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Ancient Mesopotamia: Life in the Cradle of Civilization

Uncover the undeniable legacy that the Mesopotamians left the world.
Ancient Mesopotamia: Life in the Cradle of Civilization is rated 4.8 out of 5 by 104.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Fantastic Course This is a fantastic course. Dr. Podany is an engaging lecturer, the best I’ve encountered in the Great Courses. Her lectures are easy to follow and she incorporates the latest research. She has just published a wonderful book covering the same subject—it is also wonderful. As one whose Ph.D. included a minor in ancient history, I really appreciate this amazing course.
Date published: 2022-11-09
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Ancient Mesopotamia: Life in the Cradle of Civiliz I am returning this course for a refund as it wasn't quite what I expected. I wanted more archeological evidence from ruins and digs like other courses I have purchased in the past. The prof seemed to be knowledgeable but reading from slides and showing where the ancient cities along the two rivers on a map just didn't cut it for me.
Date published: 2022-05-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Enlightening Study I've struggled with previous courses on ancient Mesopotamia to get a real good grasp on who these people were and how their history played out. This course smashed that problem. Professor Podany brings the region and its ancient inhabitants to life and illuminates their thousands of years of history. This course is an enlightening study of the following peoples of ancient Mesopotamia from aprx. 10,000 BC to 6th century BC (when Mesopotamia ceased being ruled by a government within their own land with the Persian Empire conquest): Natufian culture Samara culture Halaf culture Ubaid culture Lagash Umma Akkad (world’s first empire) Second dynasty of Lagash Third dynasty of Ur Ammorites Mari Old Babylon Empire Hanna Mittani Assyria (Middle Assyria & Neo-Assyria) Neo-Babylonian In my opinion the best can be found in these lectures: 8- The first empires of Mesopotamia---Lugalzagesi of Umma and Sargon of Akkad) 10- Theories on why the Akkadian Empire fell 16- Jockeying and diplomacy between the great powers from 1400-1200 BCE (Egypt, Hittites, Mittani, and Kassite Babylonia 24- Rise of Persia and summarizing the Mesopotamia legacy Professor Podany is a pleasure to listen to. She brings so much passion, interest, and good energy (at times perhaps too cheerful!) and she genuinely wants you to walk away with an appreciation for the ancient Mesopotamians. And there is no denying their great leagacy (summed up wonderfully short and sweet in the last lecture): invention of writing, first to build cities, first to write down laws, creators of diplomacy, and the units of measurement we use for time today. She also covers their interactions with neighboring peoples like the Egyptians, Elamites, Medes, and Persians providing a unified approach to what it was like to live in the region. It is not uncommon today for us to see ancient peoples as uncivilized, unintelligent, and distant in our line of thinking and ways of life. One of the recurring arguments of this course is the professor's position that the ancient Mesopotamians are a lot more like us than we think and that they lived their lives not much different as we live ours. And yes, they were extremely intelligent, married, prayed, and had similar day to day concerns as we do. However, at times the professor takes this connection a bit far. For example when attempting to paint them as being as civilized as we are today by downplaying their conquering ways. This is seen when discussing the Assyrians: not enough was said on how feared their armies were and how they terrorized their neighboring lands. The professor did not touch much on why were they so different and what made their army more successful or more dreaded than prior empires. I suspect she fears this will break our sense of connection with them. To her credit she does call out some major differences between us in the way they viewed the world and processed what they saw around them. Specifically, their belief around the gods truly existing in their statues which provided insight into why they treated such statues as being alive and why it was important to them that the statues remain physically in the cities or they would lose the protection/presence of their gods. While this world view may seem silly to us Professor Podany takes the time to explain it well enough that we can walk away at least understanding their point of view and why they did certain things. That is the earmark of a good professor. I am fascinated on how power structures were introduced in the ancient world and while the the origins of kingships in the region (and elsewhere) are not very well known by scholars, when this is examined in lecture 6 I was hoping the professor would mention the names/locations of the earliest kings we are aware of (although one particular early dynasty period king was discussed in length: Ur-Nanshe of Lagash). But these points do not overshadow how I feel about this course: it is a very entertaining and worthwhile learning experience. If you have any interest in this region or wish to gain a better perspective of how people of the ancient world are more like us in how they thought and lived (epitomized in the epic of Gilgamesh) than they are portrayed then I highly recommend this course.
Date published: 2022-04-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Ancient Mesopotamia Speaker very knowledgeable about the history of the area, derived from the translation of cuneiform tablets. Enjoyed the programme and learned a lot. Found the moving background very distracting. Would have preferred it stationary. Good use of maps.
Date published: 2022-04-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Cradle of Civilization Rocks! This was a superb introduction to an often-confusing area of ancient history. Keeping the Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians, Elamites, Assyrians, Persians, and other peoples of Mesopotamia straight is no easy task. Dr. Podany made a complex topic seem actually understandable. We really like the way she presented the people of these civilizations come alive as real people. Her repeated focus on daily life is a great counterbalance to the "great man" style of history. The peoples she talks about do not seem quite so "ancient" any more, even though the early Sumerians for example were as far removed in time from classical Athens as we are. One really surprising thing we learned is just how extensive the written remains from ancient Mesopotamia are. Apparently the surviving clay tablets--many still to be interpreted--numbers in the hundreds of thousands. Many of them, like the papyri from ancient Egypt, shed a lot of light on daily life of the ancient Hittite, Assyrian, etc. If you've ever had any interest in this part of ancient history, there is no better introduction to be had than this one!
Date published: 2022-03-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Really amazing course by a talented teacher Mrs Podany is a great storyteller and has a fascinating way to explain core issues... really loved the course and hope to see some more from her
Date published: 2022-03-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the best. Amanda H. Podany was amazing! I was even tempted to go learn cuneiform after this series and make a go of it for my graduate program. I would watch another lecture by her in a heartbeat, thank you so much for this series.
Date published: 2022-03-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Mrs Podany if you fancy ancient cultures this is your course. Mrs Podany has great solvency in Mesopotamian cultures, their lectures are entertain, creative, full of details and you never get bored.
Date published: 2022-03-01
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Explore Mesopotamia, a civilization that flourished for more than 3,000 years. Mesopotamians built the first complex urban societies; developed writing, literature, and law; and united vast regions through warfare and diplomacy. However, much still remains to be discovered about this fascinating place. In Ancient Mesopotamia: Life in the Cradle of Civilization, you'll witness a whole new world opening before your eyes.


Amanda H. Podany

The contemporary world shares a great deal with the Mesopotamians. And this is because they created many institutions that still exist today.


California State Polytechnic University

Amanda H. Podany is a Professor of History at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, where she has taught since 1990. She earned her M.A. in the Archaeology of Ancient Western Asia from the University of London and her Ph.D. in Ancient Near Eastern History from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Professor Podany’s research specialties include the Hana kingdom in present-day Syria as well as legal practices and international relations in the ancient Near East. Currently she is working on a study of the relationships between kings and their subjects in the Late Bronze Age. In 2013, she received a research fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Her books include The Ancient Near East: A Very Short Introduction, The Land of Hana: Kings, Chronology, and Scribal Tradition, and the award-winning Brotherhood of Kings: How International Relations Shaped the Ancient Near East. Her efforts in providing professional development for teachers have earned her a certificate of recognition from the California Department of Education.

By This Professor

Ancient Mesopotamia: Life in the Cradle of Civilization
Ancient Mesopotamia: Life in the Cradle of Civilization


Uncovering Near Eastern Civilization

01: Uncovering Near Eastern Civilization

Although Egypt, Greece, and Rome may be better known to the public, in fact more written evidence survives from Mesopotamia, home to many of the great powers of the ancient world. As you embark on a journey through over 3,000 years of history, you will understand the ways we uncover ancient historical knowledge, and learn why Mesopotamia’s “rediscovery” is so valuable.

29 min
Natufian Villagers and Early Settlements

02: Natufian Villagers and Early Settlements

The spread of any technology tends to be slow. While today we may see the enormous value of plant and animal domestication, here you will discover the surprising theories about the transition from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to agriculture and the challenges that farming presented. Also, gain valuable perspective on the cultural sophistication of pre-agrarian peoples.

28 min
Neolithic Farming, Trade, and Pottery

03: Neolithic Farming, Trade, and Pottery

Though travel was dangerous, people transported valuable goods, like obsidian for knife blades, across hundreds of miles, perhaps via chains of merchants. Plunge into everyday life in Neolithic Mesopotamia, where homes and villages reflect a simple, unstratified society, but evidence of intricate pottery shows that technology was advancing and people cared about aesthetics.

27 min
Eridu and Other Towns in the Ubaid Period

04: Eridu and Other Towns in the Ubaid Period

The Ubaid people constructed the earliest monumental buildings, standardized some measurements, and must have had some sort of formal leadership to care for and control their populations. See how the people of the Ubaid coordinated their efforts to develop irrigation systems, despite a lack of written language.

26 min
Uruk, the World’s Biggest City

05: Uruk, the World’s Biggest City

Witness the rise of urban civilization 5,500 years ago, a mere 200 generations before modern times. Discover how and why the first writing system developed and examine the earliest-known evidence of warfare.

27 min
Mesopotamia’s First Kings and the Military

06: Mesopotamia’s First Kings and the Military

Why did people accept the rule of monarchs? This lecture reveals the fascinating world of the first kings, including their numerous important duties—from conducting diplomacy to levying taxes—and explores how they believed that the gods supported and chose them.

27 min
Early Dynastic Workers and Worshipers

07: Early Dynastic Workers and Worshipers

In a period where the causes of disease and natural disasters were not widely known, gods were believed to be the cause of, and the solution to, instability in life. Learn how evidence found in tombs suggests a belief in the afterlife, and discover just how large a workforce was employed by the grand temples where the gods were believed to live.

28 min
Lugalzagesi of Umma and Sargon of Akkad

08: Lugalzagesi of Umma and Sargon of Akkad

Meet King Lugalzagesi who controlled several city-states in southern Mesopotamia. His much more powerful successor, Sargon, had a mysterious origin, but was able to build an empire and expand trade over a wider region than ever before.

29 min
Akkadian Empire Arts and Gods

09: Akkadian Empire Arts and Gods

The Akkadian Empire was a high point for artistic achievement in Mesopotamia. Depictions of humans were believed to possess some of the life force of the people they represented. Professor Podany shows how the many gods had differing roles and powers and were as much a part of everyday life as one’s family. Examine an emotional hymn by a priestess, who is the world’s first-known author.

27 min
The Fall of Akkad and Gudea of Lagash

10: The Fall of Akkad and Gudea of Lagash

Learn some of the theories behind the fall of the Akkadian Empire. Major kings during this time run the gamut from Naram-Sin, one of the few Mesopotamian kings who claimed to be a god, to Gudea, a pious and benevolent king who may have served as a model for later leaders.

28 min
Ur III Households, Accounts, and Ziggurats

11: Ur III Households, Accounts, and Ziggurats

Although rulers during this period attempted to create a “cult of the kings,” local leaders, merchants, and especially households performed essential roles in society. Cuneiform records reveal a remarkable level of organization, from taxes to diplomacy.

29 min
Migrants and Old Assyrian Merchants

12: Migrants and Old Assyrian Merchants

An influx of immigrants greatly enriched the Mesopotamian region, and we see other issues that have echoes in today’s world. This was a time of frequent warfare but also of increased literacy and private enterprise. Join merchants on their 800-mile caravans as they delivered tin and textiles in exchange for silver.

28 min
Royalty and Palace Intrigue at Mari

13: Royalty and Palace Intrigue at Mari

Here you’ll gain an intimate glimpse into the lives of royal families in the mid-second millennium BCE, from diplomatic marriages to extravagant gifts to family squabbles. Archival letters show us how royal women served as informants for their fathers, while sometimes dealing with abusive husbands.

29 min
War and Society in Hammurabi’s Time

14: War and Society in Hammurabi’s Time

Meet the mighty King Hammurabi, who ruled for an incredible 43 years. You’ll also discover how the family can be viewed as a microcosm for Mesopotamian society, with each member playing an important role. Delve into the daily lives of families and the laws (both official and unspoken) governing their behavior.

30 min
Justice in the Old Babylonian Period

15: Justice in the Old Babylonian Period

The Babylonians had a sophisticated legal system that emphasized evidence and truthfulness. Two trials provide an insider’s look into the workings of this system. Uncover what court records reveal about the types of crimes prosecuted, as well as the people’s most pressing concerns regarding family and finance.

27 min
The Hana Kingdom and Clues to a Dark Age

16: The Hana Kingdom and Clues to a Dark Age

The kingdom of Hana and an intriguing Kassite text provide clues to a mysterious dark age, which may have lasted for 100 years. Few records survive from this period, so Professor Podany illuminates historians’ detective work to fill in the gaps.

28 min
Princess Tadu-Hepa, Diplomacy, and Marriage

17: Princess Tadu-Hepa, Diplomacy, and Marriage

Discover how the kingdom of Mittani maintained a peaceful relationship with Egypt through the power of diplomacy. Letters between King Tushratta and the pharaoh demonstrate the roles of envoys in transporting letters and gifts over hundreds of miles, negotiating royal marriages, and defusing arguments.

28 min
Land Grants and Royal Favor in Mittani

18: Land Grants and Royal Favor in Mittani

In a world before mass media, learn how Mittanian kings maintained visibility and control across vast distances and large populations without much need for force. Perhaps somewhat ironically, the story of a gold statue reveals the decline of Mittani’s golden era.

28 min
The Late Bronze Age and the End of Peace

19: The Late Bronze Age and the End of Peace

This dramatic installment details the end of a period of peace and stability between great powers, as a result of possible natural disasters, attacks on cities, and movements of the mysterious Sea Peoples. The era that followed was one of smaller kingdoms that left few written records.

30 min
Assyria Ascending

20: Assyria Ascending

Learn about the grand state of Assyria with its huge palaces and iconic winged lion sculptures. The long and stable dynasty of Assyrian kings always longed to expand the boundaries of the empire, believing that their great god, Assur, had instructed them to do so. Their kings could be brutal in putting down rebellions, but they were also effective in administering the growing empire, and were even generous, like throwing a 10-day banquet for almost 70,000 people, for example.

29 min
Ashurbanipal’s Library and Gilgamesh

21: Ashurbanipal’s Library and Gilgamesh

Here, discover the intellectual King Ashurbanipal whose library is one of the first in recorded history. In it, find clay tablets recording omens from the gods, as well as the world’s oldest epic poem, The Epic of Gilgamesh.

28 min
Neo-Assyrian Empire, Warfare, and Collapse

22: Neo-Assyrian Empire, Warfare, and Collapse

Discover how the Assyrian empire was restructured by Tiglath-Pileser III, how the Assyrians struggled to keep Babylonia within their empire, and how they even attempted to conquer Egypt. Hear of the mysterious hanging gardens that sat magically on roofs. Bear witness to the fall of the Assyrian Empire at the hands of angry enemies, including the Babylonians.

30 min
Babylon and the New Year's Festival

23: Babylon and the New Year's Festival

Hear the glory of the Babylonian creation story involving Marduk and the evil goddess Tiamat. Through ancient records, relive the 12-day Akitu religious festival that involved priests, singers, artisans, musicians, and the king. You’ll also explore the ritual humiliation of the king at the heart of the festival.

28 min
End of the Neo-Babylonian Empire

24: End of the Neo-Babylonian Empire

Finally, arrive at the end of the independence of Mesopotamia with the conquest of the Neo-Babylonian empire by the forces of the powerful Persian king, Cyrus the Great. Witness religious changes that were taking place across the Near East. Mesopotamian culture gradually died out, but it left an incredible legacy.

32 min