Following the death of Alexander the Great, his heirs divided the vast empire he had conquered. Art historian Christopher Gregg explores two distinctive Hellenistic dynasties and the cities they created in the emperor’s wake: the Attalids in Pergamon and the Ptolemies in Alexandria.
In a small territory on the coast of Turkey, the Attalids carefully crafted a city and culture that reflected their desire to be seen as protectors of Greek civilization. The Ptolemies, adapting to the millennia-old civilization of Egypt, produced a hybrid metropolis reflecting two cultural traditions. Historical documents, archaeological remains, and art historical evidence create portraits of two cities that were, despite their common origin, often in competition and even conflict.
9:30 to 10:45 a.m. How the Attalids Saved Civilization: Greeks and Gauls
Established using the treasury of Alexander, wealthy Pergamon rose to prominence with its defeat of marauding Gauls in the 3rd century B.C. The rhetoric and monuments of the Attalids showcased the victory as an example of mythic Greek heroes defeating giants, centaurs, and other embodiments of disorder.
11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. The Shining Citadel on the Hill: Pergamon and Athens
The acropolis of Pergamon, with its temple and statue to Athena and adjacent theater, recalled the glory of classical Athens. An extensive royal library and monumental Great Altar of Zeus transformed the capital into a Hellenistic center of art, scholarship, and political power.
12:15 to 1:30 p.m. Lunch
Participants provide lunch on their own
1:30 to 2:45 p.m. Alexander and the Ptolemies: A New Pharaonic Tradition
Proclaimed by an oracle as the son of a god and divine ruler of Egypt, Alexander laid the foundation for the Ptolemaic dynasty to become the heirs to the pharaohs. Despite royal portraits, sculpture, and architecture that synthesized Greek and pharaonic Egyptian elements, the relationship between Ptolemies and Egyptians was often uneasy.
3 to 4 p.m. Alexandria: The Exotic Cosmopolis
Although founded by Alexander, the eponymous city on the Nile delta was largely the product of Ptolemaic kings and queens who sought to project their power through a grand urban space. From the Tomb of Alexander to the lighthouse of the Pharos, from the automatic doors of the temple of Serapis to the Great Library and Museion, the city of the Ptolemies blended Egyptian imagery with the latest in Greek concept and style.
Gregg is an assistant professor of art history at George Mason University.
Learn more Hellenistic history by journeying from Istanbul to Athens and discovering The Wonders of Turkey and the
Visit the Smithsonian Journeys page to see more
trips to Europe.