Greek and Persian Wars

Course No. 3356
Professor John R. Hale, Ph.D.
University of Louisville
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4.8 out of 5
70 Reviews
88% of reviewers would recommend this product
Course No. 3356
  • Audio or Video?
  • You should buy audio if you would enjoy the convenience of experiencing this course while driving, exercising, etc. While the video does contain visual elements, the professor presents the material in an engaging and clear manner, so the visuals are not necessary to understand the concepts. Additionally, the audio audience may refer to the accompanying course guidebook for names, works, and examples that are cited throughout the course.
  • You should buy video if you prefer learning visually and wish to take advantage of the visual elements featured in this course. The video version is well illustrated and features nearly 800 maps, reconstructive illustrations, and diagrams. There are maps outlining the imperial scope of both ancient Greece and Persia; there are battle diagrams that show troop movements at the Battle of Thermopylae and the treacherous march of the Ten Thousand through hostile Persian territory; and there are illustrations and portraits of the major players in these earth-shattering wars, including the Spartan hero Leonidas and the Athenian turncoat Alcibiades. There are on-screen spellings and definitions to help reinforce material for visual learners.
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Course Overview

King Leonidas and a tiny contingent of Spartan soldiers—the famed "300"—hold the pass of Thermopylae against a powerful and enormous Persian force. It's one those historicial events where truth rivals the epic proportions of myth. Did it all really happen like that? Behind this renowned tale of legendary Greek heroism is another, more intricate story, one that you encounter in The Greek and Persian Wars. Spanning more than two centuries, these historic conflicts forged a new world order, sparking developments in battle strategy, naval technology, world exploration, and art and culture that affect the world even today.

Now is your opportunity to survey this globe-spanning conflict, as well as its enduring impact on the world at large. From the ancient battlefields of Thermopylae, Marathon, and Gaugamela, to the imperial halls of Persepolis, to the bustling marketplace of Athens, investigate the clash of the Greeks and the Persians over the course of 24 fascinating lectures.

Your guide on this epic journey is award-winning Professor and Director of Liberal Studies at the University of Louisville John R. Hale. An accomplished archaeologist and teacher, Professor Hale captures the human experience behind some of the most remarkable episodes in ancient history. He traces the gripping trajectory of surprising upsets and changing allegiances, as Spartans, Athenians, and Persians constantly shift sides, make and break alliances, and exchange partners for enemies in a seemingly endless dance of battle and truce.

Be Transported Back in Time

It's a perspective on history you'll find virtually nowhere else. Bringing together both sides of the story—Greek and Persian—and providing remarkable details from ancient history, archaeology, and the stratagems of warfare, Professor Hale creates a complex and informative account of this world-changing era.

It's also a gripping saga. A gifted storyteller, Professor Hale weaves a spellbinding narrative that is both accurate and cinematic. You experience the sweep of history, but you also glimpse the more intimate stories behind the saga. With each anecdote, Professor Hale creates a picture in words, recounting vivid dialogue and delving into the internal psychology of the historic figures that shaped their world and the world we inhabit today.

You hear about famous turncoats, such as the Athenian Alcibiades, who helped the Spartans overthrow his native city, allied himself with the Persians, and finally returned to Athens to lead his hometown fleet. Treacherous allies, broken covenants, unity among strange bedfellows—all are a part of the twisting, turning saga of the Greek and Persian wars.

With Professor Hale's expert guidance, you gain a grand and nuanced perspective on the complicated relationship between these two remarkable cultures and rethink what you know about the Greeks and the ancient world. This course serves as a wonderfully detailed introduction to these two great civilizations and the world they built.

How an Epic Conflict Shaped the World

What you find is a world that was virtually re-created over the course of two centuries through the struggle of the Persians and the Greeks. In the words of Professor Hale, "The roots of our contemporary world lie in this period, in the 6th to the 4th centuries B.C., and above all, in that great split between East and West, which still dominates world affairs today."

As Professor Hale demonstrates, the Greek and Persian wars served as the crucible in which the most important cultural events in the history of the Western world occurred, including the invention of medicine, history, philosophy, and drama, as well as remarkable achievements in sculpture and architecture.

Many of the Greeks' greatest enduring cultural contributions were generated by their ongoing struggles with the Persians:

  • History: To commemorate the greatest battles, Greek chroniclers such as Herodotus, Thucydides, and Xenophon literally invented a new literary form—history.
  • The arts: One of the greatest artistic achievements of ancient Greece, the drama was created when naval veteran Aeschylus crafted the first play.
  • Politics: Perhaps the Greeks' most remarkable cultural invention, democracy was born of the city-state's opposition to the imperial advances of its Persian neighbors.

But the Greeks were not alone in their ingenuity. Known for their relentless pursuit of victory in the face of nearly insurmountable obstacles, the Persians undertook remarkable engineering projects, from the bridging of the Hellespont to the diversion of major waterways.

These wars also drove new innovation in naval technology, as Greeks and Persians alike took to the sea on enormous warships called triremes. These military ventures helped to expand the water-based network of trade relationships, bringing about an unprecedented cross-pollination of cultures that resulted in a vibrant cosmopolitan world community.

Sworn Enemies, Strange Bedfellows

The course begins with an introduction to the major protagonists—Greeks and Persians—and a breathtaking portrait of the extraordinary civilizations they founded.

On the one side, you meet the Persians—hardy nomads and horsemen who left the bleak uplands of the Middle East to build an intricate, exotic culture that dazzled the world with its luxurious cities, its ingenious engineering skills, and the exercise of political control built on the ceremonial display of power.

  • What was the battle like for the invading Persian force?
  • What challenges did they encounter, despite their vast numbers, in facing the Spartan enemy?
  • And why did they initially lose so many men before overwhelming the small Greek force?

On the other, you encounter the Greeks—as diverse as their many city-states, but united by their love of debate, admiration of intellectual cunning, and fierce commitment to freedom. Taking center stage in the Greek arena are the Athenians, who seized power early on by building one of the first strong naval forces, and their rivals, the Spartans, who countered the Athenian love of democracy and philosophy with a rigorous militarism.

Finally, you glimpse the cosmopolitan world imagined by the "last" great Greek, Alexander, the Macedonian conqueror who dared to envisage an empire in which Persia and Greece would at last be truly united.

On the Field of Battle

"Half of winning a battle," explains Professor Hale, "is persuading your enemy to fight a battle that they shouldn't." An expert on methods of ancient warfare, Professor Hale takes you out of the history books and onto the field of battle, with rare insights into how each skirmish was lost and won.

You go beyond the movement of troops and delve deeply into the strengths and foibles of the Greek and Persian leaders, the decisions they made, and the risks they took. You compare the different military technologies pioneered by each side, from the Greeks' deadly phalanx formation to the Persians' masterful marshaling of tributary forces, and learn why some flamboyant and seemingly deadly innovations—such as the use of elephants on the battlefield or scythed chariot wheels to mow down enemy troops—failed to live up to their daunting potential.

But Professor Hale, the recipient of numerous awards for distinguished teaching, including the Panhellenic Teacher of the Year Award and the Delphi Center Award, offers more than just textbook descriptions. An accomplished archaeologist, he provides rare and valuable insights gleaned from years of field work. From the depth of the Aegean Sea to the site of the Delphic oracle, Professor Hale has walked in the tracks of these ancient people.

So when he describes how the Persian fleet of Darius the Great was destroyed during a storm in the Aegean Sea, he can also tell you about his deep-water expedition to the site of the wreck, during which he and his colleagues discovered a priceless artifact.

From an analysis of the landscape of the battlefield of Marathon to modern archaeological surveys of the ground where Xerxes and his engineers dug an 80-foot-wide canal across an Aegean cape, Professor Hale marshals the latest scientific discoveries to test and confirm the legendary accounts of these ancient events.

Join Professor Hale for this journey and gain a new perspective on this monumental chapter in ancient history. To study The Greek and Persian Wars with this master teacher is to gain new insights into one of the most influential clashes of cultures the world has known.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    The First Encounter
    The roots of our contemporary conflict between East and West lie in the ancient clash of the Greeks and the Persians. In this first lecture, you witness the birth of this divide in the 540s B.C., with King Croesus of Lydia's preemptive attack against the emerging Persian Empire and its ruler, Cyrus the Great. x
  • 2
    Empire Builders—The Persians
    Thanks to innovations in translation and archaeology, modern scholars are now able to reveal the glories of the Persian Empire. Here you learn about the achievements of this remarkable people. x
  • 3
    Intrepid Voyagers—The Greeks
    Next, you get to know the other protagonists of this epic tale: the ancient Greeks. You trace the movement of this seafaring people from their Greek homeland to Asia Minor and consider how their worldview is reflected in the great myths, literature, and philosophy they left behind. x
  • 4
    The Ionian Revolt
    During the rule of King Darius, son of Cyrus the Great, the Greeks in Ionia (Asia Minor) rebelled against Persian rule. Athenian supported in the burning of the city of Sardis sparked a bitter desire for revenge that not even the Ionian defeat at the monumental Battle of Lade could quell. x
  • 5
    From Mount Athos to Marathon
    To avenge the burning of Sardis, Darius sent his troops into Greece to pursue the Athenians. Despite a naval disaster at Athos, the Persians continued their relentless pursuit, only to face a surprising defeat at the famous Battle of Marathon. x
  • 6
    Xerxes Prepares for War
    After Darius's death, Xerxes renewed his father's plots for revenge against the Greeks. To reach them, he undertook remarkable feats of engineering, including the spanning of the Hellespont with pontoon bridges—evidence of both the Persians' technological expertise and their relentless drive. x
  • 7
    The Athenians Build a Fleet
    In this lecture, you meet a remarkable Athenian, Themistocles, who persuaded his people to build a navy for defense against the Persians. He later spurred the pan-Greek forces to seize the offensive by advancing to meet their enemies on the battlefield. x
  • 8
    Heroes at the Pass
    While the Greek naval forces blocked the Persian armada at sea, a small band of 300 heroic Spartans led by King Leonidas attempted to hold the pass at Thermopylae, a chief passage to inland Greece. In their tragic defeat, the Greek force found a legendary martyr in Leonidas and an example of courage in the famed 300. x
  • 9
    Battle in the Straits
    After the Spartans' heroic but disastrous stand at Thermopylae, the Persians marched on the deserted city of Athens and avenged the destruction of Sardis by burning the temples on the Acropolis. What followed is the most crucial battle of the Greek and Persian conflict: the day-long naval clash in the straits of Salamis. x
  • 10
    The Freedom Fighters
    You take a closer look at the remarkable victory of the Greeks at the Battle of Salamis and learn why, despite far superior numbers, the Persians failed on that famous day. The Greeks then turned their attention to battle on land, and fought for the liberation of Ionian Greek cities, culminating in the Battle of Plataea. x
  • 11
    Commemorating the Great War
    You turn to an account of the strangest naval battle in history, the Battle of Mycale, which marked the final defeat of the Persians. x
  • 12
    Campaigns of the Delian League
    After the decisive defeat of the Persians, the Greek city-states met in Delos to form the Delian League. x
  • 13
    Launching a Golden Age
    With tribute pouring in from allies and conquests, Athens grew rich and launched a Golden Age that sees the birth of some of its greatest cultural innovations. x
  • 14
    Herodotus Invents History
    In this lecture, you examine one of the greatest achievements of the Athenian Golden Age, and meet the creator of a modern notion of history, Herodotus. x
  • 15
    Engineering the Fall of Athens
    After the close of the Peloponnesian War, the Athenians allowed themselves to be goaded into war by a young hellion named Alcibiades. x
  • 16
    Cyrus, Xenophon, and the Ten Thousand
    With the death of Darius, his son Artaxerxes II was named successor. Darius's second son, Cyrus, under the facade of suppressing troublesome hill tribes, assembled the famed army of Ten Thousand to challenge his brother's claim. Among them is Xenophon, who later wrote about the march into the heart of the Persian Empire. x
  • 17
    The March to the Sea
    When Cyrus was killed in battle with Artaxerxes II, the Ten Thousand were left leaderless deep within Persian territory. In this lecture, you trace their perilous march to the sea and witness the battle, as witnessed by Xenophon, who became one of the Greeks' greatest historians. x
  • 18
    Strange Bedfellows
    In yet another strange reversal of allegiances, the Persians allied themselves with the Athenians in a battle against the Spartans, a conflict that came to a head in the historic battle of Cnidus. x
  • 19
    The Panhellenic Dream
    Sparta and Persia forged an accord known as the Peace of Antalkidas, the King's Peace, which effectively recognized the Great King of Persia as the overlord of the Greeks. In response, Athenian orators began a call for a Panhellenic League that would fight—once again—for Greek independence. x
  • 20
    The Rise of Macedon
    Who could the Athenians look to for leadership in the effort to unify Greece against the Persians? In this lecture, you meet Philip of Macedon, a remarkable empire builder. x
  • 21
    Father and Son
    As great as Philip's achievements were, the feats of his son, Alexander the Great, resound loudest throughout history. x
  • 22
    Liberating the Greeks of Asia
    We continue to follow Alexander's movement eastward, ending in Gordion, where he "unties" the famed Gordion knot. x
  • 23
    Who Is the Great King?
    Alexander finally entered the heart of Persia and faced the forces of Darius III twice, at Issus and then at the renowned battlefield of Gaugamela. Both times, Alexander allowed Darius to escape after crushing defeat. x
  • 24
    When East Met West
    Hear about Alexander's final confrontation with Darius, who was killed by his own companions. In the wake of his victory, Alexander sought to unite Persia and Greece. While the effort at political unification died shortly after Alexander's death, the cultural union became a major force in shaping our modern world. x

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  • 152-page printed course guidebook
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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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Greek and Persian Wars is rated 4.8 out of 5 by 70.
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Athenian Bigot The presenter has a great delivery, but glosses over fact that do not support his view of history. Strongly suggest people interested in this subject consider the Peloponnesian War offered by Kenneth Harl which despite its name covers the same material more objectively. Thucydides writes in Book 1 of the Peloponnesian War "...if Lacedaemon (Sparta) were to become desolate and the temples and the foundations of the public buildings were left that as time went on there would be a strong disposition with posterity to refuse to accept her fame as a true exponent of her power" Professor Hale proves Thucydides correct. I wish I could get my money back for this course!
Date published: 2018-08-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I Should Have Started Here I am not sure why I waited so long to get to this course. It is one that I should have taken before so many other fine TC courses, as it lays the groundwork for and provides a wider perspective within which to appreciate this period of ancient history. I have taken several TC courses by Professor Hale and had high expectations. I was not disappointed. He is a great lecturer with a keen eye for telling detail and the key players involved. This biographical aspect is especially engaging for me. What attracted me to this course to begin with was my plan to re-read Xenophon’s ‘The Anabasis’ (aka ‘The March Upcountry’ or ‘The Persian Expedition’) in which 10,000 Greek mercenaries found themselves on the losing side in assisting Persian Prince Cyrus in dethroning his brother Artaxerxes II in 401BC. They had to fight their way through many and often harrowing hardships to reach home. Professor Hale’s two lectures on the Ten Thousand were excellent, providing not only exceptional context but also fine graphics and maps in the video presentation. Professor Hale’s graphical representation of forces at the decisive battle of Cunaxa made my understanding of how Cyrus lost easier to appreciate than just reading the ‘Anabasis’ and related editorial notes. (I also highly recommend Penguin’s edition that has an exceptionally good 38-page introduction by George Cawkwell. This is the one recommended by Professor Hale in his guidebook bibliography). This course, however, is obviously about more than just the travails of The Ten Thousand. It provides not only a better appreciation of the Persians than is often portrayed in ancient Greek sources, but also the complexity of relations and conflicts between Persian and Greeks down to Alexander the Great. Professor Hales sees the “…centuries long conflict between Greeks and Persians [as] the foundation for our modern, cosmopolitan, multicultural world. We can trace many of its elements back to the line of giants-from Cyrus [the Great] to Alexander-who made the transformations possible” (Course Guidebook, Page 90). This 2008 course comes with an excellent 140-page guidebook, including fine lecture summaries, an overview of major phases, a timeline, a glossary, biographical notes, and an annotated bibliography, and nineteen pages of maps. This last should be especially helpful for those who take this course in audio format. Very highly recommended!
Date published: 2018-03-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very worthwhile I took a chance on this....thought the subject matter might be too obscure to hold my interest. Raced through the course in 2 weeks. Very glad to have learned so much about a topic previously completely unknown to me.
Date published: 2018-02-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This course puts the STORY back in history Perfect for a more general view of the period. Great storytelling as the professor recounts the key figures and events of the time. The emphasis is on the personalities rather than chronological details and minutiae. A thoroughly absorbing series of lectures.
Date published: 2018-01-23
Rated 1 out of 5 by from The Greek and Persian Wars I bought this course couple of weeks ago and was looking forward to enjoyable listening. However, neither one of my players was able to play them: they were either rejected without comment, or announced that it is unplayable, and then rejected. I am VERY disappointed. I have listened a score of your courses, with pleasure. My course rating and review are NOT APPLICABLE this time
Date published: 2017-11-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from When East Met West When I bought this set it was only to hear John Hale, whose storytelling I admire, retell what I had already read for myself in Herodotus or watched in other Teaching Company series. In that I was not disappointed. Professor Hale goes through about one hundred seventy years of war, from the Ionian Revolt of 500 BC against Persian rule that attracted Athenian intervention and Persian reaction to the conquests of Alexander the Great, who died in 323 BC. All the great iconic moments are here: King Croesus of Lydia asking the oracle at Delphi whether he should attack the Persians, Athenian victory at Marathon, Leonidas and his 300 fellow Spartans (plus armor bearers) fighting to the death at Thermopylae, Xenophon’s army reaching the Black Sea after marching through the Persian Empire, and Alexander cutting the Gordian knot. Hale does a very good job setting up the antagonists. In the East were the Persians, supporting an absolute monarchy ruling millions, worshipping the one god Ahura-Mazda, and relentless in pursuing their prey. At the command of Kings Darius and Xerxes, they dug a canal to allow their fleet to bypass stormy Mount Athos, they set up a pontoon bridge over the Hellespont and reconstructed it after it broke apart, and they amassed the largest army in history. In the West were the polytheist Greeks, who lived in city-states mostly ruled by councils and assemblies rather than kings. Their well-drilled Hoplite infantry and citizen-rowed triremes, inferior in numbers to the Persians, were superior in quality. Greek metis (cunning wisdom) enabled them to outwit enemy bulk and doggedness by luring the Persians into disastrous attacks, especially at Salamis and Plataea. All this will be familiar to those who have taken a class or two on ancient history, but Hale adds some bonus features. To Herodotus, Xenophon and other ancient historians he can add his expertise in classical archaeology. He himself participated in an underwater dig off Mount Athos looking for the remains of King Darius’s first fleet (Lecture 5). There seemed to be nothing to find, since sediment had long since covered the seafloor, but on the expedition’s last day a local fisherman took him to a spot where they found a pot on its side, and in the pot the metal butt of a spear used for thrusting it into the ground. There are of course a lot of maps, and many of them look like they are taken straight from Google Earth (still a fairly new thing in 2008 when he made these lectures), so we can see the terrain quite clearly. Of course the terrain has changed in some places. At Thermopylae (Lecture 8) sediment has filled in much of the nearby river creating a large plain that Xerxes’ army would have had no trouble walking across. So here we see a computer animation of what the site looked like in 480 BC. Threaded through his account are two interesting arguments. One is that our usual timeline for the wars between Sparta and Athens is too short. The fight did not end in 404 BC with Athenian defeat, because the Spartans became too overbearing toward other Greeks and because the Persians, of all people, funded an Athenian recovery. Further fighting led to the so-called King’s Peace, in which Persia acted as arbiter of inter-polis conflict and posed as guarantor of the Greeks’ “freedom.” Of course, this state of affairs ended with Phillip and Alexander, the source of the second argument. Against other scholars who have proposed that Alexander had no master plan, that he seized an unexpected opportunity after the battle on the Granicus River in northeast Asia Minor, Hale says that the dream of conquering Persia had always been present, ever since Aristagoras of Miletus tried to seduce the Spartans into supporting the Ionian Revolt by alluding to the riches of the imperial capital at Susa. Socrates’ pupil Isocrates spent his whole life in the early to mid-4th century BC promoting Greek union (Pan-Hellenism) with an attack on Persia as its mission. So when the Macedonian kings came to the fore, the ideological ground for a “crusade” was already there. I have only two small complaints. In Lecture 3 Hale has Indo-European peoples settling the Greek mainland via Asia Minor rather than the Balkan Peninsula. This doesn’t agree with other accounts I’ve read. In Lecture 10 his account of how the Greeks won a complete victory at Plataea after defeating a Persian cavalry charge is unclear. That is all. If you like classical history or you just enjoy John Hale’s talent for lecturing, you will want this course.
Date published: 2017-10-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Unexpected I bought this course to show to our prison as a way to occupy their time. Little did I know that this course would create great interest among the inmates and they can't wait for the next lesson. Dr. Hale is fantastic with his delivery and the use of multi-media with his presentations and I will look for more of his work as we try to expand the horizons of these men when they return to the free world.
Date published: 2017-07-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Greek and Persian wars So happy I bought this. My son is 15 yrs old & a huge history buff. He is enjoying this so much! It's very informative & he said, anyone interested in history, specifically ancient and/or Greek history, should order this!!. Anything for which my child is learning (and enjoys learning) is money well spent!!I.
Date published: 2017-07-05
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