Many worked on the royal family’s huge estates, but free peasants still worked their own small plots in addition to laboring for wealthy landowners. Rural people rose with the sun and began work- ing before the heat became unbearable, raising the same kinds of crops and animals as their ancestors had with the same simple hand tools. Perhaps as many as 80 percent of all adult men and women had to work the land to produce enough food to sustain the population. Poverty often meant hunger, even in fertile lands such as Egypt. In cities, poor women and men could work as small mer- chants, peddlers, and artisans, producing and sell- ing goods such as tools, pottery, clothing, and furniture. Men could sign on as deckhands on the merchant ships that sailed the Mediterranean Sea and Indian Ocean.
Many country people in the Seleucid and Ptolemaic kingdoms existed in a state of depend- ency between free and slave. The peoples, as they were called, were tenants who farmed the estates belonging to the king. Although they could not be sold like slaves, they were not allowed to move away or abandon their tenancies. They owed a large quota of produce to the king, and this com- pulsory rent gave these tenant farmers little chance to escape poverty.
Women’s Lives. Hellenistic women’s social and political status depended on their rank in the king- dom’s hierarchy. Hellenistic queens commanded enormous riches and honors. The kingdoms but- tressed their legitimacy from the female as well as the male side. Hellenistic queens exercised power as the representatives of distinguished families, the mothers of a line of royal descendants, and patrons of artists, thinkers, and even cities. Later Ptolemaic queens essentially co-ruled with their husbands. Queens ruled on their own when no male heir ex- isted. For example, Arsinoe II (c. 316–270 B.C.E.), the daughter of Ptolemy I, first married the Mace- donian successor Lysimachus, who gave her four towns as her personal domain. After his death she married her brother Ptolemy II of Egypt and exerted at least as much influence on policy as he did. The virtues publicly praised in a queen reflected traditional Greek values for women. A city decree from about 165 B.C.E. honored Queen Apollonis of Pergamum by praising her piety to- ward the gods, reverence toward her parents, dis- tinguished conduct toward her husband, and harmonious relations with her “beautiful children born in wedlock.”
Some queens paid special attention to the con- dition of women. About 195 B.C.E., for example, the Seleucid queen Laodice gave a ten-year endow-
ment to a city to provide dowries for needy girls. That Laodice funded dowries shows that she recognized the importance to women of controlling property, the surest guarantee of respect in their households.
Most women remained under the con- trol of men. “Who can judge better than a father what is to his daughter’s interest?” remained the dominant creed of fa- thers; once a woman married, the words husband and wife re- placed father and daughter. Most of the time, elite women continued to be separated from men outside of their families, while poor women still worked in public. Greeks continued to abandon infants they did not want to raise— girls more often than boys — but other populations, such as the Egyptians and the Jews, did not practice abandonment, or infant exposure. Expo- sure differed from infanticide in that the parents expected someone to find the child and rear it, usually as a slave. A third-century B.C.E. comic poet overstated the case by saying, “A son, one always raises even if one is poor; a daughter, one exposes, even if one is rich.” Daughters of wealthy parents were not usually abandoned, but scholars have es- timated that up to 10 percent of other infant girls were.
In some ways, women achieved greater con- trol over their lives in the Hellenistic period than before. A woman of exceptional wealth could en- ter public life by making donations or loans to her city and in return be rewarded with an official post
The Hellenistic Kingdoms, 323– 30 B . C . E . 119400–30 b.c .e .
Egyptian-Style Statue of Queen Arsinoe II Arsinoe II (c. 316–270 B.C.E.), daughter of Alexander’s general Ptolemy, was one of the most remarkable women of the Hellenistic period. After surviving twenty-five years of dynastic intrigue and family murders, she married her brother Ptolemy II. Hailed as Philadelphoi (“Brother- Loving”), the couple set a precedent for brother-sister marriages in the Ptolemaic dynasty that ruled Egypt until the death of Cleopatra VII in 30 B.C.E. Arsinoe was the first Ptolemaic ruler whose image was placed in Egyptian temples as a “temple- sharing goddess.” This eight-foot-tall red granite statue portrays Arsinoe in the traditional sculptural style of the pharaohs. Why would a Hellenistic queen wish to be depicted in traditional Egyptian royal style? (© Vatican Museums.)
in local government. In Egypt, women acquired greater say in married life because marriage con- tracts (see Chapter 3, “Contrasting Views,” page 85) evolved from an agreement between the bride’s parents and the groom to one in which the bride made her own arrangements with the groom.
The Wealthy. Rich people showed increasing concern for the welfare of the less fortunate dur- ing the Hellenistic period. They were following the lead of the royal families, who emphasized philan- thropy to build a reputation for generosity that would buttress their legitimacy. Sometimes wealthy citizens funded a foundation to distribute free grain to eliminate food shortages, and they also funded schools for children in various Hellenistic cities. In some places, girls as well as boys could attend school. Many cities also began sponsoring doctors to improve medical care: patients still had to pay, but at least they could count on finding a doctor.
The donors funding these services were repaid by the respect and honor they earned from their fellow citizens. Philanthropy even touched inter- national relations. When an earthquake devastated Rhodes, many cities joined kings and queens in sending donations to help the residents recover. In return, they showered honors on their benefactors by appointing them to prestigious municipal of- fices and erecting inscriptions expressing the city’s gratitude. In this system, the masses’ welfare de- pended more and more on the voluntary generos- ity of the rich; without democracy, the poor had no political power to demand support.
The End of the Hellenistic Kingdoms All the Hellenistic kingdoms eventually fell to the Romans. Rome repeatedly intervened in the squab- bles of the Greek city-states to try to maintain peace on its eastern frontier, causing wars that established Roman dominance over the Antigonid kingdom by the middle of the second century B.C.E.
The Seleucid kingdom fell to the Romans in 64 B.C.E. The Ptolemaic kingdom in Egypt survived a bit longer. By the 50s B.C.E., its royal family had split into warring factions; the resulting disunity and weakness forced the rivals for the throne to seek Roman support. The end came when the fa- mous queen Cleopatra, the last Macedonian to rule Egypt, chose the losing side in the civil war between Mark Antony and the future emperor Au- gustus in the late first century B.C.E. An invading Roman army ended Ptolemaic rule in 30 B.C.E. Rome thus became the heir to all the Hellenistic kingdoms (see Mapping the West, page 130).
Review: What were the political and social structures of the new Hellenistic kingdoms?
Hellenistic Culture Hellenistic culture reflected three principal influ- ences: the overwhelming impact of royal wealth, increased emphasis on private life and emotion, and greater interaction of diverse peoples. The kings drove developments in literature, art, sci- ence, and philosophy by deciding which scholars and artists to put on the royal payroll. Their obli- gation to the kings meant that authors and artists did not have freedom to criticize public policy; their works therefore concentrated on everyday life and individual emotion.
Cultural interaction between Greek and Near Eastern traditions occurred most prominently in language and religion. These developments deeply influenced the Romans as they took over the Hel- lenistic world; the Roman poet Horace (65–8 B.C.E.) described the effect of Hellenistic culture on his own by saying that “captive Greece captured its fierce victor.”
The Arts under Royal Patronage Hellenistic kings became the patrons of scholar- ship and the arts on a vast scale, competing with one another to lure the best scholars and artists to their capitals with lavish salaries. They funded in- tellectuals and artists because they wanted to boost their reputations by having these famous people produce books, poems, sculptures, and other pres- tigious creations at their courts.
The Ptolemies turned Alexandria into the Mediterranean’s leading arts and sciences center, establishing the world’s first scholarly research in- stitute and a massive library. The librarians were instructed to collect all the books in the world. The library grew to hold half a million scrolls, an enor- mous number for the time. Linked to it was the building in which the hired research scholars dined together and produced encyclopedias of knowl- edge such as The Wonders of the World and On the Rivers of Europe. We still use the name of the re- search institute’s building, the Museum (“place of the Muses,” the Greek goddesses of learning and the arts), to designate institutions preserving knowledge. The Alexandrian scholars produced prodigiously. Their champion was the scholar Didymus (c. 80–10 B.C.E.), nicknamed “Brass Bowels” for writing nearly four thousand books
120 Chapter 4 ■ From the Cl a ssic al to the Hellenistic World 400–30 b.c .e .
comic poet, noted for his skill in depicting human personality (see “New Sources, New Perspectives,” page 124). Hellenistic tragedy could take a multi- cultural approach: Ezechiel, a Jew living in Alexan- dria, wrote Exodus, a tragedy in Greek about Moses leading the Hebrews out of captivity in Egypt.
Emotion in Sculpture and Painting. Hellenistic sculptors and painters also featured emotions in their works. Classical artists had given their sub- jects’ faces an idealized serenity, but now sculptures depicted personal feelings. A sculpture from Perga- mum (below), for example, commemorating the Attalid victory over invading Gauls (one of the
Hellenistic Culture 121400–30 b.c .e .
epigrams: Short poems written by women in the Hel- lenistic Age; many were about other women and the writer’s personal feelings.
Dying Barbarians Hellenistic artists excelled in portraying emotional scenes, such as this murder-suicide of a Celtic warrior who is slaying himself after killing his wife, to prevent their capture by the enemy. (Celtic women followed their men to the battlefield.) The original was in bronze, forming part
of a large sculptural group that Attalus I (r. 241–197 B.C.E.) erected at Pergamum to commemorate his victory over these barbarian raiders. Why did Attalus celebrate his victory by erecting a monument portraying the defeated enemy as brave and noble? (Erich Lessing/ Art Resource, NY.)