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Origins of Great Ancient Civilizations

Origins of Great Ancient Civilizations

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Origins of Great Ancient Civilizations

Course No. 3174
Professor Kenneth W. Harl, Ph.D.
Tulane University
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4.5 out of 5
127 Reviews
80% of reviewers would recommend this series
Course No. 3174
  • Audio or Video?
  • You should buy audio if you would enjoy the convenience of experiencing this course while driving, exercising, etc. While the video does contain visual elements, the professor presents the material in an engaging and clear manner, so the visuals are not necessary to understand the concepts. Additionally, the audio audience may refer to the accompanying course guidebook for names, works, and examples that are cited throughout the course.
  • You should buy video if you prefer learning visually and wish to take advantage of the visual elements featured in this course. The video version is not heavily illustrated, featuring around 150 images, illustrations, and maps. Included are photographs and illustrations capturing ancient Sumerian writing, Egyptian pyramids, and iron technology from the late Bronze Age. There are also scores of detailed maps, such as those of the Indus Valley, Bronze Age territorial empires, and the grand scope of the Persian Empire. There are on-screen spellings and definitions to help reinforce material for visual learners.
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Course Overview

The ancient civilizations of the Near East can seem remote. For many of us, places such as Mesopotamia or the Indus valley ... or the Hittite or Assyrian peoples ... or rulers such as Sargon, Hammurabi, and Darius ... are part of a long-dead antiquity, so shrouded with dust that we might be tempted to skip over them entirely, preferring to race forward along history's timeline in search of the riches we know will be found in our studies of Greece and Rome.

That very remoteness, and our willingness to shunt aside these great civilizations, should be reason enough to study them, according to Professor Kenneth W. Harl. And remoteness, he emphasizes, is far from the only reason that demands our attention to the ancient cultures visited in Origins of Great Ancient Civilizations.

These civilizations "act as the cultural basis for many of the civilizations that will emerge on the Eurasian landmass and will dictate the destinies of many of the people living today on the globe.

"Mesopotamia," he says, citing the ancient name for Iraq, the earliest civilization we know of, "perhaps more than any other civilization we shall look at, will really set the basis for what a civilization should be; that is, it should be urban-based; it should be literate; it should be based on intensive agriculture; and it also will depend very heavily on trade—not just local and regional markets, but long-distance trade."

Another example of the contributions made by these civilizations, of course, is in the concept of a "transcendent, monotheistic God.

"How that notion comes about among the Hebrews and how it is transmitted to later generations ... is perhaps one of the most important, if not the all-important achievement—certainly for Western civilizations—coming out of these great traditions.

"Finally, I think it's important for all of us to understand the origins of these great traditions that come out of the Near East—or, as many would say today, the Middle East. They do stand behind the traditions of classical Greece. The Greeks themselves acknowledged their great debt to these older civilizations."

A Unique Course Offering and an Introduction to Even Greater Riches

In adding this course to his long list of popular appearances for The Teaching Company—which include Rome and the Barbarians, The Era of the Crusades, and The Vikings, among others—Professor Harl has enabled us to offer lovers of history a lecture series unlike anything else now available. For these dozen lectures cover many civilizations that may only receive a few lines of cursory discussion in the average textbook on Western civilization. Moreover, they also serve as a superb introduction to the many courses we offer on the ancient world and the later civilizations, such as Greece and Rome, for which those included here provide the essential foundations.

Professor Harl begins during the Bronze Age and the emergence of urban-based literate civilizations and carries the story forward until the demise of Persia's great empire at the hands of the Greeks, who embraced many of the achievements of these Near East civilizations but clearly represented a different kind of civilization, built on different institutions.

Along the way, he examines advances such as the invention and evolution of writing; the development of vast empires dependent not only on military might but on laws and administration; the growth of trade; and the contributions of the Hebrews to the religious and ethical future of Western civilization.

Moreover, he dispels the notion that beneath that layer of antique dust lies only more dust. Time and again, he sweeps that top layer aside to reveal one fascinating insight after another, deepening our understanding in ways that not only reanimate these civilizations, but also enhance our own sense of the serendipitous ways history reveals itself.

You'll learn, for example, that the civilization of the Indus Valley, in many ways the cradle of later Indian civilization, was not discovered and excavated until the 1920s. That's when officials of the British railway system being built in Pakistan, curious about the source of the glazed firebricks local workers were using to lay down the tracks, learned their astonishing origin. Ironically, the Indus civilization remains largely unknown because scholars have still not been successful in translating the writing left behind.

Or take the Nile and the fabled fertility of the lands that border its banks, made possible by the deposits of silt left by the floods that come with such clockwork predictability.

Though many people might take the Nile's agricultural riches as a given, Professor Harl reveals that they are a recent phenomenon. Until around 5,000 B.C., when the drying Sahara assumed its present guise and pushed the river to its current course, the Nile was dense and overgrown marshland, rich in fish and fowl but not at all suitable for farming.

With each civilization he presents, Professor Harl gives us something fresh to contemplate.

  • For example, the word "cuneiform" comes from the Latin cuneas, or wedge, and signifies not the name of the language used by the ancient Sumerians in inventing writing, but its form—the wedge-shaped characters that are easiest to create when writing in wet clay with a stylus.
  • The legal code named for the Babylonian King Hammurabi—often remembered for its "eye-for-an-eye" severity in dealing with crime—was, in fact, exceptionally sophisticated. As Professor Harl explains, most of it dealt not with matters of crime and punishment, but with complex civil issues that included divorce, inheritance, property, contracts, and business compensation.
  • Lions were once native to the Near East. They no longer are because of the massive lion hunts engaged in for sport by the kings of Assyria.
  • The ancient Egyptians were passionate about cleanliness and shaved their heads for sanitary purposes. Nevertheless, because their gods were depicted as having beards—and a pharaoh is a god—all pharaohs wore fake beards, including Queen Hatshepsut, who reigned for almost three decades in the early 15th century B.C.

Origins of Great Ancient Civilizations offers these and other insights in a fast-paced introduction that will give you a new appreciation of our own roots and a rock-solid foundation for deeper exploration.

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12 lectures
 |  30 minutes each
  • 1
    Cradles of Civilization
    The opening lecture introduces the earliest civilizations of the Tigris-Euphrates, Nile, and Indus River valleys, which emerge c. 3500–3000 B.C. from Neolithic villages. x
  • 2
    First Cities of Sumer
    We explore the economic, social, and religious life of the Sumerians, whose mastery of writing and long-distance trade make them the progenitors of the urban civilization of the ancient Near East. x
  • 3
    Mesopotamian Kings and Scribes
    A look at three classes of people—kings, scribes, and soldiers—illuminates the creation of wider political institutions in ancient Mesopotamia, from the regional kingdoms to the territorial empires of the early and middle Bronze Age. x
  • 4
    Hammurabi’s Babylon
    We end our survey of Mesopotamian civilization in the Bronze Age with an examination of the career and kingdom of Hammurabi, King of Babylon, who establishes the cultural underpinnings of Mesopotamian civilization thereafter. x
  • 5
    Egypt in the Pyramid Age
    We begin three lectures on Egypt with a focus on the so-called early dynastic period and the Old Kingdom, beginning with a look at some of the basic features of early Egyptian civilization and the unique characteristics of the Nile. x
  • 6
    The Middle Kingdom
    This lecture examines a key period of Egyptian history, which is roughly contemporaneous with the Babylon of Hammurabi, during which Egypt for the first time expands its horizons beyond its own frontiers. x
  • 7
    Imperial Egypt
    Egypt's monarchy comes to play the dominant role in the Near East until the empire comes to an end with attacks associated with the so-called "Sea Peoples"—invaders coming out of both Libya and the Aegean world. x
  • 8
    New Peoples of the Bronze Age
    We complete our discussion of the Bronze Age with a look at three areas influenced by the early river valley civilizations: the region known as the Levant, the area that is today Asiatic Turkey, and the world of the Aegean. x
  • 9
    The Collapse of the Bronze Age
    The great empires of the late Bronze Age fall in the wake of migrations and barbarian invasions usually associated with the advent of iron technology. Though this has been explained as the result of natural disasters, the imperial order did not collapse so much as fragment. x
  • 10
    From Hebrews to Jews
    This lecture deals with the evolution of a group of Canaanite speakers to a people with a monotheistic faith attached not to a particular place, but to one's perceptions, ethical beliefs, and worship of a transcendent God. x
  • 11
    Imperial Assyria
    Despite their remarkable reputation for ferocity, the Assyrians do more than forge the first imperial order since the late Bronze Age; they set down many of the foundations upon which the Persians will build their far more successful and larger empire. x
  • 12
    The Persian Empire
    We conclude the course with a look at an empire that may have had, at its peak, as many as 40 million subjects, and which, in its imperial organization, is perhaps the best-ordered until the age of Rome. x

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  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE audio streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
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  • 12 lectures on 2 DVDs
  • 104-page printed course guidebook
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  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
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CD Includes:
  • 12 lectures on 6 CDs
  • 104-page printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE audio streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps

What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

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Course Guidebook Details:
  • 104-page printed course guidebook
  • Suggested readings
  • Questions to consider
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Your professor

Kenneth W. Harl

About Your Professor

Kenneth W. Harl, Ph.D.
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...
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Reviews

Origins of Great Ancient Civilizations is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 127.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beautifully presented Enjoyed the show! Much to see and absorb. Need to re watch for a fuller understanding and appreciation.
Date published: 2017-06-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent product!!! Your DVDs are unique and of high quality. Unfortunatelu I am retired and living on my pension benefit do I am unable to purchase all DVDs I would like to.
Date published: 2017-04-06
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Informative but dry Informative but pretty monotone covers a lot of history
Date published: 2017-04-02
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Mixed Review Good content and analysis, but difficult to follow and listen. I recommend this course, but you need to stick with it.
Date published: 2017-03-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Title is precise and accurate for content I love to listen as I travel and this one has the ability to transport you to the ancient cities, if you have a vivid imagination. I gained some added insight to the political relationships of Assyria, Persia, and Egypt. I listened from one end to the other in one long day and enjoyed every minute.
Date published: 2017-01-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Orientation of the Great Western Civilizations Often time history starts with Greece and Rome and The Bible. This series goes back to the founding civilization where live evolved from Paleolltic to civilizations with tools and writing. One on the Celts would be interesting.
Date published: 2017-01-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from About this course and how to best use it Harl's courses are highly rated for many reasons. 1. Harl is able to follow multiple timelines without confusing his audience; 2. Map appearance in the video versions is expertly coordinated with the lecture text; 3. Harl's frequent citations of sources demonstrate the brilliance of ancient leaders and disrupts pigeonholing caricatures; 4. Harl provides insightful gems that illustrate how history can help us better understand our past and present. EXAMPLES of lecture gems: L3: The inevitability of kingship; L4: Leaders acting as "shepherds" produce lasting civil achievements; L5: The consequences of political infighting; L6: Wealth aggregation leads to cutting costs, dependence on foreign strength, and inevitably foreigners want their share; L7: What happens when the state interferes with the religion of the people; L8: The origin of "global" trade; L9: Iron weapons did not end the Bronze Age; L10: Why the Torah, containing a great deal of archaeologically proven history, cannot be read as a historical document AND the Babylonian Captivity's revolutionary religious concept; L11: How political cruelty leads to collapse; L12: Demosthene's astute recognition that subservience of both rulers and commoners to law is foundational for advanced civilizations. VIDEO OR AUDIO?: Unless you are very conversant with the period of history that Harl is discussing, buy a video version because the in-lecture maps are extremely helpful. For those of us who listen to the audio version while exercising or who don't have time to sit and watch, studying the guidebook maps before and after each lecture is a substitute. SUMMARY: Harl reminds us that "you" are really the recipient of thousands of years of human effort and experimentation. Harl's lectures are a bastion against shallow historical revisionism.
Date published: 2017-01-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I found Sargon Alarming This wasn't my favorite course, but I think that has more to do with my own preferences than the course content itself. I almost gave this course 4 stars, but then I said, "Wait a second, Mike, you need to account for your own interests and shouldn't mark down because you're silly and shallow." Then I got confused since my name isn't Mike. Be that as it may, this is a strong course with a lot of clearly presented content from Sumer, Egypt, the Levant, Asia Minor, Mesopotamia, Persia, with a few words on Archaic Greece. And the Indus River Valley. I almost forgot about that. It gets a few words, too. Not that much, but a few. Most of the content is based on politics, the movement of peoples, and technology, particularly weapons, but also architecture. Comparatively less on religion and the arts. Professor Presentation: I liked it. I see some reviewers didn't care for it, but Professor Harl just seems like a University Professor giving a lecture. I prefer the more natural method, even with the "ahs" and "ums" to the reading of a script, which is more common in newer courses. I watched the online video because audio cassettes were not available. When did audio cassettes go away? If you watch the video, you should be aware that for the first few lectures, there is a giant picture of Sargon the Great hanging in the "classroom". Maybe there should have been a warning. I was relieved when it was switched out for what appeared to be Assyrian art. This review form asks if I would recommend this course to a friend. I would. I would also recommend it to passing acquaintances and strangers. I think I will listen to or watch more of Professor Harl's courses.
Date published: 2016-12-25
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