Living History: Experiencing Great Events of the Ancient and Medieval Worlds

Course No. 3843
Professor Robert Garland, Ph.D.
Colgate University
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Course No. 3843
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Course Overview

Macedonia, 336 B.C.E. King Philip II is murdered under mysterious circumstances amid a cloud of intrigue.

Constantinople, 532 C.E. The Byzantine Emperor Justinian nearly abandons the city to an angry mob until his wife, Theodora, persuades him to stay.

France, 1095 C.E. Pope Urban II gives a speech that inspires thousands of his subjects to embark on a crusade to Jerusalem.

Time and again, moments shape history. We often examine history from a distant vantage, zooming in on a few dates and kings and battles, or spotlighting faceless trends and general themes. But history is made up of individuals who were as alive in their time as we are today. Pausing on a few key individuals and magnifying specific moments in their lives allows us to experience history in a whole new way—as a vibrant story, full of life.

Living History: Great Events of the Ancient and Medieval Worlds takes you back in time and throws a spotlight on two dozen turning points where the tide of history changes irrevocably. Taught by acclaimed Professor Robert Garland of Colgate University, these 24 dramatic lectures examine key events from ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome to medieval Europe and Asia. Spanning thousands of years and three continents, this course illuminates fascinating historical dramas on the individual scale.

More than covering great events that change the contours of history, Professor Garland takes you into the scene and allows you to hear what he terms the “heartbeat of history.” Rather than merely reviewing the facts of events such as the Battle of Marathon, the arrest and trial of Jesus, and the coronation of Charlemagne, you’ll engage with a variety of first-hand accounts and authentic primary and secondary sources to experience what it was like to live these events as they occurred. From reports by historians such as Herodotus and Livy to official scrolls and administrative records, these eyewitness sources and ancient documents take you back in time through the eyes of people who were there.

Through a blend of historical facts and imaginative reasoning, Living History: Great Events of the Ancient and Medieval Worlds offers you the chance to meet the actors and witness the great events as they occur. Professor Garland breaks down these turning points to days and even hours so you will truly feel like a participant in stories hundreds or thousands of years old—but still in a vibrant and fascinating world.

Meet Extraordinary Men and Women

In your tour of the ancient and medieval worlds, Professor Garland introduces you to some of the most captivating and enigmatic characters to have ever lived. You see Hannibal, Julius Caesar, Charlemagne, and others as energetic, charismatic leaders who were complex and flawed people, by turns admirable and brutal, circumspect and brazenly power-hungry. Whether we view them as heroes or villains, they are fascinating.

There is perhaps no better example than Alexander the Great. Educated by Aristotle, a brilliant military tactician, and relentless in pursuit of his goals, he was also a paranoid megalomaniac with a desire for grandeur and a violent temper. These facets of his personality all come to bear on the moment when his army has had enough and refuses to march further into India. Witness how Alexander must back down while still saving face.

You’ll also encounter some extraordinary women and watch them defying the rules to make their mark on world history:

  • Observe how Cleopatra uses her charms, intelligence, and theatrical ability to achieve unprecedented influence in political affairs—and how her relationship with Mark Antony eventually enables Octavian to become the undisputed ruler of the Roman world.
  • Reflect on how Theodora, at one time a mime and possibly a prostitute, climbs her way up the social ladder to become the wife of a socially conservative emperor.
  • Meet Wu Zetian, a classically educated concubine who eventually becomes China’s first female empress, doing much during her reign to establish a meritocracy and improve the lives of her subjects.

Professor Garland also explores the lives of a wealth of key philosophical and religious figures, from the secular wisdom of Socrates to the deeds of Jesus and Muhammad to the breathtaking spiritual conversions of Ashoka the Great and the Grand Duke Vladimir, founder of the Russian Orthodox Church.

See How History Often Turns on a Moment

Beyond the people, what makes an event “great” often lies in its consequences. Hundreds or thousands of years have passed since the events of this course, yet we feel their rippling effects. When Pyrrhus marched his Greek army toward Rome, he had dreams of making his mark on the world’s stage, but his “victory”—and subsequent withdrawal—paved the way for Rome to supplant Greece as the dominant global power. Or consider Pontius Pilate’s decision to offer Jesus up for crucifixion to please the crowd, even though he likely believed Jesus innocent of the charges brought against him—the events resulting from his choice have resonated over millennia.

Quick decisions, a victory, a defeat, an impulse: these small moments shape history. One of the joys of this course is that in examining these moments, Professor Garland also reflects on contingencies. What if Charles Martel had not defeated the Muslim invaders at the Battle of Tours? Would Europe have become a largely Muslim continent? Or, what if Theodora had not urged her husband Justinian to stand firm and not flee when the angry mob at the hippodrome in Constantinople was baying for his blood? Would the Byzantine Empire have come to an abrupt end one hot afternoon? Reflecting on these contingencies makes clear the myriad ways in which the ancient and medieval worlds have made us who we are today.

View History through the Eyes of Ordinary People

Professor Garland is an amazingly empathetic lecturer, passionate about history and the people who lived it. Perhaps his greatest strength is taking you into the minds of ordinary citizens. While you have likely heard some of the stories in this course before, his approach sheds new light on such events as the first theatrical presentation of Aeschylus’s Oresteia and the trial of Socrates. Both of these events reveal the way the Athenian democracy functioned at moments of unease and crisis.

Imagine the thoughts of Muslim envoy Ibn Fadlan, coming from cosmopolitan Baghdad in the 10th century, upon arriving in the wild territories of Central Asia. Or picture yourself in the crowd when Pericles or Pope Urban II gives an inspirational speech extolling the glory of Athens or Christendom. Would you be moved by the swell of the crowd and the enthusiasm of the day?

Witnessing these moments as a participant—slowing down to hear the “heartbeat of history”—is a captivating way of reflecting on the past. Living History: Great Events of the Ancient and Medieval Worlds takes you inside the hearts and minds of those who lived through fascinating human dramas—a novel approach to history you won’t find anywhere else.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 31 minutes each
  • 1
    Ramesses II: Heartbeat of History
    What do we mean by "living history"? Take an imaginative leap into the ancient world and discover the moment-by-moment heartbeat of history. Your first stop is the Battle of Kadesh, the Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses II's all-but-disastrous campaign against the Hittites. See how the king spins a tactical retreat into a glorious victory. x
  • 2
    Marathon: The Persians Have Landed!
    Professor Garland takes you into the Battle of Marathon to show how the outnumbered Athenians scramble for help before heading to the coast for an impressive fight against the invading Persians. The Athenian debates, their surprise running charge into battle, and the strenuous marches come to life in visceral detail. x
  • 3
    Oresteia: Judgment at the Dionysia
    Take a break from battle and head to the Theater of Dionysis on a warm March day to view one of the most astounding theatrical performances in history. Not only is Aeschylus's Oresteia an innovative dramatic trilogy, the trial of Orestes is a deeply relevant consideration of Athenian democracy at a time of great unease. x
  • 4
    Attack on Attica: Pericles's Gamble
    Delve into the time of Pericles and the Peloponnesian War, where political action has required rural citizens to head into the city. There, the cramped urban conditions and pestilence breeds disaffection among the citizenry. Hear what Pericles had to say to inspire Athenians for the continued glory of the city. x
  • 5
    Socrates on Trial: For the Defense
    You might think you know Socrates, but in this lecture you'll encounter a whole new context for understanding one of the Greeks' most famous citizens. In the wake of the Peloponnesian War, tension lingers following the overthrow of an oligarchy in Athens, and the democratic population is in search of a fall guy. See how Socrates fits the bill. x
  • 6
    Conspiracy! Murder of Philip II
    Murder has always intrigued us, especially when the fate of a state hangs in the balance. Explore the mystery of Philip II of Macedonia, who is murdered amid a wedding celebration in 336 B.C.E. Is he killed by a jilted lover? A jealous wife? An ambitious son? This lecture takes you into Macedonian court life and considers the possible motives and social intrigue. x
  • 7
    Alexander the Great: Punjab Revolt
    Alexander is one of history's most interesting characters-a brilliant, flawed, complex leader. A restless megalomaniac tutored by Aristotle, he drives his army across the ancient world to conquer one land after another until they reach northeast India. There, his army revolts and forces him to retreat. Get inside the head of this fascinating leader. x
  • 8
    Pyrrhus: Deadly Dreams of Empire
    The Greeks had a tremendous run on the world stage, but their dominion arguably comes to an end the moment Pyrrhus sets sail for Italy. Although he is "victorious" in his conquest against the Romans, his withdrawals pave the way for Rome to come to the fore as the next great world power. See what drives Pyrrhus forward, and what holds him back. x
  • 9
    India's Ashoka the Great Repents
    Meet Ashoka the Great, whose story was all but forgotten until his carved edicts were unearthed in the 19th century. As leader of India, he leads a bloody charge into the neighboring province of Kalinga-but guilt from the battle drives him toward a transformative conversion. For the rest of his reign, he serves as a paragon of Buddhist morality. x
  • 10
    Hannibal: Rome Holds Its Breath
    Hannibal, the great Carthaginian general, is one of the most remarkable military leaders of all time. During the Punic Wars he led his army to an astounding tactical victory against the Romans, and then held the defeated soldiers captive for ransom. Destiny hung in the balance as Rome awaited Hannibal's expected advance against the city. x
  • 11
    The Final Days of Julius Caesar
    Continue your study of some of history's most enigmatic characters with a look at Julius Caesar, whose infamous murder on the Ides of March ranks as one of the most consequential assassinations. Professor Garland introduces you to Caesar's character before walking you through the conspiracy of that fateful day. x
  • 12
    Antony and Cleopatra's Death Pact
    In the wake of Caesar's assassination, power hangs in the balance as Mark Antony squares off against Octavian for sole control of Rome's empire. When the tide of the Battle of Actium turns against Mark Antony, his lover Cleopatra flees-and he decides to follow her, leaving the future of Rome to Octavian. Examine this decision and the tragedy that ensues for both Antony and Cleopatra. x
  • 13
    Jesus under Surveillance and Arrest
    Travel to the Roman province of Judea, where a humble carpenter has entered Jerusalem during the Passover. The city is seething with political and religious discontent, and Jesus is seen as a troublemaker. Witness his arrest and interrogation by the priests and Pontius Pilate, and consider Pilate's decision to put Jesus to death. x
  • 14
    Jerusalem Tinderbox: Temple in Flames
    Continue your exploration of Jerusalem, this time around 66 C.E., when the city's political turmoil reaches it peak. An insurgency rises up over taxes, and the ensuing Roman siege sparks a civil war. At the end of the Great Jewish Revolt, the city is in ruins, the Temple has been burned, and the Romans crucify thousands of Jewish prisoners. x
  • 15
    Roman Colosseum: Blood in the Arena
    Visit the newly finished Roman amphitheater circa 80 C.E., where the emperor Titus will celebrate the consolidation of his family's dynasty by hosting 100 days of gladiatorial games. Bloodthirsty and vicious, the spectacle is nonetheless captivating. After learning about the Colosseum's engineering, you'll experience what it was like to be there for the games. x
  • 16
    Visigoth King Alaric Descends on Rome
    On occasion, individual personalities shape large contours of history. Such is the case with King Alaric, the charismatic leader of the Visigoths, who conquers many Roman outposts before laying siege to the city itself. His victories don't conclude with the end of Rome, but it's clear the city's power is in decline. x
  • 17
    Nika Riots at the Racetrack: Theodora
    Head east to Constantinople, seat of the Byzantine Empire and the eastern counterpart to Rome. During a day of chariot races at the hippodrome, riots break out and threaten the Emperor Justinian and his politically savvy wife, Theodora. Learn about this unorthodox marriage and how Theodora's counsel ultimately saves the empire. x
  • 18
    The Concubine Empress: Wu Zetian
    Wu Zetian's story is one of the most remarkable in all of history. She entered adulthood as a classically educated concubine during China's Tang Dynasty, and then worked her way up the social ladder to marry an emperor. Professor Garland charts her rise and shows how her success hinges on the mystery surrounding a child's death. x
  • 19
    Muhammad's Awakening and Escape
    Witness the founding of Islam by entering the world of Mecca in 622, where a prosperous businessman named Muhammad has a revelation that changes the course of history. Learn about his conversion and his journey to Medina. There he builds a community that will soon spread around the globe. x
  • 20
    Charles Martel Defeats the Muslims
    Take the battlefield in one of the most decisive battles ever fought between Muslims and Europeans. In the century after Muhammad, Islam's spread seemed unstoppable until the disastrous Battle of Toulouse followed by the Battle of Tours, in which Charles Martel, leader of the Franks, defeats the Muslim invaders. x
  • 21
    Culture Shock! Travels of Ibn Fadlan
    Follow the Abbasid Caliphate's administrator, Ibn Fadlan, as he travels from cosmopolitan Baghdad to the rustic wilds of central Asia. He brings money and instructions to King Almis of the Volga Bulgars, who has recently converted to Islam. Then he visits the Slavic Rus tribe for a bizarre and fascinating encounter. x
  • 22
    Vladimir Smashes the Idols of the Rus
    Observe the marriage of Vladimir, the Grand Duke of Kiev, to Princess Anna, the sister to Byzantine Emperor Basil II, a deal brokered so Vladimir will send mercenary troops to Constantinople. Following the wedding, Vladimir makes it his mission to convert his land to Christianity by fiat and suppress paganism, thus founding the Russian Orthodox Church. x
  • 23
    Charlemagne Saves Leo III, Rogue Pope
    Pope Leo III is something of a rascal, possibly a philanderer, and involved in shady business deals. See how his relationship with Charlemagne, king of the Franks, keeps him out of trouble with the Vatican Council and how he alters the course of history when he crowns Charlemagne during a nativity mass, thus giving birth to the notion of "Europe." x
  • 24
    Urban II Unleashes the First Crusade
    Again and again, we see how history turns on a dime. Your journey ends in Avignon in 1095, when Pope Urban II gives a speech that shapes the next thousand years of European history. After calling the people to action, thousands take up arms and begin the long trek to fight the Muslims and retake Jerusalem. x

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  • 24 lectures on 4 DVDs
  • 200-page printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
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  • 200-page printed course guidebook
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  • Questions to consider

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Your professor

Robert Garland

About Your Professor

Robert Garland, Ph.D.
Colgate University
Dr. Robert S.J. Garland is the Roy D. and Margaret B. Wooster Professor of the Classics at Colgate University. He earned his B.A. in Classics from Manchester University, his M.A. in Classics from McMaster University, and his Ph.D. in Ancient History from University College London. A former Fulbright Scholar and recipient of the George Grote Ancient History Prize, Professor Garland has educated students and audiences at a...
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Reviews

Living History: Experiencing Great Events of the Ancient and Medieval Worlds is rated 4.3 out of 5 by 37.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another Superb One From This Professor I decided to go through it again and am struck afresh by the side explanations and added perspectives this great researcher/lecturer's work. I have another of his talks and it too was notably great. In both, he makes figures in distant history human and long-ago events seem recent. He is one of your top three or four perhaps. But I fear shorting other superb lecturers, so many to choose from. The lecturer of Spain was wonderful, the Great Battles....was such. And....on and on.
Date published: 2018-07-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from loved this This was the second course of Dr. Garland's that I purchased and I just love how engaging he is. Obviously this course is about "great events" so they are all exciting and turning points in history, but Dr. Garland really brings these moments to life.
Date published: 2017-10-10
Rated 1 out of 5 by from I prefer clear lines between fact and assumptions The speaker presents some figures with significant bias. He coats some rotten cherries with a thick layer of chocolate. He clearly has a high regard for some individuals and glosses over or justifies actions of those he favors. I like more fact and less opinion or a clear statement that one has a bias.
Date published: 2017-07-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Will add this lecturer to among my favorites. The lecturer has chosen topics that have long been of interest to me, but nevertheless, he brings new insights to each one. He captures my attention throughout every lecture with his speaking style and content.
Date published: 2017-04-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Living History Robert Garlands approach to presenting history is unique and engaging. Check out his courses.
Date published: 2016-12-30
Rated 2 out of 5 by from We're losing the patient, doctor! The Heartbeat of History! Oh my, this charged introduction inspires the armchair historian to prepare his mind for immediate insertion into the pivotal moments of history, to stand next to Xerxes, Alexander or any number of conquering generals, kings and other heroic figures! Alas, this is more akin to "The Slow Methodical Digestion of History". The fire was rapidly extinguished, the luster gone and the swords rusted. The professor wowed me with one of his other offerings about Daily Life in the Ancient World. His charm and ability to make you feel as though you could relate to the "other side" of history was infectious! In this course, he plods through history in a dull, monotonous walk. At times, I lost interest, at times I felt like I was hearing absolutely nothing new. His speech habits, quirky and charming in a previous course, were a serious detraction in this offering. I wish I could recommend this course, but there is nothing new here. Rather than detecting the heartbeat of history, this course flat-lined!
Date published: 2016-11-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Living History in Context This course represents the method in which history should be viewed and taught. All historical events have a certain background and context. Professor Garland is expert in highlighting factors in which these historical characters and events occur the context of ancient & medieval history. His delivery is excellent. His topics are highly informative. I would also highly recommend his course on "The other side of history". You will not be disappointed.
Date published: 2016-11-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Challenging Goal Achieved Professor Garland’s ‘Living History’ course was engaging as well as informative. It filled in many gaps for me in knowledge accumulated from other courses I’ve taken and history books I’ve read. Best of all, I felt that Dr. Garland met his self-assigned objective of making history ‘come alive’ for his viewers/students. In my youth, I enjoyed the television programme ‘You Are There,’ hosted by Walter Cronkite, which did attempt something similar without succeeding quite as well as did Dr. Garland. Though I ordinarily expect a history course to focus on one part of the world and to present information chronologically, I found I could enjoy Dr. Garland’s very different collage-like presentation of twenty-four pivotal events as a welcome departure from the usual. Each of the lectures in this set could have ‘stood alone.’ I commend Dr. Garland for his evidently thorough preparation of material. He seemed to know exactly what he wanted to include in each lesson and how to word it dramatically and eloquently. When there was inconclusive or minimal substantive evidence in the historical record to verify a theory or speculation that he wanted to express, he admitted straightforwardly just what was speculative. The only disappointments I experienced while viewing the ‘Living History’ course relate to my belief that the visual accompaniments to Dr. Garland’s lectures should have been better than they were. For one thing, a number of stock photos were overused, in my opinion—surely a greater variety of images or paintings of someone like Julius Caesar, for example, could have been located. Other unidentified images that formed a backdrop behind the professor were vivid and distracting, while also being somewhat obscured by a ‘honeycomb’ pattern that was itself distracting. Place names, personal names, dates, some quotations, and key words that Dr. Garland mentioned were sometimes highlighted by the appearance of these spelled out on screen, which was generally a good idea; but it became distracting and even silly when single simple words such as ‘yes’ and ‘king’ floated into view beside the professor.
Date published: 2016-11-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Zard review: Events of Ancient & Medieval Worlds I apologize but as usual I have nothing but high praise for another "Great Course". This is a series of lectures where the direction of history can turn on a dime. By and large most of the events that Professor Garland chooses are brought about by individuals who through their actions causes a sharp turn in the direction the world is running. People like Socrates, Alexander the Great, Jesus, Muhammad, Caesar, Charles Martel, etc. All of the people and events are told in the engaging style of Garland. He takes you right there for a front seat view. You feel like you are in his living room enjoying a great story. The only negative is that this is the second course i have received where you are not presented with a segment breakdown within the chapters that you can jump into for review or continuation. You have to resort to jumping by track through the DVD which works but is a little cheesy. They must be trying to save money.
Date published: 2016-08-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Spellbinding! I know very little about ancient history - nothing except what I've heard from my husband who has studied it. But I saw a preview of this course & knew I had to have it. I have watched only the first two lectures, but am finding it absolutely spellbinding. I can't wait to start lecture 3, but want to let myself digest the second one first. Professor Garland has a fascinating approach to history and I can't wait to watch all his courses. Thank you Great Courses!
Date published: 2016-08-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great ideas and presentation We always find this professor to be engaging and his lectures to be informative and lively.
Date published: 2016-06-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from very interesting in this admittedly a bit idiosyncratic overwiew, I learned a lot about ancient history. Professor garland is very gifted in presenting in a condensed and thrilling way turning Points of the ancient world.I was sad as the course ended, ist one of the best-i have over 80 in the meantime- courses I came upon. I hope very much, that other courses by Professor garland will be made available in the future. highly recommended.
Date published: 2016-04-19
Rated 3 out of 5 by from At least one historical innacuracy. I bought this course mainly for the chapter about Justinian and especially Theodora, whom I admire. I was disappointed. The lecture claims that Theodora was 16 and Justinian at least double her age, and she was a performer of lascivious acts at the time of their meeting. According to Gibbon, Antony Bridge and Charles Diehl, they met after 522, when Theodora was already a mother and her public salacious performances were behind her. It is an important historical detail.
Date published: 2016-04-16
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Difficult Review This course covers twenty-four significant events in ancient and medieval history with the goal of making the listener feel present at the event. I have gone back and forth whether to give this a positive or negative review. There are aspects of the course that I really like—the professor selected a mix of interesting historic events and provided an often exciting description of what took place. On the other hand, the professor often inserted personal opinions and sometimes snarky comments that were distracting at times. With this criticism noted, I still appreciated the professor's enthusiasm. I also feel like I learned something from each lesson, which is how I ultimately try to judge courses like this. So, I have to give this a somewhat mixed review—not a bad course but not as great as some other history classes I have taken through the Great Courses. Since the professor only spends thirty minutes on each topic while running through a couple thousand years of history, I would not recommend this class for a beginning history student. I majored in history in college and have read many history books, so I had a good background for the lectures. Someone missing that background might have difficulty understanding all aspects of the course or could be confused.
Date published: 2016-04-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Completely surprised by how much I enjoyed it I was scrolling through the courses available through my subscription to The Great Courses Plus, and decided to watch it on a whim. I'd never studied any ancient history before, so this was a completely new subject area for me. It took me a little time to get used to Professor Garland's speaking style and presentation, but after a couple of lectures I was hooked. He is a wonderful storyteller and obviously enjoys sharing his enthusiasm for his field of study. In fact, I liked this course so much that I ended up buying it for myself. And it has inspired me to take other courses on ancient history. So I highly recommend it.
Date published: 2016-03-29
Rated 2 out of 5 by from A Selective Review of Obscure Newsworthy Events High marks go to Professor Robert Garland's skills and knowledge as a scholar and teacher of the times and people in the ancient world. He is enthusiastic, learned, and extremely well-versed in his subject. I'm sure his in-person lectures in the classics at Colgate are equally entertaining. However, I found this series of 24 lectures to be curiously disjointed. With all respect to the professor, I think this course could better be titled "Garland's Personal Favorite Events in the Ancient World." lt would have been better if he had actual first person accounts of these events, but much of what is cited as authoritarian was written decades if not centuries after the event took place. I found no connectivity between lectures as, for example, the viewer was whisked from a lecture on 6th century Byzantine intrigue to an account of a totally obscure court concubine who rose to become a Chinese Empress. As much as I enjoyed his Daily Life in the Ancient World, the tales of everyday Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and early Europeans, this course left me lacking and I cannot recommend it.
Date published: 2016-02-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Key Moments in Antiquity: An Intimate Recounting This course is a welcome complement to Professor Garland’s earlier, more comprehensive course on an integrated history of Greece and Rome. After an opening lecture on the battle of Kadesh in 1285 BCE, which launched the reputation of the young Pharaoh Rameses II, today regarded as the most illustrious of ancient Egypt’s rulers, two-thirds of this course deals with critical moments or periods in the lives of several of the most famous persons of the Greco-Roman world, including Socrates, Pericles, Alexander the Great, Hannibal, Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, and Jesus. The balance of the course treats major events and turning points involving leading characters of the medieval world, including Muhammad and the birth of Islam in the 620s; Charles Martel, saving France from a Muslim invasion in 732; his grandson, Charlemagne, crowned the first Holy Roman Emperor in 800, thus reviving the controversial reign of Pope Leo III; and Pope Urban II’s fiery speeches that launched the first Crusade in 1095. Also featured are other key figures lesser known in the West, such as Wu Zetian, the only female Chinese emperor and a former concubine; the Visigoth King Alaric who sacked Rome in 410, effectively spelling the end of the Roman Empire in the west; and Vladimir the Great, ruler of what is now Ukraine, who in the late 10th century converted to Christianity and actively spread his new religion over paganism throughout western Asia. What makes this course a winner for aficionados of ancient and medieval history is Professor Garland’s engaging and enthusiastic presentation, bringing to life and humanizing more than a score of history’s titanic figures, often at their most vulnerable moments. It will be especially appreciated by those with prior knowledge of this field and those who have benefited from other Great Courses in this area. Dr. Garland’s flair for the dramatic enhances his exceptionally well-informed narrative, as does his fluid delivery in a posh British accent.
Date published: 2015-11-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very satisfying and informative I've enjoyed Prof. Garland's other courses on ancient history very much. This one is superb. He carefully chooses some important events, many of which are well known while others are more obscure, at least in the West. He covers each of them with verve and passion. He uses the available sources to the maximum extent possible to give as much of an 'I was there' feel as possible, and is always clear when he's speculating or inferring given the gaps in documentation. He's a very good lecturer, easy to listen to, and he clearly loves history. I recommend this course for anyone who cares about history in general or more details about the ancient world.
Date published: 2015-10-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from History at its Most Compelling Boy, does Robert Garland know how to make history come alive! This course takes you into the past in a way that a dry recitation of facts and dates never could. You can almost smell the overpowering stench of Athens, crowded with refugees and overcome with disease during Peloponnesian War. You are brought into the minds of the jury who voted to execute Socrates. While this may not be a thorough survey of the ancient world, it is definitely history at its most compelling. My husband and I listened to this series during a long road trip, always saying that we'd stop after this episode, invariably agreeing that maybe we'd just go on to the next lecture. Not every course is for every taste, but for those who wonder what it is like to experience the past, this is the best I've ever encountered.
Date published: 2015-08-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting Content, Energetically Presented While I concur with some of the cautionary notes of previous reviewers, I also found much that was of interest in Dr. Garland's most recent course. In particular, I found myself frequently wondering what "I might have done" if, for instance, I had been in Pericles' or Mark Antony's shoes at the critical moments described. Since it is very easy to fall into assuming that "what happened" was made "inevitable" by the course of events, it is a significant gift that Dr. Garland causes one to peer into options, wonder about doubts (or over-confidences), and -- in the process -- helps one "feel" more vividly the consequences of decisions made (or avoided). It is this aspect that I believe this course offers much of value. It is true that the individual lecture subjects lack much in the way of geographic or narrative linkages to previous lectures. However, what they all have in common is showing not only how much a single individual can influence the course of history, but also how often significant decisions are the result of a choice that could easily have played out differently, with dramatically changed results. Lastly, although it is not his stated intent, it is also clear that the actions and decisions of key individuals (always those who have power over others) frequently have very costly results for many thousands who starve, die in warfare, or are simply dispatched from this world because of the decision of "superiors." There is much of human nature here that serves to enrich our understanding of previous events, and perhaps even teach us some cautionary tales about our own present and our imagined futures.
Date published: 2015-08-06
Rated 2 out of 5 by from If it's not worth doing,it's not worth doing well. I love Professor Garland's two earlier courses, "The Other Side of History: Daily Life in the Ancient World" and "Greece and Rome: An Integrated History of the Ancient Mediterranean." Both are outstanding and wonderful, and have my highest recommendation. The good professor delivers "Living History" with the same high level of pedagogic skill: He is learned, articulate, eloquent and organized, and clearly cares deeply about sharing his enthusiasm with us. The problem here, and it is a big one, is the choice of subject. "Living History" presents twenty-four unrelated episodes of mostly European and Middle Eastern history which are apparently chosen at random. Their only common characteristic is their importance; as Professor Garland puts it, these are times "when history turns on a dime." Books can be - and have been - written about the subject of each of these half-hour lectures. Obviously we have time for only the most superficial treatment. There is no depth and no overarching structure, nothing to form the brief segments into a coherent, meaningful whole. Further, Professor Garland's approach to making this history "living" is to describe the events as if we had reliable first person accounts, when we mostly do not. Unrecorded conversations are given as if verbatim, unknowable emotional states are described, and the thought processes of major and minor figures alike are provided as we could only be aware of them if we had an autobiography. That is, the course is as much historical fiction, even if well-researched historical fiction, as it is actual history. Along these lines, our professor often notes his sources or lack thereof, and comments on their reliability. Too often, however, it is left unclear which statements are factual, and which are products of his creative, if scholarly, imagination. Much of this must be gleaned from the all-too-frequent use of hedges such as "there is little doubt," and "it is likely," and "it is safe to assume." So - take Professor Garland's other, excellent courses. While he brings the same teaching ability to this one, I cannot recommend it. The grab-bag of topics, and the emphasis on story-telling over scholarship, left me wishing I had spent my time elsewhere.
Date published: 2015-07-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Incentive to Further Research My only problem with this course was Lecture 19, dealing with the rise of Islam. I constantly cringed at the incorrect pronunciation of Arabic names, and the throwing out of facts, such as the reference to the Prophet's having multiple wives, without explaining that this did not happen until his first wife, Khadija, had died, and that the other wives were motivated by political alliances. Above all the tenets of the emerging faith stipulated that multiple marriages were only permissible if the husband undertook to treat each wife equally, bearing in mind that it was then an attempt to improve the status of women whose menfolk had been lost in inter-tribal warfare by substituting marriage for concubinage. Incidentally, according to accepted biographical accounts, the first wife was widowed not 'twice-divorced', and I question the source of this titillating detail tossed in by Professor Garland. Then there is his casually stating that 'Arab' means 'nomad' without indicating the word's linguistic origin: it certainly does not mean 'nomad' in Arabic, which is what is implied by the context of the narrative. This had me hastily doing research online, and, of multiple options offered, the closest to Professor Garland's 'nomad' is the possibility that it originates in a Hebrew word 'arav' meaning 'wilderness'.
Date published: 2015-06-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good, if you are not familiar with the events In this course, Professor Garland focuses on moments in history in which (in his words) "history turned on a dime". That is to say he discusses events that are very confined in time and arguably had huge repercussions on all future generations. A second central aspect of the course, is that he attempts to make the history become as vivid as possible by treating it as if it were happening today; often (as he admits) making up some of the circumstantial details to add to the reality – such as the weather in the particular day and so forth. As always in such a course, the choice of events is arbitrary to a large extent, but I found the events that Professor Garland chose to indeed be momentous and important, though one can always argue that some of the events excluded had more merit than some that were included. My main criticism has to do with the depth of the content presented. Each of the lectures is totally separated from the previous ones temporally and geographically. As a consequence, a significant bulk of each lecture is given over to discussing the background of the event that is analyzed, so that the listeners will be able to understand the context of the events. At the end of the day actually a relatively small part of each lecture is a straight narrative of the momentous event itself and the direct events leading up to it. On the other hand, the background discussion is also relatively short (due to time constraints) and leaves a lot to be desired. There are other TGC courses in which I felt that I was indeed "living history". Prime examples are Professor Hale's course "Greek and Persian wars", Professor Harl's wonderful course "Peloponnesian War", and Professor Daileader's course "How the Crusades Changed history". I would have to say that this course is more entry level, and if you have heard of the events in other courses there may not be a lot of new content for you here. On the positive side, I have heard courses on the events covered several years ago (particularly those of the ancient world), so the lectures were very effective in brushing off the dust and bringing the stories back into memory. I enjoyed Professor Garland's presentation of the material and found him entertaining and interesting. So if these momentous historical events are new to you, or you have learned about them a long time ago, this course will be very interesting for you. Otherwise, I would have to say probably not so much…
Date published: 2015-06-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Robert Garland is fantastic Have ordered this course. Whatever Garland speaks about is marked by both heart and humor which is why I feel comfortable praising this series before I've received it. . We're just finishing The Other Side of History and are so relieved we get to start another Garland lecture series immediately. Now if you just offer a new Thomas Shippey (Heroes and Legends) we'll be in Great Courses junky heaven.
Date published: 2015-05-29
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