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Introduction to the Fourth Century

This section of the Historical Overview continues the history of Greece in the Classical period during the fourth century. Its chronological end falls in 323 B.C., the death of the Macedonian king Alexander the Great. This date is conventionally fixed as the end of the Classical period and the beginning of the Hellenistic period (which is not covered in the Historical Overview). On this traditional scheme of reckoning the Hellenistic period is made to reach until 30 B.C., the death of Cleopatra VII, queen of Egypt and the last descendant of the Macedonian royal house. In the Hellenistic period Rome became the foremost power in the Mediterranean region and eventually made Greece a Roman province.

The city-states of Greece had already been overshadowed as international powers by the rise of the kingdom of Macedonia under Philip II and his son Alexander in the latter half of the fourth century, and after Alexander's death in 323 the Hellenistic kingdoms that sprang up to control what had been his short-lived empire continued to dominate the Greek world in terms of military and economic power. The basic institutions of the Greek city-state remained in place, however, in the Hellenistic period, and in many respects little changed in the lives of the majority of Greeks— those who worked on the land. The story of Greece in the fourth century— a continuing tale of disunity and strife— provides the background for the loss of political and military dominance by the Greek city-states to the warrior society of Macedonia and its successor kingdoms.

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