Rated 5 out of 5 by GermanHistoryFan On a Scale of 1 to 5, This Course Is a 6
I can’t recommend this course enthusiastically enough. Professor Ressler already did a great job with his first course, Understanding the World’s Greatest Structures, but he outdoes himself here. He comes back to buildings, of course, but now also examines ships, large-scale weapons, urban planning, aqueducts, sewers and construction equipment. Once again he demonstrates engineering principles with desktop models, whether arches, cranes or battering rams. You learn in Lecture 2 that chalk sticks have far less tolerance for tension than compression. In Lecture 6 he pours concrete and lets it dry. In the first lecture he shows off—strictly as a teaser--a spring-operated catapult called a palintone with a ping pong ball as the projectile, but he refuses to shoot it, forcing the viewer to wait until Lecture 21 to see it in operation. The fiend! He also supplies many animations, showing for example how the Temple of Concordia at Agrigentum was put together (Lecture 4) and how the Romans built the Baths of Caracalla (Lecture 15). In my favorite animation (Lecture 10), Ressler puts himself into a computer-generated field to show how Roman surveyors would use a groma with plum lines to lay out the street grid of a new town. Ressler’s lecture technique, sometimes a bit hesitant in the previous course, is just about flawless here.
The course asks and answers three big questions. How was it built? How did it work? And more to the point for the history of technology, what was the broader social and political context for its development? It also pushes back against the notion that the classical era was one of technological stagnation. It’s true that the Greeks and Romans invented few new things (the screw, the water wheel and concrete) to what they learned from others, but they were very creative at finding new applications for existing inventions. An easy example is the Romans’ use of the arch in basilicas, baths and temples, and eventually churches. Both peoples diffused their technologies widely, ensuring their survival through the Dark Ages in the West and the Islamic conquest in the East. Scholars of the past claimed that slavery discouraged innovation, but Ressler dismisses this view as overstated. To lift a ten thousand-pound column drum without machinery, for example, one would have to employ a hundred slaves, each able to lift a hundred pounds; it can’t be done. According to new research, the Romans were also quite familiar with the water mill and the horse collar; medieval historians will have to revise the thesis that these inventions help explain growing rural production and population in the West from 950 to 1300.
As in the previous course, Ressler displays an occasional puckish sense of humor. At the end of each disk are clips of a couple of bloopers. In one of them he badly misses shooting a target with bow and arrow, and then remarks to the film crew, “As an archer I make a pretty good engineer.” Okay, so he’s a bad archer, but he’s a great teacher.
March 15, 2016
Rated 5 out of 5 by BGZRedux Absolutely Fascinating; Superbly Taught
Not much to add. This fully deserves its 100% recommendation tally, which I've never seen before with a substantial number of reviewers. One of TGC's best courses.
Ancient civil engineering has never been an area of particular interest to me, so I put off watching for a while, but once I started . . . The material described, both intellectual and physical, is completely fascinating, and it is beautifully woven into the fabric of ancient Greek and Roman history, art, and architecture, as well as - of course - warfare.
Professor Ressler is remarkable. His boundless enthusiasm is fortunately matched by his knowledge, his organization, his straightforward eloquence, and his ability to explain a technical field in a way that is engaging, comprehensible, and actually makes you want to learn more. And his physical models and computer simulations are wonderful.
This course has my highest recommendation for anyone with any intellectual curiosity, even if you don't have a prior interest in the subject. And, as a side benefit, it provides a deep appreciation for the extraordinary technical and engineering imagination and achievements of those who lived millenia ago.
May 21, 2015
Rated 5 out of 5 by Dogbert Six Stars, Please!
This course is a beautiful examination of Greek and Roman technology with a great transition into modern architecture and building technology. Never have I learned so much in one course. Dr. Ressler's physical and computer models make learning challenging engineering concepts fun and interesting. I can't say enough about how wonderful this course is. As a professor, I took away many ideas for teaching as well as learning about the technology. The end of the course was great - watch until the credits are done!
January 14, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by Archaeophile Highly Informative, Useful and Entertaining
As a tech-challenged liberal arts graduate who once considered engineering an alien subject, I initially absorbed Dr. Ressler’s course on “Understanding the World’s Greatest Structures” and marveled at his extraordinary skill in explaining seemingly complex engineering principles in simple terms for his mostly lay audience. When I saw his latest effort, “Understanding Greek and Roman Technology” advertised, I immediately chose the video download and watched all 24 lectures streaming on my iPad over the Christmas holiday, a viewing mode, by the way, that I highly recommend.
Being an aficionado of the classical world, I was enthralled with the subject matter and fascinated by the professor’s explanations of ancient technologies. His super clear narrative is accompanied by two types of supporting models: small physical models of wood, metal and glass that he made himself, demonstrating how these devices were created and actually worked in antiquity; and secondly, highly sophisticated computer-generated models of more complex structures that show in detail how ancient engineers ingeniously designed and manufactured various machines to solve problems ranging from enhanced means of warfare to monumental construction to agricultural irrigation.
While every single lecture offers fascinating insights into ancient technology, my favorites are his superb treatment of the construction complexities involved in the Roman Pantheon (lecture 9), Trajan’s Column (lecture 17) and the Greek Trireme (lecture 23).
This course on ancient technology is, in my opinion, especially in combination with Dr. Ressler’s earlier course on engineering structures, among the very best of the “Great Courses”, in terms not just of personal enjoyment, but also in providing a valuable basic understanding of a multitude of human-engineered structures both large and small, ancient and modern.
January 1, 2014