Peloponnesian War

Course No. 3372
Professor Kenneth W. Harl, Ph.D.
Tulane University
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Course No. 3372
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Course Overview

The ancient Greek historian Thucydides called it "a war like no other"—arguably the greatest in the history of the world up to that time. The Peloponnesian War pitted Athens and her allies against a league of city-states headed by Sparta. Thucydides himself was an Athenian general in the fighting, sentenced to exile partway through the 27-year struggle, after losing a key battle to one of Sparta's leading commanders.

Although Thucydides lived to see the end of the war, his history breaks off in its 21st year. Other ancient writers completed the record but without Thucydides's sense of drama and matchless insight—for he is the first historian to seek the true causes of events. His eyewitness account of the war has been a classic for 24 centuries and is still studied for its profound truths about the nature of human strife.

In this course, Professor Kenneth W. Harl draws on this masterpiece as well as other ancient sources to give you a full picture of the Greek world in uneasy peace and then all-out war in the late 5th century B.C.

Into the Thick of Action

Professor Harl is well known to many Teaching Company customers for his compelling courses Rome and the Barbarians, The Vikings, The Era of the Crusades, The World of Byzantium, and others. A connoisseur of detail, he plunges you into the thick of politics, military strategy, economics, personalities, culture, and technology. In these 36 half-hour lectures, you will feel the ancient Greek world come alive as you explore such scenes as:

  • War debate at Athens and Sparta: Thucydides records speeches that took place in citizen assemblies as war fever took hold—and cooler heads were ignored. These make a gripping narrative, comparable to the drama that led to the outbreak of World War I.
  • Plague of Athens: Severe overcrowding in Athens probably touched off the devastating plagues that swept through the city beginning in 430 B.C. Thucydides himself contracted the disease and survived. The great Athenian statesman Pericles was not so lucky.
  • Revolt of Mytilene: In deciding the fate of an ally that tried to change sides, one Athenian demagogue argued that all adult males should be executed and the women and children enslaved. This policy was adopted, but rescinded at the last moment.
  • Battle of Pylos: The unthinkable happened to the proud Spartan army when a contingent of its troops was outmaneuvered by Athenians and captured, eventually leading to a peace treaty that ended the war after 10 years. But the fighting soon flared up again.
  • Sicilian expedition: The climax of Thucydides's account is a massive expedition mounted by Athens against cities allied with Sparta on the rich island of Sicily. Well manned and well equipped, the expedition was ineptly led and would end in disaster.

New Look at an Old Conflict

One of the surprising aspects of the Peloponnesian War is that it sparks lively scholarly debate even today, and Professor Harl introduces you to some of the key controversies. For example, what was the true nature of Sparta's notoriously closed society? Was it, at bottom, alien to our Western values—as some historians now believe? Or did Sparta partake of a common Greek culture that made it more similar than dissimilar to Athens? Professor Harl takes the latter view and argues that this position is crucial to understanding why Sparta achieved something that confounds traditional interpretations: Sparta won the war.

Throughout these lectures, you will focus on the major figures behind events: men like Pericles, who gave Athens her greatest monuments but also did more than anyone to bring on the war; Alcibiades, the gifted and unscrupulous Athenian aristocrat, who first led Athens—then switched sides—then switched back again; and Lysander, the Spartan general who finally won the war but ended his days as a meat carver at the table of the king of Sparta.

Citizens Deciding Their Own Fates

Unlike earlier great wars, the Peloponnesian War was not a conflict between kings but between citizens from different city-states, who shared the same language, gods, oracles, and festivals such as the Olympic Games. Citizen assemblies decided questions of war and peace—literally voting on their own fates, since they were the ones who had to do the fighting.

One of the major themes of the course is that as the war progressed, stasis erupted in city after city. The term stasis comes from the Greek word for standing and means faction-driven sedition or civil war. In the murderous stasis that overtook the island of Corcyra, Thucydides noted, "To fit in with the change of events, words, too, had to change their usual meanings. What used to be described as a thoughtless act of aggression was now regarded as the courage one would expect to find in a party member."

You will also learn other Greek terms. For example, the traditional heavily armed Greek infantryman is called a hoplite, after his massive circular shield, the hoplon, which was designed to cover the soldier while also protecting the man to his immediate left in the fighting line—an innovation that heightened unit cohesion and the sense of comradeship of citizen soldiers in combat.

Culture amid War

Ironically, the Peloponnesian War was fought against the backdrop of Greece's Golden Age, epitomized by Athens and its astonishing innovations in government, architecture, oratory, philosophy, and the dramatic arts. One of the most remarkable aspects of this era is that culture flourished side-by-side with the politics of war—that even as Athenian citizens were honoring Aristophanes's mocking antiwar play The Acharnians by giving it first prize in a drama competition, they were debating with equal ardor whether to continue the war, and deciding overwhelmingly to do so.

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36 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Thucydides and the Peloponnesian War
    In his eyewitness account of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides set a standard for writing history that endures to this day. We explore his influence on modern historians and the enduring value of studying this war. x
  • 2
    The Greek Way of War
    This lecture examines the Greek approach to land battles, showing how the institution of the polis led to the use of citizen soldiers called hoplites—a style of fighting that underwent major changes during the Peloponnesian War. x
  • 3
    Sparta—Perceptions and Prejudices
    The disciplined city-state of Sparta headed one side in the war. Ancient sources have created the modern impression of Sparta as an authoritarian and soulless society. This lecture offers a more balanced view. x
  • 4
    Sparta and Her Allies
    We continue our background exploration of Sparta with a look at the Peloponnesian League, a powerful alliance headed by Sparta that extended even beyond the peninsula of the Peloponnesus. x
  • 5
    The Athenian Democracy
    Sparta's rival was Athens, whose most distinctive political institution was democracy. Remarkably for that era, all male citizens over 18 had the right to vote, without property qualifications. x
  • 6
    Athens and the Navy
    From 505 to 480 B.C., Athens built the greatest fleet in the Greek world, an effort that bolstered its democratic institutions: Thousands of citizens of the lower classes, vital to the city's defense because they rowed the ships, were rewarded for naval service with enhanced legal and social privileges. x
  • 7
    Victory over Persia, 490–479 B.C.
    Sparta and Athens were reluctant allies against Persia, which sought to conquer the Greek homeland in 490 B.C. and again in 480 B.C. Athens won glory at the battles of Marathon and Salamis, as did Sparta at Thermopylae. x
  • 8
    Athens or Sparta—A Question of Leadership
    As Persian power waned, Greek cities under Persian control revolted, looking to Sparta for leadership. Rebuffed, they turned to Athens. The resulting alliance led to the foundation of the Delian League. x
  • 9
    Cimonian Imperialism
    Fresh from victories over Persia, the Athenian general Cimon converted the naval alliance of the Delian League into the Athenian Empire. x
  • 10
    Sparta after the Persian Wars
    Thucydides is surprisingly silent about events in Sparta in the 50 years between the Persian and Peloponnesian Wars. We weigh the view that Sparta preferred isolation, lest its citizens be morally corrupted by overseas service. x
  • 11
    The First Peloponnesian War
    In 461 B.C., Spartans and Athenians clashed in what has sometimes been called the First Peloponnesian War, which lasted until 446 B.C. x
  • 12
    The Thirty Years' Peace
    This lecture examines the Thirty Years' Peace that ended the First Peloponnesian War. Despite differences in how each party understood the treaty, there were reasons to believe peace would last. x
  • 13
    Triumph of the Radical Democracy
    We investigate the reforms sponsored by Pericles that transformed Athens into a full participatory democracy. Pericles established a standard of democratic leadership that later Athenian political figures failed to attain. x
  • 14
    From Delian League to Athenian Empire
    The emergence of Athenian power in the Aegean and the creation of its naval empire completely changed the political dynamics of Greece. x
  • 15
    Economy and Society of Imperial Athens
    Athens was the first state to monetize its markets and base its wealth on seaborne commerce. How did the economies of Sparta and its allies compare? x
  • 16
    Athens, School of Greece
    From the Persian to Peloponnesian Wars, Pericles presided over a golden age in architecture, visual arts, and literature, making Athens the school of Greece and defining Classical civilization for ages to come. x
  • 17
    Crisis in Corcyra, 435–432 B.C.
    General war loomed after a revolt broke out at a remote colony in northwest Greece, inciting a clash between the two rivals Corcyra and Corinth. Athens sided with Corcyra, enraging Corinth, which was allied with Sparta. x
  • 18
    Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War
    The Corcyra crisis put Athens on a collision course with Sparta. We explore whether the chain of events leading to war could have been halted. x
  • 19
    Strategies and Stalemate, 431–429 B.C.
    Pericles aimed to avoid a land battle with Sparta, while harassing Spartan interests by sea to force a negotiated peace. By the third year of the war, a stalemate had developed and Pericles was dead from plague. x
  • 20
    Athenian Victory in Northwest Greece
    In a change of strategy, Athens escalated operations in northwest Greece—a region dominated by Corinth and vital to the Peloponnesians. By 426 B.C., Athens had won an important victory there. x
  • 21
    Imperial Crisis—The Chalcidice and Mytilene
    This lecture looks at fighting in northern Greece, a strategically vital area for Athens. When unrest spread to the island of Lesbos, Athens put down the rebellion and was on the verge of brutal reprisals, but relented. x
  • 22
    Plague, Fiscal Crisis, and War
    We investigate how the war changed the population and prosperity of the Greek world. Athens suffered most, from plague and the despoiling of agricultural land. x
  • 23
    Demagogues and Stasis
    The war transformed the democratic institutions of Athens and ignited stasis (civil war) in city-states on both sides. In Athens, demagogues such as Cleon wielded the power once held by the democratic leader Pericles. x
  • 24
    Pylos, 425 B.C.—A Test of Leadership
    By 425 B.C., Sparta and Athens were locked in a deadly struggle, without prospects of either victory or negotiation. Then Athens achieved a breakthrough at Pylos, trapping Spartan troops and forcing their surrender. x
  • 25
    New Leaders and New Strategies
    The deaths in 422 B.C. of the Athenian Cleon and the Spartan Brasidas removed the two most senior commanders in favor of continuing the war. x
  • 26
    The Peace of Nicias
    During the winter of 422–421 B.C., the Athenian statesman Nicias negotiated what was to have been a 50-year peace treaty with Sparta. But peace would not last. x
  • 27
    Collapse of the Peace of Nicias
    The period from 421 to 418 B.C. saw the disintegration of the Peace of Nicias and the emergence of Spartan and Athenian leaders who were eager to renew the conflict. x
  • 28
    From Mantinea to Sicily, 418–415 B.C.
    This lecture analyzes events surrounding the Battle of Mantinea, which involved shifting alliances aimed at isolating Sparta. x
  • 29
    Sparta, Athens, and the Western Greeks
    Athens had good strategic reasons for trying to outflank Sparta in this theater. We explore the importance of Sicily and southern Italy in the wider Greek world. x
  • 30
    The Athenian Expedition to Sicily
    An ill omen preceded the sailing of the Athenian expedition to Sicily in 415 B.C. Thucydides's account of the unfolding disaster is the most dramatic and tragic episode of his history, culminating in the campaign at Syracuse. x
  • 31
    Alcibiades and Sparta, 414–412 B.C.
    After the Athenian attack on Syracuse, Sparta declared that the Peace of Nicias had been violated, and renewed war. Sparta now had the invaluable advice of Alcibiades, an exiled Athenian leader. x
  • 32
    Conspiracy and Revolution, 411 B.C.
    In 411 B.C., Athenian aristocrats staged a coup, suspending the democracy and setting up a council of 400 to draw up a new constitution. Their secret plan to turn over the city to Sparta was thwarted when the coup collapsed. x
  • 33
    Alcibiades and Athens, 411–406 B.C.
    Under the generalship of the returned exile Alcibiades, Athens enjoyed a string of victories against Sparta. But the strategic situation changed with the arrival of a new Spartan ally: the Persian prince Cyrus the Younger. x
  • 34
    The Defeat of Athens, 406–404 B.C.
    The years 406–404 B.C. saw a dramatic turn of events leading to the decisive sea battle at Aegospotami, where the Spartan commander Lysander surprised and captured the entire Athenian fleet, ending the war. x
  • 35
    Sparta's Bitter Victory
    We review the immediate aftermath of the war and explore what Spartan victory meant for Greece. In a surprisingly short time, Athenian democracy was restored and the city regained much of its former economic position. x
  • 36
    Lessons of the Peloponnesian War
    What is the historical significance of the Peloponnesian War? How has it been studied by both scholars and popular historians? And what are the real lessons to be learned from this epic conflict of 24 centuries ago? x

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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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Reviews

Peloponnesian War is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 75.
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good material for teachers I teach the Peloponnesian War in my International Relations school and find this course full of useful information for my lectures. He is a clear speaker, no frills, not fancy, but good, and I see why his students gave him awards. His knowledge of his subject is deep. A specialists speaks.
Date published: 2017-12-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from When Hellenes Fought Hellenes The Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC), which Thucydides famously described in his contemporary history, was the tragedy of classical Greece, with tragic flaws in multiple actors. First, there was Athenian arrogance and selfishness in turning the voluntary anti-Persian Delian League of Aegean islands and coastal cities into its own exploitive empire. Second, there was Corinthian hatred for Athens that inspired it to drive Sparta into a war that weakened Corinth. Third, neither side was willing to make enough concessions for lasting peace. Fourth, Spartan ruthlessness following total victory in 404 BC made its own hegemony even more unpopular than the Athenian, easing its overthrow by Thebes at the battle of Leuctra in 371 BC. Perhaps the final flaw was eleutheria itself, the idealized freedom of each polis (city-state) to run its own affairs, including its own foreign policy—in other words, a freedom that prevented Greek unity and exposed the whole peninsula to conquest by Macedon and Rome. Over time the war led to immense loss of life and material wealth, changed armies by partially replacing valuable citizens with expendable mercenaries, forced states to find new ways of raising revenue, intensified civil strife within poleis and nearly destroyed Athenian democracy. Kenneth Harl has two important goals for this course. The first is to use the war to examine the rival systems of Sparta and Athens. In the early lectures we learn about the constitutions, societies and foreign ambitions of each state. Harl does not even reach the main war’s outbreak until Lecture 18, nearly halfway through. The second goal is to challenge conventional wisdom on the subject, something he also does in courses on the decline of paganism and rise of Christianity and on the Ottoman Empire. In particular, he seeks to rescue Sparta from a bad reputation. In the 19th and 20th centuries, historians compared Sparta to Napoleonic France, Wihelmine Germany and the Soviet Union, portraying a militaristic land-based power (in contrast to the UK and US) that was conservative, regressive and oppressive. One recent work in this vein is Victor Hanson’s A War Like No Other. But if all that was true, then why did Sparta beat Athens? In Harl’s view the two poleis (the plural of polis) had more in common than they did differences; both spoke Greek, both had constitutions with small councils and large assemblies, both worshipped the same gods, and engaged in hoplite warfare. Both states shared certain pan-Hellenic values, such as eunomia (good order and government by proper law), arête (manly virtue—the word appears related to the war god Ares), devotion to the patrios politeia (ancestral constitution) and autonomia (the right to live under one’s laws). Furthermore, the upper classes of both engaged in philoxenia or guest-friendship. Between these two states there was no choice of good or evil. An Athenian victory would not have made much difference to subsequent Greek history. Furthermore, the Spartans were sophisticated in diplomacy and negotiation. Leadership mattered. The Spartans won partly because they had highly competent commanders, especially Lysander, who captured the last Athenian fleet at Aegospotami in 405 BC. By contrast the Athenians had Nicias—useful as a peacemaker but a poor and dilatory commander, heavily responsible in Harl’s view for the disastrous outcome in Sicily. The war’s most entertaining figure is the Athenian Alcibiades, whose energy, ambition and unscrupulousness were boundless. He began by advocating renewed war after the Peace of Nicias (421 BC) and leading the Sicilian expedition, deserted Athens for Sparta rather than face charges of impiety, advised the Spartans until he seduced and impregnated the wife of one of their two kings, fled to the Persian satrap of Sardis, purported to plot with him and Athenian aristocrats to overthrow the democracy, engineered his own recall by Athenian soldiers and sailors at Samos, led an astonishing Athenian comeback late in the war, and fled into exile again after leaving twenty ships to a subordinate who lost them to Lysander. Harl also deals with smaller issues such as whether Athenian leader Pericles’ original strategy of attrition made sense, which people were really to blame for Athens’ disaster in the Sicilian expedition, whether Sparta and Greece were economically “underdeveloped” as some scholars have claimed, and whether Sparta really sold out Anatolian Greek poleis to Persia in exchange for aid. The course has just three problems. In Lecture 1 Harl says that there have been only four instances when the citizen body asserted itself as sovereign: Athens and Sparta, Rome, the seventeenth-century English parliamentary revolutions, and the United States. Here he is ignoring the medieval/Renaissance Italian city-states, the Swiss cantons, the Dutch Republic, and the French Revolution. In Lecture 36, there is a brief lack of sync between video and sound; Harl’s lips weren’t saying what I heard. Overall Harl indulges in too many umms and uhhs as in other courses. Otherwise, enjoy this course!
Date published: 2017-11-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The pleasure of learning and relearning history Prior to listening to these lectures I read Donald Kagan's book about the history of the Peloponnesian war. The Great Courses DVD's supplemented and complemented Mr. Kagan's book. I especially liked that half the lectures concentrated on the social, economic and political conditions in the Greek world leading up to the Peloponnesian war. One quibble: the timeline at the end of the book does not include the battle of Marathon in 490 BC, a significant event which I would expect should be included in the timeline.
Date published: 2017-11-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from War....What Is It Good For.... Sorry for being tongue and cheek in the title but I felt like this was an appropriate title for a series that covers war, war and more wars. This is not to say the series is bad, in fact this is far from the truth. This lecture series cover many of the political movers and shakers and well as the political challenges that sparked these conflicts over and over again. In many ways these wars not only shaped the region but also the future politics that gave rise to other empires and conquests. I have listened to several presentations from Professor Harl and after you understand his phrasing and presentation style you will get use to him and he is a bit of an "acquired" taste; but one thing I appreciate about Professor Harl is he comes prepared and eager to present the data. There is an enthusiasm in his presentation that makes series very enjoyable.
Date published: 2017-11-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from I would echo some of what is said in the featured review by tr1strev. There is a tremendous amount of background material. I guess that is not a problem if the description of the war does not suffer, but some of the details of the war do not really feel fleshed out to me the way I'd hoped they would. For example, the description of the Sicilian expedition seems a bit light. It is described in one lecture and I came away with less information than I did from Rufus Fears's lecture on Nicias from the Famous Greeks set. Prof. Harl hews close to Thucydides, without adding much meat from other sources like Plutarch until he has to switch to Xenophon. Fears is more willing to add color from other sources. Granted, this is done to spin a good yarn. Prof. Harl often comes to conclusions different from colleagues. For example, he emphasizes the winning of the war by Sparta by its ability to adapt which is typically downplayed and he de-emphasizes Persia's financial contributions which are usually overplayed. But, some of his contrarian views he doesn't fully explain and are perplexing to me. One of the things that stuck out to me is his conclusion that Athens' was not a slave-based economy. He estimates that 10% of the population were slaves. Every other estimate I've heard is at least in the 33% range. Certainly the great silver lodes discovered between the Persian Wars were mined by slaves. Granted, this is 50 years before the war, but I don't understand why the use of slaves would lessen in the intervening years, particularly with the expansion of warship building and the labor-intensive method of building those warships. I really enjoyed "Roman and the Barbarians", but those lectures seemed to supplement the narratives that are taught in other courses, like "The History of Rome". His "Alexander the Great" lecture series is similar to this one, with background supplementing a narrative but there were confusing time jumps there as well, with battles lumped together that span periods that haven't yet been connected. Still, the "Alexander the Great" lecture series seems to be richer in detail than this series, particular with respect to logistics, tactics, and other military matters. But that is comparing 2 5-star lecture sets to a 4-star, in my mind.
Date published: 2017-10-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from So far, so good! Also it is in the classroom setting which I much prefer!
Date published: 2017-07-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Stuff I'm only on about lecture #5 but this has been excellent so far. Very engaging, I like the anecdotes and personal opinions the professor adds here and there, and the material covered feels thorough and in depth but without being overwhelming. Lecturer knows his stuff. I'm very pleased with this so far. Best course of done through The Teaching Company thus far (granted that's only three, total, but still).
Date published: 2017-06-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This is the third lesson on ancient greek history thatIi have ordered. All have been excellent.. Makes me want to learn more.
Date published: 2017-04-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Bags of content delivered by an engaging Professor I've been interested in history since I was a nipper, and had read brief histories of the fisticuffs in the Peloponnesian War, but I never read very deeply into it. If you want to know about this war in depth then this is the course for you. It goes so much in depth that the war doesn't actually start until lecture 19. I feel I now have a much better understanding of this period of Greek history and why it matters. Prof Harl is easy to understand (even to us in the UK) and engaging. His enthusiasm for the subject is evident.
Date published: 2017-03-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course; Looking forward to the ROKU upload I began this course on DVD and as always it is great. I've done one of Dr. Harl's courses before. I'm looking forward to continuing The Peloponnesian War soon. I generally take summers off even on home courses. I'm especially looking forward to taking the course on-line through ROKU. The course has been listed on my ROKU account but as yet has not had the course material uploaded. I hope these lessons will be uploaded soon. I'm almost finished with The Foundations of Western Civilization and would like the study The Peloponnesian War next. Thanx in advance for your attention to this matter.
Date published: 2016-09-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Captivating, fascinating, detailed, and humorous Without doubt it is the level of detail, both militarily and politically, that makes this course one of Prof Harl's best. By the time you reach the last six lectures Harl has much moisture on his lips, so animated and enthusiastic has his delivery become. In fact, the level of detail here, especially in the period between the two main battle periods, is vital to understanding how these city states interacted. it also gives insights into why the wars started in the first place (much due to Athens' growing ascendency in the Aegean as a result of the Greek repulsion of the Persians in 479BC), Who won, and should they have done so? I'll leave Prof Harl to help you consider the surprising answer to that question. Given the extent of Greek colonisation within the Aegean and as far afield as Sicily and the toe of Italy, this course brilliantly illuminates the problems faced by the individual city states. Emphasis on 'individual'. After finishing this course, I immediately moved on to Prof Lee's course on 'The Persian Empire', emphasis here, deliberately, on 'empire'. An incredibly good move, because it puts into sharp relief the differences between the two, and goes a long way to understanding why Greek values rather than Persian values have affected the following two and a half successive millenia so greatly. This last observation is also supported by the decade of conquests by the Macedonian (?Greek?) Alexander. See Prof Harl's course (also a detailed and absorbing 36 lectures) on Alexander the Great and the Macedonian Empire. To round out this period, try Prof Mcinerney's course on 'Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic Age'. I can guarantee you that all this effort will be duly rewarded by a deep and abiding understanding of how the so-called 'Western Tradition' has evolved, and why we, today, owe so much to these peoples; a tradition later cemented by our dear friends, the Romans...
Date published: 2016-02-12
Rated 3 out of 5 by from somewhat tedious Like some other reviewers I have taken other course by Prof. Harl and thoroughly enjoyed them. Unlike most others, I found this one struggling to keep my attention. Don't get me wrong, the information was thorough and insightful; just at times there was so much background information as to make it difficult for me to stay interested. If you are looking for all the details and looking to learn as much as absolutely possible this course is for you. If you are looking to learn and be entertained, maybe not. To me, it was like PhD level detail when I was looking for undergraduate or masters level.
Date published: 2015-12-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Tremendous Course I have purchased many Great Courses, and this is one of the best. I knew a lot about the Peloponnesian War before I took this course, but Professor Harl added different perspectives which I had not considered. As he does with other courses, Harl devotes several lectures on the background of the period. He discusses Greek society in general as well as the Athenian and Spartan city-states in some detail. Most of us look at this war from the Athenian point of view, which Harl also does, but he is also able to look at the war from the Spartan perspective. Harl adds perspectives that many people have not considered. For example, Harl is able to show how Demosthenes was successful by introducing new tactics that moved beyond the confines of simple hoplite warfare. He is also able to show how incompetent generals, such as Nicias hurt their own cause. Harl shows that the Sicilian expedition was a continuation of earlier successful Athenian interventions into the west. These earlier interventions were limited; Nicias's proposal to increase the size of the expedition raised the stakes. I could go on and on saying how wonderful this course is, but I will stop here.
Date published: 2015-10-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Bravo Professor Harl, Bravo I have taken a number of courses under Professor Harl, and this is the best one I have listened to thus far. This course has a lot of background material, but in some ways it has to. This course builds into a fratricidal conflict that spilled the blood of Athens and Sparta that ultimately ends with both sides losing, even if Sparta technically one. The march towards this conflict needed the necessary breathing space. I would argue that it either could have been a little shorter, or the course itself could be a little longer, since it is currently at a 50/50 split between background and the war, but this of minor inconvenience. Professor Harl's presentation also provides a radically different perspectives from the ones provided by Professors Ian Worthington and Robert Dise, and further Professor Harl makes a number of references to new scholarship and other scholarly interpretations of the sources. This course comes across as a mosaic painting that one might find in a byzantine chapel. While any individual part may have someone wondering if it was necessary to have, as a whole the payoff is immensely satisfying. There's not much more that can be said without becoming redundant given the overwhelmingly positive outpouring of reviews.
Date published: 2015-08-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Great Course by Professor Harl Professor Harl is an exceptional teacher and his course on the Peloponnesian War is another fine example. Professor Hale makes history both informative and entertaining. Hollywood has done movies about this conflict but these movies do not do justice to the actual history. Professor Harl does provide a far better representation of this time in history. I highly recommend this course. Alcibiades is one of the notable individuals in the Peloponnesian War who served Athena, Spartan, the Persians, and back to Athens. Professor Harl’s descriptions and anecdotes about Alcibiades are informative and entertaining. He is definitely a memorable person for this conflict. One of the main reasons to take this course on the Peloponnesian War is because a lot of things have not changed in the approximately 24 centuries. The technology of war has changed in the 24 centuries but the other aspects have not. The Peloponnesian War had political maneuverings, “back stabbing”, fickleness of the public and governing bodies, blunders, over confidence and “finger pointing” for blame. All of these exist today and have changed very little in the 24 centuries. In a sense, the time of the Peloponnesian War was a simpler time than today but understanding the successes and failures of that era could be beneficial in understanding the more complex world of today.
Date published: 2015-07-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from My favorite course so far Professor Harl is an excellent professor. I liked him so much I tried to follow him on Twitter. Very enthusiastic for the subject. Tells you when he agrees with the prevailing opinion and when he disagrees and why. So his arguments really make you think and the fact that he presents both sides gives you the confidence to agree or disagree. I also enjoy when your here a professor joke and laugh and this was done throughout the lectures. Subject is fascinating. Love that on the app when he is talking about a location you can jump on the app to browser to get a map to follow along. He is a believer in that history is deeply influenced by the historical actor (as do I) so his biographical sketches are invaluable. Most people know the general outline or story but the depth of information here is invaluable to the arm chair historian but detailed enough that you think you are an expert after listening to it. No criticisms at all. Home run of a course.
Date published: 2015-04-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Good, the Bad and the Beautiful Thucydides provides the history for much of these lectures, but Dr Harl brings the exquisite details to life. For those considering buying this series, either go with the video presentation or listen to the audio augmented with online maps and GoogleEarth...you will need to know the area in order appreciate the action. And there is a lot of action! The good professor lays a firm grounding for the (long) war, providing character sketches for the city-states and the leaders who gave them their personalities...from Cimon in Athens to Leonidas in Sparta. Then the lectures shift to the recounting of the the war's battles, strategies and characters, both heroic and tragic (no wonder many Greek Tragedies were written during this period of time). With Athens at her zenith under Pericles and Sparta, Corinth and Thebes worried about the Athenians getting too full of themselves, the war breaks out on a distant island, Corfu, and battles begin around Attica in 431 BCE. What follows next is history...history in its finest form. And then there's Alcibiades...the most famous non-famous character of Hellenic history. He might well have won the war for the Athenians had he not whacked a few phalluses (phalli?) off statues of Hermes, or knocked-up the King of Sparta's wife, or switched sides at least three time...'he coulda been a contenda'. Great stuff. Wonderful detail. Great delivery of Thucydides' history. Wait for a sale and a coupon...but don't wait too long.
Date published: 2015-03-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Harl is absolutely fluent with his subject Wow. Professor Harl is absolutely fluent with his subject. He doesn’t waste a word, and they are all well-chosen. The breadth and depth of his presentation are astounding. Some listeners make not always care for his at times rather loud voice, and others might prefer a more condensed presentation (like 24 lectures), but, if you want a definitive series of lectures on this topic, this is the one. I also enjoyed his Origins of Great Ancient Civilizations
Date published: 2015-02-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course by a master teacher Prof Harl is exceptionally thorough and entertaining to listen to. I have listened to all of his courses several times each. I always learn something new and enjoy every moment.
Date published: 2015-02-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Focused, Thorough, Exciting This is one of my favorite TGC history courses, the other being Fagan's history of ancient Rome. Prof. Harl brings ancient Greece to life. Although this course focuses on Athens and Sparta, Harl adds so many details you end up learning about the entire Greek, Persian, Phonecian, etc. world. Yet, somehow, he stays on track and moves along in a focused way. I had read some popular histories about that period, but this course made me see that era in a new light. Professor Harl focuses on events, cultures, economies, and individuals, so you never feel like anything is being skipped. I listened to this course on audio via my smartphone and felt I did not miss anything. Highly recommended. One of the better history lecturers, he really loves this subject and it shows.
Date published: 2015-01-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thorough Explanation of A Critical Time This is one of the best Great Courses that I have bought (and I have over two dozen of them). Since the Peloponnesian War was so critical for Classical Age Athens, it is really important for anyone who wants to understand ancient Greece to know about this war. Dr. Harl is really excellent in setting up the political, cultural, and economic backdrop to the war, and explains the many parts of this 30 year conflict in a way that helped me to keep it all straight! I wanted to read Thucydides' history of the war, but had found it rather dense in the past. Therefore, I used this lecture series to give me the background I needed. I would listen to a lecture, then read the corresponding section of Thucydides -- and that really helped! Dr. Harl has a wonderful "collegiate" delivery - a little gruff, a little wry - but always genuine and with a passion for his subject that is engaging.
Date published: 2014-11-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Tragedy of Greek history THE LECTURER: This is the third course I have taken from the TGC given by professor Harl, the other being "Origin of Great Ancient Civilizations" and "Great Ancient Civilizations of Asia Minor". This is the one I have enjoyed most. In the other two courses professor Harl was very good. In this one he is IN HIS ELEMENT and he is fantastic. He is so absorbed in the material that he often digresses from his central commentary into minor points (often chuckling to himself as he does and adding some ironic commentary), but this only serves to make the history come to life and make the lecture even more fascinating. CONTENT: This is age in which the most famous Greek tragedies were written, and the history of the Peloponnesian Wars is really best thought of as a Greek tragedy... Here we have a Greek Civilization headed by two central hegemones and their federation: the first is Sparta - an odd political being in the Greek world. It is very far from being a democracy (perhaps more of a very conservative Oligarchy) on the one hand. On the other hand, it treats its allies with respect and in no way presumes to serve as their master. Athens is almost the exact opposite - it is a radical democracy to its citizens but governs an alliance which actually ended up turning into an empire and its allies into subjects (The Delian League). The tragedy of the situation lies in the fact that the root cause of the war is outside the scope of influence (and understanding) of both parties - it is the political structure of the city state, in which each individual city state wants its own freedom and autonomy preventing any real chance of creating a stable federal structure and perpetuating the endless bloody battles. Professor Harl dives deeply into this profound insight. The war is a war that cannot be won, and both sides go through terrible economic distress and indescribable suffering before the war is over. Neither will ever be the same, and the war in many ways marks the beginning of the decline of the classic Greek era and signals the changes that are to lead to the Hellenistic age. Great lecturer, great topic, highly recommended!
Date published: 2014-02-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Prof. Harl's Masterpiece Prof. Harl is among the most esteemed and respected of TGC lecturers, and this course is the quintessential example of why that is. The Peloponnesian War is the most significant event in ancient Greek history, with an enduring influence on military and political strategic thought that continues down to this day. This course is essentially divided into two parts. The first half of the course describes in detail the structures and institutions of Athens and Sparta (along with their major respective allies), and relates the essential history of the century that preceded the War. Topics covered include: the ancient way of war, including naval conflict; the respective organization of Athenian and Spartan societies; the victories over Persia; the reforms and great public works projects enacted by Pericles; and the evolution of each city-state into a mini-empire. This first half of the course alone is worth the price of admission, and provides one of the most complete analyses of Classical Greece's political landscape you're likely to find anywhere. Prof. Harl turns to, and appraises, a wealth of resources here, including archaeological discoveries, Thucydides, and Herodotus. The second half of the course covers the events of the War itself, and shines almost as brightly. Although it can be very hard to follow events of the war without a map handy, Prof. Harl weaves together an impressive narrative, drawing on a variety of sources beyond Thucydides, in particular Plutarch. The course concludes with an excellent lecture on the legacy of the Peloponnesian War, putting it in the proper context of Classical and world history, yet still giving a feel for why Thucydides resonates so strongly to the present time. This course is quite unlike other popular courses on the Classical world. There is not much of the storytelling charm of Prof. Hale, that makes the listener feel like they're sitting around a campfire, nor is there the (some might say excessive) exalting of Plutarch or moralizing of the late Prof. Fears. Conversely, the lectures are more casual, but not less organized, than the highly scholarly offerings by Prof. Vandiver. Rather, Dr. Harl treats the subject matter, as another reviewer has described, as a journalist or documentarist. The sources are weighed and put into their proper context, which is more than can be said for a lot of historical works out there. However, this course does have a genuine narrative, and that's what makes it a joy. The major players, such as Nicias, Pericles, and Alcibiades come across as three-dimensional people, eerily similar to politicians we might think of today. The battles are described in sometimes brutal detail. At the end of the day, this is a war that ended nearly 2500 years ago, that still yields very real lessons for the present day.
Date published: 2013-10-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Reading Thucydides? Hear these lectures first! I'm going to address this review to the listeners like me who have Thucydides on their shelves, maybe studied Greek history years ago in college and now are interested in really learning instead of just getting through. You opened your Thucydides and immediately got lost. The what rebellion? What do you mean Corinth and Corcyra were arguing about colonies? Why would the Athenians even care? I tried to read it independently. I really did. When I saw this course, I immediately signed up and it has made all the difference. First, Professor Harl is a terrific lecturer with all the best traits for history. He clearly loves his subject and has mastered all the nuances. He is passionate about his presentation. He respects the listener's intelligence by clearly delineating scholarly controversies. He tells a great story. Second, he spends a lot of time on background. Not too much time - but he gives a clear picture of both sides of the conflict and sets the scene. (One note: unless you know ancient Greek geography cold OR you have a detailed map in front of you, get the DVDs. That visual is very important!) The lectures are worth listening to because they are interesting to anyone who just wants to know the story. It is a great story with characters who you've been hearing about all your life. Now you will know who and what they were. You even get enough information to start evaluating the policies of both sides for yourself. By this I mean the "what ifs" and the detective work that makes history so much fun. And now you can read and appreciate Thucydides.
Date published: 2013-09-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Favorite This is the first course I have taken from Kenneth Harl, and it has prompted me to purchase more taught by him. I first listened to his Peloponnesian War on CDs last summer. Thirty-six lectures can be a long haul if one finds the speaker’s voice irritating, or if he/she meanders or gets bogged down in too much detail. Professor Harl kept my attention from beginning to end. He has a direct, no-nonsense, manner and gets right to the point, which is a real plus regarding the lengthy Peloponnesian War populated by so many personalities, battles, and socio-economic-political issues and developments. I found, however, that I needed more detailed maps than those provided in the course guidebook, so I bought a copy of the Landmark Thucydides which includes more maps than one would ever need for this course. (Considering this development, I probably should have purchased the course on audio download and saved a bit on the cost.) Harl’s treatment of Thucydides and his history is, from my non-specialist perspective, top-notch. Even more interesting is his swimming against the current on the Spartans. He has a very positive assessment of them, one that I’m still not able to fully accept, but which, nevertheless, provides a good argument for critically evaluating the prevailing negative view of the Spartans. In this regard, Harl qualified my otherwise high regard for Victor Davis Hanson’s A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War. Harl contends Hanson’s study is the “epitome” of the type of scholarship “… in which Athens is seen as the progressive progenitor of Western democracies and Sparta is depicted as alien to the Western tradition…[an attempt] to put the Peloponnesian War into the contexts of the ideological conflicts of the 19th and 20th centuries [and overdraws] the differences between the Spartans and the Athenians and to distort the reasons for the war” (Course Guidebook, pp.191-192). Get this course and see if you agree.
Date published: 2013-08-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course! I purchased both the DVD version and the CD version. I watched the entire DVD version one time over, and I agree with the other comments that unless you have a strong grasp of Greek geography and the Balkan area in general, it will be difficult to follow along with the professor. Once the geography is in place, the understanding of the course is much easier. The Peloponnesian War gave Western Civilization its' first genuine historical work in Thucydides's book of the same title. The recurrent issues of power, greed, envy, self-interest, the thoughtless exercise of power by the strong over the weak, and the other foibles of human nature are all exposed in Thucydides' great work. Prof. Harl does a masterful job in explaining to the lay person the issues of Greek city-state politics and the issues of competition between Sparta and Athens that lead to the outbreak of the war. Prof. Harl is one of the foremost experts on the history of Rome and Greece and his lectures are well-delivered and well-presented.
Date published: 2013-08-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Thorough! In this series of 36 lectures, Professor Harl presents a detailed account of the 27-year long Peloponnesian War based on ancient writings and also on archeological finds. As usual, Professor Harl is enthusiastic, knowledgeable, determined and unquestionably professional. The presentation itself is by no means synthetic, a bit repetitive and at times somewhat confusing for the non expert. Thus, the course will be best appreciated by those who already have both sizeable background knowledge and a keen interest in the topic.
Date published: 2013-01-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brilliant presentation of classical history DVD REVIEW Kudos! This is a superbly-structured course, clearly & brilliantly presented in great detail, always fascinating, stimulating and bright, never dull or boring. The course provides essential information on Greek society and civilisation as a background to the 27-year conflict, then analyses the war almost blow-by-blow. The setting is so important for a full understanding of the war and I believe Dr Harl was right in assigning the first half of his lectures as a preface. After all, Athens and Sparta had just fought side-by-side against the Persians (well-covered in this course), then turned on each other. Why? What led to this tragic event? The use of support material ~ graphics and very helpful maps ~ is finely executed to illustrate the talks. I have no hesitation in recommending this course very highly; it will give you a solid, strong understanding of the Peloponnesian War, a major event in classical history. Dr Harl: PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE stop saying "ARR" every few sentences! Overcoming this annoying tic will put you in the front line of great professors.
Date published: 2013-01-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from More Animated Maps please I have had no background in this subject at all. It was pretty much a shot in the dark when I choose to get this course in DVD. I found some parts boring, but many parts caught my interest. For example the way the different governments of Athens and Sparta operated - really caught my attention and curiosity. The professor's final conclusion pretty much knocked my socks off! Extremely relevant to the United States today. For the course as a whole, I only wish there were many more animated maps in the first half of the lecture - In the second half of the lectures, the maps were well animated - I appreciated that. If you do not know the detailed geography of Greece, you will need to get the DVD.
Date published: 2012-10-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Hard work but rewarding I want to second the review below entitled "Outstanding . . But Not for All." Harl's delivery and organization are excellent. When he interjects his own thoughts, they are well worth hearing, not the gratuitous or superficial personal asides that sometimes burden lectures at The Great Courses. If, like me, you have great difficult internalizing a detailed, rigorous treatment of a series of military campaigns, you will enjoy the first half (a social, historical, and economic context) more than the second. But the first half alone is worth the price of the series, and surely it's good practice to try to understand the purely military information even for those of us who find it difficult mental terrain. I've ordered another of Prof. Harl's lectures and am looking forward to it.
Date published: 2012-07-13
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