Ancient Mesopotamia: Life in the Cradle of Civilization

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very well done! I really enjoyed this program. It was a treat to have a presenter who really knows her material and speaks without referring to notes. Each lecture is told from a human point of view and not simply the mechanics or archeology.
Date published: 2020-12-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent overview of under-rated period I am fascinated by various historic periods, but Mesopotamia was not one of them - until now. I knew it as a "cradle of a civilization", knew something about Babylon and Assyria, but not much more then that. Professor Podany's passion and deep knowledge of the subject will take you over and you will not be able to think about this time without a passion anymore. It might not be as fascinating as Greek or Roman periods, there are just too many different kingdoms and empires over time, but it will wake up an interest, for sure.
Date published: 2020-11-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating Topic and well taught I just finished the course. Exactly what I was looking for. Extremely interesting and informative. Professor was outstanding. Hard to imagine anything less than 5 stars.
Date published: 2020-10-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Walk like....? “Walk like a Mesopotamian. Walk like a Mesopotamian...” “Shucks, that doesn’t work. I think the band mates idea of walking like an Egyptian works better.” “Ya know, I kinda like music and songwriting, but Ancient Mesopotamia is so interesting.” “I wonder...”. The rest is history. 5 stars!
Date published: 2020-09-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding! Professor Podany brings to life the ancient beginnings of civilization to enrich our modern lives!
Date published: 2020-08-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Ancient Civilization Comes Alive! This is an outstanding course for anyone with an interest in ancient history and the beginnings of human civilization. Professor Podany makes the history come alive, which is quite a trick considering the limited source material available, both archaeological and written, relative to other early communities such as Egypt, China, and Greece. Her enthusiasm is infectious; she is well-organized, thoroughly knowledgeable, and speaks eloquently and clearly in a well-modulated voice which is a pleasure to listen to. I had no trouble maintaining my focus. As a neophyte in this area, I was surprised by the complexity of the history of the many kingdoms and their interactions which has been developed. Do keep in mind, though, that we are primarily learning about kingdoms and kings, not about the lives of the common people. Also, while the written materials we have include law codes, letters between kings, and the extraordinary Epic of Gilgamesh, much of it concerns inventories and business interactions. Professor Podany is clear about what we know and what we can only infer, and I appreciate her pointing out areas where scholars disagree. I highly recommend the video, both for the maps and especially for the photos of the objects recovered from the area. Most of these are also available in the excellent and very complete Course Guidebook. So - my highest recommendation, perhaps not for all, but if you think you might be interested you will probably very much enjoy and appreciate this course. P.S. - TGC people - I entirely agree with the other reviewers who denounced the weird moving triangular graphics! Please try not to be so creative! Thank you!
Date published: 2020-07-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well designed and delivered This course filled a big gap in my history of the cradle of civilization. The professor was very knowledgable and easy to follow and understand and interesting. It was definitely an enjoyable and enlightening course for me. More detailed graphics would have been useful; for instance, many times I wished for an outline of the borders for modern day countries.
Date published: 2020-06-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Engrossing and Informative I almost always buy the DVD/CD Versions of the Courses because I often find myself in areas of no Internet Access. This is one that I spend more time listening to than watching although the video has some visual information that is worth seeing. I wish there were more maps perhaps. I’ve owned this for.a couple years and watched and listened to it (or parts of it) several times. Every time I learn something new or fill in a couple blanks. The subject matter is very well presented.
Date published: 2020-05-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Professor kept course very interesting for me. I bought this course several months ago and recently finished the last lecture. Fascinating subject and the teacher was extremely knowledgeable on the subject. I have 2 comments; more visual photos, maps, etc would have been helpful and I found the moving background distracting during the lectures.
Date published: 2020-01-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A GOOD PERSPECTIVE THE GOOD = She puts an isolated society in perspective gathering information from thousands of clay tablets. The course outline is date oriented, and the information is honest & well documented in clay. All was well organized, and easily understood, from an early society that was formed well before the idea of making clay pots & front doorways to contemporary formats. THE BAD = Not enough illustrations, photos and physical examples. What photos there were, are presented in a (strange & distracting) motion orientation. The back ground behind the presenter is also in a constant distracting motion.
Date published: 2019-12-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from We loved Ancient Mesopotamia This is an exceptional course. My husband has read quite a few books about Mesopotamia, but I knew very little. We both enjoyed the course and learned a lot from it. Professor Podany is an outstanding presenter, always interested and engaged, and approaching each topic from an angle likely to make sense to an amateur audience.
Date published: 2019-11-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Ancient Mesopotamia A great insight to an amazingly advanced civilization.
Date published: 2019-09-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved it! It was a pleasure listening to Dr. Podany! I have long been interested in the Sumerian culture. Dr. Podany presented an engaging overview of Sumer and the rest of ancient Mesopotamian culture. I look forward to reading more.
Date published: 2019-09-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Entertaining and Educational Professor Podany is fantastic. I love listening to her lectures at the same time I am learning a lot. She is so positive and pleasant to watch. I wpold gladly buy more courses from her.
Date published: 2019-08-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from You can't go wrong with this one... My goal was to fill a void in my knowledge of ancient near eastern history. Mesopotamia has always been a bit of a mystery to me. This course was a top notch Teaching Company production to fill that void; I am really glad I watched these lectures. The production value and aesthetics of this video production were outstanding. The professor had an excellent presentation style, clear and lucid, her personality comes through in her presentation, and she has a relaxed style that is easy and pleasant to watch and listen. She provides personal anecdotes and her own opinions where appropriate. She is diligent about providing multiple viewpoints and various hypotheses. The course was logically chronological, and had an excellent mix of political history, cultural history, military history, social history, and many interesting sidebars into art, architecture, and literature. Collectively it all added valuable context and texture to a historical survey course of this nature. Wrapping up: I would not hesitate to recommend this excellent and much needed course to anyone interested in the near east of antiquity.
Date published: 2019-07-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Insightful, thought-provoking, excellent Dr Podany provides a logical and understandable explanation of the beginnings of civilization in Mesopotamia. Much of it seems developed from her research and archeology in the region. There is wonderful synergy in her treatment of the archeology, the knowable sociology, and connections to modern life. Of the courses I've done on this subject, this one provided by far the best basis for understanding the rise of civilization and its evolution in human terms. The maps and graphics are excellent and provide visual explanation that enhances the narrative. There is a time line that appears at all the right moments. Her discussions of the clay tablets: the way they were prepared, sealed, stored, and used greatly enhanced understanding of what we know from them. This is an excellent way to gain a broad understanding of how civilization began in Mesopotamia.
Date published: 2019-06-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Ancient Mesopotamia is one of the best courses! Amanda Podany is a fine lecturer and makes what could be a dry course fascinating by tying it to today's values and roles. She is exciting to listen to and makes this stuff live!
Date published: 2019-06-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Professor Podany delivered an excellent program. The use of maps that highlighted where the cities being discussed were was of considerable help. The subject material was easy to understand and follow. There was a smooth flow of the history that did not leave gaps between administrations and the transition between generations was effective.
Date published: 2019-06-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great Overview of Mesopotanian Civilization This course provides a great summary on the development of civilization in Mesopotamia one of the key cradles of civilizations development. Is an excellent introduction and encourages further study of the topic. The professor demonstrates an excellent knowledge of the subject. She makes good use of various artifacts in support of the presentation. More would be better, if available. More visuals would increase the value even more. The “walk-through” of the development of city states, and governance was particularly interesting.
Date published: 2019-05-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Massive improvement on _ Between the Rivers_ I said in my review of _ Between the Rivers_ that “I hope the company releases a more detailed lecture series on this subject,” and I am delighted that The Great Courses now has a serious series of lectures on the beginnings of recorded history. I found this course quite valuable even though I had already listened to Professor Podany’s _Ancient Near East: A Very Short Introduction_.
Date published: 2019-05-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great story, told very well I enjoy ancient history, so it's great to see this new offering on Ancient Mesopotamia by Prof Podany. She's a very enthusiastic and knowledgeable lecturer, and her passion for the material always comes across. Mesopotamia -- and Ur, Akkad, Assyria, Babylon, and so on -- are covered in part in other TC course, but it's great to have this systematic chronological survey. If you've covered some of this in other courses, this new one is very well worthwhile; likewise if you've never had much exposure to the material. Prof Podany covers culture, politics, economics, daily life, early writing and the stories that have survived and more. It's very interesting and well done. My only small complaint is that I found lectures 15 - 18 to drag a little, with a little too much detail about specific lives; maybe they could have been two lectures instead of four. But that is a nit, and I recommend this highly. I hope that Prof Podany does more TC courses.
Date published: 2019-05-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Genuine enthusasm This lady is excellent in that she's really enthusiastic about the information she gives! She certainly knows her subject matter, but it's a pleasure to listen to her enthusiastically explain, and to share, and she seems to speak from her experience, not reading from an off-camera monitor. Although the visuals are somewhat unexciting, her descriptions and details certainly make these lectures not only enriching, but alive! It was a pleasure to have been her student.
Date published: 2019-04-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Simply Exceptional Not only was she clearly an expert in the field but her ability to communicate this knowledge in an engaging manner was riveting.
Date published: 2019-03-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Kept my interest. I have been told by my Doctor that I really need to ride a stationary bike. This course has made what had been a drudgery something I actually look forward to. By the time my workout is over I have learned about such things as beer brewing in the ancient world. As a certifiable history geek I recommend this course.
Date published: 2019-03-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great presenter I watched this from The Great Courses Plus. Very interesting topic (which is to be expected), but what I was most impressed with was the professor, herself. She was so good in her presentation. Virtually no stumbles or hemming/hawing throughout the course. I've taken well over 200 courses from this company, and even many of the better professors stumble, repeat themselves, etc. Dr. Podany is completely at ease in front of the camera. Was she reading everything off a telepromter? Probably, but you certainly can't tell.
Date published: 2019-03-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Tough Task Fulfilled Prof Podany tackles a subject from which we must rely mostly upon translations of surviving cuneiform of which we have only scratched the surface of the thousands of pieces that remain undeciphered.......fragments containing glimpses of life long ago. I felt that the course lacked sufficient visual aids which diverts ones' attention from the monotony of speech and the monosyllabic hand gestures of the professor. Minds need visual stimulation and the predominant audio stimulation often reached saturation point which brought heavy eyelids. Couple that with the same 3 rotating images in the background and you have brain freeze. TGC should really help their professors to shine as they deserve.
Date published: 2019-02-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Introduction to the topic. My rating is not so much an evaluation of each specific aspect of the course (lecture style, voice quality, depth of coverage), but simply a reflection of my appreciation of the course. For me, it was a 5-star contribution both to my understanding of the topic and my interest in it. I had a pretty standard historical understanding of the topic going in: a basic knowledge of the names/locations of the empires; basic chronological knowledge; a basic familiarity with the names/locations of major cities; basic knowledge of the major people . Someone with more advanced knowledge may not find it as helpful as I did in terms of pure content. Professor Podany's expertise in the subject was clear, and yet I appreciated how often she made clear the degree to which the evidence supports either the common consensus or her own conclusions. On many topics current understanding involves, by necessity, some significant extrapolation from the actual data available to us, and I felt she was honest (and at the same time unapologetic) about these areas. For me, the strength of the course, and the reason for my 5-star review, was in the professor's ability to communicate a picture of the world she was talking about. While there were many facts and dates, I felt that professor Podany did a great job presenting the story of this region/period in a way that caused me to think. I don't really know how to analyze it, but however it came together, her choice of content, style of presentation, and personal insight stimulated many moments of reflection for me, and it's this aspect of any course that I value most highly. I appreciate being given knowledge in away that enables me to consider more thoughtfully and with greater depth whatever topic is being addressed. In that respect, the course fully met my expectations.
Date published: 2019-02-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great detail and knowledge! Teaching about this area from someone you can tell loves what they are doing! Knowledgeable, thorough and willing to address issue where colleagues vary in the interpretation of history!
Date published: 2019-02-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Since most of the time the "ancients" focused on are the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, or jumping all the way back to pre-history in a more scientific sense, I really didn't know much about this subject other than the short overviews typically given in high school and college survey courses. So this course was fascinating to me from the jump. I was pleasantly surprised at the depth of material, and I adored that it was structured in chronological eras. I personally prefer to learn history in that way as it helps me see the evolution of a culture more thoroughly, even if the various topics jump around. It also makes it easier for me when recalling what else would be going on in other parts of the world during the same eras, which in my opinion really adds to a submersive feel. The professor's delivery style was pleasant, and I came away with a much greater knowledge of an area of the world of which I always felt I lacked a true understanding. I'd happily watch other courses she might offer.
Date published: 2019-01-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A decent course overall I have already watched several courses that have treated on the subject of Ancient Mesopotamia. But most of them were political and military history. What I like about this course particularly was its approach to the lives of people living between the rivers. One of the best things about this course is that Professor Podany tries to show you how certain aspects of our society such as equality before the law, the military industrial complex, and personal religious devotion. I feel like I learned some new aspects to life but overall it felt like I gained more information from the Great Courses older lectures on Mesopotamia.
Date published: 2019-01-18
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Ancient Mesopotamia: Life in the Cradle of Civilization
Course Trailer
Uncovering Near Eastern Civilization
1: 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
2: 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
3: 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
4: 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
5: 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
6: 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
7: 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
8: 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
9: 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
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.


University of California, Los Angeles


California State Polytechnic University

About Amanda H. Podany

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.

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