Ancient Greek Civilization

Discover why the ancient Greeks occupy such a prominent place in Western culture and identity in this engrossing course taught by a historian and archaeologist.
Ancient Greek Civilization is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 122.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from McInerney is a Topic Scholar AND a Great Professor This professor has performed digs, has kept up with recent scholarship to the time of his recordings, and presents a fair and balanced presentation of the known historical evidence and thus the facts as we know them. This is not a feel-good course drawing on the classic authors, but still leaves you with a pride of knowing the information was probably the best at the time of the recording.
Date published: 2021-06-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Awesome Great topic and very well taught. Makes an old topic, new.
Date published: 2021-05-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course Professor McInerney's presentation was interesting and insightful. I enjoyed every lecture and looked forward to the next.
Date published: 2021-04-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brilliant Delivery ... This is one of the older Great Courses, dating back to a time when the professor stood in front of a lectern and spoke from paper notes. While I have appreciated many of the modern updates that TGC's have added to their courses, over the past 2 decades, no amount of visual aids or special or special effects can make up for a poor delivery. I simply had to give Professor McInerney 5 stars for an extremely well organized lectures series and a truly brilliant presentation. I am not a novice to Greek history and yet, Professor McInerney captivated me with this course and somehow made much of it feel like a new subject. I found myself eagerly looking forward to each new lecture and sad to see the series come to an end. I own and have watched every TGC course about or related to Greek history and this was, by far (including Dr McInerney's courses on Alexander the Great and Age of Pericles, both of which were also excellent courses in their own right) my favorite of all of those courses. I highly recommend this to all Grecophiles and lovers of history, in general. This course should be equally good in audio only, though I did stream it. Cheers
Date published: 2021-04-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Scintillating Survey Though filmed before the Great Courses refined their big-budget lecture style, Professor McInerney's lectures radiate the enthusiasm of a Delphic priestess and inspire the student to learn as much as possible about this great civilization. One of the best offerings from the Great Courses.
Date published: 2021-03-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Solid Survey Professor McInerney here delivers both an engaging and, more importantly, substantive presentation. Interestingly, the age of these lectures, which means fewer production values and a "live" audience, actually enhances the experience for me. It also means that, as a seasoned lecturer, Professor McInerney was totally comfortable in delivering his well-organized material without the apparent need to be grafted to a teleprompter, a tool that more recent Great Courses professors almost uniformly rely upon, thereby destroying the illusion that this is a true classroom format. This course is a very useful gateway to more specialized study of Greek civilization and culture.
Date published: 2020-12-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course Excellent introductory course to Greek ancient culture and civilization. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2020-11-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A shining example of both a historian and educator McInernie is, for me, a titan among both historians and educators. He is so clear, such a lucid thinker. The breadth of his knowledge is absolutely astounding, and he is never redundant. Nothing in these approximately 12 hours of lecturing is superfluous or extraneous. At the risk of over-praising him, these are among the best lectures I have ever heard. McInernie's way of making ideas simple and apprehensible without surrendering their inherent profundity reminds me of David Tong lecturing on quantum field theory and theoretical physics. Every sentence has a purpose; there's no unnecessary information, every piece of information he chooses to deliver is meaningful, and somehow in the relatively short length of the class (12 hours is actually not much to touch on everything in Greek history from Minoan civilization up through the Classical period) he manages to cover a vast amount of the important subjects, events, individuals, and ideas from this millennium and a half (roughly). If this is not subject matter you are familiar with and are following these lectures because it's something you need to learn about for one reason or another, they will absolutely do the job as well as any lectures on the subject will. They are not difficult to follow and do not assume prior familiarization with Greek history. And if you are already interested in the material and do have some prior knowledge of it, my experience was that McInernie makes this material shine with even more brilliance than it already had for me, addressing gaps in our understanding of Greek culture with incredible perceptiveness, and forming his own powerful conclusions on the relationship we have with this world of the Greeks. There is a summarization of a historical narrative happening here, yes, but there is also a presentation of the unique perspectives and ideas of a fine thinker, ideas that in some cases can not be found in any other lectures. On a final note, I would recommend the audio experience of these lectures over the visual one (having gone through the lectures twice, once each way). McInernie's voice is fantastic and I find the ideas are better imparted without the visual distractions that come with the video, which I find brings a slight dullness to the lectures that is not at all present for me when listening to it. That said, there are some helpful highlights now and then in the video, and everyone learns differently, so choose what's best for you. These lectures are a gift. For me, they have been one of the greatest gifts of the last year of my life, inspiring in me a passion for history that has always been present, but has now been awakened fully. If you love history and are stimulated by analysis of the patterns of human behavior that we see repeated throughout it, I can't recommend these lectures highly enough. As an amateur film scholar and lover of cinema, I can easily say that I found these lectures far more exciting -- far more entertaining -- than anything I've seen come out of Hollywood in well over a decade, not to mention their primary education value. Of course, not everyone enjoys lectures as much as I do -- in fact, most people don't -- but as far as lectures go, this is about as good as it gets.McInerrnie walks that fine and difficult line between historian as collector of facts and historian as weaver of narrative with absolute poise and perfect balance.
Date published: 2020-11-03
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Why do the ancient Greeks occupy such a prominent place in conceptions of Western culture and identity? Covering the 11 centuries from the end of the Neolithic period to the rise of Alexander the Great, this course traces the history of Classical Greece and its foundational influence on all of Western civilization. The knowledge you gain here will increase your comprehension not only of history, but of all Western religion, art, architecture, philosophy, and literature as well.


Jeremy McInerney
Jeremy McInerney

All cultures are unique, I would argue. Japanese culture, Chinese culture, Indian culture-we even know now that cultures that were once dismissed as 'primitive' in fact have extremely rich cultural lives.


University of Pennsylvania

Dr. Jeremy McInerney is Davidson Kennedy Associate Professor of Classical Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. McInerney earned his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley. He was the Wheeler Fellow at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens and has excavated in Israel, at Corinth, and on Crete. He serves on the Managing Committee of the American School of Classical Studies in Athens, Greece. Professor McInerney's research interests include topography, epigraphy and historiography. He is the author of The Folds of Parnassos: Land and Ethnicity in Ancient Pholis, and has published articles in a variety of academic journals including Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies, the American Journal of Archaeology, Hesperia, and California Studies in Classical Antiquity. In 1997, he was an invited participant at a colloquium on ethnicity in the ancient world, hosted by the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington.

By This Professor

Greece and the Western World

01: Greece and the Western World

Why do we feel such a strong affinity with the ancient Greeks? When and how did the West begin to venerate the Golden Age of Athens under Pericles?

31 min
Minoan Crete

02: Minoan Crete

Bronze Age Crete has been dubbed a "palatial society" whose magnificent buildings housed a complex, hierarchical world. But this world remains shrouded in mystery.

30 min
Schliemann and Mycenae

03: Schliemann and Mycenae

Inspired by Homer's poems, Heinrich Schliemann uncovered the elite warrior culture of Mycenae, "rich in gold." The relationship of this culture to that of Bronze Age Crete has long been a subject of intense scholarly debate.

29 min
The Long Twilight

04: The Long Twilight

Civilization in Bronze Age Crete and Mycenae declined rapidly after 1200 B.C.E. Archaeologists have long argued about the cause: Was it natural disaster, military invasion, internal strife, or some combination of these?

30 min
The Age of Heroes

05: The Age of Heroes

During the ancient "Dark Ages," the predominant unit of Hellenic society was a tribal or clan-based group known as the oikos (household). Poets such as Homer created an imaginative world that provided society a heroic, aristocratic ethos....

31 min
From Sicily to Syria-The Growth of Trade and Colonization

06: From Sicily to Syria-The Growth of Trade and Colonization

Greek colonies were established as near as the Mediterranean and as far away as Ukraine. While the causes of Hellenic colonization are complex, its results were important. Trade filled Greek coffers. Intellectual imports, such as written language and artistic motifs, arrived as well.

30 min
Delphi and Olympia

07: Delphi and Olympia

The preclassical institutions of the Olympic Games and the sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi were crucial elements in fixing Greek identity.

29 min
The Spartans

08: The Spartans

Conflict, tension, and civil unrest were endemic in most Greek city-states from the 8th century B.C.E. onward. Sparta, however, formed a notable exception. How did it avoid civic violence?

30 min

09: Revolution

Solon, the "father of the Athenian constitution," was elected to forestall factional strife. He attempted to formalize rights and privileges based on wealth rather than birth, and did away with debt-bondage. He laid the groundwork for the rule of law in Athens.

29 min

10: Tyranny

Contrary to our modern definition of tyranny, the Greek word originally meant the seizing of power by an ambitious man. The tyranny of Peisistratus and his sons kept the peace in Athens and nurtured its prosperity for more than 50 years.

29 min
The Origins of Democracy

11: The Origins of Democracy

Cleisthenes recognized that the common Athenian was a more potent political force than any aristocrat, and used this knowledge to take control of an Athens newly freed from the Peisistratid tyranny. Under his rule, the Athenians established the elements of democratic governance.

31 min
Beyond Greece-The Persian Empire

12: Beyond Greece-The Persian Empire

The epic confrontation between Greece and Persia changed Greek history forever. In this lecture, the Persian Empire is examined and, as far as possible, without the bias of Greek sources. The portrait that emerges is of a complex and sophisticated society.

32 min
The Persian Wars

13: The Persian Wars

The Persian Wars, 490-479 B.C.E, were probably of more consequence to the Greeks than to the Persians. From these confrontations the Greeks articulated their idea of eleutheria (freedom), which is still embedded in Western culture. What was freedom as the Greeks conceived it?...

31 min
The Athenian Empire

14: The Athenian Empire

An alliance of Aegean city-states, the Delian League was formed in the aftermath of the Persian Wars while Athens enjoyed great prestige. The Golden Age of Pericles was the age of imperial Athens, during which time the Parthenon, Propylaia, and Erectheion were completed.

31 min
The Art of Democracy

15: The Art of Democracy

Athenian democracy was a remarkable achievement. Although participation was restricted to adult male citizens, the assembly, council, courts, and magistracies guaranteed a broad basis for sharing power.

30 min
Sacrifice and Greek Religion

16: Sacrifice and Greek Religion

Greek spiritual life rested on a fluid cosmology in which faith was personal while religion was a public affair that revolved around a communal sacrifice. These sacrifices were organized as festivals, leading us to ask: Which ranked first in importance, performance or belief?

31 min
Theater and the Competition of Art

17: Theater and the Competition of Art

Familiar as Greek plays seem to us, their roots lie in the more foreign realm of ancient religious festivals. The power of drama was seen as connecting the community with the divine. Therefore, the straightforward structure of most Greek dramas should not blind us to their powerful emotional role and content.

30 min
Sex and Gender

18: Sex and Gender

Ancient Greek attitudes toward sex and gender differed markedly from our own. Activity and forcefulness characterized the masculine ideal. Women, on the other hand, were thought to need the protection of their family and society.

30 min
The Peloponnesian War, Part I

19: The Peloponnesian War, Part I

The Peloponnesian War, 431-404 B.C.E., was a contest between Athens and Sparta, the two most powerful states in Greece. Thucydides, an Athenian general, wrote his observations and attempted to analyze scientifically the causes of the war. His account remains important not only because it is remarkably detailed, but because Thucydides saw the gap between societal ideals and the realities of power.

30 min
The Peloponnesian War, Part II

20: The Peloponnesian War, Part II

Thucydides wanted to teach his audience fundamental truths about history rather than entertain people with war stories. To him, human events followed a pattern. He writes with great restraint but stunning depth and power.

30 min
Socrates on Trial

21: Socrates on Trial

The philosophic traditions of Ionian inquiry and sophistic pedagogy met in the career of Socrates, who concentrated almost exclusively on moral philosophy. Plato immortalized his trial and execution in the "Apology," "Crito," and "Phaedo." Was Socrates a martyr, as Plato and many others have held, or is there another explanation for his fate?

31 min
Slavery and Freedom

22: Slavery and Freedom

Slaves were ubiquitous in classical Greece; even the poorest citizens owned slaves because the amount of time needed for participation in democratic government meant that the eleutheros, the free man, needed to have others do his domestic tasks. How did the Greeks reconcile the ideal of democracy with the practice of slavery?...

30 min
Athens in Decline?

23: Athens in Decline?

The history of Greece during the 4th century B.C.E. is divided between the early decades when important developments were made in many areas, and the later decades, during which Greece came under the domination of the Macedonian kings. Plato's Academy and Aristotle's Lyceum changed philosophy forever, and writers such as Xenophon and Menander produced enduring prose and drama.

31 min
Philip, Alexander, and Greece in Transition

24: Philip, Alexander, and Greece in Transition

Once Philip II had conquered Greece, he used the dream of a Panhellenic crusade to unite the Greeks and conquer the Persian Empire. Philip's son, Alexander the Great, went a long way toward realizing this dream when he led Greco-Macedonian armies in the conquest of Persia and extended the Greek "empire of influence" across Asia as far as the northern marches of the Indian subcontinent.

31 min