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History of the Ancient World: A Global Perspective

Look at world history through the lens of religion, philosophy, the visual arts, literature, and more-led by a brilliant lecturer/scholar.
History of the Ancient World: A Global Perspective is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 154.
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Rated 4 out of 5 by from He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands It is a challenge to design a course able to do justice to more three thousand years of global civilization, but a very enthusiastic Professor Aldrete has risen to it. His lectures have two strengths that I find very appealing. First, they deal with the problem of evidence, especially for the period before 500 BC. Physical evidence alone is often difficult to interpret. In Lecture 1 Aldrete recalls that explorer Heinrich Barth and archaeologist Henry Swain Cowper observed two-pillared megaliths that they believed were altars for human sacrifice, but others later correctly identified them as olive presses. So even trained scholars must beware of their own preconceptions. Entire civilizations have remained illiterate, especially in South America, making their cultures harder to reconstruct. Other civilizations have left behind writing that no one has been able to read, such as the impressive but long-abandoned cities of the Indus Valley in modern Pakistan. Successfully deciphered texts often don’t yield what scholars would prefer; tablets unearthed at the citadels of Mycenaean Greece contained detailed tax records, but not a single story or chronicle. Fortunately, their classical successors were far more talkative. Second, Aldrete’s lectures abound in comparisons, drawing out the ways civilizations resembled and differed from one another. From Lecture 19 to 22 he reviews the careers of five conquering rulers in three civilizations, Philip and Alexander of Macedon, Chandragupta and Asoka of India, and Shi Huangdi of China. Lectures 31 through 33 compare the Han Chinese and Roman Empires in detail; the two shared similar landmasses and populations, developed centralized governments that taxed their subjects heavily, and supported professional standing armies, but the Chinese enjoyed rational bureaucratic systems and cultural cohesiveness that the Romans did not. There are also literary comparisons. Both India and Greece (in Lecture 9) had famous epics of warfare and revenge--the Mahabharata and the Iliad--but the former is twenty times as long as the latter and contains a lot of religious instruction (including the famous Bhagavad Gita) that would not have interested Homer. Both Greece and China had great founding historians (in Lecture 23), but while Herodotus and Thucydides concerned themselves with causes and motivations, Sima Qian was more interested in contrasting good and bad behavior. Unfortunately, I can’t give my highest rating to this course because there are several mistakes. A graph in Lecture 3 has a label for the “Phoenician Empire,” but there never was such a thing; instead, there were the rich Lebanese city-states Tyre and Sidon. Lecture 15 claims there was a civil war in the Persian Empire after the death of Darius I, but instead Xerxes simply inherited the throne. In Lecture 27 Aldrete says the Romans elected Quintus Fabius Maximus as dictator after Hannibal destroyed their entire consular army at Cannae in 216 BC, but in reality they did so the year before; it was the abandonment of Fabius’s wise strategy of evasion and delay that led to the catastrophe. Lecture 40 has Diocletian rather than Constantine establishing the gold solidus as Rome’s new currency and says that the founding of Constantinople permanently divided the empire; in fact, Constantine temporarily reunited the empire by defeating all his rivals in battle and discarding Diocletian’s system of Western and Eastern “Augusti” and “Caesars.” The course could have been a little better in other ways. Lecture 28 on the fall of the Roman Republic should have examined the careers of Marius and Sulla, whose rivalry led to the first Roman civil war and “dictatorship” in our sense of the word. I would also have omitted Charlemagne and paid more attention to the successes and conflicts of his Merovingian predecessors and to other barbarian kingdoms in the West. The total omission of East Roman Emperor Justinian with his wars of reconquest, his law code and his Church of the Holy Wisdom is shocking. Dropping Lecture 37 on hunter-gatherers and Polynesians—who arguably don’t belong in a course on civilizations—would have made room to put him in. Rather than the rise of Islam, Lecture 45 should have dealt with India’s slightly earlier Gupta Empire. Some mention of Kush and the early societies of Southeast Asia, Korea and Japan would have been nice, but probably would have required expanding the course to sixty lectures. Still, the course’s breadth and depth make it well worth purchasing. I am especially pleased with the attention that Aldrete pays to Andean and Mesoamerican civilizations and with Lecture 44 on the culture of Tang China. In a neat summation in the final lecture, the professor points to a commonplace situation of buying a newspaper and a cup of hot chocolate at 8:00 a.m., getting a dollar bill in change. This simple act combines a Mesopotamian time-keeping system with the Chinese invention of paper, an ancient Mesoamerican drink, an Indo-Arabic counting system, and artwork (on the dollar bill) displaying three Latin slogans and an Egyptian pyramid. Our modern lives are the fruit of great ancient civilizations from around the world.
Date published: 2022-05-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the best courses on Ancient History! Gregory S. Aldrete covered all major ancient civilizations in this course. Did a great comparative history work on why these civilizations developed in certain regions, what are the differences and similarities and how they defined the modern world. Cannot recommend it more!
Date published: 2022-04-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Where is Lecture 47? Great course from the Great Courses! But where is the lecture 47 video? It's in the handbook and listed as: "LECTURE 47 Charlemagne—Father of Europe". Anyhoo, curious indeed.
Date published: 2022-03-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Comprehensive and thoughtful - Easy to follow I really enjoyed this course, which I finished in about 3 weeks. The presentation was engaging, and I liked the comparisons between different cultures/civilizations. I also appreciated the reference to historical research methods. I felt that I learned a lot about the subject.
Date published: 2022-03-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Still going through it - but excellent so far Really enjoying it so far. Learnt a tremendous amount. The professor is a great transmitter of knowledge.
Date published: 2022-02-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Amazon Prime Great Courses is the best internet money I spend. This was my fifth course by Prof. Andrete and I have greatly benefited from every one. Many of the facts I already knew but they were woven into a contextually rich narrative that makes it all memorable. And I say this as a Chicago Bears fan. Cheers!
Date published: 2022-01-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding course! Prof. Aldrete has done a fantastic job with this course. He offers 48 thoughtful, entertaining, and insightful lectures, and his obvious passion and enthusiasm for this material is infectious. What might have been a dull, dry recitation of events in lesser hands is instead a lively, engaging comparative history of the various civilizations taking root in the ancient world that had me eagerly awaiting each lecture (no mean feat in a course of this length). I took the video version of this course, which I would recommend because of the course's many maps, but I think the audio version would work fine for those willing to consult an historical atlas. This one is a real treat. Highly recommended!
Date published: 2021-11-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A gem! Two of the principal things that make this course great: Dr. Aldrete's dynamic and engaging style, and the global perspective as presented. A timeline helps relate different civilizations/events to each other. He explains how the development of Africa fits in. It was cool to learn that the Caribbean's sugarcane and Brazil's oranges originally came from Asia.
Date published: 2021-10-24
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Overview

Look at ancient history from a fresh, innovative vantage point with the 48 lectures of History of the Ancient World: A Global Perspective. Historian and Professor Gregory S. Aldrete's course examines the ancient world's greatest civilizations from the Mediterranean, Asia, and the Americas-including those of Rome, Greece, China, Persia, India, and the Maya-not in isolation but in the full context of where they came from, the cultures that flourished around them at the same time, and the civilizations that were to come from them. This multidisciplinary journey covers not only the traditional domains of politics and war but also religion, philosophy, architecture, technology, and the visual arts.

About

Gregory S. Aldrete

As an ancient historian, my goals are to share the enthusiasm for and fascination with antiquity that I feel, and to show some of the connections between that world and our own.

INSTITUTION

University of Wisconsin, Green Bay

Dr. Gregory S. Aldrete is Professor of Humanistic Studies and History at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay, where he has taught since 1995. He earned his B.A. from Princeton University and his master's degree and Ph.D. in Ancient History from the University of Michigan. Honored many times over for his research and his teaching, Professor Aldrete was named by his university as the winner of its highest awards in each category, receiving both its Founders Association Award for Excellence in Scholarship and its Founders Association Award for Excellence in Teaching. That recognition of his teaching skills was echoed on a national level in 2009, when he received the American Philological Association Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Classics at the College Level-the national teaching award given annually by the professional association of classics professors. The recipient of many prestigious research fellowships including five from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Professor Aldrete has published several important books in his field, including Gestures and Acclamations in Ancient Rome; Floods of the Tiber in Ancient Rome; Daily Life in the Roman City: Rome, Pompeii, and Ostia; The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Daily Life I: The Ancient World (as editor); Unraveling the Linothorax Mystery: Reconstructing and Testing Ancient Linen Body Armor (with S. Bartell and A. Aldrete) and The Long Shadow of Antiquity: What Have the Greeks and Romans Done for Us (with A. Aldrete).

By This Professor

History's Great Military Blunders and the Lessons They Teach
854
The Decisive Battles of World History
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The Roman Empire: From Augustus to The Fall of Rome
854
The Rise of Rome
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A Historian Goes to the Movies: Ancient Rome
854
History of the Ancient World: A Global Perspective
854
History of the Ancient World: A Global Perspective

Trailer

 Cities, Civilizations, and Sources

01: Cities, Civilizations, and Sources

Learn about the different kind of approach the course will take in its explorations of the ancient world and hear a story that perfectly illustrates the risks inherent in letting one's own cultural biases and limited perspective overly influence the interpretation of archaeological discoveries.

33 min
From Out of the Mesopotamian Mud

02: From Out of the Mesopotamian Mud

The course's first civilization reveals a theme that will appear again and again. Grasp the critical role of geography and resources in shaping not only Mesopotamia's method of subsistence, but also its religion, structures, empire, and means of leaving its written record.

34 min
Cultures of the Ancient Near East

03: Cultures of the Ancient Near East

The lack of geographical barriers made it difficult for even the most powerful cities to retain their power. See how a succession of empires rose and fell, leaving behind legacies ranging from the use of intimidation in warfare to seafaring, astrology, mathematics, and a systematic legal code.

30 min
Ancient Egypt—The Gift of the Nile

04: Ancient Egypt—The Gift of the Nile

Your introduction to Egypt reveals a civilization irrevocably shaped by geography. You learn how the Nile's predictable annual flooding of its banks, though creating a fertile strip amounting to only three percent of Egypt, permitted civilization to thrive in what was otherwise an uninhabitable desert.

30 min
Pharaohs, Tombs, and Gods

05: Pharaohs, Tombs, and Gods

Discover how Egyptian views of death and tombs changed with the kingdom's occupation by-and eventual expulsion of-the Hyksos, including an examination of how the stark differences between the Egyptian and Mesopotamian environments may have influenced their visions of the afterlife.

29 min
The Lost Civilization of the Indus Valley

06: The Lost Civilization of the Indus Valley

Your exploration of a once-lost civilization introduces a key theme of the course-the enormous problems faced by modern historians and archaeologists in interpreting an ancient civilization through physical evidence alone, with no written documents to bring that evidence to life.

31 min
The Vedic Age of Ancient India

07: The Vedic Age of Ancient India

In an ironic reversal of the Indus legacy, the next great era of Indian history is known through an enormous bounty of texts, but relatively little archaeological or material evidence. Grasp what the thousands of verses we have tell us about Vedic culture and religion.

31 min
Mystery Cultures of Early Greece

08: Mystery Cultures of Early Greece

Turn to the Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations of the Mediterranean. Learn about the historical underpinnings of the Minotaur myth, Plato's account of what might have been the basis for the legend of Atlantis, and the rediscovery of writing as Greece emerged from its own Dark Ages.

30 min
Homer and Indian Poetry

09: Homer and Indian Poetry

Discover how a work or body of literature can become the core of an entire culture in this examination of the influence of Homer on the Greeks and of the centrality of the Vedas and Epics in the civilizations of ancient India.

31 min
Athens and Experiments in Democracy

10: Athens and Experiments in Democracy

Greece's most famous city-state is often praised for its creation of democracy. You examine the origins of that system and discover some surprising revelations, including the seminal role played by an instance of spurned affection and perhaps the earliest example of stuffing a ballot box.

32 min
Hoplite Warfare and Sparta

11: Hoplite Warfare and Sparta

Experience what it was like to be raised a Spartan man or woman, the changes in military tactics and equipment that made their armies so feared, and the tragic flaw that guaranteed that this Greek city-state's power, no matter how widespread or intimidating, could not endure.

32 min
Civilization Dawns in China—Shang and Zhou

12: Civilization Dawns in China—Shang and Zhou

Witness the early development of a unique culture that viewed itself as constituting the entirety of the world and thus the site of all cultural advancement, with the latter self-image largely maintained even after China gained an awareness of the world beyond its borders....

30 min
Confucius and the Greek Philosophers

13: Confucius and the Greek Philosophers

From 700 to 500 B.C., thinkers around the world began to turn to fundamental philosophical questions. This lecture focuses on those whose concerns addressed this world and its pragmatic issues through rational inquiry, including Confucius, the Legalists, and the Greek philosophers known as the Ionian Rationalists.

32 min
Mystics, Buddhists, and Zoroastrians

14: Mystics, Buddhists, and Zoroastrians

Your attention shifts to those thinkers who looked beyond the physical world for answers to their questions about the fundamental issues of existence. Examine the impact of several key texts and belief systems, including the Upanishads, Jainism, Buddhism, Daoism, and Zoroastrianism.

33 min
Persians and Greeks

15: Persians and Greeks

Discover the reasons the Greek city-states were able to emerge intact from their conflict with a vastly superior Persian Empire. Learn, too, how the defensive alignment put in place to protect those states-begun as an alliance of equals-instead became an Athenian empire.

30 min
Greek Art and Architecture

16: Greek Art and Architecture

Pause in your study of historical events to appreciate two of classical Greece's most important contributions to art and architecture. Learn the distinguishing characteristics of Greek sculpture and the principles that gave such extraordinary beauty to Greece's temples.

30 min
Greek Tragedy and the Sophists

17: Greek Tragedy and the Sophists

Continue your examination of Greece's cultural heritage with this look at Greek theater-especially its greatest playwrights of tragedy, Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides-and the second wave of philosophers known as the Sophists, led first by Socrates and then by his disciple Plato.

31 min
The Peloponnesian War and the Trial of Socrates

18: The Peloponnesian War and the Trial of Socrates

Learn how the end of Greek unity brought down the astonishing political and cultural successes of the early 5th century, culminating in one of the most shameful episodes in Greek history: the trial and execution of one of its greatest thinkers, Socrates.

30 min
Philip of Macedon-Architect of Empire

19: Philip of Macedon-Architect of Empire

Begin a four-lecture exploration of what has come to be known the Great Man Theory of History-that a single person could indeed alter the course of history-by reviewing the careers of five rulers who might well provide the best arguments for the theory.

29 min
Alexander the Great Goes East

20: Alexander the Great Goes East

With the successful invasion of the western Persian Empire, Philip's son successfully carried out his father's plan. Alexander the Great would then create his own path, and you follow him along the route of the greatest sustained conquest the world had yet seen.

30 min
Unifiers of India—Chandragupta and Asoka

21: Unifiers of India—Chandragupta and Asoka

Alexander's death in 323 B.C caused his vast empire to fragment. You meet the father and son who created the largest Indian empire that would be seen until the establishment of the modern Indian nation in 1947.

30 min
Shi Huangdi—First Emperor of China

22: Shi Huangdi—First Emperor of China

Discover how the father of the Chinese nation combined ruthlessness and vision to unify his country, create the largest empire that part of the world had known, and execute a clear and coherent philosophy that would be China's political model for almost a millennium.

33 min
Earliest Historians of Greece and China

23: Earliest Historians of Greece and China

Consider what it must have been like to be among the very first historians, not only practicing your art, but having to define it and its standards, as well. See how fundamental questions about writing history were answered by Herodotus, Thucydides, and Sima Qian.

31 min
The Hellenistic World

24: The Hellenistic World

Although the three centuries following Alexander were years of warfare, absolutism, and political stalemate, the Hellenistic era did leave a legacy of cultural richness and originality. See how achievements in philosophy, science, and art belied the suffering and mass enslavement of this time.

31 min
The Great Empire of the Han Dynasty

25: The Great Empire of the Han Dynasty

Much of the world in 200 B.C. was entering nearly 600 years of instability-but something different was happening in China and Rome. Focus on the first of these two powers, each of which would shape a stable empire for the next four centuries.

30 min
People of the Toga—Etruscans, Early Rome

26: People of the Toga—Etruscans, Early Rome

In this first of five lectures tracing the rise of Roman civilization, you begin with Rome's geography, its traditional origin story, and the formative scars left by the experience of being ruled by a foreign power, and especially by a king holding supreme authority.

31 min
The Crucible-Punic Wars, Roman Imperialism

27: The Crucible-Punic Wars, Roman Imperialism

Learn how the series of conflicts with Rome's burgeoning Mediterranean rival-the city-state of Carthage, whose forces were led by the brilliant Hannibal-were both the closest Rome ever came to total defeat and the stepping-stone to its ultimate success.

32 min
The Death of the Roman Republic

28: The Death of the Roman Republic

The century between 133 and 31 B.C. was a period when long-simmering tensions and resentments finally reached their boiling point. Grasp how the consequences, including political assassinations of Julius Caesar and others, ultimately resulted in the dissolution of the Roman Republic.

31 min
Augustus-Creator of the Roman Empire

29: Augustus-Creator of the Roman Empire

With Julius Caesar dead, who would seize power? Trace the struggle that involved the Brutus-led "liberators," who claimed a goal of restoring the republic; Caesar's lieutenant, Marc Antony; and a surprise third candidate-Caesar's 18-year-old nephew, Octavian, named his heir in Caesar's will.

31 min
Roman Emperors-Good, Bad, and Crazy

30: Roman Emperors-Good, Bad, and Crazy

Follow the fortunes of the empire during the two centuries following Augustus and Tiberius, which included not only some of Rome's wisest and most conscientious emperors, like Trajan and Marcus Aurelius, but also some of its most notorious and deranged tyrants, like Caligula and Nero.

29 min
Han and Roman Empires Compared-Geography

31: Han and Roman Empires Compared-Geography

The peak four centuries of Rome's power coincided almost exactly with one of China's most enduring dynasties. Begin a multilecture comparison of these empires on several fronts, including political organization, transportation, military philosophy, economic stability, cultural and social integration, ideology, lasting influence, and many others.

30 min
Han and Roman Empires Compared-Government

32: Han and Roman Empires Compared-Government

The comparison continues, focusing initially on the administrative structure that allowed these two vast empires to identify and train the members of their evolving bureaucracies, and then moving on to consider the role of the person at the top: the emperor himself.

30 min
Han and Roman Empires Compared-Problems

33: Han and Roman Empires Compared-Problems

Consider the potential problems faced by the two empires-beginning with the emperor and examining the impact of imperial weakness, incompetence, or even insanity-before reflecting on the issues of assimilating the conquered and defending the empire against the encroachments of barbarians.

29 min
Early Americas-Resources and Olmecs

34: Early Americas-Resources and Olmecs

Shift your attention to North and South America. These were among the last regions humans would settle, and you follow their progress from nomadic hunter-gatherers to the civilizations that would be defined by geography and available resources, beginning with the Olmecs of what is now Mexico.

30 min
Pots and Pyramids-Moche and Teotihuacan

35: Pots and Pyramids-Moche and Teotihuacan

Turn your focus to Peru and Mexico and the many cultures that left behind stunning examples of their now-vanished civilizations, from impressive pyramids and tombs to startling examples of artistic pottery, especially those produced by the Moche.

33 min
Blood and Corn-Mayan Civilization

36: Blood and Corn-Mayan Civilization

Delve into the achievements of the Maya, who were among the longest-lasting, most geographically extensive, and most culturally sophisticated of all Mesoamerican cultures. Grasp how we can know these things only because the Maya left behind what those other peoples did not: the records of a culture with a written language.

32 min
Hunter-Gatherers and Polynesians

37: Hunter-Gatherers and Polynesians

Although civilization almost always tends to be an urban phenomenon, there are exceptions. Examine the origins of societies that evolved sophisticated cultures but did not build cities, including hunter-gatherers like the Fenni of Scandinavia, the Aborigines of Australia, and the seafaring peoples of Polynesia.

30 min
The Art and Architecture of Power

38: The Art and Architecture of Power

The structures unearthed by archaeologists are more than just evidence of the past or messages to the future; they were often meant as statements to their own time. Explore how ancient societies used art and architecture to promote their rule and illustrate their power.

29 min
Comparative Armies-Rome, China, Maya

39: Comparative Armies-Rome, China, Maya

Gain a sense of how the empires of the Mediterranean, Asia, and the Americas both defended themselves and brought their power to bear on others with this comparison of the structure, weapons, and tactics of the Roman, Chinese, and Mayan armies.

29 min
Later Roman Empire-Crisis and Christianity

40: Later Roman Empire-Crisis and Christianity

Explore the century that followed Rome's Golden Age and the time of the "Five Good Emperors" as the empire suffered through political, military, and economic crises that brought it to the brink of collapse, staged a near-miraculous and unexpected recovery, and underwent an even-more surprising transformation to Christianity.

31 min
The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire?

41: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire?

The questions of when Rome fell-and why-are arguably the most famous ongoing historical debates in the Western tradition. One German scholar has even posited 210 plausible answers to the "why." This lecture examines both the questions and the debates that swirl around them....

29 min
The Byzantine Empire and the Legacy of Rome

42: The Byzantine Empire and the Legacy of Rome

The eastern Roman-or Byzantine-Empire would outlast its counterpart in the West by a thousand years. Follow the fortunes of this flourishing hub, which included one of the most powerful women of antiquity and one of the ancient world's most globally influential legacies....

29 min
China from Chaos to Order under the Tang

43: China from Chaos to Order under the Tang

Learn how the chaotic three-and-a-half centuries that followed the dissolution of the Han Empire spawned new philosophical and religious yearnings and paved the way for the founding of the next great dynasty.

28 min
The Golden Age of Tang Culture

44: The Golden Age of Tang Culture

Examine some of the most impressive aspects of the Tang dynasty. This highly urbanized culture is commonly regarded as one of the cultural pinnacles of Chinese civilization, producing sophisticated culture, advanced technological innovation, and a flourishing of the arts ranging from poetry to ceramics.

31 min
The Rise and Flourishing of Islam

45: The Rise and Flourishing of Islam

Grasp how the tribes of the Arabian peninsula-within only 100 years of their conversion to Islam-were able to conquer half the Mediterranean world, shattering its unity, spinning its parts onto divergent paths, and establishing religious, linguistic, and cultural boundaries that persist to this day.

31 min
Holy Men and Women-Monasticism and Saints

46: Holy Men and Women-Monasticism and Saints

Gain new insights into the key church fathers of Christianity's first centuries-whose actions, ideas, and writings irrevocably shaped the faith-as well as the influential religious movements that emerged at this time, including monasticism and the cult of sainthood.

28 min
Charlemagne—Father of Europe

47: Charlemagne—Father of Europe

Learn why the word "great," though applied to any number of famous and infamous rulers, may be fully justified in the case of Charlemagne, whose impact in the areas of war, politics, religion, and culture left an mark on Europe and the world that few have equaled.

27 min
Endings, Beginnings, What Does It All Mean?

48: Endings, Beginnings, What Does It All Mean?

A discussion of the early 20th-century historian Henri Pirenne puts Charlemagne in a new perspective and underlines why it is so important to understand each of the civilizations you have studied not as a separate entity, but in the context of all the others.

28 min