Alexander’s empire was a fragile one, not destined to survive for long. After he died in 323 B.C., his generals (known as the Diadochoi) divided his conquered lands amongst themselves. Soon, those fragments of the Alexandrian empire had become three powerful dynasties: the Seleucids of Syria and Persia, the Ptolemies of Egypt and the Antigonids of Greece and Macedonia.
Though these dynasties were not politically united–since Alexander’s death, they were no longer part of any Greek or Macedonian empire–they did share a great deal in common. It is these commonalities, the essential “Greek-ness” of the disparate parts of the Alexandrian world–that historians refer to when they talk about the Hellenistic Age.
The Hellenistic states were ruled absolutely by kings. (By contrast, the classical Greek city-states, or polei, had been governed democratically by their citizens.) These kings had a cosmopolitan view of the world, and were particularly interested in amassing as many of its riches as they could. As a result, they worked hard to cultivate commercial relationships throughout the Hellenistic world. They imported ivory, gold, ebony, pearls, cotton, spices and sugar (for medicine) from India; furs and iron from the Far East; wine from Syria and Chios; papyrus, linen and glass from Alexandria; olive oil from Athens; dates and prunes from Babylon and Damaskos; silver from Spain; copper from Cyprus; and tin from as far north as Cornwall and Brittany.
They also put their wealth on display for all to see, building elaborate palaces and commissioning art, sculptures and extravagant jewelry. They made huge donations to museums and zoos and they sponsored libraries (the famous libraries at Alexandria and Pergamon, for instance) and universities. The university at Alexandria was home to the mathematicians Euclid, Apollonios and Archimedes, along with the inventors Ktesibios (the water clock) and Heron (the model steam engine).