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Greek and Persian Wars

Greek and Persian Wars

Professor John R. Hale Ph.D.
University of Louisville
Course No.  3356
Course No.  3356
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Course Overview

About This Course

24 lectures  |  30 minutes per lecture

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.

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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.

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24 Lectures
  • 1
    The First Encounter
    The roots of our contemporary conflict between East and West lie in the ancient clash of the Greeks and the Persians. In this first lecture, you witness the birth of this divide in the 540s B.C., with King Croesus of Lydia's preemptive attack against the emerging Persian Empire and its ruler, Cyrus the Great. x
  • 2
    Empire Builders—The Persians
    Thanks to innovations in translation and archaeology, modern scholars are now able to reveal the glories of the Persian Empire. Here you learn about the achievements of this remarkable people. x
  • 3
    Intrepid Voyagers—The Greeks
    Next, you get to know the other protagonists of this epic tale: the ancient Greeks. You trace the movement of this seafaring people from their Greek homeland to Asia Minor and consider how their worldview is reflected in the great myths, literature, and philosophy they left behind. x
  • 4
    The Ionian Revolt
    During the rule of King Darius, son of Cyrus the Great, the Greeks in Ionia (Asia Minor) rebelled against Persian rule. Athenian supported in the burning of the city of Sardis sparked a bitter desire for revenge that not even the Ionian defeat at the monumental Battle of Lade could quell. x
  • 5
    From Mount Athos to Marathon
    To avenge the burning of Sardis, Darius sent his troops into Greece to pursue the Athenians. Despite a naval disaster at Athos, the Persians continued their relentless pursuit, only to face a surprising defeat at the famous Battle of Marathon. x
  • 6
    Xerxes Prepares for War
    After Darius's death, Xerxes renewed his father's plots for revenge against the Greeks. To reach them, he undertook remarkable feats of engineering, including the spanning of the Hellespont with pontoon bridges—evidence of both the Persians' technological expertise and their relentless drive. x
  • 7
    The Athenians Build a Fleet
    In this lecture, you meet a remarkable Athenian, Themistocles, who persuaded his people to build a navy for defense against the Persians. He later spurred the pan-Greek forces to seize the offensive by advancing to meet their enemies on the battlefield. x
  • 8
    Heroes at the Pass
    While the Greek naval forces blocked the Persian armada at sea, a small band of 300 heroic Spartans led by King Leonidas attempted to hold the pass at Thermopylae, a chief passage to inland Greece. In their tragic defeat, the Greek force found a legendary martyr in Leonidas and an example of courage in the famed 300. x
  • 9
    Battle in the Straits
    After the Spartans' heroic but disastrous stand at Thermopylae, the Persians marched on the deserted city of Athens and avenged the destruction of Sardis by burning the temples on the Acropolis. What followed is the most crucial battle of the Greek and Persian conflict: the day-long naval clash in the straits of Salamis. x
  • 10
    The Freedom Fighters
    You take a closer look at the remarkable victory of the Greeks at the Battle of Salamis and learn why, despite far superior numbers, the Persians failed on that famous day. The Greeks then turned their attention to battle on land, and fought for the liberation of Ionian Greek cities, culminating in the Battle of Plataea. x
  • 11
    Commemorating the Great War
    You turn to an account of the strangest naval battle in history, the Battle of Mycale, which marked the final defeat of the Persians. x
  • 12
    Campaigns of the Delian League
    After the decisive defeat of the Persians, the Greek city-states met in Delos to form the Delian League. x
  • 13
    Launching a Golden Age
    With tribute pouring in from allies and conquests, Athens grew rich and launched a Golden Age that sees the birth of some of its greatest cultural innovations. x
  • 14
    Herodotus Invents History
    In this lecture, you examine one of the greatest achievements of the Athenian Golden Age, and meet the creator of a modern notion of history, Herodotus. x
  • 15
    Engineering the Fall of Athens
    After the close of the Peloponnesian War, the Athenians allowed themselves to be goaded into war by a young hellion named Alcibiades. x
  • 16
    Cyrus, Xenophon, and the Ten Thousand
    With the death of Darius, his son Artaxerxes II was named successor. Darius's second son, Cyrus, under the facade of suppressing troublesome hill tribes, assembled the famed army of Ten Thousand to challenge his brother's claim. Among them is Xenophon, who later wrote about the march into the heart of the Persian Empire. x
  • 17
    The March to the Sea
    When Cyrus was killed in battle with Artaxerxes II, the Ten Thousand were left leaderless deep within Persian territory. In this lecture, you trace their perilous march to the sea and witness the battle, as witnessed by Xenophon, who became one of the Greeks' greatest historians. x
  • 18
    Strange Bedfellows
    In yet another strange reversal of allegiances, the Persians allied themselves with the Athenians in a battle against the Spartans, a conflict that came to a head in the historic battle of Cnidus. x
  • 19
    The Panhellenic Dream
    Sparta and Persia forged an accord known as the Peace of Antalkidas, the King's Peace, which effectively recognized the Great King of Persia as the overlord of the Greeks. In response, Athenian orators began a call for a Panhellenic League that would fight—once again—for Greek independence. x
  • 20
    The Rise of Macedon
    Who could the Athenians look to for leadership in the effort to unify Greece against the Persians? In this lecture, you meet Philip of Macedon, a remarkable empire builder. x
  • 21
    Father and Son
    As great as Philip's achievements were, the feats of his son, Alexander the Great, resound loudest throughout history. x
  • 22
    Liberating the Greeks of Asia
    We continue to follow Alexander's movement eastward, ending in Gordion, where he "unties" the famed Gordion knot. x
  • 23
    Who Is the Great King?
    Alexander finally entered the heart of Persia and faced the forces of Darius III twice, at Issus and then at the renowned battlefield of Gaugamela. Both times, Alexander allowed Darius to escape after crushing defeat. x
  • 24
    When East Met West
    Hear about Alexander's final confrontation with Darius, who was killed by his own companions. In the wake of his victory, Alexander sought to unite Persia and Greece. While the effort at political unification died shortly after Alexander's death, the cultural union became a major force in shaping our modern world. x

Lecture Titles

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John R. Hale
Ph.D. John R. Hale
University of Louisville
Dr. John R. Hale is the Director of Liberal Studies at the University of Louisville in Kentucky. He earned his B.A. at Yale University and his Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge in England. Professor Hale teaches introductory courses on archaeology, as well as more specialized courses on the Bronze Age, the ancient Greeks, the Roman world, Celtic cultures, the Vikings, and nautical and underwater archaeology. An accomplished instructor, Professor Hale is also an archaeologist with more than 30 years of fieldwork experience. He has excavated at a Romano-British town in Lincolnshire, England, and at the Roman Villa of Torre de Palma in Portugal. Among other places, he has carried out interdisciplinary studies of ancient oracle sites in Greece and Turkey, including the famous Delphic oracle, and participated in an undersea search in Greek waters for lost fleets from the time of the Persian Wars. Professor Hale has received many awards for distinguished teaching, including the Panhellenic Teacher of the Year Award and the Delphi Center Award. His writing has been published in the journals Antiquity, The Classical Bulletin, the Journal of Roman Archaeology, and Scientific American.
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Reviews

Rated 4.9 out of 5 by 49 reviewers.
Rated 5 out of 5 by Excellent overview; very well presented Dr. Hale does a great job of narrating this history. He is different from other lecturers in that he follows a more linear narrative of the events rather than switching constantly between narration and analysis. Personally, I think this makes for a more pleasant listening experience. Of course, he still inserts plenty of his own analysis. October 21, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by Another terrific course from Dr. Hale Very enthusiastic and entertaining presentation. His material unfolds like a story tale. Highly recommend. October 17, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by This course shimmers I think it is the rarest of things when information is presented so thoroughly and in such an organized manner, as well as with a dispassionate yet inviting tone of voice that one almost forgets one is listening to a narrative. Oh, well, maybe I've gone too far, i haven't completed the series, perhaps there's a fail in here somewhere. But I haven't found it. yet. Perhaps the most intriguing thing about the series so far has been that, listening to it on my android phone, throughout the day, I've dropped in to different lectures in the series by mistake. The oddest thing was, each one, held my attention as effectively as the lecture I had mistakenly not chosen to return to. This is no small feat. Considering that I possess at least twenty five to thirty lectures from the Teaching Company, I have come to expect, at the very least, a less than uniform texture of excellence in rendition. If history grabs ones' imagination, if understanding what happened before so many of the ostensible forces which claim to have shaped our society today were even formed, are of interest, this course is a spellbinder. February 6, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by Simply Great I have seen over 100 of these courses. This is one of the very best ! Dr Hale is exceptional. He ranks with the best in the Great Course Professors: Fears, Kloss,Brier,Greenberg. Wonderfull story teller. Course is very thorough, but mainly just a joy to watch. Strongest buy I can give. January 19, 2014
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