Even though you might never stop to think about it, the ancient world and the civilizations it produced are with you in almost everything you do. The ancient world has influenced our customs and religious beliefs, our laws, and the form of our governments. It has taught us when and how we make war or pursue peace. It has shaped the buildings we live and work in and the art we hang on our walls. It has given us the calendar that organizes our year and has left its mark on the games we play.
And even though each day finds you, in ways almost too numerous to mention, paying tribute to this ancient past, it is too often without an awareness that you are even doing so.
- In what ways were these civilizations different from each other and from our own?
- How were they similar?
- What part did they play in making us what we have now become, so many centuries later?
These and other questions of that ancient past and its great civilizations—which helped set the stage for the world you live in today—are still relevant to almost everything you do and everything you are. And understanding these lessons helps you to better understand yourself—why you think and act as you do—as well as the effects of those same forces on the people you interact with. Grasping the full scope of your bequest from the ancient world can't help but give you a more nuanced base from which to make decisions and choose pathways in your own life.
The 48 lectures of History of the Ancient World: A Global Perspective represent a fresh and innovative way to look at history. They take you on a multidisciplinary journey that ranges across not only the traditional domains of politics and war that are normally the province of history courses, but also those of religion, philosophy, architecture and the visual arts, literature, and science and technology, to name but a few.
The course, delivered by Professor Gregory S. Aldrete of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay—a brilliant lecturer/scholar whose areas of expertise include classical history, archaeology, and philology—examines the ancient world's greatest civilizations from the Mediterranean, Asia, and the Americas—including those of Rome, Greece, China, Persia, India, and the Maya—not in isolation but in the full context of where they came from, the cultures that flourished around them at the same time, and the civilizations that were to come from them.
Get a Startling Comparison of Ancient Cultures
Although its structure is roughly chronological, History of the Ancient World: A Global Perspective is especially notable for its deliberately comparative approach, often pausing in its journey along the timeline to feature startling juxtapositions of individuals and themes from different cultures, even when their commonalities or contrasts might not be evident to a casual glance. These include
- a comparison of the epic poetry of Vedic India with Homer's Iliad;
- an exploration of the explosion of intellectual questioning that seemed to occur spontaneously and simultaneously in many cultures in the 6th and 5th centuries B.C., spawning an array of new philosophies or religions, including Confucianism and Daoism in China, pre-Socratic philosophy in Greece, Buddhism and Jainism in India, and Zoroastrianism in Persia;
- a four-lecture examination of five great conquerors and empire builders, including Philip of Macedon and his son Alexander the Great, Chandragupta Maurya and his grandson Asoka of India, and Shi Huangdi, the first emperor of China;
- a discussion of the craft of history itself, comparing the different approaches to "inventing"the discipline that were chosen by Herodotus, Thucydides, and the great Chinese historian, Sima Qian—none of whom had the advantage enjoyed by later historians of being able to pore over and learn from the contributions of generations of predecessors;
- a side-by-side examination of two of the greatest empires of all time—the Roman Empire and Han China—that compares their approaches to administration, leadership, the incorporation of newcomers, and technology and innovation;
- a close look at the topic of war—including equipment, strategy, and tactics—that compares how Mayan, Roman, and Chinese military systems reflected aspects of their respective cultures through the ways in which they chose to go to battle; and
- an analysis of how ancient civilizations expressed their power through art and architecture, revealing thematic similarities in monuments as varied as the tribute frieze of Persepolis, Trajan's Column in Rome, the tomb of Shi Huangdi in China, and the reliefs of Cerro Sechin in Peru.
There's even an insightful glimpse at how the structure of monasteries under the Rule of Saint Benedict might actually find one of its closest historical analogs in the rigid inculcation of values by the Greek city-state of Sparta.
Explore a Wealth of Major Historical Themes
Professor Aldrete's course includes in-depth analyses of not only key individuals and historical moments, but also history's most important themes, from the nature of rulership and the evolution of religion and philosophy to the practice of warfare and the expression of power through art and architecture.
And you'll also grasp how certain major themes recur throughout history, helping to shape a civilization's present and, inevitably, its future. These include the impact of its geography and environment; key moments of change that often result when two cultures collide or intermingle, whether through invasion or peaceful migration; and the surprising frequency of major innovations or transformations happening across multiple civilizations, either simultaneously or at similar points in their development, such as the appearance of writing early on in almost all cultures.
Designed for lovers of history at every level, the course provides a solid foundational knowledge of the past, reveals new insights about the present, and is an ideal starting point for a deeper exploration into any of the civilizations and themes it discusses.
Get Extraordinary Glimpses of Cultures, Events, and People
You'll begin with the appearance of the first cities around 3500-3000 B.C. and continue until the roughly contemporaneous 9th-century establishment of the first true European empire under Charlemagne, the Golden Age of the caliphate in Baghdad, and the Tang dynasty in China—an endpoint chosen because it allows you to perceive not only the true end of the ancient world, but the crucial formation and birth of the modern one.
Your journey to the brink of this pivotal moment in history is replete with extraordinary glimpses into civilizations, events, and individuals, all vividly conveyed through Professor Aldrete's exceptional narrative skills, such as these:
- A stunning comparison of how their respective geographical environments influenced the visions of the afterlife conceived of by the Egyptians and the Mesopotamians
- The 1934 performance of a Serbian oral poet whose ability to spontaneously compose and recite for four hours a day for two weeks refuted scholarly doubt that wandering oral poets such as Homer could have existed
- An insightful glimpse into how the Spartans viewed both marriage and the value of newborn girls, and how the resulting scarcity of Spartan women doomed the culture to extinction
- An unexpected side of Pythagoras, the Greek mathematician whose fame as a cornerstone of geometry falls far short of illuminating the full extent of his delightful flamboyance and eccentricities
- The clever trick that enabled Darius to claim the kingship of the Persian Empire over five rivals, averting civil war because of the romantic longings of his horse
- A revealing look into the heart of the immortal Aeschylus, whose request for his tombstone epitaph set aside his achievements as a dramatist and asked instead that he be remembered for having fought at the Battle of Marathon
- The story of the prized possession that Alexander the Great chose to store in the precious box his armies had captured—his copy of Homer's Iliad annotated by Aristotle
- The tragic story of the Han dynasty historian Sima Qian, who chose castration and humiliation over suicide so he would be able to keep a promise to his dying father
- A discussion of the astounding array of inventions and technological achievements fostered at the height of the Han Empire, including the discovery of the circulation of blood, which was not realized in Europe until the 17th century
- The ancestral oath and legacy left by an ancestor of Brutus, and how it would impact his decision to take action against Julius Caesar 500 years later
- A comparison of two of history's most stunning examples of the use of art and architecture to project the power of a ruler: the 400 granite slabs at the Peruvian site of Cerro Sechin and the tomb of China's emperor Shi Huangdi, with its protective army of thousands of life-sized terra cotta warriors.
One of the most ambitious history courses The Great Courses has ever offered, History of the Ancient World: A Global Perspective is a wonderfully integrated way to look at our world's history in context. Its mix of nuanced interpretation, vivid description, and constant attention to exploring history as a coherent whole is sure to make it one of the most informative and thought-provoking history courses you have ever taken.