Origins of Great Ancient Civilizations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Unique Course Offering and an Introduction to Even Greater Riches

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
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Instant Audio Includes:
  • Download 12 audio lectures to your computer or mobile app
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE audio streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
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DVD Includes:
  • 12 lectures on 2 DVDs
  • 104-page printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps

What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

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

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Your professor

Kenneth W. Harl

About Your Professor

Kenneth W. Harl, Ph.D.
Tulane University
Dr. Kenneth W. Harl is Professor of Classical and Byzantine History at Tulane University in New Orleans, where he teaches courses in Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Crusader history. He earned his B.A. from Trinity College and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Yale University. Recognized as an outstanding lecturer, Professor Harl has received numerous teaching awards at Tulane, including the coveted Sheldon H. Hackney Award. He has...
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Origins of Great Ancient Civilizations is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 139.
Rated 2 out of 5 by from A disappointment Professor Harl's narrative is liberally sprinkled with 'uh' ... which for someone else might not matter because of the interesting topic and his knowledge of his subject matter. But for me, the endless 'uh's' was such a distraction that I could not watch the complete course.
Date published: 2014-12-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Had many surprises for me I am generally interested in ancient and classical history, and this course added a new dimension to and an improved foundation for everything I already knew about classical history. Does a great job of connecting the dots between the near east and the start of western civ, and reveals many fun facts along the way. Pros --Ken knows his stuff, and presents valuable information --Was not at all boring to me--I was writing down notes all the time and putting it on pause to share something I just learned with my family Cons --The visuals could've been better. --Production values in general were just okay. Need a new, more relevant stage, etc.
Date published: 2014-11-28
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Beware: sleep inducing I am still trying to determine what the teaching company sees in Dr. Harl. He may know his subject, BUT--he speaks in a monotonic voice with such a lack of enthusiasm that I did not make it through this short course. I found his lack of joie de vivre overwhelmed any material he presented. Beware: This course induces sleep, and is rather more expensive than OTC medication! My recommendation--skip it, take a nap and dream...
Date published: 2014-11-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from
Date published: 2014-10-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Great Starting Place The presenter on this short course talks about it as an introduction, to prepare the student to move on to other courses in the area of ancient history. It is that, and a darn good one! The lectures move extremely well, and give an excellent overview of the ancient near-eastern civilizations, with special attention to how they related to one another and to the various debts we owe them. The world revealed is one much more sophisticated and cosmopolitan than I was really aware of before. Key innovations are traced, including the development of written language from simple pictures. I thoroughly enjoyed this course, and will undoubtedly come back to it more than once in the future. Highly recommended!
Date published: 2014-09-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good, Quick Overview Video Review: This 12 lecture course gives a fact filled, fast paced overview of the first civilizations in Mesopotamia, Levant, and Egypt. From the Sumerians to the Persians, Dr. Harl covers the changes in culture, religion, leadership, agriculture, literacy, technology, trade and weaponry that lead to the evolution of the various dynasties as they replaced each other (typically by war) from the Early Bronze Age (beginning 3500 B.C.) through the Early Iron Age (ca. 500 B.C.). As this course has a lot to cover in a short amount of time, Dr. Harl mainly covers the highlights and reminds the student that this is a "Gateway" course to other, more in-depth, TGC courses. Nevertheless, for an ancient civilization neophyte like myself, with only modest interest in delving significantly deeper into the ancient history of these regions, it does give plenty of useful information for understanding much of how these "cradles of civilization" influenced the development of our modern civilization. I would definitely recommend the video version of this course primarily because of Dr. Harl's frequent use of color-coded maps of the various time contingent civilizations. As he refers to these maps showing the spatial extent and movement (trade and invasion routes) of the various dynasties, I would expect that following along with audio only would be difficult. (Note: there are black and white maps in the course guidebook but they are not complete enough to show everything from the lectures.) There are also several photos of artifacts, housing/building structures, the pyramids and clay tablet writings that are germane to the discussion. Dr. Harl's presentation style is good but not great. He mostly stands behind a lectern while he speaks from his notes. He voice is emphatic with inflection, though he have pauses with non-words such as "ah" and "um". He does come across as an authority on the subject matter who has passion for the topic. The accompanying course guidebook is very good. As stated above it does contain some maps, along with a comprehensive timeline, and an annotated bibliography. The most helpful reference materials included are the glossary and the biographical notes; if you are like me and have difficulty with recalling people and place names that often sound alike and stretch to five or six syllables, you will find these tools quite useful. I would recommend this course to anyone who is interested in a quick summary study of the origins of civilization from the "Fertile Crescent" and Nile Valley regions and/or to anyone who is looking for an introduction (or Gateway) to the same origins with a desire to find a jumping off point to more detailed study via other TGC courses.
Date published: 2014-09-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good overview This course is a good place to begin if you are at all intereasted in the subject matter. That being said, any course that covers the Old, Middle, and New Egyptian Kingdoms in three half hour lectures is going to necessarily be superficial. 12 lectures on two and a half millenia of history is going to require some supplementary reading, but Harl lists some very good titles in his "Further Reading" sections. Prof. Harl has a good presentation style, though he does have some interesting quirks and odd pronunciations (though none that I found distracting). I watched the streaming video and found the maps and other illustrations helpful. After doing some of the reading I will go back a watch the course again to see what more I can get out of it.
Date published: 2014-09-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Survey Course This course is intended as a brief overview and introduction to a fascinating period in history. It delivers breadth with enough depth to provide insight and foster curiosity for more.
Date published: 2014-09-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Overview There is a great deal of information presented well and quickly. You can listen/watch this more than once and continue t glean new information.
Date published: 2014-08-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Yet another vote for great survey course... I really cannot add much to the great reviews...Serene Thought really put the course into the proper perspective (though I don't share some of his/her conclusions). Dr Harl presents an outline of just a small part of the cultural development during the earliest formative years of human civilization. Human evolution has exploded during the last 50-70,000 years, with remarkable advances unseen in the history of the planet. Great course...highly recommended. Now, as to what version to purchase? I bought both, listening to the audio version several years ago, and the DVD version more recently. I must say, I enjoyed the video better. However, much of this may be the lecture style of Dr Harl (a lot of information delivered rapidly) as well as an unfamiliarity with the ancient geography of the near east region (just where the hell was Media?). I usually follow the audio lectures closely, using the internet to augment the course guide...I even did that with the video....most folks (I'm guessing here) don't do this, perhaps listening while beating themselves up on a treadmill. This is an important foundational course for understanding the development of western civilization...splurge and buy the video (of course, when on sale and with a coupon).
Date published: 2014-08-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Survey Course This course is an excellent introduction to the origins of (great) ancient civilizations. Some reviewers charge that the course doesn't go into enough detail, which may be true, but the course is meant only to get your feet wet. Any addition research is up to you.
Date published: 2014-07-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Ancient Civilizations: Unearthing History Most students of history are eager to move ahead and begin their studies with the classical civilizations of Greece and Rome when approaching the historical record. But with only passing glances at prior ancient civilizations, we ignore their rich cultural and material contributions to the emerging civilizations of yesterday and today’s world. Professor Kenneth W. Harl’s lectures focuses on the historical, archaeological, and linguistic records of WHAT A CIVILIZATION SHOULD BE: “it should be URBAN-BASED; it should be LITERATE; it should be based on INTENSIVE AGRICULTURE; and it also will depend very HEAVILY ON TRADE; not just local and regional markets, but long-distance trade.” These are the very characteristics of URBANIZED MODERNITY – revealed to us from the unearthing histories of these ancient civilizations from the river-valleys of the Tigris-Euphrates, Nile, and Indus; all the river-valley civilizations stimulated intensive cultivation of grains that supported diverse cities, then greater urbanization processes, and eventually EMPIRES (EAST & WEST). These civilizations all emerged from an earlier Neolithic village existence (Catal Huyuk, Jericho, etc.) concerned mainly with plant and animal domestication, and a developing material culture (7000 – 5000 BC). The professor’s lectures cover the following ARCHAEOLOGICAL-HISTORICAL TIME PERIODS: The *Early & Middle Bronze Ages (3500 – 1550 BC)* documents the development of the early Sumerian cities: Nippur, Kish, Uruk; and the empires of: Mesopotamia, Akkadia, Babylon, Egypt, and the Indus valley. Experience the emergence of cities, political unifications and warring city-states, hieroglyphics, literary epics, pyramid construction, and law codes, etc. The *Late Bronze Age (1550 – 1000 BC)* documents the rise, fragmentation, and fall of empires (compared to the Roman Empire in 5th century AD) due to migrations, barbarian invasions, rising administrative and military costs of empire, and evolving iron technology and new weapons: imperial Egypt, the Levant (Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan), Asia Minor (Asiatic Turkey), Aegean world (Crete). Witness the expulsions, political consolidations, restoration of the gods, battles and civil wars, sea-people attacks, and the rise of the new iron technology and weapons. The *Early Iron Age (1000 – 500 BC)* documents the accomplishments of these kingdoms and imperial powers: Israel and Judah; Libyan-Egypt, Babylonian-Chaldaean, Assyrian-Lydian, and finally the Persian-Iranians and Medes. Learn about the invention of the alphabet, Temple at Jerusalem, Babylonian captivity of the Hebrews, birth of Judaism, Persian conquests over local and provincial powers and the unification of the Near Eastern Empire, and finally the Greek revolt and the city-states of Athens and Sparta (a very different civilization forming the classical foundations of the emerging Western World) defeating the Persian invasions of the Near Eastern civilization (Herodotus’ The Histories). In summary, professor Harl offers conceptual parallels between Sumer / Crete (created CIVILIZATIONS), Babylon / Greece (great INTELLECTUAL accomplishments), Assyria / Rome (construction of POLITICAL & LEGAL boundaries) but with Rome’s genius of gaining the loyalty of conquered people, a characteristic not shown by the ferocity of the Assyrians despite their great accomplishments. This course comes HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for the detailed study of ancient civilizations before Alexander the Great, as well as foundational for the Classical Western Civilizations of Greece and Rome, etc. Again – an EXCELLENT historical-archaeological vision is offered by the Teaching Company. Thanks.
Date published: 2014-06-21
Rated 3 out of 5 by from a "review" course I was looking so forward to these lectures given my interest in ancient history and overall good reviews of the course. Unfortunately I was disappointed as it turned out that this was not a “teaching” course at all, but rather a graduate-level “review” course that you take prior to standardized examination. The teaching style by Dr. Harl assumes that you already know the concepts and history of ancient civilization, and now it is time to rehash quickly the laundry list of names, dates, and locations so that you can pass the test. I did learn one thing from these lectures, however, that Dr. Harl is very knowledgeable. Very disappointed!
Date published: 2014-03-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Academic Standards Professor Harl offers a lot in just 12 lectures. Although information is often summarized and condensed, it is never dumbed down nor over-simplified. Professor Harl is deeply respectful of his audience's intelligence, academic commitment, and abilities. There are no cheesy comparisons to modern life, and thankfully, there is no puerile storytelling to be found in these lectures. Time is spent in serious, organized, and rigorous study. Information and analysis are clear while maintaining the highest standards of academic excellence. This is certainly an introductory course covering complex material that one could spend a lifetime mastering; however, these lectures provide an essential tool for the serious lifelong learner: a solid framework with which to continue self study. This course is reminiscent of freshman classes at top universities. It is well suited to those who do not seek entertainment, but prefer intellectual discourse and deep knowledge. It is among the most rigorous of TGC and therefore truly a joy to own. Although the material can certainly be mastered in one attentive and engaged viewing, you can also return to the course for multiple viewings and find rich review. The meaningful presentations of names and dates are extraordinarily useful for building a working frame of reference. After watching this course, I can easily understand and situate news and information that refer to these important time periods and places. Overall, this is one of the most valuable courses I have purchased. It is a remarkable feat for only 12 lectures.
Date published: 2014-03-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Introduction to Interrelated History I deeply appreciate how well Dr. Harl made such ancient peoples of the Near East seem less distant and mysterious than I had once thought. Furthermore, throughout this engaging -- but all too brief introductory course -- I kept seeing current tensions in that part of the world (involving Israel, the Palestinians, Iraq and Iran) in the context of what has long been a long-contested land, rich in resources and offering a vital link to the Mediterranean Sea. The useful visual aids accompanying this course helped clarify what easily could have been a most confusing jumble of names of individuals, dynasties and kingdoms, as well as the movements of various peoples. Several times throughout this course, Professor Harl referred to other courses from the Teaching Company which offered a more in-depth opportunity for further study on one or more of the peoples included in this course (for instance, those focusing on Egypt, Greece, and Rome). Dr. Harl did indeed do a superb job of stimulating further interest in these peoples for me for, immediately after completing this course, I began watching "Between the Rivers: The History of Mesopotamia," a 36 lecture course by Professor Alexis Castor. I strongly recommend this course to anyone curious about the origins of early civilizations. I found that after many of Professor Harl's lectures, I experienced the feeling of a shrinkage of time between my own and these early peoples, their struggles and hopes having become both fresher and more meaningful to me. We do, indeed, stand upon the shoulders of those who have preceded us, and it is good to remember them with gratitude.
Date published: 2014-02-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Origins Of Ancient Civilizations Excellent and cohesive review of subject matter which is very difficult to self study. Outstanding use of maps and demonstrative evidence. Lecturer is most interesting and understandable. Trying to self study this subject, I always felt like I'd started in the middle of something I couldn't understand because I didn't know what had transpired previously. These lectures start at the beginning and proceed at a pace that does not loose my interest. Exactly what I was hoping for and exceeded my expectations. Outstanding treatment of a difficult subject.
Date published: 2014-01-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Bulldozing history I am amazed by how much can be packed in 12 short lessons. Professor Harl is like a bulldozer of information. This is a great overview of the subject which left me satisfied with a new appreciation for the roots of civilization. We have come a long way.
Date published: 2014-01-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful Intro to Ancient History I have purchased/watched several TGC courses on ancient history and this one remains one of the best. Prof. Harl is a great lecturer. I love his style and command of the facts. It is hard to believe how much information there is in this short, 12-lecture course. It makes a great introduction to the courses on Ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome. It also makes a great review. One of my favorite TGC courses to-date.
Date published: 2013-12-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good survey course of the Ancient world Prior to hearing this course I have heard professor Fagan's course on human prehistory and early civilizations, professor Castor's course on Mesopotamia (titled between the rivers), and professor Brier's course on Ancient Egypt. I decided to hear this course because I felt another wide survey course would be helpful in order to tie down the huge scope of history contained in this period, and learned in the previous three courses. I was not disappointed. Professor Harl gave a very interesting account of the ancient empires of the near east, and this served to organize the material learned in the previous courses, but also provided a lot of new insight into those empires. I would certainly recommend this course to someone who is in the same position as myself: who has already heard a few courses on ancient history and wants to solidify his perspective a little bit. I think this is also a good course for someone looking for a starter survey course into this topic.
Date published: 2013-11-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Origins of Great Ancient Civilizations This being my 4th lecture series presented by Professor Harl, I remain committed to my belief regarding Professor Harl's very informative and entertaining lecture style. Outstanding! I am not an educator by trade. My profession requires a great amount of travel. However, I've learned more about the ancient near east while sitting on an airplane or driving my company car than I ever could sitting in a classroom! Thank you Professor Harl. Looking forward to purchasing more of your great lectures in the future. Would love the opportunity to explore Turkey with you one of these days. Paul Dean Fort Worth, TX. USA
Date published: 2013-10-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I loved it I listened over and over again while commuting for two hours a day. I liked the fast pace and multitude of details. The pronunciation did not bother me; I am used to teachers pronouncing the same word different ways. This was my first course. I'm going to look for Prof. Harl's other courses.
Date published: 2013-09-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Gold Standard This was the first course I have taken with Professor Harl (having listened to over 60 TTC courses to date)and I am 100% committed to listening to as many of his others as possible. It is hard to imagine a course that could be better delivered than this one particularly given it was an overview by necessity spanning just 12 lectures. The Professor's knowledge was profound, his delivery totally engaging and entertaining. The course guidebook was superb with detailed summaries of each lecture. The series brought to life the earliest civilisations of mankind (it left out India and China)and how they developed, interacted and decayed An absolute must for anyone interested in ancient civilisation.
Date published: 2013-09-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very good survey course This is my 44th review and I have already watched History of Egypt, Land between the Rivers and other courses dealing in detail with the subject of this short series of lectures. Frankly I bought it as part of a series offered and not sure how much I would get out of the course. I was surprised, this survey covered some items not covered elsewhere. The lecture covering the history of writing I thought added a lot to my knowledge. The maps and graphics are well done. If there is a weak area it is the survey of Egypt but this is more having to try to cover several thousand years of history in three lectures. But that is being picky. It is helpful to have an overview of what is a very long period of history and a period in which numerous civilizations rose and fell. At times this can be confusing but this is not the fault of Professor Harl. Unless you already have a detailed knowledge of this period of history I can easily recommend this course. I keep a list of my courses rating them with stars and organizing them to rewatch. This course got a high rating and will be one I will be watching before I rewarch History of Egypt and other courses that cover these periods in detail. Having the overview in a short series to me is quite helpful. Even if you have already watched some of the other courses detailing subjects covered by this course I think you will enjoy this short overview survey. I know that I did.
Date published: 2013-08-03
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointing As I am fascinated by ancient history, I was eager to watch this course. However, after completing all twelve lectures, I have to admit that I am a tad disappointed. While the information presented within the course is nothing less that interesting, it is not as engaging as I had hoped it would be. Much of the time, Professor Harl conveys nothing more than names and dates, which is not very engrossing, sometimes uninteresting, and can even go as far as being called boring. That said, there is a lot to be gleaned from the material and you will learn about ancient history. However, learning from this lecture series is a bit like trying to drink from the proverbial firehose... there is a lot of information coming at you and you will get some of it, but you will miss a lot more. This course is presented as an introductory course which is not necessarily a bad thing as it may spark your interest, and his conclusion of the course is an opening to invite further study of history, but the volume of material seems at odds with the objective of "introductory". However, as I said this course is uninteresting at times, and I would suggest there are many other courses you could view instead. I have read many good reviews about Professor Harl, but I didn't really connect with his teaching style. It seems like he prefers to quickly state facts allowing him more time to talk about other aspects of "the story" he finds more important or personally intriguing. While I have to defer to his position and knowledge in determining what is relevant to the focus of his lecture, there were many times he left me wondering about some aspect of the material he seemed in a hurry to complete. The material also seemed to suffer from being too much in too little time and may have been helped by a more comprehensive review and additional lectures. I am not sure if this is a delivery of material issue, but it did detract from my enjoyment. In addition Professor Harl's delivery was in a deep monotone that detracted from his delivery and projected the image of a professor who did not seem excited to be teaching the material. It is difficult for a student to enjoy the material when the professor appears to not want to be there. Professor Harl has a tenancy to stand behind his podium and look down at his papers. Sometimes he would come out from behind the podium and engage the audience, but as he did he seemed rigid and stiff, and would quickly return back to the safety of the podium. I did however, find the final lecture in the course, covering the Persian Empire, was a vast improvement over the previous lectures. The information was told more as a story about the rise of the Persians, and Professor Harl spoke with more emotion than he did in the previous lectures. It was also a good way to end the course, hopefully giving the viewer an interest in further study. I can not recommend this course. I love history and while I did get something from the course that was due to a combination of my enthusiasm for the subject and perseverance. There are many other courses to choose from if you want an introduction to ancient history.
Date published: 2013-07-30
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Found the course frustrating First I would only recommend this course to someone who is not familiar with the material. His method of presentation is very dry. 'Um' and 'uh' are an integral part of his vocabulary and, suprising for his credential he mispronounces multiple names a lecture. One example is the name Darius, pronounced Dahr-I-us, which he pronounces DARE-e-us. He also pronounces Sumer as Sumar, not something I would expect with his credentials or with his awards. The material he covered was intriguing. However I could not watch more than two lectures at a time without aggrevation. Unfortunately I will probably have to endure more of him since there are other courses he teaches in areas I find fascinating. This really is a mixed bag. This is, so far, my least favorite course.
Date published: 2013-07-09
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Dry, Rushed, Lists after Lists This was my first purchase and I was disappointed. The speaker tried cramming far too much information in to the lectures. And too much of it seemed to be listings of names with little or no establishing context or explanation. There also was insufficient background provided, so we learned that this king did this and that king did that, these people did this, those people did that, without an explanation of why. I also noticed that the speaker was more enthusiastic about some of the topics than others. That's understandable, and make the topics he was interested in more engaging. But the reverse is also true. The topics he showed less interest in came across like shopping lists of names, dates, and places. If I'd really been familiar with the material (which I wasn't), I don't know how much insight I'd have gained. And since I only had a moderate knowledge of much of the material covered, I simply felt as if I were drowning in a tidal wave of names, dates, and places. Harl clearly knows his stuff, and there are glimpses of the possibilities every once in a while, when he gets really enthusiastic about a topic. But 90% of the course could have been delivered by a teaching assistant reading straight from notes.
Date published: 2013-06-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Too-brief overview of the 1st ½ of human history I largely agree with Philvish’s highly-favorable review, so I’ll mainly just note _why_ this course is so important. More than half of recorded history lies before Alexander’s conquests, and it deserves a detailed treatment. I’m only beginning to get a sense of what most of human history has been like; it certainly sheds a different light on, for instance, current events in Syria and Iran. My only regret is that each lecture needed more time (perhaps fifty minutes), and more lectures on related subjects would have been welcome.
Date published: 2013-06-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from First Experience, Very Pleased Prof Harl is a very descriptive and talented orator. I will look for his classes in the future.
Date published: 2013-03-30
Rated 3 out of 5 by from The course is interesting and could be fascinating BUT unfortunately although i do recognize a vast knowledge of the dis curer, He is very boring he has no charisma and render this course tiring to listen to.
Date published: 2013-03-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A "Mammoth" Undertaking! Why does one take a course on ancient civilizations? For one thing, we hope to understand what elements constitute human civilization. [urban living, self-sufficient agriculture, government bureaucracy and administration, writing, division of labor, commerce, development of social law and order.] Additionally, one hopes to gain a perspective on human time, history and prehistory. We talk about such things to gain a greater perspective on what our life on earth is all about. To give an illustration of how this all breaks down, please consider the following timeline (as I have developed it through Wikipedia – dates approximate:) PRE-HISTORY (Number of Years Ago - Event) 2,600,000 - Beginning of Lower Paleolithic Era, First Stone Tools, Homo habilis 1,800,000 - Hand-axe Tools, Homo Erectus, 700,000 - Peking Man in China 200,000 - Middle Paleolithic Era, Homo Sapiens in Africa 60,000 - Emigration of Humans out of Africa, 40,000 - Beginning of Upper Paleolithic Era 35,600 - Cave Paintings at Altamira, Spain, Neaderthals go extinct, Cro-Magnons appear on scene 30,000 - Chauvet Cave paintings in France, 28,000 - Humans migrate to New Guinea 25,000 - Humans colonize North America, 24,000 - Venus of Willendorf crafted 20,000 - Mesolithic Era begins, Oldest human settlement in Dolni Vestonice, (Czech Rep.,) Kebaran nomadic culture in the Levant 17,300 - Lascaux Cave paintings, 12,000 - Holocene Epoch begins, 11,000 - Town of Jericho built 10,000 - Woolly Mammoth, Saber-Toothed Tiger become extinct 7,000 - Pictograms used in China, Sahara Region (once verdant) starts to dry up, Beginning of copper smelting, invention of wheel 6,500 - Domestication of horse and ox HISTORY 6000 - (Neolithic Era begins,) Agriculture begins in Fertile Crescent; Urban life begins to rise 5750 - Bronze Age begins, 5700 - Minoan Culture begins, 5600 - Sumerian culture begins, Black Sea Deluge? 5500 - City of Ur built in Sumeria 5300 - Cuneiform Pictograms used in Sumeria, 5200 - Norte Chico civilization in Peru begins, 5100 - 1st Dynasty in Egypt (Narmer,) 5000 - Stonehenge begun, 4900 - Cuneiform used as written language, 4800 - “Three Sovereigns Era” in China, 4600 - Indus and Mayan civilizations arise 4500 - Stonehenge completed, Great Pyramids built, Great Flood poems ultimately lead to the Epic of Gilgamesh 4300 - Sargon of Akkad reigns, 4000 - Xia Dynasty China, Mentuhotep reigns in Egypt 3990 - Abram of Ur born?, 3800 - Phoenician Alphabet invented, 3700 - Hammurabi’s Code at Babylon 3600 - Shang Dynasty in China, Mycenean civilization starts in Greece, 3570 - Thera Eruption (source of Atlantis myth?,) Khamose, Ahmose reign in Egypt 3500 - Rig Veda written, Hebrew Exodus?, 3350 - Akhenaton, King Tut, Ramses II rule in Egypt 3200 - (Iron Age begins) Trojan War, 3100 - Zhou Dynasty China, 3000 - Kingdom of Israel, Phoenicia 2890 - Iliad and Odyssey written by Homer, First Olympics (Greece,) 2700 - Rome founded, Assyrian Empire flourishes, Israel and Judah dispersed 2650 - Persian Empire dominates, 2550 - Cyrus and Darius of Persia reign, 2500 - Battle of Thermopalae, 2400 - Socrates-Plato-Aristotle (beginning of “AxialAge”) 2350 - Alexander the Great, Asoka’s empire in India, 2100 - Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, Cleopatra 2020 - Jesus Christ born, 1950 - Jerusalem Temple destroyed, 1675 - Constantine, St. Augustine 1500 - Gupta Empire - India, 1400 - Muhammad born Such vast expanses of time take one’s breath away! It forces one to consider human life and human time from a much greater perspective! When one considers that the earliest lived-in town still extant is Jericho – only 11,000 years old (in the face of millions of years of human existence) – we can see that much of recent human history is only a blink of an eye in terms of the actual existence of the human species upon this earth. This course limits itself to Near East civilizations only – Sumeria, Akkadia, Babylonia, Egypt, Assyria, Persia and the Hittites. (Though other smaller civilizations are brought in also: Hurrian, Amorite, Lydian, Chaldeans, Kassites, Mitannians, Phygians.) Harl says nothing about Chinese, Indian (only incidentally,) Greek (indirectly,) European or Early American civilizations, so one’s timeline can be confused with regard to concurrent events going on in other parts of the world. This may be important to the student if he desires to have a wider perspective on the progress of human development with other civilizations. The student should be prepared for a lot of facts and dates being thrown his way! The facts are fast and furious, and it will the student’s responsibility to assemble them in his mind properly in order to make sense of them all. Unless one has a special aptitude for history, one could easily be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of names of persons, places and dates. Harl’s discussion is painted with a broad brush – it conveys the essential facts of these civilizations, but does not address the larger questions about their significance and their unique characteristics – that will have to be the student’s own task! A lot of the personalities of the ancient world seemed megalomaniacal, tyrannical and warlike. Harl jokes a little about this throughout the course, but I found it rather disconcerting myself. Assyria, in particular, seemed to be something of a terrorist state in that they tortured their prisoners, hacked off limbs, impaled enemies, etc. I asked myself why different civilizations felt they had to go to war. Should not the historian offer a meta-perspective on a “theory of civilization, history and/or war” which could explain this? Is war a matter of different civilizations competing for natural resources or for influence? Is the will for expansion and subjugation endemic to our species? Why is there not rather cooperation instead of conquest? Is the idea of a standing army essential for the perpetuation of any particular society? What can we learn from these ancient empires as they apply to today’s world? In contradistinction to the Assyrians, Harl gives a very sympathetic treatment of the history of the Hebrews as they undergo transformation to their self-identity as Jews. Harl discusses the Tel Dan site discovered in 1993 which supports the historicity of King David. Harl also freely discusses the unique vision the Jews had in a transcendent God and how he is involved in human history and consecrates that history. He also discusses the Merneptah Stele in Egypt which gives outside empirical existence of Israel to 3220 years ago [1210 B.C.] He also discusses the disintegration of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah under the Assyrian and Persian regimes respectively. Harl’s sympathetic and encouraging depiction of Israel in matter-of-fact words cements Israel's legacy in providing one of the enduring pillars of justice and faith for our modern-day Western society. Notwithstanding, the Persian Empire is also depicted as a “noble” empire. It’s main virtue (adopted by Friedrich Nietzsche in the 19th century) was summed up in the phrase: “Ride strong, shoot well with arrows and always tell the truth.” It administered its justice fairly, but when it encountered the Greeks in the 5th century B.C., it would challenge the foundation of our Western Civilization based on Greek ideals of individual liberty and democratic/oligarchic principles. Lastly, I want to discuss how a perspective on ancient civilization could inform one’s own religious faith. I remember when I once attended a church and the preacher was strident over the fact that the earth was only six thousand years old, just as the Bible had said. I also encountered a preacher who claimed that dinosaurs and humans were co-existent just ten or twenty thousand years ago. I’ve also come in contact with Creation Science exponents who claim that the speed of light is not constant, that God could have created the universe only to appear to look as old as it does, and the rotation of the axis of Uranus disproves the nebular hypothesis of the solar system! I also remember how demoralized I was myself to consider that the theory of evolution might be true. When I confessed my sadness to a friendly book store owner, she smiled and said that we should have confidence that “whatever the truth is, it is what it is.” I think this advice helped me to gird myself and appreciate the truth wherever it might lead. A conception of religion which acknowledges the best information on ancient and prehistorical finds seems to be a necessary moral obligation to the present-day student of religion. This course moves through 4000 years of antiquity rather quickly! It deftly offers facts which should provide the student a good basis for further inquiry. I stress that this course is only a start in understanding the basis and significance of the beginnings of human civilization for today. If one’s appetite is whetted to investigate other cultures more depth, then this course will have served its purpose! This course has given me the desire to pursue two other courses I've purchased recently: “Religions of the Axial Age” and “Theory of Evolution.”
Date published: 2013-01-26
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