Cities of the Ancient World

Course No. 3723
Professor Steven L. Tuck, Ph.D.
Miami University
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Course No. 3723
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What Will You Learn?

  • Explore housing, murals, and shrines in Catalhoyuk: the world's first city.
  • Explore the architectural remains of the famous walled urban community known as Jericho.
  • Learn how the monuments and public buildings of Pergamon used scale and drama to try and surpass Periclean Athens.
  • Examine Constantinople to learn how the development of this famous city was accompanied by political riots.

Course Overview

Jericho: The famous walled city from the story of Joshua, whose conquerors left only rubble for future archaeologists.

Deir el-Medina: Home to the workers who built the tombs of King Tut and other pharaohs in the desert.

Alexandria: The awe-inspiring metropolis that housed wonders of ancient architecture along the North African coast.

Rome: Arguably the most famous and most impressive city of the ancient world, and the seat of one of the world’s most powerful empires.

These and other cities tell us much about the development of civilization: why people settled in cities, how they lived, how they overcame the challenges of urban life, and more. Because we now live in a world of cities—and for the first time ever, the majority of the population lives in an urban environment—reflecting on these ancient models of the “city” as a human phenomenon offers important lessons for our culture today.

Cities of the Ancient World is your opportunity to survey the breadth of the ancient world through the context of its urban development. Taught by esteemed Professor Steven L. Tuck of Miami University, these 24 eye-opening lectures not only provide an invaluable look at the design and architecture of ancient cities, they also offer a flesh-and-blood glimpse into the daily lives of ordinary people and the worlds they created. For instance, you will:

  • consider the benefits of living in cities, from mutual defense to trading opportunities;
  • compare domestic and public spaces and see what implications these spaces have on politics and society;
  • investigate critical infrastructure, including water supply and drainage systems;
  • learn about how such common ideas as city blocks and crosswalks were invented; and
  • marvel at the elaborate monuments and works of art created in antiquity.

From the world’s first city of Çatalhöyük to the mysteries of the Indus Valley to Constantinople, which served as the hinge between the ancient and medieval worlds, Cities of the Ancient World gives you insight into cities both large and small, famous and obscure. Ultimately, however, this is a course about people, not just buildings. Studying these cities will give you a new appreciation for the remarkable cultures of the ancient world, from the ruins of Uruk to the Golden Age of Athens, and spur you to reflect on what makes a city survive.

Discover a Wide Range of Urban Development

From orderly cities to sprawling suburbs, the ancient world offers the same variety of urban living you find around the world today. By looking at such a wide range of cities, you get a sense of the changing ideas about what it takes to make a city—and it allows you to make connections across time and geography. For example, you’ll trace the development of orthogonal planning, in which cities are constructed in a grid with rectilinear blocks, and find out how it gradually spread around the ancient world.

Using a case-study approach, Professor Tuck shows you the incredible breadth and richness of urban design across the ages:

  • Tour the mysterious citadel of Mohenjo-daro, part of the lost civilization of the Indus Valley.
  • Consider the Egyptian “company town” of Kahun, which housed paid laborers who built the tombs of pharaohs.
  • Explore the Minoan city of Knossos, a labyrinthine metropolis seamlessly integrated into the rocky island landscape.
  • Meet Hippodamus of Miletus and find out about his principles of urban design. He is credited with formalizing orthogonal planning.
  • View the splendor of Alexandria, the first major city built directly on the seacoast, whose great lighthouse was among the seven wonders of the ancient world.
  • Examine Roman infrastructure and find out how building codes helped mitigate fires and other dangers.

Examining the structures of these ancient cities teaches us much about the lives and priorities of their inhabitants. For example, are the city blocks short and walkable? Do zoning laws isolate various ethnic groups and social classes? Do city walls protect from outside invasions? Professor Tuck also demonstrates how ancient peoples dealt with the challenges of infrastructure, waste removal, neighbors, and the environment—issues that will resonate with today’s city dwellers.

Weigh the Evidence to Reconstruct Daily Life

More than anything else, Cities of the Ancient World is a course about human beings—what life was like in these cities and how people lived. Professor Tuck assumes the role of a historical detective and examines the archaeological and written evidence for each city we visit. Some cities such as Mohenjo-daro are incredibly mysterious, so we can only deduce who may have lived there and what their lives might have been like. In other cities, including Athens, Rome, and Constantinople, we have a wealth of official records and written accounts that give us a complete picture of everyday life.

One of the many treats of this course is being able to walk through these cities as if in the shoes of an ordinary citizen. From the gender-segregated symposia in Athens to the array of social classes in the Roman baths to the patriotic citizenry on the frontier edges of the Roman Empire, Professor Tuck gives you a three-dimensional feel for everyday life in the ancient world:

  • See how the temples of Çatalhöyük and the ziggurats of Uruk suggest cities first emerged to accommodate religious structures, and that agriculture soon followed.
  • Study the layout of Amarna, the revolutionary capital of Egypt, and connect city planning with the ideology of social control.
  • Trace the average day of a shoemaker as he travels through the streets of Athens.
  • Experience two perspectives of daily life in Rome, first as a well-to-do citizen and then as a poor immigrant.
  • Visit the unique Roman satellite community of Ostia, which appears to have been an entirely middle class city, with no extremes of wealth or poverty.

The urban layouts and archaeological records give you a remarkable window into each city, as well as the relationships among the cities—and in some cases, clues about why certain cities failed. As you travel from the Indus Valley in the east to Algeria in the west, and from far-flung outposts to imperial capitals, you’ll learn about trade, economies of scale, and the development of communal identity, which plays an especially important role in an increasingly globalized world.

Case Studies Build on Themselves

Professor Tuck’s approach in this course—presenting each city as a case study—allows you to experience the course in many ways. Each lecture is a self-contained episode, but they build on each other to create a vivid and complete picture of life from the earliest civilizations to the beginning of the Middle Ages. This comprehensive portrait will change the way you look at our modern world.

As you’ll discover, cities are here to stay. Considering the lessons from ancient cities—how they succeeded and why they failed—will make a difference in how we live in communities today or plan new ones for the future. The designs, challenges, and solutions to urban life you’ll encounter in Cities of the Ancient World have been with us for thousands of years, and studying communities in antiquity provides valuable insight into what it means to be human—and makes for good citizenship as we build the cities of the future.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 29 minutes each
  • 1
    The Lure of the City
    Cities are integral to our modern lives. Begin your tour by considering why wandering ancient humans left the forests and plains to create settlements. The fundamental question of “why” is just the first step toward understanding the inhabitants and lessons from ancient cities. x
  • 2
    Çatalhöyük—First Experiment in Urban Living
    Imagine a city with no streets, no public buildings, and no common spaces. Built in layers on a small mound, the world’s first city offers an intriguing window into life in the Neolithic era. Explore the remains of Çatalhöyük’s family housing, murals, and religious shrines. x
  • 3
    Jericho and Its Walls
    Nearly everyone has heard the story of the walls of Jericho, which famously came tumbling down in the book of Joshua. Look past the biblical story and find out what architectural remains suggest about this city, whose ritual spaces helped create a community and whose walls helped define this urban environment. x
  • 4
    Uruk—City of Gilgamesh
    Shift your attention to one of the most marvelous cities in the ancient world. Located in the heart of Mesopotamia, Uruk exhibits many of the hallmarks of ancient civilization, including division of labor among its craftsmen, a class hierarchy that included professional priests, and records of art and literature. x
  • 5
    Mysterious Mohenjo-daro
    Venture east to the Indus Valley, home of one of the great unknowns among ancient civilizations. The lack of written evidence from the region means we are reliant on the archaeological record to understand the culture of cities such as Mohenjo-daro. Tour its so-called citadel in the city center, examine its remarkable water systems, and more. x
  • 6
    Kahun—Company Town in the Desert
    Enter the world of ancient Egypt during the peaceful era of the Middle Kingdom. Here in the desert, paid laborers built tombs and temples for the pharaohs. To house the laborers, the Egyptians built Kahun, a planned city whose walls and layout reinforced the system of social class and served as a means of control over the population. x
  • 7
    Work and Life at Deir el-Medina
    At the height of Egyptian power during the New Kingdom, skilled workers enjoyed more prosperity than ever before, and opportunities for promotion allowed for great social mobility. Meet several ordinary workers from this society and review some of the literature that teaches us about Egyptian social structure. x
  • 8
    Amarna—Revolutionary Capital
    Deliberately created as a capital city near the center of the kingdom, Amarna served as an administrative and religious center designed to redirect political authority to the pharaoh, Amenhotep IV. Study some of the most iconic images from ancient Egypt and unpack the relationship between city planning and the social structure. x
  • 9
    Knossos—Palace, City, or Temple?
    Delve into the remarkable Minoan city of Knossos, a labyrinthine complex integrated into the natural landscape. This sophisticated example of urban design was home to figures of myth, religious spectacles, sizable food storage and distribution areas, and a unique system of architecture. Tour this visionary civilization. x
  • 10
    Akrotiri—Bronze Age Pompeii
    Visit another Minoan city, which was obliterated by one of the largest volcanic eruptions in human history. The eruption destroyed much of the city but also preserved a great deal. Look at some of the surviving houses and wall paintings and find out what archaeologists can deduce about daily life in the city from its remains x
  • 11
    Mycenae, Tiryns, and the Mask of Agamemnon
    Investigate the culture of Bronze Age Greece. After learning about the intriguing masonry at Tiryns and the impressive walls of Mycenae, you’ll take a look at how vernacular architecture reveals differences in political systems among regional powers. Then find out about the Mycenaean collapse and the end of the era. x
  • 12
    Athens—Civic Buildings and Civic Identity
    Leap forward to classical Athens in the Golden Age of the 5th century B.C. Tour some of the city’s most well-known landmarks, including the Agora, the Acropolis, and the Parthenon. Learn about the Periclean building program in the years following the Persian Wars, and examine some of the city’s great statues and friezes. x
  • 13
    Athenian Domestic Architecture
    Turn from the Athenian public sphere to the domestic spaces and find out what life was like for everyday citizens. See how a shoemaker or a sculptor might fill his day—including a stop by the Agora—and consider gender separation and the role of women in ancient Greece. x
  • 14
    Hippodamian Planning—Miletus and Ephesus
    Meet Hippodamus of Miletus, the father of urban planning. He used the system of orthogonal planning—including broad avenues and streets at right angles—to reflect the ideal social order. From city blocks to the creation of districts, see this system in action and discover its impact on the history of urban design. x
  • 15
    Olynthus—A Classical Greek City Preserved
    Founded for defense at the start of the Peloponnesian War, the planned city of Olynthus contains the best-preserved classical houses yet excavated from anywhere in the Greek world. Walk among the row houses and suburban villas to gain a rare glimpse into the patterns of domestic life in the ancient world. x
  • 16
    Wonder and Diversity at Alexandria
    Built directly on the seacoast and a major transportation hub, Alexandria is the first massive, cosmopolitan city we know of in antiquity. Its lighthouse was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and the variety of artists’ workshops and its ethnic diversity made Alexandria the Greek cultural center. x
  • 17
    Pergamon—The New Theatricality
    While Hippodamian planning emphasized practicality, the organic layout of Pergamon emphasized theatricality, great scale, and drama—all intended to evoke wonder in viewers. See how this great city’s monuments and public buildings imitated and tried to surpass Periclean Athens. x
  • 18
    The Good Life in Rome
    Travel through Rome in the footsteps of a well-to-do citizen, from his freestanding apartment complex to the political happenings at the Forum Romanum to the Markets of Trajan. Then witness how all social classes interacted at the public baths, where lower classes wrangled dinner invitations from wealthy Romans. x
  • 19
    The Lives of the Poor in Rome
    Trace a day in the life of an immigrant glass blower in Rome, whose life would be considerably less fortunate thanks to xenophobia, dark and dank tenement housing, and the strong possibility of death by fire, flood, or famine. Then look at what alternatives poor Romans had, including life as a gladiator or soldier. x
  • 20
    Ostia—Middle-Class Harbor Town
    One of the most intriguing cities in the ancient world is Ostia, a “producer city” that appears to have been comprised solely of middle- and working-class people. Go inside the warehouses and storage buildings to learn about the city’s economy, and then reflect on what it means to have no evidence of the desperately poor or extravagantly wealthy. x
  • 21
    Timgad—More Roman Than Rome
    Take an excursion to the frontiers of the Roman Empire, where a group of military veterans lived in a planned city that represented the ideal Roman vision. Because many of these veterans had recently earned full citizenship, they were notably patriotic, transmitting much of Roman culture into new territory through this community. x
  • 22
    Karanis—On the Fringes of the Empire
    Consider another city at the edge of the empire—an agricultural community comprised of a diverse population. Here you’ll learn about the farm-based economy and its relationship to the consumer city of Rome, and you’ll examine the integration of Greek, Roman, and Egyptian ethnic groups. x
  • 23
    Constantinople—The Last Ancient City
    Your tour of ancient cities closes with an examination of Constantinople, which bridges the gap between the era of antiquity and the Middle Ages. Witness the development of this city and the political demonstrations and riots that accompanied its growth. You’ll also study the Hagia Sophia, whose dome is considered the greatest work of Byzantine architecture. x
  • 24
    Lessons and Legacies of Ancient Urban Life
    What does this survey of ancient cities add up to? What lessons can we draw from antiquity? Conclude the course with a look at Venice and London to see what elements of ancient cities have endured in modern architecture and urban design. Then reflect on the future of the city. x

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  • Download 24 audio lectures to your computer or mobile app
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
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DVD Includes:
  • 24 lectures on 4 DVDs
  • 184-page printed course guidebook
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  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps

What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

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Course Guidebook Details:
  • 184-page printed course guidebook
  • Photos & illustrations
  • Suggested readings
  • Questions to consider

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Your professor

Steven L. Tuck

About Your Professor

Steven L. Tuck, Ph.D.
Miami University
Professor Steven L. Tuck is Professor of Classics at Miami University. After earning his B.A. in History and Classics at Indiana University, he received his Ph.D. in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. He held the postdoctoral Arthur and Joyce Gordon Fellowship in Latin epigraphy at The Ohio State University. An esteemed teacher, Professor Tuck received the 2013 E. Phillips Knox Teaching Award,...
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Reviews

Cities of the Ancient World is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 41.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from FANTASTIC!! I love history, archeology, travel, etc. These courses are perfect in satisfying all my expectations. Great for everyone. The places I've been to and the places I want to go are all wonderfully covered.
Date published: 2019-07-28
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Accurate Professor Tuck sure knows his stuff but the individual presentations are a bit boring. Floor plans of palaces are important but more pictures of the design and decoration would enhance the presentations.
Date published: 2019-05-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another outstanding series from Pro. Tuck Professor Tuck gives an outstanding, informative, light natured, and professional treatment of these Ancient cities. His method of presentation (quips, humor, and antidotes) make it appear you are there along with him. His knowledge and experience in Archaeology adds greatly to the lectures. Anyone visiting any of these sites would benefit greatly from the lectures, prior to their visit. The lectures go beyond just looking at tge physical city, but also into the development and reasoning background. He also brings things together by adding appropriat analogies to other similar cities, including some modern location. This greatly helps the student gain a greater understanding of the significance of each of the cities.
Date published: 2019-05-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Porthole to the Past............ An excellent teacher.....a fascinating topic........exploring the origins of civilization via a new vantage point......the first cities. The lectures held my interest throughout the entire course. Highly recommended to all lovers of ancient history and anthropology..............
Date published: 2019-04-19
Rated 2 out of 5 by from slow on the presentation It lacks images on city and topics, not enough details and documentation on some of the information presented
Date published: 2019-03-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from NOVEL THINKING & FOCUSED CONTENT THAT BUILDS While Great Courses' superb Ken Harl or Thomas Childers bring history to life by navigating momentous battle or kingdom changes, Tuck takes you to places as if you were a neighbor or householder. Similarly, the Egyptian cities described here can be found in Bob Brier’s marvelous Egyptian courses but Brier is much more didactic. Tuck's approach can be most closely comparable (among Great Courses professors) to Edwin Barnhart's - though their topics widely diverge. Topically, Dr. Tuck starts with the Neolithic Catalhoyuk and its primarily religious/family purpose. He then shows how city organization gradually progresses depending upon the resources available, a growing administrative class, and finally work type specialization. Dr. Tuck convincingly reverses the common thinking that agriculture led to city formation. This thesis becomes a firm foundation for building his course about the evolution of cities. Many of these cities are covered in other courses, BUT this course provided much better insight into what was going on from a human POV rather than just an enumeration of historical "facts". Because Tuck is laser-focused on his message, he doesn’t short-shrift topics. An example would be his use of extensive evidence in his reflections on Jericho (Lecture 3) vs. Jodi Magness' rather emphatic pronouncements given (without evidence), in "Holy Land Revealed". Later in the course when there is enough archaeological data to do so, Tuck adapts some clever devices that really help one understand what it was like to live in these cities. In L18 & 19, he takes two historically known Romans, one well off and one poor, and “walks through” Rome with them. It is much like being there. Additionally, he provides many insights about urban life Rome from the poet Juvenal that adds to the realism of his portrayals. L20 on Ostia (the city that provided the connection between Rome and shipping) provides amazing contrasts in lifestyles to that of our two new Roman friends. Again, it's almost as if you "are there". He then provides other contrasts: a gung-ho Roman city on the margins of Roman territory (Timgad, L21) and its cultural antithesis in the farming community Karanis, L22. In L23, Tuck provides the most logical arguments I have heard for the eventual abandonment of Rome and expansion of Constantinople. The final lecture was an unexpected delight concentrating on Tuck’s well-composed plea for more “human" city planning. I went over it twice because it not only summed up the various improvements in city design over time but provided a solid basis for thinking about how our city design could be made so much more pleasant if more balance and consideration were given to our predecessor’s knowledge of urban planning. His final question, on the tallest building in Philadelphia, is one that merits considerable reflection. AUDIO OR VIDEO: Bought the audio to listen while working, but after the first 8 lectures, bought the video and restarted the course. Some lectures had plenty of illustrations while others could have used more. Despite the paucity of illustrations at times, the video is much superior in helping one grasp key concepts.
Date published: 2018-12-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A well developed course! Because I teach on location in many of these cities, I was curious how Professor Tuck would handle them. I am already a fan (and I wrote to tell him so) because of the Rome and Pompeii courses. This course looks at a basic set of details of each site and speaks to how the represent the archaeological detail of the period for which they are most known, etc. Professor Tuck offered sufficient detail to make his points clear, and said a few things I hadn't considered about several of the sites, though I visit them frequently and teach them as part of educational study tours. He is the kind of teacher I can gain so much from, and as much as I hate to admit it, we have a bit of the same sense of humor. An excellent course for studying the development of the "city" landscape of anthropology and history, with suficient but not overwhelming detail of archaeology. I highly recommend the course!
Date published: 2018-12-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Title was accurate and well featured. I really liked this course. It was well done and made excellent use of photos and maps. Professor Tuck was very knowledgeable and a very good speaker. I noticed he lost the blue and yellow tie.
Date published: 2018-12-10
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