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The Other Side of History: Daily Life in the Ancient World

Discover the breadth and depth of human history from the perspective of the so-called ordinary people, from its earliest beginnings through the Middle Ages.
The Other Side of History: Daily Life in the Ancient World is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 392.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Trying to Survive life in the Ancient World! I greatly enjoyed everything about this course! Professor Robert Garland was captivating in his delivery of the 48 lectures as he uses subtle humor, a great accent, and rich detail to walk the learner through life from neanderthal/early beginnings to the Late Middle Ages. Dr. Garland covers such topics as being old, a woman, criminal, warrior/soldier, slave, war, disease, being ill, etc. I found the professor's discussion of the Jewish history very enlightening. This course can be enjoyed while working out or just as leisurely learning. I highly recommend the course and plan on watching Professor Garland's other TGC's lecture set. This is well worth the investment of time and resources!
Date published: 2024-04-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent presentation by a wonderful professor We just finished this whole course and I enthusiastically recommend it. The professor does a terrific job of placing the viewer in the sandals of everyday people who have come before us, helping understand their day-to-day realities, their customs and beliefs, their art and religion, etc. Dr. Garland uses just the right touch of humor with unfailing compassion and respect as he describes what is known about everyday people (including women, slaves, children, the elderly, and others who don’t often get much acknowledgement) in ancient times up to the Middle Ages. We often found ourselves discussing various aspects of his presentations long after we had watched the episodes.
Date published: 2024-04-23
Rated 2 out of 5 by from No, presents in a unnecessary perspecitve. If you're on the left, you'll be okay. If you're not aligned on that count, don't waste your money. :( He brings political perspectives in early on that are NOT relevant.
Date published: 2024-04-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from living history Robert Garland always delivers a informative and highly enjoyable lectures
Date published: 2024-03-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well worth it and entertaining Though I didn't learn a ton of new information, this does not reflect on the course per se, but merely reflects the fact that I have read extensively on the subjects covered. I am assigning five stars because Prof Garland is a superb lecturer, highly entertaining even if he is relating stuff I already knew. BUT! I need to call out three material errors. 1. Prof Garland cites that a Neanderthal burial in Europe is the oldest burial in the archaeologic record. This is no longer the case. Homo Naledi in Africa now holds the record. Prof Garland could not have known this when this course was recorded. 2. At one point, Prof Garland refers to a trade in corn in the old world before the Columbian contact with the new world. Given that corn originated in the Western Hemisphere, this was an obvious error. 3. Prof Garland quotes Herodotus in describing the enormity of the Persian army heading to attack Greece. In Great Courses' course #2353 devoted to Herodotus, Prof Vandiver makes a point that Herodotus was wrong- either deliberately exaggerating or mistaken as the number Herodotus cites would likely have been greater than the entire population of the Persian Empire.
Date published: 2024-02-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Enjoyable but with one glaring fault I listened to this course on audio so I can't comment on the video elements, but I enjoyed it quite a bit. While it may have imperfectly described the breadth of everyday life, it is the first real attempt to focus on social history rather than political I have seen. For this I give 4 stars. However, the professor does not hide his judgmental feelings on how people in history lived. He highlights differences between society in Greece in 500BC with America in 2012 and rather than saying "they're different", it's clear that he does not approve of their society. Seems odd for an academic historian to succumb to the fallacy that we are at the pinnacle of morality and civilization, and that anything that does not meet our standards is shameful. While it is true that modern society is different from ancient and historical civilizations, and in many ways we have chosen to be different because we think it's better, it's arrogant to say that Socrates was in flawed because he did not argue for the elimination of slavery. A historian needs to try, as much as possible, to understand what historical people thought, not whether he agrees with them or what a person from 2012 would think. I think this practice colors a lot of his lectures. The Church is painted as oppressive and women as victims. I'm not entirely sure people thought this at the time. However, this was not the major thrust of the lectures and I found them entertaining, informative, and thought-provoking. I thoroughly enjoyed them and will now go listen to his other lectures.
Date published: 2023-12-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from EXCELLENT ! Garland is an "out of the box" thinker" who provides well-documented stories of the many sides of history. For example, Lecture 28 (= L28) of a different Great Course ("History of Ancient Egypt” by Bob Brier) discusses Brier’s experience of doing an actual mummification - a brilliant look into a classical Egyptian topic. But "Ginger" [Garland’s Lecture 7 (=L7)], an unknown person quickly buried in hot sand in 3400 B.C. is better preserved than any royal mummy! Ginger, in fact, became a young Garland’s love of “alternate history". In this course he uncovers all sorts of intriguing information not found in other history courses. For example, he reveals how the Egyptian commercialization of mummification resulted in varying price points for different mummy or “mummy-symbolic" services: a sort of capitalist soul market. Other related products soon emerged in the industry: Afterlife "Shabtis" statues were sold that “come alive" to do your work for you while the “ba" component of your soul was cruising "the upper world" each night. He also shows how Egyptian creation stories and proscriptions seem to have some parallels in other belief systems. For example, the prevailing Egyptian creation myth for the planet earth was that it “emerged from a kind of watery chaos” (L6). This eerily recalls the chaos and water-covered planet found in the Great Course "The Origin and Evolution of Earth" by Hazen. The important Egyptian god “Ptah" (L6) "...was credited with creating the world by simply imagining it in his mind and utterance to his thought". Wealthier Egyptians followed dietary laws including the proscription of pork (L5). The "Akfu" were the blessed dead and the “Matu" were the damned. Garland is careful to say that the mainline Egyptian religion was actually a “henotheism", where a god is elevated above other gods. But Pharaoh Akhenaten promulgated an early version of monotheism – an idea rejected by subsequent pharaohs. Even from 1600 BC, documentation exists of man's pursuit of a Higher Being. There are other topics: The Egyptian notion of "cultural homogeneity based on a distinctive lifestyle and shared values” (L4) bound, rather than divided, people of different origins. L5 discusses much lighter topics including: beer, board games, and wrinkle creams. Wigs were invented since both men and women kept their hair short “because of the prevalence of head lice”. "Figure-hugging, semi-transparent" dresses to the ankles were worn by women. There were also "modern" ideas. Women could “…inherit, bequeath, own land, and operate their own businesses”. They could bring lawsuits, serve on juries, and testify in trials". L8: Laundry services and the right-to -strike were perks for craftsmen. Garland's remarkably talks about how pay was in the top 2% bracket for workers who produced physical objects - standing in sharp contrast to the situation today. SUMMARY: Such marvelous and unexpected insights into real lives bring you “up close and personal” to history in a way that mere historical reiterations events cannot. BE CAREFUL to take notes while you listen to the course because there are so many important topics ("Ginger" was one of them) that are not even mentioned in the Guidebook. Garland's subsequent lectures takes us through forgotten stories of the Greeks, Hellenistic Egypt, the Romans, Jews, Christians, Celts, Anglo-Saxon, Vikings, Normans, Crusaders, and Pilgrims. I have many notes and underlines in my copy of the 329-page Guidebook. The course is a marvelous demonstration that the history you think you know is, by far, not the “last word".
Date published: 2023-08-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Awesome Course Robert Garland is a terrific lecturer. I loved his presentation. He kept me engaged the entire time and looking forward to each next lecture. His style was precise and articulate. I learned a tremendous amount and the perspective was unique and enlightening.
Date published: 2023-06-19
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Take this chance to get beyond the abstract dates and figures, kings and queens, and battles and wars that make up so many historical accounts in The Other Side of History: Daily Life in the Ancient World. In 48 richly detailed lectures, Professor Robert Garland of Colgate University covers the breadth and depth of human history from the perspective of the so-called ordinary people, from its earliest beginnings through the Middle Ages. The past truly comes alive in this ambitious course, as Professor Garland takes a series of imaginative leaps to put you inside the world of history's anonymous citizens, providing you with a fuller understanding of the distant past.


Robert Garland

Working for the Great Courses enables me to reach people who prize learning for learning's sake. It's they who inspire me to close the gap between past and present, by demonstrating what it meant then, and what it means now, to be human.


Colgate University

Robert Garland is the Roy D. and Margaret B. Wooster Professor of the Classics, Emeritus, in the Department of the Classics at Colgate University. He has a PhD in Ancient History from University College London. A former Fulbright Scholar, he was also a fellow at the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington DC and a visiting scholar at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. He has written 19 books, including Greek Mythology: Gods and Heroes Brought to Life and Roman Legends Brought to Life. He has also published extensively in academic and popular journals and served as a consultant for educational film companies.

By This Professor

Living History: Experiencing Great Events of the Ancient and Medieval Worlds
The Other Side of History: Daily Life in the Ancient World
The Greek World: A Study of History and Culture
Athenian Democracy: An Experiment for the Ages
God against the Gods: The History of Monotheism and Polytheism
The Other Side of History: Daily Life in the Ancient World


Taking on the Other Side of History

01: Taking on the Other Side of History

The past comes alive when you consider the imaginary lives of ordinary people-the citizens, soldiers, and slaves who lived on the other side of history. In this course, you'll ask questions that many textbooks never ask....

31 min
Being Paleolithic

02: Being Paleolithic

What does it mean to be human? Take a look at the lives of our ancestors, from ancient hominids to Homo erectus to the earliest humans. Picture yourself as a Neanderthal, whose life was dominated by the environment, and discover the significance of the human mind, language, and art in the Old Stone Age....

32 min
Living in Mesopotamia

03: Living in Mesopotamia

Step into the world's earliest permanent settlement-the river banks in Mesopotamia. The development of agriculture was a revolution because it allowed humans to live permanently in one place, which led to the invention of writing, the creation of laws, an increase in trade, and technological innovations such as the wheel....

31 min
Being Egyptian

04: Being Egyptian

What was it like to be an ancient Egyptian? Travel to the world's first Western civilization and explore everyday life during the New Kingdom era. You'll learn about the richness of the Nile, the conservatism and stability of the society, and relics that have survived across millennia-hieroglyphics, papyri, art, and more....

32 min
Belonging to an Egyptian Family

05: Belonging to an Egyptian Family

Professor Garland takes you deep inside the lives of an ordinary Egyptian family, from marriage, fertility, and the rights of its women, to social gatherings a couple might host or attend. You'll experience the house, its furniture, and even the cosmetics-all the elements of everyday life....

31 min
Practicing Egyptian Religion

06: Practicing Egyptian Religion

Egyptian religion was a hierarchical affair, and since common people were not allowed in the temples, they mainly left it to the priests to pray on their behalf. You'll meet some of the gods-Hathor, Amun-Re, Osiris-and learn about the myths attached to them. You'll also learn the ins and outs of the Egyptian priesthood....

31 min
Being a Dead Egyptian

07: Being a Dead Egyptian

Mummies. The Book of the Dead. Tomb robbers. Death was big business in ancient Egypt, and in this lecture you'll discover Egyptian beliefs about the afterlife and the journey from this world to the next. You'll learn how to make a mummy and how to get past Osiris at the gates to the afterlife....

30 min
Being an Egyptian Worker

08: Being an Egyptian Worker

As an ancient Egyptian, you might have been a farmer, a herdsman, a craftsman, a hunter, or, most dangerously, a miner. Take a tour of people in the professions that would been available to you in the village of Deir el-Medina-from educated scribes to the craftsmen who built royal tombs....

31 min
Being Minoan and Mycenaean

09: Being Minoan and Mycenaean

While most ancient civilizations sprang up near rivers, Minoans and Mycenaeans lived in a thalassocracy-an empire based on control of the sea. This lecture surveys life on the island of Santorini, including the threat of earthquakes and volcanoes, the shift of power from Crete to mainland Greece, and life in the Greek Dark Age....

33 min
Being Greek

10: Being Greek

Explore the world of the Greek polis and of true democracies run by ordinary citizens-that is, free male citizens. Women were cut off from society and kept in the home, and slaves performed much of the labor. After seeing the broad strokes of this society, you'll go inside the mind of a juror casting his ballot at the trial of Socrates....

31 min
Growing Up Greek

11: Growing Up Greek

Growing up in ancient Greece, you'd face a myriad of challenges between birth and adulthood, beginning with whether your father decided to raise you or expose you to the elements shortly after birth. See what your childhood would have been like, from the games you'd play to the schools you'd attend....

30 min
Being a Greek Slave

12: Being a Greek Slave

What are the origins of slavery? Although ancient Greeks didn't invent the concept, they did leave records. You'll discover the range of work slaves did, from performing domestic duties to being worked to death in the mines. Then travel to Sparta, where helot slaves outnumbered free Spartans by as many as 7 to 1....

32 min
Being a Greek Soldier or Sailor

13: Being a Greek Soldier or Sailor

Go inside a phalanx battle and experience it as an average citizen-soldier or hoplite. Then turn to Sparta, a society that revolved around military life from childhood education to retirement at age 60. Finally, explore the rise of Greek mercenaries, whom some Greek writers feared were a threat to civilization....

30 min
Being a Greek Woman

14: Being a Greek Woman

This lecture takes you into the world of Athenian women, who were subjugated to males all their lives and who rarely left the home except for festivals and funerals. You'll also look at the hetaerae-or female companions-whose lives were relatively independent....

31 min
Relaxing Greek Style

15: Relaxing Greek Style

As a Greek citizen, your life would have been much more leisurely and relaxed on a day-to-day basis than ours is today. Put yourself in the sandals of an average citizen taking a morning stroll to the agora or enjoying a lively evening of drinking and discussion at a symposium. Then tour the clubs, witness the athletic events, and participate in the festivals that would have been part of your dail...

30 min
Being a Greek Refugee

16: Being a Greek Refugee

Consider the lives of those truly on the other side of history-the refugees long ignored by historians. From the 8th to the 6th centuries B.C., a large percentage of Greeks were uprooted from their homelands. This lecture shows you the harrowing colonization process from the point of view of the refugees themselves....

31 min
Being a Sick or Disabled Greek

17: Being a Sick or Disabled Greek

What was it like to live in the world before painkillers, antibiotics, and modern medicine? Disability Studies is a relatively new form of scholarship, and the field shows that despite Greek sculptures depicting the idealized human form, real people in the ancient world were at great risk for serious injuries, disfigurement, and disease. Find out the ancients' perspective on disability, deformity,...

31 min
Practicing Greek Religion

18: Practicing Greek Religion

Take a look at what, in many ways, is one of the most bizarre religious systems in human history-a system with no rules, no holy book, and no orthodoxy. You'll meet some of the famous gods of Mount Olympus and the Underworld, with their jealousies and other human emotions, and you'll experience the festivals and observances that were part of Greek religion....

33 min
Being an Old Greek

19: Being an Old Greek

Despite their lower life expectancy and higher infant mortality, some Greeks managed to live to a ripe old age, especially the poets and philosophers, who lived a more sedentary life. Discover the secrets to their longevity, and how you would support yourself in an era without anything like today's retirement systems....

29 min
Being a Dead Greek

20: Being a Dead Greek

An ancient Greek faced death head on. You would die in the home, surrounded by family, and afterward women would tend to your body and sing dirges in your honor. Your corpse would be tainted with miasma-pollution-and would be buried outside the city. Meanwhile, your spirit would be carried across the River Styx to Hades, where life among the shades of the dead awaited you....

30 min
Being Persian

21: Being Persian

Turn to ancient Persia, a kingdom that came from the other side of history and rose to greatness. See how Cyrus the Great was a tolerant, pragmatic ruler, who allowed his subjects to maintain certain rights. Then see how Darius built roads, adopted a currency, and created an innovative system of communication and administration....

32 min
Living in Hellenistic Egypt

22: Living in Hellenistic Egypt

Revisit Egypt in the years after Alexander the Great, an era when Greek (Hellenistic) culture spread throughout the region. Tour the city of Alexandria, which was arguably the greatest city of the ancient world and which now lies mostly beneath the sea. Then explore the ethnic tensions between the Egyptians, Greeks, and Jews....

32 min
Being Roman

23: Being Roman

See how the Romans extended citizenship, expanding the word "Roman" to encompass more than just a person from Rome itself. As Vergil's Aeneid shows, Romans considered it their civic duty to expand their territory for the public good; yet, despite this noble aspiration, they also had a penchant for violence and cruelty....

30 min
Being a Roman Slave

24: Being a Roman Slave

Could Romans have achieved all they did without the labor of slaves? Imagine yourself as part of the largest slave force in human history, perhaps as an agricultural slave worked to death or as a semi-independent craftsman. Then explore manumission, the process by which domestic slaves were sometimes freed....

31 min
Being a Roman Soldier

25: Being a Roman Soldier

Find out what daily life was like for a Roman soldier, from the training to engagement on the battlefield. You'll discover how the army was structured, what benefits you could expect, and what would happen if you were disobedient. Finally, you'll explore what you'd do when you were not fighting-likely constructing the Roman road system....

31 min
Being a Roman Woman

26: Being a Roman Woman

As in ancient Greek society, a Roman woman lived on the other side of history under the domination of the paterfamilias-most likely her father or husband-yet examples of love letters and poems offer evidence that loving marriages did exist. This lecture explores wedding rituals, the complexity of Roman women's roles in society, and how opportunities for women differed based on class status....

31 min
Being a Poor Roman

27: Being a Poor Roman

Put yourself into the world of Rome's plebian class. This lecture takes you to the leaky, rat-infested housing where the urban poor suffered from disease and malnutrition, and you'll experience the threat of fire that hung over Rome in the 1st century A.D. You'll also get a glimpse of what sustained the day-to-day life of the poor....

30 min
Being a Rich Roman

28: Being a Rich Roman

Now check out the lives of the rich. You'll tour the grand house in the city and the countryside, learn about the customs of dress, food, and hygiene, and follow a rich Roman around for the day-complete with doting clients who make him seem important....

28 min
Being a Roman Celebrity

29: Being a Roman Celebrity

"Celebrity" is not a modern phenomenon. Politicians, criminals, actors, and even ordinary citizens in ancient Rome strove for recognition. Here you'll chart the lives of some of Rome's celebrities, including gladiators, charioteers, and the emperor Nero. You'll also look at women who knew how to hog the limelight, including Cleopatra and Theodora....

30 min
Being a Roman Criminal

30: Being a Roman Criminal

Experience the world of Roman crime and punishment, law and order. You'll witness crime ranging from midnight muggings to piracy to bandits in the countryside, and you'll discover the variety of punishments meted out in a society lacking prisons-from loss of civic rights and exile to impalement and crucifixion....

30 min
Relaxing Roman Style

31: Relaxing Roman Style

The Romans balanced the sobriety of running an empire with a healthy need to relax. Delve into the spectator side of Roman society and learn about its public games-chariot races, theatrical performances, gladiatorial combats, and circuses. Experience the venues, the violence, and the excitement of relaxing Roman style....

30 min
Practicing Roman Religion

32: Practicing Roman Religion

Cicero called the Romans the most religious of all mortals. See what religion meant in the Roman world, both inside the family, where the paterfamilias supervised various ceremonies, and in the state at large, whose emperor was considered divine. You'll also compare how the Roman view of the gods differed from the Greek perspective....

30 min
Being Jewish under Roman Rule

33: Being Jewish under Roman Rule

Discover the problem of being a monotheist in a polytheistic state-with the Romans requiring the Jews to acknowledge their gods and the divinity of their emperor. This conflict escalated in the 1st century, leading first, to acts of terrorism; then, to the outbreak of the Jewish revolt of A.D. 66; next, to the destruction of Jerusalem; and finally, to the diaspora....

31 min
Being Christian under Roman Rule

34: Being Christian under Roman Rule

Among the competitors of Roman polytheism was a religion that preached love and salvation for the poor, the meek, and the downtrodden-bringing those on the other side of history to the fore. Chart the rise of Christianity over the first few centuries, and explore the daily lives of those who resolutely held their faith in the face of Roman persecution....

29 min
Being a Celt in Ancient Britain

35: Being a Celt in Ancient Britain

Shift your attention to the world of the Celts, a mysterious European race that left few excavation sites-and none in Britain. This lecture takes you into the daily life of a Celtic village during the Iron Age, a world of tribes and chieftains, of war and bravery, and of the legendary Druids....

31 min
Being a Roman Briton

36: Being a Roman Briton

Picture what it was like to be a British native under Roman rule. How did you make peace with being subjugated when Claudius subjugated you in A.D. 43? The Romans built cities and showed natives new, more efficient agricultural practices, and protected the island for 365 years. After all that, how would you have felt when they abandoned you?...

29 min
Being Anglo-Saxon

37: Being Anglo-Saxon

Meet the people who filled the vacuum left by the Romans. The Anglo-Saxons, a warrior culture responsible for King Arthur and Beowulf, invaded Britain at the beginning of the so-called Dark Ages. In addition to meeting the wealthy thanes, struggling peasants, and unfortunate slaves, you'll examine the lives of monks and nuns....

30 min
Being a Viking Raider

38: Being a Viking Raider

The Vikings have always been on the "other side" of history, their deeds recorded only by their victims. In this lecture, you'll get at the truth of this enigmatic culture. While a small number were the raiders we know from other accounts, the Vikings had a vibrant trading culture based on the sea....

30 min
Living under Norman Rule

39: Living under Norman Rule

The last successful invasion of England was by the Normans, who won the well-known Battle of Hastings in 1066. Go inside that invasion and learn about Norman culture and its lasting influence on the British-especially the creation of a strong central government that has fortified the island to the present....

31 min
Being Medieval

40: Being Medieval

From the Magna Carta, which granted rights to ordinary citizens, to the rise of vernacular English, as evidenced by The Canterbury Tales, the Middle Ages marked a turning point for the "other side" of history. Find out what influenced life for ordinary people, from the control of the church to the horrors of the infamous Black Death....

29 min
Being Poor in the Middle Ages

41: Being Poor in the Middle Ages

Visit the daily life of peasants in the wake of the Black Death. Experiencing economic hardship due in part to the feudal system, the poor organized the Peasants' Revolt in 1381, the first popular uprising of its kind. Beyond the dramatic revolt, this lecture takes you to the dinner tables of everyday people, and to the anonymous cemeteries where they'd be buried....

30 min
Being a Medieval Woman

42: Being a Medieval Woman

Like the ancient world, the Middle Ages was patriarchal and male-dominated, so a woman had few options-to get married, to become a nun, or to turn to prostitution. But Chaucer's Wife of Bath, the seducer in "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight," and the notion of courtly love all added new dimensions to womanhood....

28 min
Being a Medieval Christian or Heretic

43: Being a Medieval Christian or Heretic

Look at ways in which the medieval church wielded enormous influence over the lives of ordinary people, and how it did everything in its power to maintain its influence. You'll witness life as a clergyman, go into the world of a monastery, and see what became of those the church deemed heretics....

29 min
Being a Medieval Knight

44: Being a Medieval Knight

Were the Middle Ages really an era of knights in shining armor and damsels in distress? In this lecture you'll gain new insights into the realities of knighthood, from the rigorous training during childhood to the bloodthirstiness of battle. You'll also study the code of chivalry, where courtesy is the mark of a civilized man....

29 min
Being a Crusader

45: Being a Crusader

Unpack the term "Crusade" and situate it in its cultural context. When Pope Urban said it was the Christians' duty to take up arms against the "infidels," ordinary people were swept up in the idea that they were fighting to save Christianity and their own souls against the advance of Islam....

30 min
Being a Pilgrim

46: Being a Pilgrim

Imagine you were one of Chaucer's pilgrims on your way to visit the tomb of Thomas Becket. Chaucer died before he could finish his tales, but this lecture takes you on the road from London all the way to the massive crowds at Canterbury. Then turn to a more hazardous journey, the 3,000-mile trek from England to Jerusalem to visit the holiest shrine in Christendom....

28 min
Relaxing Medieval Style

47: Relaxing Medieval Style

Soccer. Chess. Skating. Music. Life in the Middle Ages was full of misery and toil, but the world of sports and leisure was not that different from today. Learn about the origins of soccer, the history of chess, the variety of medieval music, and more. Conclude with a look at touring entertainers and professional guilds....

32 min
Daily Life Matters

48: Daily Life Matters

Reflect on the humanistic value of putting yourself in the hearts and minds of ordinary people from the Neanderthal era to the late Middle Ages. The difference between their lives and ours is profound, yet this course leaves you with an equally profound connection to the anonymous majority who make up the other side of history....

36 min