Classical Archaeology of Ancient Greece and Rome

Course No. 3340
Professor John R. Hale, Ph.D.
University of Louisville
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Course No. 3340
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Course Overview

Classical archaeology—the excavation and analysis of ancient Greek and Roman sites—was born on Wednesday, October 22, 1738. On that day, Roque Joaquín Alcubierre, an engineer in the army of the Bourbon royal family in Naples, was lowered by ropes down a square well shaft cut through volcanic material that had formed on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius. When Alcubierre reached the bottom of the well, 65 feet below the surface, he began to wind his way through tunnels carved into the volcanic material, noting pieces of architectural elements as he went.

This discovery became the first systematic study of the astonishingly intact ruins of the Roman city of Herculaneum, buried for 1,700 years in the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Alcubierre's recording of the artworks, colored marbles, inscriptions, lamps, and items of everyday life he discovered deep inside the earth marked the "Big Bang" of Classical archaeology—a quest to understand Greek and Roman culture through its material remains that continues to this day.

In the 36 lectures of Classical Archaeology of Ancient Greece and Rome, archaeologist and award-winning Professor John R. Hale guides you through this fascinating field of study and through dozens of ancient sites with the skill of a born storyteller. Mixing the exotic adventures, unexpected insights, and abiding mysteries of archaeology's fabled history with anecdotes of his own extensive field experience, Dr. Hale creates a fascinating narrative that unfolds like a series of detective stories and provides a new perspective from which to view the world of the Greeks and Romans.

A Discipline unto Itself

Many disciplines have tried to claim Classical archaeology as their own, yet it is a discipline wholly unto itself. Classical archaeology is less a branch of archaeology and more the root of the entire field.

"It was in the archaeology of Greece and Rome that the entire discipline of trying to understand the past through its material remains began," notes Dr. Hale. "It's through archaeology that some of the most important advances—such as proper field technique, experimental archaeology, and underwater archaeology—were all brought into this great world of study."

As you discover in Classical Archaeology of Greece and Rome, the field has evolved over the years from a pastime for collectors and antiquarians to a mature science. Today, Classical archaeology is a multidisciplinary effort that involves not only traditional diggers but geologists, geographers, chemists, anthropologists, historians, and linguists.

Through Classical archaeology, the civilizations of Greece and Rome come into sharper focus through a reconstruction of the past in all its color: its ideals, aspirations, achievements, and virtues; its vices, superstitions, disasters, and crimes. From the various physical remains of these long-gone places, Classical archaeologists create a window in which to see the richness of the worlds of Greece and Rome, resurrecting them in all their glory and affording us a better grasp of cultures which have greatly influenced our own.

Explore Ancient Sites and Meet Early Pioneers

The course introduces you to a series of exciting archaeologist sites that provide you with a detailed idea of what Classical archaeology entails, as well as insights into the details of ancient Greek and Roman life. These case studies—involving both famous sites and discoveries unknown outside the field—include:

  • Troy: In 1871, the German entrepreneur Heinrich Schliemann confirmed the long-forgotten site of ancient Troy in northwest Turkey, based on astute detective work by a resident English diplomat. Schliemann's sensational discoveries at this and other Bronze-Age sites made him the most famous archaeologist of his day.
  • The Athenian Agora: Since 1931, the American School of Classical Studies in Athens has been excavating this civic heart of ancient Athens, which witnessed momentous events including the trial of Socrates. Buildings and artifacts discovered here give you an unsurpassed picture of life in a major city of Classical Greece.
  • Torre de Palma: In 1947, plowmen working a field in southern Portugal chanced upon the base of a Roman column, which turned out to be sitting on a mosaic floor. Archaeologists eventually uncovered an entire Roman country estate, equipped for complete self-sufficiency in the uncertain times of the later Roman Empire.
  • The Cape Gelidonya Shipwreck: In 1960, American archaeologist George Bass forged the techniques for systematic underwater archaeology by excavating a rich Bronze-Age cargo ship off of southern Turkey. He discovered a hoard of artifacts and the largest stockpile of ingots ever recovered from the Trojan War period.

Through an analysis of these and other riveting sites, you get a superb sampling of Classical archaeology and learn how it combines ancient history, anthropology, ethnography, comparative religion, art history, experimental engineering, historical linguistics, paleobotany, and other pursuits with a dash of Indiana Jones–style adventure.

You also encounter some of the pioneering figures in Classical archaeology whose work had a lasting impact on the field, including:

  • Guiseppe Fiorelli: who conceived the strategy of pouring plaster into cavities in the volcanic rock at Pompeii in the 1860s to reveal the precise forms of long-dead Pompeiians.
  • Sir Mortimer Wheeler: who with his wife developed the grid system of excavation still in use today, in which the site is laid out like a checkerboard with a wall of the original ground left around each excavated square to give an exposed sequence of the dig's different layers.
  • Michael Ventris: who discovered that Linear B, a mystifying script discovered in the early 1900s at a Bronze-Age complex on Crete, was a form of Greek.

Three Views from Complimentary Perspectives

Dr. Hale divides Classical Archaeology of Greece and Rome into three parts, each of which approaches the field from a different, complimentary perspective.

  • Creating a Science of the Past (Lectures 1–12): You trace the origin of archaeology—from the enthusiasm surrounding early excavations at Herculaneum and Pompeii to the latest technological advances of today—and focus on methods, tools, technologies, and how archaeologists evaluate evidence and solve problems.
  • An Archaeologist's Casebook (Lectures 13–24): You tour a dozen important archaeological sites or discoveries ranging from the Bronze Age to late antiquity: sites in Greece or Greek waters, sites in Rome or its provinces, and a pair of bronze statues found off the coast of southern Italy.
  • A View from the Trenches (Lectures 25–36): You approach Classical archaeology thematically, exploring what the field has contributed to our knowledge of ancient life including topics like diets, entertainment, engineering, slavery, religion, and the role of women. Two lectures investigate what archaeology has to say about a pair of big-picture controversies: What are the roots of Classical culture, and why did the Roman Empire fall?

Details that Bring the Ancient World Alive

One of the joys of Classical archaeology is that it brings history alive in very specific, personal ways by offering you glimpses into the lives of real people—sometimes very famous ones:

  • The most renowned of all Greek sculptors was Phidias, and while little of his sculptural work survives, his personal drinking cup was found at the excavation of his workshop in Olympia, inscribed: "I belong to Phidias."
  • A papyrus discovered in 1904 was recently studied in detail and appears to have an instruction written in the handwriting of Cleopatra: to grant tax exemptions to one of her generals and the friend of her lover, Mark Antony.
  • In 1980, excavations at Herculaneum found the remains of 300 men, women, and children who were awaiting evacuation when the eruption of Vesuvius engulfed them. Some of the personal effects uncovered included a carpenter's tool chest, a nursemaid's bracelet, and a child's treasure box—with a pair of coins still inside.
  • Graffiti on a Roman outpost dated to A.D. 238 bears the chilling message, "The Parthians have fallen upon us." Archaeologists found evidence of a great assault that overwhelmed the imperial garrison.
  • Among the many "curse tablets" found at the Roman spa in present-day Bath, England, is one from the victim of an ancient purse snatching. He asks the gods for various favors: the return of the money, bad luck for the thief, and, if nothing else, the perpetrator's name.

Classical Archaeology of Greece and Rome enables you to view the world of the Greeks and Romans not as a sequence of historical events but as an immense living organism; a system in which society, culture, and the natural environment interact in dynamic, creative, and sometimes destructive ways.

See History through the Eyes of an Expert

Dr. Hale is an experienced archaeologist who has lectured widely beyond the university and brought the wonders of archaeological discoveries to the general public. His background includes a long-running position as field director for the University of Louisville's excavations at Torre de Palma and his participation in the search for sunken ships from the armada that attached Greece during the Greek and Persian Wars.

From Spain and the Black Sea to Romania and the shores of North Africa, Dr. Hale takes you on a captivating 2,000-year journey that will strengthen what he calls your "archaeological literacy." At the end of Classical Archaeology of Greece and Rome, you will have a clearer understanding of Classical archaeology: its scope, its methods, its accomplishments, its terms, its controversies, and—above all—what it can tell us about life in antiquity and how it relates to our own time.

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36 lectures
 |  Average 31 minutes each
  • 1
    Archaeology’s Big Bang
    In 1738, Roque Joaquin Alcubierre began the first systematic excavations of Herculaneum, a Roman city buried during the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in A.D. 79. This spectacular dig marked the beginning of archaeology as a scientific discipline. x
  • 2
    “Ode on a Grecian Urn”
    The excavations at Herculaneum and nearby Pompeii fueled an already enthusiastic cult for collecting Greek and Roman antiquities, and sparked new insights into ancient art and history by scholars such as Johann Joachim Winckelmann. x
  • 3
    A Quest for the Trojan War
    The superstar of archaeology in the 19th century was Heinrich Schliemann, who was inspired by the Homeric epics to search for Troy, Mycenae, and other fabled Bronze Age sites, making remarkable and controversial discoveries in the process. x
  • 4
    How to Dig
    Archaeology was a trial-by-error affair of largely haphazard digging until General Lane Fox (later Lord Pitt-Rivers) developed scientific methods of fieldwork, later improved by Mortimer Wheeler in his excavations of Roman sites in Britain. x
  • 5
    First Find Your Site
    This lecture looks at techniques for finding archaeological sites, including the use of technology that "sees" below the surface. One famous archaeologist achieved success by simply asking, "If I were a Bronze Age king, where would I put my palace?" x
  • 6
    Taking the Search Underwater
    The bottom of the Mediterranean Sea is a museum of ancient shipwrecks and artifacts. Jacques Cousteau, coinventor of SCUBA gear, helped pioneer underwater archaeology, followed by George Bass, who brought rigorous surface techniques to the sea floor. x
  • 7
    Cracking the Codes
    Epigraphy is the study of ancient inscriptions, which are often found in sites around the Mediterranean. This lecture covers the deciphering of Egyptian hieroglyphs on the Rosetta Stone, and the decoding of Linear B, a late Bronze Age script. x
  • 8
    Techniques for Successful Dating
    To establish accurate dates, archaeologists employ high-tech methods such as radiocarbon and thermoluminescence. The most useful and precise technique is the simplest, tree-ring dating, which can determine the exact year and also the climate associated x
  • 9
    Reconstructing Vanished Environments
    Archaeologists turn to geologists, soil scientists, botanists, palynologists, and zoologists to answer a range of questions about the history and setting of an artifact or site. This expertise is also useful for identifying fakes and forgeries. x
  • 10
    “Not Artifacts but People”
    The study of human remains opens a window on life in the ancient world, concerning diet, disease, longevity, and other demographic data. This lecture looks at several case histories, including an athlete, a gladiator, and King Philip of Macedon. x
  • 11
    Archaeology by Experiment
    Experimental archaeology tests the technology of the ancient world by recreating it as accurately as possible, shedding light on such arts as shipbuilding, chariot racing, pottery making, and acoustical engineering in amphitheaters. x
  • 12
    Return to Vesuvius
    This lecture examines the digs at Pompeii and Herculaneum in light of the many innovations in archaeological technique over the last century, including the 1980 discovery of 300 bodies trapped at dockside during the eruption. x
  • 13
    Gournia—Harriet Boyd and the Mother Goddess
    Starting the section of the course focusing on specific sites, this lecture looks at the remarkable career of Harriet Boyd, discoverer of a Bronze Age Minoan town at Gournia, Crete, complete with a shrine to a snake goddess. x
  • 14
    Thera—A Bronze Age Atlantis?
    Popularly identified with Atlantis because of the richness of its vanished civilization, Akrotiri on the Greek island of Santorini was destroyed by earthquake and volcanic eruption, possibly as early as 1670 B.C. x
  • 15
    Olympia—Games and Gods
    Excavations at Olympia have recovered thousands of artifacts relating to the ancient Olympic games and the religious cults practiced at the site, including the workshop of Phidias, the sculptor of the temple's lost statue of Zeus, one of the Seven Wond x
  • 16
    Athens’s Agora—Where Socrates Walked
    The Agora was Athens's civic and commercial center. This lecture tours the American-led excavation of the Agora, ongoing since 1931, giving a glimpse of a typical day for an archaeologist—and for an Athenian in the Classical Age. x
  • 17
    Delphi—Questioning the Oracle
    The ancient legends of the oracle of Delphi have been confirmed by contributions from a number of modern scientific disciplines. Research by Dr. Hale and a colleague overthrew a century-long view that had rejected the role of intoxicating gases in the x
  • 18
    Kyrenia—Lost Ship of the Hellenistic Age
    Ancient writings give almost no details about Greek or Roman merchant ships and freighters, but a 4th-century B.C. wreck off Kyrenia, Cyprus, miraculously preserved 60 percent of the hull, allowing exact replicas to be built and tested. x
  • 19
    Riace—Warriors from the Sea
    Discovered by a diver in 1972, two ancient statues known as the Riace Bronzes are the site of the world's smallest archaeological dig: a microscopic study of their clay cores in an attempt to ascertain their date and place of manufacture. x
  • 20
    Rome—Foundation Myths and Archaeology
    How do the myths of Rome's founding match archaeological evidence? This lecture looks at such traditions as Rome's connection to Troy, its foundation date, its relation to neighboring towns, and the site of the hut of Romulus. x
  • 21
    Caesarea Maritima—A Roman City in Judea
    Caesarea Maritima on the coast of Israel was an important harbor and administrative center that tied King Herod of Judea to the Roman world. The now-submerged harbor works are an extraordinary example of Roman engineering. x
  • 22
    Teutoburg—Battlefield Archaeology
    In A.D. 9, German tribesmen ambushed and massacred three Roman legions in the Teutoburg Forest. The battle site was long lost until archeologists recently pinpointed the location and uncovered details that clarify German tactics. x
  • 23
    Bath—Healing Waters at Aquae Sulis
    The spa at Aquae Sulis in modern Bath, England, was a natural wonder of the Roman Empire. Excavations have uncovered a range of objects, including curse tablets and more than 10,000 coins, an early example of the custom of tossing coins in water. x
  • 24
    Torre de Palma—A Farm in the Far West
    In 1947, a chance discovery on a Portuguese farm initiated the excavation of an entire Roman country estate from the later empire, when wealthy Romans had abandoned the cities. Dr. Hale himself has participated in the dig since 1983. x
  • 25
    Roots of Classical Culture
    Where did Classical civilization originate, and what does it owe to the older civilizations of Egypt and the Near East? Archaeological evidence suggests there was no clear-cut time or place of birth, rather the culture developed slowly and unevenly over millennia. x
  • 26
    The Texture of Everyday Life
    Using the wealth of evidence from the excavations at Pompeii, this lecture explores aspects of everyday life in Classical antiquity, including childhood, games and pastimes, public latrines, reading, timekeeping, baths, and sex. x
  • 27
    Their Daily Bread
    Vast sectors of the ancient economy were devoted to securing grain imports for bread. Obsession with grain was the basis for the mystery cult of the goddess Demeter at Eleusis. Grit in bread provides a method for gauging the age of human remains through patters of teeth wear. x
  • 28
    Voyaging on a Dark Sea of Wine
    Wine was an essential element of Greco-Roman culture. Wrecks from all over the Mediterranean attest to the long-distance trade in wine, and the culture surrounding the grape penetrated into many aspects of daily life including religion. x
  • 29
    Shows and Circuses—Rome’s “Virtual Reality”
    To Romans the circus meant the racetrack, particularly the chariot races. Their love of spectacle also took in gladiatorial shows and combat with wild beasts at the Colosseum, where excavations reveal that the animals were in terrible health. x
  • 30
    Engineering and Technology
    The Greeks and especially the Romans are renowned for their waterworks. Less well-known technological feats include an early pipe organ and a rudimentary astronomical computer, discovered as a mass of gears aboard a shipwreck. x
  • 31
    Slaves—A Silent Majority?
    The ancient economy relied heavily on slavery. Archaeology reveals the nature of the institution, which differed in significant ways from American antebellum slavery. One difference: potentially everyone was a slave, if captured in war. x
  • 32
    Women of Greece and Rome
    Archaeology has made surprising findings about the roles of women in antiquity, including graves of probable female soldiers and gladiators. Julia Felix of Pompeii is one woman about whom archaeology tells a full and personal story. x
  • 33
    Hadrian—Mark of the Individual
    Emperor Hadrian is the most archaeologically visible of all Roman emperors. From designs on his coins to such gigantic projects as the Pantheon and Hadrian's Wall, he tried to remake the empire and set it on a new course. x
  • 34
    Crucible of New Faiths
    One of the striking features of the Classical world is the presence of temples in every city, with a limited range of deities presiding from one end of the Mediterranean to the other. Archaeologists find signs of alternative cults, of which Christianity was one. x
  • 35
    The End of the World—A Coroner’s Report
    Ancient writers do not seem aware of a "fall of the Roman Empire." Nonetheless the remains of villas such as Torre de Palma show a gradual cannibalizing of infrastructure to make do in what were clearly increasingly difficult times. x
  • 36
    A Bridge across the Torrent
    A Roman bridge in Spain bears the inscription: "This bridge will last forever." The secret of the Classical world was the desire of many of its leaders and creators to build for eternity. If nothing else, archaeology has brought to light more and more evidence of their enduring achievements. x

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Your professor

John R. Hale

About Your Professor

John R. Hale, Ph.D.
University of Louisville
Dr. John R. Hale is the Director of Liberal Studies at the University of Louisville in Kentucky. He earned his B.A. at Yale University and his Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge in England. Professor Hale teaches introductory courses on archaeology, as well as more specialized courses on the Bronze Age, the ancient Greeks, the Roman world, Celtic cultures, the Vikings, and nautical and underwater archaeology. An...
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Classical Archaeology of Ancient Greece and Rome is rated 4.8 out of 5 by 107.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very engaging and highly informative Dr. Hale is a gifted public speaker whose lectures are skillfully prepared and delivered clearly and concisely, in a well-modulated voice, with warmth and enthusiasm! He's the kind of professor that one wishes one had for every course in college. He has designed this course systematically to cover the nature and methods of classical archaeology in the first 12 lectures, illustrative case studies in the next 12 lectures, and thematic topics in the final 12 lectures. His use of graphics and physical "proprs" is excellent. I would recommend this course to anyone, without hesitation.
Date published: 2020-08-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Lot of Fun! This is not a heavy-hitting, academic deep dive into the roots, theories, and procedures of Archaeology. It's a broad survey of the discipline for non-professionals. As long as you go into it with appropriate expectations this is a fantastic and informative course. Seriously, it's a lot of fun. To be honest, Professor Hale could sit by the fireplace and read a phone book and I'm sure he would find a way to make it interesting, but this course, especially for the price I paid, is well worth the money. Thanks.
Date published: 2020-06-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Add this Great Course to your list! Why wasn't Professor Hale one of my Professors? He could even teach an engineering course and get you excited. He really wants you to experience and appreciate what the Greeks and Romans accomplished and how it is part of our society and culture. I have a new understanding of the ancient civilization and have enjoyed several others courses. Professor Hale is truly a Great Professor and everyone needs to attend his lectures.
Date published: 2020-04-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent content! John Hale is knowledgeable and entertaining. This was my favorite course!
Date published: 2020-03-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This course is superb! The lecturer, John Hale, is an excellent storyteller. I've been fascinated by Greek and Roman archeology for some time, but each lecture tells me something new. The lectures are well-organized and filled with important and interesting information. Hale's skill in the telling of the details makes the learning particularly enjoyable.
Date published: 2020-02-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another gem from Professor Hale Perhaps this course should have been called "archaeology a perspective" or "a study of archaeology" but this is a quibble. Prof. Hale talks about archaeology like a little kid with a new toy. His enthusiasm and his genuine love of his field is just contagious. While discussing what might be considered a history of archaeology he gives the student lots of morsels of really interesting details. While this course is a bit drier than his amazing tour guide to Greece and Turkey it is still highly entertaining as well as educational. I had prior knowledge of the area from other courses but I still learned a great deal and was impressed with Prof. Hale's perspective on historical culture as well as the archaeological efforts to literally unearth those cultures. This is a great course.
Date published: 2019-12-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Prof Hale makes these lectures very interesting with lots of anecdotes and asides. Good reading lists at each chapter. I have followed up on several of the books and have not been disappointed. Currently on the las DVD and will be sorry when this course ends.
Date published: 2019-04-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful I was charged and impressed with the lecturer. Made learning fun.
Date published: 2019-01-15
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