Late Antiquity: Crisis and Transformation

Course No. 3480
Professor Thomas F. X. Noble, Ph.D.
University of Notre Dame
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Course Overview

Edward Gibbon's stirring Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire painted an unforgettable portrait of the Roman Empire in a long, debilitating slide to oblivion, culminating in an agonizing death at the hands of barbarian savages. But two centuries after Gibbon, historians have reevaluated this picture to create a radically different understanding of the period, which they now call "late antiquity."

This new view posits several fundamental changes:

  • "Barbarians" were not all one people; they weren't particularly barbaric; and they entered the empire mostly by invitation or migration—not by invasion.
  • The sack of Rome by Visigoths in 410 was effectively a looting spree. Churches were spared and there was no slaughter of the population.
  • The "fall" of the western Roman Empire in 476 was hardly noticed by people at the time. It was only long after the fact that it was seen as a cataclysmic event.
  • Contrary to Gibbon's view of Christianity as a cause of Rome's decline, much of the empire's legacy lived on through the institutions of the church.

Far from being a period of decline and fall, late antiquity marked one of history's great turning points. The fundamental reordering of the Roman Empire that took place spawned three great civilizations: Medieval Europe, the Byzantine Empire, and the Islamic Caliphate. This startling transformation survives to the present day in many of the political, cultural, and religious traditions spanning the region from the British Isles to the Middle East—traditions that have spread their influence around the planet.

Late Antiquity: Crisis and Transformation takes you through five momentous centuries that link the Classical world with the modern, in 36 half-hour lectures by distinguished medieval historian Dr. Thomas F. X. Noble, Professor of History and Chair of the Department of History at the University of Notre Dame.

Continuity and Innovation

A brisk and entertaining lecturer and winner of prestigious teaching awards from the University of Virginia and Notre Dame, Professor Noble shows in fascinating detail how one storied era, the Roman Empire, gradually faded into something remarkably new but also recognizably the same.

Covering the period from A.D. 235 to 750, Late Antiquity opens with Rome near its pinnacle of power and geographical extent, stretching from Mesopotamia in the east to Spain in the west; from the Sahara Desert at the empire's southern limit to the Scottish highlands, the Rhine, and the Danube at its northern frontier. Yet severe cracks were beginning to appear. One portent of trouble: Between 235 and 284, a succession of 70 legitimate emperors and usurpers waged a bloody struggle for imperial control.

Five hundred years later, the map over which these men fought was almost unrecognizable. The Byzantine Empire, centered at Constantinople, was the only administrative division of the old Roman Empire still extant. From the east through North Africa to Spain, the new civilization of Islam ruled. And most of what had once been the western Roman Empire had broken into a succession of barbarian Christian kingdoms.

But where earlier generations of historians saw the end of Roman civilization, the new scholarly consensus is that Rome was reinventing itself, seeding its customs and culture into the sibling civilizations of western Christianity, Byzantium, and Islam.

In this course, you explore these key features of late antiquity:

  • How this tripartite division occurred
  • The memorable rulers who led the way, such as the Roman emperors Diocletian, Constantine, and Justinian; the barbarian kings Alaric and Clovis; and the Islamic caliphs Mu'awiya and Abd al-Malik
  • The advances in systematizing legal codes, which made late antiquity one of the greatest periods of jurisprudence in history, contrary to its reputation as a time of decay and disorder
  • The ebb and flow of different barbarian peoples, who were often ethnically diverse confederations of disparate tribes
  • The religious leaders who forged Christianity and Islam, including Anthony, John Chrysostom, Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, and Muhammad
  • The architecture, visual arts, and literature of the period, which reflected both continuity with existing classical models and daring innovation

You also learn what it was like to live in the late antique world, how people earned their livings, how the rich and poor differed, the role of women in society, and the great cities of the era and what distinguished them.

New Institutions, States, Religions, and Arts

The long course of Roman history had its share of surprises, with stretches of stability punctuated by wars and the rise of successive rulers. But nothing in Rome's previous experience compared with the ferment of late antiquity, which saw the unpredictable growth of new institutions, states, religions, and arts. A betting person at the time, says Professor Noble, would have been very reluctant to risk a wager on any of the following developments, which in fact came to pass:

  • that the crisis of the 3rd century would be resolved by a seemingly ordinary general named Diocletian, who became emperor and gave the moribund empire a new lease on life for another two centuries;
  • that the followers of Jesus would not only establish the Roman state religion but also amass powers exceeding those of the emperor;
  • that the Old Testament prohibition against graven images would be ignored by most Christian leaders, sparking the spectacular growth of creative visual arts in the church; and
  • that, most shocking of all, a new religion called Islam would arise among the desert tribes of Arabia, with militant adherents who would take over permanently a large part of the Roman Empire.

A Period of Transition

At the start of late antiquity, Christianity was a persecuted sect. A century later, Constantine legalized the faith and embraced it himself, attributing to Christ the victory that made him sole emperor. But when he built his triumphal arch in Rome, he identified his benefactor only as "the highest god," an ambiguous phrase designed not to offend pagans. This perfectly illustrates how late antiquity was a transitional period, with a new order and new sensibilities taking hold only gradually.

Professor Noble shows this transformation occurring in many areas, including philosophy, history, and poetry. For example, Christianity took ancient philosophy in an entirely new direction, with thinkers such as the church father Augustine challenging and adapting classical ideas to create a rigorous new theology. In fact, Augustine qualifies as the most prolific author in the Latin language, surpassing even Cicero in his ceaseless devotion to setting his wide-ranging thoughts to paper.

The traditional classification of literary periods divides pagan from Christian, even though the early Christian writers adopted classical models in their use of rhetoric, literary genres, and poetic meters. You learn why it makes much more sense to see the writings of the church fathers and other late antiquity authors as the last great age of ancient literature.

Five Eventful Centuries Made Clear

Anyone who has ever consulted a historical atlas cannot help but be struck by the mercurial, often confusing maps that represent late antiquity. The DVD version of this course features hundreds of specially designed maps (some of which are also included in the course booklet) that marvelously clear up the story of shifting peoples and borders over the course of five eventful centuries. Created under Professor Noble's direction, these visual aids are unique for any comparable presentation of the subject.

Another way Professor Noble clears up confusion is by casting the ethnic identities of the barbarians in an intriguing new light. "No premodern people we know about ever called themselves German," he says. Similarly, the Visigoths, Vandals, Franks, and other groups who are traditionally pictured as tribal hoards knocking down the gates of the empire are really complex amalgams of different peoples, who forged a unified identity under the process of ethnogenesis and then settled the Roman Empire under a wide range of circumstances—some violent, most not.

After taking this course you will never think of the barbarians and the "fall" of Rome in quite the same way again. Your imagination will be alive with the incidents, innovations, and peoples of an exciting era that gave birth to us all: late antiquity.

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36 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    The World of Late Antiquity
    After exploring the origin of the term "late antiquity," you learn why this historical view better reflects the period from the 3rd to the 8th centuries than the traditional view that Rome had a "decline and fall." This lecture also outlines the major themes and issues of the course. x
  • 2
    The Crisis of the 3rd Century
    In this lecture you turn to the crisis of the 3rd century, when Rome found its frontiers threatened on several fronts. Armies made and unmade emperors with alarming regularity. The literature of the period also reveals unmistakable feelings of despair and uncertainty. x
  • 3
    The New Empire of Diocletian
    No one could have predicted that Rome was about to raise up two of its greatest rulers: Diocletian and Constantine. You learn how Diocletian instituted a series of reforms that divided the empire into east and west while also launching the last and fiercest persecution of Christians. x
  • 4
    Constantine's Roman Revolution
    Turning to Constantine, you see how he extended Diocletian's reforms. Among them, he gave the empire a new capital at Byzantium, which he renamed Constantinople after himself. He also took the surprising step of legalizing Christianity. x
  • 5
    The House of Constantine, 337–363
    Constantine's dynasty lasted through his sons and his nephew Julian, who continued the path of reform. You examine administrative, foreign policy, economic, and religious challenges during this period. In religion, Julian attempted to restore the pagan cults. x
  • 6
    The End of a Unified Empire
    In the five decades after Julian's death in 363, the Roman Empire lurched from crisis to crisis. But it also raised up one of late antiquity's greatest rulers in Theodosius, who dealt with the Goths and the Persians and made Catholicism Rome's state religion. x
  • 7
    Ruling the Roman Empire—The Imperial Center
    This lecture looks at the powers, duties, and responsibilities of the emperors, together with the basic ideas that sustained the imperial regime. Also examined are the people who advised the emperor and the nature of the offices they held. x
  • 8
    Ruling the Roman Empire—The Provinces
    You turn here to the vast administrative hierarchy by which Rome accomplished the task of managing a state that extended from the north of Britain to Mesopotamia. Concluding reflections examine how effective Rome's government actually was. x
  • 9
    The Barbarians—Ethnicity and Identity
    The barbarians were continually changing groups of peoples who defy the popular view that they were ethnically distinct tribes that invaded the empire in a coordinated fashion. This lectures asks: Who were they? What were their relations with Rome? And how do we know about them? x
  • 10
    Rome and the Barbarians
    You take the Visigoths as a case study of barbarian interactions with the Roman Empire. The Visigoths under Alaric famously sacked the city of Rome in 410, but this was neither an invasion nor a catastrophe to the city. Around 418 they settled in Gaul under an imperial treaty. x
  • 11
    Barbarian Kingdoms—Gaul
    In addition to the Visigoths, the Burgundians and the Franks also erected kingdoms in Gaul. As the 5th century unfolded, the Franks overwhelmed the Visigoths and the Burgundians, creating the most successful and long-lived of the barbarian kingdoms. x
  • 12
    Barbarian Kingdoms—Spain and North Africa
    You examine the shifting fortunes of the barbarian kingdoms and their continuing relations with Rome. In 406 the Alans, Sueves, and Vandals crossed the Rhine, initiating a sequence of events that would eventually establish the Visigoths in Spain and the Vandals in North Africa. x
  • 13
    Barbarian Kingdoms—Italy
    Sent to Italy by Constantinople to restore order, the Ostrogoths created a remarkable kingdom under Theodoric. In the turmoil after Theodoric's death, the emperor Justinian invaded Italy, launching the devastating Gothic Wars. Eventually defeated, the Ostrogoths were supplanted by the Lombards. x
  • 14
    The Eastern Empire in the 5th Century
    This lecture steps back to survey the Eastern Roman Empire when the Western empire was embroiled in barbarian kingdoms. The long reign of Theodosius II (401–450) saw a great codification of Roman law, military successes in the Balkans, and continuing religious strife. x
  • 15
    The End of the Western Empire
    You come to the event notoriously known as "the fall of the Roman Empire"—meaning the empire in the West. In 476 the barbarian general Odovacer overthrew the last of the Western emperors, Romulus Augustulus, inauspiciously named for two of Rome's greatest leaders. x
  • 16
    The Age of Justinian, 527–565
    While Roman rule would never be restored in the West, the East raised up an exceptional ruler, Justinian, one of Rome's greatest emperors. His many reforms include the Corpus Iuris Civilis, perhaps the most influential collection of law ever assembled. x
  • 17
    The Christianization of the Roman World
    How did an obscure religious sect eventually take over the Roman world? Christianity had two things that no pagan cult ever possessed: a recognized body of authoritative texts, and an increasingly sophisticated administrative system that gradually reached across the empire. x
  • 18
    Christianity and the Roman State
    You examine how the Roman state shifted from persecution to tolerance to promotion of Christianity. Several key pieces of legislation built the church into the public and private life of the empire. Christianity and the Roman state each benefited, with Christianity benefiting more. x
  • 19
    The Rise of the Roman Church
    It was by no means foreordained that the bishop of Rome, eventually to be called the pope, would achieve preeminence in the church. This lecture looks at how the bishops of Rome exercised their office and interacted with other church leaders. You also survey some significant early popes. x
  • 20
    The Call of the Desert—Monasticism
    The emergence of Christian monasticism in Egypt is one of late antiquity's most dynamic and characteristic achievements. Instead of engaging the world, as the church and its leaders did, monks fled normal society. This lecture focuses on the Desert Fathers and their first followers. x
  • 21
    Monasticism—Solitaries and Communities
    Within a century of monasticism's origins, monks and nuns could be found in large numbers in every corner of the Roman Empire. This lecture explores how and why the monastic movement spread. In the East the more solitary form of monasticism prevailed, whereas in the West the communal form triumphed. x
  • 22
    The Church Fathers—Talking About God
    The writings of the church fathers represent the last great age of ancient literature. Among the Greek fathers, this lecture focuses on Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory Nazianzus and looks at how they helped create a vocabulary and structures of thought for the Christian faith. x
  • 23
    Patristic Portraits
    Augustine was the most prolific author in ancient Latin letters, pagan or Christian. In his long and colorful life he became one of the most influential thinkers in the history of Christianity. In addition to discussing Augustine, this lecture considers Origen, John Chrysostom, Ambrose, and Jerome. x
  • 24
    "What Has Athens to Do with Jerusalem?"
    Tertullian asked, "What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?"—meaning, why should Christians concern themselves with classical culture? You see how Christian writers adapted classical models in genres from philosophy to poetry to history. You also study the changing educational system in late antiquity. x
  • 25
    Graven Images—Christianity's Visual Arts
    Given the Old Testament prohibition against graven images, it was by no means certain that Christianity would develop visual arts. But it did—in profusion. After Christianity gained legal status in the empire, the arts exploded in a dazzling array of frescoes, mosaics, and sculptures. x
  • 26
    The Universal in the Local—Cities
    Cities were culturally dominant in late antiquity. At the same time, only 10% to 15% of people lived in urban areas. This lecture examines the nature of cities—large and small, central and remote—using careful reading of the evidence to extract information such as population numbers. x
  • 27
    Rome and Constantinople
    You explore late antiquity's greatest cities, Rome and Constantinople, studying population, occupations, cultural attainments, and major buildings. During this time, Rome faced challenge, shrinkage, and decay, while Constantinople was a great city just coming into being. x
  • 28
    Visigothic Spain and Merovingian Gaul
    You turn to Visigothic Spain and Merovingian Gaul. The Franks in Gaul and the Visigoths in Spain were the most successful of the early barbarian kingdoms. While the Visigoths eventually lost Spain to Berber and Arab invaders in 711, the Franks flourished under the Merovingian dynasty x
  • 29
    Celt and Saxon in the British Isles
    Moving to the edge of the late antique world, you examine the British Isles, which provide a fascinating example of how peoples who were little if at all influenced by the Romans were drawn into the orbit of European civilization by the Catholic Church. x
  • 30
    The Birth of Byzantium
    You shift to the part of the empire that lasted until 1453—the Eastern Roman Empire. Eventually it became a distinctive regime that historians call the Byzantine Empire, developing a separate foreign policy from the West and evolving into its own form of Christianity: Greek Orthodoxy. x
  • 31
    Byzantium—Crisis and Recovery
    In the early 8th century, Byzantium appeared headed toward the same fate as the Western Roman Empire. But it was saved by a new dynasty of rulers, including Leo III, who instigated iconoclasm—the rejection of religious imagery. The end of the century saw the reign of the remarkable empress Irene. x
  • 32
    Muhammad and the Rise of Islam
    The rise of Islam is the most surprising development of late antiquity. You begin with a survey of pre-Islamic Arabia. Then you turn to Muhammad and his essential teachings, concluding with a look at the situation in the Arabian peninsula on Muhammad's death in 632. x
  • 33
    The Rise of the Caliphate
    After Muhammad's death, his associates fashioned a military machine that swept from Arabia to North Africa. By the early 8th century, parts of Persia and central Asia had also been overrun. This lecture concludes with a look at some of the early caliphs, the leaders considered to be Muhammad's successors. x
  • 34
    Material Life in Late Antiquity
    How was wealth generated in the Roman imperial and post-imperial worlds? How was that wealth distributed through society? The most revealing aspect of material conditions in late antiquity is the vast disparity of incomes between the wealthy and the ordinary citizens of the Roman world. x
  • 35
    The Social World of Late Antiquity
    This lecture looks at social conditions in the regions ruled by the Romans, the barbarian kingdoms, Byzantium, and the Caliphate. The all-pervasive feature of society that was most pronounced and likely to seem strangest to modern observers centered on entrenched ideas of hierarchy. x
  • 36
    What Happened, and Why Does It Matter?
    At the end of the 8th century, how would the rulers of Byzantium, the Frankish Empire, and the Caliphate have looked back on the world of Diocletian, 500 years earlier? The answer says much about the remarkable transformations of late antiquity. You conclude with reflections on what makes this historical period distinct. x

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Your professor

Thomas F. X. Noble

About Your Professor

Thomas F. X. Noble, Ph.D.
University of Notre Dame
Dr. Thomas F. X. Noble is Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame. He earned his B.A. in History from Ohio University and his M.A. and Ph.D. in Medieval History from Michigan State University. Professor Noble has held fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and research grants from the American Philosophical Society. In 2008 he received the Edmund P. Joyce, C.S.C., Award for Excellence in...
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Reviews

Late Antiquity: Crisis and Transformation is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 63.
Rated 4 out of 5 by from DARK AGES MYTHS EXPLODED This review refers to the DVD's. The lecturer may change what you thought about a period of history taught in my undergraduate days as the "dark ages." He does it by explaining in great detail what actually went on during the period from roughly 250 AD to 800 AD based on the current scholarship. He grants credit to the contributions of the latest archaeological work among other aspects of the reevaluation of this period. The maps and other displays are extremely helpful in comprehending the momentous changes during those times. The first sixteen lectures are stimulating and thought-provoking. The next nine bog down in a too heavy emphasis on the details of religion for my taste. He redeems himself with the final eleven lectures. His two lecture explanation, included in the final eleven, of the rise of Islam and the role of Muhammad is among the finest I've encountered in either print or visual media. His description of the balance the Roman Empire (East & West) sought between security and barbarians is one of his major themes. He summed up with the period's importance to understanding the current world around us and what we can learn by knowledge of that time. Dr Noble is a dynamic lecturer who will keep one's attention. He has a slight tendency toward repetition which one just has to put up with as part of his style. I think this series is a worthwhile addition to the group dealing with this and subsequent periods leading up to the late middle ages. However, I still believe Dr Harl's 'Rome and the Barbarians' is the best initial lead-in to this period.
Date published: 2011-06-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Effective, but a Primer I still give this course very high marks because it was a fantastic course. However, if you're a student of Roman and Medieval History, you may not find anything groundbreaking in this course. Most of what was covered in this course is fairly accessible in many, even popular, historical texts. My knowledge of the Roman Empire, along with what I gained from Prof. Daileader's FANTASTIC Middle Ages courses (required, eventually, if you find yourself looking at this course), meant I'd heard much before. That said, Prof. Noble's lecture style and his obvious mastery and passion for the topic still make the course a must-hear, albeit, perhaps a little lower on your list. I also take slight umbrage with Prof. Noble's view of the fall of the Roman Empire as a peaceful transition. However, this criticism is lessened by the fact Prof. Noble doesn't attempt to drive home this view and exclude other points of view. Additionally, we don't really know how peaceful the Fall was right now, so Prof. Noble isn't playing 'fast and loose' with the facts. The bottom line - the entertainment factor of this course alone makes it a must-own, even for serious students of early medieval and late Roman history. If you don't fall into that category, buy this course immediately - and then move right on to Prof. Daileader's courses on the Middle Ages.
Date published: 2011-06-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Late Antiquity Excellent background to the so-called "Dark Ages" which shows that they were not so Dark, but subject to constant change. Professor Noble focusses significantly on the role of Christianity, as he should, and his teaching style--erudite and relatively unemotional-is never a bore. I recommend that one follows this up with the course on "Early Medieval" History. There is some overlap, but different perspectives
Date published: 2011-05-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent I learned a tremendous amount from this course and Professor Noble's presentation skills always enhanced the already meaty material. It was very well organized. It's quite a sweeping subject but he did a great job of covering it in a thorough and logical way. His treatment of various "Christian" and pagan topics was so even-handed, at the end, I truly had no idea where he stands religiously. Which is how it should be IMO.
Date published: 2011-05-07
Rated 3 out of 5 by from period from a single perspective although I enjoyed this course very much, Dr. Noble is quick and spirited in his presentation, I was diappointed by the narrowness of perspective. As Dr. Noble is a professor at Notre Dame I believe perhaps his views are tempered toward the interests of his institution, which although always true, in this case there is a very bad result; that is, late European antiquity is nothing if not a period of violent clash between emerging Nicene Christianity (which later became Catholicism) and all other beliefs (whether other forms of Christianity or more ancient forms of religion which he labeled as Pagan.) Sufice to say a Catholic who teaches this period is bound to aviod many important historical events which entirely break continuity with the original spirit of Rome...for example, he does not mention that Theodisus made belief in any religion other than Nicene Christianity criminal, and that for example Theodosius outlawed the Olympic Games on which Hellenistic (and therefore later Latin) Calendars had been based for nearly a thousand years). He admitts, as does Gibons, that the emergence of the new religions (Nicene Christianity and Islam) cause the single biggest change through out the late antiquity period, and he admitts that intolerance characterizes the new religions and tolerance the old, but he does not put these two inferences together, e.g. the splintering of civilized Meditarranean world was largely caused by the new religions which enflamed intolerance and dramatically fragmented ethic identity and culture, ergo, Christianity was a major cause, if not the greatest cause of the decline and fragmentation of Meditarranean civilization and culture in the late antiquity period. If one connects the dots which he does not from his own data; we would arrive at a very different interpretation than he wants to direct us. Again, I believe this is an excellent course only one should not rely on it alone. A helpful antidote to its biases would be listening to the course on the Italian Renaissance, from Dr. Kenneth R. Bartlett, directly after the Late Antiquity course. To put these two courses side by side makes ones head spin! It seems the Orthodox Christians still do not accept the existence of the Renaissance; and the best way to under cut this is to claim that the Middle Ages ("Dark Ages" from the point of view of freedom of belief) never occured - which seems to be the logical extension of Dr. Noble's interpretation, although his data seems to lead one to other possibilities.
Date published: 2011-02-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An excellent political history of late antiquity Professor Noble does an excellent job of covering a great deal of material in a relatively short period of time. I found the opening lectures to be extremely well organized and presented. This course doesn't really function well as an introduction to the period, however- I would recommend listening to Professor Harl's Rome and the Barbarians, Professor Fagan's History of Ancient Rome, and Professor Daileader's Early Middle Ages course. This course builds on the material presented in those courses and lets us see it from a dispassionate vantage point. Professor Noble rightly views the religious transformations that took place between 200 and 700 CE to be the central theme of this period. However, I found his treatment of this material to be the weakest part of the course. How did the rise of Christianity and Islam affect people on a day-to-day basis? What was the impact of instituting the work week, for instance? What remained constant in rural lands that were only nominally converted? This course could easily have been expanded to 48 courses and still have retained my interest. The one lecture dealing with material culture really only scratched the surface of the issue, and the consequences of this were the most interesting to a modern historian. What are the consequences of the migrations, wars, and ideological changes of this period for average people? To say that one area was, on the whole, better off or worse off is to say nothing. Did the death of cities free up the resources of Gallic countryside? Was this the basis of French wealth in the middle ages? What role did the constant internecine warfare of the barbarian kingdoms play in the day to day life of the peasant or merchant?
Date published: 2010-12-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic Course and Instructor This is a wonderful course concerning a period of time, about which little is known, that significantly impacted Western Civilization. Professor Noble is fantastic - he makes extensive use of maps and pictures to bring one into the period. One can see from his enthusiasm, that he really loves his subject and wants to share his understanding with others. When I finished the course I was somewhat sad - because it was OVER. Professor Noble understands that his students might forget a detail that was discussed in a previous lecture and he has the ability to remind one without being insulting. I don't think Pedantic is in this guy's vocabulary. If you are interested in learning about this time in history, please consider this course. I purchased another Teaching company product (The Early Middle Ages) which covers roughly the same period of time (give or take 200 years on the back end). It is an OK course and if I could only buy one, having seen both, I'd go for Late Antiquity.
Date published: 2010-07-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Noble Indeed! My first Dr, Noble course. Certainly not my last. He is great. The course, each lecture is extremely well organized. His knowledge of the subject matter is formidable. A wry wit and love of teaching makes him another star in the TTC stable. More to his course than I expected: a great deal of theology, as well as a very entertaining flow of history. The raison dente of the course being; a new paradigm, with which to see the end of the classical age. EXCELLENT, MUST PURCHASE.
Date published: 2010-06-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Noble Does It Again! Francis Noble, History Chair at Notre Dame, is one of the finest TC Professors. His course on Western Civ is the foundation to any TC program on Western history, and is a masterpiece. This course is even better. Here, he focuses on an extraordinarily important period of Western history that is almost always misunderstood and/or ignored. He very clearly chops away all the hoary misconceptions and fairy tales about the so-called fall of the Roman Empire and the subsequent period leading into the full Middle Ages. For example, did you know that many "barbarian" leaders were actually given military titles by either the Eastern or Western Emperors, or that their heirs were sometimes raised at the Imperial court in Constantinople, or that the real end of imperial rule in Italy was a consequence of Justinian's wars in the Italian peninsula??? There are practically no books that cover this period of history in any degree of completeness or correctness. Noble does a superb job of carefully laying out the various cultures (Roman, Greek, Byzantine, Goth, Visigoth,Frank, Muslim,...) and their leaders and people, and the way they all interact. This is a very complex and wide-ranging topic. There are times when Noble seems to be hop-scotching from Spain to Constantinople and back to France by way of North Africa. Rest assured, by the time he has finished his perambulations, you will see exactly what is going on politically, culturally, and militarily, not to mention what's going on with Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Your approach to the history of the Middle Ages will be permanently modified by what you learn in this fascinating course!!! Five stars aren't enough. I wish he'd write a book on this subject!
Date published: 2010-06-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Joy To Listen To One of their best courses. This course presents both a revolution in though during the last half century, as new views of this time period were accepted and found valuable, and tells the story of that period. Although this is a lot to accomplish in 36 lectures, the course never feels rushed. To take the course, you should have a copy of the chronology with you -- because the lectures treat areas geographically rather than chronologically you need to keep track of whether the professor is talking about times before 507 or after, before the rise of Islam or after, and the like. I think you will find the course fascinating and valuable.
Date published: 2010-02-16
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Transformation, not decline I guess the first thing to say about this course concerns the title. There tend to be two schools of thought with regard to the later Roman empire or late antiquity: that it was a period of decline, fall, collapse, even catastrophe or one of transformation, evolution, change, even triumph. This course is pretty firmly in the latter camp. I think because the story Professor Noble is mainly interested in is the triumph of Christianity. In that respect, at least, the onward and upward thesis makes sense. (A nice corrective to the tone of this course, by the way, is the book by Ward-Perkins described in the bibliography as a "classic catastrophist account." It's a quick read and puts forward a very different argument from the one presented here.) I think it would help if you know a bit about the subject first before tackling this one (and a number of other TC courses cover large portions of the same ground, including the World of Byzantium and Early Middle Ages courses), since there are times when the presentation has the feel of a dash through the material. In particular the political narrative sometimes turns into a fast recitation of names and dates that it is hopeless to try and remember. The course is better on cultural matters and the history of the early Christian church and the church fathers. Professor Noble even seems to have a bit of a chip on his shoulder about the neglect early church writings have suffered at the hands of historians. I can't say I'm sympathetic to this point of view, but Professor Noble does make the case for their importance. Overall, I felt the course did a good job drawing together a complex and wide-ranging story. I have to say I came away unconvinced by the main thesis (I'm more of a catastrophist, and don't think much of early Christian theology), but I always found the lectures interesting and intellectually provocative. I also found the course stands up well on repeated viewings. In fact I think I enjoyed it more the second time around then I did the first.
Date published: 2009-11-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Bringing the Dark Ages into the Light Like most general readers of history, I had only a cursory understanding of the era known as the Dark Ages (roughly from the end of the Western Roman Empire in 476 AD to the Battle of Hastings 1066 AD). In this course. Professor Noble eschews that misleading phrase and instead illuminates the period of "Late Antiquity," from the reign of the Roman emperor Diocletian (284 AD) through the accession of Charlemagne (800 AD). Professor Noble covers the tremendous changes that occurred over this 500 year period: the slow dissolution of the western Roman Empire and the rise of the Byzantine empire; the gradual disappearance of paganism and the ascendence of Christianity; and lastly the sudden rise of Islam and the Caliphate. The first half of the course addresses the challenges facing the Roman empire and the development of barbarian kingdoms in Spain, Gaul, and the Balkans. The last half of the course emphasizes the emergence to two great religions, early Christianity and then Islam, and puts them in context with contemporary political, social, economic, and military events. Professor Noble is an accomplished lecturer and a pleasant companion for the 18 hours that you will spend with him. His presentations are supplemented on the DVD version by maps that aid in understanding military movements and new political boundaries. This course, when taken with three other Teaching Company courses -- Prof. Garrett Fagan's "History of Rome"; Dr. Tuck's "Experiencing Rome"; and Professor Kenneth Harls "Rome and the Barbarians" -- form a more or less complete overview of the Roman Empire and the beginning of modern Europe.
Date published: 2009-10-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Magnificent Course for Anyone Prof. Noble is an excellent, engaging, knowledgable, enthusiastic, and remarkably organized speaker. In addition, the subject matter is key to any understanding of Western Civilization, covering in remarkable detail and depth the transformation of the late Roman Empire into the world of the Early Middle Ages. The subject is also absolutely fascinating in itself, despite the relatively recent recognition of its importance by the historical academy. Further, as far as possible given the limited sources in some areas, Prof. Noble covers the traditional history of great men/women and events while also presenting what can be known about the rest of us. One of the finest TC courses in any field - highly recommended for anyone with any interest in humanity, culture, and history.
Date published: 2009-09-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A breathakingly good course I had Prof. Noble's introductory course on Western Civilization, which I rated at 5 across the board. I bought this as soon as I saw that it was released and loved it. Prof. Noble is a passionate and inspirational teacher, and he provides an excellent mix of detail while maintaining a clear flow of the story. If you have any interest in antiquity and the transformation to the modern world, you'll enjoy this course.
Date published: 2009-08-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Teaching vs Lecturing Dr. Noble is representative of an effective style of classroom presentation. By sharing knowledge in a conversational style he eschews the old style of lecturing by the rules and embraces students to share in the learning process. Bravo. This keeps the learner engaged and sharing an experience with an educator who knows how to organize the subject matter, communicate effectively, impart knowledge, stretch the mind while demonstrating a passion for teaching.
Date published: 2009-07-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good, but not great I purchased this course (audio version) because this time period covered one of my weakest areas. Professor Noble does an adequate job, and speaks clearly. My major issues involve repetition of tired words and phrases. Long ago, a professor once told me that the words 'very,' 'interesting," and 'basically' are weak and empty, and should almost always be avoided when writing or speaking. If I could get 25 cents for each time Dr. Noble used these words, I could have more than paid for the price of his course. But his lectures were 'basically very interesting.'
Date published: 2009-06-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brilliant, Engaging, and Illuminating The fact that Dr. Noble is a brilliant lecturer who has a masterful grasp on his material and is able to present it in a manner that is smooth, entertaining, and yet rich in relevant detail makes this an outstanding course. The two-fold argument he advanced, (1) that the barbarians were not only friendly towards the Romans but were their heirs and, in some instances, the greatest promoters of the Roman life and (2) that both the Western and Eastern branches of the Roman Empire were thoroughly Christianized in time was very, very persuasive. Noble dethrones the old, tired idea that the Roman Empire 'fell' in the 400s. He demonstrates how it flourished for centuries after this period. It was a most illuminating lesson. Recently, I visited a home where the mother was teaching her children about the Fall of the Roman Empire. I was so pleased to suggest that she consider another, more probable view. Thanks Dr. Noble and TLC! This was a very enjoyable learning experience.
Date published: 2009-04-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Ties Antiquity to the Middle Ages This course was excellent. I completed it between Emporers of Rome and The Middle Ages Set. It was perfect to summarize my learning on Rome and then set the stage for the middle ages. Recommended
Date published: 2009-04-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent An excellent review of this tumultous period which provides a much needed basis to the unfolding of the Western European History. Prof. Noble presents the sometimes highly confusing events in a very clear and structured way. His expression is very clear and understandable even for a non native english speaker, so that it is easy to follow the lectures. The narrative motive in some lectures is a little bit tiring (espescially the lecture on Rome and Constantinople) and the analytic part comes short. Prof. Noble description of the development of Christianilty and its cultural impact are superb. Unfortunately Prof. Noble did not address Gibbon's claim that Christianism undernmined the Roman mental stamina. Overall theis series of lectures is highly educative and enjoyable. Well done.
Date published: 2009-03-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Refreshing Perspective Finally a break from the "Gibbons based" perspective with which we are all familiar. No more nasty barbarians in horned helmets dragging the civilized world into the "Dark Ages" but a refreshing view of Late Antiquity showing it as a time of culture, development and change. Easily one of the best history courses and up to the standard set by Prof. Noble in his other presentations. You can't go wrong with any course by this gentleman.
Date published: 2009-02-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Worthwhile and well done The first strength of this course is the topic itself. While it was common to think of this period in history as the "Dark Ages", we are treated to an "illuminating" discussion of the history "in-between" the classical and medieval world. Noble takes the position of "continuity" tracing developments (for example, the expansion of Christianity, diversity and unity among the "Barbarians" example, and the importance of the Byzantine Empire) which were far from stagnant. His use of the word "late antiquity" further promotes the concept of a unified history. He begins with a lectures on Rome and to begin the thread and contextualize the roots of medievalism found there. This is, to me, quite significant, because it promotes an awareness of roughly 500 years of civilization that had generally been places in "nowhere", when in fact many institutions were alive, growing, and influencing the future. His lecture style is clear, well-organized, and with some sense of humor. His intellectual perspective provides a unique, an much needed view of human history.
Date published: 2009-01-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Top of the line Of some 30 Teachnig Company courses I have listened to, almost all of which are of very, very high quality, this is one of the very best. The topic is interesting to anyone interested in history. Professor Noble's informal and chatty style combine with his erudite knowledge and an ability to simplify and organize complex material to make this a great course for anyone.
Date published: 2009-01-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Different Way of Viewing the Early Middle Ages Nearly everyone, it would appear, believes that Gibbon has written the final word on the early medieval period in his mammoth Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. But Dr. Noble takes a different view. Suggesting the Gibbon's perspective betrayed an Enlightenment bias against Christianity, Noble demonstrates the richness of this period in the works of Augustine and the early church fathers. He suggests that this period, rather than being a dark age, was an age of rich scholarship and even breakthrough in such diverse areas as the arts and laws. His discussion of the Barbarians is one of the best I've heard. This is certainly one of the finest history courses offered by the Teaching Company. Highly recommended!
Date published: 2009-01-03
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