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The Architecture of Power: Great Palaces of the Ancient World

Explore the nature of political power and cultural tradition around the world through history's most opulent, breathtaking palaces, accompanied by an expert guide.
The Architecture of Power: Great Palaces of the Ancient World is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 35.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved the pace, humor and the history I enjoy this professor's lectures on Great Courses. Very intriguing stories.
Date published: 2023-05-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Pictures are worth a thousand words. This course could have been excellent. Professor Tuck does a credible job in selecting his material, organizing it, and presenting it in a comprehensible manner. I note some reviewers dislike his amiable asides, but I like the personal touches. The problem is graphics. Some lectures had excellent, relevant images – photos of archeological sites, computer generated images of reconstructions, and interesting photos of mosaics/sculptures/paintings, etc. from the palace excavations. Lecture 14, Caligula’s Floating Palaces, and Lecture 18, Hadrian’s Villa at Tivoli are in this category. But in other lectures, Professor Tuck spends a great deal of time describing what something looks/ed like, and an image appears on the screen that doesn’t match his description. For example, in Lecture 15, we get a detailed description of opus sectile inlays from Nero’s Domus Transitoria. While Professor Tuck describes white marble Gorgon faces surrounded by golden marble hair, a sculpted Gorgon face from the Temple of Apollo at Didyma (Turkey) is displayed on the screen! I looked up the opus sectile installations at Nero’s palace, and they are indeed remarkable; and images were available before this course was released. Other times an image would pop up on the screen, and there was no explanation about how it was relevant to the subject Dr. Tuck was talking about. And I’m not sure why two identical images often float around on one side of a split screen. Hold one still. And if you are going to slo-o-o-owly zoom in on an image, at least finish the zoom to when detail is visible. (“Achilles” fresco in Nero’s Domus Aurea, Lecture 16.) Because there is so much good material in this course and because the subject is so interesting, I would really like to see the graphics remastered. Use more CGIs, and make sure the images pertain to the subject. If Dr. Tuck believes an object deserves a lenghthy description, let's see it! How about more images from the warrior's grave at Pylos? There is a gold ring with stunning detail of women at a shrine. Throw in the exotic Mycenaean women in their colorful skirts and revealing jackets, and display the lovely opus sectile Gorgons from the Domus Transitoria. The guidebook covers most, but not all, of the material in the lectures and has lots of photos. Only a few layouts of palaces are included, and most are too small and dark to decipher. There is no glossary.
Date published: 2022-08-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good overview of the exploits of royal building I enjoyed the history of ancient palaces. Dr. Tuck does a great presentation. He offers good visual aids and knows his subject very well. As he frequently says, there is more that could be said, but this is a great introduction.
Date published: 2022-04-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Engaging history of Professor Tuck brings knowledge, expertise, insight and humor to each lecture. Even with some of the Egyptian history known to me, I learned new information! How palaces were lived in, who resided in them, who had access and interesting items found in or near them. Well presented and thoughtful.
Date published: 2022-01-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Background, Motivations, Perspectives, and Palaces This course is certainly about the architecture of palaces ancient and modern. It provides excellent insight into the building sites, the building materials, the buildings, the rooms and their organization, and the surrounding grounds. That, in itself, recommends the course. What takes the course to a high level is the background on the rulers who designed and/or authorized construction, the way the designs manifested their interactions with the subjects they ruled, and the influences of other cultures on all of the above. Professor Tuck is an excellent presenter who is often self-effacing, but always remarkably knowledgeable. His asides about conflicts of opinion and interpretation within his scholarly community enliven the presentation. In short, I had expected a coffee table book type exposition of palatial architecture and I received an education.
Date published: 2021-10-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from More Than Just a Pretty Place I learned from Dr. Steven L. Tuck’s course that, throughout history, palaces symbolized and mirrored the human societies that produced them. Beyond providing an elegant residence for a ruler or head of state, a palace could also play key roles in impressing and controlling a populace, intimidating visitors and rivals, storing and distributing wealth, and even strengthening cultural values. The professor’s decision to begin the course with a close examination of the palaces of Saddam Hussein, built in Iraq in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, was brilliant. Instead of discussing an ancient palace first, about which explanations for its location, design, and distinctive features would have been necessarily more speculative, Dr. Tuck shared detailed and well-documented information about the construction and purposes of the modern Iraqi palaces, information that prepared students to be alert for similarities and differences when studying palaces of long ago. This course of twenty-four lectures clearly benefitted from the freedom to dispense with a strictly chronological approach. Throughout these lectures, Dr. Tuck continued to be the engaging, pleasant, and insightful presenter whom I admired in three other Great Courses of his that I have studied. His skills as a teacher again deserve to be acknowledged as excellent. In this present course, he took particular care to include information that was “a bit off the beaten track.” Not all of the palaces discussed were the most famous ones about which I had already learned through others of the Great Courses and from history classes attended at universities. The Hellenistic Palace at Ptolemais (in modern Libya) and Montezuma I’s Palace at Tenochtitlán (less grand and well-remembered than his great-grandson Montezuma II’s palace) are examples of fascinating constructions of which I had been unaware. I’ve assigned an overall four-out-of-five “Good” rating to this course, because some features were lacking, or did not fully aid, the excellent lecturer. A significant weakness that my wife and I both noticed is that accompanying maps and diagrams were often hard to decipher, lacked contrast and clear labelling, or were peculiarly oriented. Whereas my favourite among Dr. Tuck’s courses (“Pompeii: Daily Life in an Ancient Roman City”) came with a guidebook that included a timeline, glossary, and biographical notes, the present course’s guidebook lacked those helpful inclusions. I certainly still recommend this course on palaces, but it could have been better supported.
Date published: 2021-09-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from VERY GOOD BUT NEED MORE PICTURES While the course and professor are very interesting I thought this could have used more visual affects and pictures. That would have really shown a lot more and with most of these sites being well photoed it would have made this another 5 star course.
Date published: 2020-10-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exciting journey! Informative and a pleasure to watch. Architecture & history told by a delightful instructor.
Date published: 2020-08-12
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In The Architecture of Power: Great Palaces of the Ancient World, tour awe-inspiring structures of the ancient world with Professor Steven L. Tuck. As you make your way through these storied sites-some of which no longer exist-you'll also delve into an exploration of the meaning of power and the ways it operated in societies across the globe.


Steven L. Tuck

We're going to introduce the visual markers that serve to tell Romans about class interaction and the importance of urban spaces that create and impose Roman imperial identity and serve in ways that we would use literate works.


Miami University

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.

By This Professor

Cities of the Ancient World
The Architecture of Power: Great Palaces of the Ancient World
Pompeii: Daily Life in an Ancient Roman City
The Mysterious Etruscans
The Architecture of Power: Great Palaces of the Ancient World


Palaces Past and Present

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.

34 min
Malkata Palace: Pharaoh, Foreigners, and Gods

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.

32 min
Amarna: Palace of the First Sun King

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.

31 min
Phaistos: Palaces between Asia and Europe

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.

32 min
Palace of Nestor at Pylos and Bronze Age Greece

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.

32 min
The Assyrian Palace at Nimrud: Empire in Stone

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.

33 min
Nineveh: The Architecture of Assyrian Power

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.

34 min
Persepolis: Palace of the Persians

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.

33 min
Greek Palaces in Conquered Lands I

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.

31 min
Greek Palaces in Conquered Lands II

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.

31 min
Greek Palaces Come to Roman Italy

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.

32 min
Masada: Herod the Great between East and West

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.

32 min
Herod the Great’s Summer and Winter Palaces

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.

31 min
Caligula’s Floating Palaces

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.

33 min
Nero’s Domus Transitoria at Rome

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.

32 min
Nero’s Golden House: A Roman Palace Theater

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.

32 min
Rome’s Great Imperial Palace of Domitian

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.

32 min
Hadrian’s Villa, Tivoli

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.

32 min
Diocletian’s Retirement Palace, Split

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.

32 min
Constantine’s Palace, Constantinople

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.

33 min
China’s Endless Palace: Weiyang Palace

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.

32 min
The Palace of Montezuma II at Tenochtitlán

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.

32 min
Renaissance Palaces and the Classical Revival

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.

33 min
Palaces in a World of Democracies

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.

38 min