To the Greeks, religion was so embedded within society that it influenced every aspect of daily life. Religion was practical: it helped people in birth, at puberty, through marriage, and at death. It was also democratic, as aristocratic cults came to shape public calendars.
The Hellenistic period is usually said to be the three hundred years between the reign of Alexander the Great, who died in 323 B.C., and of Augustus, the first Roman emperor, who ruled from 31 B.C. until .A.D. 14. As soon as the news of Alexander’s death became known, his generals began a fierce scramble for portions of his empire. The generals combined against each other in various shifting alliances and arranged many intermarriages and murders in a confusing period of political and military change. By c. 280-279 B.C.
Philip’s son, Alexander III (the Great), belongs to legend as much as to history. Only twenty when he came to the throne, he loved war, politics, athletics, alcohol, poetry, medicine, and science. Within a dozen years he led his armies on a series of triumphant marches that won for Macedon the largest empire yet created in the ancient world. He began by crushing a Greek revolt led by Thebes, whose entire population he sold into slavery. Next he crossed into Asia Minor. He defeated the Persians at the river Granicus in 334 B.C. and took over the coastal cities of Ionia.
In 359 B.C., a prince of the ruling house, Philip, became regent for his infant nephew. Having lived for three years as a hostage in Thebes, Philip understood Greek affairs. He applied Theban military principles to his army and led it in person. After defeating the Illyrians and other rivals for power within Macedon, Philip was made king in his own right.
North of Thessaly and extending inland into what is today Yugoslavia and Albania lay the kingdom of Macedon, with a considerable coastline along the Aegean. The Macedonians were a mixture of peoples including some of Greek origin; they were organized into tribes, worshiped some of the Greek gods, and spoke a Greek dialect that other Greeks could not understand. Their kings had title to most of the land and ruled absolutely, though he might be deposed by the people for treason.
Raising money from their allies and hiring mercenaries to intimidate all resistance, the Spartans systematically disciplined and punished the cities that dared resist, seizing Thebes in 382 B.C. and breaking their promise to respect the autonomy of the Greek cities. A group of Theban democratic exiles conspired to overthrow the pro-Spartan regime there, and when the Spartans tried to punish them, a new war broke out in which Athens participated as the leading power in a new anti-Spartan league of many Greek cities.