The Foundations of Western Civilization

Rated 3 out of 5 by from Great lecturer, constrained by religious affilaiti I got a lot out of this course. The lecturer is terrific and the course material interesting and concise. The problem is that it is not made clear that anywhere that the material will not waiver from the views of the Catholic Church. This only becomes really obvious towards the end during the Renaissance and Reformation lectures but it's then that one starts to doubt the intellectual impartiality of the entire course. Yes I should have know...University of Notre Dame but higher education should be above the dogmas and constraints of religious conformity. It should be stated like a warning on the side of a cigarette pack. "This Course will not under any circumstances criticise or question the teachings of the Catholic Church". But I guess then I would not have taken it.
Date published: 2020-09-16
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Too religiously conservative There are parts of this series I liked as informative and easy to understand. However when it came to the section regarding the Hebrews all I got was a traditional Catholic teaching school version of Hebrew history. I was hoping for something more current and even handed. Also the menu for Disc 1 not readily available to navigate around to other topics on this disc.
Date published: 2020-09-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course Professor Noble is AWESOME! I am really enjoying this course and learning a lot. He is amazing with his presentation. Every word is perfectly understood and he never looks at any notes. I am 3 lectures from finishing and looking forward to the next course.
Date published: 2020-08-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good, concise information I have completed the first 9 lectures. Dr. Noble focuses on the important aspects of ancient civilizations giving the learners the overview that a foundations class is intended to provide. As a teacher of ancient history, I am enjoying listening to him before the school year begins so I may condense information for my students more efficiently. I am learning some new information yet and I find Dr. Noble’s delivery interesting and engaging. Perhaps this is so because I am intending to learn and review and not not be idly entertained. Dr. Noble’s emphasis on etymology helps the learner understand how modern concepts flow out of ancient ideas and is necessary in following the development of civilization. Thank you for this course.
Date published: 2020-08-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Western Civilization Comes Alive We have only completed 5 lessons in Western Civilization but we love the course. The amount of detail is just right and the teacher is great. He is so interesting and animated without being overboard.
Date published: 2020-08-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from General view of history. I have watched a few lectures, but have not looked at the book. The professor gives a nice general view of what life was like in the Middle ages. I am learning some history I have missed in my lifetime. Thank you.
Date published: 2020-08-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Truly inspiring lecturer We are starting our collection. Could not be happier.
Date published: 2020-06-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I bought this twice I bought this in CD format fifteen or more years ago to listen to during my commute. I liked it well enough that I probably listened to it four or five times. I recently had the opportunity to purchase it in DVD format and am glad that I did. The visual aids in the course are a good addition. Buy this course in either format, but BUY THIS COURSE!
Date published: 2020-05-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from So Informative We have enjoyed this series very much. The Professor does a great job.
Date published: 2020-05-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Foundations of Western Civilization I signed up for this course about one month ago. My husband and I have been watching one lecture per evening and thoroughly enjoyed it. I knew that my lack of basic history knowledge was limiting my ability to understand so much of what I read in literature, and the news. This was exactly what I (we) were hoping for and so much more. Presented in a very straightforward format and by a very well-informed professor! Thank-you for so enriching our lives!
Date published: 2020-05-15
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Looks OK. Took a while to get it to read in compu I expected to be able to drop it into my PC and it would start. Instead, I had to load an application, which took me a couple of days. There was a factual error in the first lesson, repeated. Earth has been here for more than 4 million years. Errors like this make me doubt the rest of the facts presented. Otherwise, it looks like it will be a valuable purchase.
Date published: 2020-05-11
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Comprehensive, Yet Biased I think most people reviewing this agree that Dr. Noble warrants praise for undertaking and organizing this expansive look at human history from Sumer to South America and for trying to distill it into naturally-progressing 48 half-hour lectures. But it also seems that many agree his presentation was lacking, which made it difficult to maintain a solid interest throughout. This was my third of The Great Courses that I've had the opportunity to watch whilst working from home amidst the great COVID-19 pandemic (I wonder what effect this particular event will have on courses taught in 100 years and beyond), and it was the only one where I felt a little disappointed. My previous two courses (The Other Side of History and The Greek and Persian Wars) sort of already primed me for the content in this one with regard to the Romans and, especially, the Greeks, so there was a temptation to skip past those, but I stuck with it to see how the strands would interweave with others yet to come. Dr. Noble's tendency to insert throw-away tangents almost sotto voce, as well as look at the floor or the backs of his eyelids made it difficult to remain enthusiastic at times. (Fortunately, I've watched all the Great Courses so far at 1.5x speed on my Playstation) Other reviewers remark on Dr. Noble's Catholic bias, and it is accurate - however, when I noted that he was an instructor at the University of Notre Dame, I was already prepared for that possibility. What I was not prepared for was that easily 1/4 of the lectures focused on Christian, and then Catholic, and then Protestant/Catholic history. If looked at a certain way, you might think that he's suggesting that Western Civilization today as we know it is strictly due to the rise and dominance of Christendom in Europe, rather than it being a composite of the various mythologies of the Ancient, Middle, and Modern ages built over the skeletons of the governmental structures that operated at those times. That said, I came away with a greater understanding of the various empires that existed and which historical figures were contemporaries and which came a few generations before and after, so I would still recommend this product to people interested in the topic. However, I might say, "If it feels like you should skip the rest of this particular chapter/lecture, you're probably right."
Date published: 2020-05-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Intense and comprehensive The professor presents the history of European civilization in a beautifully coordinated manner. He specializes in the literary data that has uncovered many details that were not available in the past. This provides exciting insight into the development of cultures and societies as well as conflicts and wars. Hard to reorganize understanding I had from all my studies in school.
Date published: 2020-05-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course When I studied Western Civ ages ago in high school I never enjoyed the class. I found these lectures to be extremely interesting and informative. This is a well organized course and I definitely recommend it. My only suggestion to improve it would be to have reduced somewhat the religious history of the late Renaissance period. While I understand the importance of what went on, I think that less detail in that area would have allowed for more discussion of the early age of European exploration.
Date published: 2020-04-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I bought this and other courses while in isolation due to Covid 19 because I wanted to keep my brain stimulated. The course has met my expectations and I wish I had had more professors like Dr Noble the first time I went to university.
Date published: 2020-04-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Informative and Engaging Just a few lectures left to watch in the series and I am sorry to be coming to the end. It has been a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Professor Noble is an incredibly knowledgeable teacher/scholar who clearly has a vast knowledge of the subject area. While as Professor Noble states this is in essence a "survey" course you come away feeling that you have a thorough overview of the topic area and have been given the important highlights, while at the same time, valued insights of a true scholar. Professor Noble himself is very enjoyable to listen to, especially when reading aloud from the ancient source material, be it in Latin or English. He is well suited to the online/visual nature of the lectures as he appears completely comfortable in front of the camera. It would have been a pleasure to have been an actual student in one of his courses. In the end, I have been left with the feeling that I have gained a basic knowledge of "the Foundations of Western Civilization". Highly recommend!
Date published: 2020-04-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exactly what I was looking for About a year ago I completed my Masters and have felt a bit at a loss without something to study. I am certainly not up for the commitment of any more deadlines or any more degrees but I don't feel like I want to stop learning. This course is an excellent way to branch out from a main line of study and learn something for pleasure.
Date published: 2020-04-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Even better than I hoped. I have listened to 13 lectures so far and I am very impressed with Dr. Nobles' presentation. He is informative, understandable, incredibly detailed, and entertaining.
Date published: 2020-04-16
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Philosophical History The course was well done but was very short on some topics such as the impact of Egypt, the civil engineering of the Romans, the fall of Rome. He describes the engineering feats of the Pantheon and Roman aquaduct but then fails to tell us the significance and impact. Overall short on science, long on liberal arts. To use his analogies - long on Plato, short on Aristotle. The course could also be more visual, he is an good speaker but more visual aids would of been nice. That said, I learned quite a bit from the course and some of his insights into various religions were excellent. (I am a physical scientist so I like lots of data and photos).
Date published: 2020-04-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very interesting lectures Enjoyed the professor. He really knew the material
Date published: 2020-03-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Presentation and Organization Professor Noble displayed an amazing ability to hold my interest even when covering topics not particularly interesting to me (philosophy/religious doctrine). He used his sense of humor very well. His knowledge seemed almost all encompassing in his subject matter. Organization of material was outstanding and he consistently stayed with his themes despite addressing several thousand years.
Date published: 2020-03-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well presented, comprehensive and interesting! This lecture series has been one of the most interesting I have listened to yet! (I have listened to several). My favorite part of this series is the organization of it. I have taken history courses covering different parts of history (and different civilizations) but they have never been pieced together. If you enjoy history, you will enjoy this lecture series!
Date published: 2020-02-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Judeo-Calvinism "geocentricity" prevails I appreciate Dr. Noble's insightful tracking of these historical foundations, which have indulged an egocentric unilateral "Roman" West (especially since the fall of Soviet communism). Makes me wonder when our Western Judeo-Christendom will remember its own theocratic denial of Copernicus' reality and admit we still aren't the center of the universe (despite the ethnocentric "Old Testament"). I look forward to a chance for exploring Dr. Harl's crucial Eastern courses on how the eclipsed Byzantine, "Greek" Orthodox, and Ottoman histories encouraged the secular and now multilateral.
Date published: 2020-02-18
Rated 1 out of 5 by from I was very excited about this course Sadly, this is the most boring course I have ever taken. I fell asleep after a half hour.
Date published: 2020-02-15
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Barely holding my interest I’m a little more than half-way through this course. Some of the lectures are more interesting than others. Professor Noble obviously knows his material well as he speaks without notes but I’ve been lulled to sleep a few times by his style.
Date published: 2020-02-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from So much to learn I started this course about two weeks ago and am learning about a time in history that I knew very little about. I enjoy the professor’s presentation. So glad I choose this course.
Date published: 2020-02-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Well presented Through seven lectures and found them easy listening and informative. Disappointed that I could not go back to review prior chapters on Roku.
Date published: 2020-02-07
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Stupifyingly boring. I sent this course back without opening the package. I viewed an episode online and it was horrible. The course has been at the return center for 5 days now & I am still waiting for my refund.
Date published: 2020-02-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from I used to teach this to middle schoolers and it brings back memories. Very good. Enjoying it.
Date published: 2020-02-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great way to understand We love this. History comes alive, all pulled together, and will benefit us as we continue our world travels. Highly recommend, professor informative, intelligent, and interesting.
Date published: 2020-02-02
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"Western," "Civilization," and "Foundations"
1: "Western," "Civilization," and "Foundations"

These three seemingly simple words demand reflection. Where is the West? Who is Western? If civilization means cities, where do those come from? And when we look at history, how do we tell what is truly foundational from what may be merely famous? What is the difference between celebrity and distinction?

33 min
History Begins at Sumer
2: History Begins at Sumer

Borrowing our title from a famous book by S. N. Kramer, we look at why this small slice of what is now southern Iraq became-along with Egypt-one of the two foundations of Western civilization.

30 min
Egypt-The Gift of the Nile
3: Egypt-The Gift of the Nile

As Sumer was the gift of the Tigris and Euphrates, so Egypt-a ribbon of fertile floodplain 750 miles long but not much more than 15 miles wide-has been called "the gift of the Nile." But the differences between Egypt and Mesopotamia tell us as much as the similarities.

31 min
The Hebrews-Small States and Big Ideas
4: The Hebrews-Small States and Big Ideas

Israel, built by the descendants of Abraham, was one of the small states that arose after the Egyptian Empire fell (c. 700 B.C.). Unified and independent only from 1200-900 B.C., it bequeathed to the West crucial religious ideas.

31 min
A Succession of Empires
5: A Succession of Empires

The peoples holding sway over the ancient Near East included the cruel Assyrians, the Medes, the Neo-Babylonians who overthrew the Assyrians around 600 B.C., and the Persians, who along with the Medes would build the largest empire the world had seen to that time.

31 min
Wide-Ruling Agamemnon
6: Wide-Ruling Agamemnon

Why is it important for you to grasp the archaeological record of the period from 1500-1200 B.C. in order to understand The Iliad and The Odyssey-two poems composed 500 years later?...

30 min
Dark Age and Archaic Greece
7: Dark Age and Archaic Greece

What unique circumstance-unknown before or since in human history-made the Greek Dark Ages so "dark"? And how do we "do" the history of a time and place that is so obscured from our view? Surprisingly, we know a good deal.

31 min
The Greek Polis-Sparta
8: The Greek Polis-Sparta

Spartan society was harsh and peculiar, yet many observers at the time and since have found "the Spartan way" strangely compelling. After all, they won the war against Athens, and their victory moved Plato to re-imagine Athenian society in The Republic. What were the main features of this system, and why did the Spartans embrace it?...

30 min
The Greek Polis-Athens
9: The Greek Polis-Athens

Lurching from crisis to crisis, the Athenians accidentally created one of the world's most freewheeling democracies-at least for adult male citizens-even as they were building an empire. How did the whole thing work, and what finally brought it down?

31 min
Civic Culture-Architecture and Drama
10: Civic Culture-Architecture and Drama

Can you list the key public buildings of an ancient Greek city? How did they combine beautiful and functional forms with deep ideological meanings? What made drama (including comedy) the public art par excellence?...

31 min
The Birth of History
11: The Birth of History

What does it mean to say that the Greeks, while certainly not the first people to reflect on the past, nonetheless "invented" history? How did Herodotus, Thucydides, and Xenophon, each in his own unforgettable way, contribute to this basic turning of the Western mind?

31 min
From Greek Religion to Socratic Philosophy
12: From Greek Religion to Socratic Philosophy

How did the Greeks begin moving from religious to more philosophical views of the world, and why did these views first arise in a particular part of the Greek world called Ionia? Who were the Sophists, what did they teach, and why did Socrates oppose them?

31 min
Plato and Aristotle
13: Plato and Aristotle

The goal of this lecture is to explain why Raphael's famous painting, The School of Athens, has Plato pointing up and Aristotle pointing down, and why both are defending and extending the work of Socrates....

31 min
The Failure of the Polis and the Rise of Alexander
14: The Failure of the Polis and the Rise of Alexander

Why couldn't thinkers as brilliant as Plato and Aristotle conceive of a non-imaginary alternative to the polis, and why does the career of one of Aristotle's students mean that in the end, such a shortcoming may not have mattered anyway?

31 min
The Hellenistic World
15: The Hellenistic World

The world after Alexander was cosmopolitan, prosperous, and dominated by Greeks and Macedonians all over the Mediterranean and far out into the old Persian Empire. Literature, science, and new philosophies flourished.

31 min
The Rise of Rome
16: The Rise of Rome

This lecture is about the foundations on which Roman history rests, including the geography of Italy and the two centuries or so of monarchical rule-ending, tradition says, in 509 B.C.-that the republic overthrew.

31 min
The Roman Republic-Government and Politics
17: The Roman Republic-Government and Politics

What does it mean to speak of the "constitution" of the Roman republic? What are the essential offices, procedures, and ideals involved, and how did the whole thing really work?

30 min
Roman Imperialism
18: Roman Imperialism

By the time the republic found that it didn't merely possess but was an empire, Roman rule extended from the Atlantic to Mesopotamia, and from the North Sea to the Sahara Desert. How and why did this happen?

30 min
The Culture of the Roman Republic
19: The Culture of the Roman Republic

The Romans "did" more than war and politics. They created a distinctive culture that flowered in magnificent lyric and epic poetry, assimilated profound Greek influences, and gave us Cicero as Rome's greatest booster and toughest critic.

30 min
Rome-From Republic to Empire
20: Rome-From Republic to Empire

The 200 often-turbulent years between the murdered reformers Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus and the rise of Octavian saw the old Roman system drown amid overwhelming temptations and tensions brought on by Rome's very conquests.

30 min
The Pax Romana
21: The Pax Romana

When Octavian became Augustus princeps-"First Citizen"-in 31 B.C., he was inaugurating a 200-year period of security, prosperity, and wise rule that Tacitus would nonetheless wryly label "a desert [that we] called peace." Was Tacitus right?...

31 min
Rome's Golden and Silver Ages
22: Rome's Golden and Silver Ages

To understand how culturally creative and important the principate was, you need only reflect that what today strikes the popular imagination as quintessentially "Roman" is a product of this period (republican Rome was a city of wood).

31 min
Jesus and the New Testament
23: Jesus and the New Testament

No well-informed observer in the time of Augustus and his successors would have predicted that a world-changing movement would arise in a small, poor, and insignificant region of Palestine. But that is what happened.

31 min
The Emergence of a Christian Church
24: The Emergence of a Christian Church

The word "church" (ekklesia) occurs only twice in only one of the Gospels (Matthew). Yet Paul, whose letters predate the Gospels, uses the word routinely. This intriguing fact is your gateway to the fascinating history of early Christianity....

31 min
Late Antiquity-Crisis and Response
25: Late Antiquity-Crisis and Response

For 100 years after the death of Marcus Aurelius in 180, the Romans put up almost no great public structures-a sign of severe trouble. What lay behind this crisis, and how did Diocletian (who became emperor in 284) and his successor Constantine successfully respond?

31 min
Barbarians and Emperors
26: Barbarians and Emperors

Although the notion that Rome somehow "fell" remains pervasive, scholars of late antiquity (c. 300 to 700) have no use for the idea. More intriguing still, there weren't any barbarian invasions as usually understood.

31 min
The Emergence of the Catholic Church
27: The Emergence of the Catholic Church

Once Rome stopped persecuting its adherents, the new Christian faith spread through the Roman world in the form of a large, hierarchical organization. Still, achieving a "catholic" (i.e., universal) definition of key beliefs proved difficult.

32 min
Christian Culture in Late Antiquity
28: Christian Culture in Late Antiquity

How and why did it matter that Christianity triumphed in the Roman world? Church Fathers, the lives of monks and nuns, and the interaction of Christian faith with a host of day-to-day issues hold the answer.

30 min
Muhammad and Islam
29: Muhammad and Islam

As with ancient Israel or 1st-century Palestine, no one could have predicted that 7th-century Arabia would become the cradle of a world-changing new religion. Yet new as it was in many ways, Islam had important ties to Greece and Rome as well as the scriptural traditions of the West.

30 min
The Birth of Byzantium
30: The Birth of Byzantium

When he rebuilt an old Greek town in about 330 and named it after himself, what did the Emperor Constantine think he was doing? (Hint: It wasn't "founding something called 'Byzantium.'") What was the result, over the centuries, of Constantine's vision?

31 min
Barbarian Kingdoms in the West
31: Barbarian Kingdoms in the West

Within and without the old Roman frontiers, the world of the West became a world of small Germanic, Celtic, and Slavic kingdoms. What were they like, and how does understanding them prepare you to grasp the history of the West properly?

31 min
The World of Charlemagne
32: The World of Charlemagne

How could Charlemagne have achieved so much? He ruled more of Europe than anyone else between the times of the Romans and Napoleon. Yet his Carolingian empire survived him by barely more than a generation.

31 min
The Carolingian Renaissance
33: The Carolingian Renaissance

Since 1839, scholars have been associating the Carolingians with a "renaissance." Why? What is Carolingian culture's distinctive contribution to the West, and how does it set them apart from their Muslim and Byzantine contemporaries?

31 min
The Expansion of Europe
34: The Expansion of Europe

Despite being battered by centuries of Muslim, Magyar, and Viking attacks and invasions, Europe was able by 1095 to begin striking east and south in a series of Crusades that would span two centuries. It was one of history's great reversals. How did it happen?

31 min
The Chivalrous Society
35: The Chivalrous Society

The three-part medieval scheme of fighting men, praying men, and working men is worth pondering, but so are all those whom it omits.

31 min
Medieval Political Traditions, I
36: Medieval Political Traditions, I

What are the two words that best sum up the national achievements of England and France during the Middle Ages? Why do medieval historians now avoid the term "feudalism"?

31 min
Medieval Political Traditions, II
37: Medieval Political Traditions, II

European history as commonly taught centers tightly on England and France as the key nations of Europe at this time. This lecture will explain why you ought to challenge that view.

31 min
Scholastic Culture
38: Scholastic Culture

The great Scholastics-Anselm, Abelard, and Aquinas-were brilliant, often eccentric thinkers who came out of the Latin-speaking clerical and academic world that gave the West one of its greatest intellectual and institutional patrimonies: the university.

31 min
Vernacular Culture
39: Vernacular Culture

The years from 900 onward saw an explosion of vernacular (i.e. non-Latin) writings. Why did people begin creating formal written works in their native tongues? Does knowing this literature bring us closer to the people of medieval Europe?

31 min
The Crisis of Renaissance Europe
40: The Crisis of Renaissance Europe

To understand the Renaissance, you must know the political, religious, and social context in which it took place. The age was one that Dickens might have called "the worst of times." The Renaissance was a response to grave challenges.

31 min
The Renaissance Problem
41: The Renaissance Problem

So, what's the problem? Actually, there are four-or at least one problem with four sides. Here are two clues: How did a movement that began in Italy wind up with a French name? And how can a "re-birth" be something new?

31 min
Renaissance Portraits
42: Renaissance Portraits

How to capture a sense of the Renaissance? With cultural biographies of Boccaccio, Petrarch, Lorenzo de' Medici, Pope Pius II, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and others.

31 min
The Northern Renaissance
43: The Northern Renaissance

What happened when the Renaissance and its "new learning" crossed the Alps? Humanists could be found on both sides of the mountains, but they turned to different sources north and south, with fateful results.

31 min
The Protestant Reformation-Martin Luther
44: The Protestant Reformation-Martin Luther

"The" Reformation (if indeed there was only one) is not as obvious a historical phenomenon as you might think. To penetrate its meaning, you will find it helpful to begin with the first of its magisterial figures, Martin Luther.

31 min
The Protestant Reformation-John Calvin
45: The Protestant Reformation-John Calvin

Why is seeing the Reformation as "Protestants versus Catholics" such a serious mistake, and what view makes better sense? To answer those questions, you will consider other major Protestant figures besides Luther, especially John Calvin.

31 min
Catholic Reforms and "Confessionalization"
46: Catholic Reforms and "Confessionalization"

Beginning around 1550, the Catholic Church undertook a reformation of its own, founding new institutions and launching new religious orders. At the same time, "confessional" lines were hardening on the religious map of a permanently divided Europe.

31 min
Exploration and Empire
47: Exploration and Empire

In purely material terms (population, natural resources, etc.) the peninsular appendage of Asia that is Europe should not have been the one among all world civilizations to span the globe. But starting in the latter decades of the 15th century, that is what happened.

30 min
What Challenges Remain?
48: What Challenges Remain?

You leave the West in 1600, on the cusp of the Age of Empire, the Scientific Revolution, and the Baroque Period. It's a long way from those mud-walled villages in Mesopotamia to the threshold of its modern era, but certain patterns, problems, and possibilities endure to make the West what it is.

33 min
Thomas F. X. Noble

One great scholar said that history was a process of challenge and response. Surely we must ask what challenges remain.


Michigan State University


University of Notre Dame

About Thomas F. X. Noble

Dr. Thomas F. X. Noble is Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame. He earned his B.A. in History from Ohio University and his M.A. and Ph.D. in Medieval History from Michigan State University. Professor Noble has held fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and research grants from the American Philosophical Society. In 2008 he received the Edmund P. Joyce, C.S.C., Award for Excellence in Teaching from Notre Dame. In 1999 he was awarded the Alumni Distinguished Professor Award and a David Harrison III Award for outstanding undergraduate advising, both from the University of Virginia. Professor Noble is the author, coauthor, or editor of 10 books and has published more than 40 articles, chapters, and essays. His coauthored textbook, Western Civilization: The Continuing Experiment, is in its 5th edition. His research has concentrated on late antiquity and the early Middle Ages, focusing on the history of the city of Rome, the history of the papacy, and the age of Charlemagne.

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