Hellenization (or Hellenisation) is a term used to describe the spread of Greek culture. It is mainly used to describe the spread of Hellenistic civilization during the Hellenistic period following the campaigns of Alexander the Great of Macedon.
The term is used in a number of other ancient historical contexts, starting with the Hellenization of the earliest inhabitants of Greece such as the Pelasgians, the Leleges, the Lemnians, the Eteocypriots in Cyprus, Eteocretans and Minoans in Crete (prior to Classical antiquity), as well as the Sicels, Elymians, Sicani in Sicily and the Oenotrians, Brutii, Lucani, Messapii and many others in territories constituting Magna Graecia.
During the Hellenistic period, following the death of Alexander the Great, considerable numbers of Assyrians, Jews, Egyptians, Persians, Parthians, Armenians and a number of other ethnic groups along the Middle East and Central Asia were Hellenized. The Bactrians, an Iranian ethnic group who lived in Bactria (northern Afghanistan), were hellenized during the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom, and soon after various tribes in northwestern regions of the Indian subcontinent (modern Pakistan) during the Indo-Greek Kingdom. There also was hellenization of Thracians, Dardanians, Paionians and Illyrians south of the Jireček Line.
Of course, Hellenization during the Hellenistic period had its limitations. Case in point, areas of southern Syria that were affected by Greek culture mostly entailed Seleucid urban centers where Greek was commonly spoken. The countryside, on the other hand, was largely unaffected since most of its inhabitants spoke Syriac and continued to maintain their native traditions. Moreover, Hellenization did not necessarily involve assimilation of non-Greek ethnic groups since Hellenistic Greeks in regions such as Asia Minor were conscious of their ancestral lineages.
Hellenization can also refer to the Byzantine Empire and Constantine's founding of Constantinople. Moreover, it can refer to the primacy of Greek culture and the Greek language after the reign of Emperor Heraclius in the 7th century.
A disputed modern use is in connection with policies pursuing 'cultural harmonization and education of the linguistic minorities resident within the modern Greek state' (the Hellenic Republic), i.e. the Hellenization of minority groups in modern Greece.
- Quiles, Carlos. A Grammar of Modern Indo-European. Carlos Quiles Casas, 2007, ISBN 8461176391, p. 76. "Most of the Thracians were eventually Hellenised - in the province of Thrace - or Romanized - Moesia, Dacia, etc. -, with the last remnants surviving in remote areas until the 5th century."
- Stanley M. Burstein, Walter Donlan, Jennifer Tolbert Roberts, and Sarah B. Pomeroy. A Brief History of Ancient Greece: Politics, Society, and Culture. Oxford University Press, p. 255.
- Boyce, Mary and Grenet, Frantz. A History of Zoroastrianism, Vol. 3: Zoroastrianism under Macedonian and Roman Rule BRILL, 1975, ISBN 9004092714, p. 353. "South Syria was thus a comparatively late addition to the Seleucid empire, whose heartland was North Syria. Here Seleucus himself created four cities—his capital of Antiochia-on-the-Orontes, and Apamea, Seleucia and Laodicia—all new foundations with a European citizen body. Twelve other Hellenistic cities are known there, and the Seleucid army was largely based in this region, either garrisoning its towns or settled as reservists in military colonies. Hellenization, although intensive, seems in the main to have been confined to these urban centers, where Greek was commonly spoken. The country people appear to have been little affected by the cultural change, and continued to speak Syriac and to follow their traditional ways. Despite its political importance, little is known of Syria under Macedonian rule, and even the process of hellenization is mainly to be traced in the one community which has preserved some records from this time, namely the Jews of South Syria."
- Isaac, Benjamin H. The Invention of Racism in Classical Antiquity. Princeton University Press, 2004, ISBN 0691125988, p. 144. "Apparently the best and most pleasing compliment one could pay to a Hellenistic establishment in Asia Minor was to insist on the lineage of its ancestors: they were not a city of nondescript migrants but of Greeks and Macedonians of true blood. Once again, we see that such views were very common, but there were critics."
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