THE conquest of the Persian empire by Alexander the Great resulted in a great enlargement of the Greek horizon. The foundation of new cities on the Greek model at many places in Egypt and in Asia spread Greek ideas and ideals over a wide area. On the other hand, the Greeks were brought into closer contact than before with the older civilizations of the East and were inevitably affected by them. The result was a development less strictly Greek in spirit, and the term Hellenistic is used to distinguish it from the pure Greek or Hellenic culture of earlier days.
One notable change is that the most important cities were no longer Athens, Corinth, and Sparta, but new centres in the East, like Alexandria in Egypt, which Alexander himself founded, or Antioch on the Orontes, founded by Seleucus as the capital of his Syrian kingdom and named for his father Antiochus; or they were old Greek cities of Asia Minor, like Pergamon and Rhodes, which rose to new importance as a result of the eastward shift of the centre of gravity in the Greek world. In a broad sense, since much of the art of Rome was based on Greek models, all the art of later antiquity was Hellenistic, but the name Hellenistic period is better confined to the years 323 to 146 B.C., that is, from the death of Alexander to the capture of Corinth by Mummius, as a result of which old Greece became a Roman province. The years between the capture of Corinth and the establishment of the imperial form of government in Rome ( 146-27 B.C.) are equally part of the Hellenistic period (see Chronological Outline) but have also been named the Graeco-Roman period, in the sense that art of this time is still largely Greek, but more and more influenced by Roman ideas.
Among the novelties that appear in the Hellenistic period the most striking is an increasing realism, which often led to exaggeration, as the artist tried to exhibit his exact knowledge of anatomy. This tendency may perhaps be associated with the growing interest in science, which is one of the interesting developments of the Hellenistic age. A natural result of the realistic tendency is that portraits play a greater part in the art of the time than in the earlier centuries. But some of the masters, perhaps as a protest against the new realism, imitated and even exaggerated the idealizing works of the fifth and the fourth centuries. And in the Graeco-Roman period, a whole group of sculptors consciously imitated the monuments of the great age and even of the