Ancient Empires before Alexander

Course No. 3150
Professor Robert L. Dise Jr., Ph.D.
University of Northern Iowa
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Course No. 3150
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Course Overview

Ponder the term "the ancient world" for just a moment. What personalities, images, and events come to mind? For most of us, the legacy of the ancient world is symbolized by the twin pillars of Western civilization: the empires of Greece and Rome. But what about the empires that came before them?

Although realms such as Akkad, Assyria, Babylon, Hatti, and Ur dwell on the fringes of recorded history, they nevertheless represent human civilization's first experiments in empire building. Their intriguing reigns

  • gave birth to the political, judicial, religious, and military systems that would influence the administration of subsequent empires;
  • steered earlier societies on a course that would eventually lead to our modern world's intricate system of nations, states, and countries; and
  • played key roles in episodes in ancient history, such as the Babylonian captivity, the Trojan and Peloponnesian wars, and the eventual rise of the Greek and Roman empires.

The fascinating stories behind these empires are required knowledge for you to develop a full understanding of the ancient world in its entirety.

Ancient Empires before Alexander is your opportunity to finally complete your knowledge of the ancient world with a comprehensive look at history's first empires. Professor Robert L. Dise Jr. of the University of Northern Iowa—an expert on the history of the ancient world—examines these fascinating kingdoms as their own unique subjects, ones that reflect the struggles, successes, and failures of establishing an empire. Over the course of 36 insightful lectures, follow the Egyptians, the Mycenaean Greeks, the Persians, the Carthaginians, and others as they rise to glory, create administrative and military structures, clash with one another, and eventually collapse.

How Do Empires Rise? Why Do They Fall?

Until 200 years ago, these empires were little more than names. Some had even been entirely forgotten. Recently, however, profound advances in archaeology and history have vastly improved our knowledge about the world's first empires—those that provided the foundation for future empires to follow.

As Ancient Empires before Alexander is a course on the rise and fall of history's earliest empires, you spend much of the course immersed in the political, administrative, and military details of these thrilling civilizations. While social and cultural issues are not unimportant to the rise and fall of empires, they often play secondary roles, according to Professor Dise; rather, the aim of his lectures is to place each of these empires within a larger exploration of empire building.

Employing a wealth of archaeological and archival evidence, Professor Dise brings the ancient world's diverse empires to life through an analysis of three basic questions:

  • How did this particular empire emerge?
  • How was it governed and defended?
  • How and why did it ultimately fall?

These three seemingly simple questions, you quickly discover, raise a host of profound issues on the growth, development, and failures of vast imperial systems. Their answers also provide you with invaluable insights into the similarities and differences between the course's rich offering of empires—how one empire's success could be another's undoing, how administrative and imperial practices evolved from one realm to the next, and how the creation of new forms of rule and defense adapted to challenges from both geography and neighboring empires.

Ancient History's Greatest Empires—Revealed!

Throughout Ancient Empires before Alexander, you immerse yourself in the details of the dozen empires that flourished in the 2,000 years before the conquests of Alexander the Great paved the way for the triumphs of the Roman Empire. Grounded in a chronological approach, the lectures begin in ancient Mesopotamia and span the river valleys, deserts, and mountain ranges of the Near East. You encounter these empires and others:

  • The Akkadian Empire, the first empire in human history established in the late 3rd millennium B.C. by Sargon the Great. Sargon and his successors pioneered the techniques of imperial rule and set a pattern on which later Mesopotamian empires would emulate and elaborate.
  • The Empire of Hatti, which dominated Asia Minor. The emergence of this empire in the early 2nd millennium B.C. presaged the downfall of Mesopotamia's power in the ancient world. Unlike strongly centralized Mesopotamian empires, Hatti—home to the Hittites—was very loosely structured and almost feudal in nature.
  • The Persian Empire, which would grow into the largest empire the ancient world had yet seen, stretching from Libya to India. This wealthy empire supported local autonomy within its imperial unity and displayed a tolerance for its bewildering diversity of peoples. Alexander the Great, however, would spell doom for this impressive civilization.
  • The Carthaginian Empire, a sea empire (thalassocracy) that consisted of Phoenician settlements along the coast of the western Mediterranean and possessed far-flung trading networks. Carthage would eventually be destroyed by Rome during the Punic Wars of the 3rd century B.C.

In addition, you discover fresh new perspectives on more familiar ancient empires, including Israel, Babylon, and Egypt, as well as the interactions—both friendly and antagonistic—between these and other kingdoms.

These thrilling empires, you learn, owe much to the leaders who ruled them and the warriors who protected them. As you explore each empire, you also meet some of the ancient world's most captivating figures and place their lives and deeds in the context of their respective kingdoms. Throughout the lectures, you come across awe-inspiring individuals such as

  • Hammurabi, famed for his code of laws and renowned for being a hands-on administrator of his empire;
  • Solomon, who succeeded his father David as king of Israel and centralized royal power;
  • Xerxes, who led a massive Persian invasion of the Greek city-states, only to leave the empire weakened and vulnerable to foreign attack; and
  • Hannibal, the brilliant Carthaginian general who engineered a series of stunning defeats of the Roman army yet failed to stop Rome's rise to imperial power.

An Invaluable Guide through the Ancient World

You'll find no better guide through the palatial halls, administrative offices, war-torn battlefields, and sacred temples of these diverse empires than Professor Dise. A passionate teacher and military historian who has spent his career immersed in this historical era, he packs each lecture of Ancient Empires before Alexander with a range of rich historical sources on which our current understanding of the ancient Near East rests, including

  • more than a million cuneiform tablets from imperial and municipal archives;
  • colorful narratives written by Greek, Roman, and Hebrew sources; and
  • archaeological remains excavated from once-lost cities and kingdoms.

With Professor Dise, you learn how to comb through these intriguing records, dodging pitfalls of misinterpretation and bias while teaching yourself how to examine historical documents and archaeological findings with a seasoned eye. You'll quickly become a more trained observer of human history and more informed about the ways the past is recorded and passed down to subsequent generations.

Spanning thousands of years of human history and encompassing regions both familiar and forgotten, Ancient Empires before Alexander is a remarkable tour through the unfamiliar reaches of the ancient world. It's an exciting way to explore the legacies of the world's earliest empires and an unforgettable opportunity to complete your grasp of the ancient world—in all its marvelous diversity.

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36 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    A Meditation on Empire
    What makes a true "empire"? How do empires rise and flourish? How do they decline and fall? Discover pointed answers to these and other fundamental questions about the study of empires in this engaging course overview. x
  • 2
    Lands, Seas, and Sources
    Tour the geography of the ancient Near East, which played a decisive role in the region's fascinating empires. Then, look at the kinds of archaeological and documentary evidence—such as the discoveries from excavations of ancient sites and from historical writings—that help us better understand this period. x
  • 3
    Sargon and the Dawn of Empire
    Chart the rise of the Akkadian Empire, established by Sargon and strengthened by his grandson, Naram-Sin. Learn how they forged the pattern that future Mesopotamian empires would follow—one based on the central authority of a king—and how their empire eventually collapsed under pressures both within and without. x
  • 4
    The Third Dynasty of Ur
    In the late 22nd century B.C., the imperial dynasty of Ur III briefly rose to power in Sumeria. Professor Dise takes you inside the dynasty's founding under Ur-Nammu, its tyrannical taxation and economic systems, its imperial government and administrative structure under King Shulgi, and its disintegration after barely a century. x
  • 5
    The Empire of Hammurabi
    After Ur III, the subsequent power vacuum in Mesopotamia was filled by the famous king Hammurabi. See how he established the First Dynasty of Babylon and administered rule through a detailed code of law. Hammurabi was so entwined with the First Dynasty that, after his death, the empire swiftly collapsed. x
  • 6
    Mitanni and the Kassites
    Sort through the mysterious histories of two Mesopotamian empires that emerged after the First Dynasty of Babylon. The Mitanni of northern Mesopotamia lived in a decentralized state similar to a feudal society, while the Kassites in the south brought about a series of important social and economic changes. x
  • 7
    The Rise of Hatti
    Hatti, the Hittite kingdom, was the first Near Eastern empire that expanded beyond the river valleys of the Nile and Mesopotamia. Explore the kingdom's origins in early 2nd millennium B.C. Anatolia and study the dynastic crises that threatened its stability. x
  • 8
    The Government of Hatti
    In this lecture, focus on the elements of Hittite government, paying particular attention to the central role played by the Great King (the "Labarna")—especially in judicial matters. Hatti, you learn, possessed an intricate imperial system that blended hierarchy, bureaucracy, and feudalism. x
  • 9
    Hatti at War
    The history of Hatti, according to Professor Dise, is a history of war. Here, examine how this great empire conducted battles against threats from all around. Explore the details of chariot battle, listen to the Great King ask the gods for success in battle, and learn how defeated enemies were treated. x
  • 10
    The Climax and Collapse of Hatti
    Conclude your exploration of Hatti by studying its pinnacle of power from 1430 to 1200 B.C., the period known as the New Kingdom. In addition to investigating the key role played by the warrior-king Suppiluliumas, probe some possible reasons the empire suddenly collapsed, never to rise again. x
  • 11
    The Rise of the Egyptian Empire
    In the first of three lectures on ancient Egypt, chart the important role of geography in the empire's rise and delve into the historical resources that help scholars understand Dynasty 18—the greatest dynasty in Egypt's history. Then, see how Thutmose III's reign ushered in the golden age of Egyptian imperial power. x
  • 12
    The Imperial Army and Administration
    Unpack the intricacies of New Kingdom Egypt's administrative and military systems. Egypt's government under the New Kingdom was more tightly centralized than at any other point in the country's history, while its army played a critical role in both imperial expansion and defense. x
  • 13
    The End of the Egyptian Empire
    How did the massive Egyptian Empire disintegrate and disappear? Professor Dise looks at the final two dynasties of New Kingdom Egypt, focusing on the series of clashes between Egypt and Hatti and attacks from the Libyans and the Sea Peoples. x
  • 14
    The Minoan Thalassocracy
    Meet the most obscure of all peoples in antiquity: the Minoans. Thriving on and around Crete for roughly 2,000 years, the Minoans are important for many reasons, including their influence on the emergence of Greek mainland civilization and their possible creation of the first sea-based empire, or thalassocracy. x
  • 15
    Mycenae and the Dawn of Greece
    Legend and modern archaeological fact agree that the most important kingdom in Bronze Age Greece was Mycenae, which rose to power around 1600 B.C. Here, learn how the excavation of two key sites revealed insights into Mycenaean dynasties; then, explore the culture's decentralized government and its warlike nature. x
  • 16
    The Collapse of the Mycenaean World
    Mycenaean Greece flourished between the late 15th and early 14th centuries B.C., but by around 1180 B.C., it collapsed, probably from the inside. How did this happen? Was it the civilization's heroic culture, or the Trojan War? Either way, the empire's collapse signaled the end of Bronze Age Greece. x
  • 17
    The Birth of Israel
    See the story of Israel as the epic tale of a small kingdom's brief rise to greatness—one that would change the future of the entire world. Compare the biblical and archaeological evidence behind watershed moments in Israel's history, including the Exodus and the conquest of Canaan. x
  • 18
    The Empire of David and Solomon
    Experience the short-lived imperial glory of ancient Israel under the reigns of King David and his son, Solomon. Under David, Israel expanded beyond the confines of Canaan through a series of decisive military campaigns. Unlike his father's reign, Solomon's rule centralized both royal power and control of religion under the king. x
  • 19
    The Dawn of Assyria
    Around 2000 B.C., Assyria was a backwater district ruled by its conquerors. So how did it evolve into one of antiquity's greatest empires—one that spanned more than 1,000 years and came into contact with other imperial powers in the ancient Near East? Discover the answer in this fascinating lecture. x
  • 20
    The Rise of the Neo-Assyrian Empire
    The Neo-Assyrian Empire, which emerged at the end of the 10th century B.C., was characterized by a more aggressive spirit than before, something you discover in a close analysis of its rulers, their frequent military campaigns, and the subsequent Great Rebellion that brought about nearly 80 years of chaos. x
  • 21
    The Government of Assyria
    Here, explore the details of Assyria's highly centralized government—the most comprehensive apparatus of imperial administration that the Near East had seen up to this point. In addition, examine the real reasons behind the Assyrians' infamous brutality toward their enemies and their policy of deporting conquered populations. x
  • 22
    Assyria at War
    The massive military machine of the Neo-Assyrian Empire was essential to combating the many threats along its weak frontiers. Focus on the Assyrian army's organization, its weaponry, its battle tactics and strategies, and its rationale for waging war against the Aramaeans, Babylonians, and others. x
  • 23
    The Climax and Collapse of Assyria
    Meet the empire's three last rulers: Sennacherib, who stabilized and expanded the empire; Esarhaddon, who instigated the conquest of Egypt; and Ashurbanipal, who suppressed the Great Rebellion of Babylonian peoples. Then, investigate the internal and external causes of Assyria's fall and the rise of the Neo-Babylonian Empire. x
  • 24
    The Neo-Babylonian Empire
    After a lengthy period of subjugation under the Assyrians, in the late 7th and early 6th centuries Mesopotamia rose again in the form of the Chaldean, or Neo-Babylonian, Empire. Piece together the empire's story—as well as its vibrant cultural and economic life—using insightful archival and archaeological evidence. x
  • 25
    The Rise of the Persian Empire
    Turn now to a riveting examination of the greatest empire in the ancient Near East: the Persian Empire. Created during the reign of Cyrus the Great (559–530 B.C.), the empire was a multiethnic, multicultural, and multilingual realm that established a successful model for ruling diversity. x
  • 26
    The Outbreak of the Greek Wars
    Plunge into the heat of battle between the Persian Empire and the city-states of Greece during the Greco-Persian Wars, which raged from 499 to 449 B.C. Explore Persian efforts to neutralize Greek autonomy and discover the strategies that led to a Greek victory at the epic Battle of Marathon. x
  • 27
    Xerxes and the Invasion of Greece
    Follow the second phase of Persia's war against Greece, this time under the reign of King Xerxes. Professor Dise guides you through the details of three key battles: the Spartans' last stand at Thermopylae, the chaotic sea battle at Artemisium, and the Greek victory at Salamis, which crippled Persian morale. x
  • 28
    From Plataea to the Peace of Callias
    How did Persia's wars with Greece end? Discover the answer in this lecture, which explains how the Battle of Plataea forced the Persian Empire to go on the defensive, endure a series of defeats, and ultimately reach a cessation of hostilities in 449 B.C. with the Peace of Callias. x
  • 29
    The Persian Empire from 450 to 334
    It was only with the help of shrewd and capable leaders that the Persian Empire restored itself to power after the Greco-Persian Wars. Learn how Artaxerxes, Darius II Ochus, and other Persian leaders revived their empire—just in time to meet the threat posed by Alexander the Great. x
  • 30
    The Government and Army of Persia
    Learn how the rule of Darius I brought about the classical Persian system of imperial administration, with its system of satrapies (provinces) and royal treasuries. Also, travel along the Royal Road (the empire's central communications network) and explore the massive—but flawed—Persian army. x
  • 31
    Alexander and the Fall of Persia
    In just four years, the greatest empire the ancient world had ever seen fell—and all at the hands of Alexander the Great. How did this happen? Chart the collapse of the Persian Empire in this piercing examination of the Macedonian leader's military campaign to conquer the ancient world. x
  • 32
    The Origins of Carthage and Its Empire
    After the end of the Persian Empire, the only Near Eastern state left was Carthage. Learn how this outpost in the western Mediterranean evolved into the greatest sea empire the world had ever seen—and would ever see—for the next 2,000 years. x
  • 33
    Ruling and Defending Carthage's Empire
    Examine how Carthage administered its empire—through both a monarchy and a government composed of the magistrates, the council, and the people—and defended it with a mercenary army and a citizen navy. Both the Carthaginian government and military, you learn, reflected the commercial nature of the empire. x
  • 34
    The First War with Rome
    Perhaps the most epic conflict of the ancient world was the Punic Wars waged between Carthage and Rome. Discover how the first phase of conflict was born in Carthage's struggle for control of Sicily—first with the Greek city of Syracuse and then with the emerging Roman Republic. x
  • 35
    Hannibal and the Fall of Carthage
    Even though he was a masterful leader, Hannibal's military strategies during the Second Punic War were not enough to stave off Carthage's eventual defeat by Roman forces. Explore the final two phases of the Punic Wars, which ended with the total destruction of Carthage and the triumph of the Rome. x
  • 36
    Ancient Empires before Alexander, and After
    Conclude your journey through more than 2,000 years of history with a final look at the startling differences and similarities between these ancient empires. From Bronze Age Mesopotamia to Carthage, each of these realms is a chapter in the fascinating story of empire—a story that will continue as long as human ambition endures. x

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Your professor

Robert L. Dise Jr.

About Your Professor

Robert L. Dise Jr., Ph.D.
University of Northern Iowa
Dr. Robert L. Dise Jr. is Associate Professor of History at the University of Northern Iowa, where he teaches highly popular courses on the history of the ancient Near East, Greece, Rome, and classical civilization. He earned his B.A. in History from the University of Virginia and his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. Before joining the faculty at the University of Northern Iowa, Professor Dise taught at Clinch...
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Reviews

Ancient Empires before Alexander is rated 3.9 out of 5 by 85.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A great learning experience. I will commit more of this course to long-term memory than of any other course I have ever taken. I was enchanted by what I learned about the Mycenaeans. Thanks, Professor Dise.
Date published: 2017-12-04
Rated 2 out of 5 by from No Big Picture; Not Very Engaging I purchased this course primarily because I was interested in learning more about ancient Mesopotamia. I thought the "History of the Ancient World: A Global Perspective" course provided an excellent overview of the region but due to the breadth of the course, it could only dedicate a few lectures to it. I was disappointed with "Between the Rivers: The History of Ancient Mesopotamia" so I decided to try Professor Dise's course. Unfortunately, I had the same general reaction: I just couldn't get into this course. It didn't draw me in. The professor states up front the course is focused almost exclusively on the political and military narrative history of the empires. Which is usually right up my alley because that is what interests me the most. However, the delivery of the content caused me to zone out way too often. While it was somewhat dry and monotone, the real issue in my estimation is that the professor didn't seem to take the time to pause the narrative every now and then and explain big picture where some of the developments have led us. He went from one battle to another to one kingdom rising to another to the point where it sounded like nothing more than a recitation of straight facts of kings that conquer other kings with no real "story". While I understand teaching is not about entertainment, alot of the other Great Courses out there combine both which is what keeps one coming back for more and has made me a life-time fan. In that respect, this course is lacking. Lecture 17 on the beginnings of Israel was about the only lecture that stroke my interest. Comparing the historical account of events in the Bible with other archaeological evidence was thought provoking. If you are one who is satisfied with listening to just the facts about these ancient empires, their kings, their battles, and their falls in a steady manner with no pause for reflection on bigger pictures then this could be the course for you. If you like a little entertainment with your lectures or more overarching analysis or something to draw you in then I'd say stay away and instead go with the superb "History of the Ancient World: A Global Perspective". Meanwhile, my search for a quality Great Course on ancient Mesopotamia continues...
Date published: 2017-09-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very well done! A huge amount of information, very well presentated. Fills the gaps in a traditional classical education. Highly recommended to anyone interested in the subject.
Date published: 2017-06-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Complete Excellent detailed course. The take home lessons were the almost numberless empires that rose and fell. The lecturer drives home what an empire is and why it is bound to eventually fall. Only by seeing the same historical mistakes made over and over again can the listener appreciate this and make the obvious comparisons to our own day and age.
Date published: 2017-04-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Power of Individuals Dr. Rufus Fears in Great Romans makes the point that history doesn't just happen, individuals create it. Dr. Fears in his own way made that history of the Great Romans come alive, to in a sense, live again and create their great feats on a contemporary stage. That is what Dr. Dise does in his presentations - he causes the Akkadian world to come back to life and play out its story for his audience. The significance of this however, does not end there, for up to that point, it is merely entertainment. It isn't education until you apply it. And both Fears and Dise give the narrative that inspiration it needs to drive contemplation of how those events drive our lives today. It does this by making those event real, as real as if they were happening today. So telling those stories, like Homer, is like remaking history for a contemporary audience and driving that audience to model those histories in a contemporary context. For example, the supremacy of monarchy as a form of government, has been demonstrated time and again. .
Date published: 2017-02-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Incredible Course Of the 26 Teaching Company courses I've purchased over the past few years, this one somehow became my unexpected favorite. It's a comprehensive and eye-opening survey of ancient history and civilizations I knew little or nothing about previously. Some reviewers have complained about the instructor's tone of voice, but I felt that he was very focused, precise and engaging. No complaints at all from me. Every lecture left me wanting to know even more. This was an excellent course and well worth the investment of time and money.
Date published: 2016-08-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Underpinning the underpinnings of our culture. I did the audio version so I did not notice what others have -- that Professor Dise seems to be reading his notes and that his presentation was flat. I did not notice this in the audio version. I found this course interesting but it spent a lot of time on wars. I know this is important to understanding how an empire came into being and how it ended, but I would have liked more about other aspects of each empire -- like the culture, religion, life style. I found two areas where the course book is lacking: 1. One of the reviewers stated that the maps in the video presentation were helpful. These were not included in the course book. To quote it, "An understanding of that scenery is crucial to understanding the history that unfolded." Fortunately I know the geographical features of the area. 2. There is a time line but it is strictly chronological. I would have found it more helpful had there been a chart showing the specific empires so I could see the overlap of various empires. Even with the negatives I've mentioned, I did enjoy this course and would recommend it to anyone who likes history. The time period covered here is not usually stressed in our college courses. Sure, we learn about the Greek and Roman periods as they so underpin our culture, but these are the empires that underpinned those two great cultures. Where would we be without Hammurabi, without the Persians.
Date published: 2016-02-08
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Boring presentation with repetitive ideas Interesting topics, but presenter reads all of the lessons. He looks at the camera & it is easy to see that he is reading the material. Is glued to about 1 foot away from the podium. not enthusiastic. He seems bored at times with his own presentation. Very poor enunciation. Had to step up the volume to try to understand. Slurs many words. No meaningful visuals other than the maps. The maps are very good, with some interesting animation. Over all not worth the time nor money.
Date published: 2016-01-15
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Agree with "Bland" review; sounds like he is just reading without much animation. Just goes from name to name and battle to battle. Not informative as to what the ancient empires were all about.
Date published: 2015-10-09
Rated 2 out of 5 by from bland delivery and weak facts Unfortunately Prof. Dise sounds like he is just reading a book to himself, instead of trying to engage an audience. There are too many names of people and places thrown around to keep track of while you are multi-tasking and especially given that no map is provided in the companion book (I listened to the audio-only version and I have never had nearly so much trouble with other courses). Finally, Prof. Dise rarely pauses from his story-telling to explain what the historical evidence is for something he just said and I was left on many, many occasions wondering if what was stated was just speculation on his part.
Date published: 2015-07-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good overview of an often overlooked topic The content of this course is quite interesting and focused. It is ALL about following the chronological political history of Near East Empires. This is good because there are not a lot of courses in the TGC that cover this period. There are a few however: "Between the rivers ", "The Persian Empire, and "The history of Ancient Egypt". "Great Ancient civilizations of Asia Minor" also has a section devoted to the Hittite Empire. The topic of near east Empires is huge – it covers roughly three millennia and holds many, many different empires. Having heard these courses and enjoyed them tremendously, I felt that I was not satisfied with the coverage and was eager to hear more. On the one hand, the course is very coherent and focused, and investigates one central aspect only: political history of the Empires. The focus is on when the Empires rose and fell - and in what circumstances, who they fought and when, and who were their kings. It is great that Professor Dyse chose a relatively narrow scope of interest and so, could really drill down in some detail. On the other hand, not getting much background on the cultural, social and religious history leaves the lectures somewhat flat. The first six lectures were really quite disappointing for me because they spoke almost exclusively about battles and dates and so forth and it was very hard to get an integrative picture of the empires. In lecture seven he started discussing Hatti. From that point on, I found the lectures to be more interesting, with the exception of the discussion of the ancient Egyptian Empire which left a lot to be desired. Particularly I enjoyed the lectures about Hatti, the Assyrian Empire and of Carthage. This is because the discussion was a bit deeper and also discussed #though not in great depth# aspects the government and of the religious life; but primarily because these important empires are not covered so well in other courses though they impact many other "Star" Empires. A prime example is Carthage in relation to the Roman Empire Many reviewers complained that Professor Dyse's presentation is boring, appearing as if he is reading the lectures from paper. I do not agree #at least from lecture seven onwards#. His presentation is sober and academic, and the lectures are well structured and easy to follow. Granted, they are not particularly entertaining such as for example Professor Brier's course on Ancient Egypt. Personally, though it is pleasant if the lectures are entertaining, I find this aspect is way overrated. Getting a good and clear presentation of a topic that contains interesting content and profound insights is much more important. In my opinion Professor Dyse does achieve this in most of the lectures in this series.
Date published: 2015-06-21
Rated 3 out of 5 by from What you buy is what you'll get... ...And by that I mean that Dr. Dise is very upfront that this will NOT be a cultural exploration of history. So don't expect that. I hold a degree in history and in some ways, this course reminds me why so many people find history boring. I made it though about half the course before having to walk away as it became a jumble of names, dates and civilizations. Does that mean I didn't like it? Not necessarily. But it's something that most of us can only take for a short time before our brains start to melt and we loose interest. Having said that, it is a course that I can come back to and take up again and I do believe it's valuable and well-presented information. I have the audiobook and thus did not see issues brought up by other reviewers about the visual DVD. I personally found Dr. Dise's audio presentation interesting and concise. He sounds like the actor Scott Glenn, and has good inflection in his speech. This is pretty dry information at times, and I don't think it's fair to blame him because of the material. It is what it is and if you want more cultural background, probably another course is a better choice. If it's on sale, it's a worthwhile purchase and a good reference.
Date published: 2015-04-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exactly What Was Promised This course is truly a history of empires, not a history of culture. That is, what led to the empire being created, how it was sustained, and why it fell. If you want a detailed history of one of these empires, or lots of culture, this course isn't for you. However, I found this course fascinating. The interactions between the various empires as they rose and fell were presented very clearly. The maps were especially helpful in understanding what was going on. Was Dise's delivery a bit dry? Yes. But I got the feeling it was because that's just the way he is. (I've seen other courses where the professors looked like deer in headlights, but that didn't seem to be the problem here.) He also had a fairly dry and sarcastic sense of humor. As for the complaints about reading from the teleprompter... Seriously? What's the problem? How many people could lecture on a topic for exactly 30 minutes without leaving anything out or without going over because they got off on a tangent? Probably very few. This is very different from a college course where not quite finishing means you just pick up there the next day or leave out the material and omit it from the next exam. Each lecture has to fit into the allotted time slot. Without a script that is practiced, this would be rare instead of common. I'd much rather have the course read than have the lectures run short with forgotten nuggets. And, if you read lots of reviews, you'll notice the complaints when professors leave their notes and speak off the cuff and sprinkle in "uhs" and "ums". In addition, the Great Courses are already expensive enough. How many more takes would be required if the professors were extemporising? The additional production costs would surely drive up purchase prices. Sorry about the rant, but the course should be judged primarily on its content. And the content of this course is excellent. The presentation is important too, and I had no problem listening to Dise. He doesn't speak in a monotone, but he also isn't particularly animated. Could he be more dynamic? Yes. Did I feel he wasn't interested? No. Am I glad he taught the class? Absolutely. Would I buy another course by him? You bet I would.
Date published: 2015-01-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A good intro into ancient mediterranean empires I enjoyed this course probably because I had only a basic knowledge of Ancient Mesopotamian Empires before the age of Alexander. Prof Dise provides a very broad sweep of ancient Mediterranean/ Near East history, from which I learned a great deal. His delivery was a bit monotone but he did insert 'dry humour' into his lectures. I was initially distracted by his reading from a teleprompter but I set this aside and listened to the content. I have returned to his lectures, in particular about the Persians as the lectures sparked greater interest in the Persian Empire.
Date published: 2015-01-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Ancient world history explained in geographic term Fortunately, I bought this course in DVD. I am fascinated in the Middle East and how it evolved. This professor does a marvelous job of explaining how the geography of the middle east was instrumental in the evolving of the civilization and the cultures in the area. I have watched this course twice and discover something new each time. Thank you professor. Are you planning on another course soon?
Date published: 2014-10-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic! I cannot recommend this course enough. As a college Professor, I highly appreciate the nuanced and engaging views presented in this series. The instructor is clearly an elite historian. And while I have a degree in history among other things, we presented insights and a comprehensive analysis that was utterly engaging from start to finish. I highly recommend to everyone who cares about history. One slight caveat: This professor provides extraordinarily detailed discussions of military and political history. Some may find this "boring." However, pay attention to the "big picture" as he is filling in details on the "micro" picture. He really hits it all and with precision. Utterly impressive.
Date published: 2014-08-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Orientation for the First Half of Recorded History This was a good follow-on to Professor Harl’s “Origins of Great Ancient Civilizations,” and gives a good orientation to the first half of recorded history. I agree, however, with both Leonidas’ plea for more details on culture (I would add language as well), and with Osage’s rebuttal, especially his example of the totalitarian socialism in Ur III. This was a timely reminder that man was not in fact born free, and that chains have been a part of human history from the beginning. For me the most striking insight was how highy-developed the great power system was. While Greece and Rome founded our civilization, they did so in competition with a civilization that was as old then as ours is now, which Americans would do well to remember when meddling in the Middle East. My one mundane complaint (besides agreeing that Professor Dise once or twice needed a re-take) is that the essential maps, apparently shown in the video, are not available in the audio supplementary materials.
Date published: 2013-10-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fascinating Well researched and filled with excellent details into daily life. Perfect for the history buff or mental time traveller :)
Date published: 2013-06-05
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Dull It gives me no pleasure to write a highly negative review, but I believe that my fellow customers deserve fair warning and that TTC's production staff should be held accountable to the high quality standards they have set for themselves. I struggled through the first 12 lectures of this course before giving up and deciding to return it for a refund -- something I've almost never done in my 18 years as a TTC customer. Ancient History is an inherently fascinating subject, but Dise turns it into a soporific recitation of battles. Surely there's more to pre-Alexander ancient history than chronologies of royal dynasties and military engagements. At least during the first 12 lectures, the viewer gets almost no culture, archaeology, or social history -- just dry recitations of monarchs, battles, and shifting frontiers. It doesn't help that Mr. Dise drones his script in a monotone, reading off the teleprompter. I would urge TTC's course production staff to lose the teleprompter and require the professors to deliver their lectures extemporaneously. If a lecturer can't speak without a script, he or she ipso facto probably doesn't meet the required standard. The on-screen maps and drawings are terrific (TTC must have blown the production budget on this course), but snazzy graphics can't make up for sleep-inducing content and leaden delivery.
Date published: 2013-03-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from excellent choice This professor packs a lot of information in his lectures. I really like his well-constructed sentences and his slightly wry or ironic sense of humor. He's not lost in his subject matter; rather, he's very present and seems connected somehow to the listener. Also, he has a good voice, without any annoying idiosyncracies that some of the professors have. He sounds almost exactly like the actor, Thomas Hayden Church.
Date published: 2013-02-19
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Hars to listen Probably would be better to read this material, than to listen to it. Professor reads it mechanically, at times without paying attention to content and making wrong accents. Long complex sentences are appropriate for textbook material, but not for oral presentation. If you are interested in the subject better buy and read a good textbook.
Date published: 2013-01-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Ancient Empires before Alexander I thoroughly enjoyed this course and have watched it twice and plan to do so again. There is a lot of information to absorb and remembering the names is difficult because they are so unfamiliar. That said, the history and culture of the middle east has contributed so much to our culture and background that it is well worth struggling through the names. There is lots more to ancient history than Greece, Rome and Persia. .
Date published: 2012-10-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The March of History with a Beautiful Voice I listened to these lectures on long drives alone this past summer and was thoroughly enchanted the entire trip. Professor Dise has a beautiful, comforting voice and he takes you on a well-organized, thorough, and captivating journey through empires of the western world. Do realize that this is a course which focuses on *empire* and empire building, therefore much attention is given to military and political aspects of empire. While culture and religion are certainly mentioned, this is not a course about the arts or sociology.
Date published: 2012-10-10
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Reading the Lecture This is one of the few courses where one is left with the distinct impression that the lecturer is simply reading a paper rather than providing the nuances and emphases of lecturing. And, at best, he does an average job of reading his paper. Second, it is a given that, a long time having passed since ancient empires existed, there is a limited amount of information available. But there has to be more than a list of rulers, the battles in which they participated, and what happened to the losers. Last, while I'm neither an Evangelical nor a Zionist, the treatment of the Israeli civilization seemed just a little too critical and a little too under appreciated. It's interesting, but I had hoped for more.
Date published: 2012-09-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from great! what a great course did I say it was GREAT so what does great mean -- it means inspiring the "student" to want more, to come back, to question, to learn, and to understand WHY the professor is so captivated by the topic. this course SUCCEEDS!!!!
Date published: 2012-09-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Thorough and relevent I've become an ancient history addict as a result of The Teaching Company courses. I was impressed with Professor Dise' knowledge and the selection of topics in this course. A lot of detail, or at least as much detail as is available, on some of the lesser known cultures. I agree with some of the criticism concerning Prof. Dise' delivery. His style is a bit dry and he often seems to lack enthusiasm. Still I give him 4 stars. I appreciate his facts-only approach and the extensive use of maps and other helpful visual aids. I have no problem recommending this course and fully expect to go through it again.
Date published: 2011-12-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of my all-time favorites! I have had some 4-5 dozen Teaching Company courses in the past dozen years and this is one I keep coming back to. Prof. Dise's narration captures the epochal drama of the ancient world. The lack of information about society and every-day life is inevitable; most of the civilizations he describes haven't left us any! I'm a fan of 'old-fashioned' history, and this course is a real joy.
Date published: 2011-11-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Hard-Core Ancient History As another reviewer mentioned, if you are looking for a pleasant social history about the life and times of ordinary Babylonians, this is not the course for you. This is hard-core, old school history: Kings, battles, and dates. If you are attuned to that style, this is a wonderful, expansive survey of the comings and goings of peoples and kingdoms over about 3000 years. I got the audio download of this course, so I don't have the benefit of the maps that you get with the DVD version. Still, armed with some general knowledge of the history and geography of the region, I had no trouble following the audio lectures with my "mental map." I found the course particularly valuable for learning about the lesser-known empires such as those of the Mittani and the Hittites, and Carthage. A fascinating lesson derived from the necessary "compression" of time for this course: Empire after empire, century after century, the rise and expansion and fall are exactly the same -- just different names. If that was true then, has it been true for every "empire" since then? I particularly enjoyed Professor Dise's narration. I don't know how it looks on DVD, but on audio the story he tells is tight and dramatic. At the end of each lecture he provides a "hook" that takes us to the next segment. And he has a wonderful voice, reminiscent of actor/art history professor Peter Weller.
Date published: 2011-11-02
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Better Second Half; Some Parts too Detailed I gave this course three (out of five) stars because although there are some very good parts, there are some boring parts. The course started well in the first 2 or so lectures, particularly the second lecture which provided the maps / geography of the near east, which I thought was enlightening and put everything into context. Although I learnt a lot from the course, certain parts of the lectures were quite boring, particularly in the first half of the course. For instance, I found the overly detailed discussions of the Hatti empire (4 half-hour lectures (including minute discussions on Hatti governmental routines and processes)) very long-winded and thus boring. I actually stopped the course at around this juncture for a month or two. The second half of the course I thought was very interesting and comparatively better presented. This included the coverage of the empires of David and Salomon (Israel), Assyria, Persia and Carthage. I particularly enjoyed the battle descriptions of Carthage's Hannibal Barca's battles (including Battle at Cannae), battles between Persian emperor's Xerxes' army against the Greeks around 480-479 BC (including the Battle at Thermopylae, Salamis and Plataea), and depictions of Alexander the Great's battles with the Persians (Granicus, Issus and Gaugamela). I also like how Prof Robert Dise discussed the sources (including archeological) and their credibilities prior to discussing the content of each lecture. In summary, the course covered 13 near East empires, with key details summarized chronologically as follows: 1. c 2334-2278 BC Reign of Sargon the Great, creator of history's first empire (Akkad) 2. c 1800-1450 BC Minoan naval empire in the Aegean (centered on Crete) 3. c 1650 BC The beginning of Hittite empire 4. c 1450 BC Minoan civilization ends; Mainland Greeks colonized Aegean 5. After 1350 BC Assyrian begins its rise to power 6. 1278 BC 'Sea Peoples' attacked Egypt for the first time 7. 1274 BC Battle of Kadesh between Egypt (under Ramses II) and Hittite 8. c1250 - c1230 BC Trojan War 9. c1220 BC The Exodus 10. c1220 - c1180 BC Simultaneous destruction of major near east civilizations (including Mycenaean, Hittite & the Levant) 11. c1025-1000 BC Saul became the first king of Israel 12. c 1000-960 BC David became king of Israel 13. c960-920 BC Solomon reigned as king of Israel 14. c945 BC Solomon begins construction of the Temple 15. 934-612 BC The ruthless Neo-Assyrian empire 16. 608 BC Neo-Babylonian empire destroyed the final remnants of the Neo-Assyrian empire 17. 597 BC Nebuchadrezzar, king of Neo-Babylonian, took Jerusalem and plundered the Temple 18. 586 BC Nebuchadrezzar ordered the destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem. The beginning of 'Babylonian Captivity' 19. 539 BC Cyrus the Great, king of Persia, destroyed the Neo-Babylonian empire and created an empire spanning almost all of the near-east 20. 480 BC Xerxes, king of Persia, led a massive land and sea assault Greece. Defeating the united Greek army at the pass of Thermopylae, Xerxes' army suffered defeat afterward at the battles of Salamis and battle of Plataea (1 year after Battle of Salamis) 21. 336 BC Philip II of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great, established a bridgehead in Anatolia 22. 336 - 330 BC Alexander the Great attacked and destroyed the Persian empire 23. 264 BC First Punic war between Carthage and Rome 24. 241 BC End of First Punic War and birth of the Roman Empire 25. 218 - 216 BC Second Punic war leading to Carthage general Hannibal's victories against the Romans at Ticinus, Trebia, Lake Trasimene and Cannae. Hannibal almost destroyed Rome 26. 202 BC Roman general Scipio Africanus defeated Hannibal at Zama, northern Africa 27. 146 BC Rome destroyed the city of Carthage at the end of the Third Punic War; the beginning of the long reign of the Roman Empire.
Date published: 2011-08-27
Rated 3 out of 5 by from OK for me but not for everyone This is classic old-fashioned military history. Lots of dates, lots of battle descriptions, lots of dead white males. Tactical and strategic analysis is often thoughtful (albeit sometimes anachronistic). But if you want social history -- what life was like, etc. -- then this is not the lecture series for you. Also, as noted by other reviewers, Prof. Dise reads his lectures word-for-word. The words are nicely put together, but the CD sounds more like something from Recorded Books than an in-person lecture.
Date published: 2011-06-11
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