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Great Battles of the Ancient World

Join estemed Professor of Ancient History Garrett Fagan, and together travel into the thick of combat in some of the most notable battles fought in the Mediterranean region from prehistoric times to the 4th century CE.
Great Battles of the Ancient World is rated 4.1 out of 5 by 130.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from I learned a lot. Excellent professor! I just wanted to give this course a quick 5-star review since it is well deserved. I have watched +200 GreatCourses and this one would seem to at least be in the top 25%. First, I learned a lot and thus, IMHO, it is worth the time invested. Thus, I highly recommend it and, respectfully, do not agree with some of the negative reviews I have read about this course/the professor's presentation. Second, I GREATLY appreciated the professor's approach to scholarship and teaching, as well the way he thinks more generally. He does his 'homework' (i.e.., seems to know what he talking about), presents various theories, and then explains why he believes one of those is correct (or at least likely correct) in a VERY LOGICAL manner. Accordingly, this style reflects beautifully what many, including myself, always appreciated about the GreatCourses in the PAST. Unfortunately, SOME of the NEWER courses on this site have teachers with little or no background (i.e., academic credentials) in the subject they are teaching and they inject various opinions that are often reflect bias and/or are simply unsupported by facts. Hopefully, as part of the name change from Wondrium back to GreatCourses (in 2024), the company will also go back to its 'roots' in this regard--e.g., ALWAYS hire professors that actually have degrees in the subject they are teaching (which, respectfully, is not asking a lot of a company that is called 'TheGreatCourses') and NOT PERMIT biased/unsupported remarks (e.g., by those who have some axe to grind and/or grievance to push WITHOUT facts to back such remarks up). Finally, the professor's passing at such a young age is a terrible loss.
Date published: 2024-06-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exceptionally well organized and thoughtful This is a real, serious course. Professor Fagan covers the strategy and tactics of these battles clearly and effectively. He also examines how we know what we know and to what extent we should trust scholarly efforts to fill in blanks in the historical record. I would have loved a real live course from Professor Fagan.
Date published: 2024-03-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Battlefield, Not Warfare This is a compendium of battlefield accounts in the ancient Mediterranean from the origins of state warfare in the Mesopotamia to the Gothic defeat of the Romans in 378 CE. Note that this course looks only at what happened on the battlefield. It minimizes or overlooks such essential issues as the strategic situation, the political context, and the logistics supporting the battle. In other words, it looks at the battle but it ignores the war. As I mentioned, the course examines battles only in the ancient Mediterranean. Mostly, it focuses on Greece. The lectures break down this way: • 2 lectures – Introductory material. • 3 lectures – Mesopotamia and Egypt • 11 lectures – Greece and Macedonia • 7 lectures – Rome • 1 lecture – Concluding material Dr. Fagen is a good, although not elite, instructor. His Irish accent is pronounced but he is still easy to follow. The course guide is written in paragraph form, as opposed to bullet-format or outline-format as used in some other course guides. It contains many battle maps and graphics of weapons to illustrate the discussion. It also contains a timeline, a glossary, and biographical notes, in each case much more extensive and useful than in most course guides. I used the audio version. I wish now that I had gotten the video version. I believe that maps, pictures of weapons, etc. would enhance the learning experience. One can follow the audio version, for example while commuting or jogging, but I think that watching the course would be better. The course was published in 2005.
Date published: 2022-11-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Learned a Great Deal I enjoyed the course. I believe I have read something individually about almost every battle described in this lecture series; but Professor Fagan did a super job of synthesizing all of the individual lessons learned into a coherent system that led to a deeper understanding. Not sure I understand his apparent antipathy toward Victor Davis Hansen, whom I also admire; but he did convince me to buy a copy of Carnage and Culture in any event.
Date published: 2022-06-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Battles Coverage I watched the first lecture (of 24) of Great Battles of the Ancient World. The lecturer for all 24 topics is Garret Fagan. Topic is very engaging for the study I am interested in. I like his style. Walks around the front of "the class" without cameras jumping from angle to angle. No monotone. Makes you feel more like you are sitting in his classroom. No quizzes or test, just enjoyable lecture that i can do on my own time.
Date published: 2022-05-20
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Great Battles, but Mediocre lecture I've lost count of how many programs I've purchased from this company. Most of them have been good, however, this one doesn't come up to the level expected. He talks more about what information is not available and the failings of other authors than interesting lectures on early warfare.
Date published: 2022-03-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from "War War War-Fiddle Dee Dee" Anyone who uses Victor Davis Hansen as a reference is a kindred spirit. Fagan does an excellent job going through the history of Ancient Mediterranean warfare. Wisely, he gives multiple versions and interpretations of the causes and results, with his own opinion as to which he agrees with. My only caveat is that for some reason I only got the audio, which is frustrating as to figure out the archeology and battle formations. His last lecture summary of warfare is spot on, but his intro to why we war could have easily been answered if attended a Sunday School class-ie "Thou shalt not covet", Cain/Abel, King Ahab, etc. Highly recommended
Date published: 2022-03-05
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Sadly had to return I am a huge fan of the Great Courses and appreciate their money back guarantee. Sadly, this is the first time out of 12 courses that i had to take advantage of this. I am sure Professor Fagan is knowledgeable and an expert in his field. I was very much looking forward to this course. I had to return it as I could not get past the Professor's accent. I spent more time trying to understand the words than i did focusing on their context. It is a shame as the professor seemed sincere; however, i was totally distracted and had difficulties making out the words. This may be my problem only as I haven't seen others comment on it. If so, please take it as an outlier. In any event I could not get past the first lecture. Thanks to the Great Courses for their total satisfaction policy. I will continue to be a strong proponent of the Great Courses as well as an avid user.
Date published: 2021-12-22
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Hollywood has gone to elaborate lengths to recreate the violence and mayhem of ancient warfare in movies such as Gladiator and Troy. But what were ancient battles really like? What weapons, tactics, armor, training, and logistics were used? In this course, Professor Garrett G. Fagan takes you into the thick of combat in some of the most notable battles fought in the Mediterranean region from prehistoric times to the 4th century CE.


Garrett G. Fagan

To learn about the people of antiquity is to examine the foundations of how we live today. They are at once alien and familiar, an image of ourselves glimpsed in a distant mirror.


The Pennsylvania State University
Garrett G. Fagan (1963–2017) was a Professor of Ancient History at Pennsylvania State University. He was born in Dublin, Ireland, and was educated at Trinity College. He earned his PhD from McMaster University and held teaching positions at McMaster University, York University, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He also gave many public lectures to audiences of all ages. Professor Fagan had an extensive research record in Roman history and held a prestigious Killam Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and an Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellowship at the University of Cologne. He published numerous articles in international journals, and he wrote Bathing in Public in the Roman World. He also edited a volume on the phenomenon of pseudoarcheology.

By This Professor

Why Study Battles? What Is War?

01: Why Study Battles? What Is War?

Professor Garrett G. Fagan addresses the importance of studying battles and surveys the changing scholarly approach to the subject since the 19th century. He concludes by looking at different definitions of warfare, particularly the "operational" and "social-constructivist" models.

32 min
The Problem of Warfare’s Origins

02: The Problem of Warfare’s Origins

Three types of evidence shed light on origins of warfare: human remains bearing evidence of trauma, artifacts that function primarily as weapons, and monuments such as fortifications or depictions of warriors painted on cave walls. Their interpretations are far from straightforward.

31 min
Sumer, Akkad, and Early Mesopotamian Warfare

03: Sumer, Akkad, and Early Mesopotamian Warfare

You enter the historical era when written records first become available. Such evidence allows us to reconstruct the conventions and conditions of warfare among the first cities in Sumer in c. 3000 BCE and to explore the nature of Sumerian armies, weapons, and battle tactics.

31 min
Egyptian Warfare from the Old to New Kingdoms

04: Egyptian Warfare from the Old to New Kingdoms

Evidence of warfare in Old Kingdom Egypt is ambiguous, but it is much more plentiful in later periods, when the pharaoh's role was increasingly that of a war leader. Egyptian warfare was transformed by the introduction of the chariot.

31 min
The Battles of Megiddo and Kadesh

05: The Battles of Megiddo and Kadesh

With New Kingdom Egypt you get the first fully recorded battle in history: the Battle of Megiddo. You also cover the later Battle of Kadesh, which is attested in both Egyptian and Hittite accounts.

30 min
The Trojan War and Homeric Warfare

06: The Trojan War and Homeric Warfare

The reality of the Trojan War has been debated since ancient times. In this lecture you survey the archaeological evidence for Troy and for warfare among the mainland Greeks, called Mycenaeans.

31 min
The Assyrian War Machine

07: The Assyrian War Machine

The Assyrian military model of multiethnic, highly mobile armies relying on missile weaponry and chariots was to characterize major Near Eastern powers for centuries. You study the nature of the Assyrian army, the unique features of the empire it created, and the place of warfare in Assyrian imperial ideology.

31 min
The Sieges of Lachish and Jerusalem

08: The Sieges of Lachish and Jerusalem

You examine the art of ancient siege warfare by considering the two great sieges at Lachish and Jerusalem during the third campaign of Sennacherib (701 BCE). The sources for these events include Assyrian written and iconographic records, accounts in the Bible, and archaeology.

31 min
A Peculiar Institution? Hoplite Warfare

09: A Peculiar Institution? Hoplite Warfare

The Greek hoplite was a heavily armed and armored infantryman who fought in a formation called the phalanx, dominating battlefields of the ancient world for almost four centuries (c. 700 to 338 BCE).

32 min
The Battle of Marathon

10: The Battle of Marathon

The Battle of Marathon saw the forces of the Persian superpower defeated in the first major confrontation between Greeks and Persians on the Hellenic mainland. The battle itself was strategically indecisive and set the stage for the serious clash of Greek and Persian armies a decade later.

30 min
The Battle of Thermopylae

11: The Battle of Thermopylae

In the second Persian invasion of Greece, 300 Spartans with allied troops were charged with stopping an enormous Persian force at the narrow pass of Thermopylae, while Greek armies mustered in the rear. Astonishingly, the fight lasted three days before the defenders were betrayed and then massacred.

31 min
Naval Warfare and the Battle of Salamis

12: Naval Warfare and the Battle of Salamis

You survey the naval developments that led to the trireme in the late 6th century BCE and then focus on the Battle of Salamis, which saw the Persian fleet defeated by Athens. The lecture ends with the Battle of Plataea (479 BCE).

31 min
The Athenian Expedition to Sicily

13: The Athenian Expedition to Sicily

The Athenian assault on the heavily fortified city of Syracuse in Sicily represents one of the greatest military follies in history. The ensuing disaster was a turning point in the wider Peloponnesian War with Sparta (431 to 404 BCE).

31 min
The March of the Ten Thousand

14: The March of the Ten Thousand

You follow the exploits of the "Ten Thousand," a contingent of Greek mercenaries caught deep in hostile Persian territory around 400 BCE Their fighting retreat, conducted over 1,500 miles, demonstrated the superiority of Greek hoplites and later inspired Alexander the Great's conquest of Persia.

31 min
Macedonian Military Innovations

15: Macedonian Military Innovations

Warfare among Greek city-states in the 4th century BCE led to a new style of hoplite combat using a refined version of phalanx. Adopted by King Philip II of Macedon, these tactics helped create a fearsome military machine that was to dominate the eastern Mediterranean and Asia for more than two centuries.

31 min
Alexander’s Conquest of Persia

16: Alexander’s Conquest of Persia

Using the Macedonian phalanx, Alexander the Great invaded the Persian Empire in 334 BCE, winning major battles against overwhelming odds at Granicus (334 BCE), Issus (333 BCE), and Gaugamela (331 BCE), making him ruler over all of Persia.

31 min
The Legions of Rome

17: The Legions of Rome

Abandoning the Greek-style phalanx, the Romans created an army that would conquer the known world within two centuries. The essential elements of Roman legionary equipment and tactical formations are examined.

31 min
The Battles of Cannae and Zama

18: The Battles of Cannae and Zama

An examination of Roman battles begins with the worst defeat in Roman history, the disaster at Cannae, inflicted by Carthaginian military genius Hannibal. The routed Romans waited 14 years for their revenge against Hannibal at the Battle of Zama in 202 BCE.

31 min
Legion versus Phalanx—Six Pitched Battles

19: Legion versus Phalanx—Six Pitched Battles

The two greatest tactical systems of the ancient Mediterranean were the Macedonian phalanx and the Roman legion. They met in battle at several engagements, allowing us to weigh their relative advantages. You consider the results of six battles.

32 min
The Sieges of Alesia and Masada

20: The Sieges of Alesia and Masada

You look at developments in siege warfare during the Hellenistic and Roman eras, examining in detail two great Roman sieges: Alesia (52 BCE) and Masada (72-73 CE). Both required enormous networks of camps, towers, moats, and palisades to seal off the besieged.

31 min
Caesar’s World War

21: Caesar’s World War

Between 49 and 45 BCE, Caesar fought a civil war across the empire against his Roman rivals. You examine the battles of Pharsalus, Zela, Thapsus, and Munda, paying particular attention to what allowed Caesar to win in each case, especially since he was often outnumbered.

31 min
The Battle of the Teutoburg Forest

22: The Battle of the Teutoburg Forest

In 9 CE, three Roman legions were ambushed and massacred in the Teutoburg Forest by Germans under Arminius, a former auxiliary in the Roman ranks. You explore accounts of the battle and the remarkable archaeological discoveries that have shed new light on German tactics.

30 min
Catastrophe at Adrianople

23: Catastrophe at Adrianople

The Roman defeat at Adrianople in 378 CE was only the second time in Roman history that an emperor was killed in action against a foreign foe. Assessing the battle, you survey the Goths and the threat they posed in the 4th century, and you examine the military organization and equipment of the Later Roman Empire.

31 min
Reflections on Warfare in the Ancient World

24: Reflections on Warfare in the Ancient World

You address two final questions: (1) Why did warfare play a central role in the societies of the ancient Mediterranean? (2) Was the so-called "Western way of war" invented in Archaic Greece and has it been continuously practiced up to the present?

31 min