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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 125.
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Rated 2 out of 5 by from Better to avoid this one I would recommend going with Robert Garland's treatment of the same subject matter. There is little in this lecture that can't be covered better by a different scholar. At first, I thought the lecturer's delivery was pompous and annoying, but I was prepared to overlook this. However, as the lectures progressed, I noticed a series of glaring errors. I don't really listen to the Great Courses lectures to learn anything new, but just to have something on in the background. So naturally, when I notice a lecturer making a bunch of mistakes, it really bothers me. For example, the lecturer presents as fact (that is, he does not even acknowledge the scholarly debate) an erroneous view of homosexuality in ancient Greece, and it was at this point that I turned the lecture off and decided I was done with it. I would not recommend this lecture to anyone, as I do not trust the integrity of its contents.
Date published: 2021-12-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Academic and understandable I have looked for Bronze Age Greece for long, some sound review of what we know. This teacher is amazing. I wish you would add more prehistory courses, courses that are useful to history students, not just edutainment. This kind of stuff. Thank you for this. The first two lectures could be a course.
Date published: 2021-10-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Greek Tragedy As most of us did, I learned about Greek civilization and culture in high school. That was years ago and I forgot most of that remembering only a few key points. This course established the continuum of Greek history from the Bronze Age to the conquest by Alexander and I was able to make sense of those key points. The instructor was clear, concise and freely admitted the gaps not provided by primary sources. Other reviewers have commented on the dryness of his presentation but I found his lectures fascinating as he drew upon ancient sources as well as his own archaeological experiences. The tragedy of Greek civilization was that the individual city-states were never able to unite into one country or entity as did the Romans. I recommend this course to anyone seeking an overview of Ancient Greece, the proto-democracy of Athens, the militaristic Sparta and the other city-states which are often overlooked.
Date published: 2021-10-01
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
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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