Great Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt

Course No. 3588
Professor Bob Brier, Ph.D.
Long Island University
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Course No. 3588
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Course Overview

No great civilization continues to speak to us like that of ancient Egypt. But what is it about this ancient civilization that still captures our imaginations? What made Egypt special, allowing it to grow, in Professor Bob Brier's words, "from a scattering of villages across the Nile to the greatest power the world had ever seen"?

Professor Brier has designed this course to focus on the fascinating leaders of ancient Egypt. The information in this course is also covered in our more extensive course, The History of Ancient Egypt.

"My thesis in Great Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt is that what made Egypt great were the people—individuals who did great things," says Professor Brier. "By recounting the lives and accomplishments of the great ones of Egypt, we will present a history of Egypt spreading over 30 centuries. By the time we come to the last ruler of Egypt, Cleopatra, we will have peered into almost every aspect of ancient Egyptian life, seen what made Egypt great, and what finally brought about its downfall.

"My hope is that by the end of the course you will have a sense that you personally know the men and women who made Egypt the greatest nation of the ancient world."

A Great Teacher and Egyptologist

Professor Brier is an Egyptologist and specialist in mummies who knows the ancient Egyptians—literally—from the inside out. In fact, in 1994, Dr. Brier became the first person in 2,000 years to mummify a human cadaver in the ancient Egyptian style. This research was the subject of a National Geographic television special, Mr. Mummy.

Relaxed, matter-of-fact, and wryly humorous, he weaves into the stories of the great pharaohs the daily realities of Egyptian life. You learn, for example, that the origin of eye makeup was not due to vanity. Instead, makeup was ground on small, personal palettes and worn by every Egyptian for the same reasons modern athletes wear black eyeliner under their eyes: to absorb the sun's glare.

A Palette Launches 3,000 Years of Imagery

It is a quite different palette—that of Narmer, the king who unified Egypt—that marks our real introduction to Egypt's great rulers. Considered the first historical document, the "Narmer Palette" reveals images of traditions Narmer created that would endure for 3,000 years, including the double crown of Egypt and the "smiting pose" in which all pharaohs ever after would be shown.

Just as scholars look to the Narmer Palette as their earliest message from Egypt, it is the pyramids that perhaps serve that role for the rest of us.

The pharaoh Sneferu, seeking a suitable way to house his own burial chamber, taught Egypt how to perfect the pyramid, a structure whose origins lay in the need to protect desert graves from exposure by the wind. Professor Brier makes it clear, however, that pyramids were far from Sneferu's only achievements.

A Female Pharaoh Lost to History

One of Egypt's greatest rulers, the female pharaoh Hatshepsut, raised magnificent obelisks at the Temple of Karnak and built what Professor Brier calls "perhaps the most beautiful temple in all of Egypt," Deir el-Bahri. The inscriptions on the temple's walls are the first known depictions of sub-Saharan Africa; Hatshepsut was so powerful a king she was able to send a trading expedition there.

Ironically, most of the evidence of Hatshepsut's existence was systematically erased after her death; Egyptians simply did not want to acknowledge that a woman had been king.

Professor Brier continues with the tale of one of Egypt's most controversial pharaohs, Akhenaten, who tried to alter the three stabilizing principles of Egyptian society—the religious, military, and artistic traditions of the most conservative nation on earth—and almost destroyed Egypt in the process. Akhenaten's story left a legacy the ancients would attempt to erase. Ironically, this forgotten pharaoah would be the father of the most famous pharaoh in modern times: the boy-king Tutankhamen.

Tutankhamen: Murdered by His Successor?

The discovery of Tutankhamen's tomb by Howard Carter in 1922 is the most scrutinized episode in the history of Egyptology, and Professor Brier leads a fascinating exploration into the world of Egyptian tombs.

For those who love a good mystery, Professor Brier introduces his own theory that Tutankhamen was actually murdered by Aye, the vizier of Egypt, as part of a successful plot to gain the crown for himself.

The next major subject in the series is Ramses II, or Ramses the Great. His 67-year reign was the longest of all the pharaohs, but the last two-thirds of that reign began with a treaty with Egypt's ancient Hittite enemy and bear little resemblance to his early years of war, conquest, and monument-building.

Ramses has been reputed to be the pharaoh of the biblical exodus. And though there is no archaeological evidence to support the story, Professor Brier offers some tantalizing connections to what we know of Ramses's actual life.

Nubia Tries to Restore Egypt's Greatness

After the death of Ramses, Egypt entered a long decline. As Egypt weakened, Nubian neighbors to the south, in what is now Sudan, grew strong. They eventually moved north taking control and trying to rebuild—primarily through the efforts of five great Nubian kings—the great Egyptian traditions they had seen crumble away.

Rather than conquer Egypt, they restored it. They celebrated Egyptian religious festivals and even took over some Egyptian burial practices. The first of these kings, a ruler named Piye, even built a pyramid, though it had been 1,000 years since the last Egyptian pyramid had risen from the desert.

From the Nubians, Professor Brier takes you into the Greek era of Egyptian history, beginning with the career of Alexander the Great. He discusses the three great events that marked his sojourn in Egypt: the declaration by the oracle at Siwa that Alexander's father was "the Sun"; his crowning as Pharaoh that the oracle's pronouncement made possible; and his creation of the city of Alexandria, which Alexander mapped out by dropping a trail of grain to show where the streets should go.

The Reign of the Ptolomies

The death of Alexander gave rise to the reign of a series of Ptolemies—15 rulers in all—beginning with Ptolemy I.

Running Egypt like a business, the early Ptolemies had some notable achievements, including Ptolemy I's building of Alexandria's Pharos Lighthouse and its extraordinary library.

The Ptolemies were unable to sustain their brilliant beginning. The last Ptolemy was Cleopatra, the enigmatic Grecian ruler who learned Egypt's language and tried to resurrect both the nation's religion and greatness. Her valiant attempts to save Egypt, with the aid of Julius Caesar, and afterwards with Marc Antony, were doomed. Egypt, no longer a nation, would become a Roman province.

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12 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    King Narmer—The Unification of Egypt
    This lecture discusses how Narmer, Egypt's first king, unified Upper and Lower Egypt and how the world's first nation came to dominate the Near East for thousands of years. x
  • 2
    Sneferu—The Pyramid Builder
    The founder of Egypt's "Fabulous Fourth" Dynasty oversaw the beginning of true pyramid construction, Egypt's rise to international power, and the establishment of artistic standards that would last for millennia. x
  • 3
    Hatshepsut—Female Pharaoh
    This lecture examines the life of one of the greatest individuals in Egyptian history, and discusses why her name was systematically erased from Egyptian records. x
  • 4
    Akhenaten—Heretic Pharaoh
    The reign of Egypt's most enigmatic and controversial ruler illustrates the consequences of attempting to alter all three of Egypt's fundamental societal pillars: religion, the military, and the role of pharaoh. x
  • 5
    Tutankhamen—The Lost Pharaoh
    This lecture details the fascinating events—including the first car wreck in Britain—that led to the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamen. x
  • 6
    Tutankhamen—A Murder Theory
    Professor Bob Brier presents his own research suggesting that Tutankhamen was murdered, showing what can be learned from the autopsy of a mummy. x
  • 7
    Ramses the Great—The Early Years
    Ramses II ruled for 67 years and was one of Egypt's greatest pharaohs, warriors, and builders. x
  • 8
    Ramses the Great—The Twilight Years
    The last 40 years of Ramses's reign differed markedly from his glorious beginning. This lecture examines the changes in his personality, as well as the assertion that he was the pharaoh of the biblical exodus. x
  • 9
    The Great Nubians—Egypt Restored
    In the twilight of Egypt's history, the once-dominated land of Nubia fought its way north to defend Egypt from invaders. Under the new rule of five great kings, the Nubians restored much of Egypt's glory. x
  • 10
    Alexander the Great—Anatomy of a Legend
    The rule of Alexander began 300 years of Greek control of Egypt. This lecture examines the three major stages of Alexander's career: young general, pharaoh, and legend. x
  • 11
    The First Ptolemies—Greek Greatness
    This lecture examines the beginning of the end for ancient Egyptian civilization, beginning with the rule of the first Ptolemies, who ran Egypt "like a business" and whose great achievements were purely Greek conceptions. x
  • 12
    Cleopatra—The Last Pharaoh
    Although she was at one time probably the most famous woman in the world, Cleopatra remains an enigma. We reconstruct her history: before Caesar, after Caesar, and with Marc Antony. x

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  • 12 lectures on 2 DVDs
  • 80-page printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook

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Course Guidebook Details:
  • 80-page printed course guidebook
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Your professor

Bob Brier

About Your Professor

Bob Brier, Ph.D.
Long Island University
Dr. Bob Brier is an Egyptologist and Senior Research Fellow at the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University. He earned his bachelor's degree from Hunter College and Ph.D. in Philosophy from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Professor Brier has twice been selected as a Fulbright Scholar and has received Long Island University's David Newton Award for Teaching Excellence in recognition of his achievements as a...
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Reviews

Great Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 165.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent overview and presentation stye Found this course to be engaging, enlightening and well balanced in content. The depth of the subject was well executed and included an excellent selection of Egyptian pharaohs and their broad and lasting influence of their reigns on Egyptian history as a whole. Great course!
Date published: 2019-10-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from New info and theories about Pharoahs My family and I have enjoyed this series. The professor included some of his own theories.
Date published: 2019-09-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Amazing Story !! I seriously can't stop listening to this course. This professor is an absolutely amazing storyteller, perhaps the very best of the best !! I love how he emphasizes certain points in how he repeats certain words. He's patient and reveals the story in such a wonderful way. I am telling everyone how wonderful this course is. You will not regret purchasing this course - 100% satisfied. This course literally PURE NUBIAN/EGYPTIAN GOLD. My coworkers now think I am an expert of Egyptian history.
Date published: 2019-08-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course In my opinion Dr Brier is the best professor in all of the Great Courses. Please give us more courses from him
Date published: 2019-08-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Accurate The presenter of this course was incredibly engaging and highly educational - by far one of the best audio experiences I've ever had. 100% recommended!
Date published: 2019-06-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from SCRATCHING THE SURFACE I purchased this course first, but after watching Prof. Brier's complete Ancient Egypt course, I realized i should have gone straight to that one from the beginning. However, this short 12 lecture version is still beneficial for those who plan to visit Egypt and wish to gain some insight prior without a full immersion 48 lecture course. Prof. Brier delivers this lecture in his typical enjoyable, 'easy to listen to' style. I only gave it 4 stars because it is a piecemeal summary course.
Date published: 2019-02-23
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Brief discussions of Ancient Egypt leadership Prior to this course, I had taken Dr. Brier's course "Decoding Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs. I thoroughly enjoyed that course. One of the reasons I only gave this course three stars is a lot of the material in this course was touched upon in the other course, so it was like a review of what I had already heard. Another reason is that the lectures on Tutankhamun (2), had the first lecture mainly discussing how archaeologists found tombs back then and discussed Howard Carter and his career. The only discussion about Tutankhamun was mainly in the second lecture about him. The lectures discuss how the pharaohs were chosen based on marriage. I would like to have seen more discussion on this subject. For example, were the parents of Akhenaten brother and sister and possibly resulting in his strange physical appearance? I recently read in an article that Tutankhamen's wife (half sister) was possibly born with a badly deformed club foot and possibly Tutankamen had a club foot. Both of their children died supposedly at, or soon after birth. This is presuming the infant mummies are Tutankhamen's children. I would have liked to known how far this incest was carried on during this period and if it had any mental or physical affects on the pharaohs. The last four lectures were more interesting since they had information about the power structure and how Egypt had slowly declined as a nation and dwelt with the personalities involved.
Date published: 2019-02-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A great addition to my passion for Egyptology. So far, the material is in depth and we'll researched. This is an excellent way to spend time in my retirement years, feeding an insatiable appetite for all things from that space and time.
Date published: 2018-10-27
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