The Hellenistic period

The Hellenistic period – 323 BC – 30 BC

In 333 BC, Alexander the Great conquered Syria and Israel after two hundred years of the Persian Empire. After his death in 323 BC, a political and military competition began between the generals in Alexander’s army (called “Diadochus”) for the inheritance of the empire he founded. The Land of Israel was one of the centers of the struggle between the House of Ptolemaic who lived in Egypt and the House of Seleucids who lived in Syria, in a series of battles called the Syrian Wars. Between 301 BC and 200 BC, the land of Israel was ruled by the Ptolemais, and between 200 BC and 103 BC, the Seleucids ruled.

In the Persian period, religious-ritual autonomy was introduced in the Jewish region. This practice also continued in the Hellenistic period, along with the spread of Greek-Hellenistic civilization which gradually merged with the cultures of the East, including in the Land of Israel.

The current leading approach in research holds that economic-commercial interests are at the foundation of the spread of Hellenistic culture, this contrasts with a previous research approach which believed that these were cultural motives. Many of the inhabitants of Judah adopted the Hellenistic culture and customs and were therefore called “Hellenistic”.

In 169 BC, Antiochus IV invaded Jerusalem, taking advantage of an intra-Jewish conflict. He looted the treasures of the Temple and passed decrees that harmed Jewish religious autonomy, such as a ban on circumcision, etc. These decrees were the motive for the outbreak of the Hasmonean Revolt, which took advantage of the weakness of the empire. Following these decrees, the Hasmonean rebellion broke out,  establishing an independent Jewish regime in the Land of Israel for eighty years, from 140 BC until the takeover by the Roman Empire in 63 BC.

Archaeological evidence from the Hellenistic period in the Land of Israel indicates the integration of this culture into religious and cultural life. The Greek language, along with Hellenistic names and customs appear in the findings, mainly among the urban population such as in Jerusalem, Beit Shean and along the coast. The Hellenistic usually came from the upper class and the priesthood. One example is the high priest in Jerusalem in 175-172 BC who changed his name from Joshua to Jason after a Greek mythological hero.

An examination of the architectural findings shows that the Hellenistic citadels and places of worship continued local building traditions.

Professor Tcherikover writes that the term “polis” in the context of the Israeli land is not the establishment of a new Greek city, but rather the acceptance of the Greek constitution by an existing city, which took on a new Greek name and went through processes of social Hellenization. Prof. Oren Tal maintains that Hellenism in the Land of Israel was partially assimilated and manifested mainly in areas of administration such as: language, script, coins, establishment, officials and military aspects. Other architectural findings are mainly military such as citadels, forts and ramparts. In some of them, the use of an administrator is evident, and they may explain the relative absence of administrative public buildings from this period.

Evidence of the Hellenistic administration appears in the small find in several main sites that were excavated, including Tel Michal, Tel Anapah, Dor, Nablus, and Tel Kadesh. Coins, seals, stamps, scales, and other epigraphic findings were found at these sites. The numismatic finds are divided between autonomous urban minting approved by the ruler, and state coins. Another Hellenistic influence in the Israeli territory is evident in weapons, and in particular the presence of lead sling stones that sometimes bear inscriptions and iconography. Also, this period is characterized by many technological innovations, such as glass and ceramic production processes. Other significant changes are in the ranks of the manager and the fields of philosophy and sports.

Many researchers claim that Hellenism should not be seen as a culture that was imposed on the East, but rather, a period in which Eastern and Western cultures merged in religious-cultural-economic and technological aspects into a new cultural entity, which reached a more complete cohesion in the Roman period. According to this approach, the Hellenistic period in the Land of Israel must be seen as a period of direct continuation of traditions on the one hand, and on the other hand the beginning of cultural fusion and integration between East and West.


Tal, Oren. 2007. “The Land of Israel in the Hellenistic period – an archaeological aspect”. Antiquities: a journal for the antiquities of the Land of Israel and the lands of the Bible. Issue 13, pp. 2-14.

Tal, Oren. 2007. The Archeology of the Land of Israel in the Hellenistic Period: Between Tradition and Innovation. Bialik Institute, Jerusalem.