Why has the Hellenistic Age been neglected by historians?


The Hellenistic period has traditionally
been rather neglected by ancient historians. This seems to me a bit
bizarre – it’s a fantastically exciting period. I think one of the reasons for that is
that we don’t have for the Hellenistic period the kinds of continuous narrative
histories that we’re used to having for both earlier and later periods of ancient
history. So for the late archaic period, the
sixth, and early fifth centuries BC, we have the histories of Herodotus of Halicarnassus;
for the fifth century BC, we have a magnificent history of Thucydides; and
then once one gets into the late Roman Republic and the Roman Imperial period, we
have Livy and Tacitus and other narrative historians to work with. For the
Hellenistic period, of course there were some narrative histories of the
period in antiquity but none of these survive. So we have very little basis on which to
create a narrative history of political and military developments in the
Hellenistic period. I think that’s one of the reasons why
this period has traditionally been rather neglected by modern scholars because
simply creating that kind of chronological political spine for the
for the period is much more difficult for earlier or later periods. But that
also provides opportunities. We have a fantastically rich body of material
evidence for the period: archaeological sites stretching say from the Western
Mediterranean out to India, fantastically rich coinage, huge numbers
of inscriptions on stone, literary texts – some of them
very exciting and thought provoking – but relatively little of this kind of
what we might call “traditional political military history” that one has for other ancient periods.

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