History of the Ancient World: A Global Perspective

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating and comprehensive I thoroughly enjoyed this course, learned a myriad of things I did not know and felt the prof provided a terrific global perspective.
Date published: 2021-03-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating history course of the ancient world This is the first course I have taken through Great Courses Plus, and I am immensely pleased with my decision to join. I found this an excellent course, one that kept me engaged for the entire 48 lectures.
Date published: 2021-03-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very engaging I really enjoyed this course—a lot of information, delivered with clarity. This professor is an engaging teacher and a lot of fun to listen to. Thank you for this course.
Date published: 2021-02-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very informative We really enjoyed these lectures with their very informative content and presentation. We watched one each day with a coffee, looking forward to each. There is so much to digest, but shall revisit them on more than one future occassion I am certain. Thank you
Date published: 2021-02-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exactly what it says on the tin Great course, well worth the investment in time. Good to listen to as well as watch.
Date published: 2021-02-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding and insightful This course was simply outstanding and extremely insightful. However, the course title might be a bit misleading: this is not really a survey course of ancient history. Rather, it's a fascinating discussion of how the technology advances of civilization are dependent on cities, which can only exist due to the creation of laws for large populations and governments. Interestingly, Professor Aldrete also draws a clear line between culture and civilization, noting several societies that have rich , flourishing cultures in the relative absence of large cities. As a lifelong scientist and computer engineer, I found these "social science" concepts to be absolutely eye-opening - and using history to illuminate the concepts is brilliant..
Date published: 2021-02-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great speaker. Aldrete was a very good speaker. Clear to understand, kept it interesting, and hit the high points I would expect. I would recommend this course for someone wanting to pick up a large overview.
Date published: 2021-01-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from WOW Incredible course by an incredible instructor. I will definitely watch all of this professor's courses. I wish I could give it more stars.
Date published: 2021-01-08
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History of the Ancient World: A Global Perspective
Course Trailer
 Cities, Civilizations, and Sources
1: 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
2: 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
3: 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
4: 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
5: 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
6: 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
7: 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
8: 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
9: 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.

28 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
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.


University of Michigan


University of Wisconsin, Green Bay

About Gregory S. Aldrete

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).

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