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civilizations in which there is a great deal of wealth, luxury, and easy living. Despite the division of the empire, the Alexandrian legacy constituted a vast free trade zone from the Indus to the Nile, and there was much commerce in ideas and religious values as well as goods. Hindus and Buddhists, for instance, travelled to Egypt, and it is very possible that there was an Indian component in Western esotericism. At the same time, Greek cultural influences and philosophical ideas found their way to the east, to the Kushan Empire which embraced what is now Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Hellenistic civilization was further enriched by the release into the economy of the vast gold and silver treasure of the Persian kings which enhanced prosperity, and especially, the rise of an international commercial class. Hellenistic civilization, however, was not based on a free market, but was closer to what today would be called socialism. Many of the most successful enterprises were state owned, as were many of the vast estates confiscated from the conquered Persians and their allies. All of this resulted in a system of large-scale production unprecedented in Western history, although much the same system also flourished in the China of the Han Dynasty during the same general time period, and also in the Buddhist Indian Empire founded by Asoka. Further west, the same system was rising in Rome, then engaged in the conquest of Italy, Sicily, and a life-and-death struggle with Carthage, formerly a Phoenician colony in what is now Tunisia in North Africa.

The principal language spoken throughout the Hellenistic world was Koine, a form of Greek. The books of the New Testament were written in this language, the lingua franca of the Near East. For example, Jews of the diaspora, that is to say, those who lived outside Palestine, spoke Greek. Most had forgotten Hebrew, as had the vast majority of Am ha aretz, the common people of Palestine. Jesus, his disciples, and other Palestinian Jews instead spoke Aramaic, a language with Syriac and Hebraic roots which is still spoken in a few isolated communities in Syria. Hebrew was the sacred language of religious services in the temple and synagogue (a Greek term), and the language of the Torah (the Pentateuch or first five books of the Bible), the most sacred of the Jewish scriptures. Many Jews outside Palestine had little or no knowledge of it.


In the course of his conquests, Alexander visited Egypt, where he was worshipped as a god. Subsequently, Deinokratis of Rhodes, a Greek builder of towns, went to the Delta of the Nile and laid out a proposed city on the site of a pirate village. Alexander approved of his plans, and city-building was begun in April of 332 B.C.E. Deinokratis, perhaps, chose the location because of the offshore island of Pharos mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey. The Heptastadion (“eight stades” or one mile) bridge linked Pharos to the mainland, and also separated the east and west harbors.

Alexandria was laid out on the grid plan, with a wide avenue which ran from the Sun Gate in the east to the Moon Gate in the west. Much of the city was built of marble. The gleaming white walls of the city were blindingly bright by day, and brilliantly silver at night. It was said that a tailor could thread his needle in the

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