Origins of Great Ancient Civilizations

Course No. 3174
Professor Kenneth W. Harl, Ph.D.
Tulane University
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Course No. 3174
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Course Overview

The ancient civilizations of the Near East can seem remote. For many of us, places such as Mesopotamia or the Indus valley ... or the Hittite or Assyrian peoples ... or rulers such as Sargon, Hammurabi, and Darius ... are part of a long-dead antiquity, so shrouded with dust that we might be tempted to skip over them entirely, preferring to race forward along history's timeline in search of the riches we know will be found in our studies of Greece and Rome.

That very remoteness, and our willingness to shunt aside these great civilizations, should be reason enough to study them, according to Professor Kenneth W. Harl. And remoteness, he emphasizes, is far from the only reason that demands our attention to the ancient cultures visited in Origins of Great Ancient Civilizations.

These civilizations "act as the cultural basis for many of the civilizations that will emerge on the Eurasian landmass and will dictate the destinies of many of the people living today on the globe.

"Mesopotamia," he says, citing the ancient name for Iraq, the earliest civilization we know of, "perhaps more than any other civilization we shall look at, will really set the basis for what a civilization should be; that is, it should be urban-based; it should be literate; it should be based on intensive agriculture; and it also will depend very heavily on trade—not just local and regional markets, but long-distance trade."

Another example of the contributions made by these civilizations, of course, is in the concept of a "transcendent, monotheistic God.

"How that notion comes about among the Hebrews and how it is transmitted to later generations ... is perhaps one of the most important, if not the all-important achievement—certainly for Western civilizations—coming out of these great traditions.

"Finally, I think it's important for all of us to understand the origins of these great traditions that come out of the Near East—or, as many would say today, the Middle East. They do stand behind the traditions of classical Greece. The Greeks themselves acknowledged their great debt to these older civilizations."

A Unique Course Offering and an Introduction to Even Greater Riches

In adding this course to his long list of popular appearances for The Teaching Company—which include Rome and the Barbarians, The Era of the Crusades, and The Vikings, among others—Professor Harl has enabled us to offer lovers of history a lecture series unlike anything else now available. For these dozen lectures cover many civilizations that may only receive a few lines of cursory discussion in the average textbook on Western civilization. Moreover, they also serve as a superb introduction to the many courses we offer on the ancient world and the later civilizations, such as Greece and Rome, for which those included here provide the essential foundations.

Professor Harl begins during the Bronze Age and the emergence of urban-based literate civilizations and carries the story forward until the demise of Persia's great empire at the hands of the Greeks, who embraced many of the achievements of these Near East civilizations but clearly represented a different kind of civilization, built on different institutions.

Along the way, he examines advances such as the invention and evolution of writing; the development of vast empires dependent not only on military might but on laws and administration; the growth of trade; and the contributions of the Hebrews to the religious and ethical future of Western civilization.

Moreover, he dispels the notion that beneath that layer of antique dust lies only more dust. Time and again, he sweeps that top layer aside to reveal one fascinating insight after another, deepening our understanding in ways that not only reanimate these civilizations, but also enhance our own sense of the serendipitous ways history reveals itself.

You'll learn, for example, that the civilization of the Indus Valley, in many ways the cradle of later Indian civilization, was not discovered and excavated until the 1920s. That's when officials of the British railway system being built in Pakistan, curious about the source of the glazed firebricks local workers were using to lay down the tracks, learned their astonishing origin. Ironically, the Indus civilization remains largely unknown because scholars have still not been successful in translating the writing left behind.

Or take the Nile and the fabled fertility of the lands that border its banks, made possible by the deposits of silt left by the floods that come with such clockwork predictability.

Though many people might take the Nile's agricultural riches as a given, Professor Harl reveals that they are a recent phenomenon. Until around 5,000 B.C., when the drying Sahara assumed its present guise and pushed the river to its current course, the Nile was dense and overgrown marshland, rich in fish and fowl but not at all suitable for farming.

With each civilization he presents, Professor Harl gives us something fresh to contemplate.

  • For example, the word "cuneiform" comes from the Latin cuneas, or wedge, and signifies not the name of the language used by the ancient Sumerians in inventing writing, but its form—the wedge-shaped characters that are easiest to create when writing in wet clay with a stylus.
  • The legal code named for the Babylonian King Hammurabi—often remembered for its "eye-for-an-eye" severity in dealing with crime—was, in fact, exceptionally sophisticated. As Professor Harl explains, most of it dealt not with matters of crime and punishment, but with complex civil issues that included divorce, inheritance, property, contracts, and business compensation.
  • Lions were once native to the Near East. They no longer are because of the massive lion hunts engaged in for sport by the kings of Assyria.
  • The ancient Egyptians were passionate about cleanliness and shaved their heads for sanitary purposes. Nevertheless, because their gods were depicted as having beards—and a pharaoh is a god—all pharaohs wore fake beards, including Queen Hatshepsut, who reigned for almost three decades in the early 15th century B.C.

Origins of Great Ancient Civilizations offers these and other insights in a fast-paced introduction that will give you a new appreciation of our own roots and a rock-solid foundation for deeper exploration.

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12 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Cradles of Civilization
    The opening lecture introduces the earliest civilizations of the Tigris-Euphrates, Nile, and Indus River valleys, which emerge c. 3500–3000 B.C. from Neolithic villages. x
  • 2
    First Cities of Sumer
    We explore the economic, social, and religious life of the Sumerians, whose mastery of writing and long-distance trade make them the progenitors of the urban civilization of the ancient Near East. x
  • 3
    Mesopotamian Kings and Scribes
    A look at three classes of people—kings, scribes, and soldiers—illuminates the creation of wider political institutions in ancient Mesopotamia, from the regional kingdoms to the territorial empires of the early and middle Bronze Age. x
  • 4
    Hammurabi’s Babylon
    We end our survey of Mesopotamian civilization in the Bronze Age with an examination of the career and kingdom of Hammurabi, King of Babylon, who establishes the cultural underpinnings of Mesopotamian civilization thereafter. x
  • 5
    Egypt in the Pyramid Age
    We begin three lectures on Egypt with a focus on the so-called early dynastic period and the Old Kingdom, beginning with a look at some of the basic features of early Egyptian civilization and the unique characteristics of the Nile. x
  • 6
    The Middle Kingdom
    This lecture examines a key period of Egyptian history, which is roughly contemporaneous with the Babylon of Hammurabi, during which Egypt for the first time expands its horizons beyond its own frontiers. x
  • 7
    Imperial Egypt
    Egypt's monarchy comes to play the dominant role in the Near East until the empire comes to an end with attacks associated with the so-called "Sea Peoples"—invaders coming out of both Libya and the Aegean world. x
  • 8
    New Peoples of the Bronze Age
    We complete our discussion of the Bronze Age with a look at three areas influenced by the early river valley civilizations: the region known as the Levant, the area that is today Asiatic Turkey, and the world of the Aegean. x
  • 9
    The Collapse of the Bronze Age
    The great empires of the late Bronze Age fall in the wake of migrations and barbarian invasions usually associated with the advent of iron technology. Though this has been explained as the result of natural disasters, the imperial order did not collapse so much as fragment. x
  • 10
    From Hebrews to Jews
    This lecture deals with the evolution of a group of Canaanite speakers to a people with a monotheistic faith attached not to a particular place, but to one's perceptions, ethical beliefs, and worship of a transcendent God. x
  • 11
    Imperial Assyria
    Despite their remarkable reputation for ferocity, the Assyrians do more than forge the first imperial order since the late Bronze Age; they set down many of the foundations upon which the Persians will build their far more successful and larger empire. x
  • 12
    The Persian Empire
    We conclude the course with a look at an empire that may have had, at its peak, as many as 40 million subjects, and which, in its imperial organization, is perhaps the best-ordered until the age of Rome. x

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  • 104-page printed course guidebook
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Course Guidebook Details:
  • 104-page printed course guidebook
  • Suggested readings
  • Questions to consider
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Your professor

Kenneth W. Harl

About Your Professor

Kenneth W. Harl, Ph.D.
Tulane University
Dr. Kenneth W. Harl is Professor of Classical and Byzantine History at Tulane University in New Orleans, where he teaches courses in Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Crusader history. He earned his B.A. from Trinity College and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Yale University. Recognized as an outstanding lecturer, Professor Harl has received numerous teaching awards at Tulane, including the coveted Sheldon H. Hackney Award. He has...
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Origins of Great Ancient Civilizations is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 142.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Great Starter Set This course by the prolific Kenneth Harl focuses on western Asia, Egypt and the eastern Mediterranean from about 4000 to 500 BC. The major players include the Sumerians and their mostly Semitic-speaking successors in Mesopotamia--Akkadians, Amorites, Kassites, Aramaeans, and Chaldean Neo-Babylonians--the Egyptians, the Assyrians (northern Mesopotamia), and the Persians. Less powerful or less successful peoples include the Mitanni, the Hittites, Crete, the Achaean Greeks and the Hebrews a/k/a Israelites a/k/a Jews. The Indus Valley appears in the first lecture but drops out thereafter. Life changed slowly in the ancient world compared to our experience in the 20th and 21st centuries, but Near Eastern peoples registered great achievements: the development of agriculture, trade and writing, the building of royal bureaucracy and state religion, and the first literature, especially the Epic of Gilgamesh. On the downside, they inflicted and suffered brutal conquests and massacres, while occasional mass migrations erased whole kingdoms from the map. In the end the Persian Empire corralled the whole region, plus the Indus Valley, and ruled it well for more than a century and a half, except for a disastrous expedition against distant Greece. It is at this point that Harl ends the course. There is a lot to like here. Harl uses many maps and devotes a whole lecture (6) to Egypt’s Middle Kingdom, which most world history courses skip as a brief and uninteresting interval between the Old and New Kingdoms. There are two minor problems. As I’ve complained about all the other courses of his I’ve reviewed so far, Harl has an unfortunate tendency to stumble, misspeak and resort to umms and uhhs while lecturing. In this course, Lecture 1 on the three river valleys feels rather rushed; perhaps he should have left out the Indus Valley since early India is otherwise absent. In any case, buy this course if you don’t have it. It’s easily well worth the low price. As Harl says, this short series is a “gateway” to other courses, and an excellent one. Some examples: History of the Ancient World: A Global Perspective, Between the Rivers: The History of Ancient Mesopotamia, The History of Ancient Egypt, Harl’s own Great Ancient Civilizations of Asia Minor, The Persian Empire, the World of Biblical Israel, and Writing and Civilization. But if you don’t expect to buy any of those longer courses, this one stands well on its own.
Date published: 2018-10-04
Rated 3 out of 5 by from OK for Niche This course is recommended for the student who is interested in a short (12 lectures) introduction to Ancient Near East (ANE) civilizations. This course provides a very high-level peek at Mesopotamian civilizations (e. g., Sumer, Babylon, Assyria, Persia), Egypt, and Israel following a generally chronological trajectory. The value is not in the information it provides but rather in the unique combination of civilizations that it addresses. Other The Great Courses (TGC) offerings provide much better discussion of each of these civilizations but they are much longer, take more time to listen to, and are more expensive in toto. For Mesopotamia, I recommend Ancient Mesopotamia: Life in the Cradle of Civilization by Amanda Podany (24 lectures). For Egypt, I recommend History of Ancient Egypt by Bob Brier (48 lectures!). I have not listened to The World of Biblical Israel by Cynthia Chapman (24 lectures). Dr. Harl has a unique style; you probably either love it or hate it. I, myself, shifted from the former to the latter. He is flippant, often tossing off-hand comments in the middle of a discussion or even in the middle of a sentence. He generally states conclusions without explanation of how those conclusions were derived. (Again, if your learning style focuses on what facts to remember, this is efficient. However, if your learning style focuses more on the *why* of things, this is less helpful.) I listened to the audio version and I had no problems with it. However, I am familiar with the geography and timeline of the subject. Perhaps someone less familiar would benefit from the video.
Date published: 2018-07-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Course I was pleasantly surprised by this course. Dr. Harl covers a lot of territory, and although he may not be the most dynamic lecturer in the Great Courses' stable of teachers, I thought he chose his lecture topics well and delivered interesting, well packaged lectures that brought his subject matter to life. I strongly recommend the video version of the course because Dr. Harl relies heavily on some of the best and most frequent map images that I have seen in a TGC course. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2018-04-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another Excellent Course from Dr. Harl This is a very well thought out and presented series of lectures. The audio version worked quite well for me. This is a relatively short series, as they say, that gives an overview of matters that are at least partially covered in more detail in other Great Courses sets. It was very good for an overview of these matters, and I'm looking forward to following up with other more detailed courses.
Date published: 2018-02-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Concise Gateway Course I was looking for a short review of ancient civilizations because it had been decades since I had studied world history. This twelve lecture course was exactly what I was seeking. Not too in depth nor too short. As Prof Harl explains, this is a "gateway" course, an introduction to ancient civilizations of the near East. If one is looking for more comprehensive history, then they should take the 24 or 36 lecture courses available at TGC by Prof Harl. I did not find his lectures boring. I did not find his presentation monotone. He kept my interest throughout each lecture. The photographs, graphics and images were very helpful. Some of the graphics were animated, too, which I liked. I learned a lot from this course and plan to take more of Prof Harl's courses. He was knowledgeable and enthusiastic about his material. I enjoyed him.
Date published: 2017-11-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beautifully presented Enjoyed the show! Much to see and absorb. Need to re watch for a fuller understanding and appreciation.
Date published: 2017-06-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent product!!! Your DVDs are unique and of high quality. Unfortunatelu I am retired and living on my pension benefit do I am unable to purchase all DVDs I would like to.
Date published: 2017-04-06
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Informative but dry Informative but pretty monotone covers a lot of history
Date published: 2017-04-02
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Mixed Review Good content and analysis, but difficult to follow and listen. I recommend this course, but you need to stick with it.
Date published: 2017-03-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Title is precise and accurate for content I love to listen as I travel and this one has the ability to transport you to the ancient cities, if you have a vivid imagination. I gained some added insight to the political relationships of Assyria, Persia, and Egypt. I listened from one end to the other in one long day and enjoyed every minute.
Date published: 2017-01-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Orientation of the Great Western Civilizations Often time history starts with Greece and Rome and The Bible. This series goes back to the founding civilization where live evolved from Paleolltic to civilizations with tools and writing. One on the Celts would be interesting.
Date published: 2017-01-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from About this course and how to best use it Harl's courses are highly rated for many reasons. 1. Harl is able to follow multiple timelines without confusing his audience; 2. Map appearance in the video versions is expertly coordinated with the lecture text; 3. Harl's frequent citations of sources demonstrate the brilliance of ancient leaders and disrupts pigeonholing caricatures; 4. Harl provides insightful gems that illustrate how history can help us better understand our past and present. EXAMPLES of lecture gems: L3: The inevitability of kingship; L4: Leaders acting as "shepherds" produce lasting civil achievements; L5: The consequences of political infighting; L6: Wealth aggregation leads to cutting costs, dependence on foreign strength, and inevitably foreigners want their share; L7: What happens when the state interferes with the religion of the people; L8: The origin of "global" trade; L9: Iron weapons did not end the Bronze Age; L10: Why the Torah, containing a great deal of archaeologically proven history, cannot be read as a historical document AND the Babylonian Captivity's revolutionary religious concept; L11: How political cruelty leads to collapse; L12: Demosthene's astute recognition that subservience of both rulers and commoners to law is foundational for advanced civilizations. VIDEO OR AUDIO?: Unless you are very conversant with the period of history that Harl is discussing, buy a video version because the in-lecture maps are extremely helpful. For those of us who listen to the audio version while exercising or who don't have time to sit and watch, studying the guidebook maps before and after each lecture is a substitute. SUMMARY: Harl reminds us that "you" are really the recipient of thousands of years of human effort and experimentation. Harl's lectures are a bastion against shallow historical revisionism.
Date published: 2017-01-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I found Sargon Alarming This wasn't my favorite course, but I think that has more to do with my own preferences than the course content itself. I almost gave this course 4 stars, but then I said, "Wait a second, Mike, you need to account for your own interests and shouldn't mark down because you're silly and shallow." Then I got confused since my name isn't Mike. Be that as it may, this is a strong course with a lot of clearly presented content from Sumer, Egypt, the Levant, Asia Minor, Mesopotamia, Persia, with a few words on Archaic Greece. And the Indus River Valley. I almost forgot about that. It gets a few words, too. Not that much, but a few. Most of the content is based on politics, the movement of peoples, and technology, particularly weapons, but also architecture. Comparatively less on religion and the arts. Professor Presentation: I liked it. I see some reviewers didn't care for it, but Professor Harl just seems like a University Professor giving a lecture. I prefer the more natural method, even with the "ahs" and "ums" to the reading of a script, which is more common in newer courses. I watched the online video because audio cassettes were not available. When did audio cassettes go away? If you watch the video, you should be aware that for the first few lectures, there is a giant picture of Sargon the Great hanging in the "classroom". Maybe there should have been a warning. I was relieved when it was switched out for what appeared to be Assyrian art. This review form asks if I would recommend this course to a friend. I would. I would also recommend it to passing acquaintances and strangers. I think I will listen to or watch more of Professor Harl's courses.
Date published: 2016-12-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Ancient Civilizations Overall very worthwhile. An important introduction, I think, to more advanced courses on Greece, Egypt, and Rome. Somtimes too brief in content, and overly dependent upon names, dates, of rulers etc. I had hoped for a greater degree of discussion and integration of " general principles". Good use of video maps delineating, during the entire course, the approximate boundaries of the many different ancient empires/kingdoms discussed. As an experienced professor myself (biomedical science) , I must comment that listening to someone tied to the podium is not my preference. Engage the audience more directly. In this same vein? Minor carp here, but could not this course have been presented so that the viewer did not have to view the exact same clearly unchanged and rumpled outfit for every single presentation? My guess here is that all 12 lectures were given back-to-back. Kudos to the prof for stamina. But, simply for me a distractive (minor) negative. My bottom lime - well worth my time. I learned much and got to recall much from my past experience. Final grade = B+.
Date published: 2016-12-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent History course This is an excellent history course for many reasons. First, it is very useful in introducing and defining the concept of empire as well as describing the Near Eastern and Mediterranean empires that preceded Greece and Rome, which helps place the two in their historic context (For example, it is now clearer to me how astonishing Alexander the Great's conquests really were). Second, Prof. Dise is an effective lecturer and teacher, with a concise style. His lectures are well-organized and always interesting plus he stays on-point throughout the 36 lectures of the course. Third, Prof. Dise has prepared an invaluable timeline and a very good bibliography containing many fine books for further reading. The brief comments about each book are quite helpful. In short, this is a good course to take as a starting point in the study of ancient history because it covers 13 forgotten empires beginning with the earliest in human history.
Date published: 2016-10-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Presentation from Start to Finish Really thrilling to see the very beginnings of city life as we know it, and to realize how truly ancient the Jews are as an ethnic identity. Amazing that city life with all its institutions - bureaucracy, politics, etc. - sprang forth, close to fully formed in its initial manifestations. And how exciting to learn that the Bible collected remnants from previous civilizations - I'm thinking specifically of the Flood story here. The professor clearly knows his material almost at a gut level - an excellent presentation from start to finish.
Date published: 2016-10-14
Rated 3 out of 5 by from This is very deep and a bit dry for the casual learner. if you are interested in this specific topic, then its informative, but not as a basic overview.
Date published: 2016-08-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Gateway: A Gem of a Course VIDEO DOWNLOAD This course cleared up my misconceptions and ignorance about the establishment and development of Near Eastern civilizations, going well beyond my initial interests. I took this course mainly to learn more about the many Near Eastern ‘ites’ and others mentioned in the Old Testament (for example., Hittites, Canaanites, Moabites, Assyrians, and Philistines) and for background on ancient Greece’s great fifth century BC foe, the Persians. What I got from Professor Harl is a much better understanding of “…the fundamental contributions of the ancient Near East to later Western civilization” (Course Guidebook, Page 1). Professor Harl, as I expected, having taken many of his other TC course, does not disappoint. He is a great presenter and gets right to the point in his lectures. I got a lot from this relatively short course on how and why the first ancient civilizations developed from Neolithic villages to the great Persian Empire that, according to Professor Harl, represents “…the climax and epitome of 30 centuries” (Course Guidebook, Page 35). Despite the often thin documentation (especially for the Indus Valley, which is only briefly mentioned), this is a richly detailed presentation, relying on not only written records but also art work, archaeology, and other sources. In fact, one the many interesting aspects of this course is Professor Harl’s discussion of the development of writing, rivalling to some extent his treatments of trade, war, and conquest. I also got a better understanding of the transition from the Bronze Age to Iron Age, marked by a Dark Age that began around 1200 BC. Professor Harl presents a quite interesting assessment of what areas were hardest hit by the invasion of new peoples at this time based on the state of writing at the end of that period. I could go on a lot more about what I like about this course, but that would be keeping you from enjoying it yourself. As Professor Harl notes, this is a “gateway” course to other more detailed TC courses. As such, the course is a success. I recommend the video version, as I think this is the best way to get the most out of the course. Not only are there a lot of illustrations, but, for example, someone with the audio version would find it difficult to appreciate Professor Harl’s account of the development of writing without seeing the examples he provides. It would also be hard to follow the lectures across the Near East without the many maps, so often changing before one’s eyes, used to illustrate the developments Professor Harl describes. While the sixty-two page Course Guidebook is fine, the six maps provided fall far short what one will get from the video. Highly recommended!
Date published: 2016-07-30
Date published: 2016-07-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Entertaining I watch the video on my I Pad. It is very entertaining. However, the much of the material is new to me, and I am not sure how much I am retaining. I am going over the short course again, and I find it even more useful the second time.
Date published: 2016-07-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Gateway Course to Ancient History This is a gateway course to ancient history and can be viewed as an introduction to many other Great Courses, such as History of Ancient Egypt and Between the Rivers: The History of Ancient Mesopotamia. The professor sets the stage for these more advanced courses by giving a broad overview of the ancient Middle East and Egypt focusing primarily on the origins of the various civilizations. He also spends some time on the developments essential to civilization such as agriculture, language, writing, militaries, and government administration. This is a great refresher for someone who has not studied ancient history in a long time in addition to being an introduction for other courses. Since this is a broad introductory class, the professor moves through time very quickly, and this course is not designed to provide in depth analysis. This approach is fine, though, given the availability of other in depth courses. This is the second class I have listened to by Professor Harl, and he is very enjoyable. He has a clear presentation style with a subtle wit that makes me laugh occasionally. He also does an exceptional job of tying topics together. I will listen to others of his courses just because of his presentation style.
Date published: 2016-04-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Better than history channel Enjoying this more than the history channel. Very informative.
Date published: 2016-01-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good value short course This review is based on the audio version. I have purchased 8 courses by Kenneth Harl so far, over the past two years, and, so far, having listened to four, I have not regretted any of the purchases. This was the shortest (and least expensive) of the Harl courses I have purchased, and in my opinion it was good value for money. It is obviously a survey course, a quick overview intended to provoke the listener's interest in the many longer courses dealing with ancient civilizations. I found it more interesting than some of the longer courses by other professors on similar topics. But if you already are well versed in these subjects, it might be too superficial for you I use these courses to distract me when I am exercising or doing other mundane tasks, and I want to both learn something and to be entertained, and this has to work with audio, given the type of exercise involved. Your criteria may differ from mine, but basically, I ask myself these 5 questions: 1. Do I look forward to listening to or watching the next episode? The answer is yes, for this course. Nothing dragged, and I looked forward to learning more in each new lecture on civilizations about which I was woefully uninformed. 2. Do I learn something interesting or useful from each episode? For me, yes. I have little background in ancient civilizations, so all of these 12 lectures were interesting for me. .3. Would I recommend this to a friend? Yes, I did recommend it, and she also listened to the course and agreed with me, 4. . Do I find the speaker’s lecturing style compelling and interesting? I don't care if he occasionally stumbles for a word - this is real life lecturing, not a scripted documentary, He loves the subject and his enthusiasm is infectious - at least for me. 5. . Would I buy another course from this lecturer, without hesitation? Yes, and, as I have said, I have purchased others. This was not the first of Harl's courses I purchased,, but having listened to it, I subsequently purchased two others. The bottom line: Looking for a lecture that is both entertaining, and informative, I enjoyed the course.
Date published: 2015-12-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from 6,000 Years of History in Six Hours Video download reviewed Take a deep breath and relax--something needed after watching even one 30 minute lecture. Professor Harl as others have noted, is perhaps not the most polished and dynamic of presenters, but his vast and detailed knowledge is evident. He has a lot of information to impart and delivers it quickly. This is clearly not a course for a casual listener. I tried a couple of lectures in audio mode during my morning walks, but found that I had to keep backing up to pick up a concept that was not clear, so I switched to viewing while in quiet stable area. Viewing the lectures allowed me to see the expansion and contraction of the various civilizations in a manner that I had never understood before. I appreciated Dr. Harl's recommendation of other courses that provide more detail than he was able to deliver in a survey course. Unfortunately the shortness of the course precluded very much information about the Indus valley. I sort of wish that either he had excluded that part altogether, or had expanded the course to a few more lectures so he could do a bit more justice to that area. Even so he did manage to bring a bit more depth to my understanding of the growth of civilization with its inclusion, so I suppose I should not complain. The pace of this course is so fast that I think a fair amount of knowledge of the area and era by the listener will be very helpful, if not essential. I found that many things I sort of knew, but had not put together were made clear in context by taking this course, as well as the very many things of which I was unaware, but that I found interesting with Dr. Harl's help. For example, as others have written, the 'dark age' at the end of the bronze age. And its implications. Recommended for those with an interest in the early history of what we know call the Middle East, Egypt and a bit of the sub-continent.
Date published: 2015-11-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Must for Those Taking Ancient History Course This course is a must for anybody who is taking any of the wonderful ancient history courses from The Great Courses company. These courses cover the major civilizations of the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Persians, etc. but don’t cover much of the time before these civilizations. Professor Harl does an excellent job of presenting the ancient history before these great civilizations existed. Professor Harl provides a very good description of the early times of human civilization, the development of languages, and the development of communities. All of these are the basic building blocks of the great civilizations that eventually followed. Your collection of ancient history courses would be incomplete if you do not have this course.
Date published: 2015-07-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Introduction to early civilizations 'Origins of Great Ancient Civilizations' is a great introduction to these civilizations. I recommend a video format because I love the maps that Harl uses in the course. If you have not listened to him lecture before, then you are in for a treat (some people don't like his style)- rapid fire, with tons of information and only rare errors. Somehow he was able to pack so much information into a relatively short course. There is so much complexity in these epochs that his selections are amazing. On the other hand, if you are looking for real complex details, or more information on some of the 'players', then you might be disappointed. I found that he struck a perfect balance, but this is personal and people will disagree. There are some very good reviews posted. If you are not sure then you can sort to the lowest ratings and see what other people think.
Date published: 2015-06-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Insightful lectures. Professor Harl has remarkable knowledge and his detailed presentation provides in depth understanding of early civilization. Ownership of these lectures enables repeated viewing which provides increased opportunity for learning. Roughly covering the period 6000-500 BC, he provides supporting information from archaeological sight digs, geographical maps and relative informative photos. These lectures provide insight into evolution from nomadic lifestyles to development of cities, writing, worshiping, Also evolution and expansion of trade. I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in development of early civilization.
Date published: 2015-02-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Introduction This course was an excellent introduction to ancient history. The professor hit all the high notes, but still managed, somehow to slip in some interesting details. You have to pay attention, though, because he packs a lot into every lecture. Overall this was a great way to introduce ancient history.
Date published: 2015-01-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good Background for Further Study I have found it quite useful to watch survey courses before watching detailed courses in order to gain context. That is, I find a course like this is very useful to watch prior to a more in-depth study of Egypt or Persia since such specialized courses often don't provide the details on what else was going on in the world. (Not to fault those courses as, well, they can only pack so much into their limited number of lectures.) That being said, I purchased this course to complete my Harl collection: I now have all of his courses. One common criticism of Harl is his somewhat liberal use of "uh" and "um" throughout his lectures. I believe it is because he is speaking extemporaneously from notes rather than reading his lectures. But you will also find folks complaining about those professors who read from the teleprompter. While I did notice the "uh" and "um" usage, I was able to ignore this feature of his presentation. Instead, I focused on what he had to say. This course is, as Harl says, a gateway course to whet your appetite for more. While other courses go into much greater depth on the topics covered by Harl, there are some nuggets in this course not covered elsewhere. I watched the DVD version of the course and found the maps very useful and some of the other pictures of artifacts, ruins, and locations were nice to see. I would say that the value of the maps makes the video worth the extra expense. I have noted recommendations to some other, much longer, survey courses which also cover this time period. While there is overlap between them, I found them to be quite complementary.
Date published: 2015-01-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from An authority, for sure I think professor Harl is so amazingly knowledgeable about the era he is talking about. I am so impressed, absolutely. The downfall of his courses though are: -Too much information in just thirty minutes. I think there is a limit for the amount of information one's brain can absorb in a given time! - After you finish the course you still can't figure out which civilization came first, where did they come from, and what happened to them if they were defeated by another civilization. Did they all die, did they disperse around, did they stay under the new power? Very confusing. - What other civilization other than those in the Middle East and North Africa existed at the time. A brief note of what was happening in neighboring Iran/Russia would have helped. Was there a wall separating the rest of the world from this part of the world? Did iranian, Chinese, or Indian civilizations exist at the time. Any effect ? - The segments are not wrapped up chronologically in an organized manner to give the reader an overall understanding. -Finally, Professor Harl 's delivery was good but it was tooooooo fast, at least for me. It seemed like there were no periods to breathe between sentences, going from one issue to another and coming back, and going forward again. Dates were thrown here and there, and difficult names too. I wish he would do these courses again in a slower pace and and with an overall picture of the time. I love to hear them again. I love and appreciate Professor Harl's knowledge, I really do. And by the way Iraq and Iran are pronounced as eeraaq and eeraan. Thanks Dr. Harl.
Date published: 2015-01-23
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