Great Battles of the Ancient World

Course No. 3757
Professor Garrett G. Fagan, Ph.D.
The Pennsylvania State University
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Course No. 3757
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Course Overview

Hollywood has gone to elaborate lengths to recreate the violence and mayhem of ancient warfare in movies such as Gladiator and Troy. But what were ancient battles really like? What weapons, tactics, armor, training, and logistics were used? And what were the crucial factors that could turn the tide of battle, giving one side victory and consigning the other to slaughter, capture, or, at best, escape to fight another day?

A professor of classics and history at The Pennsylvania State University and the teacher of our immensely popular course, The History of Ancient Rome, Dr. Garrett G. Fagan has devoted extensive study to ancient warfare. In these 24 lectures he takes you into the thick of combat in some of the most notable battles fought in the Mediterranean region from prehistoric times to the 4th century A.D.

Great Battles—Crucibles of History

"Battles, for all their madness, are worthy of study if for no other reason than that they are the crucibles of history," says Professor Fagan, who notes that a few hours of hard fighting can determine the fates of entire empires. Among the many fateful battles you study are:

  • Marathon: This clash between Athenians and the invading Persian army in 490 B.C.E. demonstrated the fearsome effectiveness of Greek hoplite phalanxes against Persian arms. Later European history would have looked very different had the Greeks lost at Marathon.
  • Gaugamela: In 331 B.C.E., Alexander the Great crushed a vastly superior Persian force in a classic hammer-and-anvil battle, in which his cavalry (the hammer) outflanked the enemy to drive it onto the spear-wielding phalanx (the anvil). When the dust had settled, King Darius III was in flight, and Achaemenid Persia, which had dominated Asia for three centuries, was at an end.
  • Masada: The Romans showed their mastery of the difficult art of siege warfare by breaching the virtually impregnable Jewish fortress of Masada, which fell on April 16, A.D. 73. The defenders took their own lives rather than surrender, ending the last chapter of the Jewish Revolt against Rome.

Famous Generals

You also follow celebrated confrontations between commanders of ancient times, including Hannibal versus Scipio, the 3rd-century B.C.E. equivalent of Lee versus Grant during the American Civil War, or Rommel versus Montgomery during World War II. At the head of a Carthaginian army, Hannibal nearly broke the back of Roman power in Italy, inflicting the worst Roman defeat ever at the horrendous Battle of Cannae in 218 B.C.E. But he met his match in P. Cornelius Scipio, who lured him to Africa for a killing blow at the Battle of Zama. Scipio was known ever afterward as Scipio "Africanus."

Other generals you study include:

  • Alexander the Great: Arguably the greatest general ever, Alexander was heir to the tactical innovations of his father, Philip II of Macedon, who, in turn, had learned new battle techniques from Epaminondas of Thebes. Alexander's stunning victories are marked by his maximally efficient use of military tools.
  • Julius Caesar: A brilliant tactician and master chronicler of his own exploits, Caesar won battles against barbarian armies and Roman rivals alike. He was preparing to conquer the Parthian Empire when he was struck down in the Roman Forum on the Ides of March in 44 B.C.E.
  • Xenophon: Elected general after the massacre of his commanding officers, this soldier of fortune led a beleaguered army of 10,000 Greek mercenaries on a daring retreat from deep within Persian territory.

What You Will Learn

This course focuses on warfare in the ancient Mediterranean world, encompassing the region from Mesopotamia to Western Europe, including Egypt and North Africa.

The first eight lectures chart the development of warfare from prehistoric times to the glory days of the great states of the ancient Near East and Egypt. After examining theories about how to define war, you survey different models for the origins of warfare in the Upper Paleolithic (c. 37,000–12,000 years ago) and Neolithic (c. 10,000–5,000 years ago), testing them against the archaeological evidence, which provides our only clues to organized violence among prehistoric peoples.

Then you move into the historical era, starting with the first battles for which we have written accounts. These took place between the city-states of early Sumer (c. 3000–2350 B.C.E.), when armies of infantry that used rudimentary chariots clashed over honor, irrigation rights, and boundaries. Next you travel to Egypt and survey the changing nature of warfare in the Old to New Kingdoms (c. 2700–1070 B.C.E.), including the first fully recorded battle in history: the Battle of Megiddo between Pharaoh Thutmose III and a coalition of Syrian lords, fought outside the walls of a town in Palestine. You examine the fearsome Assyrian war machine as it developed c. 900–612 B.C.E., and the sophisticated army that allowed the Assyrians to forge the largest empire yet seen in the region. You also address disputed matters of the Trojan War and Homeric warfare.

In the next eight lectures you cover warfare among the Greeks and their distinctive form of combat using hoplites, a type of armored infantry that fought in close formation called the phalanx. You study the Persian invasions of Greece (490–479 B.C.E.), examining the battles of Marathon, Thermopylae, Salamis, and Plataea that decided this titanic clash. The disastrous Athenian expedition against Sicily (415–413 B.C.E.) during the Peloponnesian War is next, followed by the military revolution in the 4th century B.C.E., which saw the creation of a new and formidable fighting unit spearheaded by the cavalry and a reformed phalanx. This integrated and flexible army reached its pinnacle of efficiency under Alexander the Great, and you survey the battles at the Granicus River, Issus, and Gaugamela that made Alexander king of Persia.

In the third part of the course you study the legions of Rome, which evolved brutally effective tactics that gave them dominion over the entire Mediterranean basin. It is unclear how Roman legionary armies actually fought, and you explore various theories before following the legions into combat in their colossal struggles with Hannibal in the Second Punic War (218–202 B.C.E.). Then you compare the Roman legion and Macedonian phalanx—the two most efficient killing machines of the day—in duels fought in Italy in the 3rd century B.C.E. and in the Balkans and Asia Minor in the 2nd century. Next you consider Roman skill in siege warfare as exemplified by Julius Caesar's siege of Alesia (52 B.C.E.) and the siege of Masada in Judea in A.D. 72–73. The final two battles covered are Roman defeats and introduce the German tribal warrior. These are the battles of the Teutoburg Forest in A.D. 9, considered one of the most important battles in European history, and Adrianople in A.D. 378, which heralded the decline of Roman imperial power.

In the final lecture, Professor Fagan considers the recent proposal by scholar Victor Davis Hanson that there is a distinctively "Western way of war" traceable from the Greeks to the modern age. This intriguing view represents hoplite warfare as a unique development of Greek conditions that casts its shadow down to the present. Despite the theory's attractive simplicity, it has problems that Dr. Fagan details in a fascinating glimpse of scholarly debate in action.

Clash of Theories

The battles you study were fought so long ago, and accounts of them are so incomplete, that what happened involves considerable controversy. Professor Fagan presents contending theories and often his own hypotheses about how events unfolded during these bloody encounters. For example:

  • The standard view of battle mechanics adopted by opposing armies of Greek hoplites is that they advanced shoulder-to-shoulder in close-ordered formation and crashed into each other head-on. Then they sought, quite literally, to shove their opponents off the field, all the while stabbing with their spears. The minority view is that hoplite battle was more open, with hoplites standing up to six feet apart and fighting individually rather than as a mass. Dr. Fagan demonstrates how this minority view "is a lot more plausible and is supported by the ancient evidence better than the strange business of ritualized shoving."
  • Similarly, it is far from clear how Roman legionaries fought their battles. The principal ancient source, the historian Livy, is so confused on the point that it is obvious he never witnessed a legion in action. After considering various schools of thought, Professor Fagan draws on clues from different battle narratives to conclude that flexibility lay at the heart of the Roman system, so that no one "battle deployment" fit all.
  • On the issue of whether the Greek hoplites at Marathon charged the Persians across the one-mile gap separating the armies, as described by the ancient historian Herodotus, Professor Fagan notes that experiments carried out at The Pennsylvania State University with physical education majors suggest that Herodotus was wrong. Wearing weighted jackets and carrying mock nine-pound shields, only one of the Penn State athletes could run the mile-long course, and he was utterly exhausted—certainly not in a position to fight 24,000 Persians!

War's Grim Reality

Dr. Fagan ends by reminding us of the grim reality of war: Throughout history many millions have died on battlefields. "We owe it to them," he concludes, "and to the thousands who continue to perish in our planet's wars, to understand as fully as possible what it was that killed them. If this course has advanced its audience's comprehension of war even a little, then it has amply fulfilled its purpose."

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Why Study Battles? What Is War?
    Professor Garrett G. Fagan addresses the importance of studying battles and surveys the changing scholarly approach to the subject since the 19th century. He concludes by looking at different definitions of warfare, particularly the "operational" and "social-constructivist" models. x
  • 2
    The Problem of Warfare’s Origins
    Three types of evidence shed light on origins of warfare: human remains bearing evidence of trauma, artifacts that function primarily as weapons, and monuments such as fortifications or depictions of warriors painted on cave walls. Their interpretations are far from straightforward. x
  • 3
    Sumer, Akkad, and Early Mesopotamian Warfare
    You enter the historical era when written records first become available. Such evidence allows us to reconstruct the conventions and conditions of warfare among the first cities in Sumer in c. 3000 B.C. and to explore the nature of Sumerian armies, weapons, and battle tactics. x
  • 4
    Egyptian Warfare from the Old to New Kingdoms
    Evidence of warfare in Old Kingdom Egypt is ambiguous, but it is much more plentiful in later periods, when the pharaoh's role was increasingly that of a war leader. Egyptian warfare was transformed by the introduction of the chariot. x
  • 5
    The Battles of Megiddo and Kadesh
    With New Kingdom Egypt you get the first fully recorded battle in history: the Battle of Megiddo. You also cover the later Battle of Kadesh, which is attested in both Egyptian and Hittite accounts. x
  • 6
    The Trojan War and Homeric Warfare
    The reality of the Trojan War has been debated since ancient times. In this lecture you survey the archaeological evidence for Troy and for warfare among the mainland Greeks, called Mycenaeans. x
  • 7
    The Assyrian War Machine
    The Assyrian military model of multiethnic, highly mobile armies relying on missile weaponry and chariots was to characterize major Near Eastern powers for centuries. You study the nature of the Assyrian army, the unique features of the empire it created, and the place of warfare in Assyrian imperial ideology. x
  • 8
    The Sieges of Lachish and Jerusalem
    You examine the art of ancient siege warfare by considering the two great sieges at Lachish and Jerusalem during the third campaign of Sennacherib (701 B.C.). The sources for these events include Assyrian written and iconographic records, accounts in the Bible, and archaeology. x
  • 9
    A Peculiar Institution? Hoplite Warfare
    The Greek hoplite was a heavily armed and armored infantryman who fought in a formation called the phalanx, dominating battlefields of the ancient world for almost four centuries (c. 700–338 B.C.). x
  • 10
    The Battle of Marathon
    The Battle of Marathon saw the forces of the Persian superpower defeated in the first major confrontation between Greeks and Persians on the Hellenic mainland. The battle itself was strategically indecisive and set the stage for the serious clash of Greek and Persian armies a decade later. x
  • 11
    The Battle of Thermopylae
    In the second Persian invasion of Greece, 300 Spartans with allied troops were charged with stopping an enormous Persian force at the narrow pass of Thermopylae, while Greek armies mustered in the rear. Astonishingly, the fight lasted three days before the defenders were betrayed and then massacred. x
  • 12
    Naval Warfare and the Battle of Salamis
    You survey the naval developments that led to the trireme in the late 6th century B.C. and then focus on the Battle of Salamis, which saw the Persian fleet defeated by Athens. The lecture ends with the Battle of Plataea (479 B.C.). x
  • 13
    The Athenian Expedition to Sicily
    The Athenian assault on the heavily forytified city of Syracuse in Sicily represents one of the greatest military follies in history. The ensuing disaster was a turning point in the wider Peloponnesian War with Sparta (431–404 B.C.). x
  • 14
    The March of the Ten Thousand
    You follow the exploits of the "Ten Thousand," a contingent of Greek mercenaries caught deep in hostile Persian territory around 400 B.C. Their fighting retreat, conducted over 1,500 miles, demonstrated the superiority of Greek hoplites and later inspired Alexander the Great's conquest of Persia. x
  • 15
    Macedonian Military Innovations
    Warfare among Greek city-states in the 4th century B.C. led to a new style of hoplite combat using a refined version of phalanx. Adopted by King Philip II of Macedon, these tactics helped create a fearsome military machine that was to dominate the eastern Mediterranean and Asia for more than two centuries. x
  • 16
    Alexander’s Conquest of Persia
    Using the Macedonian phalanx, Alexander the Great invaded the Persian Empire in 334 B.C., winning major battles against overwhelming odds at Granicus (334 B.C.), Issus (333 B.C.), and Gaugamela (331 B.C.), making him ruler over all of Persia. x
  • 17
    The Legions of Rome
    Abandoning the Greek-style phalanx, the Romans created an army that would conquer the known world within two centuries. The essential elements of Roman legionary equipment and tactical formations are examined. x
  • 18
    The Battles of Cannae and Zama
    An examination of Roman battles begins with the worst defeat in Roman history, the disaster at Cannae, inflicted by Carthaginian military genius Hannibal. The routed Romans waited 14 years for their revenge against Hannibal at the Battle of Zama in 202 B.C. x
  • 19
    Legion versus Phalanx—Six Pitched Battles
    The two greatest tactical systems of the ancient Mediterranean were the Macedonian phalanx and the Roman legion. They met in battle at several engagements, allowing us to weigh their relative advantages. You consider the results of six battles. x
  • 20
    The Sieges of Alesia and Masada
    You look at developments in siege warfare during the Hellenistic and Roman eras, examining in detail two great Roman sieges: Alesia (52 B.C.) and Masada (A.D. 72–73). Both required enormous networks of camps, towers, moats, and palisades to seal off the besieged. x
  • 21
    Caesar’s World War
    Between 49 and 45 B.C., Caesar fought a civil war across the empire against his Roman rivals. You examine the battles of Pharsalus, Zela, Thapsus, and Munda, paying particular attention to what allowed Caesar to win in each case, especially since he was often outnumbered. x
  • 22
    The Battle of the Teutoburg Forest
    In A.D. 9, three Roman legions were ambushed and massacred in the Teutoburg Forest by Germans under Arminius, a former auxiliary in the Roman ranks. You explore accounts of the battle and the remarkable archaeological discoveries that have shed new light on German tactics. x
  • 23
    Catastrophe at Adrianople
    The Roman defeat at Adrianople in A.D. 378 was only the second time in Roman history that an emperor was killed in action against a foreign foe. Assessing the battle, you survey the Goths and the threat they posed in the 4th century, and you examine the military organization and equipment of the Later Roman Empire. x
  • 24
    Reflections on Warfare in the Ancient World
    You address two final questions: (1) Why did warfare play a central role in the societies of the ancient Mediterranean? (2) Was the so-called "Western way of war" invented in Archaic Greece and has it been continuously practiced up to the present? x

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Your professor

Garrett G. Fagan

About Your Professor

Garrett G. Fagan, Ph.D.
The Pennsylvania State University
Dr. Garrett G. Fagan is Professor of Ancient History at The Pennsylvania State University, where he has taught since 1996. He was born in Dublin, Ireland, and educated at Trinity College. He earned his Ph.D. from McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, and has held teaching positions at McMaster University, York University (Canada), and The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Davidson College. In all of these...
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Great Battles of the Ancient World is rated 4.1 out of 5 by 115.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent and balanced I like the presentation of differing interpretations on significant points and details.
Date published: 2018-03-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Enjoyable Great discussion of various beliefs about ancient warfare. Of course the professor gives his own thoughts, but also covers alternate theories and ideas. He is also frank about saying when there is just not enough information to be sure. Happy I tried it.
Date published: 2018-02-23
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Good content but presentation sub-standard The actual content was good. There were a number of things in the presentation the really annoyed me. 1). When the camera was showing artifacts or diagrams, the picture oscillated in and out of focus. You would think something this basic would be picked up by TGC. They dropped the ball here. 2). The presenter mumbles and stutters through most his lectures. If only he slowed down he would have fared so much better. 3). This is a minor point but the presenter really should know how to pronounce "Euphrates". The emphasis should of course be on the 2nd syllable, not the 3rd. The presenter is a professor; he should know better.
Date published: 2017-11-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Clear and Insightful I got caught up in this course. I've long been interested in the history of warfare and famous battles. This course added some context and vividness that I hadn't had before. I especially liked the instructor's clarity about the quality and reliability (good and bad) of the source materials. This was the first time I've tried a video course instead of just audio. Was glad I did. The maps showing the locations of the battles, and the diagrams showing how forces were arranged, helped keep things clear and oriented for me.
Date published: 2017-08-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course for any History buff. I Bought this about a month ago and it is as good as it gets.Any history buff looking for a course on ancient battles will love this one.5 stars and more.
Date published: 2017-08-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Rebuttal of Negative Reviews 1. It seems unusual in this day and age to make negative comments about Dr. Fagan's speech impediment. Through it he maintains dignity, at times even smiling at his difficulty and always forcing his way through it because of his devotion to teaching. I admired him for his tenacity during the few difficult times. 2. Some have had difficulties with Prof Fagan outlining other professor's opinions and refuting them. Personally, I find this refreshing, giving us a glimpse into the academic struggles for accuracy. Fagan evaluates the evidence we have regarding the battles rather than pass on mere descriptions of the evidence. Close-ups of archeological fragments and onscreen interpretations of their inscriptions is a wonderful device. Thus his rigorous fact versus theory approach often successfully challenges contemporary views. It reminds that much that is taught in colleges (or the newspapers) is not "written in stone" but the opinion of whoever controls the medium. In Fagan's case, he presents both sides and shows the evidence for his own opinion. This is much better than presenting one side and ignoring the other! Summary: This is a sincere, very hardworking professor and I very much appreciated his dedication to the best presentation possible. Audio comments: seeing the artifact as it is translated and other images are a bonus. However, after lecture 10, the most important maps are in the Guidebook, so the audio would be fine.
Date published: 2017-07-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Battles of long ago. Would like more pictures. But these battles didn't have a lot of documentation. Always amazing how violent a species we are looking as far back as recording goes.
Date published: 2017-05-17
Rated 1 out of 5 by from a disnomer i thought this was about actual battles and tactics, the course is about culture the authors of books which adds up to 70-80% of the lectures. I was expecting information on the battles to include graphics and the movement of the troops and plans, and the actual conflict. instead it is actually kind of boring which I was disappointed in. would not recommend unless you want to fall asleep.
Date published: 2017-04-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good Overall Title I bought this within the last 2-months and enjoyed the material. The instructor has a rather dry, monotone and slightly fast delivery that makes the listening for an extended period of time seem rather boring.
Date published: 2017-04-02
Rated 3 out of 5 by from The presentation would be greatly enhanced with subtitles for us who are hearing impaired...
Date published: 2017-03-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great Course! I absolutely this topic of history. It's fascinating, with so many different interpretations and periods of interest. Mr. Fagan successfully covers each side of the debate on a myriad of topics through the ages. Anyone who is interested in the topic of ancient military history should get this.
Date published: 2017-03-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating Course. As a lover of ancient history and an ancient wargamer I found this course to be interesting and a real learning experience. The professor's knowledge on ancient battle was exemplary. I would recommend this course to anyone who is curious about the effects of battle on history.
Date published: 2017-01-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Informative and entertaining I very much enjoy Professor Fagan's GREAT BATTLES OF THE ANCIENT WORLD lectures. I find his erudite, low-key approach... and his Irish lilt... very listenable.
Date published: 2016-12-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Battles of the Ancient world. Loved this presentation..the Professor was terrific...great Irish accent and very very knowledgable...He made this topic fascinating and I really enjoyed it.
Date published: 2016-12-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Battles from two points of view The content of this course partially overlaps the content of another course, namely, "Herodotus: The Father of History." The points of view of the two courses are quite different, and thus the courses complement each other well.
Date published: 2016-11-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from I have only got half way through this course and it is great.the professor has great presentation and good knowledge with an interesting insight..
Date published: 2016-10-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Worth Listening to This course is a scholar presentation that informs and captures the imagination.
Date published: 2016-08-28
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Wrong title & poor lectures I bought the course in a hurry because it was on sale and because the title sounded interesting- my mistake. I thought the topic would the influence of specific battles on the course of history. However, the course is not about "Great Battles"- it's about the history of warfare. Or more correctly, about the academic study of warfare. And the lectures are very bland- Professor Fagan seems to be reading them. He shows no personality in his talks. The first two lectures, on how and why warfare should be an academic study, are the most boring ones I've heard in any of the Great Courses. In Lecture 3 on the Sumerians, Professor Fagan begins to get more specific, but the available material is so sketchy that he can only cite generalities. As the course moves forward in time, more details become available, but I never really recovered from my initial disappointment. These lectures are not so much about history as they are about the study of history- two very different things. I might have enjoyed them if I'd set out to address that topic, and if the lecturer were more dynamic, but neither was the case.
Date published: 2016-04-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Could Be More Focused This course is the second time we have seen Professor Fagan, the first was his course on ancient Rome described in the earlier part of my series. He seems more self-assured and aggressive; he needs to be as he takes on, boldly and somewhat convincingly, some of the giants of modern military history: Sir John Keegan, Professor Donald Kagan and, most notably, Professor Victor Davis Hanson. Moreover, a course that weaves military history into the rest of historical studies is a challenge to survey courses as usually taught. Fagan opens his lectures with compelling reasons why military history should not be shunned by academia. He cites not only the obvious interplay between war and the rest of human activity but also speaks to the origins and definition of war itself. His first two lectures should be heard by all teachers of social studies and humanities. Covering Mesopotamia, Egypt and Asia Minor, Fagan establishes that all facets of warfare – sieges, ambushes, ruses and decisive battles – had been established and institutionalized by the end of the Bronze Age. He also illustrates how military and all domestic concerns acted to shape each other. After a foray into literature as history with a discussion of Homer’s work, the nut of the course is reached with Classical Greece. Hoplite warfare has recently been proclaimed as the genesis of a unique Western way of war, different and superior to all others even down to today. Fagan shows that this way of war is unique only in terms of geography and resources, not goals, strategy or tactics. To think otherwise is ethnocentric folly. After an interesting overview of Alexander the Great, Professor Fagan describes the evolution of Roman war. While he continues to show how military matters are intertwined with political and social affairs, he slips into more details of specific battles, changing the scope of his presentation. This slip of focus is understandable given the more numerous sources and the fact that Rome is his primary area of study. He redeems this with a stunning summary lecture. This course stands out for its multitude of visual aids. Every period is well illustrated with maps, drawings, portraits, on-screen quotations and representations of pertinent artifacts. Professor Fagan excels at taking an apparently narrow subject and making it pertinent to today’s students and events.
Date published: 2016-02-22
Rated 2 out of 5 by from This is a very interesting course by the content yet Professor Fagan presents it in a boring way, because, instead of telling us the story, he reads the story. And the content gets lost. He is not involved, he is just reading and makes sure he reads right. What a waste! Whereas other courses take hours to listen, you can't wait to the next chapter. Here it took me a long time to get through, was mostly forcing myself to finish it.
Date published: 2016-02-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Ripping yarn thru the ancient world DVD Review Bottom line upfront: if you have interests in the ancient world or warfare in general then you are going to love this course; if have neither, then you should probably stay away. Dr. Fagan covers all aspects of ancient warfare to include the individual soldier level, small unit tactics, higher level tactics, operational-level, and even the strategic contexts. He sugar coats nothing and ruthlessly confronts controversial issues, for which he provides all views, but asserts his own claim and supports why. Dr. Fagan is a great story teller and is exceptionally eloquent, particularly given that it appears he works entirely without written notes or the services of a teleprompter.
Date published: 2016-02-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fun and Games on Ancient Battlefields Once you get used to Dr Fagan's accent, helps if you watch a lot of PBS's love affair with British shows, the course gets very interesting. How do you turn war elephants on their own side? No you don't release a thousand mice, you make a lot of noise. The course covers several centuries and civilizations. It fits in with several courses covering the same period and time. This would include 'Between the River (Castor) #3180; 'Great Ancient Civilizations of Asia Minor' (Harl) #363; 'Classical Archaeology of Ancient Greece and Rome' (Hale) #3340. And if you want to take a little side trip 'The World of Biblical Israel' (Chapman) #6325.
Date published: 2016-01-21
Rated 2 out of 5 by from A Sad Day After enjoying upwards of 20 Great Courses offerings, this must be my first mostly negative review. "Great Battles of the Ancient World" covers the right ground, acknowledges that reconstructing incisive accounts with less than strong sources is a most difficult undertaking and points us in the right direction for future learning. But Prof. Fagan is by far the weakest presenter I have encountered on Great Courses. There are a myriad of misreadings, stumbling, stammering and simply hard to follow utterances. I have no problem with the content, and I would not necessarily avoid other products from Prof. Fagan, but Great Courses, please provide some speech coaching.
Date published: 2016-01-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very good history course When I first started this course, I expected something a little different. History was not my major in college so it took a little getting use to a scholarly presentation of history. Once into it, I really appreciated how the professor discussed the material and explained the context and seemingly contrary views of ancient history. I believe this in itself is a good reason to take a course like this at least once. The professor points out the viewpoints of the various sources (historical reports if any - in some cases there are none so all is inferred) and how the record may be tainted by the writer's bias, politics, etc. This is essential to gaining a true appreciation of history and the role of the professional historian in establishing an accurate interpretation of historical events.
Date published: 2015-09-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Battles of the Ancient World I liked the strict rules of history used to evaluate sources, demonstrating that aspect of the field. It was fascinating to compare a few early battles with the "Decisive Battles of World History" Great Course lectures. This does not have quite as many illustrations as some other Great Courses, but once again the content (and the excellence of the images and maps when used) make it worthwhile.
Date published: 2015-06-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Awesome My favorite hobby is studying military history. However, I do not know as much about ancient military history as I do of more recent history, but this definitely provided me with a vast understanding of how battles were fought so long ago. Totally worth it.
Date published: 2015-03-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting overview of the evolution of war. I trusted Professor Fagan to provide as thorough an overview of the significant battles of the ancient world as is known and I feel he does so in this course. In many cases, particularly in the oldest wars little is known of the actual strategy of engagement but we are told of the various weapons and the apparent size of the forces, the increase in specialization of soldiers over time, and the cost of the war in terms of lives, land and plunder. Fagan leaves us no escape from the brutality of war, the merciless actions of the conquerors and the suffering, death and torture of the conquered. There is little or no romance in this course but we are left with an understanding of the price our ancestors have paid in blood to bring us to these times and the enthusiasm which war seems to bring to each civilization no matter how clear the ultimate consequence. That is the value of the course to me. Professor Fagan speaks quickly, which I suspect is a habit he has acquired to compensate for a stammer. This impediment may make it difficult on occasion to understand a phrase or word but it is not a serious objection and his enthusiasm for the subject more than compensates.
Date published: 2015-02-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from One of the Best This professor is my favorite of the many I've seen and heard in the Great Courses. He balances a lively presentation with deep analysis, including a frank acknowledgment of scholarly controversies. (In ancient history there are plenty of these.) The idea of "great battles" is in disrepute nowadays. This course argues that even pacifists need to understand what war is all about. I agree but doubt that traditional-style battle narratives are the right approach. More stress on the political context, as in Prof. Fagan's History of Rome course, would have made this course even better.
Date published: 2015-02-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Ancient Battles: Anatomy of Social Change GREAT BATTLES of the ANCIENT WORLD by Professor Garrett G. Fagan is the study of the Mediterranean basin’s early states of the Near East and Egypt, to Greece and Rome spanning prehistory to the 4th century A.D. According to the professor "Battles, for all their madness, are worthy of study if for no other reason than that they are the CRUCIBLES OF HISTORY". Approaching battles with a counter-factual contemplative mind raises a profound question: what if the outcome of these battles were otherwise? – Europe, the Near East, and by extension, the world today would be a very different place. What is offered is nothing less than a nucleus of HISTORICAL CHANGE itself. Prior to this course, I focused on comparative history as the approach to understanding social change; now battles themselves hold the key. Approaches to war (decisive battles / experiential experience), definitions of war (operational / constructivists), origins of warfare ranging from the upper Paleolithic 35,000 B.C. (social substitutability) to the Neolithic 10,000 B.C. (state formations), and a controversial hypothesis for a Western-Way of War are all explored and critiqued in detail. Note the definition and the origin of war is intimately linked (anthropologist / military historian). Varied EVIDENCE is presented from archaeology, inscriptions, numismatics, literary works and allied disciplines to history such as anthropology, ethnography, socio-biology, evolutionary perspectives, genetics, etc. are used to decipher acts of warfare. Given that data finds are incomplete, controversy hovers over types of violence among prehistoric peoples as well as the details of classical warfare generating competing theories, interpretations, and controversy over WARFARE’S DEFINITION and ORIGINS. The course is divided into three parts: the great states of the ancient Near East and Egypt, classical Greece, and imperial Rome. > Witness Mesopotamian (Sargon), Egyptian (Ramesses), and Assyrian warfare (Sennacherib), the battles of Megiddo (Thutmose) and Kadesh, and the sieges of Lachish and Jerusalem. > Observe Greek warfare based on armored infantry hoplites fighting in close formation called the phalanx, the mythology of the Trojan War (Homer) and the battles of Marathon (Herodotus), Thermopylae (Xerxes), Salamis (naval warfare), and Plataea, Macedonian (Philip / Alexander) rise to power, battles of the Granicus River, Issus, and Gaugamela culminating in Alexander the Great conquest of Persia which ended the Achaemenid Persian dynasty. > Survey the legions of Rome as they gain dominance over the Mediterranean world, the battles of Cannae (Hannibal) and Zama (Scipio), the sieges of Alesia (Caesar) and Masada (Josephus), the civil wars of Caesar (Pompey), and the battles of the Teutoburg Forest (Varus / Arminius) and Adrianople (Valens / Fritigern). I surveyed the REVIEWS and found they focus around three dominant areas of contention concerning the centrality of warfare in the ancient Mediterranean. In short, these three issues are the transparent categories of the mind itself; these categories are not mutually exclusive, but in combination, underlie all scientific research and thinking in general. They are of continuous concern to students of the social scene since they affect the natural, social, and moral sciences which have a very long literary and bloody history down to the present day -- like the great battles themselves! The first area concerns the models of history. I will call these orientations the EUROPEAN / AMERICAN CAMPS of history which deal with the role of theoretical reason and its ideas in social research. The professor deals with these issues in a detailed and comprehensive fashion; he informs the empirical / (sensible data) with theoretical meaning / (understanding) as the basis for the construction of an enlightening historical narrative. In my view it is intellectually successful and artistically eloquent. The second area concerns the methodologies of social research. I will call these orientations the RATIONAL / EMPICIRAL MODELS of history which deal with the methods, procedures, practical criticisms of social research. The professor deals with these issues critically in both scope and depth applying a conceptual approach contemplating counter-factually on battles that reveal the direction of history; it is accomplished so professionally, that I request a course or update on the historian’s craft since Professor Fagan is the perfect candidate. His incessant critique of theories, methodologies, and historical narratives are mind altering for the social scientist. The third area concerns aesthetics. I will call these orientations the VISUAL & AUDITORY AESTHETICS of experience in general. Here the narrative voice of delivery is understood predominately by the mental or physical eye and ear of the recipient. I used the CD version and heard no problems of voice since the professor’s critical mind was the dominant speaker, but the lack of maps in the course book might favor the DVD however. I end with a quote by the professor: “Throughout history many millions have died on battlefields, we owe it to them, and to the thousands who continue to perish in our planet's wars, to UNDERSTAND as fully as possible what it was that killed them. If this course has advanced its audience's comprehension of war even a little, then it has amply fulfilled its purpose." This course accomplished its goal -- a masterpiece of historical scholarship and highly recommended.
Date published: 2015-02-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well taught, engrossing This course, taught by Dr. Fagan, is captivating from start to finish. The subject is "Great Battles of the Ancient World," so the scope is narrow enough to give the topic an in-depth treatment with 24 lectures. Dr. Fagan spices up his fast-paced style with opposing opinions from other historians. His fair-minded presentation adds greatly to his credibility. The course is fun and informative, and an excellent complement to his "History of Ancient Rome."
Date published: 2014-11-30
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