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Ancient Empires before Alexander

Follow these thrilling realms as they rise to glory, establish administrative and military systems, clash with one another, and eventually collapse.

Ancient Empires before Alexander is rated 3.9 out of 5 by 99.
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Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very interesting course This course covers a fascinating period of history. I purchased the audio version, which I have been playing back, using my iPhone. My only criticism is that the lecturer has a rather 'flat' voice, lacking in enthusiasm. I have a previous course about Ancient Egypt (purchased many years ago), by Bob Brier, who has a unique way of bringing things to life (even if he has a tendency to be a bit repetitive!). Although the lectures in "Ancient Empires before Alexander" covered some really interesting elements, and is clearly a good grounding in the ancient history of that region, I didn't really get a 'feeling' for the period - it was a bit like listening to a rather monotonous story teller!
Date published: 2024-07-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Ancient Empires before Alexander Wonderful series, a great presenter , I’m a novice but his explanations were very clear. I would of liked a bit less about battles and more humanitarian content although
Date published: 2023-12-23
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Interesting material While the material is interesting, the lectures are poorly executed and don't complete on any media that I have tried (IPAD, computer, ROKU). I have had the course for a long time and have been unable to finish the lectures. Great Courses should not offer this product for sale and I would not recommend buying it.
Date published: 2023-10-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Professor This professor is one of the best for TGC- He is clear, concise and moves right along. I enjoyed the course material that I knew nothing about. I highly recommend it & I have taken at least 60 courses - it is one of the best.
Date published: 2023-07-18
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Lots of Information, But Dry Presentation This was jam-packed with info I just didn't know. It's too bad that the presentation was so dull. The last lecture (episode 36) was the best, as it summed up everything in the entire course in a much more digestible way. This is a very detailed history that you may have to listen to more than once to really absorb it.
Date published: 2023-07-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Adequate, if somewhat dry, historical narrative Prof. Dise chronicles the rise and fall of roughly a dozen empires prior to the rise of Alexander the Great. He focuses upon rulers, alliances, rebellions and battle; there is little social history herein. When the subject matter overlapped with other Great Courses, I preferred the other instructors (For example, Alexis Castor in “Between the Rivers”, Jeremey McInerney in “Alexander the Great”, and Elizabeth Vandiver in “Herodotus)”. All the same, Professor Dise did help fill out the portrait of the ancient world, particularly in his coverage of the Hittites, Minoans, Mycenaeans, Israelites and the Carthaginians. His delivery was dry, but sufficiently engaging.
Date published: 2023-04-26
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Dull monologue and inaccurate use of science as op Teacher speaks in mono tone, and its hard to focus, like others observe, its like hes reading from a teleprompter. It fills in blanks but not very well. He contradicts himself on several points like when he says late bronze age history is riddled with uncertainty in dating but then says absolutely that the exodus couldn't have happened in the 14th century. Archeology has been burned on a number of occasions when they claimed that archeology doesnt support claims in scripture, and has learned to take scripture more seriously where it discusses real history. The problem is that the Empire of Solomon lecture ignores what scripture says, and scripture very honestly points out flaws in its characters, and yet the teacher gives a news report style opinion that David was an aggressive power seeking international warlord, an opinion not supported in scripture. Admittedly, when scripture is the only source and archeological evidence is not confirmed, its hard to say for certain, the archeological principle nevertheless is absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Teacher draws conclusions without verifying them with what science is actually able to confirm, and ignores the one source that contradicts him. This casts doubt on the accuracy of all the other lectures, painful as his monotone is to listen to.
Date published: 2022-11-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good for Dedicated Bible Students It seems to me that this course would be of greatest interest to students of the Hebrew Bible or the Christian Old Testament. It provides important background to such cultures as Ur, Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, and Persia. Each of these cultures is important in the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament. The course also addresses more obscure cultures such as Mitanni and Hatti as well as Minoa, Mycenae, Classical Greece, and Carthage, the latter of which have some influence on the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Bible. Listening to this course requires persistence. Dr. Dise lectures in a calm, low-key voice. There is occasional humor, but always dry when present. It seems to me that he is lecturing to a microphone instead of to an audience. Even so, he does communicate clearly and effectively. I used the audio version. Some maps may have been helpful but they were not necessary. This course is fine for listening while jogging or commuting.
Date published: 2022-04-13
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Ancient Empires before Alexander is your opportunity to finally complete your knowledge of the ancient world with a comprehensive look at history's first empires: Akkad, Assyria, Babylon, Hatti, Carthage, and more. Professor Robert L. Dise Jr. examines these fascinating kingdoms as they endure the struggles, successes, and failures of establishing an empire. In 36 fascinating lectures, follow these thrilling realms as they rise to glory, establish administrative and military systems, clash with one another, and eventually collapse. Spanning thousands of years of human history and encompassing regions both familiar and forgotten, this course is an unforgettable way to explore the legacies of the world's earliest empires—in all their marvelous diversity.


Robert L. Dise Jr.

It’s a grand dream: the dream of empire, a dream of glory, a dream of fame, a dream with the power to inspire and the power to destroy.


University of Northern Iowa

Dr. Robert L. Dise Jr. is Associate Professor of History at the University of Northern Iowa, where he teaches highly popular courses on the history of the ancient Near East, Greece, Rome, and classical civilization. He earned his B.A. in History from the University of Virginia and his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. Before joining the faculty at the University of Northern Iowa, Professor Dise taught at Clinch Valley College-now the University of Virginia's College at Wise. Professor Dise has delivered numerous papers at a variety of conferences on ancient history, classical studies, and archaeology. Additionally, he is the author of Cultural Change and Imperial Administration, which examines the origins and evolution of ancient Roman provincial administration. Although he is widely published, Professor Dise regards teaching as the single most important activity that a college faculty member undertakes.

A Meditation on Empire

01: A Meditation on Empire

What makes a true empire? How do empires rise and flourish? How do they decline and fall? Discover pointed answers to these and other fundamental questions about the study of empires in this engaging course overview.

31 min
Lands, Seas, and Sources

02: Lands, Seas, and Sources

Tour the geography of the ancient Near East, which played a decisive role in the region's fascinating empires. Then, look at the kinds of archaeological and documentary evidence such as the discoveries from excavations of ancient sites and from historical writings that help us better understand this period.

29 min
Sargon and the Dawn of Empire

03: Sargon and the Dawn of Empire

In this episode, chart the rise of the Akkadian Empire, established by Sargon and strengthened by his grandson, Naram-Sin.

31 min
The Third Dynasty of Ur

04: The Third Dynasty of Ur

In the late 22nd century B.C., the imperial dynasty of Ur III briefly rose to power in Sumeria. Professor Dise takes you inside the dynasty's founding under Ur-Nammu, its tyrannical taxation and economic systems, its imperial government and administrative structure under King Shulgi, and its disintegration after barely a century.

30 min
The Empire of Hammurabi

05: The Empire of Hammurabi

After Ur III, the subsequent power vacuum in Mesopotamia was filled by the famous king Hammurabi. See how he established the First Dynasty of Babylon and administered rule through a detailed code of law. Hammurabi was so entwined with the First Dynasty that, after his death, the empire swiftly collapsed.

31 min
Mitanni and the Kassites

06: Mitanni and the Kassites

Sort through the mysterious histories of two Mesopotamian empires that emerged after the First Dynasty of Babylon. The Mitanni of northern Mesopotamia lived in a decentralized state similar to a feudal society, while the Kassites in the south brought about a series of important social and economic changes.

30 min
The Rise of Hatti

07: The Rise of Hatti

Hatti, the Hittite kingdom, was the first Near Eastern empire that expanded beyond the river valleys of the Nile and Mesopotamia. Explore the kingdom's origins in early 2nd millennium B.C. Anatolia and study the dynastic crises that threatened its stability.

31 min
The Government of Hatti

08: The Government of Hatti

In this episode, focus on the elements of Hittite government, paying particular attention to the central role played by the Great King (especially in judicial matters).

29 min
Hatti at War

09: Hatti at War

The history of Hatti, according to Professor Dise, is a history of war. Here, examine how this great empire conducted battles against threats from all around. Explore the details of chariot battle, listen to the Great King ask the gods for success in battle, and learn how defeated enemies were treated.

29 min
The Climax and Collapse of Hatti

10: The Climax and Collapse of Hatti

Conclude your exploration of Hatti by studying its pinnacle of power from 1430 to 1200 B.C., the period known as the New Kingdom. In addition to investigating the key role played by the warrior-king Suppiluliumas, probe some possible reasons the empire suddenly collapsed, never to rise again.

31 min
The Rise of the Egyptian Empire

11: The Rise of the Egyptian Empire

In the first of three lectures on ancient Egypt, chart the important role of geography in the empire's rise and delve into the historical resources that help scholars understand Dynasty 18 - the greatest dynasty in Egypt's history. Then, see how Thutmose III's reign ushered in the golden age of Egyptian imperial power.

30 min
The Imperial Army and Administration

12: The Imperial Army and Administration

Unpack the intricacies of New Kingdom Egypt's administrative and military systems. Egypt's government under the New Kingdom was more tightly centralized than at any other point in the country's history, while its army played a critical role in both imperial expansion and defense.

30 min
The End of the Egyptian Empire

13: The End of the Egyptian Empire

How did the massive Egyptian Empire disintegrate and disappear? Professor Dise looks at the final two dynasties of New Kingdom Egypt, focusing on the series of clashes between Egypt and Hatti and attacks from the Libyans and the Sea Peoples.

29 min
The Minoan Thalassocracy

14: The Minoan Thalassocracy

Meet the most obscure of all peoples in antiquity: the Minoans. Thriving on and around Crete for roughly 2,000 years, the Minoans are important for many reasons, including their influence on the emergence of Greek mainland civilization and their possible creation of the first sea-based empire, or thalassocracy.

31 min
Mycenae and the Dawn of Greece

15: Mycenae and the Dawn of Greece

Legend and modern archaeological fact agree that the most important kingdom in Bronze Age Greece was Mycenae, which rose to power around 1600 B.C. Here, learn how the excavation of two key sites revealed insights into Mycenaean dynasties; then, explore the culture's decentralized government and its warlike nature.

31 min
The Collapse of the Mycenaean World

16: The Collapse of the Mycenaean World

Mycenaean Greece flourished between the late 15th and early 14th centuries B.C., but by around 1180 B.C., it collapsed, probably from the inside. How did this happen? Was it the civilization's heroic culture, or the Trojan War? Either way, the empire's collapse signaled the end of Bronze Age Greece.

31 min
The Birth of Israel

17: The Birth of Israel

See the story of Israel as the epic tale of a small kingdom's brief rise to greatness - one that would change the future of the entire world. Compare the biblical and archaeological evidence behind watershed moments in Israel's history, including the Exodus and the conquest of Canaan.

29 min
The Empire of David and Solomon

18: The Empire of David and Solomon

Experience the short-lived imperial glory of ancient Israel under the reigns of King David and his son, Solomon. Under David, Israel expanded beyond the confines of Canaan through a series of decisive military campaigns. Unlike his father's reign, Solomon's rule centralized both royal power and control of religion under the king.

30 min
The Dawn of Assyria

19: The Dawn of Assyria

Around 2000 B.C., Assyria was a backwater district ruled by its conquerors. So how did it evolve into one of antiquity's greatest empires - one that spanned more than 1,000 years and came into contact with other imperial powers in the ancient Near East? Discover the answer in this fascinating lecture.

30 min
The Rise of the Neo-Assyrian Empire

20: The Rise of the Neo-Assyrian Empire

The Neo-Assyrian Empire, which emerged at the end of the 10th century B.C., was characterized by a more aggressive spirit than before, something you discover in a close analysis of its rulers, their frequent military campaigns, and the subsequent Great Rebellion that brought about nearly 80 years of chaos.

30 min
The Government of Assyria

21: The Government of Assyria

Here, explore the details of Assyria's highly centralized government - the most comprehensive apparatus of imperial administration that the Near East had seen up to this point. In addition, examine the real reasons behind the Assyrians' infamous brutality toward their enemies and their policy of deporting conquered populations.

32 min
Assyria at War

22: Assyria at War

The massive military machine of the Neo-Assyrian Empire was essential to combating the many threats along its weak frontiers. Focus on the Assyrian army's organization, its weaponry, its battle tactics and strategies, and its rationale for waging war against the Aramaeans, Babylonians, and others.

31 min
The Climax and Collapse of Assyria

23: The Climax and Collapse of Assyria

Meet the empire's three last rulers: Sennacherib, who stabilized and expanded the empire; Esarhaddon, who instigated the conquest of Egypt; and Ashurbanipal, who suppressed the Great Rebellion of Babylonian peoples. Then, investigate the internal and external causes of Assyria's fall and the rise of the Neo-Babylonian Empire.

33 min
The Neo-Babylonian Empire

24: The Neo-Babylonian Empire

After a lengthy period of subjugation under the Assyrians, in the late 7th and early 6th centuries Mesopotamia rose again in the form of the Chaldean, or Neo-Babylonian, Empire. Piece together the empire's story as well as its vibrant cultural and economic life using insightful archival and archaeological evidence.

30 min
The Rise of the Persian Empire

25: The Rise of the Persian Empire

Turn now to a riveting examination of the greatest empire in the ancient Near East: the Persian Empire. Created during the reign of Cyrus the Great (559-530 B.C.), the empire was a multiethnic, multicultural, and multilingual realm that established a successful model for ruling diversity.

31 min
The Outbreak of the Greek Wars

26: The Outbreak of the Greek Wars

Plunge into the heat of battle between the Persian Empire and the city-states of Greece during the Greco-Persian Wars, which raged from 499 to 449 B.C. Explore Persian efforts to neutralize Greek autonomy and discover the strategies that led to a Greek victory at the epic Battle of Marathon.

30 min
Xerxes and the Invasion of Greece

27: Xerxes and the Invasion of Greece

Follow the second phase of Persia's war against Greece, this time under the reign of King Xerxes. Professor Dise guides you through the details of three key battles: the Spartans' last stand at Thermopylae, the chaotic sea battle at Artemisium, and the Greek victory at Salamis, which crippled Persian morale.

30 min
From Plataea to the Peace of Callias

28: From Plataea to the Peace of Callias

How did Persia's wars with Greece end? Discover the answer in this lecture, which explains how the Battle of Plataea forced the Persian Empire to go on the defensive, endure a series of defeats, and ultimately reach a cessation of hostilities in 449 B.C. with the Peace of Callias.

31 min
The Persian Empire from 450 to 334

29: The Persian Empire from 450 to 334

It was only with the help of shrewd and capable leaders that the Persian Empire restored itself to power after the Greco-Persian Wars. Learn how Artaxerxes, Darius II Ochus, and other Persian leaders revived their empire ;just in time to meet the threat posed by Alexander the Great.

31 min
The Government and Army of Persia

30: The Government and Army of Persia

Learn how the rule of Darius I brought about the classical Persian system of imperial administration, with its system of satrapies (provinces) and royal treasuries. Also, travel along the Royal Road (the empire's central communications network) and explore the massive but flawed Persian army.

31 min
Alexander and the Fall of Persia

31: Alexander and the Fall of Persia

In just four years, the greatest empire the ancient world had ever seen fell - and all at the hands of Alexander the Great. How did this happen? Chart the collapse of the Persian Empire in this piercing examination of the Macedonian leader's military campaign to conquer the ancient world.

31 min
The Origins of Carthage and Its Empire

32: The Origins of Carthage and Its Empire

After the end of the Persian Empire, the only Near Eastern state left was Carthage. Learn how this outpost in the western Mediterranean evolved into the greatest sea empire the world had ever seen (and would ever see) for the next 2,000 years.

30 min
Ruling and Defending Carthage's Empire

33: Ruling and Defending Carthage's Empire

Examine how Carthage administered its empire (through both a monarchy and a government composed of the magistrates, the council, and the people) and defended it with a mercenary army and a citizen navy. Both the Carthaginian government and military, you learn, reflected the commercial nature of the empire.

31 min
The First War with Rome

34: The First War with Rome

Perhaps the most epic conflict of the ancient world was the Punic Wars waged between Carthage and Rome. Discover how the first phase of conflict was born in Carthage's struggle for control of Sicily - first with the Greek city of Syracuse and then with the emerging Roman Republic.

30 min
Hannibal and the Fall of Carthage

35: Hannibal and the Fall of Carthage

Even though he was a masterful leader, Hannibal's military strategies during the Second Punic War were not enough to stave off Carthage's eventual defeat by Roman forces. Explore the final two phases of the Punic Wars, which ended with the total destruction of Carthage and the triumph of the Rome.

31 min
Ancient Empires before Alexander, and After

36: Ancient Empires before Alexander, and After

Conclude your journey through more than 2,000 years of history with a final look at the startling differences and similarities between these ancient empires. From Bronze Age Mesopotamia to Carthage, each of these realms is a chapter in the fascinating story of empire - a story that will continue as long as human ambition endures.

31 min