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Turning Points in Middle Eastern History

Go beyond the headlines to reveal the true Middle East. Gain surprising insights about the world today based on this dramatic history led by a professor, US Consultant, and explorer.
Turning Points in Middle Eastern History is rated 4.8 out of 5 by 141.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Muslim History Birth of Muhammad to 1924 I learned a great deal from this course and listened to several lectures twice. The course provides a grounding on the historical and thelogical basis of Islam, its spread, and its political, military and social history within the Middle East, North Africa and Persia/Iran. The professor is objective and has a pleasant Oxford-sounding British accent. He is perhaps very slightly biased in his coverage of some events (for example, Europeans' depravity in the Crusades is rightly described in derogatory language, but similar brutality from Muslims in other events and points in history is spoken of dispassionately and without value-laden language), but I'm okay with that because I wanted to hear the Muslim perspective on these things. One thing I would've liked is a single lecture or two on the spread of Islam to India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Mindanao in the Philippines, and perhaps another on its spread into some parts of sub-Saharan Africa like Nigeria. The professor takes an aside into Europe with a lecture on the Court of Roger II, but there is no mention of the places I just mentioned. Regardless, this is a superb course I would recommend to all to deepen their understanding. I learned of many important things I had never heard of, like the Battle of Talas in what is now Kyrgyzstan.
Date published: 2024-06-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Just a little addition In Lecture 17 the Dr Mentions Shajar al-Durr as the first female Sultan in Islamic history . I want to point out that Razia Sultana of Delhi Sultanate (1236-1240) would probably qualify for that title in history . Great lecture overall. Loved it !!!
Date published: 2024-04-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enlightening, Insightful, and Clear Eamonn Gearon’s “Turning Points in Middle Eastern History” is an excellent course with the following especial strengths: * Mr. Gearon stays true to the course title by sharing information about defining moments in history, whether or not those were the large-scale events that may have become more famous. * Though the presenter obviously has each of his lectures precisely planned, he still manages to sound like he is conversing easily with his audience, rather than reading to us from a teleprompter. * Many of the details shared filled in gaps for me in the history of the eras under discussion, even though I had previously studied several related courses. * In an evenhanded manner, like a skilled debater, Mr. Gearon can present several lines of analysis of the causes and the later impacts of a particular event, rather than just stating drily that “scholars are divided” re: some particular interpretation. * The on-screen maps and the very thorough guidebook provided with this course are much better than average when compared to other DVD courses. * Mr. Gearon introduces and sums up the material for each lecture very well, and his overall summation in Lecture 36 was welcome and helpful. I do feel, though, that he tended to repeat some information lecture-to-lecture more than necessary. That seems to me to be a small fault in what I consider one of the best of the Great Courses.
Date published: 2023-09-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A new subject for me. I was sorry when I reached I knew very little about Middle Eastern/North African history and wanted to improve my knowledge. This course is really informative, and presented superbly. I really enjoyed it and it has left me wanting more. I will be looking for more courses by this lecturer
Date published: 2023-06-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very comprehensive review The lecturer was able to provide sufficient details to address the major turning points in Middle Eastern history, but also provided intermittent summaries that helped the listener keep the details in context to the overall history. My only criticism is not including the conflict of the Zionist takeover of Palestine, which I think should at least should have been more discussed as part of the imperialistic actions of the Western powers in the Middle East.
Date published: 2023-06-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from EXCELLENT course and professor! EXCELLENT course and professor! We are a five-member group that has been meeting weekly for about eight years to view a series of Great Courses. We agree that Turning Points in Middle Eastern History is among the best of the best courses we have viewed. Professor Eaman has impressive breadth and depth of subject knowledge which he delivers very effectively. He convincingly integrates the political and religious motivations behind the historical figures and events he covers. And the production values are outstanding: use of visuals including maps, timelines, and photos are indispensable for supporting all of his points.
Date published: 2023-05-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Response to Critiques This course is one of the finest of the many Great Courses I have seen. My main area of interest is Western history from the Medieval through the Modern periods, so I have mainly concentrated on Europe and the U.S. In those studies, I have encountered the Middle East and Islam only when it interacted with Europe, e.g. the Crusades, the Ottoman push into Europe, etc. This course has been a wonderful supplement to my normal fare, tying together all the touch points into a unified whole. Rather than repeat the praise in many other reviews, I want to present counterpoints to the “Most Helpful Critical Review”, titled “A single piece of a much larger picture”. The author’s initial point is that “the course gives no background on the history of the region.” The counterpoint is that unless all courses begin with the earliest history available, they must start at a point which leaves some earlier history behind. The beginning of Islam in 622 is an entirely reasonable and obvious starting point, as it was a watershed event and its influence very quickly engulfed the entire Middle East. Which brings us to another objection that the “course is very Islam centric”. Yes, because for the great majority of the time period covered, the great majority of the Middle East itself was very Islam centric. The next critique is that the course “does not give much coverage to: Armenia; Kurds; Persians; Afghans; Central Asia; India and the regions that are now Pakistan.” None of the handful of online sources I consulted considered Afghanistan, Central Asia, India, or Pakistan part of the Middle East – and neither do I. The course does sometimes discuss contact with peoples of those regions, especially the Mongols. Armenia was listed by a minority of the online sources as being in the Middle East, and it is mentioned 7 times in the Guidebook. Kurds got 11 mentions in the Guidebook. But Persia and Persians – seriously? It is constantly referred to in the course, with 95 mentions in the Guidebook. And finally there is this broadside: “The presenter appears biased towards Islam. The atrocities committed by Christians are covered in depth; while those committed by Muslims are glossed over.” As there was a lot of violence in the history covered by the course, it would take a lot of time and space to demonstrate just how wrong the quoted statement is. I’ll only say that I find it absurd, and that I found the coverage in the course to be very even handed. It may, however, seem biased towards Islam if one goes into the course with the anti-Islam mindset of many Americans.
Date published: 2023-01-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Turning Points in Middle Eastern History This is the 39th Great Course I have bought and is certainly in my top five. The lecturer is excellent, with a clear and straightforward delivery which holds your attention. I have a reasonable knowledge of Greek and Roman history but the Middle East is mostly new to me and this course is going to fill in lots of gaps. Delighted.
Date published: 2022-12-16
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The Middle East is a critically important area of our world, but much media coverage fails to accurately convey the complexities of this pivotal region. Discover a breathtaking panorama of history, exploring a 1,300-year window from the rise of Muhammad to the fall of the Ottoman Empire after World War I. Focus on specific moments that changed the direction of events-moments that still resonate in the 21st century.


Eamonn Gearon

Change is our constant, and the past does indeed inform the present.


Johns Hopkins University

Eamonn Gearon is a Professorial Lecturer at Johns Hopkins University, School of Advanced International Studies, in Washington DC. He received his M.A. in Near and Middle Eastern Studies and Arabic from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London, and has also taught at the American University in Cairo.

Mr. Gearon is the cofounder and managing director of The Siwa Group, a specialist consultancy firm, where he trains U.S. Department of State officials, Department of Defense workers, and other U.S. government employees whose work takes them to, or is concerned with, North Africa and the Middle East.

Mr. Gearon spent years living in, traveling, and exploring the Sahara. These days, he enjoys his role as a public speaker, whose presentations combine elements of Middle Eastern history and contemporary affairs. He is a distinguished speaker on Cunard's flagship Queen Mary 2 and other vessels.

Mr. Gearon has published extensively on Middle Eastern history, culture, and contemporary politics. A regular reviewer for The Times Literary Supplement and other prestigious publications, he is also the author of The Sahara: A Cultural History. He has contributed to numerous other titles, including the Encyclopedia of African History (edited by Kevin Shillington), Meetings with Remarkable Muslims: A Collection of Travel Writing (edited by Barnaby Rogerson and Rose Baring), and Sahara Overland: A Route and Planning Guide.

By This Professor

The History and Achievements of the Islamic Golden Age
Turning Points in Middle Eastern History
The Middle East in the 20th Century
Turning Points in Middle Eastern History


Muslim Empires: Land, Language, Religion

01: Muslim Empires: Land, Language, Religion

Consider the geographical region we call the Greater Middle East, and explore the range of nations and cultures that define it. Preview some of the remarkable historical turning points you'll witness, encompassing conquests, political alliances, invasions, and the rise of Islam, as well as social, intellectual, and economic flowering of numerous kinds....

33 min
Muhammad and the Dawn of Islam - 622

02: Muhammad and the Dawn of Islam - 622

Historically, the rise of Islam was a turning point among turning points. Trace key phases in the life of Muhammad, from the founding of the faith through his years of opposition and his ultimate establishment of Islam as a religious and political entity. Assess the global impact of these events, and analyze their reverberations today....

30 min
Arab Invasion of North Africa - 639

03: Arab Invasion of North Africa - 639

The seventh-century Arab invasion of North Africa brought profound and permanent change to the entire region. Follow the Arab armies of the newly created Islamic empire in their conquest of the territories of Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Morocco, and take account of the lasting Arabization and Islamization that resulted....

31 min
Umayyad Caliphate in Damascus - 661

04: Umayyad Caliphate in Damascus - 661

The establishment of the Umayyad caliphate's capital in Damascus was the most important political turning point in early Muslim history. Trace the Umayyads' achievements, and investigate their reasons for locating the empire's capital away from the Arabian peninsula, reflecting the shift from a religiously inspired Islamic empire to a politically oriented imperial power....

31 min
Battle of Karbala - 680

05: Battle of Karbala - 680

The Battle of Karbala represents the defining moment in the split between the two main branches of Islam. Learn about how the faith came to violent internal conflict so early in its history, assess the nature of the underlying dispute over succession, and witness the political and religious fallout from the battle itself....

28 min
Arab Invasion of Andalusia - 711

06: Arab Invasion of Andalusia - 711

Study the events surrounding the incursion of Berber-Arab armies into the Iberian peninsula in 711, leading to Muslim domination of the region that would last 800 years. Witness the fateful Battle of Guadalete and the Arabs' advance north, and consider both the immediate legacy of the invasion and its overall impact on European history....

30 min
Battle of Talas - 751

07: Battle of Talas - 751

The Battle of Talas in Central Asia was the only occasion when Arab and Chinese armies would oppose one another. Explore the factors leading to the encounter, the lengthy battle that led to victory for the Abbasid Arabs, and the resulting spread of papermaking to the Middle East, an event with global impact....

29 min
The Founding of Baghdad - 762

08: The Founding of Baghdad - 762

As the political center of the Muslim world, Baghdad would have a role and importance unlike any other urban center on earth. Chart the building of Baghdad as an imperial capital; explore its monumental, Persian-inspired architectural design; and discover the human factors that made it one of the greatest centers of learning in human history....

31 min
Islamic Golden Age Begins - 813

09: Islamic Golden Age Begins - 813

Under the Abbasid Caliph al-Ma'mun, Baghdad thrived as both a center of trade and manufacturing and a world city of scholarship. Consider al-Ma'mun's lavish patronage of learning, his promotion of translation and scholarly missions, and his extraordinary influence in three areas: literature, the sciences, and Islamic theology....

32 min
Qairouan University - 859

10: Qairouan University - 859

The world's first university was founded by a visionary Muslim woman in the city of Fes, Morocco. Learn how this groundbreaking institution made advanced education available to all. Assess its influence in the Middle East, discover its unrivaled impact on European learning, and examine the life and work of one of its most celebrated alumni....

31 min
The Fatimids of Cairo - 969

11: The Fatimids of Cairo - 969

Follow the rise of the Fatimids-history's only Shia caliphate-in political and religious opposition to the Baghdad-based Abbasids. Witness the founding of Cairo as the new Fatimid capital, and examine the enlightened leadership of the 4th and 5th Fatimid caliphs, under whom Cairo became the most important city in the Islamic world....

31 min
Umayyad Exile in Cordoba - 784 - 1031

12: Umayyad Exile in Cordoba - 784 - 1031

Discover the golden age of Cordoba as a global center of education and culture. Learn how the displaced Umayyad caliphate established a kingdom in exile in Cordoba, whose rulers oversaw remarkable advancements in lifestyle and manners, magnificent architecture and urban development, and the cultivation of the best available Muslim, Christian, and Jewish scholarship....

31 min
Al-Ghazali and Orthodoxy - 1090

13: Al-Ghazali and Orthodoxy - 1090

The theologian and philosopher Abu Hamid Muhammad al-Ghazali has been called the most influential Muslim after Muhammad. Witness al-Ghazali's rise to become a renowned Islamic legal scholar, and reflect on the profound impact of his diverse writings. Investigate his passionate challenge to Neo-Platonism in Islamic theology, and assess the continuing legacy of his work....

31 min
Crusaders Capture Jerusalem - 1099

14: Crusaders Capture Jerusalem - 1099

Study the complex motives and competing interests that launched the Christian crusade to take Jerusalem from its Muslim occupiers. Follow the events of the Pope's dramatic call to arms and the bloody assault against the Holy City, and take account of its aftermath as well as its long-term effects on history....

31 min
Muslims in the Court of Roger II - 1130

15: Muslims in the Court of Roger II - 1130

Encounter the remarkable Kingdom of Sicily under the enlightened and tolerant rule of the Norman king Roger II. Grasp how Norman invaders established a kingdom in southern Italy, and learn about the unique features of life there, including extraordinary legal, economic, and architectural achievements. Consider Roger's legacy and why it remains relevant today....

31 min
Saladin: Chivalry and Conquest - 1187

16: Saladin: Chivalry and Conquest - 1187

The Muslim general Saladin stands as a unique figure in Middle Eastern history. Plunge into the pivotal Battle of Hattin, where Saladin's forces decimated the Crusader armies, shifting the balance of power in the Holy Land. Contemplate the combination of brilliant strategy and chivalrous treatment of his enemies that characterized this most remarkable of leaders....

31 min
The Egyptian Mamluks - 1250

17: The Egyptian Mamluks - 1250

The Mamluks were an unprecedented phenomenon-a community of slaves who became rulers. Investigate the origins of the Mamluks, and uncover how this elite warrior class took power in Egypt. Learn about the Mamluks' empire, their meritocratic system, and how they defeated a vast army that had never been beaten in battle: the Mongols....

30 min
Mongols Sack Baghdad - 1258

18: Mongols Sack Baghdad - 1258

This lecture narrates the calamity that befell the world's largest, most prosperous, and most celebrated city. First trace the rise of the Mongols, a fierce and most destructive ancient empire. Then follow their conquest of the Abbasids of Baghdad, culminating in the horrific siege that effectively ended the Islamic Golden Age....

30 min
Ottoman Empire Rises - 1299

19: Ottoman Empire Rises - 1299

The dazzling empire of the Ottomans was the longest-lasting empire in Middle Eastern history. Learn about the dream of Osman, the Ottomans' founder, which impelled him to establish what became a transcontinental superpower. Grasp what allowed the Ottomans to thrive and to spread across Anatolia, North Africa, and Eastern Europe....

31 min
Mansa Musa, Richest Man - 1324

20: Mansa Musa, Richest Man - 1324

History's richest human being was reputedly the African emperor Mansa Musa. Trace the events of Musa's legendary hajj to Mecca, where his lavish spending destabilized the economy of Egypt. Learn about his subsequent creation of a university and library that remain among the most important repositories of ancient wisdom in the world....

30 min
Ibn Khaldun's Masterpiece - 1377

21: Ibn Khaldun's Masterpiece - 1377

Discover the life and times of the brilliant Ibn Khaldun, who produced the Muquaddimah, one of the most original works of scholarship ever written. Follow his astonishing career as a scholar, historian, and judge, and investigate his magnum opus, a philosophy of history that delineates patterns that govern the transformation of human societies....

31 min
Ottomans Seize Constantinople - 1453

22: Ottomans Seize Constantinople - 1453

Grasp why the storied city of Constantinople had great strategic importance to the burgeoning Ottoman Empire. Witness the fiercely contested siege of the city, revealing the Ottoman offensive by both land and sea. Take account of how the city's fall arguably marked the end of both the Roman Empire and the Middle Ages....

30 min
Fall of Granada - 1492

23: Fall of Granada - 1492

The fall of Granada marked the end of 800 years of Muslim rule on the Iberian Peninsula. Study the fitful Granada war that unfolded over ten years, leading to a final eight-month siege under the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella. Follow the events of the state-sanctioned persecution of Jews and Muslims that followed....

30 min
Safavid Dynasty of Persia - 1501

24: Safavid Dynasty of Persia - 1501

Examine the birth of the 250-year Safavid Empire, established by the religious leader, warrior, and poet Ismail. Observe how Ismail forcibly converted his entire kingdom to the Shiite Islamic faith, introduced a new military system, and put in place the Persian bureaucratic framework that underlies the modern nation of Iran....

30 min
Selim the Grim - 1512

25: Selim the Grim - 1512

Investigate the achievements of this most fearsome and pivotal of Ottoman rulers. Learn how Selim vanquished the threatening Safavid Empire after violently wresting power from his father. Track his dramatic expansionist policy, tripling the Ottoman territories in less than a decade, and his defeat of the Egyptian Mamluks, becoming the first Ottoman Caliph....

30 min
Suleiman the Magnificent - 1520

26: Suleiman the Magnificent - 1520

Take the measure of the sultan Suleiman's extraordinary vision, through which he expanded and consolidated the Ottoman Empire, engendered a bureaucratic system and a unified legislative code, and commissioned monumental architecture. Learn also of his great love for his favorite wife, Roxelana, perhaps the most influential female political figure in Ottoman history....

31 min
Second Siege of Vienna - 1683

27: Second Siege of Vienna - 1683

The 1683 Ottoman siege of Vienna is often cited as a critical turning point in European history. Investigate the events leading to the siege and battle, witness the dramatic defense of the city under the Polish king Jan Sobieski, and examine both the legacy of the clash and historical misconceptions surrounding it....

30 min
The Saud-Wahhab Pact - 1744

28: The Saud-Wahhab Pact - 1744

Here, learn how a little-known 18th-century alliance in the Middle East came to have profound reverberations in our contemporary world. Study the pact between a desert ruler and a religious reformer that initiated a structure of political and religious power that continues to dominate the modern kingdom of Saudi Arabia....

31 min
Napoleon Invades Egypt - 1798

29: Napoleon Invades Egypt - 1798

Examine the motives of France and of Napoleon for the massive invasion of Egypt in 1798, and witness the two primary military engagements that ensued. Take account of the impacts of the French occupation, and of the phenomenal work of scholarship under Napoleon that gave birth to the field of Egyptology....

29 min
Murder at the Citadel - 1811

30: Murder at the Citadel - 1811

The Egyptian viceroy Muhammad Ali is widely referred to as the Father of Modern Egypt. Learn about his bloody ascension to power, ending 600 years of intermittent Mamluk rule. Trace Ali's 43-year reign, during which he introduced a modern, European-style army, modern education, a professional civil service, and thriving industrial development....

29 min
French Invasion of Algeria - 1830

31: French Invasion of Algeria - 1830

Explore the economic and political factors that sparked the brutal French invasion of Ottoman Algeria. Follow the events of the ensuing occupation, and examine the war of resistance led by the religious leader Abd al-Qadir. Observe how the invasion marked a major shift in European relations with the Middle East....

31 min
East India Company in Yemen - 1839

32: East India Company in Yemen - 1839

Investigate the phenomenon of the British East India Company, a militarized trading organization of astonishing power and reach. Learn about the Company's seizure of the strategic Yemeni port of Aden, which became a trading center of global importance, heralding Britain's century-spanning imperial presence in the Middle East....

31 min
Egypt, Europe, and the Suez Canal - 1869

33: Egypt, Europe, and the Suez Canal - 1869

The Suez Canal, which halved the sailing distance from Europe to India, changed the course of Middle Eastern and world history. Examine the events behind the building of the canal, and reveal the amazing feat of its construction. Assess the economics of the endeavor, a story of foreign debt that would cost Egypt its independence....

30 min
Discovering Middle East Oil - 1908

34: Discovering Middle East Oil - 1908

No other single factor has impacted the economy, politics, and social life of the Middle East as profoundly as oil. Trace the 20th-century discovery of petroleum across the region by foreign oil companies, and observe the ensuing geopolitical conflicts with local governments. Consider what became known as the Middle East's "oil curse."...

30 min
World War I in the Desert - 1914

35: World War I in the Desert - 1914

Examine the role of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, and uncover why it entered the war on the side of Germany and Austro-Hungary. Consider the scope of the conflict in the Middle East, the Arab Revolt (arguably the most significant Middle Eastern campaign of the war), and the emergence of Arab nationalism....

31 min
The Last Caliphate Falls - 1924

36: The Last Caliphate Falls - 1924

Investigate the epochal turning point of the breakup of the Ottoman Empire and the abolition of the Islamic caliphate-Islam's supreme religious authority-after 1300 years. Witness the remapping of the Middle East by the imperial powers of Britain and France, the impact of these changes on the region, and the emergent states of the modern Middle East....

35 min