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Cities And Their Values Notes

Classics Notes > The Hellenistic World: societies and cultures 300 BC to 100 BC Notes

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How successful were Greek cities in preserving their values?
The Hellenistic period was one of great change for the Greek cities; the majority now came under the sway of the three major dynasties of Alexander's old empire but also their numbers exploded throughout the newly conquered territories in Asia. It is important to consider the distinction between the three types of Greek cities when evaluating how successful they were at preserving their values. The first is the previously fully autonomous cities on the Greek mainland and in the Aegean Sea, such as Athens and Sparta; secondly there are the cities on the coast of Asia Minor who were previously ruled by kings under the Achaemenid dynasty, such as Priene, and finally those cities founded by Alexander and the successors. The last type is interesting because from their very foundation they were ruled by the kings but it is still possible to find in them the same values and institutions as much older Greek cities in the Mediterranean basin; therefore it seems plausible to include them in a discussion as to far the values of the Greek cities were preserved because not only were these values still present in such cities but they even transported them to areas further east than ever thought possible. Similarly the cities previously ruled by the Achaemenids in Asia Minor also seem to share the same core values as other Greek cities and they illustrate how deeply such values were held because they survived rule by the Persians, freedom under Alexander and then monarchical rule again under the successors into the Hellenistic period. However because of the diversity, both geographically and ethnically, and the sheer number of Greek cities it is only possible to speak in fairly general terms when attempting to define their values and assess whether they were able to preserve them. These values could perhaps fall under the following headings; political control, civic pride and self perception, military control and their culture. The first of these, political control, is very hard to define and assess for the majority of Greek cities in any period of history. In the classical period many cities in Asia Minor were, as has already been mentioned, under the control of the Achaemenid dynasty, but also many cities in the Aegean and on the Greek mainland would have, at some time or another, come under the influence, direct or indirect, or powerful states such as Athens and Sparta. This raises the question how very different was the position of the majority of Greek cities under the broad direction, and sometimes very passing interference, of the kings to what they previously had encountered. They relationship with the wider Greek world was probably not considerably different in the Hellenistic period as to previous periods because there was, more often than not, always a stronger power directing international events with varying degrees of control; the obvious examples would be the Athenian Empire and then later the King's Peace. Most Greek cities would probably not have been overly concerned with such things but rather what mattered to them was having autonomy and control over local events which affected their city, their land and their immediate neighbours; Athens and Sparta are the obvious exceptions but perhaps ones that prove the rule in many ways. The fact that many Greek cities formed, of their own free will, into powerful leagues such as the Achaean and Aetolian, perhaps shows that they felt that being under the sway of a much larger power

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