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 This policy was adopted, but rescinded at the last moment.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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Peloponnesian War is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 77.
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
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding and Beautifully Done - But Not For All This is an outstanding course - as are all of those offered by Professor Harl. Both the depth and breadth of the scholarship are truly impressive; the organization is superb; and Prof. Harl is a pleasure to listen to, with his usual clear, eloquent, and focused lecture style. In addition the maps and other visuals are excellent and plentiful, which is much appreciated. Prof. Harl also makes clear when he is presenting material on which there is general agreement; when the sources are simply inadequate to come to any firm conclusions; and when his opinion differs from that of the scholarly consensus. Further, he is exemplary in laying out the plan of each lecture at the start, and reviewing the important points and conclusions at the end. (One important area where there is a great deal of room for disagreement is Prof. Harl's laudatory view of Pericles' Athens, which he calls "a full-fledged democracy." Although he doesn't hide the fact that slaves and women had no part in this "democracy,' he consistently avoids making an issue of their exclusion, while praising the reforms which "transformed Athens into a full democracy" and repeatedly calling this democracy a "success." [Quotes from the Course Guidebook, Lecture 13.] I found this a rare but disappointing instance of misguided bias.) The first half of the course is a necessarily brief but well-done overview of the century or so before the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War. It provides an excellent review of the Greek political, military, and economic context of the fifth century B.C.E., which is essential to an understanding of the war itself. The remainder of the course treats the war in exquisite detail. But the course, fine as it is, is not for everyone, even everyone interested in ancient Greece. The introductory material in the first half is taught in significantly greater depth, painting a broader picture of the culture, in other excellent Great Courses. And the second half, other than the concluding lecture, is pure military history. The battles, intrigues, strategies, and personalities - including the fascinating figure of Alcibiades - are presented with such detail that they risk losing the attention of those such as me whose primary interest is in the social, political, and cultural areas. If military history is one of your interests, you will love this course. But if it isn't, you may want to look elsewhere to expand your knowledge of ancient history.
Date published: 2012-07-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Survey This was my first in depth lecture on the subject, and I found it to be informative and it has intrigued me to learn more about the period. Like other Harl courses, I found the lecture interesting and the presentation easy to follow and enjoy.
Date published: 2012-06-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The good guy ain't wearing a white hat DVD reviews. When TTC courses overlap, potential buyers naturally wonder where to start and what to ignore. This is a review of three such courses concerned with the political and military history of classical Greece: Dr Hales’s THE GREEK AND PERSIAN WARS as well as two courses by Dr. Harl, THE PELOPONESIAN WAR and ALEXANDER THE GREAT AND THE MACEDONIAN EMPIRE. All are great and very informative. So the key question is: How much and what kind of information do you want? At what point does “good enough” become “too much”? The general overview and best first step, unless you are very familiar with Greek history, is undoubtedly GREEK AND PERSIAN WARS. Listening to Dr Hale is like sitting around a campfire with a good storyteller. The period covered is 560 to 320 B.C., ending shortly after the death of Alexander the Great. And like all great stories, we start with very few characters vividly drawn before things build up. Included too are plenty of maps and pictures from Dr Hale’s many archaeological expeditions. The weakness of personality-driven storytelling is that impersonal factors (economics, geography, culture, sociology, etc.) get forgotten. It’s all “and then…, and then…, and then…”, like a small child’s account of the day. Dr Hale neatly avoids this by inserting plenty of impersonal factors into his narrative, but in a light way so that the flow is not interrupted too much. All in all, an excellent 24-lecture course. And a good place to stop if your interest in ancient Greek political history is only casual. The more alert among you might wonder how the Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.) fits into Hales’s course, since it was primarily a Greek-on-Greek conflict. He gives a general outline with more details near the final phase because Persian financial support of Sparta played a role in its eventual victory. But if you want more, Dr Harl is your man. He too is an excellent raconteur. He has to be. PELOPONNESIAN offers enormous detail, with 17 lectures out of 36 providing the requisite political, military, sociological and cultural factors affecting the various Greek city states before the war even begins. This is also a course about the perceptions and working methods of the world’s first truly “professional historian”, Thucydides, also a participant in this war. Why so much detail? In good part because 19th Century British historians popularized this war as a contest between democracy and the forces of autocracy. As they portrayed it, this conflict foreshadowed Great Britain’s resistance to Napoleon. Athens was the “good guy”, a beacon of freedom and culture. Sparta was a war-obsessed military machine. Actually, as Dr. Harl explains, both sides had much in common, and Athens, though a democracy, was a despotic master of neighboring Greek city states that fell under its control. Indeed, much of its cultural glow (including the Parthenon) was unwillingly financed by its imperial possessions. This being the case, the “good versus evil” angle collapses, and Athens’ eventual loss had little impact on the evolution of Western civilization. In fact, as Harl points out, the Punic wars between Rome and Carthage (264-146 B.C.) were far more fateful. One may wonder then why devote so much time to this tiny 27-year war unless the whole period already fascinates you. Alexander the Great is a different story. In terms of historical influence, he is probably the most important non-religious figure in Western history, primarily because he “exported” Greece’s ideas and language into Persia and northern India. But be warned, here too Dr Harl offers exhaustive political and military details through a span of 36 lectures covering 404-320 B.C. This not only includes Alexander’s career, but also that of his almost-equally talented father, Philip II of Macedon. Philip united Greece. Alexander built on this and conquered the whole “civilized” world then known to the Greeks. The final 8 courses are an excellent (again highly detailed) overview of the institutional and cultural influence of Alexander’s fragmenting empire after his death, until Rome took over the Eastern Mediterranean (320-30 B.C.). An interesting side issue not really explored in these lessons is the ethical ramification of ancient imperialism, be it Athenian, Macedonian or Persian. All three courses are enthusiastic portrayals of mass murder and plunder. Of course ethical judgments are not “knowledge” whereas the exploration of past cause-and-effect relationships is. Also, it must be remembered that growth through trade, economic development or science and technology was entirely foreign to ancient thought. The fastest way to gain wealth and glory was to grab it from others, who presumably had achieved wealth through the same process. All in all, GREEK AND PERSIAN WARS is the best choice if you only want one overview. PELOPONNESIAN and ALEXANDER are for the dedicated souls who seek more, especially if they like military history. The guidebooks for the first two courses are excellent, with plenty of maps. The ALEXANDER guidebook is extremely skimpy, not a fit tool for such a detailed course.
Date published: 2012-01-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent This series of lectures covers much more than just the war. It covers Greek life, civilization, and politics of that era and its surrounds. Professor Harl raises the question, why do we study the Peloponnesian War when it wasn't the most important war of that time period? First of all, we have a first-hand account of the war from an eyewitness, Thucydides, and Thucydides had valuable insight of the lessons future civilizations can learn from this war. (He was an Athenian general, but he got busted and became a historian.) Second, since we have such a wonderful account of that war, scholars have turned to it in recent years to find some lessons or understanding of the crises we are currently facing against fundamentalists in Islam. Professor Harl reads and analyzes passages from Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War and then presents two scholarly analysts (Donald Kagan and Victor Davis Hanson) who differ in their interpretation, and then Harl offers his view which differs from both of them. We are thus given many viewpoints from which to draw our own conclusions based on our own set of biases. History favors Athens — probably because that’s where the great philosophers lived, and that’s where civilization flowered, but through this lecture series we are exposed to many different sets of interpretation which enable us to be more open minded rather than simply falling prey to indoctrination. I actually drew a different sentiment, one which favors the Spartans (the actual victors). However, everyone suffered greatly, so the word “victory” is rather hollow. This course shows the main theme of Thucydides, and that is, what war does to a society -- particularly to its leaders, citizens of democracies, and governments who determine their own destinies. Whether it is the facts of the war itself, or the insights given to us by Thucydides, the lessons we can learn from his account resonate with us today. It is easy to make comparisons between the Athens and Sparta conflict and many of our current ideological conflicts. The way Harl delivers the lectures is both entertaining and real. The way he tells about the colorful character, Alcibiades, one can clearly picture him as we see the same antics played out today, by the rich and famous flamboyant characters who entertain us in the news. This is one of the most interesting and useful ancient history courses I have listened to, and I recommend this course.
Date published: 2011-08-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from good detailed analysis Prof Harl's courses are always good and this one is no exception. In lesser hands, the subject can be dry and mundane but he makes it all come to life. He clearly is very enthusiastic about the subject and his presentation and excitement show. The only bone I have with it is that it repeatedly uses the same visuals (the Athenians under seige, the Spartan ephors, etc) and these are the some of the same images used in Dr John Hale's class in the Persian Wars. i would think with the abundance of archaeological info Great Courses can do better than using cartoons over and over.
Date published: 2011-06-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A little long-winded and professor Hale repeats himself. Regardless, I still found his analysis eye-opening, and his presentation engaging. Dr. Hale is one of my favorite professors.
Date published: 2011-06-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent, enthralling history Prof. Harl is one of my favorite TC instructors, and this is his 7th course that I've taken -- and rated 5 stars. This course is more detailed than some of the others, covering less than 100 years in 36 lectures. But the story of how the Greeks -- especially Athens and Sparta -- stood shoulder-to-shoulder to stop the Persians, then spent 30 years killing one another is gripping and moving. He brings the triumphs and tragedies to life. The entire War was a tragedy for the Greek world, and it could have several times ended with less disruption and destruction. The story of the Athenians' disaster at Syracuse is heartbreaking. Harl also discussed the analogies that many historians have used between the Peloponnesian War and more modern wars such as WW I and its seeming inevitability once the main actors mobilized. Harl covers all of the events and main personalities, and puts them in context. Every time I listen to one of Harl's lectures (all on CD so far), I picture him throbbing with energy and excitement -- he's deeply passionate about this material. This course is deep and detailed, so it's not the best first TC history course for everyone, but I recommend it for anyone with an interest in Ancient Greece in general and the Peloponnesian War in particular.
Date published: 2011-05-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Complex Subject Well Presented Most people know little about this ancient war and care less. Professor Harl brings the subject to life with a clarity that makes it fascinating as well as educational. I looked forward every day to viewing the next episodes. It is amazing how much we can learn from the rise and fall of the first democracy, and how relevant it is to our own present time. There are innumerable parallels and studying the pitfalls of Athens could help us avoid similar ones. I must disagree with the reviewer who complained about the length of the introduction. For most students who lack the background, such an in-depth presentation was absolutely essential to understanding of the actual history of the conflict. I must admit that I was confused on a couple of occasions, when I thought we were well into the war and Harl kept referring to the beginning of it. My husband pointed out that the war lasted 27 years and that although we were into the 6th or 7th year, that was still the beginning. A bit confusing. Most of all, I enjoyed the presentation. Always stimulating, interesting and informative. It is a rare skill to present complex information in a clear and understandable way without dumbing it down. Harl's lecturing skills are superb. While I have listened to many TC courses in audio, I would have been completely lost in this one without the maps orienting the viewer to the geography of the region. I strongly recommend the DVD version of this course. I enjoyed it so much, that I am ordering another by Professor Harl.
Date published: 2010-10-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Serious HIstorical Scholarship Don't buy this course unless you really want to understand this pivotal conflict and its implications in depth. In all seriousness, if you are looking for a general overview this is not it. This course - and Harl - are about something far more serious and thorough. The result is a very comprehensive treatment that even viewers with some knowledge of the conflict will find intellectually stimulating. Some of the graphics are a bit overused but this is a minor quibble. For the most part the presentation is excellently matched between dialogue and supporting maps and graphics, and Harl is never less than penetrating in his analysis. Even though the exhaustive depth of the analysis was occasionally exhausting I am looking forward to watching it again at some time in the future.
Date published: 2010-04-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent! This course provides a somewhat narrow, but very exhaustive outline of the Peleponesian War: it's campaigns, outcme and the figures that fought it. It relies heavily on the works of Thucydides but that is only to be expected considering the paucity of sources, and the professor points out corraborating and supplementary sources in a very efficient way. While the course is narrow in scope (partially due to the subject matter and our availible sources) I would love to have more similar "narrow courses" for other conflicts such as the Napleonic and Thirty-Years war. Overall an excellent course.
Date published: 2010-03-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another hit by Harl Another wonderfully presented and fascinating course on a topic that could be dry. I walked away (as I often do with his courses) with a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the period.
Date published: 2009-11-29
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A little topic with my background please There is no doubt that Harl is one of the best TTC has to offer. He is clear, entertaining and incredibly smart. My problem with this course was how it was structured. Exactly half (though lecture 17) was background information leading up to the point where most historians agree the war started. Let me repeat that. HALF THE COURSE IS BACKGROUND!! Obviously, one would not start a course on THE major war of antiquity without some background. No one would advise starting a course on the American Revolution at Lexington & Concord, nor would you start a course on the Civil War at Fort Sumter. Background is needed. But half the course? As comparison, Prof. Harl's instructor at Yale, Donald Kagan, authored the excellent "The Peloponnesian War" for the average reader. His 500 page book had about 40-50 pages of background. He summarized in 40 to 50 pages what it took Harl to do in 17 lectures, or 8.5 hours. If you don't mind an extremely detailed study of events leading to the war, then by all means, you won't be disappointed. If you want a course on the war itself, be prepared to sit through half the course to get there. As an aside, thank you TTC for your excellent guarantee. I sent this back for another course, no questions asked.
Date published: 2009-11-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Professor Harl does it again Fascinating topic, deep but not obscure presentation, Professor Harl is a lecturer. You never feel he is reading notes to you, but that you are in the company of someone so familiar and in love with his topic, he can roll on and on, off the top of his head, inviting you into the world of his intellectual passions. I'm always sorry when his courses end.
Date published: 2009-06-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Harl Is Consistently Great Prof. Harl is one of the TC's best lecturers (behind only Sapolsky and Brier). The course is long, primarily due to an excellent introduction before the war. Its a great mix of excellent storytelling and fascinating analysis.
Date published: 2009-06-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from great If you think the greeks were some how better than everyone else, this course will do nothing to dissuade you. Their failures are catastrophic. Their successes were thrilling. In the social context they were manically inovative. And the whole greek world was small enough for the dynamic characters and minds to rise out of obscurity, unlike other larger civilizations in which ... ahem ... a certain atrophy is evident in the body politic.
Date published: 2009-06-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from pair this with Hale's Greek and Persian Wars Harl is one of the top Teaching Co professors. After I took McInerney's survey Introduction to Greek Civ and Fears Famous Greeks course, I listened to Harl's Peloponesian Wars course on audio and then followed it by Hale's cassettes on Greek and Persian Wars. All excellent.
Date published: 2009-04-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great study of an important war and a classic text This was the first Teaching Company course I bought and completed. I enjoyed it a lot and have since done a number of others (all of which have been excellent). The subject is very interesting - the Peloponnesian War was a long and difficult struggle with lots of military, diplomatic, political, economic and social twists. Thucydides is a first-rate chronicler and analyzer, and he raises many profound questions about human nature, the behavior of democracies in war, and other topics which remain eminently relevant today. At least two other courses I've taken since (one on political philosophy and one on modern international relations) refer to Thucydides, and much of the worldview of Socrates/Plato/Aristotle was shaped by the Peloponnesian War, which humbled Athens in the previous generation. So it's definitely part of the core humanities canon and worth understanding to lay a foundation for future study. I highly recommend reading The Landmark Thucydides by Robert Strassler in conjunction with this course. Strassler's edition has copious maps, footnotes and appendices to help the uninitiated (i.e., anyone who doesn't know literally hundreds of obscure Mediterranean towns and geographical features) make sense of the dense original text. Even in 36 lectures, Professor Harl can't cover all of the details that Thucydides so exquisitely records, and it's worth reading if you want to really extract the maximum learning from immersing yourself in the Peloponnesian War for a period of time. I noticed a few small instances in which Professor Harl's narrative diverged slightly from the text - this didn't really bother me, but it did make me glad I was taking the time to read the book as well. That said, the professor is highly knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the topic - a bit nerdily so, but I found this endearing. He has done original research on the era and has some opinionated interpretations of his own, but he does a very even-handed job of explaining other theories as well and laying out the evidence on both sides. I would definitely buy another course of his if I found the topic interesting. The course itself also uses many visuals - maps, animations of battles, sketches, photos of artifacts and ruins, etc. - which greatly enhances Professor Harl's presentation. All in all, taking this course was time well spent, both for the subject itself and for its much broader applicability to the study of history and philosophy.
Date published: 2009-03-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An outstanding course When most of us studied the the Peloponnesian War in high school or college, it was almost certainly taught as a struggle between Athens-- the good guys, because they were a democracy-- and Sparta-- the bad guys, because they seemed like the Nazis or the commies. Kenneth Harl offers something else here: nuance. His analysis of this complex, long struggle argues that the various Greek city-states were all on the same continuum; they differed from one another in many ways, but not in their essential natures. This alone makes Prof. Harl's course intriguing, but, in addition, he offers a wealth of information about every aspect of the economics, politics, military strategy, and even climate of the time. Further, he is a professor in the literal sense of the word. That is, he not only informs us, he makes us understand why the information is important to us. My one and only criticism of the course is actually a matter of style. Prof. Harl roots himself firmly behind the lectern for the entire course. He apparently has comprehensive notes-- which, by the way, he handles so unobtrusively that they're nearly invisible-- and needs the lectern to hold them. However, it also limits his gestures and movement. He would be so much more dynamic if he would just move around a little. This is, as I say, a minor stylistic concern, and it certainly didn't detract from my enjoyment of the course. This is a first-rate course taught by a first-rate professor. I recommend it most highly.
Date published: 2009-03-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Perhaps the Best Course from the Best TTC Lecturer Kenneth Harl has produced his greatest Teaching Company effort yet in this course, which is certainly saying something with his active history of six previous courses totaling 168 lectures! He is now over the 200 lectures mark with these 36 more lectures. I think this places him in line for perhaps the top overall TTC lecturer, so we can only hope for a continued effort in the years to come. {pub. 2007}{36 lectures}{"Peloponnesian War"} {pub. 2005}{12 lectures}{"Origins of Great Ancient Civilizations"} {pub. 2005}{36 lectures}{"Vikings"} {pub. 2004}{36 lectures}{"Rome and the Barbarians"} {pub. 2003}{36 lectures}{"Era of the Crusades"} {pub. 2001}{24 lectures}{"Great Ancient Civilizations of Asia Minor"} {pub. 2001}{24 lectures}{"World of Byzantium"} I find it very difficult to place any hierarchy among his courses, they are all on such a high level. The only real difference could be a greater use of graphics, which this course did make good use of. But there was something in the presentation of this course itself, a driver behind all his effort, which seems to be Kenneth's scholarship itself. He simply knows how to present information in an intelligent, compelling,professional manner. Yet he also conveys a keen sense of the importance of learning and knowing the subjects he teaches, of how difficult an accurate historical sense is to attain, and how important it is to be aware of one's past, even those of antiquity. I see Kenneth Harl as one who probably be a great and valuable member of a governmental department or in some high level bureaucracy. Yet he is a humanitarian, a Roman socio-economic scholar, an expert in numismatics (study of coins), because he values the virtues and lessons one discovers about humans, much more than some type of unrewarding, but much higher paying job, in which he would equally excel. We should all be motivated by where his initiative and love of the history of humankind has taken him. His knowledge and his willingness to share it with us, is inspiring to say the least. I suppose I would think each of his courses to be the best ever, once I had just finished them. But I do think that Kenneth Harl is taking over the top spot as the most active, most compelling, most accessible Teaching Company lecturer to date. That position had been held by Robert Greenberg, but he is producing less courses over time, and has changed his presentation from his earlier courses. I had thought William Wallace may take over the sport from Robert, with his wonderful course on Michelangelo. But Kenneth Harl has simply outproduced William Wallace to not be considered as the top lecturer for now. What next? I can imagine the Macedonian Wars between Greece and Philip II. The conquests of Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic Age have been done already by Jeremy McInerney. I see room for a much needed course on the Persian or Ottoman Empires. The Mongols are an underestimated historical force that would be a fascinating topic. It would be fantastic to have Kenneth produce a course on numismatics. The graphics on that course could be quite impressive indeed.
Date published: 2009-01-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A war that continues to be worth studying I read Thucydides on my own, many years ago, and wasn't particularly interested. But my interest was piqued by what I was hearing of my son's Humanities 101 course at Reed, and I decided to listen to this course. It brought the subject to life, and I was very glad I'd taken the time to listen.
Date published: 2009-01-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Meet the Spartans Back in high school the Pelopennesian War was presented as a titanic struggle between Athens (the good guys – philosophers and democrats) and Sparta (the bad guys – soldiers and autocrats). Prof McInerney’s excellent Ancient Greek Civilization course focuses on this war for a few lectures and recasts it as being a more complex matter. McInerney’s Athens was indeed a city of philosophers and democrats, but also a city that politically enslaved its former allies. However, the Spartans are clearly still the bad guys, a virtually alien, militaristic civilization lodged in the heart of the Greek world. In this series of lectures devoted exclusively to the Pelopennesian War, Prof Harl quite boldly presents a reconstruction of Sparta that is quite different from what I’ve encountered back in high school and in other Teaching Company courses such as those of Prof McInerney. According to Prof Harl, Sparta sits at one end of a continuum of Greek city states, differing in degree but not in nature. Viewing Sparta differently, Prof Harl views the entirety of the war differently. Prof Harl is a delightful lecturer and clearly demarcates where and why his research has led him to differ from the more general consensus, so you are left free to decide for yourself how far you are willing to follow him in his opinions. The story of the Pelopennesian War is an interesting one and Prof Harl presents a fresh take on it. If you like a little scholarly controversy and academic debate with your history, you’ll love this course.
Date published: 2008-12-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another Great Course I listen to your courses while running on a treadmill. Who would have ever thought ancient history could you wish to run longer? Dr. Harl's courses have been consistently well done. It would be great to have this professor and others put together a course on the great battles of history.
Date published: 2008-12-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very thorough and beautifully illustrated
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from TTC's courses have been one of the highlights of my retirement - throughly entertaining, educational, and enlightening.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Courses are invigorating, inspirational and challenging. This has been an outstanding educational experience for me.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Prof. harl is one of the most enjoyable of lecturers. While ill recently, I took the opportunity to re-watch all his courses.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An excellent course in every respect! Listening to Dr. Harl's lectures adds sweetness to my day!
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This is one of the best courses in the Teaching Company catalog- that is saying a lot because there are so many great courses.
Date published: 2008-10-17
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