(CLCV 205) This is an introductory course in Greek history tracing the development of Greek civilization as manifested in political, intellectual, and creative achievements from the Bronze Age to the end of the classical period. Students read original sources in translation as well as the works of modern scholars.
This course was recorded in Fall 2007.
01 - Introduction
Professor Donald Kagan explains why people should study the ancient Greeks. He argues that the Greeks are worthy of our study not only because of their vast achievements and contributions to Western civilization (such as in the fields of science, law, and politics) but also because they offer a unique perspective on humanity. To the Greeks, man was both simultaneously capable of the greatest achievements and the worst crimes; he was both great and important, but also mortal and fallible. He was a tragic figure, powerful but limited. Therefore, by studying the Greeks, one gains insight into a tension that has gripped and shaped the West and the rest of the world through its influence. In short, to study the Greeks is to study the nature of human experience.
02 - The Dark Ages
In this lecture, Professor Donald Kagan explores the earliest history of Greek civilization. He demonstrates how small agricultural enclaves eventually turned into great cities of power and wealth in the Bronze Age, taking as his examples first Minoan Crete and then Mycenaean Greece. He also argues that these civilizations were closely related to the great monarchies of the ancient Near East. He points out that the Mycenaean age eventually came to an abrupt end probably through a process of warfare and migration. Reconstructing the Mycenaean age is possible through archaeological evidence and through epic poetry (Homer). Finally, he provides an account of the collapse of the Mycenaean world, and explains how in its aftermath, the Greeks were poised to start their civilization over on a new slate.
03 - The Dark Ages (cont.)
In this lecture, Professor Kagan addresses what scholars call the Homeric question. He asks: what society do Homer's poems describe? He argues that in view of the long oral transmission of the poems, the poems of Homer probably reflect various ages from the Mycenaean world to the Dark Ages. More importantly, close scrutiny of the poems will yield historical information for the historian. In this way, one is able to reconstruct through the poems, to a certain extent, the post-Mycenaean world. Finally, Professor Kagan says a few words on the heroic ethic of the Greek world.
04 - The Rise of the Polis
In this lecture, Professor Donald Kagan offers a sketch of the Greek heroic code of ethics. He shows that in this community, arête (manly virtue) and honor are extremely important and even worth dying for, as the case of Achilles makes clear. In addition, Professor Kagan shows how this society eventually produced a new phenomenon, the rise of the polis. The discussion ends with a strong emphasis on the importance of the polis in Greek history.
05 - The Rise of the Polis (cont.)
In this lecture, Professor Donald Kagan tells the story of the emergence of the polis from the Dark Ages. He shows that by the time of the poet Hesiod, there is already a polis in place. He describes the importance of the polis in the Greek world and explains that it was much more than a mere place of habitation; it was a place where there was justice, law, community, and a set of cultural values that held Greeks together. Finally, Professor Kagan argues, following the lead of Victor David Hanson, that the polis came to be chiefly through the emergence of a new man: the hoplite farmer.
06 - The Greek "Renaissance" - Colonization and Tyranny
In this lecture, Professor Donald Kagan discusses the emergence of a new style of warfare among the Greeks, the hoplite phalanx. After discussing the panoply of the hoplite solider and the method of fighting, he argues that this style of fighting came about early in the life of the polis. In addition, he shows that the phalanx was almost invincible on the field. At the lecture's conclusion, he answers several questions from students about hoplite warfare in the Greek world.