The Architecture of Power: Great Palaces of the Ancient World
Professor Steven L. Tuck is Professor of Classics at Miami University. After earning his B.A. in History and Classics at Indiana University, he received his Ph.D. in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. He held the postdoctoral Arthur and Joyce Gordon Fellowship in Latin epigraphy at The Ohio State University.
An esteemed teacher, Professor Tuck received the 2013 E. Phillips Knox Teaching Award, Miami University’s highest honor for innovative and effective undergraduate teaching. In addition, the Archaeological Institute of America, North America’s oldest and largest organization devoted to archaeology, presented him with its Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Award in 2014. He also has been named a Distinguished Scholar and an Altman Faculty Scholar at Miami University.
Professor Tuck has conducted archaeological fieldwork and research in Italy, Greece, England, and Egypt. He has directed more than a dozen study tours in Italy, concentrated on the city of Rome and the area around the Bay of Naples, including Pompeii, Herculaneum, and the Island of Capri. He has given more than 50 public lectures, including as a national lecturer for the Archaeological Institute of America.
Professor Tuck is the author of numerous articles featured in international journals on such topics as the lives of sailors in the Roman navy, the schedule of gladiatorial games at Pompeii, the decorative program of the amphitheater at Capua, the professional organizations of spectacle performers, Roman sculpture, and triumphal imagery across the ancient Roman world. He is the author of the forthcoming A History of Roman Art, a lavishly illustrated introduction to the topic.
Professor Tuck has taught two previous Great Courses: Pompeii: Daily Life in an Ancient Roman City and Experiencing Rome: A Visual Exploration of Antiquity’s Greatest Empire.
01: Palaces Past and Present
Begin your tour of the ancient world by a look at our modern one as you explore the palaces of Saddam Hussein. Discover how he called upon the ancient Egyptians and Babylonians for inspiration and also how the architecture changed over time in response to threats from Iran and the United States.
02: Malkata Palace: Pharaoh, Foreigners, and Gods
Now, travel back to the 14th century BC, a time of peace, prosperity, and plentitude for Egyptians. Learn how the Malkata Palace represents a microcosm of Egypt. Architectural details reveal little-known facts about religious rituals and telling insights into how pharaohs attempted to assert their domination over others.
03: Amarna: Palace of the First Sun King
Pharaoh Amenhotep IV takes on a new name—Akhenaten—and shifts Egypt's capital to the fascinating city of Amarna. See how his worship of the sun disk defined an era built on temple crops, sacrifices, and complete subservience to the pharaoh. Also learn how relocating his seat of power helped Akhenaten wrestle authority away from religious leaders.
04: Phaistos: Palaces between Asia and Europe
Archaeology often involves a great deal of detective work, as is the case with the mysterious Bronze Age Crete. The myth of Daedalus and his labyrinth symbolizes Crete's location at the intersection of multiple cultures. Discover the Phaistos Palace, where extravagant religious rituals and entertainment spectacles were held.
05: Palace of Nestor at Pylos and Bronze Age Greece
Explore the Palace of Nestor, an extraordinary complex centered around the throne room. We travel in time from the immense treasures discovered in 2015 back to the ancient styles the Mycenaeans developed to bring these elaborate structures to life. Consider what the arrangement of rooms reveals about how royals lived and maintained control.
06: The Assyrian Palace at Nimrud: Empire in Stone
The Assyrian palace at Nimrud, with its imposing 20-foot gates, was designed by Ashurnasirpal II. An epic braggart, he loved to write of his conquests of nature and his knowledge of tree species. Clearly an intellectual, he describes in detail the glory of feasts he threw—and the math behind them.
07: Nineveh: The Architecture of Assyrian Power
Discover the last great Assyrian palace and the largest city the world had ever seen before the Babylonian conquest. See how its designers accomplished incredible civil engineering feats, diverting entire rivers into canals that offered protection and transportation. Also meet the magnificent lamassu guardians that flanked the palace entrances, each of which stood over 12 feet tall.
08: Persepolis: Palace of the Persians
The lore of Persepolis includes the exploits of many great kings. Explore the great citadel at Persepolis with its famed flight of 111 steps leading to the Gate of All Nations, which held a set of wood and bronze doors standing 20 feet high. Learn of the spectacular stone masonry and powerful art filled with lions and mythological creatures.
09: Greek Palaces in Conquered Lands I
While scholars debate the details, it's undeniable that Alexander the Great's conquest of the Persian Empire profoundly changed the world. View his astonishing palaces, boasting gymnasiums and enormous swimming pools and home to elite drinking parties. Examine the unmistakable Greek style blended with Persian and Assyrian influences characteristic of the period.
10: Greek Palaces in Conquered Lands II
This is the tale of two palaces—one in Jordan, the other in Libya—in the wake of Alexander the Great’s death. Both were products of military expansion and occupation, but they displayed distinct identities. Learn how the palace origins influenced the design and layout of each.
11: Greek Palaces Come to Roman Italy
Two men, Marcus Claudius Marcellus and Lucius Licinius Lucullus, were largely responsible for the transformation of Roman architecture; their story is one of political strategy, Persian influence, and sheer determination. Consider why Lucullus may be the most important yet underrated figure in the history of palace creation.
12: Masada: Herod the Great between East and West
Herod the Great is a well-studied, yet controversial, figure. Examine in depth his brilliant methods and materials, including the construction of Masada, which involved many logistical challenges as giant marble tesserae slabs were shipped across the desert and hoisted up as walls. Discover Herod’s most startling and mesmerizing architectural invention.
13: Herod the Great’s Summer and Winter Palaces
Herod was a complex king whose royal image was defined by insecurity, innovation, and a need to reflect his Jewish identity. Starting with his heated Roman baths in each palace, understand how the king was a master of the land and was able to give his people a marvelous oasis in the desert.
14: Caligula’s Floating Palaces
Taking inspiration from Cleopatra as well as the ancient Hellenistic rulers, Caligula's Floating Palaces included all the amenities you would expect to find onboard modern cruise ships: spacious baths, banquet halls, and live music. Caligula, himself, is also quite fascinating, as is the story of the ships' rediscovery.
15: Nero’s Domus Transitoria at Rome
A huge fan of spectacle, Nero sponsored grand chariot races and began an architectural revolution. We find Nero’s palaces made of a new Roman concrete where bespoke designs could finally replace the utilitarian boxes of stone, thus making way for domed ceilings, custom columns, and any form he desired.
16: Nero’s Golden House: A Roman Palace Theater
Nero built the infamous Domus Aurea (Golden House), a 124-acre Xanadu that enraged the rich whose land he occupied. It featured a lavish watered garden with incredible rotating sculptures that could spray perfume. Walking distance from the Colosseum, this palace was literally covered in gold.
17: Rome’s Great Imperial Palace of Domitian
The word "palace" comes from the Palatine Hill in Rome, which housed Domitian’s 200-year-old palace. This structure—impeccably built and placed—was essentially the White House for Roman emperors. Learn why the enormous residence and its innovative design was mythologized by poets, who compared Domitian to Jupiter.
18: Hadrian’s Villa, Tivoli
Hadrian was an artistic genius who personally designed the palace of his dreams to reflect his many passions, including his love of Greek philosophy. His luxurious villa, now a UNESCO world heritage site, set the standard for Roman architecture. Understand more about Hadrian, a figure so influential that he redefined the concept of Virtus, or manliness.
19: Diocletian’s Retirement Palace, Split
Diocletian came to power in the 3rd century AD, a turbulent time for the Roman Empire, which had seen 25 emperors over the course of 50 years. Learn how Diocletian, a visionary and problem-solver, brought stability to the empire and how his palace represented a radical departure from traditional styles.
20: Constantine’s Palace, Constantinople
Constantinople was a fresh start for the then-600-year-old Roman Empire, becoming the greatest European city of the Middle Ages. Its founder, Constantine, was (supposedly) a devout Christian. Explore his palace, which featured colossal sculptures and the famed hippodrome, where chariot races, animal hunts, and prisoner executions were held.
21: China’s Endless Palace: Weiyang Palace
Weiyang, China’s Endless Palace, represented not only an emperor but the very concept of ever-expanding empire itself. Covering an area of 1,200 acres, it was the largest imperial palace ever built. You'll learn how the construction of the palace reflected imperialism as well as Confucianism, the cornerstone of Chinese philosophy.
22: The Palace of Montezuma II at Tenochtitlán
The Aztec capital, founded in a swamp, developed into the largest city in the Pre-Columbian Americas. Meet Montezuma II, creator of Tenochtitlán, a staunch believer in omens, and father to hundreds. Learn how a Spanish army of a few hundred men led by Hernan Cortes conquered an empire of millions.
23: Renaissance Palaces and the Classical Revival
Here we visit such highlights of Renaissance architecture as Kensington Palace and the Tuileries Palace and discover how they were influenced by classical forms. Perhaps most impressive is the Palace of Versailles, which boasted Europe's largest orange tree collection and now attracts tourists from all over the world.
24: Palaces in a World of Democracies
In this final lecture, reflect on the timeless themes explored in this course. First, investigate the White House, where each decorative decision reflects political agenda (and defiance to the previous administration). Then, discover the surprising connection between the Amazon headquarters and ancient imperial palaces as ancient ideas come full circle in our modern era.