When the cities ranged themselves in rival camps, and squandered their strength on the struggle for predominance, the historian of the Peloponnesian war could already picture Athens and Sparta in ruins, and the catastrophe began to warp the soul of Plato before he had carried Greek philosophy to its zenith. This internecine strife of free communities was checked within a century by the imposition of a single military autocracy over them all, and Alexander the Great crowned his father Philip’s work by winning new worlds for Hellenism from the Danube to the Ganges and from the Oxus to the Nile. The city-state and its culture were to be propagated under his aegis, but this vision vanished with Alexander’s death, and Macedonian militarism proved a disappointment. The feuds of these crowned condottieri harassed the cities more sorely than their own quarrels, and their arms could not even preserve the Hellenic heritage against external foes. The Oriental rallied and expelled Hellenism again from the Asiatic hinterland, while the new cloud of Rome was gathering in the west. In four generations of the most devastating warfare the world had seen, Rome conquered all the coasts of the Mediterranean. Greek city and Greek dynast went down before her, and the political sceptre passed irrevocably from the Hellenic nation.
[Footnote 1: Thucydides, Book I, chap. 10.]
[Footnote 2: 264-146 B.C.]
Yet this political abdication seemed to open for Hellenic culture a future more brilliant and assured than ever. Rome could organize as well as conquer. She accepted the city-state as the municipal unit of the Roman Empire, thrust back the Oriental behind the Euphrates, and promoted the Hellenization of all the lands between this river-frontier and the Balkans with much greater intensity than the Macedonian imperialists. Her political conquests were still further counterbalanced by her spiritual surrender, and Hellenism was the soul of the new Latin culture which Rome created, and which advanced with Roman government over the vast untutored provinces of the west and north, bringing them, too, within the orbit of Hellenic civilization. Under the shadow of the Roman Empire, Plutarch, the mirror of Hellenism, could dwell in peace in his little city-state of Chaeronea, and reflect in his writings all the achievements of the Hellenic spirit as an ensample to an apparently endless posterity.