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Great Ancient Civilizations of Asia Minor

Great Ancient Civilizations of Asia Minor

Course No.  363
Course No.  363
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Course Overview

About This Course

24 lectures  |  30 minutes per lecture

Perhaps no other region of the world has played so many different roles in culture, religion, and politics, for so long a period of time, as the peninsula of Asian Turkey, known to the Greeks as Anatolia and to the Romans as Asia Minor. Though today we call it Turkey, that name dates back only to the Middle Ages.

9,000 Years of History

From 7000 B.C., when Neolithic hunters began the transition to a pastoral and agricultural lifestyle, to the founding of modern Turkey in the 20th century, this varied geographical area about the size of Texas has been a crossroads of history.

Homer composed the Iliad and Odyssey on the shores of Asia Minor. All seven of the great ecumenical councils that defined Christian theology in the centuries after the conversion of Constantine took place within the boundaries of modern Turkey. To study the region is to study a land that has nurtured successive civilizations that have defined the Western and Muslim traditions that embrace so many of the modern world's inhabitants.

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Perhaps no other region of the world has played so many different roles in culture, religion, and politics, for so long a period of time, as the peninsula of Asian Turkey, known to the Greeks as Anatolia and to the Romans as Asia Minor. Though today we call it Turkey, that name dates back only to the Middle Ages.

9,000 Years of History

From 7000 B.C., when Neolithic hunters began the transition to a pastoral and agricultural lifestyle, to the founding of modern Turkey in the 20th century, this varied geographical area about the size of Texas has been a crossroads of history.

Homer composed the Iliad and Odyssey on the shores of Asia Minor. All seven of the great ecumenical councils that defined Christian theology in the centuries after the conversion of Constantine took place within the boundaries of modern Turkey. To study the region is to study a land that has nurtured successive civilizations that have defined the Western and Muslim traditions that embrace so many of the modern world's inhabitants.

A Hands-On Professor

Professor Kenneth W. Harl bases these lectures on both a lifetime of academic study and decades of his own firsthand fieldwork at sites throughout Turkey. He is Professor of History at Tulane University, where he has taught since 1978, after receiving his Ph.D. in History from Yale University. At Tulane, he has received the annual Student Award for Excellence in Teaching eight times. In Fall 2001, he was the national winner of the Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teachers.

Conquest and Culture

The history of the region includes these milestones:

  • the rise of the Hittites, a chariot-borne warrior people who struck out from their Anatolian heartland to overrun the Babylonian Empire and fight the armies of Egypt's Ramses II to a standstill
  • the Trojan War, a legend created from historical events of the late Bronze Age, when Achaean merchant princes and adventurers clashed swords with Hittite emperors in Asia Minor
  • the birth of Western philosophy in the search for a rational account of all things by thinkers such as Thales, Anaximander, and Heraclitus—all Greek-speaking sages from what is now the Aegean coast of Turkey
  • the fiery revolt of the Ionian Greek cities that led to the Persian Wars (499-479 B.C.) and the rise of Periclean Athens as both the world's first democracy and the leader of a maritime empire wealthy enough to build the Parthenon
  • the great early victories of Alexander the Great that paved the way for the period of brilliant cultural and spiritual creativity we call the Hellenistic Age
  • the spread of early Christianity under the guidance of St. Paul, a native of Tarsus on the southern coast of Asia Minor
  • the golden age of the Byzantine Empire, which preserved the Greek classics and repeatedly saved Europe from nomadic invasion
  • the Muslim transformation of Asia Minor culminating in the Ottoman Empire, which at its height in the 16th century threatened to take over Europe itself.

Change and Continuity

Cultural change and continuity, says Professor Harl, are the main themes of this course. Each successive civilization inherited and modified the political, social, religious, and economic institutions of its predecessor.

The scope of Anatolian history can be best understood as a series of transformations in the religious landscape of the peninsula. Anatolia has experienced a number of major cultural and religious rewrites: first by the Hittite emperors; then by the elites of Hellenic cities; next by their Hellenized descendants in the Roman age; then by Christian emperors and bishops in the Byzantine age; and, finally, by Turkish rulers and Muslim mystics.

The final chapter, the transformation of Muslim Turkey into a modern secular nation-state, is still in progress. In looking at cultural changes, certain archaeological sites and important monuments will be featured as examples of wider changes.

Cultural Components

The course can be divided into five cultural components:

Early Anatolia (6000–500 B.C.)

The first lectures deal with the earliest civilizations of Anatolia, emerging at the dawn of agriculture in Neolithic villages on the Konya plain (in central Turkey); through the Hittite Empire, the apex of civilization in the late Bronze Age (1400–1180 B.C.); to the emergence of Phrygia, Lydia, and Persia, heirs to the Hittite traditions in the early Iron Age (1100–500 B.C.).

The Hellenization of Anatolia (750–31 B.C.)

The shores of western Anatolia came under the influence of the earliest Greeks, the Achaeans or Mycenaeans, during the late Bronze Age. Although this contact inspired the epic poems of Homer, it was only from 750 B.C. that Hellenic influence spread into the peninsula. Alexander the Great (336–323 B.C.) conquered Anatolia, and his successors transformed the region into a center of Greek cities that played a major role in the civilization of the Hellenistic Age (323–31 B.C.).

Roman Asia Minor (200 B.C.–395 A.D.)

The Romans built on the Hellenistic cities and institutions, and Anatolia was transformed into one of the most prosperous regions of the Roman world and homeland of the future Byzantine Empire. The Hellenic cities of Anatolia not only adapted Roman institutions and culture but also influenced the Roman monarchy, known as the Principate.

Byzantine Civilization (395–1453)

Imperial crisis in 235–305, and Christianization after 324, produced a new Byzantine civilization on Anatolian soil by 600, the basis of Orthodox Eastern Europe today. The Byzantine Empire, reduced to its Anatolian core, weathered two and one-half centuries of invasions and emerged as the leading civilization of medieval Christendom in the 10th and 11th centuries.

Islamic Turkey (since 1071)

The Anatolian peninsula was transformed from a Christian to a Muslim land in the wake of Byzantine decline and the arrival of crusaders from Western Europe. Ottoman sultans then built the last great Muslim empire in the Middle East and Mediterranean world, an empire that fragmented in the 20th century into a series of nation-states. In 1922-1939, Anatolia became the core of the Turkish Republic, a Muslim society that has successfully met the challenges of modernization.

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24 Lectures
  • 1
    Introduction to Anatolia
    The lands around the central Turkish plateau have historically "faced" two ways. The western and southern shores have been drawn to Greece and Europe. The mountain-ringed interior has been linked to Iran and Asia proper. x
  • 2
    First Civilizations in Anatolia
    Neolithic Anatolians were among the first farmers and herders, dwelling in villages with sophisticated technology and organization. From the Sumerians to the south, they learned to write and build palaces and cities. x
  • 3
    The Hittite Empire
    Beginning as invaders from the Balkans, the daring Indo-European people called the Hittites overran Anatolia's core with their war chariots and founded a dynasty that rivaled the Egypt of Ramses II. x
  • 4
    Hattušaš and Imperial Hittite Culture
    Hittite kings became the first of many conquerors who would leave their mark on the land. Near their ritual capital of Hattušaš, they carved from the living rock a mighty open-air shrine to their thousands of gods. But shortly thereafter, Hattušaš was sacked and abandoned. x
  • 5
    Origins of Greek Civilization
    As the Hittites were uniting Anatolia, early Greeks (called Achaeans) were visiting its western reaches. From fortress-palaces at places like Mycenae and Pylos, Achaean warlords traded and raided along the shores of Asia Minor and, in time, would become the first Greeks to clash with the armies of a great king to the east. x
  • 6
    The Legend of Troy
    The most enduring legacies from early Anatolia are The Iliad and The Odyssey (c. 750 B.C.). How do the siege of Troy and the exploits of Homer's warrior chieftains fit into the wider tale of imperial struggle and decline during the Greek Dark Age (1100–750 B.C.)? x
  • 7
    Iron Age Kingdoms of Asia Minor
    From 1200 to 1000 B.C., migrations reshaped Anatolia. Phrygians came from the Balkans, only to be overcome by Cimmerian nomads (c. 700 B.C.). In the West, Hittite provincials founded trade-rich Lydia, whose last king was Croesus. x
  • 8
    Emergence of the Polis
    From 750 B.C. the Greeks distinguished themselves with the polis, a city-state based on citizen rule and destined to influence the world. By 500 B.C., Athens had devised the first democratic constitution, with all adult male citizens forming the sovereign assembly. x
  • 9
    Ionia and Early Greek Civilization
    The Archaic Age (750–480 B.C.), known in glimpses, remains one of history's most creative periods. Its poets, philosophers, sculptors, and architects gave birth to the mind of the West. At its forefront were the Greek trading cities of Ionia on the coast of Asia Minor and the nearby islands. x
  • 10
    The Persian Conquest
    In 546 B.C., Cyrus the Great of Persia made Anatolia part of his world empire. Anatolian grandees took to Persian ways, and life across Asia Minor soon bore a Persian stamp. Only the Ionian Greeks stood apart. When they rebelled against their Persian-sponsored local tyrants in 499 B.C., war flamed forth between the Greek city-states and the Great King. x
  • 11
    Athenian Empire and Spartan Hegemony
    As the 5th century B.C. closed, war among the Greeks left the Great King once again ruler of Ionia, but with a weakened empire. It seemed that Persian and native elites would carve out kingdoms, and that Ionia would again become the meeting place of East and West. But Alexander the Great had other ideas. x
  • 12
    Alexander the Great and the Diadochoi
    In eight years beginning in 334 B.C., Alexander and his Macedonians overran the Persian Empire, unexpectedly altering the course of Anatolian civilization by making Hellenism the leading cultural force in Asia Minor for the next 15 centuries. x
  • 13
    The Hellenization of Asia Minor
    Alexander's successor dynasts promoted Greek culture. The Attalid kings turned their fortress city of Pergamum into a showcase of Hellenic arts and learning that the Romans admired. Elites poured their wealth into public display and buildings, and cities knew themselves to be part of a wider Hellenic world. x
  • 14
    Rome versus the Kings of the East
    Pompey charged the Hellenistic cities with administering the Roman provincial system in the parts of Asia Minor the legions conquered. Thanks to his reforms, these rich cities paid for the civil wars (48–31 B.C.) that destroyed the Republic and made the brilliant politician Octavian Rome's first emperor. x
  • 15
    Prosperity and Roman Patronage
    Under the pax Romana, Hellenic cities of Anatolia attained their greatest prosperity and cultural accomplishment. Polished Hellenic aristocrats sought Roman citizenship and, more than any other provincials, imposed the notion that an emperor should act not as a ruler of subjects but as a leader of free men. x
  • 16
    Gods and Sanctuaries of Roman Asia Minor
    In the Hellenistic and Roman ages, the native gods of Anatolia assumed Hellenic guises. The record of religious life at this time is at odds with the common opinion that the public worship of civic gods (including emperors) declined before enthusiastic, irrational mystery cults. x
  • 17
    Jews and Early Christians
    Paul preached in the cities of Anatolia, converting Hellenized Jews and Judaized pagans. In A.D. 250, Christians were still a tiny minority, but with impressive institutions developed in Anatolia. When the convert Emperor Constantine (r. 306–337) summoned the First Ecumenical Council to Nicaea in 325, a momentous new chapter in religious history opened. x
  • 18
    From Rome to Byzantium
    After a century of crisis in the Roman world, Constantine unified it and created an imperial church. By 500, Anatolia had undergone yet another cultural and religious transformation into a Christian land. Anatolia had passed over into the Byzantine age. x
  • 19
    Constantinople, Queen of Cities
    When Constantine dedicated his New Rome on the site of an old Greek colony on the European side of the Bosporus, he was founding a capital that would stand as the bastion of Roman government and classical learning under great emperors such as Justinian. x
  • 20
    The Byzantine Dark Age
    The restored Roman Empire of Justinian and after faced many foes, including the new armies of Islam. Urbane classical life yielded to a martial society. Fortress cities rose in the interior. Tenacious Byzantine defense broke the Arabic advance, and Anatolia prospered for a time. x
  • 21
    Byzantine Cultural Revival
    Macedonian emperors revived patronage of the arts and letters at Constantinople, and this cultural rebirth was echoed across Anatolia in the 10th and 11th centuries. By 950, nobles were hiring first-class artists who painted in naturalistic styles that looked back to classical models and would influence the Italian Renaissance. x
  • 22
    Crusaders and Seljuk Turks
    For a century, the fate of Anatolia lay poised between Byzantines and Seljuk Turks. Though damaged by Crusader depredations, the Byzantines struggled to stem the Turkish tide. As the 13th century opened, the outlines of a new Muslim Turkish civilization began to appear in Anatolia. x
  • 23
    Muslim Transformation
    The sultans sponsored a new, vital Muslim society that once again reshaped the religious landscape of Anatolia, this time with mosques and minarets. The Mongol attacks of the 1240s, ironically, would help make possible the rise of a new Turkish Muslim dynasty, the Ottomans. x
  • 24
    The Ottoman Empire
    The Ottomans forged the last great Mediterranean empire, ruled from a rebuilt Constantinople. Suleiman the Magnificent's failure to capture Vienna (1529) checked Ottoman expansion, but Ottoman military power remained formidable for centuries. x

Lecture Titles

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Kenneth W. Harl
Ph.D. Kenneth W. Harl
Tulane University
Dr. Kenneth W. Harl is Professor of Classical and Byzantine History at Tulane University in New Orleans, where he teaches courses in Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Crusader history. He earned his B.A. from Trinity College and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Yale University. Recognized as an outstanding lecturer, Professor Harl has received numerous teaching awards at Tulane, including the coveted Sheldon H. Hackney Award. He has earned Tulane's annual Student Body Award for Excellence in Teaching nine times and is the recipient of Baylor University's nationwide Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teachers. In 2007, he was the Lewis P. Jones Visiting Professor in History at Wofford College. An expert on classical Anatolia, he has taken students with him into the field on excursions and to assist in excavations of Hellenistic and Roman sites in Turkey. Professor Harl has also published a wide variety of articles and books, including his current work on coins unearthed in an excavation of Gordion, Turkey, and a new book on Rome and her Iranian foes. A fellow and trustee of the American Numismatic Society, Professor Harl is well known for his studies of ancient coinage. He is the author of Civic Coins and Civic Politics in the Roman East, A.D. 180-275 and Coinage in the Roman Economy, 300 B.C. to A.D. 700.
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