The Macedonian Empire
The Macedonian Empire
The Macedonian kingdom occupied the northern section of the Greek peninsula. It was part and parcel of the Greek civilization and shared the Greek language and culture, but it was so firmly under the control of the Persian Empire that the Athenians and Peloponnesians considered it a barbaric kingdom. In addition, its society was much rougher and more warlike than that of southern Greece. Macedonia did not achieve self-rule or dominance until Philip II’s reign began in 359 BC.
Philip’s goal was to improve the Macedonian army into a powerful weapon that would enable him to expand his kingdom. He instituted strategic innovations and new weapons, such as catapults, extra-long pikes, and battering rams. By 338, he had taken over the neighboring regions of Thessaly and Thrace, which were strategically important because of their harbors. That same year, Philip’s army defeated the united forces of Thebes and Athens at Chaerona. Philip was assassinated in 336. His son Alexander—known to history as Alexander the Great—succeeded him.
Alexander the Great
Born in 356 BC, Alexander learned history and philosophy from the Greek genius Aristotle. He soon showed his grasp of military strategy, leading his troops to victory against the Persians, first at Granicus in 334 and again at Issus in 333. Over the next two years, Alexander expanded the Macedonian Empire into Syria, Egypt, and Mesopotamia. By the time of his death in 323, he had taken over a vast empire that stretched from the Danube River in the west to the Indus River in the east.
The conquests of Alexander are historically important because he spread the Hellenistic (Greek) culture throughout Egypt, Turkey, and the Middle East. The empire was politically unified while Alexander lived. After his death, it broke up into smaller kingdoms, but all can accurately be described as Hellenistic—meaning that they were culturally and linguistically part of the Greek civilization. Alexander built new cities throughout the years of his eastward conquering march (at least five were called Alexandria in his honor). These cities served not only as military and trading posts but as seats of cultural exchange. Alexander caused libraries to be built and stocked, thus making Greek discoveries in mathematics, science, and philosophy available to eastern scholars. The Egyptian city of Alexandria boasted the finest library in the ancient world. It is no accident that some of the greatest scientific and mathematical names in history—Euclid, Archimedes, and Eratosthenes—all worked and studied in Alexandria.
Three main Hellenistic kingdoms rose by 275 BC. Ptolemy and his successors ruled Egypt, while the vast Middle Eastern swath of Macedonia was divided between the Seleucids in the east and the Antigonids in the west. All three kingdoms were eventually absorbed into the Roman Empire.
Practice questions for these concepts can be found at:
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