Ancient Mesopotamia: Life in the Cradle of Civilization

Course No. 3166
Professor Amanda H. Podany, Ph.D.
California State Polytechnic University, Pomona
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Course No. 3166
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What Will You Learn?

  • numbers how the world's first justice system protected even the most vulnerable members of society.
  • numbers why personal letters offer key political insights and reveal the minutia of daily life and family dynamics.
  • numbers about the rise and fall of great kingdoms and the kings, queens, priests, and priestesses who wielded power.
  • numbers how people traded, traveled, and negotiated over long distances and interacted with the world around them.

Course Overview

Welcome to Mesopotamia, the ancient name for the region that is now Iraq and Syria, a remarkably advanced civilization that flourished for two-thirds of the time that civilization has existed on Earth. Mesopotamians mastered irrigation agriculture; built the first complex urban societies; developed writing, literature, and law; and united vast regions through warfare and diplomacy. While civilizations like Greece and Rome have an unbroken tradition of written histories, passed along by scholars through the generations, the rich history of Mesopotamia has only been recently rediscovered, thanks to the decipherment of Mesopotamia’s cuneiform writing less than 200 years ago. In this course, you’ll fill in the blanks of your historical understanding as you plunge into some of the newest information historians have gathered from hundreds of thousands of ancient cuneiform tablets and other artifacts.

When we imagine what life might have been like thousands of years in the past, the images we often conjure are primitive ones: reed and mud huts or plain brick dwellings, cooking pits, villagers, and simple farms. That was indeed what life was like in the earliest settlements, but by five thousand years ago, life in some places had become much more sophisticated than we might think. Impressive achievements—like stepped temples that towered like mountains, elaborate palaces (some with bathrooms and plumbing), and complex houses—were also a part of life for people who lived in cities that arose thousands of years ago, particularly in the fertile region that emerged along the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.

Ancient Mesopotamia: Life in the Cradle of Civilization is taught by one of the leading authorities on the region, Professor Amanda H. Podany. These 24 revealing lectures uncover events and advances that have had a profound influence on the world at large. Riveting stories about kings and priestesses as well as ordinary people from all walks of life transport you back in time, giving you invaluable insights into the history of a landmark region that has long been known as the cradle of civilization.

Creating Order Out of Chaos

Professor Podany begins with the Neolithic era, when early settlers began domesticating animals, planting crops, and crafting complex stone tools, and continues all the way through to the Iron Age, when the Persians conquered the region and ended Mesopotamia’s long era of independence.

Along the way, you will see why our notion of progress is something of an illusion. Each era of Mesopotamian history experienced immense change, and sometimes what many may consider “progress” when looking back into the past—like the shift from hunting and gathering to farming—proves to have been more complicated. While hunters and gatherers lived a relatively relaxed existence, often with abundant resources for their needs, farming actually added new and unpredictable complications to their way of life, even as it helped shape the future of the region. You’ll discover how the Mesopotamians adjusted to this new lifestyle and thrived under new circumstances.

The advent of agriculture may have contributed to a more predictable way of life in some ways, but unpredictable forces still raged through the lives of early Mesopotamians, from disease and famine to foreign invasion and natural disasters. Professor Podany demonstrates how the Mesopotamians, to compensate for all the uncontrollable factors at play, focused on the things they could control, creating orderly societies, shared social norms, and effective judicial systems. With her guidance, you will discover, for example, an early example of this type of organization and coordination: the extraordinary construction of the stone monuments to the gods at Gobekli Tepe, 12,000 years ago.

From temples to irrigation canals, you’ll witness many complex construction projects that required extensive organization and cooperation to accomplish. Additionally, the Mesopotamians were masters of trade who transported fine textiles and other goods across thousands of miles, trading them for metals, timber, and semi-precious stones.

You’ll also learn how religion functioned as a major unifying force that was interwoven in all aspects of society. Kings were believed to be chosen by the gods; all good and bad luck came from the gods, and the gods oversaw all judicial proceedings, treaties, and oaths. Religion was so omnipresent that they didn’t even have a word for it; they couldn’t conceive of it as something separate from other aspects of life.

Experience the Exciting World of Kings and Queens

Kings and queens have existed ever since the civilizations of ancient Mesopotamia, and Professor Podany explores how they attempted to be considered legitimate and to control their subjects. They did this by trying to be loved or feared, or sometimes both. This was not just an early form of public relations campaigns; the kings had to maintain the respect of their subjects and truly lead if they hoped to keep the throne. Official documents and fascinating letters exchanged between royals, all preserved on clay tablets, reveal:

  • Major responsibilities undertaken by kings, such as building temples to the gods, leading armies, levying taxes, and more;
  • The kings’ belief that the gods supported them and their decisions;
  • The graceful diplomatic language with which kings and queens communicated with one another internationally;
  • How diplomacy (conducted by envoys, and including exchanges of gifts and dynastic marriages) was used to form alliances and prevent wars;
  • Royal outliers who rose from humble origins, including a king whose story shares features with that of Moses in the Hebrew Bible; and
  • A range of ruling styles from the tyrannical to the benevolent.

While no two rulers may have been alike, one thing was constant: the rise and fall of kingdoms. Daily life for Mesopotamians was often surprisingly peaceful compared to much of the world in the same era, but it was often punctuated by periods of warfare. Professor Podany will help you trace this journey from one of the earliest-known examples of organized warfare, when the ancient site of Hamoukar was conquered, to the conquest of the Neo-Babylonian Empire at the hands of the Persians.

As you explore the relationships and conflicts among the peoples of Mesopotamia, Professor Podany highlights the perceived link between religion and wartime successes (and failures); points out some influential theories as to why great empires fell; and reveals the ways that times of prosperity could often be marred by natural disasters, infighting, and foreign invasion. Despite the ever-present threat of war, in many cases, kingdoms managed to avoid bloodshed through diplomacy. Stories of how kings leveraged resources and built relationships offer valuable examples of ancient wisdom and statecraft.

Explore Diverse, Tight-Knit Communities

Equally fascinating are the lives of ordinary people. With her warm and engaging style, Professor Podany personalizes each lecture and paints vivid pictures with her words, as when she imagines the everyday activities within a community with this evocative description: “…no doubt children ran from one house to another and women chatted while winnowing grain on the rooftops. Families must have eaten together and then slept on the flat roofs of their houses, enjoying the cool night air and staring up at the infinite stars overhead.”

Throughout Ancient Mesopotamia, you will journey through communities small and large, from the Neolithic town of Çatal Hüyük in Turkey, where houses without doors were crammed so close together that occupants had to enter by ladder from the roof, to one of the earliest and (for its time) largest cities, Uruk, featuring temples with dazzling geometric mosaics. Some of the things you will survey include:

  • How extended families functioned as a safety net;
  • How society was structured into social classes and professions;
  • How people divided their time between work and pleasure; and
  • The roles played by men, women, and children.

You’ll also learn how Mesopotamia was a cosmopolitan society that offered incredible diversity in terms of cultures and languages, which included (to name a few) Sumerian, Akkadian, Amorite, and Aramaic. Its rich farm land and flourishing cities attracted immigrants from far and wide. Unfortunately, the newcomers were sometimes viewed with suspicion, and during the Ur III period, one king even built a wall to keep them out.

Trace the Transformation of the Written Word

Fortunately for scholars today, literate people in Mesopotamia mostly wrote on clay, allowing their writing to be preserved through the centuries. In fact, around a quarter of a million tablets have been uncovered and there are many that have yet to be studied and translated. Professor Podany charts the evolution of writing from purely transactional to the complex form of expression we recognize today. While their writing system initially communicated primarily in pictures, over the years it transformed into a means for expressing sounds, allowing people to keep records and keep in touch with one another.

Especially revealing are the practical and official documents that detail everything from tax records to lists of cargo. While they may seem mundane on the surface, these documents provide an insider’s look at how people lived, worked, and traded with one another. More than 120,000 cuneiform tablets from the Third Dynasty of Ur (22nd and 21st century BCE) teach us:

  • How society was built around households;
  • The range of professions people held, from officials to merchants to farmers to artisans; and
  • The architectural details of major construction projects such as temples, as well as the size of the immense workforces required to build them.

Our knowledge of Mesopotamian culture is continuing to expand as more artifacts are examined and tablets are translated. While access to some of these amazing objects is still limited by modern-day conflicts in the Mesopotamian region, every new discovery sheds further light on an immensely influential and fascinating civilization.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 28 minutes each
  • 1
    Uncovering Near Eastern Civilization
    Although Egypt, Greece, and Rome may be better known to the public, in fact more written evidence survives from Mesopotamia, home to many of the great powers of the ancient world. As you embark on a journey through over 3,000 years of history, you will understand the ways we uncover ancient historical knowledge, and learn why Mesopotamia’s “rediscovery” is so valuable. x
  • 2
    Natufian Villagers and Early Settlements
    The spread of any technology tends to be slow. While today we may see the enormous value of plant and animal domestication, here you will discover the surprising theories about the transition from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to agriculture and the challenges that farming presented. Also, gain valuable perspective on the cultural sophistication of pre-agrarian peoples. x
  • 3
    Neolithic Farming, Trading, and Pottery
    Though travel was dangerous, people transported valuable goods, like obsidian for knife blades, across hundreds of miles, perhaps via chains of merchants. Plunge into everyday life in Neolithic Mesopotamia, where homes and villages reflect a simple, unstratified society, but evidence of intricate pottery shows that technology was advancing and people cared about aesthetics. x
  • 4
    Eridu and Other Towns in the Ubaid Period
    The Ubaid people constructed the earliest monumental buildings, standardized some measurements, and must have had some sort of formal leadership to care for and control their populations. See how the people of the Ubaid coordinated their efforts to develop irrigation systems, despite a lack of written language. x
  • 5
    Uruk, the World's Biggest City
    Witness the rise of urban civilization 5,500 years ago, a mere 200 generations before modern times. Discover how and why the first writing system developed and examine the earliest-known evidence of warfare. x
  • 6
    Mesopotamia's First Kings and the Military
    Why did people accept the rule of monarchs? This lecture reveals the fascinating world of the first kings, including their numerous important duties—from conducting diplomacy to levying taxes—and explores how they believed that the gods supported and chose them. x
  • 7
    Early Dynastic Workers and Worshipers
    In a period where the causes of disease and natural disasters were not widely known, gods were believed to be the cause of, and the solution to, instability in life. Learn how evidence found in tombs suggests a belief in the afterlife, and discover just how large a workforce was employed by the grand temples where the gods were believed to live. x
  • 8
    Lugalzagesi of Umma and Sargon of Akkad
    Meet King Lugalzagesi who controlled several city-states in southern Mesopotamia. His much more powerful successor, Sargon, had a mysterious origin, but was able to build an empire and expand trade over a wider region than ever before. x
  • 9
    Akkadian Empire Arts and Gods
    The Akkadian Empire was a high point for artistic achievement in Mesopotamia. Depictions of humans were believed to possess some of the life force of the people they represented. Professor Podany shows how the many gods had differing roles and powers and were as much a part of everyday life as one's family. Examine an emotional hymn by a priestess, who is the world's first-known author. x
  • 10
    The Fall of Akkad and Gudea of Lagash
    Learn some of the theories behind the fall of the Akkadian Empire. Major kings during this time run the gamut from Naram-Sin, one of the few Mesopotamian kings who claimed to be a god, to Gudea, a pious and benevolent king who may have served as a model for later leaders. x
  • 11
    Ur III Households, Accounts, and Ziggurats
    Although rulers during this period attempted to create a “cult of the kings,” local leaders, merchants, and especially households performed essential roles in society. Cuneiform records reveal a remarkable level of organization, from taxes to diplomacy. x
  • 12
    Migrants and Old Assyrian Merchants
    An influx of immigrants greatly enriched the Mesopotamian region, and we see other issues that have echoes in today's world. This was a time of frequent warfare but also of increased literacy and private enterprise. Join merchants on their 800-mile caravans as they delivered tin and textiles in exchange for silver. x
  • 13
    Royalty and Palace Intrigue at Mari
    Here you'll gain an intimate glimpse into the lives of royal families in the mid-second millennium BCE, from diplomatic marriages to extravagant gifts to family squabbles. Archival letters show us how royal women served as informants for their fathers, while sometimes dealing with abusive husbands. x
  • 14
    War and Society in Hammurabi's Time
    Meet the mighty King Hammurabi, who ruled for an incredible 43 years. You'll also discover how the family can be viewed as a microcosm for Mesopotamian society, with each member playing an important role. Delve into the daily lives of families and the laws (both official and unspoken) governing their behavior. x
  • 15
    Justice in the Old Babylonian Period
    The Babylonians had a sophisticated legal system that emphasized evidence and truthfulness. Two trials provide an insider's look into the workings of this system. Uncover what court records reveal about the types of crimes prosecuted, as well as the people's most pressing concerns regarding family and finance. x
  • 16
    The Hana Kingdom and Clues to a Dark Age
    The kingdom of Hana and an intriguing Kassite text provide clues to a mysterious dark age, which may have lasted for 100 years. Few records survive from this period, so Professor Podany illuminates historians' detective work to fill in the gaps. x
  • 17
    Princess Tadu-Hepa, Diplomacy, and Marriage
    Discover how the kingdom of Mittani maintained a peaceful relationship with Egypt through the power of diplomacy. Letters between King Tushratta and the pharaoh demonstrate the roles of envoys in transporting letters and gifts over hundreds of miles, negotiating royal marriages, and defusing arguments. x
  • 18
    Land Grants and Royal Favor in Mittani
    In a world before mass media, learn how Mittanian kings maintained visibility and control across vast distances and large populations without much need for force. Perhaps somewhat ironically, the story of a gold statue reveals the decline of Mittani's golden era. x
  • 19
    The Late Bronze Age and the End of Peace
    This dramatic installment details the end of a period of peace and stability between great powers, as a result of possible natural disasters, attacks on cities, and movements of the mysterious Sea Peoples. The era that followed was one of smaller kingdoms that left few written records. x
  • 20
    Assyria Ascending
    Learn about the grand state of Assyria with its huge palaces and iconic winged lion sculptures. The long and stable dynasty of Assyrian kings always longed to expand the boundaries of the empire, believing that their great god, Assur, had instructed them to do so. Their kings could be brutal in putting down rebellions, but they were also effective in administering the growing empire, and were even generous, like throwing a 10-day banquet for almost 70,000 people, for example. x
  • 21
    Ashurbanipal's Library and Gilgamesh
    Here, discover the intellectual King Ashurbanipal whose library is one of the first in recorded history. In it, find clay tablets recording omens from the gods, as well as the world's oldest epic poem, The Epic of Gilgamesh. x
  • 22
    Neo-Assyrian Empire, Warfare, and Collapse
    Discover how the Assyrian empire was restructured by Tiglath-Pileser III, how the Assyrians struggled to keep Babylonia within their empire, and how they even attempted to conquer Egypt. Hear of the mysterious hanging gardens that sat magically on roofs. Bear witness to the fall of the Assyrian Empire at the hands of angry enemies, including the Babylonians. x
  • 23
    Babylon and the New Year's Festival
    Hear the glory of the Babylonian creation story involving Marduk and the evil goddess Tiamat. Through ancient records, relive the 12-day Akitu religious festival that involved priests, singers, artisans, musicians, and the king. You'll also explore the ritual humiliation of the king at the heart of the festival. x
  • 24
    End of the Neo-Babylonian Empire
    Finally, arrive at the end of the independence of Mesopotamia with the conquest of the Neo-Babylonian empire by the forces of the powerful Persian king, Cyrus the Great. Witness religious changes that were taking place across the Near East. Mesopotamian culture gradually died out, but it left an incredible legacy. x

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Your professor

Amanda H. Podany

About Your Professor

Amanda H. Podany, Ph.D.
California State Polytechnic University, Pomona
Amanda H. Podany is a Professor of History at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, where she has taught since 1990. She earned her M.A. in the Archaeology of Ancient Western Asia from the University of London and her Ph.D. in Ancient Near Eastern History from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Professor Podany’s research specialties include the Hana kingdom in present-day Syria as well as legal...
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Ancient Mesopotamia: Life in the Cradle of Civilization is rated 4.8 out of 5 by 64.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved it! It was a pleasure listening to Dr. Podany! I have long been interested in the Sumerian culture. Dr. Podany presented an engaging overview of Sumer and the rest of ancient Mesopotamian culture. I look forward to reading more.
Date published: 2019-09-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Entertaining and Educational Professor Podany is fantastic. I love listening to her lectures at the same time I am learning a lot. She is so positive and pleasant to watch. I wpold gladly buy more courses from her.
Date published: 2019-08-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from You can't go wrong with this one... My goal was to fill a void in my knowledge of ancient near eastern history. Mesopotamia has always been a bit of a mystery to me. This course was a top notch Teaching Company production to fill that void; I am really glad I watched these lectures. The production value and aesthetics of this video production were outstanding. The professor had an excellent presentation style, clear and lucid, her personality comes through in her presentation, and she has a relaxed style that is easy and pleasant to watch and listen. She provides personal anecdotes and her own opinions where appropriate. She is diligent about providing multiple viewpoints and various hypotheses. The course was logically chronological, and had an excellent mix of political history, cultural history, military history, social history, and many interesting sidebars into art, architecture, and literature. Collectively it all added valuable context and texture to a historical survey course of this nature. Wrapping up: I would not hesitate to recommend this excellent and much needed course to anyone interested in the near east of antiquity.
Date published: 2019-07-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Insightful, thought-provoking, excellent Dr Podany provides a logical and understandable explanation of the beginnings of civilization in Mesopotamia. Much of it seems developed from her research and archeology in the region. There is wonderful synergy in her treatment of the archeology, the knowable sociology, and connections to modern life. Of the courses I've done on this subject, this one provided by far the best basis for understanding the rise of civilization and its evolution in human terms. The maps and graphics are excellent and provide visual explanation that enhances the narrative. There is a time line that appears at all the right moments. Her discussions of the clay tablets: the way they were prepared, sealed, stored, and used greatly enhanced understanding of what we know from them. This is an excellent way to gain a broad understanding of how civilization began in Mesopotamia.
Date published: 2019-06-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Ancient Mesopotamia is one of the best courses! Amanda Podany is a fine lecturer and makes what could be a dry course fascinating by tying it to today's values and roles. She is exciting to listen to and makes this stuff live!
Date published: 2019-06-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Professor Podany delivered an excellent program. The use of maps that highlighted where the cities being discussed were was of considerable help. The subject material was easy to understand and follow. There was a smooth flow of the history that did not leave gaps between administrations and the transition between generations was effective.
Date published: 2019-06-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great Overview of Mesopotanian Civilization This course provides a great summary on the development of civilization in Mesopotamia one of the key cradles of civilizations development. Is an excellent introduction and encourages further study of the topic. The professor demonstrates an excellent knowledge of the subject. She makes good use of various artifacts in support of the presentation. More would be better, if available. More visuals would increase the value even more. The “walk-through” of the development of city states, and governance was particularly interesting.
Date published: 2019-05-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Massive improvement on _ Between the Rivers_ I said in my review of _ Between the Rivers_ that “I hope the company releases a more detailed lecture series on this subject,” and I am delighted that The Great Courses now has a serious series of lectures on the beginnings of recorded history. I found this course quite valuable even though I had already listened to Professor Podany’s _Ancient Near East: A Very Short Introduction_.
Date published: 2019-05-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great story, told very well I enjoy ancient history, so it's great to see this new offering on Ancient Mesopotamia by Prof Podany. She's a very enthusiastic and knowledgeable lecturer, and her passion for the material always comes across. Mesopotamia -- and Ur, Akkad, Assyria, Babylon, and so on -- are covered in part in other TC course, but it's great to have this systematic chronological survey. If you've covered some of this in other courses, this new one is very well worthwhile; likewise if you've never had much exposure to the material. Prof Podany covers culture, politics, economics, daily life, early writing and the stories that have survived and more. It's very interesting and well done. My only small complaint is that I found lectures 15 - 18 to drag a little, with a little too much detail about specific lives; maybe they could have been two lectures instead of four. But that is a nit, and I recommend this highly. I hope that Prof Podany does more TC courses.
Date published: 2019-05-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Genuine enthusasm This lady is excellent in that she's really enthusiastic about the information she gives! She certainly knows her subject matter, but it's a pleasure to listen to her enthusiastically explain, and to share, and she seems to speak from her experience, not reading from an off-camera monitor. Although the visuals are somewhat unexciting, her descriptions and details certainly make these lectures not only enriching, but alive! It was a pleasure to have been her student.
Date published: 2019-04-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Simply Exceptional Not only was she clearly an expert in the field but her ability to communicate this knowledge in an engaging manner was riveting.
Date published: 2019-03-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Kept my interest. I have been told by my Doctor that I really need to ride a stationary bike. This course has made what had been a drudgery something I actually look forward to. By the time my workout is over I have learned about such things as beer brewing in the ancient world. As a certifiable history geek I recommend this course.
Date published: 2019-03-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great presenter I watched this from The Great Courses Plus. Very interesting topic (which is to be expected), but what I was most impressed with was the professor, herself. She was so good in her presentation. Virtually no stumbles or hemming/hawing throughout the course. I've taken well over 200 courses from this company, and even many of the better professors stumble, repeat themselves, etc. Dr. Podany is completely at ease in front of the camera. Was she reading everything off a telepromter? Probably, but you certainly can't tell.
Date published: 2019-03-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Tough Task Fulfilled Prof Podany tackles a subject from which we must rely mostly upon translations of surviving cuneiform of which we have only scratched the surface of the thousands of pieces that remain undeciphered.......fragments containing glimpses of life long ago. I felt that the course lacked sufficient visual aids which diverts ones' attention from the monotony of speech and the monosyllabic hand gestures of the professor. Minds need visual stimulation and the predominant audio stimulation often reached saturation point which brought heavy eyelids. Couple that with the same 3 rotating images in the background and you have brain freeze. TGC should really help their professors to shine as they deserve.
Date published: 2019-02-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Introduction to the topic. My rating is not so much an evaluation of each specific aspect of the course (lecture style, voice quality, depth of coverage), but simply a reflection of my appreciation of the course. For me, it was a 5-star contribution both to my understanding of the topic and my interest in it. I had a pretty standard historical understanding of the topic going in: a basic knowledge of the names/locations of the empires; basic chronological knowledge; a basic familiarity with the names/locations of major cities; basic knowledge of the major people . Someone with more advanced knowledge may not find it as helpful as I did in terms of pure content. Professor Podany's expertise in the subject was clear, and yet I appreciated how often she made clear the degree to which the evidence supports either the common consensus or her own conclusions. On many topics current understanding involves, by necessity, some significant extrapolation from the actual data available to us, and I felt she was honest (and at the same time unapologetic) about these areas. For me, the strength of the course, and the reason for my 5-star review, was in the professor's ability to communicate a picture of the world she was talking about. While there were many facts and dates, I felt that professor Podany did a great job presenting the story of this region/period in a way that caused me to think. I don't really know how to analyze it, but however it came together, her choice of content, style of presentation, and personal insight stimulated many moments of reflection for me, and it's this aspect of any course that I value most highly. I appreciate being given knowledge in away that enables me to consider more thoughtfully and with greater depth whatever topic is being addressed. In that respect, the course fully met my expectations.
Date published: 2019-02-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great detail and knowledge! Teaching about this area from someone you can tell loves what they are doing! Knowledgeable, thorough and willing to address issue where colleagues vary in the interpretation of history!
Date published: 2019-02-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Since most of the time the "ancients" focused on are the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, or jumping all the way back to pre-history in a more scientific sense, I really didn't know much about this subject other than the short overviews typically given in high school and college survey courses. So this course was fascinating to me from the jump. I was pleasantly surprised at the depth of material, and I adored that it was structured in chronological eras. I personally prefer to learn history in that way as it helps me see the evolution of a culture more thoroughly, even if the various topics jump around. It also makes it easier for me when recalling what else would be going on in other parts of the world during the same eras, which in my opinion really adds to a submersive feel. The professor's delivery style was pleasant, and I came away with a much greater knowledge of an area of the world of which I always felt I lacked a true understanding. I'd happily watch other courses she might offer.
Date published: 2019-01-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A decent course overall I have already watched several courses that have treated on the subject of Ancient Mesopotamia. But most of them were political and military history. What I like about this course particularly was its approach to the lives of people living between the rivers. One of the best things about this course is that Professor Podany tries to show you how certain aspects of our society such as equality before the law, the military industrial complex, and personal religious devotion. I feel like I learned some new aspects to life but overall it felt like I gained more information from the Great Courses older lectures on Mesopotamia.
Date published: 2019-01-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This was exactly what I was looking for. It was money well spent.
Date published: 2019-01-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great beginning to understand how man has evolved. I looked at about 19 lectures on Great Courses Plus first. I decided I would like to purchase the DVD set.
Date published: 2018-12-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Textural histories...Bangles to Behistun Professor Podnay has created a unique approach to history...perhaps because Mesopotamia offers a unique opportunity to examine and discover its history through the over 250,000 tablets of cuneiform texts that are still being recovered. These clay tablets give a remarkably clear picture of the evolution of actual urban societies in the area that is occupied by present-day Iraq. I had no idea that such a resource existed! These texts reveal glimpses of everyday life as well as the histories of kings and kingdoms, battles, famines, laws and trade agreements and religious dogmas and practices. And, the civilized world's first adventure story...long before Homer's Troy. And to think that all these texts have only been deciphered since the 19th century, thanks to the Behistun inscription. The good professor systematically pieces together the 3500 (or so) year history of this land between the rivers, showing how we humans progressed from the hunter-gatherers we were, since nearly 12,000 BCE to the first cities around 4,000 BCE (thanks to of the best names for a king...ever). The history lectures extend from there up to the 6th century BCE when Cyrus and his band of Persian lackeys finally took over Babylon...thank you very much. There are the familiar names like Hammurabi, Ashurbanipal and Nebuchadnezzar...and unfamiliar ones like Tushratta, Enheduanna and Sin-leqe-unnini. And then there was Gilgamesh... Sin-leqe-unnini's greatest creation. This, the first real adventure story, is a fascinating tale that looks deeply into the hopes and aspirations of a man seeking his destiny. (I'll try to find a complete and modern prose translation just for fun). Dr Podnay ends her very clear and well-organized lecture with a nice quote from The Epic of Gilgamesh, as he is seeking the secret of immortality, gets some advice from an inn keeper, that goes something like this: As for you, Gilgamesh, let your belly be full, Make merry day and night. Of each day make a feast of rejoicing. Day and night dance and play! Let your garments be sparkling fresh, Your head be washed; bathe in water. Pay heed to a little one that holds on to your hand, Let a spouse delight in your bosom. Would that we all tried to live up to these words...spoken over 4000 years ago! I can't wait for the movie. Highly recommended...during a sale and a coupon that could save you several minas maybe even a talent!
Date published: 2018-12-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Writing : A Great Idea In reviewing a course on Ancient North America, I mentioned what a great job that instructor did given the lack of written history in the area. Here the instructor does a wonderful job with the written materials that thankfully are available for most of the timeline of Mesopotamia. She takes us into the lives of many remarkable and mundane folks who lived, worked and died between the rivers in one of the great cradles of civilization. While trends, scientific and cultural advances and wars are covered, it is the greater feeling for the inhabitants of the place that sticks with me after the last goodbye was said. Too often, especially in survey courses, it is hard to get involved in a society as Kings and Wars whiz by in rapid succession. This is why it is wonderful that the Great Courses offers a number of series delving deeper into times and places like The American Gilded Age or people like Ben Franklin and Winston Churchill. To be fair this courses does cover a fairly monumental time frame, however it still feels like one of those closer examinations. The name Ancient is intentional here as you won't find lectures on Alexander the Great or the Islamic world. If you are looking for the rise of culture, life in the Bronze age and Mesopotamian history through Old Testament times, this is indeed a Great Course.
Date published: 2018-12-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent treatment This series keeps the viewer engaged as they are methodically led through the development of civilization in the ANE. Podany's enthusiasm is contagious. I have viewed many Great Courses and this is as well done as any. I appreciate the maps and other illustrations that are used. They make this course stand out. It was nice to see the developments in this area since I took a survey class in the early 80's
Date published: 2018-11-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from great course I finished watching this course on the great courses plus streaming service. I thoroughly enjoyed this course and it's presenter. I found her presentation style great, very conversational in style while presenting a lot of information. I really didn't know much about this period of history and was surprised at how much history we actually know about these early civilizations. Great course with great history presented in a great way.
Date published: 2018-11-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well organized and very informative I wanted to fill a number of gaps in my knowledge of ancient history and this course was wonderful in doing just that. The instructor is articulate and demonstrates a keen interest in her subject. Her graphics were supportive of the material. I will look for more courses by this instructor.
Date published: 2018-11-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Informative I've only worked through to and including chapter 3, but the information is intelligent, and professionally presented. I also purchased the book that contains the words verbatim of the professor, which allows me to read along, and to make notes in the margins. Being a visual learner, I would have wished for a few more graphics, but all in all, I find I do very well without them.
Date published: 2018-10-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent and comprehensive I've always been curious about when us hominids decided to stop our hunter-gatherer lifestyles and start living together in communities. This course goes a long way in explaining that event and some of the causes of it. The presenter was also excellent and nearly all Great Courses presenters are. A definite 5-star winner!
Date published: 2018-10-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great content and delivery. Having very little knowledge of the subject, Dr. Podany shed light in a clear and interesting way on this most ancient of civilizations. I was completely hooked and 'binge-listened'. The course overview booklet is also very comprehensive and well done. My only disappointment was that while the earlier periods are covered in great depth, th elater ones (like neo-Assyria and Babylonia) are more just about the political and military events. But this was probably due to time constraints.
Date published: 2018-10-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Ancient Babylon I finally know where the fabled Babylon is located(modern day Iraq). This is a wonderful review about a time that while "ancient" they had the same hopes and dreams and worries as we do today. The professor does a wonderful job of explaining this time period.
Date published: 2018-09-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A thorough update on our species' roots! These lectures add immeasurably to our modern understanding of early civilizations in the Tigres-Euphrates.
Date published: 2018-09-11
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