King Leonidas and a tiny contingent of Spartan soldiers—the famed "300"—hold the pass of Thermopylae against a powerful and enormous Persian force. It's one those historicial events where truth rivals the epic proportions of myth. Did it all really happen like that? Behind this renowned tale of legendary Greek heroism is another, more intricate story, one that you encounter in The Greek and Persian Wars. Spanning more than two centuries, these historic conflicts forged a new world order, sparking developments in battle strategy, naval technology, world exploration, and art and culture that affect the world even today.
Now is your opportunity to survey this globe-spanning conflict, as well as its enduring impact on the world at large. From the ancient battlefields of Thermopylae, Marathon, and Gaugamela, to the imperial halls of Persepolis, to the bustling marketplace of Athens, investigate the clash of the Greeks and the Persians over the course of 24 fascinating lectures.
Your guide on this epic journey is award-winning Professor and Director of Liberal Studies at the University of Louisville John R. Hale. An accomplished archaeologist and teacher, Professor Hale captures the human experience behind some of the most remarkable episodes in ancient history. He traces the gripping trajectory of surprising upsets and changing allegiances, as Spartans, Athenians, and Persians constantly shift sides, make and break alliances, and exchange partners for enemies in a seemingly endless dance of battle and truce.
Be Transported Back in Time
It's a perspective on history you'll find virtually nowhere else. Bringing together both sides of the story—Greek and Persian—and providing remarkable details from ancient history, archaeology, and the stratagems of warfare, Professor Hale creates a complex and informative account of this world-changing era.
It's also a gripping saga. A gifted storyteller, Professor Hale weaves a spellbinding narrative that is both accurate and cinematic. You experience the sweep of history, but you also glimpse the more intimate stories behind the saga. With each anecdote, Professor Hale creates a picture in words, recounting vivid dialogue and delving into the internal psychology of the historic figures that shaped their world and the world we inhabit today.
You hear about famous turncoats, such as the Athenian Alcibiades, who helped the Spartans overthrow his native city, allied himself with the Persians, and finally returned to Athens to lead his hometown fleet. Treacherous allies, broken covenants, unity among strange bedfellows—all are a part of the twisting, turning saga of the Greek and Persian wars.
With Professor Hale's expert guidance, you gain a grand and nuanced perspective on the complicated relationship between these two remarkable cultures and rethink what you know about the Greeks and the ancient world. This course serves as a wonderfully detailed introduction to these two great civilizations and the world they built.
How an Epic Conflict Shaped the World
What you find is a world that was virtually re-created over the course of two centuries through the struggle of the Persians and the Greeks. In the words of Professor Hale, "The roots of our contemporary world lie in this period, in the 6th to the 4th centuries B.C., and above all, in that great split between East and West, which still dominates world affairs today."
As Professor Hale demonstrates, the Greek and Persian wars served as the crucible in which the most important cultural events in the history of the Western world occurred, including the invention of medicine, history, philosophy, and drama, as well as remarkable achievements in sculpture and architecture.
Many of the Greeks' greatest enduring cultural contributions were generated by their ongoing struggles with the Persians:
- History: To commemorate the greatest battles, Greek chroniclers such as Herodotus, Thucydides, and Xenophon literally invented a new literary form—history.
- The arts: One of the greatest artistic achievements of ancient Greece, the drama was created when naval veteran Aeschylus crafted the first play.
- Politics: Perhaps the Greeks' most remarkable cultural invention, democracy was born of the city-state's opposition to the imperial advances of its Persian neighbors.
But the Greeks were not alone in their ingenuity. Known for their relentless pursuit of victory in the face of nearly insurmountable obstacles, the Persians undertook remarkable engineering projects, from the bridging of the Hellespont to the diversion of major waterways.
These wars also drove new innovation in naval technology, as Greeks and Persians alike took to the sea on enormous warships called triremes. These military ventures helped to expand the water-based network of trade relationships, bringing about an unprecedented cross-pollination of cultures that resulted in a vibrant cosmopolitan world community.
Sworn Enemies, Strange Bedfellows
The course begins with an introduction to the major protagonists—Greeks and Persians—and a breathtaking portrait of the extraordinary civilizations they founded.
On the one side, you meet the Persians—hardy nomads and horsemen who left the bleak uplands of the Middle East to build an intricate, exotic culture that dazzled the world with its luxurious cities, its ingenious engineering skills, and the exercise of political control built on the ceremonial display of power.
- What was the battle like for the invading Persian force?
- What challenges did they encounter, despite their vast numbers, in facing the Spartan enemy?
- And why did they initially lose so many men before overwhelming the small Greek force?
On the other, you encounter the Greeks—as diverse as their many city-states, but united by their love of debate, admiration of intellectual cunning, and fierce commitment to freedom. Taking center stage in the Greek arena are the Athenians, who seized power early on by building one of the first strong naval forces, and their rivals, the Spartans, who countered the Athenian love of democracy and philosophy with a rigorous militarism.
Finally, you glimpse the cosmopolitan world imagined by the "last" great Greek, Alexander, the Macedonian conqueror who dared to envisage an empire in which Persia and Greece would at last be truly united.
On the Field of Battle
"Half of winning a battle," explains Professor Hale, "is persuading your enemy to fight a battle that they shouldn't." An expert on methods of ancient warfare, Professor Hale takes you out of the history books and onto the field of battle, with rare insights into how each skirmish was lost and won.
You go beyond the movement of troops and delve deeply into the strengths and foibles of the Greek and Persian leaders, the decisions they made, and the risks they took. You compare the different military technologies pioneered by each side, from the Greeks' deadly phalanx formation to the Persians' masterful marshaling of tributary forces, and learn why some flamboyant and seemingly deadly innovations—such as the use of elephants on the battlefield or scythed chariot wheels to mow down enemy troops—failed to live up to their daunting potential.
But Professor Hale, the recipient of numerous awards for distinguished teaching, including the Panhellenic Teacher of the Year Award and the Delphi Center Award, offers more than just textbook descriptions. An accomplished archaeologist, he provides rare and valuable insights gleaned from years of field work. From the depth of the Aegean Sea to the site of the Delphic oracle, Professor Hale has walked in the tracks of these ancient people.
So when he describes how the Persian fleet of Darius the Great was destroyed during a storm in the Aegean Sea, he can also tell you about his deep-water expedition to the site of the wreck, during which he and his colleagues discovered a priceless artifact.
From an analysis of the landscape of the battlefield of Marathon to modern archaeological surveys of the ground where Xerxes and his engineers dug an 80-foot-wide canal across an Aegean cape, Professor Hale marshals the latest scientific discoveries to test and confirm the legendary accounts of these ancient events.
Join Professor Hale for this journey and gain a new perspective on this monumental chapter in ancient history. To study The Greek and Persian Wars with this master teacher is to gain new insights into one of the most influential clashes of cultures the world has known.