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Publisher's Summary

Locales like Mesopotamia or the Indus Valley, peoples like the Hittites or Assyrians, or rulers like Sargon, Hammurabi, and Darius are part of a long-dead antiquity, so shrouded with dust that we might be tempted to skip over them entirely, preferring to race forward along history's timeline in search of the riches we know will be found in our studies of Greece and Rome.

But, according to Professor Harl, these civilizations, "act as the cultural basis for many of the civilizations that will emerge on the Eurasian landmass and will dictate the destinies of many of the people living today on the globe." These remote, ancient civilizations stand behind the traditions of Greece, so it is critical to understand these great societies in order to better understand those that would come later - including our own.

These 12 fast-paced lectures cover many civilizations that may only receive a few lines of cursory discussion in the average Western civilization textbook. Beginning in the Bronze Age and the emergence of urban-based literate civilizations, the story continues through the demise of Persia's great empire at the hands of the Greeks.

Along the way, you'll examine advances such as the invention and evolution of writing, the development of vast empires dependent not only on military might but on laws and administration, the growth of trade, and the contributions of the Hebrews to the religious and ethical future of Western civilization.

History lovers will appreciate this course for its deep insights and its rock-solid foundation for deeper exploration.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your My Library section along with the audio.

©2005 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)2005 The Great Courses

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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Fantastic, but too short.

I highly recommend this course as a broad introduction to the subject matter.

Focusing exclusively on the ancient civilizations of the Near East, professor Harl manages to cover a lot of ground in just a small number lectures.

The course begins with Sumer and the early city states of Mesopotamia. continues with Egypt, the Hittites, Minoan & Mycenaean Greeks, the Phoenicians, Hebrews, Assyrians, and concludes with the Persian Empire of the Achaemenids.

One drawback of moving so quickly is there isn't enough time to go into greater detail.

This is just a quick survey, but it is delivered by a wonderfully entertaining and informative lecturer.

Professor Harl is enjoyable to listen to, and this is the 3rd course of his I've purchased (from the Great Courses Series).

His lectures are organized, and his familiarity with the subject matter is especially impressive considering his background is classical Roman history.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • AlexIndia
  • Fort Worth, TX, United States
  • 06-08-14

Great material lecture

What made the experience of listening to Origins of Great Ancient Civilizations the most enjoyable?

It lays a foundation for further historical review

Would you be willing to try another book from The Great Courses? Why or why not?

Yes and I have many volumes in my wish list. They have valuable information which lays a foundation for further study.

What about Professor Kenneth W. Harl’s performance did you like?

He had a strong deliverance, however I felt that he was a bit rushed in his execution of the speech. This might not be his fault however. The producer might have only given him so much time to cover this vast portion of history. I would have preferred a more relaxed lecture where he would have been able to go into more detail of the story lines within these dynasties. Many times it is easier for us to remember history if it is in a story form, rather than a facts and figures regiment.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

I would say that it is material that needs to be listened to over a few days. If this is the first time you have covered this material then it needs to be digested over a time span of a week. I would suggest listening to it about 3 times to let the information permeate. For myself, my minor was history at TCU, but predominately American History. My only real exposure to Ancient History beyond my own personal research, was an Art History class I had in the Fall of '91.

Any additional comments?

Though I gave this lecture a lower rating in performance and story, I did give it a high rating overall. It received a lower rating in performance because the professor seemed to rush the lecture as previously mentioned. On story I gave it a low rating because it was more of a brief on the facts and figures of the topic and less on the in-depth story line of some of the individuals. Overall I will be interested to listen to this professor in further lectures, as I do have others by him marked in my line up within my wish list.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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Survey of the Ancient Near East: Neolithic to Iron

What did you love best about Origins of Great Ancient Civilizations?

I liked the scope. This is a contextualizing series of lectures to be used either before you study another ancient culture in depth or afterward, to help you understand the place of that culture in the matrix of the rise of civilization. Civilizations covered: Sumerian, Akkadian, Egyptian, Hittite, Minoan, Greek, Phoenician, Hebrew, Chaldean, Assyrian, Persian, and more.

Any additional comments?

For previous courses I have found the accompanying PDF to be lacking; that is NOT true of this one. The PDF has everything I expect: lecture outlines, a timeline, a dictionary of terms, and MAPS. I wish I had downloaded it ahead of the course. My expectations were low so I didn't look at it until I went to write this review. :( Download the PDF and keep it handy while listening. I will do so the next time I have a listen.<br/><br/>I will say that the 100' view that this course maintains is a bit frustrating at times. You want to hear more on a subject, but the narrative is swept along at a rapid pace and the "helicopter never descends" to give you a closer look. That's not a criticism, though; it's the nature of this lecture series. Understanding it up front will help you avoid frustration.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • bekki
  • virginia
  • 04-28-15

Great overview

This course is a great refresher for people who need a reminder about the general make-up and chronology of ancient civilizations or those who need a clear launch point before delving into biblical, Egyptian or even Greek history. It is not a deeply in-depth course, so if you're looking for a true survey of a specific ancient culture, it would serve you better to seek out a Great Course on that civilization alone.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Great survey of three ancient civilizations

Prof Harl is a master of distilling vast amounts of information and arranging it into a fascinating story. He adds details, dates, and gives a context for the main story. He explains the why of events. Clearly he knows oodles more than the scope of this 12 lesson course can embrace. But unlike other survey courses, he gives more rather than less. Truly my favorite professor of many I've listened to on The Great Courses. Witty, engaging, he doesn't dumb it down. He doesn't talk too fast for those who grew up in the NE US, but for those who can't keep up trying slowing down your player. This course filled in lots of details for me, showed the interrelation between Mesopotamian, Egyptian and Indus civilizations, and gave a solid foundation for further study.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Kennett, always the best

he goes into story like knife in a butter, smooth, easy, and very very interesting

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Fantastic overview of a large timespan

I really enjoyed this course and found it to be an engaging presentation of the subject matter, which, for me, will serve as a launch point for further study, but this is quite able to stand on its own. The professor covers the influence of the Sumerian and Akkadian language and culture on the entire near east, and demonstrates the impact during the relevant timeline of each civilization on its successors. I personally did not know much of the information presented, despite having gone through several other lecture series on ancient cultures. Of particular interest was how he outlines specific intellectual impacts of the Jewish concept of God and nature and time to the western philosophical construct, which was presented in a very unique and compelling way. I highly recommend this course, even if you don't want to go further with your studies on the subject matter.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Interesting subject; lacking in output and content

Terse and limited run through the driving forces during the ancient history of Sumer, Egypt, Babylon and nearby regions. Covers the timespan from the development of Sumerian writing to Assyrian empire during the early iron age. Would have personally enjoyed a more detailed and extensive lecture set. Also, it bothers me that in the "Origins of Great Ancient Civilizations", there is really nothing on East Asian history.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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History more than you knew

Excellant producution. Lectures eminently delivered.
The amount of information, is extensive and defiantly filled in many gaps.
I recommend studing at a map of the mid east to Iran , Turkey to Egypt.
I will listen to this lecture series again.

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Obviously gifted professor

Dr. Harl is knowledgeable about the material and is a fantastic storyteller. There are other courses by him. Will definitely listen to them as well.