Egypt, where the Ptolemies adopted earlier Pharaonic practice, and established themselves as god-kings. These cults were usually associated with a specific temple in honor of the ruler.


Greek emigres faced individual religious choices they had not faced on their home cities, where the gods they worshipped were dictated by tradition. This led to a rise in the disillusionment with traditional religion. The rise of philosophy and the sciences had removed the gods from many of their traditional domains such as their role in the movement of the heavenly bodies and natural disasters. The Sophists proclaimed the centrality of humanity and agnosticism. The belief in Euhemerism also became popular. Euhemerism was the view that the gods were simply ancient kings and heroes.

Literature & Science

The Hellenistic period saw the rise of new kinds of literature. Hellenistic poets sought patronage from kings, and wrote works in their honor.

During the Hellenistic period, many different schools of thought developed. Athens, with its multiple philosophical schools, continued to remain the center of philosophical thought. Hellenistic culture produced seats of learning throughout the Mediterranean. Especially important to Hellenistic science was the city of Alexandria in Egypt, which became a major center of scientific research, due to the presence of its library.


Hellenistic warfare was a continuation of the military use of the Macedonian Phalanx, a dense formation of pikemen, in conjunction with heavy companion cavalry.

Armies of the Hellenistic period differed from those of the classical period in being largely made up of professional soldiers and also in their greater specialization and technical proficiency in siege warfare. Hellenistic armies were significantly larger than those of classical Greece relying increasingly on Greek mercenaries, and also on non-Greek soldiery such as Thracians, Galatians, and Egyptians.

Some ethnic groups were known for their martial skill in a particular mode of combat and were highly sought after, including Tarantine cavalry, Cretan archers, Rhodian slingers and Thracian peltasts.

The use of heavily armored cataphracts and also horse archers was adopted by the Seleucids, Greco-Bactrians, Armenians and Pontus. The use of war elephants also became common.