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More Commerce and Greek Culture

Alexander's conquests had stimulated trade from the border of India to as far west as what is now the French port city of Marseille, with Greek as its common language. A common currency had developed, as had new roads that made transport easier.

With the increase in trade had come expanded mining, manufacturing and shipbuilding. Freight carrying ships were built much larger, up to five tons in size, using methods of construction first applied to warships. In the 200s BCE, Egypt's port city of Alexandria became a center of imports and manufacturing. The Egyptians and Phoenicians produced and traded cotton cloth, and the Egyptians produced silk, paper, glass, jewelry, cosmetics, salt, wine and beer. In West Asia (the Mid-East), large workshops appeared alongside the small family stores that were common, and there the manufacture of woolens increased, along with asphalt, petroleum, carpets, perfumes, bleach and pain relieving drugs.

Model of the city of Pergamum

Model of the city of Pergamum. model of the city of Pergamum

Across what had been Alexander's empire, at least a few privately owned businesses grew into large enterprises. With the increase in circulation of money, credit became more sophisticated. Money-changing grew into banking. By the 100s BCE, thirty-five Hellenistic cities would include private banks. note8 Private banks would be making loans. The use of checks would appear, and people could deposit their savings for safekeeping and collect interest, which was around ten to twelve percent annually. Many aristocrats – traditionally landowners – gave up their contempt for trade and enterprise and enthusiastically joined in the accumulation of wealth.

In West Asia and North Africa well-to-do tradesmen, intellectuals and aristocrats developed an interest in Greek culture – to the annoyance of those who believed that the old ways were best. From Marseille to India, Greek became the language of intellectuals. The Greek gymnasium became popular. It was a place for bathing and physical exercise – without clothes for the sake of freedom of movement in their exercises. The gymnasium was also a place for training in grammar, rhetoric and poetry. Those who passed through training at the gymnasium acquired a status similar to a modern college degree.

There was an increase in the migrations of individuals from city to city and from the countryside to the city. Individualism was replacing tribal ties, and a new cosmopolitanism was rising.

Among city governments was a greater desire for cooperation with other cities, such as offering other cities freedom from import and export duties to encourage trade. Cities began offering other cities exchanges of citizenship. This occurred first between Athens and Rhodes, then between the Peloponnesian cities of Messene and Phigalia. The island of Paros offered  exchanges of citizenship, as did Pergamum, Temnos, Miletus and others. Conflicts that previously might have erupted into war were now more inclined toward arbitration, with the arbiters often a commission from a third city.

Common legal formalities appeared among various cities. And, in place of trial by local juries, an inter-city system developed in which commissions came from other cities to hear cases and settle lawsuits that would otherwise have been subject to local prejudices, politics and passions.

An interest in science, art and literature increased. Rulers saw no threat in it, and they let it be. Some people read seriously, and many, including wives of the wealthy, read escapist works about life in the countryside with shepherds, shepherdesses, wooded valleys and true love.

Libraries collected serious works and grew in number. Pergamum had a great library. The library at Alexandria, Egypt, which opened in 283 BCE, became the most famous. It was to accumulate as many as four hundred thousand scrolls and several thousand original works and copies, and it had a scientific museum that attracted people from afar. The academy that Plato had founded still flourished, and Athens remained a famous center of philosophy, but Pergamum and Alexandria eclipsed Athens as intellectual and commercial centers.

The observation of fact was becoming widely recognized as important, and science was studied divorced from philosophy and metaphysics. People trained for various professions, including engineering and medicine. In medicine, corpses were dissected and studied. Doctors discovered the difference between motor nerves and sensory nerves, and for various parts of the body they created names that would be used into modern times. Specialists advanced the study of plants and herbs. Manuals were written on agriculture and farm management. In Alexandria, Euclid contributed to geometry by creating a system of proofs based on deduction.

Stimulated by what had been Alexander's expedition into Asia, map making and a study of geography improved. Pytheas of Massalia (Marseille) voyaged up the coast of Britain to Norway or Jutland and became the first Greek to hear of what today is called the Arctic Sea. One map maker, Eratosthenes (c273-194?) described the world as round and gave a reasonable figure as its circumference.

Philosophers and common people continued to believe that the sun revolved around the earth and that the earth was at the center of the moving heavenly bodies, but Hellenized astronomers began challenging these views. Astronomers calculated the movements of the sun, moon and planets with greater accuracy. Heraclides of Pontus (390-310) had discovered that the planets Venus and Mercury revolved around the sun. Then Aristarchus of Samos (310-c230) concluded that the sun was much larger than the earth, that the earth revolved around the sun and that the distance to the stars was enormous compared to the diameter of the earth's orbit around the sun. And other astronomers confirmed his views.

In the field of mechanics, Aristotle's school made advances in understanding levers, balances and wedges. In the mid 200s a Greek from Syracuse named Archimedes (287-212 BCE) worked on the relative densities of bodies and the theoretical principles of levers. He invented the ratio pi, the circuference of a circle compared to its diameter.  And he invented numerous mechanical contrivances, including machines used in war.


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