Italians Before Italy: Conflict and Competition in the Mediterranean

Course No. 8232
Professor Kenneth R. Bartlett, Ph.D.
University of Toronto
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Course No. 8232
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Course Overview

In 1260, the Italian city-states of Florence and Siena went to war. With wealth and power on its side, there was no question the Florentine force could easily overpower the underdog city-state of Siena. But that's not what happened. Against overwhelming odds, the Sienese won the crucial Battle of Montaperti, defeating their mighty enemy and preserving their independence.

That was nearly eight centuries ago, and yet, still today, whenever the team from Siena meets the Florentines on the soccer field, devoted Sienese fans chant "Montaperti! Montaperti!" in honor of that historic victory.

Throughout the Italian peninsula, you'll find the same thing: time-honored traditions, and ancient grudges. It seems there is not one Italy, but many—a mosaic of histories and culture that make up this dynamic nation.

Why do Italians remain so faithful to age-old rivalries and hometown traditions 150 years after the country's unification? What traces of this remarkable heritage do we see surviving in today's Italy?

In The Italians before Italy: Conflict and Competition in the Mediterranean, you'll find the answers to these and other fascinating questions. Esteemed Italian history professor Kenneth R. Bartlett takes you on a riveting tour of the peninsula, from the glittering canals of Venice to the lavish papal apartments and ancient ruins of Rome.

This course traces the development of the Italian city-states of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, showing how the modern nation of Italy was forged out of the rivalries, allegiances, and traditions of a vibrant and diverse people.

A More Complete Picture of Italian History

Professor Bartlett offers something unique with this course: a more comprehensive portrait of Italian history than you'll find nearly anywhere else. Those with no previous experience with Italian history and culture will find an exciting new world opening to them, and those who have visited Italy will be eager to return.

Through memorable stories and intriguing insights, Professor Bartlett shows how the particular circumstances of each independent state helped forge a distinct cultural character. Here's a sample of the many fascinating facts you'll learn:

  • Venice was so invested in its local glassmaking industry that its city fathers would send assassins after Venetian citizens who tried to leave the city-state and practice their craft elsewhere.
  • Merchants from Pisa used earth from Jerusalem as ballast on return voyages from the Crusades. They spread the soil in the city cemetery to ensure that Pisan citizens would be first in line to enter heaven on Judgment Day.
  • Birthplace to Virgil, the poet of ancient Rome, Mantua was home to the first opera, Monteverdi's Orfeo, as well as the amazing Mannerist palace, the Palazzo Te.

Intriguing stories like these create a rich, diverse portrait of Italy—a grand mosaic of lustrous and storied cultures as distinctive as the people who helped build them.

"Better a Death in the House than a Pisan at the Door"

As you come to know these many Italys, you'll see how the Italian states defined themselves against the others, competing for territory, trade, and artistic supremacy—and how the vestiges of these interactions are visible even today.

Consider the rivalry between the Genoese and the Pisans. Why do the Genoese of today prefer "a death in the house to a Pisan at the door," as the old adage says? It all stems from an ancient grudge, going back nearly eight centuries. In 1241, ongoing tensions boiled over into full-scale warfare as Pisa went to battle with Genoa. The Pisans won handily, destroying the Genoese fleet in the process. The sting of that defeat—and the resulting hatred of all Pisans—lives in the hearts and memories of many modern-day Genoese.

Throughout the course you'll see how rivalries like this one have played out, fuelling the artistic, political, and cultural innovations—from technology to fashion design—for which Italy is famous today.

Italy on the World Stage

But the stories of the Italian states are also inextricably linked with large world events of the late Middle Ages and Renaissance.

Your first stop is the Near East, where you'll examine how the Crusades influenced the development of Genoa, Pisa, and Venice. Professor Bartlett explains how these burgeoning maritime states came to dominate seafaring trade by providing passage to knights and their retainers and importing luxury goods from the East.

Looking to the West, you'll explore Italy's troubled relationship with the Holy Roman Empire and the Catholic Church. Professor Bartlett traces the ever-shifting role of the papacy and the emperor in Italian life and politics, including the famous struggle among three competing popes who simultaneously battled to rule the Western church.

And then there are the competing international powers that threatened Italian independence, such as the repeated incursions by the Turkish Empire. You'll see how the Italian city-states struggled to overcome their differences to face this powerful foe, and how time and again, regional competition within the Italian peninsula nearly destroyed their ability to keep outside threats at bay.

Tales of Intrigue and Inspiration

Throughout this course, you'll also get a glimpse into the lives of the powerful and influential, and see how far they were willing to go to reap the profits of power. You'll hear about:

  • Pope Paul IV, who championed the Roman inquisition and, in his zeal to root out heresy, was said to have hidden in the room of a dying priest so he could hear his last confession.
  • Luigi Gonzaga, who cut out the hearts of his enemies and nailed them to the doors of their palaces as a warning to others who might challenge his power.
  • Ugolino, the so-called Cannibal Count of Pisa, who was imprisoned with his sons and grandsons until they died of starvation, and is rumored to have feasted on his children's bodies to maintain his strength.

But the story of Italy's fabled past is also one of inspiration. You'll hear of great leaders—the Medicis, Borgias, and Estes—who wielded the tools of statecraft and fostered one of the greatest periods of cultural activity the world has ever known.

Italian Identity—Then and Now

As you get to know the distinctive personalities and events that define the peninsula, you'll gain fresh insights into the Italy of today.

You'll learn how the ancient guilds that dominated life and trade in medieval Italy helped forge the modern Italian sense of pride of place. From the revered guilds of the great shipbuilders of 14th-century Venice to the modern workshops of Prada and Ferragamo, there is a direct line of ancestry, one that speaks of a remarkable heritage of craftsmanship.

This course also sheds light on the tumultuous politics of today's Italy. As you examine the political highs and lows of Italy's great city-states, you'll gain a new understanding of civic life in Italy—a nation infamously difficult to rule.

Join Professor Bartlett for this illuminating view of the rich mosaic that is the Italian peninsula. Surprising, enriching, always engaging, The Italians before Italy offers a unique and comprehensive perspective on one of the most dynamic and creative cultures of the modern world.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Italy—A Geographical Expression
    Today we think of Italy as a unified nation, an ancient civilization with roots in the Roman Empire. But is the idea of Italian unity anything other than a myth? In this opening lecture, Professor Bartlett introduces the idea of Italy as a mosaic of distinct cultures and traditions, exemplified in its ancient city-states. x
  • 2
    The Question of Sovereignty
    After the collapse of the Roman Empire, power on the Italian peninsula was assumed by those who could assert it. Over time, this led to the development of two theories of political sovereignty and the two competing factions that supported them: the Guelfs, who gave supreme authority to the pope, and the Ghibellines, who allied themselves with the Holy Roman Emperor. x
  • 3
    The Crusades and Italian Wealth
    The crusade to win the Holy Land back from Islamic conquerors was more than a spiritual quest for medieval Christians; it also supplied a rallying cry to unify the disparate European states and provided occupation for the idle knightly class. For the Italian city-states, it served as a crucial impetus for the development of trade relationships, seamanship, and banking. x
  • 4
    Venice—A Maritime Republic
    The Crusades made the Italian maritime cities rich, but Venice benefited most. This lecture examines Venice's unique origins and circumstances, and explores the remarkable rise of the city's ruling class and prominence in international trade. x
  • 5
    The Terraferma Empire
    For the first part of its history, Venice remained aloof from politics on the Italian peninsula, retaining its ties to the Byzantine Empire in the east. But as the city expanded, it needed new territories to support its growing population. In this lecture, we explore Venice's expansion into a land-based empire through the conquest of its neighbors. x
  • 6
    Genoa, La Superba
    Remembered mostly as the city of Christopher Columbus, Genoa also boasts a rich and vibrant, if often chaotic, history. We delve into the city's early history as a maritime power that equaled the might of Venice and learn why it took the nickname of La Superba, "the proud." x
  • 7
    Bankers and Dukes
    Genoa initially built a maritime empire that rivaled even the greatest Italian cities of its day, but factional instability and internal political weakness led to its decline on the high seas. This lecture examines two key institutions that filled the void created by Genoa's political instability: the mighty Bank of St. George and a new political office, that of the Genovese Doge, or Duke. x
  • 8
    An ancient city, Pisa was also a major competitor with Venice and Genoa for the position of chief maritime empire on the peninsula. But repeated conflicts with neighboring city-states and a variety of strategic errors ultimately led to the loss of Pisan independence, first to Milan and then to Florence. x
  • 9
    Christians vs. Turks in the Mediterranean
    After the second half of the 15th century, the Mediterranean became the battleground between east and west, Christianity and Islam, Turks and Europeans. The increasing power of the Turkish empire led to a decline in Mediterranean trade, and with it, the decline of Italian wealth and independence. x
  • 10
    Rome—Papal Authority
    As headquarters for the pope, Rome served as a religious center for Europe. But it was also a secular state with political ambitions served by the earthly exercise of power. In this lecture, we explore the impact of the church's often chaotic history on the development of Rome as an Italian city-state. x
  • 11
    Papal Ambition
    As a papal state, Rome's identity as a city-state was deeply influenced by the ambitions of the various popes who took power over its long history. This lecture traces the careers of several popes who sought to expand papal power, sometimes through progressive civic and religious policies, and sometimes through conspiracy and conquest. x
  • 12
    Papal Reform
    The Council of Trent had profound effects on not just the Roman Church but on the city of Rome and the political office of the papacy itself. In addition to responding to a call for spiritual and moral regeneration, this effort at reform reaffirmed the idea of papal monarchy. x
  • 13
    Naples—A Matter of Wills
    Naples and its island territory of Sicily represent a completely different kind of government from that found in central and northern Italy: a feudal kingdom ruled almost exclusively by foreign monarchs. In this lecture, we trace the troubled reign of the houses of Anjou and Aragon as they attempted to rule this most unruly of regions. x
  • 14
    Naples and the Threat to Italian Liberty
    European rivalries continue to be played out in Naples through the competing foreign factions that claimed sovereignty over the kingdom, culminating in the Treaty of Blois in 1505, which transferred Neapolitan authority to the Spanish kingdom of Aragon. x
  • 15
    Milan and the Visconti
    A rich and ancient city, Milan eventually became a center for artistic innovation and a skilled producer of armaments. In this lecture, we explore the early success of Milan under the rule of a powerful family, the Visconti, including one of its most renowned members, Giangaleazzo, who dreamed of uniting all of Italy. x
  • 16
    The Sforza Dynasty
    The review of Milanese history continues with an examination of the powerful Sforza family and their influence on the city-state's development. The lecture highlights the reign of Lodovico il Moro who, with his wife Beatrice d'Este, transformed the court of Milan into a celebrated cultural center renowned for its elegance, learning, and intelligence. x
  • 17
    Mantua and the Gonzaga
    Under the rule of the powerful and ambitious Gonzaga family, the fertile region of Mantua was transformed into a center of art and culture, and Gonzaga rulers came to be known for their skill as condottieri, or mercenary captains. But maintaining the Gonzaga taste for art, music, and intellectual activity ultimately emptied the treasury. x
  • 18
    Urbino and the Montefeltro
    Like Mantua, Urbino was a small condottiere principality that achieved recognition for its military prowess and its patronage of art and culture. This small mountainous region experienced political ups and downs, and the glittering court of its ruling family, the Montefeltro, lives on in the one of the classics of Renaissance literature, Baldassare Castiglione's The Book of the Courtier. x
  • 19
    Ferrara and the Este Family
    As a principality, Ferrara was a city-state whose history reflects the character and interests of its ruling dynasty. Ferrara's rulers, the Este, were professional military captains and patrons of the fine arts. Like the rulers of Urbino and Mantua, the Este of Ferrara sought to combine these two spheres, and as a result, produced some of the most notable princes of the Italian Renaissance. x
  • 20
    Siena and the Struggle for Liberty
    Although Florence is more often vaunted as the greatest Italian republic, Siena provided an earlier example of republican rule, one celebrated for its opulent art and wealth, but also known for its chronic instability. x
  • 21
    Florence and the Guild Republic
    Before slipping into monarchy in the 16th century, Florence stood as model of republican rule that would be a fundamental force in the creation of the Italian Renaissance. In this lecture, we examine the growth of this remarkable republic and determine how it managed to achieve success when so many of its fellow republics, as well as many of the other states of Italy, fell into despotism. x
  • 22
    Florence and the Medici
    In this lecture, we explore the influence of one of the most renowned families of the Italian Renaissance, the Medici. Through canny leadership, brilliant diplomacy, and the artful use of strategy, the cultivated Medici family built Florence into a glittering capital of culture and statesmanship. x
  • 23
    The Italian Mosaic—E Pluribus Gloria
    The most striking aspect of these independent states of Italy is their political, social, economic, and cultural variety. In this lecture, we step back to view this variety in the context of the Italian character and explore how the competition among states helped create the most illustrious period of cultural brilliance since the time of ancient Greece. x
  • 24
    Campanilismo—The Italian Sense of Place
    In this final lecture, Professor Bartlett summarizes the course by explaining campanilismo, the Italian sense of connection to one's homeland. It is this sense of pride of place that unifies the diverse cultural perspectives that make up the mosaic that is Italy. x

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Course Guidebook Details:
  • 192-page printed course guidebook
  • Chronology of Popes and Emperors
  • Suggested readings
  • Questions to consider

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Your professor

Kenneth R. Bartlett

About Your Professor

Kenneth R. Bartlett, Ph.D.
University of Toronto
Professor Kenneth R. Bartlett is a Professor of History at the University of Toronto. He received his Ph.D. from the Centre for Medieval Studies at the University of Toronto in 1978. He was the first director of the University of Toronto Art Centre and founding director of the Office of Teaching Advancement at the university, a position he held until 2009. Much of Professor Bartlett’s career has been devoted to bringing...
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Italians Before Italy: Conflict and Competition in the Mediterranean is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 54.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very easy and enjoyable to listen to. I've been listening to this course in my car as I drive longer distances. It has been a very enlightening experience. I've learned a lot about my Italian heritage and why Italy and Italians are the way they are. The professor is great!
Date published: 2017-02-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great course on a history that is new to me. First 2 lessons are an overview and seemed a little too broad in scope. With the 3rd lecture he starts getting into the nitty-gritty and the need for the overview becomes apparent. Very good. Very informative.
Date published: 2017-01-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Italy explained Italian history is complicated and Professor Barlett is riveting. Each lesson is a hollywood movie script. Entertaining and enlightening. Well instructed. In particular I like the way he builds upon names and events often repeating key players and names so it not so confusing. A truly greta professor.
Date published: 2016-12-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another great course I've never been disappointed by a Great Course! I'm finally getting to catch up on all those great electives I wish I'd have time for when I was getting my physics degree 32 years ago. Plus, I'm loving learning more about my Sicilian heritage. Thanks for this course and all you do for life-long learners like me!
Date published: 2016-06-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A cast of thousands Audio download. The history post-Roman Empire Italy is a story of a patchwork of smallish city-states...surviving, or failing, through commerce rather than conquest. The commerce was established to take advantage to the increasing demand for goods from 'The East'...Venice being the first, and perhaps most successful of these states, followed by Genoa, Pisa, Florence, Naples, Siena and all the other cities that we can commonly recognize for an Italian travel itinerary. Dr Bartlett's lecture organization is focused around discussions about these individual cities, the histories of their origins and the individuals who controlled the destinies. The organizational style really helps the potential traveler with background histories for the cities on his or her list. However, when it comes to the historical inner action between these cities, the lectures become a bit confusing, causing me to seek clarity online...there are wonderful maps and related articles available (that could have been included in the guidebook) with the simplest google search. From an historical view, I found the conflict between the pope (Catholic Church) and the imperial powers (from the Franks to the Habsburgs)...or the Guelfs verses the Ghibellines...interesting. Greed has no creed, I guess. For those considering purchasing, this is a solid course, full of historic facts and a huge cast of characters. It lacks visuals (in the guidebook, and, from other's reviews, in the DVD version as well) that could contain not only maps, but some of the wonderful art that was encouraged and produced by individuals from these cities. The art is why we're interested, since it paints the history of Italy. Recommended...wait for a sale, and a coupon.
Date published: 2016-01-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very well done I have heard three courses by Professor Bartlett about the history of Italy: "The Guide to essential Italy", "Italian Renaissance", and this current one. "Italian Renaissance" is a primarily analytical and thematic course, discussing the artistic, educational, political and economic foundations of Renaissance thought. "…Essential Italy" is a wonderful "guided tour" to many of the world renowned sites in Italy, many of which (if not most) are from the Renaissance era. The current course fits very nicely into this puzzle: it is primarily narrative in nature and covers the histories of the major Italian city states between roughly the late 13th and 16th centuries. The history of Italy is conspicuously missing from the front pages of European history during the Middle Ages, the only exceptions being the important roles of Venice and Genoa in transporting the Crusaders to the Middle East, and the history of the Papacy. The reason that Italy comes back into focus towards the end of the 13th century is that this is the cradle of the Renaissance and signals the first signs of the modern era. The emphasis in this course is to understand how the new ways of thought of the Renaissance manifested themselves in the narratives of the major city states, and particularly, to see how this era was a canvas for experimentation of new models. I found this period to resemble a lot the situation of Ancient Greece in its heyday. Italy, like ancient Greece, was fragmented into many small city states - each fiercely autonomous and individualistic. They exhibited wildly differing political governance structures: from benevolent despots (Urbino), to aristocratic republics (Venice), to cruel self-serving dictators (such as some of the Visconti Dukes in Milan). Even a sort of radical democracy was tried for a short period in Florence. Each sought to prosper economically, but they exhibited widely varying strategies: in Florence it was wool and banking, in Venice it was maritime trading, while in Naples it was a feudal economy that resembled Northern Europe. Each tried to find the right balance between foreign relation allegiances with the papacy, the Holy Roman Empire, France and its immediate neighbors and war against them. Finally, each evolved in a different and fascinating manner with regards to the new and quite radical Renaissance-Humanism concepts. Professor Bartlett was masterful in providing a coherent picture of this hyper-complex situation in which there were so many players interacting on so many different dimensions. He demonstrated how the radical new ideas of the Renaissance were tightly bound with the narrative histories of the cities in such a way that the evolution of Renaissance thinking made sense. This is quite an accomplishment…
Date published: 2015-09-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Italian City States -Excellent Overview of Period After returning from a vacation to Italy I wanted to learn more on the history and culture of this beautiful and diverse country. The Italians Before Italy was an excellent choice to provide a detailed history of the many city states and republics during the Middle Ages. Prof. Bartlett was superb in his ability to keep my interest and provide details I would have never learned otherwise. I found that reading the course outline notes before each lecture gave me a better listening experience knowing the general flow of the selected talk. If you are interested in learning the background of Italy during the Middle Ages and how that history is reflected today in Italian life this course is a must. I am new to The Great Courses, but my experience has persuaded me to purchase additional courses, all from Prof. Bartlett.
Date published: 2014-12-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great Course but a bit too long This course was very interesting. As someone who didn't have previous knowledge of Italian history, I benefited enormously from the presented material. I also thought the presentation was quite well done. The material itself was very interesting. However, there is too much material, and it can get confusing at times as there are multiple fault lines (e.g. Ghibelline vs. Guelph, Byzantium vs. Germans, many family names, etc.) In addition, as the material is organized by city states, this causes some repetition of the same themes. That can get boring after a while. I frankly had to give a long break after episode 10. Finally, the views are sometimes at odds with what I have listened to elsewhere. For example, while the author claims that the strengthening of the Turks hurt the Venetians, in my other sources of knowledge outside Great Courses, I have heard the opposite claim also - that the Venetians benefited as they were always the gatekeepers that imported the traded material to rest of Europe. These notwithstanding however, I lıked the way the professor presented the material (I am saying this as a professor myself). All in all, a great look into Renaissance Europe.
Date published: 2014-11-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Italians Before Italy No matter where you are going in Italy, this terrific course will prepare you for the illustrious and often tragic history of the place we now know as Italy. did not conform with the iPhone well, and often was very slow loading. I hope another format becomes available other than Audible.
Date published: 2014-11-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good, but could be organised better... I was discouraged from buying this course after reading many reviews highlighting the serious factual errors in the lectures ~ and in the guidebook. However, because I have a special interest in Italian culture, I gave it a go. Dr Bartlett is rather stiff, lacking charisma, Canadian accent with some strange pronunciations... but he has no presentation bugbears such as "er", "um", "y'know", "I mean" and such, and proceeds at a good pace, so no real problem there. From the first lecture, I discerned that the course had not been structured in a logical, easy-to-follow way. The first lecture bounced all over the place causing me to lose track completely! Perhaps this is his "mosaic" style. He emphasised how, in different areas of today's Italy, you'll find different modes of dress, attitudes, social mores, politics, etc. For goodness' sake! Isn't this true of just about EVERY country? The course is crammed full of information, dates, names, etc, but overall organisation is sadly wanting. The development of modern Italy started with the city states following the fall of the Roman Empire, right? Lecture two concentrated on the power of the popes, as Guelphs and Ghibellines were introduced in the framework of the imperial and papal division. Naturally, there is heavy emphasis in the lectures to Rome, Venice, Florence, Milan, Naples, but lesser-known areas receive due attention, happily. It was all quite illuminating, but I kept wishing the course had been ORGANISED in a meaningful, progressive way, instead of hopping around. Some reviewers refer to this as a "niche" course ~ if by that they mean a kind of fill-in course, expounding on some aspects of other courses, then okay I guess. After the 4th lecture (Venice after the Crusades), I just took the talks as they came, appreciating the education I was receiving. On this basis, I recommend the course.
Date published: 2013-08-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Pre-Travel Course I bought this to prepare for a trip to Italy. Bartlett is a warm and gentle speaker. The course is well-paced and well organized. I am a visual learner. I would like a few more photos and artwork to enhance the lecture. This is a good history course for travelers.
Date published: 2013-05-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fills a niche and worthwhile Factual errors are noted in other reviews and will not be repeated here. Despite these minor flaws this course fills a niche that makes it worthwhile to those interested in either modern Italy or who have visited Italy or plan a visit. It does not have as many graphics as other lectures but the presenter has a pleasant voice and provides a background of Venice, Milan, Florence, Papal States and Naples between the period of the fall of the Roman Empire and unified Italy that gave me a much better understanding of each of the regions of Italy as well as background for the Crusades and a deeper understanding of modern Italy. This was not a period with which I had much familiarity. I was particularly interested in the rise of Venice and each of the other 5 major regions of Italy. But he does a nice job of discussing areas such as Montua, Umbria, Sienna and more modern areas as Perugia that added to my knowledge. Other courses cover well Ancient Italy as well as the Crusades and the period leading up to the fall of Rome as well as art of Italy and Michaelangeo that I have found useful and intellectually stimulating. For me this is a niche course that I found surprisingly worthwhile. While I had some knowledge of this period including Venice, Genoa and Pisa his discussions of these areas as well as Florence were useful and filled in gaps in my knowledge. As always with such a course there is the problem of covering in too much depth or too little and I am sure some will find this problem. I view this as more of a survey of an interesting period in Italian history and for that found it worthwhile. While I almost gave this 5 stars its minor flaws caused me to withhold that rating. But that does not mean that I did not find it highly satisfying and useful. If you are planning a trip to Italy this is one of several courses that I could recommend to add to your enjoyment of your trip. I have visited Italy on three trips and hope to visit again. If you have been to Italy or just have an intellectual interest in Italy of this period I can recommend this course.
Date published: 2012-11-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from covers the vast diversity of Italy This course is a very deep and interesting survey of the many city-states that eventually became modern Italy. Prof. Bartlett knows and loves the material, and gives a very good look at the best known (e.g., Venice, Florence, Milan, Naples) as well as lesser known (e.g., Pisa, Urbino, Siena, Mantua) political entities. Italian politics in the era of the course -- pre-Renaissance through the 1700s -- is complex, but Bartlett makes sense of it. I find him to be a very clear and articulate lecturer, though a bit dry in his delivery. But I enjoyed it, learned a lot, and heartily recommend it.
Date published: 2012-10-20
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Very Poor Effort A previous reviewer pointed out a number of factual errors. I didn't catch all of those, but did notice others. As just one example, in lecture 9, he talks about how Christian Europe lost all hope after the fall of Cyprus but THEN the successful defense of Malta gave them renewed hope. The problem? Cyprus fell in 1570; the seige of Malta was in 1565. There are other errors, but expounding on all of them would detract from my main complaint. The lectures are rambling and often incoherent musings, rather than an organized presentation. For example, in lecture 6 (see also page 22 of the guidebook) he talks about the repercussions of Genoa's defeat in the War of Chiogia (1380-1) but starts by discussing Genoa's constitutional reforms of the 1330s. It's not technically an error since he doesn't say the war caused these reforms, but it confuses the presentation. In lecture 8, he discusses in turn Pisa's government in 1162, its alliance with Lothair II in 1137, the battle of Meloria in 1284, and the battle of Montaperti in 1260. This erratic jumping around makes it nearly impossible to follow the lectures. On a different thread, the professor has a couple of unusual pronounciation habits (ByzanTEYN rather than ByzanTEEN, and peninsHula) which would be annoying if it weren't for the fact that they form the only auditory landmarks in what would otherwise be an extremely boring monotonic drone. I really cannot recommend this course. TTC has much better offerings.
Date published: 2012-09-07
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Factual Flaws Professor Bartlett's lectures were quite interesting and often entertaining. A political history of Renaissance Italy is great to have as a companion to a course on Renaissance art and culture. Unfortunately, there were enough glaring factual errors that I felt bound to return the set. I hope the Teaching Company will send an errrata sheet to other customers in the future. Here is what I wrote it earlier this week: Professor Bartlett got into trouble when he stepped outside of late medieval or Renaissance Italy. In Lecture 1 he wrongly attributed a famous quote by the Roman Emperor Vespasian (reigned 69-79 A.D.)--“I fear I am becoming a God”--to the Emperor Claudius (reigned 41-54). This error does not appear in the guidebook. In Lecture 3 he said that the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Emperor Alexius lost the battle of Manzikert in 1071, allowing the Turks to overrun Anatolia and prompting the Crusades. It was really Emperor Romanus IV Diogenes (reigned 1068-71); Alexius Comnenus (reigned 1081-1118) was the man who saved what was left of the empire. In Lecture 9 he attributed the conquests of Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (reigned 1520-66) to Selim II, who supposedly reigned from 1524 to 1574. In fact, Selim II (reigned 1566-74) received from disrespectful contemporaries the epithet of “the Sot” or “the Drunkard.” In Lecture 21, Professor Bartlett blamed the 1345 collapse of the Florentine banks of the Bardi and Peruzzi families on the refusal of English King Edward I to pay his debts accumulated during the first years of the Hundred Years War (1337-1453). In fact, it was Edward III (reigned 1327-77). Edward I died in 1307. These errors are in the guidebook. To make sure they ARE errors, I checked my copies of The Roman Empire, by Colin Wells, A History of the Crusades (Vol. I) by Steven Runciman, A History of Islamic Societies (2nd Ed.) by Ira M. Lapidus, and The Hundred Years War, by Christopher Allmand. There were problems with at least two slides. In Lectures 8 and 20 the video correctly showed images of Duke Cosimo I de Medici (1519-74) while Professor Bartlett was talking about him, but it gave the years for the earlier Cosimo de Medici, 1389 to 1464. The Biographical Notes in the guidebook contain more errors. On page 168 they identify Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II (1194-1250) as “Barbarossa” rather than his grandfather Frederick I (1122-90), although the list of Holy Roman Emperors on page 162 gets it right. I also compared the birth and death years of other famous people with those given in Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Britannica disagreed with the guidebook on four of the birth years: Charles of Anjou (1226, not 1227), Andrea Doria (1466, not 1468), Joanna I of Naples (1326, not 1328), and Pandolfo Petrucci (1452, not 1425). The last is almost certainly a typo, but it’s possible there is a legitimate disagreement over the others.
Date published: 2012-07-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of my favorites I'd rank this guy among the very top TC lecturers, alongside Greenberg and Ehrmann. I knew a bit about the subject but his presentation was thorough and accessible yet original and thought provoking. Six stars.
Date published: 2012-04-16
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Moments in History This is an excellent, but melancholy course. Most of the reviewers have hit the important notes (e.g. this is a complex course, given by an extremely competent if a bit stiff professor) but I would like to add an impressionistic comment for I believe that there is a definite emotional feel to this course that is rather unique. A recurrent phrase in Prof Bartlett's lecture is "that moment". That time when historical, political, economic, and cultural forces all came together and created something wonderful. But it only lasted a moment, and then it passed. For Prof Bartlett, the multitude of Italian societies of the Renaissance (and a main theme of the course is that Italy was and is a multitude and not a unity) were each moments in history, glorious but fleeting. Most lectures begin by describing the gradual rise of a city state as the project of many forces coming together. And most lectures end by describing the often protracted decay of a city state as the circumstances that made the glorious moment possible change or are destroyed. I found this gave the course a rather poignant, wistful feeling. Prof Bartlett loves his subject material and it is clear that he regards the passing of this age not as a natural evolution but as a regrettable decline. This is not a course about these cities at their height of cultural glory but how that glory emerged and how it faded or was gobbled up by the Hapsburgs. It is therefore a bit sad. Prof Bartlett never explicitly states that he regrets that history transpired as it did, never dwells on the might-have-beens of Italian history where if things had been different, these moments might have been prolonged. Instead, he pays tribute to these wonderful moments of history and seeks to understand them. But I can't help but feel that he wishes that these moments lived on forever.
Date published: 2011-04-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well Done Telling of Ridiculously Chaotic History Prof. Bartlett does as good a job as is probably possible presenting a well-organized and interesting history of an almost absurdly chaotic time. Just telling the story of one Italian city-state would be challenging; this course covers all of them over the millennium or so between the Roman Empire and the Hapsburg Empire hegemonies. While I have no hesitation in giving this course 5 stars for what it is, choose it carefully. You should have a prior interest in Italian history. This is not a great story, nor a story of greatness. It is a history made up of a huge number of disparate facts, characters, wars, allegiances, political marriages, petty hatreds, and so much more, with little in the way of an overarching theme (although Prof. Bartlett does his best to put it all together in the final two lectures.) While I greatly appreciate having this course to learn from, I would certainly not spend more time in this area on my own. One big negative is a remarkably poor set of visuals - mostly simplistic maps, painted portraits without attribution, and occasional photos of buildings, often lacking adequate or expected explanation. This is the history of Italy! Many, many more and higher quality photos, illustrations, and maps would be expected, and ought to have been provided. Another drawback, for me at least, is the lack of any systematic way of comparing what is happening in one region with contemporaneous happenings in the others. An ongoing use of comparative timelines would have been extremely helpful. Prof. Bartlett is well spoken, articulate, organized, and clearly cares seriously about his subject (although an occasional smile or a bit of humor would have been appreciated.) This is a very good course IF you have a prior interest in the area.
Date published: 2011-03-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Butter in the North, Oil in the South If you've ever wondered about important differences in Italian culture within the cities of Italy, then this course is for you. While focused mostly on the political side of it's history, it explains a number of important features and differences between the monarchies, principalities and republics. Normally we think of Italy as Rome, Florence and Venice. For me, listening to the stories of Pisa, Sienna, Mantua, Urbino, Milan, Genoa and the Papal States was enlightening. The dynastic struggles and successions (or lack of), the role of the Condottieri and how they contributed to the development of culture and art are topics that make this course of good value. The result of all the differences produced the "mosiac" of Italy and yet contributed positively to cultural brilliances that only competition could generate. If there is a negative, it would be Prof. Bartlett's "sighing" that reduced some of the enthusiasm of his otherwise well presented material. Understanding Italy and it's long history is not easy; this course though, makes the learning much easier.
Date published: 2010-08-25
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good, But Haughty Presentation I found the information presented by Professor Bartlett very interesting, however, I found his choice of words at times off-putting. He has a air of superiority when he speaks which can be annoying. If one can get by this aspect of his delivery, it is a worthwhile course. I did have to take breaks of a few weeks before listening again as his haughtiness would become an overwhelming annoyance to me and I would stop for a spell. This may be my particular peccadillo, others may entirely disagree with my critique here.
Date published: 2010-08-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from There's a lot here This is a course I would describe as "information rich." I have to say I didn't warm to it much the first time through. Professor Bartlett has a bit of a stiff delivery, and it's obvious he's reading a prepared text (getting words wrong, then going back and correcting himself). But the second time around I liked it a lot more. And you need to view it more than once. This is a course that's very dense with information (the course booklet is particularly thick and detailed) and doesn't waste a lot of time with asides and anecdotes. Professor Bartlett also avoids the "introduction-body-conclusion-looking ahead to the next lecture" format. Each lecture sets out to tell the story of a particular city state and just drives straight ahead. I agree with some of the reviewers who say that it would be nice if there was a stronger overview, putting the individual city-histories into a wider context. It's easy to lose sense of the general chronology (another reason repeated viewings are helpful). Some previous acquaintance with the subject would probably be a good idea. After viewing it the second time through, I'm now looking forward to the Italian Renaissance course. Professor Bartlett isn't a really "lively" teacher, but he does have a dry, understated sense of humour that grows on you. I found the maps and pictures helpful, and would recommend the DVD version.
Date published: 2010-06-21
Rated 3 out of 5 by from worst illustration support ever I enjoyed the course and Professor Bartlett's deep love for and knowledge of Iraly, but would have liked more time spent on the cultural, artistic, and social aspects, For example, Professsor Bartlett mentions the emergence of a Ferrarese school of painting, but doesn't explain why it emerged, how it reflected local sensibilities, or what made it distinctive. There is also a recurrent problem of inaporpriate and/or simply wrong illustrative material being provided to accompany his lectures. On several occasions, a picture of a political figure is either miisidentified or otherwise wrong, with dates for people or events displayed that seriously conflict with the dates cited in the lectures. This is iby far the worst editing job I've seen on over 30 Teaching Company courses, and is really inexcusable. I hope they will be corrected.
Date published: 2010-03-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great help on my vacation My wife and I went to Florence, Siena and Rome for our 40th anniversary. I watched the entire course and my wife watched the segments on the cities we visited before arrival. It was a great help understanding why things in Italy are the way they are. In addition I emailed Professor Bartlett and he sent me a list of his favorites (best gelato in Italy, for example). I wish I could find courses on all European countries like this one to help with our travels.
Date published: 2010-02-06
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Princes and Doges and Popes, oh my! Prof. Bartlett is very much of the "great men" school of history. This course contains little in the way of social history--we learn next to nothing about any Italian who was not fortunate enough to be a Pope or the ruler of a city state. Perhaps this helps explain why the course, which purports to be about Italian history from the fall of the Roman empire through Italian reunification in 1861, actually skips the last 300 years or so of that period almost entirely. When the ruling elites are no longer Italian, there's nothing much for Prof. Bartlett to talk about. While some of these folks are more appealing than others, overall it's a pretty repellant group, and it takes some staying power to keep up an interest in them. The good ones, it appears, are the ones who exploited their position to become wealthy, and then used the wealth to become patrons of the arts. A few of the artists themselves are mentioned in passing, but the good guys seem to be the wealthy patrons. Being a good patron will redeem almost any failing for Dr. Bartlett--never mind that a prince was a usurper, a despot, sold his subjects as mercenaries, or taxed them to penury, he's OK if he built lovely buildings or commissioned good music. One of the recurring themes is the tragedy of dynastic failure--apparently if you're really into despotism, it's a sad thing whenever there's no son to continue the rule of a family. Prof. Bartlett is not consistent on this point, however--he also seems (sometimes) to be against nepotism and for meritocracy. The bad guys are the foreigners--the Germans, the French, the Aragonese, the Protestants, and especially the Turks. The other bad guys are the Italians who were corrupt, stupid, or unlucky enough to lose territory or influence to other Italians or, horror, to foreigners. Prof. Bartlett wistfully (and without any apparent irony) mourns a loss of "freedom" whenever a set of local despots is replaced by a less local group. In the last two lectures, Prof. Bartlett seems to argue that this silly way of viewing Italian history is important because it's how the Italians see their own history, and so explains much about modern Italy. Perhaps this is so. But if it is, it amounts to a dreadful indictment of the Italian character. I prefer to think that the xenophobia and shallow aestheticism of this outlook is, at best, a very minor component of what it means to be Italian.
Date published: 2009-11-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Better over time At first, I was quite annoyed at Prof. Barlett's sighs. Over time, though, it became less distracting. Very thorough examination of the individual states. Feel course would have benefitted from a big picture lecture; that is, a lecture juxtaposing the events in individual states w/simultaneous events througout "Italy" (or, at least, providing time frames more frequently).
Date published: 2009-10-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great content, good presentation I really enjoyed this course, the professor presents a wealth of detailed information about the Italian city states and his presentation is clear, understandable and well-paced but sometimes overly serious and dry. I was a little confused by this course's title and description, since it seems to be implying that it is somehow a broad picture of italy and the italian city-states before their unification in the 19th century. However, the course almost exclusively covers the renaissance period, rarely discussing anything outside the 14th and 15th century. It's different than Bartlett's other course about the renaissance (which I haven't listened to) in that it doesn't focus exclusively in renaissance related material it does diverge and discuss the papacy and the papal states at length, the wars over Naples, the Turks, the crusades, etc. I have listened to each lecture at least twice (sometimes four or five times!) which is more than I can say for any other course that I own. There is just simply a lot of great information and detail here about so many topics relating to the Italians in this period that I keep learning more each time I listen to the lectures. The professors presentation is really good, but not _great_. I give him full marks for organization and structure of the course I also think his presentation is very clear and comprehensive even to someone with little previous knowledge of the period (like me). Sometimes, however, he seems less than enthusiastic and his lectures are totally devoid of any kind of humor - in fact despite the lack of enthusiasm at times his tone is severe and dramatic as though he were reading from Shakespeare or Homer - which you may or may not like.
Date published: 2009-09-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Mama Mia What an interesting class! Professor Bartlett has a very complicated topic to teach here, and he does it with accuracy and precision. To understand Italian politics during the late Medieval/Early Modern Period is confusing indeed and this guy puts it together in a cohesive manner in only 24 lectures! What a great class and good value for my money! He is a good speaker but he has a tendency to pronounce words in a funny way like the word peninsula. He pronounces it “peninshula”. Either way, a wonderful class that makes me want to take a trip to Venice or Genoa.
Date published: 2009-08-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating I bought this course last week and cannot listen to it fast enough. I will need to listen several times to really digest the wealth of material. Well presented and interesting.
Date published: 2009-07-22
Rated 2 out of 5 by from ok material diluted by repetetive presentation The professor has an infuriating habit of repeating platitudes ad nauseum through meaningless parallelisms. "This conflict between papacy and emperor, between guelf and ghibeline, between religious and secular rule, between angevin succession and religious loyalty, this conflict harmed italian autonomy, italian independence, and ultimately, destroyed the prospect of a unified italy because of the intervention of foreign...powers." You get the idea. Might seem to be nitpicking, but a lot of time is wasted on these empty elaborations.
Date published: 2009-06-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent This is an excellent and well-organized overview of some very complex history. On a practical level, what's often very important in a course is the instructor's presentation. You'll be spending a lot of time with the instructor; how well will they wear? What I would have wanted to know going in is this. Bartlett has a rather grand way of speaking that doesn't go well with his tendency to mispronounce words and his occasional delight in constructing convoluted, and not quite grammatical, sentences. He seems to romanticize nobility, and, for example, likes to making someone Duke as "giving the dignity of Duke." This is almost exclusively the story of nobility, and you get told a lot about what paragons certain ladies were. If you were wondering what Machiavelli was up to, or how anyone not actually building a palace was living, you should look elsewhere. And if someone violates the code of chivalry, it will not go unremarked. This is largely appropriate, though. There's limited room to tell a very complex story, and this ends up being about largely prince-run states evolving and colliding. And Bartlett does an extremely good job of this.
Date published: 2009-06-14
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