History of the Ancient World: A Global Perspective

Course No. 3850
Professor Gregory S. Aldrete, Ph.D.
University of Wisconsin, Green Bay
Share This Course
4.8 out of 5
122 Reviews
94% of reviewers would recommend this product
Course No. 3850
Streaming Included Free

Course Overview

Even though you might never stop to think about it, the ancient world and the civilizations it produced are with you in almost everything you do. The ancient world has influenced our customs and religious beliefs, our laws, and the form of our governments. It has taught us when and how we make war or pursue peace. It has shaped the buildings we live and work in and the art we hang on our walls. It has given us the calendar that organizes our year and has left its mark on the games we play.

And even though each day finds you, in ways almost too numerous to mention, paying tribute to this ancient past, it is too often without an awareness that you are even doing so.

  • In what ways were these civilizations different from each other and from our own?
  • How were they similar?
  • What part did they play in making us what we have now become, so many centuries later?

These and other questions of that ancient past and its great civilizations—which helped set the stage for the world you live in today—are still relevant to almost everything you do and everything you are. And understanding these lessons helps you to better understand yourself—why you think and act as you do—as well as the effects of those same forces on the people you interact with. Grasping the full scope of your bequest from the ancient world can't help but give you a more nuanced base from which to make decisions and choose pathways in your own life.

The 48 lectures of History of the Ancient World: A Global Perspective represent a fresh and innovative way to look at history. They take you on a multidisciplinary journey that ranges across not only the traditional domains of politics and war that are normally the province of history courses, but also those of religion, philosophy, architecture and the visual arts, literature, and science and technology, to name but a few.

The course, delivered by Professor Gregory S. Aldrete of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay—a brilliant lecturer/scholar whose areas of expertise include classical history, archaeology, and philology—examines the ancient world's greatest civilizations from the Mediterranean, Asia, and the Americas—including those of Rome, Greece, China, Persia, India, and the Maya—not in isolation but in the full context of where they came from, the cultures that flourished around them at the same time, and the civilizations that were to come from them.

Get a Startling Comparison of Ancient Cultures

Although its structure is roughly chronological, History of the Ancient World: A Global Perspective is especially notable for its deliberately comparative approach, often pausing in its journey along the timeline to feature startling juxtapositions of individuals and themes from different cultures, even when their commonalities or contrasts might not be evident to a casual glance. These include

  • a comparison of the epic poetry of Vedic India with Homer's Iliad;
  • an exploration of the explosion of intellectual questioning that seemed to occur spontaneously and simultaneously in many cultures in the 6th and 5th centuries B.C., spawning an array of new philosophies or religions, including Confucianism and Daoism in China, pre-Socratic philosophy in Greece, Buddhism and Jainism in India, and Zoroastrianism in Persia;
  • a four-lecture examination of five great conquerors and empire builders, including Philip of Macedon and his son Alexander the Great, Chandragupta Maurya and his grandson Asoka of India, and Shi Huangdi, the first emperor of China;
  • a discussion of the craft of history itself, comparing the different approaches to "inventing"the discipline that were chosen by Herodotus, Thucydides, and the great Chinese historian, Sima Qian—none of whom had the advantage enjoyed by later historians of being able to pore over and learn from the contributions of generations of predecessors;
  • a side-by-side examination of two of the greatest empires of all time—the Roman Empire and Han China—that compares their approaches to administration, leadership, the incorporation of newcomers, and technology and innovation;
  • a close look at the topic of war—including equipment, strategy, and tactics—that compares how Mayan, Roman, and Chinese military systems reflected aspects of their respective cultures through the ways in which they chose to go to battle; and
  • an analysis of how ancient civilizations expressed their power through art and architecture, revealing thematic similarities in monuments as varied as the tribute frieze of Persepolis, Trajan's Column in Rome, the tomb of Shi Huangdi in China, and the reliefs of Cerro Sechin in Peru.

There's even an insightful glimpse at how the structure of monasteries under the Rule of Saint Benedict might actually find one of its closest historical analogs in the rigid inculcation of values by the Greek city-state of Sparta.

Explore a Wealth of Major Historical Themes

Professor Aldrete's course includes in-depth analyses of not only key individuals and historical moments, but also history's most important themes, from the nature of rulership and the evolution of religion and philosophy to the practice of warfare and the expression of power through art and architecture.

And you'll also grasp how certain major themes recur throughout history, helping to shape a civilization's present and, inevitably, its future. These include the impact of its geography and environment; key moments of change that often result when two cultures collide or intermingle, whether through invasion or peaceful migration; and the surprising frequency of major innovations or transformations happening across multiple civilizations, either simultaneously or at similar points in their development, such as the appearance of writing early on in almost all cultures.

Designed for lovers of history at every level, the course provides a solid foundational knowledge of the past, reveals new insights about the present, and is an ideal starting point for a deeper exploration into any of the civilizations and themes it discusses.

Get Extraordinary Glimpses of Cultures, Events, and People

You'll begin with the appearance of the first cities around 3500-3000 B.C. and continue until the roughly contemporaneous 9th-century establishment of the first true European empire under Charlemagne, the Golden Age of the caliphate in Baghdad, and the Tang dynasty in China—an endpoint chosen because it allows you to perceive not only the true end of the ancient world, but the crucial formation and birth of the modern one.

Your journey to the brink of this pivotal moment in history is replete with extraordinary glimpses into civilizations, events, and individuals, all vividly conveyed through Professor Aldrete's exceptional narrative skills, such as these:

  • A stunning comparison of how their respective geographical environments influenced the visions of the afterlife conceived of by the Egyptians and the Mesopotamians
  • The 1934 performance of a Serbian oral poet whose ability to spontaneously compose and recite for four hours a day for two weeks refuted scholarly doubt that wandering oral poets such as Homer could have existed
  • An insightful glimpse into how the Spartans viewed both marriage and the value of newborn girls, and how the resulting scarcity of Spartan women doomed the culture to extinction
  • An unexpected side of Pythagoras, the Greek mathematician whose fame as a cornerstone of geometry falls far short of illuminating the full extent of his delightful flamboyance and eccentricities
  • The clever trick that enabled Darius to claim the kingship of the Persian Empire over five rivals, averting civil war because of the romantic longings of his horse
  • A revealing look into the heart of the immortal Aeschylus, whose request for his tombstone epitaph set aside his achievements as a dramatist and asked instead that he be remembered for having fought at the Battle of Marathon
  • The story of the prized possession that Alexander the Great chose to store in the precious box his armies had captured—his copy of Homer's Iliad annotated by Aristotle
  • The tragic story of the Han dynasty historian Sima Qian, who chose castration and humiliation over suicide so he would be able to keep a promise to his dying father
  • A discussion of the astounding array of inventions and technological achievements fostered at the height of the Han Empire, including the discovery of the circulation of blood, which was not realized in Europe until the 17th century
  • The ancestral oath and legacy left by an ancestor of Brutus, and how it would impact his decision to take action against Julius Caesar 500 years later
  • A comparison of two of history's most stunning examples of the use of art and architecture to project the power of a ruler: the 400 granite slabs at the Peruvian site of Cerro Sechin and the tomb of China's emperor Shi Huangdi, with its protective army of thousands of life-sized terra cotta warriors.

One of the most ambitious history courses The Great Courses has ever offered, History of the Ancient World: A Global Perspective is a wonderfully integrated way to look at our world's history in context. Its mix of nuanced interpretation, vivid description, and constant attention to exploring history as a coherent whole is sure to make it one of the most informative and thought-provoking history courses you have ever taken.

Hide Full Description
48 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Cities, Civilizations, and Sources
    Learn about the different kind of approach the course will take in its explorations of the ancient world and hear a story that perfectly illustrates the risks inherent in letting one's own cultural biases and limited perspective overly influence the interpretation of archaeological discoveries. x
  • 2
    From Out of the Mesopotamian Mud
    The course's first civilization reveals a theme that will appear again and again. Grasp the critical role of geography and resources in shaping not only Mesopotamia's method of subsistence, but also its religion, structures, empire, and means of leaving its written record. x
  • 3
    Cultures of the Ancient Near East
    The lack of geographical barriers made it difficult for even the most powerful cities to retain their power. See how a succession of empires rose and fell, leaving behind legacies ranging from the use of intimidation in warfare to seafaring, astrology, mathematics, and a systematic legal code. x
  • 4
    Ancient Egypt—The Gift of the Nile
    Your introduction to Egypt reveals a civilization irrevocably shaped by geography. You learn how the Nile's predictable annual flooding of its banks, though creating a fertile strip amounting to only 3% of Egypt, permitted civilization to thrive in what was otherwise an uninhabitable desert. x
  • 5
    Pharaohs, Tombs, and Gods
    Discover how Egyptian views of death and tombs changed with the kingdom's occupation by—and eventual expulsion of—the Hyksos, including an examination of how the stark differences between the Egyptian and Mesopotamian environments may have influenced their visions of the afterlife. x
  • 6
    The Lost Civilization of the Indus Valley
    Your exploration of a once-lost civilization introduces a key theme of the course—the enormous problems faced by modern historians and archaeologists in interpreting an ancient civilization through physical evidence alone, with no written documents to bring that evidence to life. x
  • 7
    The Vedic Age of Ancient India
    In an ironic reversal of the Indus legacy, the next great era of Indian history is known through an enormous bounty of texts, but relatively little archaeological or material evidence. Grasp what the thousands of verses we have tell us about Vedic culture and religion. x
  • 8
    Mystery Cultures of Early Greece
    Turn to the Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations of the Mediterranean. Learn about the historical underpinnings of the Minotaur myth, Plato's account of what might have been the basis for the legend of Atlantis, and the rediscovery of writing as Greece emerged from its own Dark Ages. x
  • 9
    Homer and Indian Poetry
    Discover how a work or body of literature can become the core of an entire culture in this examination of the influence of Homer on the Greeks and of the centrality of the Vedas and Epics in the civilizations of ancient India. x
  • 10
    Athens and Experiments in Democracy
    Greece's most famous city-state is often praised for its creation of democracy. You examine the origins of that system and discover some surprising revelations, including the seminal role played by an instance of spurned affection and perhaps the earliest example of stuffing a ballot box. x
  • 11
    Hoplite Warfare and Sparta
    Experience what it was like to be raised a Spartan man or woman, the changes in military tactics and equipment that made their armies so feared, and the tragic flaw that guaranteed that this Greek city-state's power, no matter how widespread or intimidating, could not endure. x
  • 12
    Civilization Dawns in China—Shang and Zhou
    Witness the early development of a unique culture that viewed itself as constituting the entirety of the world and thus the site of all cultural advancement, with the latter self-image largely maintained even after China gained an awareness of the world beyond its borders. x
  • 13
    Confucius and the Greek Philosophers
    From 700 to 500 B.C., thinkers around the world began to turn to fundamental philosophical questions. This lecture focuses on those whose concerns addressed this world and its pragmatic issues through rational inquiry, including Confucius, the Legalists, and the Greek philosophers known as the Ionian Rationalists. x
  • 14
    Mystics, Buddhists, and Zoroastrians
    Your attention shifts to those thinkers who looked beyond the physical world for answers to their questions about the fundamental issues of existence. Examine the impact of several key texts and belief systems, including the Upanishads, Jainism, Buddhism, Daoism, and Zoroastrianism. x
  • 15
    Persians and Greeks
    Discover the reasons the Greek city-states were able to emerge intact from their conflict with a vastly superior Persian Empire. Learn, too, how the defensive alignment put in place to protect those states—begun as an alliance of equals—instead became an Athenian empire. x
  • 16
    Greek Art and Architecture
    Pause in your study of historical events to appreciate two of classical Greece's most important contributions to art and architecture. Learn the distinguishing characteristics of Greek sculpture and the principles that gave such extraordinary beauty to Greece's temples. x
  • 17
    Greek Tragedy and the Sophists
    Continue your examination of Greece's cultural heritage with this look at Greek theater—especially its greatest playwrights of tragedy, Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides—and the second wave of philosophers known as the Sophists, led first by Socrates and then by his disciple Plato. x
  • 18
    The Peloponnesian War and the Trial of Socrates
    Learn how the end of Greek unity brought down the astonishing political and cultural successes of the early 5th century, culminating in one of the most shameful episodes in Greek history: the trial and execution of one of its greatest thinkers, Socrates. x
  • 19
    Philip of Macedon—Architect of Empire
    Begin a four-lecture exploration of what has come to be known the Great Man Theory of History—that a single person could indeed alter the course of history—by reviewing the careers of five rulers who might well provide the best arguments for the theory. x
  • 20
    Alexander the Great Goes East
    With the successful invasion of the western Persian Empire, Philip's son successfully carried out his father's plan. Alexander the Great would then create his own path, and you follow him along the route of the greatest sustained conquest the world had yet seen. x
  • 21
    Unifiers of India—Chandragupta and Asoka
    Alexander's death in 323 B.C caused his vast empire to fragment. You meet the father and son who created the largest Indian empire that would be seen until the establishment of the modern Indian nation in 1947. x
  • 22
    Shi Huangdi—First Emperor of China
    Discover how the father of the Chinese nation combined ruthlessness and vision to unify his country, create the largest empire that part of the world had known, and execute a clear and coherent philosophy that would be China's political model for almost a millennium. x
  • 23
    Earliest Historians of Greece and China
    Consider what it must have been like to be among the very first historians, not only practicing your art, but having to define it and its standards, as well. See how fundamental questions about writing history were answered by Herodotus, Thucydides, and Sima Qian. x
  • 24
    The Hellenistic World
    Although the three centuries following Alexander were years of warfare, absolutism, and political stalemate, the Hellenistic era did leave a legacy of cultural richness and originality. See how achievements in philosophy, science, and art belied the suffering and mass enslavement of this time. x
  • 25
    The Great Empire of the Han Dynasty
    Much of the world in 200 B.C. was entering nearly 600 years of instability—but something different was happening in China and Rome. Focus on the first of these two powers, each of which would shape a stable empire for the next four centuries. x
  • 26
    People of the Toga—Etruscans, Early Rome
    In this first of five lectures tracing the rise of Roman civilization, you begin with Rome's geography, its traditional origin story, and the formative scars left by the experience of being ruled by a foreign power, and especially by a king holding supreme authority. x
  • 27
    The Crucible—Punic Wars, Roman Imperialism
    Learn how the series of conflicts with Rome's burgeoning Mediterranean rival—the city-state of Carthage, whose forces were led by the brilliant Hannibal—were both the closest Rome ever came to total defeat and the stepping-stone to its ultimate success. x
  • 28
    The Death of the Roman Republic
    The century between 133 and 31 B.C. was a period when long-simmering tensions and resentments finally reached their boiling point. Grasp how the consequences, including political assassinations of Julius Caesar and others, ultimately resulted in the dissolution of the Roman Republic. x
  • 29
    Augustus—Creator of the Roman Empire
    With Julius Caesar dead, who would seize power? Trace the struggle that involved the Brutus-led "liberators" who claimed a goal of restoring the republic; Caesar's lieutenant, Marc Antony; and a surprise third candidate—Caesar's 18-year-old nephew, Octavian, named his heir in Caesar's will. x
  • 30
    Roman Emperors—Good, Bad, and Crazy
    Follow the fortunes of the empire during the two centuries following Augustus and Tiberius, which included not only some of Rome's wisest and most conscientious emperors, like Trajan and Marcus Aurelius, but also some of its most notorious and deranged tyrants, like Caligula and Nero. x
  • 31
    Han and Roman Empires Compared—Geography
    The peak four centuries of Rome's power coincided almost exactly with one of China's most enduring dynasties. Begin a multilecture comparison of these empires on several fronts, including political organization, transportation, military philosophy, economic stability, cultural and social integration, ideology, lasting influence, and many others. x
  • 32
    Han and Roman Empires Compared—Government
    The comparison continues, focusing initially on the administrative structure that allowed these two vast empires to identify and train the members of their evolving bureaucracies, and then moving on to consider the role of the person at the top: the emperor himself. x
  • 33
    Han and Roman Empires Compared—Problems
    Consider the potential problems faced by the two empires—beginning with the emperor and examining the impact of imperial weakness, incompetence, or even insanity—before reflecting on the issues of assimilating the conquered and defending the empire against the encroachments of barbarians. x
  • 34
    Early Americas—Resources and Olmecs
    Shift your attention to North and South America. These were among the last regions humans would settle, and you follow their progress from nomadic hunter-gatherers to the civilizations that would be defined by geography and available resources, beginning with the Olmecs of what is now Mexico. x
  • 35
    Pots and Pyramids—Moche and Teotihuacán
    Turn your focus to Peru and Mexico and the many cultures that left behind stunning examples of their now-vanished civilizations, from impressive pyramids and tombs to startling examples of artistic pottery, especially those produced by the Moche. x
  • 36
    Blood and Corn—Mayan Civilization
    Delve into the achievements of the Maya, who were among the longest-lasting, most geographically extensive, and most culturally sophisticated of all Mesoamerican cultures. Grasp how we can know these things only because the Maya left behind what those other peoples did not: the records of a culture with a written language. x
  • 37
    Hunter-Gatherers and Polynesians
    Although civilization almost always tends to be an urban phenomenon, there are exceptions. Examine the origins of societies that evolved sophisticated cultures but did not build cities, including hunter-gatherers like the Fenni of Scandinavia, the Aborigines of Australia, and the seafaring peoples of Polynesia. x
  • 38
    The Art and Architecture of Power
    The structures unearthed by archaeologists are more than just evidence of the past or messages to the future; they were often meant as statements to their own time. Explore how ancient societies used art and architecture to promote their rule and illustrate their power. x
  • 39
    Comparative Armies—Rome, China, Maya
    Gain a sense of how the empires of the Mediterranean, Asia, and the Americas both defended themselves and brought their power to bear on others with this comparison of the structure, weapons, and tactics of the Roman, Chinese, and Mayan armies. x
  • 40
    Later Roman Empire—Crisis and Christianity
    Explore the century that followed Rome's Golden Age and the time of the "Five Good Emperors" as the empire suffered through political, military, and economic crises that brought it to the brink of collapse, staged a near-miraculous and unexpected recovery, and underwent an even-more surprising transformation to Christianity. x
  • 41
    The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire?
    The questions of when Rome fell—and why—are arguably the most famous ongoing historical debates in the Western tradition. One German scholar has even posited 210 plausible answers to the "why."This lecture examines both the questions and the debates that swirl around them. x
  • 42
    The Byzantine Empire and the Legacy of Rome
    The eastern Roman—or Byzantine—Empire would outlast its counterpart in the West by a thousand years. Follow the fortunes of this flourishing hub, which included one of the most powerful women of antiquity and one of the ancient world's most globally influential legacies. x
  • 43
    China from Chaos to Order under the Tang
    Learn how the chaotic three-and-a-half centuries that followed the dissolution of the Han Empire spawned new philosophical and religious yearnings and paved the way for the founding of the next great dynasty. x
  • 44
    The Golden Age of Tang Culture
    Examine some of the most impressive aspects of the Tang dynasty. This highly urbanized culture is commonly regarded as one of the cultural pinnacles of Chinese civilization, producing sophisticated culture, advanced technological innovation, and a flourishing of the arts ranging from poetry to ceramics. x
  • 45
    The Rise and Flourishing of Islam
    Grasp how the tribes of the Arabian peninsula—within only 100 years of their conversion to Islam—were able to conquer half the Mediterranean world, shattering its unity, spinning its parts onto divergent paths, and establishing religious, linguistic, and cultural boundaries that persist to this day. x
  • 46
    Holy Men and Women—Monasticism and Saints
    Gain new insights into the key church fathers of Christianity's first centuries—whose actions, ideas, and writings irrevocably shaped the faith—as well as the influential religious movements that emerged at this time, including monasticism and the cult of sainthood. x
  • 47
    Charlemagne—Father of Europe
    Learn why the word "great," though applied to any number of famous and infamous rulers, may be fully justified in the case of Charlemagne, whose impact in the areas of war, politics, religion, and culture left an mark on Europe and the world that few have equaled. x
  • 48
    Endings, Beginnings, What Does It All Mean?
    A discussion of the early 20th-century historian Henri Pirenne puts Charlemagne in a new perspective and underlines why it is so important to understand each of the civilizations you have studied not as a separate entity, but in the context of all the others. x

Lecture Titles

Clone Content from Your Professor tab

What's Included

What Does Each Format Include?

Video DVD
Instant Video Includes:
  • Download 48 video lectures to your computer or mobile app
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
Video DVD
DVD Includes:
  • 48 lectures on 8 DVDs
  • 370-page printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps

What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

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

Enjoy This Course On-the-Go with Our Mobile Apps!*

  • App store App store iPhone + iPad
  • Google Play Google Play Android Devices
  • Kindle Fire Kindle Fire Kindle Fire Tablet + Firephone
*Courses can be streamed from anywhere you have an internet connection. Standard carrier data rates may apply in areas that do not have wifi connections pursuant to your carrier contract.

Your professor

Gregory S. Aldrete

About Your Professor

Gregory S. Aldrete, Ph.D.
University of Wisconsin, Green Bay
Dr. Gregory S. Aldrete is Professor of Humanistic Studies and History at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay, where he has taught since 1995. He earned his B.A. from Princeton University and his master's degree and Ph.D. in Ancient History from the University of Michigan. Honored many times over for his research and his teaching, Professor Aldrete was named by his university as the winner of its highest awards in each...
Learn More About This Professor
Also By This Professor


History of the Ancient World: A Global Perspective is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 121.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Just Great Course arrived 49 days ago. I have watched 1 Lecture each day since. A wonderful course and a great Lecturer.
Date published: 2020-08-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Enjoyable I really enjoyed listening to this course and viewing the wonderful video support. I have watched several other courses from this presentor and found them all but one very satisfactory. You can tell that he really is into the subject and likes to share his knowledge.
Date published: 2020-08-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Course - Excellent Professor I've taken in excess of 50 courses from The Great Courses. This one is fantastic!! I'm on Chapter 14 right now. The course content is detailed and thorough. The Professor is among the very best I've had with The Great Courses. He is a source of incredible knowledge about ancient civilizations and has excellent presentation and speaking skills.
Date published: 2020-07-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great presentation! Another outstanding review of history and an outstanding professor. We really appreciate how much history influences our daily lives.
Date published: 2020-07-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent! This professor is as great of a lecturer as any professor that I had in college. Also, the course guide book, which is included free with the purchase, are notes/outlines/summaries of each lecture that are very helpful for reviewing and previewing the lectures. I highly recommend this excellent course!
Date published: 2020-07-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brings History to Life I have only watched one third of the lectures and cannot wait to watch the remaining ones. Professor Aldrete makes learning history fun and exciting. I only buy courses on DVD and this course makes good use of visual aids such as time-lines, maps and photos. I have heard of numerous historical events but often had no clear image of how / when these events fit together. History of the Ancient World is helping me see the over-all picture
Date published: 2020-07-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent and enjoyable course I bought this some years ago and watched it in 2020. The lessons are timely for us in the United States as we are repeating some of the failures of our ancestors. I feel like it was enriching, not at all preaching, but thoughtfully delivered.
Date published: 2020-06-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Pretty good Instructor was personable and interesting. Lots of good information presented. I was disappointed that too much time was spent on the philosophies of the various cultures and not enough on any other details about the culture. I learned from the presentation. I liked the professor and would consider another course from him if the focus would be different.
Date published: 2020-05-28
  • y_2020, m_11, d_23, h_16
  • bvseo_bulk, prod_bvrr, vn_bulk_3.0.12
  • cp_1, bvpage1
  • co_hasreviews, tv_12, tr_109
  • loc_en_US, sid_3850, prod, sort_[SortEntry(order=SUBMISSION_TIME, direction=DESCENDING)]
  • clientName_teachco
  • bvseo_sdk, p_sdk, 3.2.0
  • CLOUD, getContent, 63.64ms

Questions & Answers

Customers Who Bought This Course Also Bought