1: What Makes a Battle Decisive?
Contemplate the ways in which warfare can change the course of historical events. Examine the factors that make a military battle "decisive," such as its role in transfers of power and its social and political effects, and consider the study of battles as an analytical tool for understanding history.
2: 1274 B.C. Kadesh-Greatest Chariot Battle
The battle of Kadesh ushered in an unprecedented era of peace in the ancient Near East. Follow the strategy and tactics of the Egyptian and Hittite armies, featuring each side's distinctive war chariots. Trace the unusual sequence of battlefield events that led to a remarkable treaty, an important forerunner of peaceful diplomacy.
3: 479 B.C. Plataea-Greece Wins Freedom
In the 479 B.C. battle of Plataea, Greek "hoplite" forces fighting in phalanxes met the mighty army of the Persian superpower. Study the unfolding of this dramatic engagement, and learn how it ended the Persian threat to Greece and allowed for the flowering of Greece's cultural Golden Age.
4: 331 B.C. Gaugamela-Alexander's Genius
The victory of Alexander at Gaugamela resulted in the spread of Greek culture throughout the Macedonian Empire. Trace Alexander's campaign against the Persians, which led to the battle, and his bloody confrontation with the Persian forces, and grasp the brilliant maneuvers that allowed him to overcome his foe's significant advantages on the battlefield.
5: 197 B.C. Cynoscephalae-Legion vs. Phalanx
In 197 B.C., two rival military systems clashed. Learn about the forces of Philip V of Macedon, with their phalanx system; the legacy of Alexander; and the up-and-coming Romans with their "manipular" army based in flexible subunits of soldiers. Assess the far-reaching effects of the battle and its consequences for world history.
6: 31 B.C. Actium-Birth of the Roman Empire
This great naval battle resulted from conflict within republican Rome. Follow the intense rivalry between Mark Antony and Octavian for domination of Rome, leading to the fateful events of the confrontation, and observe how it marked the end of the Roman Republic and the beginning of the Roman Empire.
7: 260-110 B.C. China-Struggles for Unification
The wars of the 3rd and 2nd centuries B.C. were crucial in forging the later history of China. Study the military technology of the ancient Chinese and the conflicts through which the first Qin and Han emperors welded together a group of antagonistic kingdoms, creating a united China.
8: 636 Yarmouk & al-Qadisiyyah-Islam Triumphs
In these dramatic conflicts, the Islamic Rashidun armies toppled two long-established empires. Learn about their defeat of the Byzantine army at Yarmouk and the Sassanid forces at al-Qadisiyyah, which determined the cultural, linguistic, and religious nature of the Middle East for the next 1,500 years.
9: 751 Talas & 1192 Tarain-Islam into Asia
This lecture explores military engagements between widely differing cultures. Learn about the 751 battle between the Chinese Tang forces and the Abbasid Caliphate, which altered the religious orientation of central Asia. Then follow the 1192 clash between the Indian Rajputs and a Turkish Islamic army, and its permanent effects on Indian culture.
10: 1066 Hastings-William Conquers England
The Battle of Hastings changed the course of both English and world history. Here, encounter the redoubtable figure of William the Conqueror and his 1066 invasion of England to claim the crown. Witness the terrible engagement at Hastings and its outcome, orienting England away from Scandinavian influence and toward Europe.
11: 1087 Hattin-Crusader Desert Disaster
The religious and cultural effects of the Christian Crusades are still felt in today's world. Study the origins of the Crusades and the events leading to the fateful confrontation at Hattin between Islamic and Christian forces, which critically altered the course of the wars.
12: 1260 Ain Jalut-Can the Mongols Be Stopped?
Now, envision a militaristic society that threatened nearly all the civilizations of Asia and Europe. Study the rise of the Mongols, their terrifying conquests, and their astounding military expertise. Witness their clash in 1260 with the Egyptian Mamluks, a rare Mongol defeat that effectively halted their Western expansion.
13: 1410 Tannenberg-Cataclysm of Knights
This 15th-century conflict pitted the armies of Poland and Lithuania against the fearsome Germanic order of the Teutonic Knights. Learn about the political background of the bloody confrontation at Tannenberg, the harrowing events on the battlefield, and the deep symbolic significance of the battle that still echoes today.
14: Frigidus, Badr, Diu-Obscure Turning Points
This lecture discusses battles that have had extremely important effects, though information about the specific events involved is scanty. Consider the battles of the Frigidus River and Badr, both vital turning points for world religions, and that of Diu, which marked the moment when Europe began its rise to world domination.
15: 1521 Tenochtitlan-Aztecs vs. Conquistadors
The 16th-century Spanish conquest of the Americas resulted in some of the most unusual military encounters of all time. Here, learn about the campaign under Hernán Cortés to conquer Mexico, and how fewer than 1,000 Spaniards defeated the mighty Aztec Empire, which possessed armies comprising tens of thousands of warriors.
16: 1532 Cajamarca-Inca vs. Conquistadors
Continue with Spain's campaign against the vast and highly organized Inca Empire. Follow the daring maneuvers of the forces under Francisco Pizarro, aided by European military technology and including the kidnap and ransom of the Incan emperor, which enabled 190 men to vanquish an army of 40,000.
17: 1526 & 1556 Panipat-Babur & Akbar in India
Two highly significant 16th-century battles were fought at the Indian town of Panipat. Learn about the rise of the Mughal emperors and the military clashes that first opened the door to their advance into India and then solidified their control, establishing a dynasty that would last for centuries.
18: 1571 Lepanto-Last Gasp of the Galleys
The conquests of the Ottoman Turks led to the largest naval battle of the Renaissance. Trace the formation of the Holy League, an alliance of Christian powers against the raiding Ottomans; follow the events leading to Lepanto; and study the dramatic naval engagement that ended Turkish incursions into the maritime outposts of Christendom.
19: 1592 Sacheon-Yi's Mighty Turtle Ships
These great naval conflicts left deep imprints on two nations. Chart the 1592 Japanese conquest of Korea, the remarkable naval technologies involved, and the stunning victories of Korean admiral Yi Sun-shin, whose strategic actions defeated two invasions and established him as one of the greatest admirals of all time.
20: 1600 Sekigahara-Samurai Showdown
In this monumental episode of the samurai era, learn about the underlying politics and the major figures in the conflict, including one whose wavering loyalty took an astonishing turn on the battlefield. Track the events that unified Japan under a dynasty of shoguns who would rule for 250 years.
21: 1683 Vienna-The Great Ottoman Siege
The Ottoman campaign to capture Vienna was one of the largest and most significant in Ottoman history. Study the background of the siege and the military technology and strategy on both sides. Follow the unfolding engagement and the pivotal role of the Polish-Lithuanian armies, and grasp how Vienna marked a turning point for the Ottoman Empire.
22: 1709 Poltava-Sweden's Fall, Russia's Rise
In the 17th century, Sweden emerged as the most powerful state in northern Europe. Learn about Swedish king Charles XII, his ambition to conquer Russia, and his opponent, the resourceful and determined Tsar Peter I. Witness the Swedish invasion and the battlefield events that constituted a reversal of fortunes for the two countries.
23: 1759 Quebec-Battle for North America
This key incident in the Seven Years War between England and France critically shaped the future of North America. Discover the conflict through the eyes of the opposing commanders as the British assault Quebec City. Observe the remarkable serendipity favoring the British in the engagement, leading to an outcome with historic political effects.
24: 1776 Trenton-The Revolution's Darkest Hour
In late 1776, the rebellion of the American colonists appeared to be heading for dismal failure. Here, uncover the dramatic events that were the pivot point of the war. Learn how George Washington, in two critical battles, undertook bold actions to surprise and outwit the British, saving and revitalizing the revolutionary movement.
25: 1805 Trafalgar-Nelson Thwarts Napoleon
In 1805, after subduing much of Europe, Napoleon Bonaparte turned his sights on England. Study the events leading to the largest naval battle of the age, as Napoleon's combined French and Spanish fleet met the British navy under Admiral Horatio Nelson. Witness the monumental engagement, marking the beginning of Napoleon's decline.
26: 1813 Leipzig-The Grand Coalition
In this massive clash, a coalition of seven European powers united to oppose Napoleon. Trace the preliminary military actions culminating at Leipzig, where four armies finally converged on Napoleon's forces. Follow the complex unfolding of the battle and the incident that transformed it into an outright disaster for the French.
27: 1824 Ayacucho-South American Independence
The early 19th century saw the rise of numerous independence movements in Central and South America. Learn about three key leaders who were prominent in these struggles; their bold plan to liberate Peru; and the showdown on the plain of Ayacucho that ended Spanish rule in Latin America.
28: 1836 San Jacinto-Mexico's Big Loss
First, encounter the larger-than-life commanders of this extraordinary action, Sam Houston and Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. Track the tensions between the Mexican government and the province of Texas, resulting in the 18-minute battle that gained Texas independence and led to the United States acquiring nearly one-third of its continental territory.
29: 1862 Antietam-The Civil War's Bloodiest Day
At the time of this landmark battle in the American Civil War, the Confederacy seemed poised to achieve its goal of independence. Envision the protracted, bloody struggle between North and South, and consider the ways in which a marginal Union victory nevertheless altered the course of the war.
30: 1866 Koniggratz-Bismarck Molds Germany
The historic engagement at Königgrätz brought a united Germany into being. Assess the opposing Prussian and Austrian forces, and track the Prussian initiative to capture the German-speaking states allied with Austria. Follow the unfolding battle blow by blow, and grasp how easily Prussia's crushing victory could have ended as a disastrous defeat.
31: 1905 Tsushima-Japan Humiliates Russia
A modern Japanese naval force stunned the world in this history-making battle. Learn about Japan's 19th-century industrialization and militarization, its conflict with an expansionist Russia, and the maritime confrontation that radically altered the Western perception of Japan, signaling its entrance onto the global stage as a major power.
32: 1914 Marne-Paris Is Saved
This providential clash critically shaped World War I. Study the German and French preparations for warfare and vital errors in planning by each side. Follow the offensive that began the war, the German commander's fateful change of plans, and the ensuing battle that left both sides enmeshed in a horrifying, four-year stalemate.
33: 1939 Khalkin Gol-Sowing the Seeds of WWII
Here, an obscure battle in Mongolia produced global effects. Track the tensions between Russia and Japan that led to a bloody border conflict that neither side had sought. Grasp how this one event directly contributed to both the outbreak of war in the Pacific and Europe and the outcome of the war itself.
34: 1942 Midway-Four Minutes Change Everything
The advent of aircraft carriers brought a significant new era in naval warfare. Witness the most dramatic and pivotal of the "carrier versus carrier" battles, where the events of a short span of minutes permanently tilted the balance of power in the Pacific to the United States.
35: 1942 Stalingrad-Hitler's Ambitions Crushed
Chart the German invasion of Russia at the height of the war in Europe, which massed the full force of Hitler's war machine. Follow the clash of the seemingly invincible German panzer units with the Red Army and the Russian winter, which ended the ascendancy of Nazi Germany.
36: Recent & Not-So-Decisive Decisive Battles
In concluding the course, take a keen look at what may be some of the historically decisive battles of the six decades following World War II. Finally, consider two famous conflicts often thought to be among the most decisive of all time, and see how careful analysis casts doubt on that conclusion.
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.
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).