chapter  1
32 Pages

Approaches and sources

The period name ‘hellenistic’ is one of the most frequently discussed terms in the study of the ancient world.1 It derives from the ancient Greek verb hellênizô, ‘I behave like a Greek’, ‘I adopt Greek ways’, or ‘I speak Greek’, and therefore ultimately from the Greeks’ name for themselves, Hellênes. It is however, a modern coinage, based on the term Hellenismus, which the midnineteenth-century Prussian historian J. G. Droysen employed to describe the period when the spread of Greek culture to parts of the non-Greek world was given new impetus by the invasion of Asia by Alexander.2 Droysen’s work focused attention on the period as a distinctive phase of Greek culture;3 sweeping views of a distinctive, unified hellenistic world-culture appear in more or less explicit forms in such magisterial treatments as those by Kaerst4 and Beloch,5 and are occasionally met with even now.6