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The Peloponnesian War

Explore the first truly global conflict—a 200-year-long clash between a mighty empire and the world's most powerful city-state in this gripping course that covers the Greek and Persian wars from their earliest beginnings to Alexander the Great's total destruction of Persia.
Peloponnesian War is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 93.
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Rated 2 out of 5 by from Excuciating detail If you are into excruciating detail and excessive name dropping, this is the course for you. Battle by battle cataloging and alliances made and broken over and over again are described in much detail. A video presentation with graphics of the areas won and lost over time would have been very helpful. With only casual listening, it was hard to grasp the major results of the war and what the participants and world learned from war.
Date published: 2024-06-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An excellent course by one who knows his topic I purchased this course because, although I had heard of the Peloponnesian War, I knew absolutely nothing about it. The lecturer knows his topic thoroughly, and only occasionally referred to his notes. He also presents his material in an engaging style, analyzing the data, interacting with the opinions of others, while giving his own understanding of the material. I was fascinated throughout, and have purchased Thucydides in order to read the primary text for myself.
Date published: 2024-05-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Among Dr. Harl’s Best Courses Although there are several offerings by The Great Courses (TGC) that address the Peloponnesian War, perhaps in several lectures, this is the definitive TGC course describing in detail just what happened. This is an excellent offering. Dr. Harl proceeds chronologically through the lead-up and progress of the Peloponnesian War. He starts slowly, devoting 10 of the 36 lectures to the background leading to the War. He then discusses in detail the three major phases of the War: the Archidamian War from 431 BCE to 421 BCE, which ended in a stalemate; the Peace of Nicias from 420 BCE to 414 BCE, which ended in resumption of the war; and the Ionian War from 414 BCE, which ended in the defeat of Athens in 404 BCE. He concludes with a brief summary of the aftermath of the War including the return of democracy to Athens. When discussing the War, Dr. Harl is good about considering the perspectives of Athens, Sparta, Athenian allies, Spartan allies, and eventually Persia. He focuses on politics, economics, and technology. He discusses conclusions drawn by various historians and makes clear his own conclusions. Dr. Harl follows Thucydides closely supplementing with Plutarch and Xenophon for the end of the War, which Thucydides did not record. I wonder now if I should have read Thucydides in conjunction with the lectures. Although Dr. Harl has taught several TGC courses, I think that this course shows Dr. Harl at his best. He cares about his subject and conveys that interest to the student. There are still the snide asides but they are rarer and less obtrusive than in other courses. The course guide is average by TGC standards. It is written in a hybrid paragraph/outline format and it averages about 5 pages per lecture, a little below average by TGC standards. There are no graphics in the lecture pages themselves. The appendix has 11 very useful maps, a timeline, an extensive glossary, extensive biographical notes, and a bibliography. I used the audio version. In 2023, there was no video streaming version although there was a DVD version. I think that a video streaming version would have been helpful because there are a lot of geographic references where maps would have been helpful. The course was published in 2007.
Date published: 2024-05-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from In-Depth Detail Professor Kenneth W. Harl has exceptional and impressive understanding of ancient Greece history. He provides a broad range of data in each of his lectures. If you’re a student of this period in history, then this course will provide you with a substantial amount of information.
Date published: 2024-03-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Work of Art! I brought this dvd when I already had the audio. I thought there would be not much difference but I was wrong. The DVD was worth every cent and I got through it much more fired up for Ancient History. The Professor was highly informative, and funny. He knew The history but also the context. This is good for an extra edge if studying The Peloponnesian War at High School or at University. Or just like me, just want to improve knowledge. Highly recommended!
Date published: 2023-12-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Highly Recommended for Its Modern Relevance While this review cannot begin to cover the ever-changing complexities of the three phases of the Peloponnesian War, it attempts to describe the purpose of Professor Harl's course. His thesis seems summed up in Lecture 36 (L36): "... the Peloponnesian War has been interpreted as…clashes between…good and evil. THIS IS THE WRONG LESSON (emphasis added).” The “good” are too often felt to be the Athenians, although Harl does give Athenians credit where it is due. For example: Athenian (L5) “elected officials were required to undergo a competence test”…wouldn’t that be nice today! Conversely, L14 accuses Athens of interfering “repeatedly in the lives of citizens in its allied states and other ways that Athens “trampled on traditional…freedom and autonomy." Nor did they ever deny their imperialistic rule. In fact, many ancient Greek authors (L3) admired Spartan “eunomia" (good order by proper law) and despised Athenian radical democracy (L3, L13, L14). My favorite line was Plutarch’s: "All Greeks know what is right to do, but only the Spartans do it”. According to scholars who use Thucydides’ (an Athenian) arguments: the “evil” is a flawed, regressive Sparta preferring isolation (L10)…an argument this course devastates. Since Thucydides provides most of the period history, the Spartans “…have seldom been credited with their victory over the Athenians”, a viewpoint distortion (L34). In the words of the great Persian King Xerxes, "(Spartans) are free yet…have a master, and the master is law.” Regarding early feminism, L3 tells us that BOTH Spartan males and females received extensive training. Starting at age 6 they “...enrolled in a set of rigorous grades" after which the men were assigned to mess halls similar to those of British professional soldiers in India. With many examples of Spartan wisdom even when they were under duress, Harl believes (L35) that many authors have “...exaggerated the extent of Spartan demographic, institutional, and moral decline. MONEY: 1.) Harl gives Athens credit for being the first to monetize their markets thereby enhancing commercial by sea businesses (L15). This suggests that the first capitalists were products of the first radical democracy! 2.) When Athens (as a central governing body) not only demanded an “ad valorem” tax (L31) on goods, but other fees and additional taxes on their allies (L14) - these became “a reminder of the loss of freedom and autonomy.” TGC's "The Great Debate" by Pangle (L6) provides a modern analogy: James Madison adopted modern political positioning to sell his POV about a Federal tax: his proposed, “…central government would ‘probably’ be financed by only import and export duties". Americans in the 24% earnings tax bracket can feel historically betrayed. The Athenian shift from citizens to taxpayers to pay for professional armies came with another heavy cost: it "...meant that the Greeks city-states would not be prepared to respond successfully..." to the coming Macedonian invasion (L36). Perhaps some will see a warning here. CONS: 1.) The course is not a walk in the park. 2.) Given his prodigious memory, Harl at times describes in detail minor actors who might well have been ignored by all but graduate students. CONCLUSION: 1.) Harl's premise from L1 "... the War pitted against each other two city-states that differed by degree rather than opposing economic, political, or ideological systems" is well defended; 2.) Harl notes (L1) that there are only 4 times in history where a citizen body has asserted itself: Athens/Sparta, Rome, the 17th century British Parliament, and the U.S. He asks (L1, L36) whether direct citizen participation can be “reconciled wholly with security imperatives". Given power and remoteness of the Federal government, the Athenian style taxations and nascent U.S. political/media intolerance of dissenting opinion, study of this course becomes relevant to help us vote; 3.) For those of us with a military background, a greatly overlooked resource is TGC's “Great Battles of the Ancient World" by Fagan. His L9-14 detail the mechanics of the most important battles Harl discusses. [This course was a family gift...THANK YOU!]
Date published: 2023-10-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Thorough Examination! Through this course, Prof. Harl provides an extremely interesting, very thorough, and highly entertaining examination of the causes, personalities, course, and aftermath of the Peloponnesian War. His lectures are fast-paced, and each one covers a lot of ground. His lecture style is in your face--he almost shouts at his audience--but it works. I listened to this course, but I suspect video would be very helpful because maps, photographs, and animations could be used to good effect with this material. All in all, an excellent course into what Prof. Harl convincingly shows is one of the most consequential conflicts and turning points in ancient history.
Date published: 2023-05-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Excellent study of the war and evaluation of the sources. Does a very strong job in not allowing our prejudices view Athens in a more favorable light than Sparta. His enthusiasm about his subject is compelling. My one critique is that it was a bit long and sometimes gets bogged down in some of the details of war; I think a 24 or 32 lecture format would have been as effective.
Date published: 2022-02-03
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The ancient Greek historian Thucydides called it "a war like no other"—arguably the greatest in the history of the world up to that time. The Peloponnesian War pitted Athens and her allies against a league of city-states headed by Sparta. Thucydides's eyewitness account of the war has been a classic for 24 centuries and is still studied for its profound truths about the nature of human strife. In The Peloponnesian War, Professor Kenneth Harl draws on this masterpiece and other ancient sources to give you a full picture of the Greek world in uneasy peace and then all-out war in the late 5th century BCE.


Kenneth W. Harl

We will be looking largely at archeological evidence and analysis done by anthropologists because we are operating largely in a world without writing.


Tulane University
Dr. Kenneth W. Harl is Professor of Classical and Byzantine History at Tulane University in New Orleans, where he teaches courses in Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Crusader history. He earned his B.A. from Trinity College and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Yale University. Recognized as an outstanding lecturer, Professor Harl has received numerous teaching awards at Tulane, including the coveted Sheldon H. Hackney Award. He has earned Tulane's annual Student Body Award for Excellence in Teaching nine times and is the recipient of Baylor University's nationwide Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teachers. In 2007, he was the Lewis P. Jones Visiting Professor in History at Wofford College. An expert on classical Anatolia, he has taken students with him into the field on excursions and to assist in excavations of Hellenistic and Roman sites in Turkey. Professor Harl has also published a wide variety of articles and books, including his current work on coins unearthed in an excavation of Gordion, Turkey, and a new book on Rome and her Iranian foes. A fellow and trustee of the American Numismatic Society, Professor Harl is well known for his studies of ancient coinage. He is the author of Civic Coins and Civic Politics in the Roman East, A.D. 180-275 and Coinage in the Roman Economy, 300 B.C. to A.D. 700.

By This Professor

The Ottoman Empire
The Barbarian Empires of the Steppes
The Vikings
The Fall of the Pagans and the Origins of Medieval Christianity
Thucydides and the Peloponnesian War

01: Thucydides and the Peloponnesian War

In his eyewitness account of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides set a standard for writing history that endures to this day. We explore his influence on modern historians and the enduring value of studying this war.

32 min
The Greek Way of War

02: The Greek Way of War

This lecture examines the Greek approach to land battles, showing how the institution of the polis led to the use of citizen soldiers called hoplites - a style of fighting that underwent major changes during the Peloponnesian War.

30 min
Sparta—Perceptions and Prejudices

03: Sparta—Perceptions and Prejudices

The disciplined city-state of Sparta headed one side in the war. Ancient sources have created the modern impression of Sparta as an authoritarian and soulless society. This lecture offers a more balanced view.

30 min
Sparta and Her Allies

04: Sparta and Her Allies

We continue our background exploration of Sparta with a look at the Peloponnesian League, a powerful alliance headed by Sparta that extended even beyond the peninsula of the Peloponnesus.

30 min
The Athenian Democracy

05: The Athenian Democracy

Sparta's rival was Athens, whose most distinctive political institution was democracy. Remarkably for that era, all male citizens over 18 had the right to vote, without property qualifications.

30 min
Athens and the Navy

06: Athens and the Navy

From 505 to 480 B.C., Athens built the greatest fleet in the Greek world, an effort that bolstered its democratic institutions: Thousands of citizens of the lower classes, vital to the city's defense because they rowed the ships, were rewarded for naval service with enhanced legal and social privileges.

29 min
Victory over Persia, 490–479 BCE

07: Victory over Persia, 490–479 BCE

Sparta and Athens were reluctant allies against Persia, which sought to conquer the Greek homeland in 490 B.C. and again in 480 B.C. Athens won glory at the battles of Marathon and Salamis, as did Sparta at Thermopylae.

31 min
Athens or Sparta—A Question of Leadership

08: Athens or Sparta—A Question of Leadership

As Persian power waned, Greek cities under Persian control revolted, looking to Sparta for leadership. Rebuffed, they turned to Athens. The resulting alliance led to the foundation of the Delian League.

30 min
Cimonian Imperialism

09: Cimonian Imperialism

Fresh from victories over Persia, the Athenian general Cimon converted the naval alliance of the Delian League into the Athenian Empire.

30 min
Sparta after the Persian Wars

10: Sparta after the Persian Wars

Thucydides is surprisingly silent about events in Sparta in the 50 years between the Persian and Peloponnesian Wars. We weigh the view that Sparta preferred isolation, lest its citizens be morally corrupted by overseas service.

30 min
The First Peloponnesian War

11: The First Peloponnesian War

In 461 B.C., Spartans and Athenians clashed in what has sometimes been called the First Peloponnesian War, which lasted until 446 B.C.

30 min
The Thirty Years' Peace

12: The Thirty Years' Peace

This lecture examines the Thirty Years' Peace that ended the First Peloponnesian War. Despite differences in how each party understood the treaty, there were reasons to believe peace would last.

30 min
Triumph of the Radical Democracy

13: Triumph of the Radical Democracy

We investigate the reforms sponsored by Pericles that transformed Athens into a full participatory democracy. Pericles established a standard of democratic leadership that later Athenian political figures failed to attain.

29 min
From Delian League to Athenian Empire

14: From Delian League to Athenian Empire

The emergence of Athenian power in the Aegean and the creation of its naval empire completely changed the political dynamics of Greece.

29 min
Economy and Society of Imperial Athens

15: Economy and Society of Imperial Athens

Athens was the first state to monetize its markets and base its wealth on seaborne commerce. How did the economies of Sparta and its allies compare?

30 min
Athens, School of Greece

16: Athens, School of Greece

From the Persian to Peloponnesian Wars, Pericles presided over a golden age in architecture, visual arts, and literature, making Athens the school of Greece and defining Classical civilization for ages to come.

30 min
Crisis in Corcyra, 435–432 BCE

17: Crisis in Corcyra, 435–432 BCE

General war loomed after a revolt broke out at a remote colony in northwest Greece, inciting a clash between the two rivals Corcyra and Corinth. Athens sided with Corcyra, enraging Corinth, which was allied with Sparta.

30 min
Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War

18: Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War

The Corcyra crisis put Athens on a collision course with Sparta. We explore whether the chain of events leading to war could have been halted.

30 min
Strategies and Stalemate, 431–429 BCE

19: Strategies and Stalemate, 431–429 BCE

Pericles aimed to avoid a land battle with Sparta, while harassing Spartan interests by sea to force a negotiated peace. By the third year of the war, a stalemate had developed and Pericles was dead from plague.

30 min
Athenian Victory in Northwest Greece

20: Athenian Victory in Northwest Greece

In a change of strategy, Athens escalated operations in northwest Greece - a region dominated by Corinth and vital to the Peloponnesians. By 426 B.C., Athens had won an important victory there.

30 min
Imperial Crisis—The Chalcidice and Mytilene

21: Imperial Crisis—The Chalcidice and Mytilene

This lecture looks at fighting in northern Greece, a strategically vital area for Athens. When unrest spread to the island of Lesbos, Athens put down the rebellion and was on the verge of brutal reprisals, but relented.

30 min
Plague, Fiscal Crisis, and War

22: Plague, Fiscal Crisis, and War

We investigate how the war changed the population and prosperity of the Greek world. Athens suffered most, from plague and the despoiling of agricultural land.

30 min
Demagogues and Stasis

23: Demagogues and Stasis

The war transformed the democratic institutions of Athens and ignited "stasis" (civil war) in city-states on both sides. In Athens, demagogues such as Cleon wielded the power once held by the democratic leader Pericles.

30 min
Pylos, 425 BCE—A Test of Leadership

24: Pylos, 425 BCE—A Test of Leadership

By 425 BCE, Sparta and Athens were locked in a deadly struggle, without prospects of either victory or negotiation. Then Athens achieved a breakthrough at Pylos, trapping Spartan troops and forcing their surrender.

29 min
New Leaders and New Strategies

25: New Leaders and New Strategies

The deaths in 422 B.C. of the Athenian Cleon and the Spartan Brasidas removed the two most senior commanders in favor of continuing the war.

30 min
The Peace of Nicias

26: The Peace of Nicias

During the winter of 422-421 B.C., the Athenian statesman Nicias negotiated what was to have been a 50-year peace treaty with Sparta. But peace would not last.

29 min
Collapse of the Peace of Nicias

27: Collapse of the Peace of Nicias

The period from 421 to 418 B.C. saw the disintegration of the Peace of Nicias and the emergence of Spartan and Athenian leaders who were eager to renew the conflict.

29 min
From Mantinea to Sicily, 418–415 BCE

28: From Mantinea to Sicily, 418–415 BCE

This lecture analyzes events surrounding the Battle of Mantinea, which involved shifting alliances aimed at isolating Sparta.

30 min
Sparta, Athens, and the Western Greeks

29: Sparta, Athens, and the Western Greeks

Athens had good strategic reasons for trying to outflank Sparta in this theater. We explore the importance of Sicily and southern Italy in the wider Greek world.

30 min
The Athenian Expedition to Sicily

30: The Athenian Expedition to Sicily

An ill omen preceded the sailing of the Athenian expedition to Sicily in 415 B.C. Thucydides's account of the unfolding disaster is the most dramatic and tragic episode of his history, culminating in the campaign at Syracuse.

31 min
Alcibiades and Sparta, 414–412 BCE

31: Alcibiades and Sparta, 414–412 BCE

After the Athenian attack on Syracuse, Sparta declared that the Peace of Nicias had been violated, and renewed war. Sparta now had the invaluable advice of Alcibiades, an exiled Athenian leader.

30 min
Conspiracy and Revolution, 411 BCE

32: Conspiracy and Revolution, 411 BCE

In 411 BCE, Athenian aristocrats staged a coup, suspending the democracy and setting up a council of 400 to draw up a new constitution. Their secret plan to turn over the city to Sparta was thwarted when the coup collapsed.

31 min
Alcibiades and Athens, 411–406 BCE

33: Alcibiades and Athens, 411–406 BCE

Under the generalship of the returned exile Alcibiades, Athens enjoyed a string of victories against Sparta. But the strategic situation changed with the arrival of a new Spartan ally: the Persian prince Cyrus the Younger.

30 min
The Defeat of Athens, 406–404 BCE

34: The Defeat of Athens, 406–404 BCE

The years 406-404 B.C. saw a dramatic turn of events leading to the decisive sea battle at Aegospotami, where the Spartan commander Lysander surprised and captured the entire Athenian fleet, ending the war.

31 min
Sparta's Bitter Victory

35: Sparta's Bitter Victory

We review the immediate aftermath of the war and explore what Spartan victory meant for Greece. In a surprisingly short time, Athenian democracy was restored and the city regained much of its former economic position.

31 min
Lessons of the Peloponnesian War

36: Lessons of the Peloponnesian War

What is the historical significance of the Peloponnesian War? How has it been studied by both scholars and popular historians? And what are the real lessons to be learned from this epic conflict of 24 centuries ago?

32 min