After the Peloponnesian War was over, all the cities of Greece were worn out and poor. Many men went and fought for the Persians for money. But others tried to rebuild the cities. This was the time of Socrates and his student Plato, the great philosophers.
But to the north of Greece, in a country called Macedon (MA-suh-donn), King Philip had noticed that the Greeks were very weak. He attacked the Greek city-states and one by one he took them over. When Philip was assassinated in 336 BC, his son Alexander became king, and he also ruled Greece. Alexander was only 20 when he became king. At first a lot of people thought he was too young. But he not only held onto Greece, he also took a big army of Greeks and Macedonians and attacked the Persian Empire!
Alexander was a great general, and the Persians were also weak at this time. So, little by little, Alexander took over the Persian Empire: first Turkey, then Phoenicia, then Israel, then Egypt, then further east all the way to Afghanistan and India (see map). In India Alexander's troops refused to go any further, and he turned back. But a lot of the soldiers died on the way back, and soon afterwards, in 323 BC, Alexander himself died of a fever, in Babylon. He was 33 years old.
Alexander died without any sons old enough to rule, and so his kingdom was split up among his generals. There were three main parts: Egypt, which was ruled by a man named Ptolemy, Seleucia (modern Israel, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan), which was ruled by a man named Seleucus, and Macedon and Greece. Although these three kingdoms often fought each other, still the Hellenistic period was one of prosperity and learning. A great university was founded at Alexandria, in Egypt. The philosopher Aristotle worked in Athens. Scientists and philosophers (all men) visited back and forth between India and Greece. The combination of the knowledge of West Asia and India with that of the Greeks led to great achievements in science, in philosophy, and in art.
Oxford First Ancient History, by Roy Burrell and Peter Connolly (1997). Lively interviews and pictures make the ancient Mediterranean come to life. For teens.
Alexander the Great, by Samuel Willard Crompton (2003). For teenagers.
Alexander the Great, by Robin Lane Fox (reprinted 1994). Lane Fox is a good writer.
The Hellenistic World and the Coming of Rome, by Erich S. Gruen (1984).
The Greek World After Alexander, 323-30 BC, by Graham Shipley (2000). Takes a more positive view of the Hellenistic period than Gruen, but it's not as entertaining to read.