Although Alexander's empire soon crumbled following his premature death, he had unleashed changes that would ripple across the Mediterranean world and the Middle East for centuries. His most lasting achievement was the spread of Greek culture.
Across his far-flung empire, Alexander founded many new cities, most of them named after him. The generals who succeeded him founded still more. Greek soldiers, traders, and artisans settled these new cities. From Egypt to the borders of India, they built Greek temples, filled them with Greek statues, and held athletic contests as they had in Greece. Local people assimilated, or absorbed, Greek ideas. In turn, Greek settlers adopted local customs.
Alexander had encouraged a blending of eastern and western cultures when he had married a Persian woman and urged his soldiers to follow his example. He had also adopted many Persian customs, including Persian dress. Gradually, after his death, a vital new culture emerged that blended Greek, Persian, Egyptian, and Indian influences. This Hellenistic civilization would flourish for several centuries.
The famous Pharos lighthouse in Alexandria was one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Built in 280 B.C., it stood 350 feet high until an earthquake destroyed it in the 1300s.
At the very heart of the Hellenistic world stood the city of Alexandria, Egypt. Located on the sea lanes between Europe and Asia, its markets boasted a wide range of goods, from Greek marble to Arabian spices to East African ivory. A Greek architect had drawn up plans for the city, which would become home to almost a million people. Among the city's marvelous sights was the Pharos, an enormous lighthouse that soared 440 feet into the air.
Alexander and his successors encouraged the work of scholars. The rulers of Alexandria built the great Museum as a center of learning. The Museum boasted laboratories, lecture halls, and a zoo. Its library had thousands of scrolls representing the accumulated knowledge of the ancient world. Unfortunately, the library was later destroyed in a fire.
Paintings, statues, and legal codes show that women were no longer restricted to their homes during the Hellenistic period. More women learned to read and write. Some became philosophers or poets. Royal women held considerable power, working alongside husbands and sons who were the actual rulers. In Egypt, the able and clever queen Cleopatra VII came to rule in her own right.
How did Alexander encourage the blending of cultures?
The cities of the Hellenistic world employed armies of architects and artists. Temples, palaces, and other public buildings were much larger and grander than the buildings of classical Greece. The elaborate new style reflected the desire of Hellenistic rulers to glorify themselves as godlike.
Political turmoil during the Hellenistic age contributed to the rise of new schools of philosophy. The most influential was Stoicism. Its founder, Zeno, urged people to avoid desires and disappointments by accepting calmly whatever life brought. Stoics preached high moral standards, such as the idea of protecting the rights of fellow humans. They taught that all people, including women and slaves, though unequal in society, were morally equal because all had the power of reason. Stoicism later influenced many Roman and Christian thinkers.
During the Hellenistic age, scholars built on earlier Greek, Babylonian, and Egyptian knowledge.