The Italians before Italy: Conflict and Competition in the Mediterranean : The Great Courses: Renaissance & Early Modern History

  • by The Great Courses
  • Narrated by Professor Kenneth R. Bartlett
  • Series: The Great Courses: Renaissance & Early Modern History
  • 12 hrs and 8 mins
  • Lecture

Publisher's Summary

Take a riveting tour of the Italian peninsula, from the glittering canals of Venice to the lavish papal apartments and ancient ruins of Rome.
In these 24 lectures, Professor Bartlett traces the development of the Italian city-states of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, showing how the modern nation of Italy was forged out of the rivalries, allegiances, and traditions of a vibrant and diverse people.
This comprehensive portrait of Italian history opens an exciting new world-a grand mosaic of lustrous and storied cultures as distinctive as the people who helped build them. As you come to know these many "Italys," you'll see how the Italian states defined themselves against the others, competing for territory, trade, and artistic supremacy - and how the vestiges of these interactions are visible even today.
Among other things, you'll consider the rivalry between the Genoese and the Pisans, which stems from a nearly 800-year-old grudge; examine how the crusades influenced the development of Genoa, Pisa, and Venice; and explore Italy's troubled relationship with the Holy Roman Empire and the Catholic Church during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
You'll also get a glimpse into the lives of the powerful and influential, including Pope Paul IV, who championed the Roman Inquisition, and Luigi Gonzaga, who cut out the hearts of his enemies and nailed them to the doors of their palaces as a warning to others who might challenge his power.
As you get to know the distinctive personalities and events that define the peninsula, you'll gain fresh insights into the Italy of today. Surprising, enriching, always engaging, this course offers a unique perspective on one of the most dynamic and creative cultures of the modern world.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

European political history taken to the next level

Where does The Italians before Italy: Conflict and Competition in the Mediterranean rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

This is a higher level, more in depth study than most of The Great Courses on Audible. I suppose it ranks lower than others on the "entertaining" scale, but higher on the depth of information scale.


What other book might you compare The Italians before Italy: Conflict and Competition in the Mediterranean to and why?

Other related series by the great courses would include Foundations of Western Civilization I & II (both excellent), Europe and Western Civilization in the Modern Age, and The Middle Ages series: Early Middle Ages, High Middle Ages, Late Middle Ages


Have you listened to any of Professor Kenneth R. Bartlett’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

Professor Bartlett also teaches The Great Courses series on European Civilization and the Italian Renaissance, plus their video series The Great Tours: Experiencing Medieval Europe. He is extremely knowledgeable. The other courses are less focused on the political evolution of Italy and more focused on civilization, art, and historic sites. It all depends on what you're interested in.


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

No. This is a long and detailed title with 24 lectures. I listened to about an hour a day over a couple of weeks.


Any additional comments?

This is a series for those who know European history and want to delve deeper re the politics of the Italian city states. Prof. Bartlett assumes that the listener knows European history, particularly of the middle ages. It is assumed you already know about the Byzantines, the Holy Roman Empire, the Turkish empire, the royal houses of Anjou, Habsburg, etc. With that as background, this series provides a survey of all the city states and their political (more than cultural) evolution, particularly vis a vis their relationships with Rome and the rest of Europe.

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- Quaker

Could've Used More Culture + Color

There is a lot of detailed information here, but it is very dry: old-school history focused on political and military matters – to the exclusion of all else.

Professor Bartlett has a difficult task, as Italy between the fall of Rome and the Risorgimento was divided into many states, each with their own history and identity. He chooses to organize these lectures regionally more than chronologically. This has its drawbacks: many historical figures (like the Borgias) or international events (like the Plague) appear in the narrative of multiple states, and so we hear about them again and again, but only in little snippets each time – it can be disorienting.

This approach would make much more sense if he spent any time describing the states' individual cultures – he says over and over again that they were unique, but does little to illustrate what made them distinct beyond political organization. When he does mention something cultural, it's still dry: he might say that the Sienese developed their own painting style, but not say anything about what that style was or what made it special.

The lectures are also strangely limited in chronological scope: the (500+ year!) period between the fall of Rome and the first crusade is quickly glossed over (a single lecture!), and the lectures largely stop at the 16th century, long before Italian unification.
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- Christopher

Book Details

  • Release Date: 07-08-2013
  • Publisher: The Great Courses