The Persian Empire

Course No. 3117
Professor John W. Lee, Ph.D.
University of California, Santa Barbara
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94% of reviewers would recommend this product
Course No. 3117
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Course Overview

What do we know about the Persian Empire? For most of the past 2,500 years, we've heard about it from the ancient Greek perspective: a decadent civilization run by despots, the villains who lost the Battle of Marathon and supplied the fodder for bad guys in literature and film. But is this image really accurate?

Recent scholarship examining the Persian Empire from the Persian perspective has discovered a major force that has had a lasting influence on the world in terms of administration, economics, religion, architecture, and more. In fact, the Persian Empire was arguably the world's first global power—a diverse, multicultural empire with flourishing businesses and people on the move. It was an empire of information, made possible by a highly advanced infrastructure that included roads, canals, bridges, and a courier system. And the kings of Persia's Achaemenid dynasty —Cyrus, Darius, Xerxes, and others—presided over an empire that created a tremendous legacy for subsequent history.

The Persian Empire is your opportunity to see one of the greatest empires in the ancient world from a fresh new perspective: its own. Over the span of 24 fascinating lectures, Professor John W. I. Lee of the University of California, Santa Barbara—a distinguished teacher and an expert on the long-buried secrets of the ancient world—takes the role of a history detective and examines Persian sources to reveal what we now know about this grand civilization. Tapping into the latest scholarship on the Persian Empire, this course is sure to fill in some critical gaps in your understanding and appreciation of the sweep of ancient history and its undeniable effect on later civilizations. Including our own.

Meet Ancient Persia's Great Leaders and Everyday Citizens

According to Professor Lee, the Achaemenid Persian Empire was enormous, comprising 25 million people—only 1 million of whom were Persian. How did such a small minority manage such a large population? Why were these imperialists so tolerant of those under their rule, leaving untouched many of the subjugated population's local customs?

In The Persian Empire, you'll discover how the Persians were able to create and control such a vast empire. And the key to that success lay in the empire's greatest rulers, each of whom played a critical role in shaping and strengthening a civilization we still remember today. Among the fascinating leaders you'll meet are

  • Cyrus, ancient Persia's first Great King, whose pragmatic leadership solidified the empire;
  • Cambyses, who through military prowess expanded the Persian Empire into Egypt;
  • Darius I, who created Persia's imperial ideology and built up the empire's celebrated infrastructure; and
  • Artaxerxes II, who held the empire together in the face of civil war and restored its power.

But while these great kings were administering justice or waging wars, everyday Persians were just as important to the success of the empire. Professor Lee expertly moves between the historical record—the story of kings and battles—and the lives of ordinary people. You'll learn about

  • the empire's efficient communications network, which in some ways presaged today's globalized world;
  • the Persian economy and the workers and entrepreneurs who supported it;
  • the role of women in the empire, especially the power and influence of royal women;
  • the relationship between the state and the popular Achaemenid religion; and
  • the daily cultural exchanges between the diverse peoples of the empire.

Get at the Startling Truths about the Persian Empire

The Persians did not write histories, and no literature from ancient Persia survives; rather, the earliest historical narratives we have about this empire come from Greeks such as the historians Herodotus, Xenophon, and Ctesias. While important, these accounts detail the frequent wars between the Persians and the Greeks, and they tend to demonize the Persians as despotic barbarians.

Unfortunately, it's a stereotype that's persisted through the millennia. But The Persian Empire helps correct this misinformation by tapping into the ways that historians, within only the last 30 years, have been reconsidering this civilization. Professor Lee guides you through a wide variety of sources that finally get at the startling truths about the Persian Empire:

  • Histories written by non-Greek sources, including the Hebrew Bible
  • Persian administrative records and historical documents
  • Inscriptions by Persia's great kings, including Darius
  • Long-buried archaeological artifacts and ruins

By learning from these and other sources, you'll get to know the people and the culture of the Persian Empire on intimate terms. And, in doing so, you'll come to grasp a much fuller history of an important early empire.

For instance, despite the negative accounts of war, the Greeks and the Persians had many peaceful interactions. Many Greek doctors, craftsmen, and especially mercenary soldiers were comfortable serving under Persian rule. It was this tolerance and practical leadership, you'll learn, that allowed the Persians to maintain their powerful empire for hundreds of years.

Discover a Whole New History of the Ancient World

With The Persian Empire, and with Professor Lee, you'll discover a whole new history of the ancient world—a perspective largely unknown even by students of history. In fact, even today very few universities offer in-depth courses on ancient Persia. With these lectures, you'll find yourself on the cutting edge of historical research.

Recognized multiple times by the University of California, Santa Barbara for his teaching prowess and scholarship (including the Academic Senate Distinguished Teaching Award and the Harold Plous Award), Professor Lee is the perfect guide on your tour of this unique corner of the ancient world. With dozens of maps, animations, illustrations, and other informative graphics featured in the video versions of the course, you'll get to know the terrain of the empire, which stretched from the Mediterranean all the way to the Indus Valley in South Asia.

Spanning these thousands of miles, the Persian Empire was truly a force to be reckoned with in the ancient world. Its successes were great—and so were its failures. The empire's downfall to Alexander the Great and the Macedonians is a suspenseful tale of military cunning and historical circumstance. And while the Persian Empire ultimately fell, its legacy lives on in the areas of language, religion, and so much more.

Professor Lee's The Persian Empire captures the people, the strength, the rise, and the downfall of this great empire, revealing the complexity behind centuries of a previously one-sided history. Take this opportunity to complete your understanding of the ancient world and discover the humanity of the ancient Persians.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 29 minutes each
  • 1
    Rethinking the Persian Empire
    Cyrus. Darius. Xerxes. These great Persian kings were sometimes stereotyped as one-dimensional despots in Greek histories. But through modern history detective work, you’ll uncover the truth about the Achaemenid Persian Empire—an “empire of information” that stretched from Egypt and Asia Minor, through Mesopotamia and Iran, all the way to the Indus Valley. x
  • 2
    Questioning the Sources
    Explore how we’ve come to know the Persian Empire. Greek historians such as Herodotus provided valuable information, but the Greek perspective was often negatively biased. For a more balanced perspective, turn to archaeology, which has uncovered inscriptions, administrative tablets, and other documents that let the Persians speak for themselves. x
  • 3
    The World before Cyrus
    Take a tour of the ancient world before the Persian Empire. In the centuries leading up to the Persian Empire, the Assyrians were the major international power. When the Assyrian kingdom collapsed, it left a power vacuum in the region. Watch as the stage was set for a new power to seize the imperial mantle. x
  • 4
    Cyrus and Cambyses—Founders of the Empire
    Learn how Cyrus, the first great king of the Persian Empire, expanded the empire through pragmatic leadership. You’ll see how he made use of local customs and traditions and thereby gained legitimacy over a wide territory—including central Asia and Babylon. His son Cambyses continued that method when he expanded the empire into Egypt. x
  • 5
    Darius I—Creator of the Imperial System
    Witness the first challenge to the new empire: Was Darius, the son-in-law of Cyrus, a legitimate king? After Cambyses died, and in the face of civil war, Darius established himself as a swift, decisive, unwavering leader. See how Darius created both a royal genealogy and a Persian identity, after which he turned to building infrastructure. x
  • 6
    Persian Capitals and Royal Palaces
    Step back and tour the five Persian capitals—Pasargadae, Ecbatana, Babylon, Susa, and Persepolis. Built in strategic, fortified locations, these cities were important symbols of power for the great kings. For instance, you’ll encounter the great hall at Persepolis, which could hold 10,000 guests. x
  • 7
    The Great King—Images and Realities
    Look beyond the outside stereotypes of Persian kings as tyrants and see what the kings themselves had to say. In sculpted reliefs and carvings on royal tombs, the words and images of Darius and Xerxes show Persian values of harmonious cooperation. x
  • 8
    Royal Roads and Provinces
    Take a road trip into the western provinces and see the empire’s diverse local customs. The Persian Empire was famous for its roads and bridges, and people traveled often. Learn how its express messenger system allowed information to travel quickly—and allowed the king to keep tabs on every corner of the empire. x
  • 9
    East of Persepolis
    Travel east through what is now Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, and onward into Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. Here you’ll discover the complexity of Persian power, as well as its lasting influence. With people moving across vast distances, the Persian Empire was held together by its efficient administration and communication systems. x
  • 10
    Challenges in the West, 513–494 B.C.
    Revolts in Ionia and Cyprus and an attack by the Athenians show the limits of the Persian philosophy of harmonious cooperation—not everyone was content under Persian rule. Explore the early challenges to Persian power and see how Darius contained these threats using diplomacy, military force, and strategic communication. x
  • 11
    Across the Bitter Sea, 493–490 B.C.
    Examine the war with the Greeks from the Persian perspective. After the Athenians threw a Persian herald into a pit, Darius sent his fleet across the Aegean Sea. They advanced into Greece without trouble, but at Marathon the Persian forces stumbled and were defeated by the Athenians. x
  • 12
    Xerxes Becomes King
    Learn the facts that dispel the image of Xerxes as a decadent “Oriental despot.” As a grandson of Cyrus, Xerxes was handpicked by Darius to succeed him. After assuming the throne, Xerxes easily defeated rebellions in Egypt and Babylonia, then returned to Persepolis to finish his father’s domestic projects. x
  • 13
    Xerxes’s War, 480–479 B.C.
    Once again, the Persian Empire tried to take control of Greece, this time under Xerxes. See how Xerxes captured half the nation without a fight—and then scored a great victory against the Spartan king Leonidas. But witness the critical mistake at Salamis, after which the Persians were forced to retreat. x
  • 14
    Cultures in Contact
    Discover the variety of cultural exchanges in the Persian Empire. Never before in human history had such a large area of the globe come under the control of a single power. Here, people were constantly exchanging goods and adopting foreign customs. See how the Persian policy of tolerance of local customs enabled this multiethnic empire to flourish. x
  • 15
    Achaemenid Religion
    Continue your investigation of Persian culture—this time, Achaemenid religion. The Persians were influenced by the sage Zarathustra, who lived around 1000 B.C. The ancient Persians practiced polytheism, with the god Ahuramazda on top. Learn how the kings viewed themselves as instruments of god, which helped legitimize their power and justify imperialism. x
  • 16
    From Expansion to Stability, 479–405 B.C.
    Delve into a new phase of the Persian Empire, which experienced relative security and stability following Xerxes’s war in Greece. After the assassination of Xerxes, his middle son, Artaxerxes I, held the empire together and used diplomacy to deal with the Greeks. Further down the line, watch how Darius II used diplomacy during the Peloponnesian War. x
  • 17
    The War of the Two Brothers
    The empire was stable under Darius II, but his passing presented a new challenge to the empire. Experience the crucial moment when, after Artaxerxes II took power, his brother Cyrus orchestrated a revolt. Feel the suspense as the two brothers clashed in a great showdown at Cunaxa, fighting for the kingship. x
  • 18
    Persian Gold
    As part of its administrative system, the empire created a new Persian currency. From surviving business documents, discover that while agriculture was important, wealth sometimes became concentrated in the hands of a few crafty entrepreneurs, whose financial clout presented systemic risk to the empire. x
  • 19
    City and Countryside
    The history of the empire was not just about kings and battles. Take a look at the lives of ordinary folks. Beyond the capital cities, farming was the basis of the empire’s wealth. Explore the agricultural practices of the empire and meet day-to-day workers—including migrant laborers and slaves. x
  • 20
    Women in the Persian Empire
    Learn why scholars debate how much political power women had in ancient Persia. Compared to Greek women, Achaemenid women had considerable legal and economic freedom. Discover how royal women participated in palace ceremonies, and meet three powerful women in the empire—Artemisia, Mania, and Epyaxa. x
  • 21
    Artaxerxes II—The Longest-Ruling King
    Chart the life of “the king who loved his subjects.” After defeating his brother Cyrus, Artaxerxes II stabilized the empire, eventually negotiating an important peace with the Spartans. Watch as he then embarked on a building program unlike anything since Darius I, which showed the empire could still mobilize enormous resources. x
  • 22
    Persia and Macedon, 359–333 B.C.
    As the empire progressed into the 4th century B.C., rumors of Macedonian aggression abounded. See how Philip II—father of Alexander the Great—reformed the Macedonian military. In an interesting historical coincidence, Darius III came to power in Persia the same year as Alexander in Macedon. See how Darius III prepared for battle. x
  • 23
    The End of an Empire, 333–323 B.C.
    Witness the suspenseful battles between the Persians and the Macedonians, the sieges of Alexander the Great, and Darius III on the run. Alexander, arguably one of the greatest generals in history, commanded a powerful army and defeated Darius, then took on the mantle of Great King, adopting much of Persian ideology. x
  • 24
    Legacies of the Persian Empire
    When an empire ends, its culture and institutions don’t vanish overnight. Learn about the Persian legacy and what became of the kingdoms that followed—the Seleucids, the Parthians, and the Sasanians. By the time Islamic invaders arrived in 651, the Persian Empire had become legend, but its legacy lives on even in modern Iran. x

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  • Download 24 video lectures to your computer or mobile app
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
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  • Download 24 audio lectures to your computer or mobile app
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE audio streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
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DVD Includes:
  • 24 lectures on 4 DVDs
  • 224-page printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps

What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

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  • 224-page printed course guidebook
  • Photos & illustrations
  • Suggested readings
  • Questions to consider

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Your professor

John W. Lee

About Your Professor

John W. Lee, Ph.D.
University of California, Santa Barbara
Professor John W. I. Lee is Associate Professor of History at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He grew up in Southeast Asia and Hawaii. After studying history at the University of Washington, he earned his Ph.D. in History from Cornell University. Professor Lee's research specialty is the history of warfare in the ancient world. He has published on ancient mercenary soldiers, Greek and Persian armies, women in...
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The Persian Empire is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 88.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A truly great course This is a truly is a great course because it made me see the Persian Empire from a different perspective. Like many other reviewers it is great to examine the Persian empire, not through 'Greek eyes' but through Persian eyes. Like many others I am sure, I was taught that the Ancient Greeks were freedom-loving and the Persians were despotic tyrants. Yet the Persians displayed a tolerance to other cultures that would put the Ancient Greeks to shame i.e. you were a Greek or a barbarian. If you are interested in viewing Persian history from a different perspective, I strongly recommend this course.
Date published: 2015-01-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Welcome Addition to the Ancient History Library. Professor Lee clarifies what many professors and historians have hinted at for years - our perception of the Persians perhaps has been warped by Greek-centric versions of their own history. In the Persian Empire we see the events of the Greco-Persian Wars and the rise of this ancient Mid-East power from a less stereotypical and biased western viewpoint.. Very refreshing insights and a well-organized approach by Professor Lee.
Date published: 2015-01-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great content - even better presenter. I've now listened to and enjoyed quite a few Great Courses audio courses, and all along I've been impressed with the content as well as the professors I've encountered - but this is my first review. This is also my first experience with Mr. Lee as Professor. I was actually quite disappointed when I finished this course and searched only to find out this is the only TGC course he's produced so far. I sincerely hope there will be more in the future! This course has given me an expanded understanding of the timelines involved - not only the Persian Empire itself, but how they related to the surrounding civilizations of the time. As with anyone else interested in ancient history, I've come into contact with many of the ideas and writings mentioned in the course previously - but this is absolutely the first time that anyone has been able to show me both sides of the story by comparing the Greek historians to what other information is available on the Persians - and attempting to throw in some reality for good measure. This approach and the overall presentation made the entire time period - and those peoples - seem to come alive for me. The information is put together in a very relaxed manner, presented in a clear and concise speaking style, yet somehow almost forces you to be a part of all sides of the stories being told - stories which the professor obviously finds interesting and meaningful. Highly recommended!
Date published: 2014-11-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Eye opener! Ok so I had completed several of the lectures on ancient empires so I decided to include the Persians just to be complete. Great choice! This lecture offers a unique perspective on a supposedly familiar topic. Professor Lee is fantastic. He challenges your preconceptions and explains why he does so. He makes his lectures interesting by asking you to compare those events long ago to recent ones and occasionally asks "what would you do" and "what if questions" which keeps you engaged throughout this series. His passion and enthusiasm for this topic is clear. I believe he achieved his goal of providing a thought provoking presentation about an often overlooked and interesting topic. Highly recommended!
Date published: 2014-11-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Compare and contrast Audio download (heavily supplemented with online material). This interesting lecture series provides a different point of view of the Achaemenid Empire (roughly 550 to 330 BCE), often attempting to draw from sources other than the usual suspects (e.g. Herodotus & Plutarch). Characteristically (?) these sources appear to be much kinder to the 'Great Kings', down playing the (traditional?) brutality and emphasizing the kinder, gentler side (gardners? Really?) Dr. Lee presents in a clear and measured fashion, obviously integrating visuals into his presentation (since I was listening to the audio version I had to those of you on a treadmill or driving this might create a challenge. Apparently other reviewers' compliments about the visuals suggest that the video versions might be better). By following online, I was not only able to visit those cities Lee noted on his travelogue, but I was able to get a bit more dialogue about the characters who built them and lived there. It took a bit longer, but it made the 'compare and contrast' aspect of the course that much more interesting. Good course (I intend to follow it up with 'Greek and Persian Wars' and ...just for grins, 'Peloponnesian War')...and, it's a great bargain when you can get it for less than $1/lecture
Date published: 2014-10-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from the other side of the story it’s always enlightening to hear a familiar tale from a different point of view, and so if you’re like most of us and have only ever heard about the persian empire from the greek perspective—i.e., that of their mortal enemies—this course will be a great eye-opener. the professor is at pains from the beginning to expose and debunk our myths and stereotypes about the ancient persians, and he replaces them with a refreshingly balanced and comprehensive account of who they were and what their empire was like. and given the limited number of sources we have available to us i was impressed by how much can actually be said. the professor is clearly enthusiastic about the subject, and this is helpful because it has the potential to be fairly dry. as we’re dealing with an empire which left us no indigenous narrative histories we’re obliged to reconstruct the story from whatever fragments we can find, and this runs the risk of turning into a dreary collection of random facts. in the case of achaemenid persia it’s impossible to dispel that odour entirely, but the professor organizes the material well and does his best to find ways to make it engaging. he makes use of greek narratives for example and even greek gossip, although he makes sure to carefully identify both; he highlights exciting recent discoveries; and wherever he can he fleshes out the ancient names so that they become real, three-dimensional human beings. i feel like i actually know each of the great kings now, as opposed to merely knowing a sequence of names. moreover his strategy of illustrating the persian economy by recounting the histories of two actual families from babylonia took what could have been dry as dust and brought it—and those families—alive. i bought the audio format for this course, and this seemed to be working well until lectures 6-7, which consist entirely of site descriptions of five persian capitals, and lectures 8-9, which take us on a tour through the provinces. these lectures are still functional as simple audio, but all the way through you’re keenly aware that you can’t actually see what he’s describing. this sense of missing out on key visuals recurred to a lesser extent in subsequent lectures, but had more or less disappeared by the last third of the course. i don’t know whether these four lectures are reason enough to go with the video—if i had to buy the course again i’m not sure what i would do—but if you choose the audio be aware that these lectures are coming. this course will be of great interest to anyone who wants to see the ancient world from a fresh perspective, but it’s got a more contemporary relevance as well. though he never quite explicitly says so, by helping us come to know the ancient persians the professor is also introducing us to their modern descendents. one can’t help but suspect that he’s so committed to humanizing the ancient persians at least in part because a more human, less stereotypical view of modern iranians could have a huge impact on how events play out in our own day. and if this course is even partly the professor’s own quiet attempt to help make peace in the middle east, then one can only commend him for it.
Date published: 2014-09-18
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Useful introduction to an important civilization I pretty much agree with the other favorable reviews here, and also with the complaint about the shifts between traditional chronological lectures and trendy thematic ones. But the thematic lectures actually were pretty information-dense, and avoided the vacuity of, for instance, “Between the Rivers.” The two lectures on a hypothetical journey around the empire worked quite well, except that it was inexcusable that the course guide lacked a map of the journey, or even of the empire. Overall I agree that this is a valuable lecture course for understanding an important, neglected, and sometimes unfairly denigrated source of our civilization. I would particularly recommend it to politicians currently making a mess of foreign policy.
Date published: 2014-07-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Very Good Presentation on Misunderstood History I purchased this series as a follow up on another TGC "Mesopotamia." While any of these series' can get bogged down in the less than exciting details they do provide a fuller picture of the topic in its totality. Much of what I came to understand as the Persian Empire has been influenced by pop culture, other writings and less by archeology, historical record, etc...Professor Lee brings the very wide, varied and complex Persians into some wonderful context, history and understand even for today. PRO: The pace was well measured with the professor enjoyable in his delivery. Very detailed and addresses today's attitudes versus the historical record. CONS: Nothing glaring aside from my particular opinions, likes and or dislikes.
Date published: 2014-04-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Persians in a different light Lee presents a good overview of an area not much available to western audiences until now. I especially liked that he repeatedly took time to address "sources." Addressing how we know what we know is critical in this era of "but I saw it on the internet so it must be true." Lee shares process alongside content and that is a real strength. He also makes excellent use of maps to anchor the viewer to location. When dealing with vast areas it is easy to go off the mark re: geography, esp if that is not one's natural strength. Too much time spent on battles and military campaigns? Another commenter thought so. And, yes for me as well, but that's history. Many turning points in history stem from military victories and subsequent cultural changes that result from those victories. We need to understand them and Lee boils them down to the basics. Sometimes, too basic, but again this is a starter course. He provides good references and suggestions for further reading (enclosed materials w discs, downloadable pdf for online course) with annotation that allows one to assess which readings might be best for indulging key interests. Any quirks? Yes, I do wish someone had told him not to apologize for the occasional dysfluency. Make the correction and keep on going, no big deal. Also, yes, as commented upon by some others, he is stiff in his presentation. Back in the day, one of my college profs made everyone drink a glass of wine before giving a final presentation to the class. It made a huge difference -- everyone looked so much more polished and we left with a copy of the video so we could compare our stiff, fearful initial presentations with the relaxed, informed finals. Can't do that anymore (or someone's mommy would complain, lol), but I would like Lee to run track before filming his next lecture series. Shake it out, my friend, shake it out.
Date published: 2014-04-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from interesting approach I'm only a few into this, but there's one aspect I find so noteworthy that I had to, well, note it. It is fair to say that the great majority of presentations about this area and this era, fictional, classical, and several from TGC, much as they may try to present a balanced view, have been unable — understandably — to get too far away from a Hellenicentric perspective. Recent work has, apparently, facilitated a more Persian-POV approach, which Prof. Lee enthusiastically presents — perhaps a bit too enthusiastically, as he sometimes seems like he's trying to make up for 2500 years of bad reputation. Rather than souring anything, however, I myself find it somewhat amusing. His maps are well-done, that's something I find important, although I wish they, and some of the charts I've seen so far had been reproduced in the course booklet. I'm really looking forward to the balance of the course.
Date published: 2014-03-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Teaching Skills My husband and I really enjoyed Dr. Lee's course on The Persian Empire. I found his teaching style of using an introduction, course content, then summation, reflective of current methodology for the adult learner. I think that my retention was greater than other courses because of the thoughtfully structured presentation. Of course, the graphics helped as well. I appreciate all his thorough research and work. It was wonderful. I'd like more courses structured in this style. Thank you, Dr. Lee.
Date published: 2014-01-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from In depth course on the Persian Empire Professor Lee presents the course in a very interesting manner. His style is extremely clear and easy to follow and the lectures are enjoyable to listen to. The course is well rounded and includes not only the historical narrative of the political history of ancient Persia, but also many other interesting aspects such as the role of women, the economical infrastructures, the roads, and many other aspects that affected ordinary people's lives. It appears that there a few different sources that are used in the historical research of t his period: ancient Greek sources, Persian inscriptions (mostly financial records) and archaeological sites to name a few. The professor makes a huge effort to give a balanced view of the Persians - one that is not biased against them (as is usually the view of the ancient Greeks who provide a large portion of the sources on this period), but is neither blindly favoring. Overall, this is a well-balanced and interesting course that covers the story of Ancient Persia to the extent one would hope from such a course.
Date published: 2013-12-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well Organized and Clear Dr. Lee's lectures are well organized and clear. His delivery style is sometimes a little casual for my taste, (but I suppose that helps when talking about things (e.g., the archaeological record) that might be dry for some listeners. In addition, the "thematic" lectures (e.g., City and Countryside) were less than scintillating. That said, his lectures narrating the general history of the people and Empire were quite informative if you do not know a lot about this empire, or period in world history.
Date published: 2013-10-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A real eye opener A long overdue series that rebalances our mainly greek-coloured view of the period. In addition to longer sections on historic figures and well known historic events, there are lectures on religion, women in the empire and economy. In their entirety, the lectures bring the empire alive. A must have for anyone interested in the period of 500-300 BC.
Date published: 2013-07-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Counters historical mis-impression of the Persians Among the good things about this course, is that it lacks the buffoonic sound effects that have been damaging some of the recent courses. The most important asset of this course, is that it counters the predominating western historical overlay of seeing the Persians through the biases and propaganda of the ancient Greeks. The professor mentions, early on, that several generations before Alex the Great, Macedon had been a client of Persia - a somewhat ironic piece of information. The course gives informed speculations for various inconsistencies in historical sources. I especially liked the discussion of the Persian forces facing the Greeks at Marathon, Thermopylae, Salalmis etc., it was better than I’ve seen or read elsewhere. Lee discusses the absence of Persian cavalry at Marathon, and offers the speculation that the Greek hoplites ran to engage the Persians before their cavalry could arrive (in addition to hastening getting through the Persian archers effective range?). Good discussions of Greek-Persian battles under Alexander. All in all, a clear moderate paced well done presentation, that is an important contribution in countering a historical mis-impression of the ancient Persians.
Date published: 2013-07-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Review of The Persian Empire I like all of the courses offered that I have watched from the Great Courses and this one was no exceptiion. I found this course particularly interesting and informative because I did not have much knowledge of this era and was fascinated to learn that this was probably the "first" true global power and how it affected so many parts of the "civilized world" of that time. Dr Lee was an engaging presenter and knew his stuff, the graphics were well done and the subject matter and chapters were well thought out and presented in an excellent fashion. In the end I learned something new and I love doing that. I had little knowledge of the Persian Empire and what I did know came from Greek History and not Persian History. It was truly entitled to be called a "Great Empire". If you want to find out more about "East meets West" and for that matter "East meets further East" then you need to add this course to your knowledge base.
Date published: 2013-06-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from TGC/TTC should offer more courses like this one Persia shows up again and again in Greek history, but until this course I never had the opportunity to consider the Persians on their own terms. IMO The Great Courses/Teaching Company should offer more courses like this one, covering classical ancient history other than Greece and Rome. The course on Egyptian history was fantastic, and so was this one. It would be great to have courses on other ancient nations/civilizations too, like Assyria, Carthage, perhaps Nubia, etc. I really liked Professor Lee's presentation and his choice of material, too. It's hard to get around the limited ancient sources, but he did an excellent job! The course was exactly what I wanted. It told the story of Persia in an interesting and colorful way. I would definitely be interested in hearing more courses from Prof. Lee.
Date published: 2013-06-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent This was perhaps the best history course I have purchased from the Teaching Company. Professor Lee is an excellent presenter and is adept at using the wide range of available sources to paint a clear picture of this most fascinating ancient empire.
Date published: 2013-05-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from LEARNED, ORIGINAL, FACTUAL This review refers to the DVD's. I believe visuals are essential for the detailed outlines of family tree relationships, art, pictures of ruins, and the maps. If one's knowledge of the Persian Empire was formed from viewing the movie of the battle at Thermopylae and/or from information strictly from Greek sources, this course could be a revelation. First, we have a personable lecturer who is a gifted story teller. Second, the exhibits and maps are clear and supportive of the narrative as we go along. Third, for many of us this is an original journey into other sources that we may not be familiar with. Fourth, as the lecturer makes clear, there is, in some cases, a paucity of sources to assist one in grasping the nuances of the history that he explores with us. Having said all that, this course provides much information concerning an empire about which most of us, I assume, know very little. My impression from this course is that it seems much serious, and deep, scholarly interest in the Persian Empire began in the nineteenth century. Opposed to this factor, the western culture in which we grow up in is seeped in the knowledge of the Greek and Roman cultures. Dr Lee provides a solid understanding of not only the historical narrative of kings and battles, but the roles of women, the ordinary people, how the economy operated, the methods of government, the techniques of warfare, and the sources of documentation of much of what we have learned about this empire. The details of Alexander's conquering of this empire, including a dramatic portrayal of the crucial battles, compose a fascinating story by Dr Lee. He makes it important for us to understand we need to comprehend the empire in total since the actual population of what we call Persians compose a small percentage of the the empire's total population. The rulers of this vast empire stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to the Indus Valley governed with a light hand. Much of its population, Dr Lee pointed out, carried on its life without much knowledge of who the rulers were. This course is an interesting addition to what is known about that period of history, and adds to one's basic knowledge of the development of the eastern Mediterranean. With the growing interest In Iran, I believe this course can add to one's understanding of the history of that tortured country. It's recommended to everyone.
Date published: 2013-05-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course! I bought the video version of this course. This is such a great course on the Persian Empire. Dr. Lee is a great scholar and attempts to use various sources to depict an accurate picture of this great empire/civilization and it's inspiring and often misunderstood leaders. Unfortunately, because there is not many historic accounts of the Empire left behind by the Persians themselves, up until recent years most historians relied mainly on Greek sources. As rivals to the Persian Empire, the Greeks' accounts are usually biased, if not factually incorrect. Dr. Lee has done a great job identifying multiple non-Greek written sources as well as relying on archeological evidence to paint a far more accurate picture of the Persian Empire that has been presented in the past. Dr. Lee's presentation style is superb and captivating. He makes excellent use of computer generated 3D models and maps, as well as high quality pictures, when he talks about important places (e.g. palaces) and events. I recommend this course highly!
Date published: 2013-05-10
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Hugely Disappointing I'm a big fan of Persian History ... the key to which is the accord reached by the Old Testament Daniel who was captive in Babylon and Cyrus, who conquered Babylon, made Daniel chief of the Magi (due to his knowledge of the Babylonian astral sciences) and allowed the Jews to end the Babylonian exile and rebuild Jerusalem -- Daniel & cohorts probably left the gates of Babylon open for Cyrus's armies. While Lee does make a passing reference to the Old Testament, basically the Ezra and the Nehemiah -- no mention of Daniel at all -- nor of his contemporary, Ezekiel. Furthermore, does not explicate how Zarathustra and Zoroaster have been long confounded ... Zarathustra's date may precede that of Abraham (eg 2500 bc) while I believe that Zoroaster was Daniel (Zoroaster means star gazer, and there are Greek reports that Zoroaster was a Chaldean -- Zarathustra was Aryan) ... this I noted in the middle of the second lesson when Lee was reviewing source materials ... to leave out the Daniel is an EGREGIOUS error and implies a lack of understanding and control of the subject matter. I'd been faulting AT Olmstead's History because Olmstead did not bother to translate the Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin passage in Daniel 5 ... as the virtual founder of U Chicago's Oriental Institute and closely allied with Willam Rainey Harper, a renowned Hebrew scholar, Olmstead should have done a virtuoso turn of translation of that crucial passage -- but Lee goes Olmstead one better (or two worse) by not even mentioning the Daniel, which is as close to an eye witness report from the inside as he is ever going to find. Plus it demonstrates why the Jews so revere Kouresh. Furthermore Lee in the first episode, which I let pass, confounds Zarathustra and Zoroaster ... AND ... confuses the Lions of the Ishtar Gate in Babylon with PERSIAN artifact .... REALLY BAD ... I'd like my money back, since I cannot listen to any more of his garbage beyond the 2 lessons that I've listened to thus far.
Date published: 2013-03-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An empire of information, off the beaten track. DVD review. Since the Persians re-emerged in various imperial incarnations, it is important to understand that Dr. Lee's THE PERSIAN EMPIRE covers only the Achaemenid Empire (550-330 BCE), the Persia made famous by Herodotus because it unsuccessfully invaded Greece several times. EMPIRE recounts these invasions from the Persian point of view in an interesting way. But for my money, this was an old story already well-presented in other TTC courses such as GREEK AND PERSIAN WARS. Lee's portrait of Persia on its own — its creation, evolution and administration — was far more interesting. He calls it an "empire of information" because a relatively tiny ethnic minority of 1 million ruled over a polyglot population 24 times greater spread over 8 million km². They did so (excepting Egypt perhaps) without repeated armed repression. How was this possible? Efficient administration and an excellent road system were crucial. The Achaemenids were the last of a long series of empires, each larger than the last — from the tiny Sumerian city states up to Babylonia. To some extent, each new empire incorporated the best practices of the previous one. A crucial trait of the Achaemenids, however, was their tolerance of local diversity as long as peace and taxes were maintained. Indeed, Greek mercenaries and Alexander's own troops were surprised to see how few local forces were required to keep the whole thing running. Calling the empire a confederacy of ethnic enclaves managed by proxy rulers would not be far off the mark. A key weakness, one it shared with the later Roman Empire, was royal succession. Lee presents Cyrus the Great's (the founder's) family tree in detail to explain what happens. AUDIO-ONLY ENTHUSIASTS BEWARE. This is where the course gets very "boring" if you cannot see the family as a whole. Maps and archeological snapshots also play a crucial role in this course. Lee completes his macro perspective with local color, especially when explaining Persia's economy and the role of women. Literary output, however, was very meagre compared to the Greeks. PRESENTATION was great. Dr. Lee is a clear speaker. The visual aids and course guidebook are also excellent. A subject off the beaten track. Strongly recommended.
Date published: 2013-02-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Teaching Co. has done it again! One of the great virtues of the Teaching Company is that they make available so many courses on areas of history that I don't know about (Byzantines, Rome and the Barbarians, Vikings, etc.) but found fascinating. This is definitely one of those areas. The professor lectures well, provides an interesting approach to history with excursions around the Persian Empire, information on their daily life, and so forth as well as giving the traditional approach to history about the rulers. Plus I could dazzle my Bible study group with my knowledge of obscure facts about folks like Darius! Terrific Course!
Date published: 2013-02-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful lecture series I have enjoyed Prof Lee's lectures. It was very informative and fascinating. I learned for the first time that the Persian Empire had a long lasting influence and contribution in our modern thinking of a civilized society. The Persian placed a great importance in being tolerant of the different races and religions. I would highly recommend this lecture series to anyone who is interested in ancient history…
Date published: 2013-02-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from more historical than the "300" film After seeing the film 300, it would be all too easy assume that Persians were a race of trolls. Come to find out… they were actually, in fact, human beings. Even the infamous Xerxes was likely a normal looking man as opposed a 10 foot tall transsexual anomaly. Perhaps seeing the film 300 was what could have motivated Dr Lee to do this course. In all seriousness, we Westerners have generally relied too heavily on the Greek account of events and thus blind faith is placed on often limited sources. While the world is grateful for Herodotus and others, we often forget that they too had biases. Dr Lee most certainly makes every effort to present the other side of events. While no fault of the lecturer, who has pleasant speaking voice and did tons of research, I did find the subject matter a bit dry from time to time. I think perhaps that is due to the fact that Egypt, Greece, and Rome fire the familiar Westerner imagination, while Persia is more alien. This course is basically all about the Achaemenid Empire from Cyrus the Great to Alexander the Great, and barely mentions the Parthian Empire which followed. The highlight was Dr Lee’s “road trips” through the Empire , from capital to capital…for me at least, lecture 6 is a thrilling “visit “ to the once spectacular cities of Pasargadae, Ecbatana, Babylon, Susa, & Persepolis. Too bad Alexander burned Persepolis. Much the pity ! I did the audio version and can recommend this to anyone genuinely interesting in Achaemenid Persia, while those who care little for the subject will likely get bored with details.
Date published: 2013-01-09
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Informative but tedious Professor Lee does a good job with sources, historiography, and dispelling commonly held myths about the Persians. They were much more tolerant and civilized than portrayed by Greek sources. On the downside, the presentation style is very dry and tedious; basically, reciting notes in a monotone while reading a monitor. The listener is also inundated with minutiae that is almost impossible to connect to main themes. Some of the lectures are reduced to kinship charts with a roster of obscure figures. There is also a monotonous litany of military campaigns, though to be fair, some of the analysis of those campaigns is first rate. Overall, some good information, but not very interesting, indeed - boring.
Date published: 2012-11-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Survey of the bronze age Persian Empire This is a very good survey of what is known of the bronze age Persian Empire, and not the dozen or so successor empires that followed and tried to claim its glories for themselves. As such, there is not a whole lot to go on. Prof. Lee is very clear on what is known of this period and the nature of the primary sources used to reconstruct the past. He is very good in placing his Persians in historical context, though he doesn't do so until the last lecture. His description of the depredations of Alexander the great from the Persian point of view is very good. I had never realized, for instance, that Alexander never reached the eastern border of the empire. Nor that his ruinous retreat west through the desert was totally unnecessary given the Persian Imperial naval trade routes from Pakistan to the Persian Gulf. How on earth did he miss that? I was very interested to learn about the extent of the eastern empire, about which I knew nothing. His lectures recreating a tour of the entire imperial road system is fascinating and worth the cost of the course in and of itself. Prof. Lee is very much a partisan of the Persians. He is up front about this, but it leads him into the occasional moment of strained credulity. One in particular springs to mind: he was discussing how the Persians proved they were an advanced culture in the way they paid men and women equal pay. This would have impressed me more if the workers in his example were not slaves; paid in food and housing. Personally, I have a higher standard for admiration of progress in feminism than that. There is some repetition in the material, and a little more trashing of the Greek historical sources than I liked. It doesn't detract from the value of the course. There is also a whiff of politically correct influence in deference to the current regime in Iran. I'll give Prof. Lee a pass on this, as he has to get along with the government in control of the areas where his life's work are located. The material on soviet archeology in the old satrapy of Chorasmia was totally new to me and very interesting. I recommend this course highly. The material is very interesting and well worth knowing.
Date published: 2012-09-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Persian Perspective Audio CD. There is not much material presented in this course that isn’t presented elsewhere. What makes this course so good is that the familiar material is presented from the *Persian* point of view. That makes a big difference. Anyone who has taken TTC courses on ancient Greek history *must* take this one, too. It transforms 2-D history into 3-D history.
Date published: 2012-08-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from This is a fine course with a small but And it is a but that may not be fair... Professor Lee does a fine job of going deeper into the history of the Achaemenid Empire than one would get just from the more common "Greek" historical perspective. ( As a note I felt the course on the Greek & Persian Wars, Cr# 3356 was well balanced). The added depth provided in this course makes me feel my money and time was well spent. However my small "but" is that most of us actually know a lot more about Achaemenid Persian than we do about the other dynasties that make up Persian History. I would really be excited to see the Teaching Company tackle the Parthian and Sassanid periods as well. If you read/listen/study about the Roman Empire you hear a little about the Parthians and similarly study of the Byzantine Empire makes you aware of the Sassanids, but I would be interested in "their side" of history just like I was interested in the Achaemenid history.
Date published: 2012-07-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Worthwhile Journey I approach this review with mixed emotions. On one hand the subject matter was very worth telling and was presented by a professional and capable professor. But on the other hand it did not hold me spell bound like many other courses I have taken by the Teaching Company.I needed time in between lectures in order to refresh my desire to continue. However, saying that, now that i have completed the course, I have to admit that i gained a better understanding of this period of ancient history and do not regret taking the course. Professor Lee is without a doubt well versed in Persian History. He gives a good representation of the rise and fall of the empire. One of his goals was to give the listener more of the Persian side of the story rather then the stereotyped Greek version and in that respect he succeeds. But we must keep in mind that a good share of the sources of information continues to be the Greek historians and they are constantly quoted throughout the lecture series. Dr Lee has an amazing memory for dates and facts and is proficient in relating this information. He couples these facts with his reinforcement of the long term historical currents that ebb and flow. His depiction of the humanity of the period stands in contrast to the stereotypes depicted in much of Hollywood and other documents. To sum up, the course is worthwhile and is a valuable resource for anyone curious about ancient Persia especially in light of the recent Iranian political controversy in the news these days.
Date published: 2012-06-11
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