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The Persian Empire

Explore the secrets of one of the greatest empires in the ancient world from a fresh perspective: its own.
The Persian Empire is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 120.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good Expounding The only issue with this course is the breadth of its coverage. You will need to take notes while watching in order to keep track of the names and locations. I even took a break to read Xenophon's account about his expedition into and out of ancient Persia. I enjoyed how these lectures gave a different perspective from Greek sources and helped show what were the cultural biases between Persia and its neighbor Greece. The confusion I had at first was due to how the Greek Ionian cities passed back and forth between Persian and Greek control; since Persian satraps did not restrict Greek customs those cites remained Greek. Fascinating. Also, at the end of the lecture Professor Lee does mention that for the vast majority of the ancient people, most of them didn't know they were apart of a great empire. They lived out their lives in their local sphere of influence and had no notion of the power struggle between regions.
Date published: 2023-11-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Mighty Persian Empire Professor John Lee does a marvelous job of presenting the history of the Persian Empire. It was a pleasure to learn in-depth history of the people, country and leaders of this powerful and massive country. Much positive aspects have been written by other learners about the significant value the course via Dr. Lee provides the Great Courses community. This was my first time spending 24 , 30 minute lectures with Professor Lee and it was mesmerizing. This course is worth the time and investment. Outstanding professor and course!
Date published: 2023-08-31
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Well worth your time Overall, this was a very good course. Like any lecturer, Prof. Lee has his strengths and weaknesses, as you will see if you look into other reviews here. I would say overall that his strengths far outweigh his weakness. Breaking with convention, let's review his weakness--I'd argue he really only has one-- first. Prof. Lee isn't, as another reviewer put it a 'dynamic' speaker. He's by no means a bad presenter. His delivery certainly isn't flat or characterless. But Lee's delivery feels scripted, he occasionally fluffs his lines, and there's a lack of organic ease to the way he speaks. But if you can get past this slight flaw in his style (which improves slightly over the course of the 24 episodes), you get to enjoy the really compelling strengths he has imbued into this course. Lee's analysis of the Persian Empire is insightful and interesting, and he does an incredible job of both illuminating and humanising a crucial period and place in history that often feels like a murky nemesis on the borders of Western historical narratives. He seems to have a strong grasp on military and economic matters in particular, too, and shows respect for those who served on both sides in conflicts without stooping to jingoism or romanticism. He handles geography better than any history lecturer I've previously seen, and I came away from this course feeling like I 'got' the Central Asia of this period in a way I have always wanted to but never had. He summarises, argues, explores and explains deftly, with elegant clarity, but always with nuance. Finally, he reconfigures the relationship of the Greek and Persian worlds in a new form that challenges the biases of traditional narratives while simultaneously enriching and honouring both. If you allow yourself to get past the ultimately limited flaws in delivery, this course will be well worth your time.
Date published: 2023-08-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very good course This history of Peria by Professor Lee certainly ivies up to the high standards of history courses at The Great Courses. Professor Lee digs into the basis of the Persia culture and life in that era.
Date published: 2023-06-28
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A Passionate Yet Uninspiring Journey into Persian It pains me to only give 3 stars to course by Prof. Lee as I can truly see his genuine passion for the Persian history. He really wants to tell us History from the Persian prospective and dispel myths and discriminations that Greek authors and Hollywood have imposed on the Persian Empire. Unfortunately, I found it very difficult to resonate with most of the stories. Furthermore, I was not able to gain much insights about the history of Persian Empire after finishing the course.  I think the main reason for that is the way that the course materials are chosen and constructed. Too often, the course becomes a reading of names of kings, places they travelled, battles they fought, etc. In an attempt to be comprehensive, the course did a mediocre job at making any aspect truly memorable.  Again, I highly appreciate Prof. Lee’s passionate attempt - albeit not very successful -  at showing us the history of an empire that has influenced our Western culture so much and is yet so little known. 
Date published: 2023-06-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Blow my mind Excellent course. All the episodes were engaging. The teacher was super. The only thing that was missed would be more episodes about the persian language and religion but over all5 stars.
Date published: 2023-04-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thorough Account of A Not-so-well Understood Empir I watched 12 of the episodes, choosing what interested me most during a busy time. Prof. Lee has a good style of lecturing, and he gave a good analysis dispelling some of the negative impressions offered by Western historians.
Date published: 2023-04-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Enjoyable I have completed about 70 Great Courses and Wondrium courses over the last 15 years or so and I found this introduction to the Persian Empire and excellent overview. I so enjoyed the perspective of the Persian/Greek interface from the Persian perspective. There is a lesson here that it is always valuable to look at both sides of a relationship in depth to better understand the dynamics at play. This course truly enlightened me and for that I am eternally grateful.
Date published: 2023-03-09
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Overview

What do we really know about the ancient Persians? Explore the secrets of one of the greatest empires in the ancient world from a fresh perspective: its own. Over the span of 24 lectures, Professor John W. I. Lee examines Persian sources to reveal what we known about this grand civilization. Tapping into the latest scholarship, The Persian Empire is sure to fill in some critical gaps in your understanding and appreciation of the sweep of ancient history and its undeniable effect on later civilizations.

About

John W. I. Lee

The Persian Empire is a great case study in the lifecycle of ancient empires. By studying it, we can really see how the right conditions and the right leaders can drive rapid historical change.

INSTITUTION

University of California, Santa Barbara

Professor John W. I. Lee is Associate Professor of History at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He grew up in Southeast Asia and Hawaii. After studying history at the University of Washington, he earned his Ph.D. in History from Cornell University. Professor Lee's research specialty is the history of warfare in the ancient world. He has published on ancient mercenary soldiers, Greek and Persian armies, women in ancient war, the origins of military autobiography, and urban combat in antiquity. He is the author of A Greek Army on the March: Soldiers and Survival in Xenophon's Anabasis, published by Cambridge University Press. Professor Lee has won a UC Santa Barbara Academic Senate Distinguished Teaching Award for 2003-2004 and the University's Harold J. Plous Award for 2005-2006, which is given to the outstanding Assistant Professor for performance and promise as measured by creative action and contribution to the intellectual life of the college community. Professor Lee has conducted field research and has led travel-study groups in Greece and Turkey. He is currently director of the Ancient Mediterranean Studies program at UC Santa Barbara and co-organizer of the University of California Multi-Campus Research Group on Ancient Borderlands.

By This Professor

The Persian Empire
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The Persian Empire

Trailer

Rethinking the Persian Empire

01: Rethinking the Persian Empire

Cyrus. Darius. Xerxes. These great Persian kings were sometimes stereotyped as one-dimensional despots in Greek histories. But through modern history detective work, you’ll uncover the truth about the Achaemenid Persian Empire—an “empire of information” that stretched from Egypt and Asia Minor, through Mesopotamia and Iran, all the way to the Indus Valley.

31 min
Questioning the Sources

02: Questioning the Sources

Explore how we’ve come to know the Persian Empire. Greek historians such as Herodotus provided valuable information, but the Greek perspective was often negatively biased. For a more balanced perspective, turn to archaeology, which has uncovered inscriptions, administrative tablets, and other documents that let the Persians speak for themselves.

29 min
The World before Cyrus

03: The World before Cyrus

Take a tour of the ancient world before the Persian Empire. In the centuries leading up to the Persian Empire, the Assyrians were the major international power. When the Assyrian kingdom collapsed, it left a power vacuum in the region. Watch as the stage was set for a new power to seize the imperial mantle.

33 min
Cyrus and Cambyses - Founders of the Empire

04: Cyrus and Cambyses - Founders of the Empire

Learn how Cyrus, the first great king of the Persian Empire, expanded the empire through pragmatic leadership. You’ll see how he made use of local customs and traditions and thereby gained legitimacy over a wide territory—including central Asia and Babylon. His son Cambyses continued that method when he expanded the empire into Egypt.

30 min
Darius I - Creator of the Imperial System

05: Darius I - Creator of the Imperial System

Witness the first challenge to the new empire: Was Darius, the son-in-law of Cyrus, a legitimate king? After Cambyses died, and in the face of civil war, Darius established himself as a swift, decisive, unwavering leader. See how Darius created both a royal genealogy and a Persian identity, after which he turned to building infrastructure.

30 min
Persian Capitals and Royal Palaces

06: Persian Capitals and Royal Palaces

Step back and tour the five Persian capitals—Pasargadae, Ecbatana, Babylon, Susa, and Persepolis. Built in strategic, fortified locations, these cities were important symbols of power for the great kings. For instance, you’ll encounter the great hall at Persepolis, which could hold 10,000 guests.

30 min
The Great King - Images and Realities

07: The Great King - Images and Realities

Look beyond the outside stereotypes of Persian kings as tyrants and see what the kings themselves had to say. In sculpted reliefs and carvings on royal tombs, the words and images of Darius and Xerxes show Persian values of harmonious cooperation.

30 min
Royal Roads and Provinces

08: Royal Roads and Provinces

Take a road trip into the western provinces and see the empire’s diverse local customs. The Persian Empire was famous for its roads and bridges, and people traveled often. Learn how its express messenger system allowed information to travel quickly—and allowed the king to keep tabs on every corner of the empire.

29 min
East of Persepolis

09: East of Persepolis

Travel east through what is now Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, and onward into Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. Here you’ll discover the complexity of Persian power, as well as its lasting influence. With people moving across vast distances, the Persian Empire was held together by its efficient administration and communication systems.

31 min
Challenges in the West, 513 - 494 B.C.

10: Challenges in the West, 513 - 494 B.C.

Revolts in Ionia and Cyprus and an attack by the Athenians show the limits of the Persian philosophy of harmonious cooperation—not everyone was content under Persian rule. Explore the early challenges to Persian power and see how Darius contained these threats using diplomacy, military force, and strategic communication.

30 min
Across the Bitter Sea, 493 - 490 B.C.

11: Across the Bitter Sea, 493 - 490 B.C.

Examine the war with the Greeks from the Persian perspective. After the Athenians threw a Persian herald into a pit, Darius sent his fleet across the Aegean Sea. They advanced into Greece without trouble, but at Marathon the Persian forces stumbled and were defeated by the Athenians.

29 min
Xerxes Becomes King

12: Xerxes Becomes King

Learn the facts that dispel the image of Xerxes as a decadent “Oriental despot.” As a grandson of Cyrus, Xerxes was handpicked by Darius to succeed him. After assuming the throne, Xerxes easily defeated rebellions in Egypt and Babylonia, then returned to Persepolis to finish his father’s domestic projects.

29 min
Xerxes's War, 480 - 479 B.C.

13: Xerxes's War, 480 - 479 B.C.

Once again, the Persian Empire tried to take control of Greece, this time under Xerxes. See how Xerxes captured half the nation without a fight—and then scored a great victory against the Spartan king Leonidas. But witness the critical mistake at Salamis, after which the Persians were forced to retreat.

30 min
Cultures in Contact

14: Cultures in Contact

Discover the variety of cultural exchanges in the Persian Empire. Never before in human history had such a large area of the globe come under the control of a single power. Here, people were constantly exchanging goods and adopting foreign customs. See how the Persian policy of tolerance of local customs enabled this multiethnic empire to flourish.

30 min
Achaemenid Religion

15: Achaemenid Religion

Continue your investigation of Persian culture—this time, Achaemenid religion. The Persians were influenced by the sage Zarathustra, who lived around 1000 B.C. The ancient Persians practiced polytheism, with the god Ahuramazda on top. Learn how the kings viewed themselves as instruments of god, which helped legitimize their power and justify imperialism.

30 min
From Expansion to Stability, 479 - 405 B.C.

16: From Expansion to Stability, 479 - 405 B.C.

Delve into a new phase of the Persian Empire, which experienced relative security and stability following Xerxes’s war in Greece. After the assassination of Xerxes, his middle son, Artaxerxes I, held the empire together and used diplomacy to deal with the Greeks. Further down the line, watch how Darius II used diplomacy during the Peloponnesian War.

30 min
The War of the Two Brothers

17: The War of the Two Brothers

The empire was stable under Darius II, but his passing presented a new challenge to the empire. Experience the crucial moment when, after Artaxerxes II took power, his brother Cyrus orchestrated a revolt. Feel the suspense as the two brothers clashed in a great showdown at Cunaxa, fighting for the kingship.

29 min
Persian Gold

18: Persian Gold

As part of its administrative system, the empire created a new Persian currency. From surviving business documents, discover that while agriculture was important, wealth sometimes became concentrated in the hands of a few crafty entrepreneurs, whose financial clout presented systemic risk to the empire.

29 min
City and Countryside

19: City and Countryside

The history of the empire was not just about kings and battles. Take a look at the lives of ordinary folks. Beyond the capital cities, farming was the basis of the empire’s wealth. Explore the agricultural practices of the empire and meet day-to-day workers—including migrant laborers and slaves.

29 min
Women in the Persian Empire

20: Women in the Persian Empire

Learn why scholars debate how much political power women had in ancient Persia. Compared to Greek women, Achaemenid women had considerable legal and economic freedom. Discover how royal women participated in palace ceremonies, and meet three powerful women in the empire—Artemisia, Mania, and Epyaxa.

30 min
Artaxerxes II - The Longest-Ruling King

21: Artaxerxes II - The Longest-Ruling King

Chart the life of “the king who loved his subjects.” After defeating his brother Cyrus, Artaxerxes II stabilized the empire, eventually negotiating an important peace with the Spartans. Watch as he then embarked on a building program unlike anything since Darius I, which showed the empire could still mobilize enormous resources.

29 min
Persia and Macedon, 359 - 333 B.C.

22: Persia and Macedon, 359 - 333 B.C.

As the empire progressed into the 4th century B.C., rumors of Macedonian aggression abounded. See how Philip II—father of Alexander the Great—reformed the Macedonian military. In an interesting historical coincidence, Darius III came to power in Persia the same year as Alexander in Macedon. See how Darius III prepared for battle.

30 min
The End of an Empire, 333 - 323 B.C.

23: The End of an Empire, 333 - 323 B.C.

Witness the suspenseful battles between the Persians and the Macedonians, the sieges of Alexander the Great, and Darius III on the run. Alexander, arguably one of the greatest generals in history, commanded a powerful army and defeated Darius, then took on the mantle of Great King, adopting much of Persian ideology.

31 min
Legacies of the Persian Empire

24: Legacies of the Persian Empire

When an empire ends, its culture and institutions don’t vanish overnight. Learn about the Persian legacy and what became of the kingdoms that followed—the Seleucids, the Parthians, and the Sasanians. By the time Islamic invaders arrived in 651, the Persian Empire had become legend, but its legacy lives on even in modern Iran.

33 min