The best books about the Hellenistic age

1 authors have picked their favorite books about the Hellenistic age and why they recommend each book.

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Athens from Alexander to Antony

By Christian Habicht, Deborah Lucas Schneider,

Book cover of Athens from Alexander to Antony

The late Christian Habicht was one of the foremost authorities on Hellenistic Greece. His book is both a synthesis of his research and publications on this period and an incisive and in-depth narrative of Athens down to 30 BC, anchored in the ancient, especially inscriptional, evidence. He shows among other things how Athens remained a vital city in Greece and how its intellectual and social life continued to flourish but how limited its democracy was. Habicht’s book could not take into account recent and much-needed epigraphical publications of the city’s major state decrees and laws and new insights into chronology, but it is still an indispensable read.

Who am I?

Ian Worthington, FSA, FRHistS, is a Professor of Ancient History at Macquarie University, and has written and edited 21 books and over 100 articles on Greek history, oratory, and epigraphy. He also has a Great Courses DVD and CD course titled The Long Shadow of the Ancient Greek World. Away from academic work, he is addicted to reality TV and is an unpaid taxi driver for his two children.

I wrote...

Athens After Empire: A History from Alexander the Great to the Emperor Hadrian

By Ian Worthington,

Book cover of Athens After Empire: A History from Alexander the Great to the Emperor Hadrian

What is my book about?

What was Athens’ place in the long Hellenistic period (323-30 BC), during which the Mediterranean world open up to the east like never before and Greek culture spread as far afield as India? Usually post-classical Athens is viewed as a postscript to its great classical self, a dreary picture of decline and fall. I argue that view is wrong. Athens continued to be a vibrant city, respected in the Greek world and by the Romans, who appropriated aspects of its culture for their own civilization. Later Athens should no longer live in the shadow of its famous forerunner.

The Therapy of Desire

By Martha C. Nussbaum,

Book cover of The Therapy of Desire: Theory and Practice in Hellenistic Ethics

Each chapter in this book wrestles with central themes of Hellenistic Philosophy, which includes Stoicism, but also Epicureanism and Skepticism. The essays are wonderfully written, and deal with pressing eternal problems, such as the political significance of anger, and the nature and pitfalls of physical pleasure. Dr. Nussbaum relates the Stoics and other Hellenistic philosophers to pressing contemporary issues and concerns.

Who am I?

I have always loved the Stoics, from the first time I read Seneca. I appreciate that they seek to speak to a wider audience than most philosophers, on issues that concern many: happiness, anxiety, pain, loss. The Stoics were wonderful writers, whose influence has been manifest throughout western philosophy. And they extended their expertise beyond the academy, and were very involved in politics. Seneca was the advisor to the emperor Nero; Cicero, who dabbled in Stoicism, was perhaps the most famous senator of Rome. Marcus Aurelius was emperor. 

I wrote...

Life After Privacy: Reclaiming Democracy in a Surveillance Society

By Firmin Debrabander,

Book cover of Life After Privacy: Reclaiming Democracy in a Surveillance Society

What is my book about?

Privacy is gravely endangered in the digital age, and we, the digital citizens, are its principal threat, willingly surrendering it to avail ourselves of new technology, and granting the government and corporations immense power over us. In this highly original work, Firmin DeBrabander begins with this premise and asks how we can ensure and protect our freedom in the absence of privacy. Can--and should--we rally anew to support this institution? Is privacy so important to political liberty after all? DeBrabander makes the case that privacy is a poor foundation for democracy, that it is a relatively new value that has been rarely enjoyed throughout history--but constantly persecuted--and politically and philosophically suspect. The vitality of the public realm, he argues, is far more significant to the health of our democracy, but is equally endangered--and often overlooked--in the digital age.

The Ancient Mysteries

By Marvin W. Meyer (editor),

Book cover of The Ancient Mysteries: A Sourcebook of Sacred Texts

For those wishing to dig a little deeper into the topic, Marvin Meyer’s The Ancient Mysteries is a key sourcebook for both the serious researcher and the curious amateur alike. For each of the major mystery cults of antiquity - the Rites of Eleusis, those of Isis and Osiris, Dionysus, Mithras, and others - Meyer has collected every pertinent classical reference to provide ready access to contemporary sources relevant to understanding each of the cults. 

Who am I?

For longer than I can remember I have been fascinated by ancient civilizations, earth mysteries, cave art, magic, mythology, and shamanism. As an author, my research and writing continues to be inspired by these interests. I specialise in the ethnography of sacred landscapes and rituals; and more generally in esotericism, consciousness, and healing. My non-fiction is published by Inner Traditions and Scarlet Imprint; literary prose and poetry by Corbel Stone Press and Paralibrum. My essays on energy healing have appeared in the peer-reviewed Paranthropology Journal and the Journal of Exceptional Experiences and Psychology as well as on my page.

I wrote...

Mystai: Dancing out the Mysteries of Dionysos

By Peter Mark Adams,

Book cover of Mystai: Dancing out the Mysteries of Dionysos

What is my book about?

The two-thousand-year-old Dionysian-themed frescoes of Pompeii’s Villa of the Mysteries are the only surviving depiction of the secret rites of a Greco-Roman mystery cult. Mystai leads the reader, step by step, in a process of patient detective work to decode the clues embedded in the imagery and reveal the lost secrets of the initiatory process. Lavishly illustrated, Mystai includes full-colour reproductions of the recently restored frescoes and related artefacts that illuminate key aspects of the ritual process.

Who am I?

In my series on Ways of the World, my aim is to let the founder of each way tell us of their way in their words: the destination that they suggest we all seek; the directions that they offer to help us to reach the destination, and the strategies that they offer to help us to successfully follow their directions. I find it marvelous that we can listen to people, such as Epictetus, who lived thousands of years ago; people whose words can help us to improve our ways. You would be right if you have guessed that the books I recommend are primary sources.

I wrote...

Exploring the Way of Epictetus: His Destination, Directions, and Strategies

By Gary W. Cross,

Book cover of Exploring the Way of Epictetus: His Destination, Directions, and Strategies

What is my book about?

Epictetus was born a slave in Hierapolis (in present-day Turkey). He studied Stoic philosophy while still a slave. After attaining his freedom, he taught philosophy in Rome before being banished by Emperor Domitian (along with other philosophers) in 89 CE.  Epictetus went to Nicopolis (in present-day Greece) where he continued to teach philosophy. I suggest it is to Epictetus that we must turn to best understand the way of the Stoic. 

Age of Conquests

By Angelos Chaniotis,

Book cover of Age of Conquests: The Greek World from Alexander to Hadrian

The later period of Greek history, after the conquests of Alexander the Great, is considerably less well known that the history of Classical Greece, but it was a fascinating period that radically changed the society and culture of the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. This book covers the period of Alexander's conquests, the fragmentation of his empire into multiple kingdoms after his death, and the Roman conquest and domination of the Greek world.

It outlines the rise and fall of dynasties and kingdoms, the Roman conquest, and the transformation of the region, firstly by the Greek culture promoted by Alexander and his successors, and then by Roman rule. It provides an accessible and informative narrative of a period in which the Middle East and Greek world underwent transformational changes.

Who am I?

I have a lifelong fascination for history and archaeology. Following a degree in Ancient History and Archaeology (University of Edinburgh), and a brief period as a field archaeologist, I undertook a PhD (University of Newcastle) researching the history of Greek settlement in southern Italy. My subsequent career has been devoted to the study of ancient Italy and Sicily, with a specific focus on the development of ethnic and cultural identities, and the formation of urban societies. I have held posts at several UK universities, including research fellowships at UCL, a lectureship at the University of Newcastle, and I am currently a part-time lecturer and Honorary Fellow at the University of Durham.

I wrote...

The Rise of Rome: From the Iron Age to the Punic Wars

By Kathryn Lomas,

Book cover of The Rise of Rome: From the Iron Age to the Punic Wars

What is my book about?

In the late Iron Age, Rome was a small collection of huts arranged over a few hills. By the third century BC, it had become a large and powerful city, with monumental temples, public buildings, and grand houses. It had conquered the whole of Italy and was poised to establish an empire. But how did it accomplish this historic transformation?

This book explores the development of Rome during this period, and the nature of its control over Italy, considering why and how the Romans achieved this spectacular dominance. For Rome was only one of a number of emerging centres of power during this period. From its complex forms of government to its innovative connections with other states, Kathryn Lomas shows what set Rome apart. Examining the context and impact of the city's dominance, as well as the key political, social, and economic changes it engendered, this is crucial reading for anyone interested in Ancient Rome.

Ancient Greece

By Paul Cartledge,

Book cover of Ancient Greece: A Very Short Introduction

This is an outstanding short introduction to Greek history – with a really neat gimmick. Instead of writing a standard kind of history, Cartledge picks on the eleven most prominent cities of ancient Greece and writes up their story in about ten or twelve pages. But the chapters are also organized chronologically, so that the first two cities, Cnossos and Mycenae, illustrate Greek prehistory. Then we move on to the Archaic Period (four places, including Sparta), then the Classical Period (three, including Athens), and then the Hellenistic period (one: Alexandria, the greatest city in the world before Rome). He ends with a leap into late antiquity and the eastern Roman empire with Byzantium. I’m always on the lookout for books that can turn people on to Greek history, get them to share my (and Cartledge’s) passion: this one does it brilliantly.

Who am I?

I’m a British scholar – a former university lecturer, many moons ago – now living in rural southern Greece. In fact, I have Greek as well as UK citizenship, which really pleases me because I’ve loved Greece and things Greek since boyhood. I started to learn ancient Greek at the age of ten! I’ve written over fifty books, mostly on ancient Greek history and philosophy, including many volumes of translations from ancient Greek. But I’ve also written children’s fiction in the form of gamebooks, a biography, a book on hypnosis, a retelling of the Greek myths (with my wife Kathryn) ... I’ll stop there!

I wrote...

Creators, Conquerors, and Citizens: A History of Ancient Greece

By Robin Waterfield,

Book cover of Creators, Conquerors, and Citizens: A History of Ancient Greece

What is my book about?

I had two main objectives in writing the book. In recent decades, there has been a great deal of movement in the various disciplines that fuel such a book – history, archaeology, art history, and so on – and it was time to catch the general reading public up with ancient Greece’s new look. So my book is, firstly, an accessible and up-to-date history of ancient Greece from about 750 BCE to 30 BCE. But, secondly, I raised the question: seeing that the Greeks recognized themselves as kin, as all Greeks together, why were they so often at war with one another? Why did it take them so long to achieve any degree of unity, and what factors brought it about? I’ve written the book as a chronological history, and the issues relating to these questions are a kind of golden thread throughout the book. 

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