Alexander's conquests changed forever the world the Greeks knew. From citizens of minuscule city-states on the fringes of the Persian empire, the Greeks had become partners in the rule of a vast territory that stretched from the Mediterranean to the borders of India. This enormous "cosmopolis" (literally, "a city- state comprising the world") was unified by the use of Greek as the common language of government and culture and by the creation of islands of Greek culture in settlements scattered throughout this broad area. The cosmopolis served as a huge arena for the military and political struggles of Alexander's successors. Against this bloody backdrop, ordinary people, both Greeks and their subjects, attempted to retain traditional values while making innovations that enabled them to live in a world that was vastly different from that of their grandparents.
The Macedonian conquest ended the Greek world known today as Classical. Classical Greece certainly set standards in a number of areas, such as sculpture, architecture, philosophy, and political theory, that continue to shape the direction of western culture even today. The modern world, however, is sharply different from the narrow and intensely political universe of the polis; in many respects its closest affiliation is with the era we call Hellenistic.
The Hellenistic period spans the three centuries from the death of Alexander in 323 BC to the death of Cleopatra VII of Egypt in 30 BC. This period witnessed the attempts of people from different cultures to build communities in ways that would have been unthinkable in the age of the purely Hellenic polis. In many ways, the challenges of the Hellenistic age anticipated those faced by modern im-