The World of Byzantium : The Great Courses: Ancient History

  • by The Great Courses
  • Narrated by Professor Kenneth W. Harl
  • Series: The Great Courses: Ancient History
  • 12 hrs and 11 mins
  • Lecture

Publisher's Summary

Byzantium is too-often considered merely the "Eastern rump" of the old Roman Empire, a curious and even unsettling mix of the classical and medieval. Yet it was, according to Professor Harl, "without a doubt the greatest state in Christendom through much of the Middle Ages," and well worth our attention as a way to widen our perspective on everything from the decline of imperial Rome to the rise of the Renaissance.
In a series of 24 tellingly detailed lectures, you'll learn how the Greek-speaking empire of Byzantium, or East Rome, occupied a crucial place in both time and space that began with Constantine the Great and endured for more than a millennium - a crucible where peoples, cultures, and ideas met and melded to create a world at once Eastern and Western, Greek and Latin, classical and Christian. And you'll be dazzled by the achievements of Byzantium's emperors, patriarchs, priests, monks, artists, architects, scholars, soldiers, and officials

Preserving and extending the literary, intellectual, and aesthetic legacy of Classical and Hellenistic Greece
Carrying forward path-breaking Roman accomplishments in law, politics, engineering, architecture, urban design, and military affairs
Deepening Christian thought while spreading the faith to Russia and the rest of what would become the Orthodox world
Developing Christian monastic institutions
Shielding a comparatively weak and politically fragmented western Europe from the full force of eastern nomadic and Islamic invasions
Fusing classical, Christian, and eastern influences
Helping to shape the course of the Humanist revival and the Renaissance


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Traditional History at it's Best

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I have listened to Professor Kenneth J. Harl many times and have never been disappointed. He delivers the traditional historical experience at its best.

This series of lectures covers the origins of the Byzantine Empire (or East Roman Empire) from its background and foundations in the late Roman Empire and its birth through the dynamic personality of Emperor Constantine the Great around 300 AD. It then provides an overview of that history right down to the empires final collapse in the epic and moving siege and fall of the city of Constantinople to it's Ottoman Turkic attackers in 1453 AD.

Those who are looking for an in-depth treatment of the topic should probably find a more thorough book to read. Those who are interested in getting an overview of the topic and enjoy listening to history will not be disappointed.

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- Mike

A Very Difficult Listen - Not for Beginners!

Sorry Prof - only 3/10 from me on this one. Too much information crammed in to too small a space and not enough effort put into engaging the audience with interesting stories.

Considering the real life dramas that actually took place in this period, the presentation style was often disappointingly boring. That made the material very hard to retain.

The author of this course is clearly a very learned gent who loves his subject. I wanted to know a bit about Byzantium so I decided to stay with him until the end. It was really hard work though.

On the plus, side he covers a lot of ground. If you're already quite familiar with the period, the major protagonists and empires and want to know more you'll definitely pick up useful stuff from these lectures. As a newcomer to Byzantine history, I did learn a few things, too so it wasn't entirely lacking in merit.

What makes it so very hard though, is his presentation style: an endless and often bewildering succession of people, dates, battles, political events, kingdoms, alliances etc- delivered at an almost uniformly high speed - with very few pauses. Imagine the audio equivalent of a long text book with very long dense paragraphs, minus headers, bullet points or any other typographical features and you'll get the idea. The pace is relentless and the overall body of work is frankly, quite featureless and dull. Certainly hard to retain.

What makes it even more difficult is that he seemed to be speaking to an audience who already knows a lot about the subject. He also assumes that the listener fully recalls events, or people mentioned in passing in previous chapters and refers back to them in such a way that I was often left thinking - so where are we now, what's he talking about?

At the end of it I felt quite frustrated and unsatisfied. I've just listened to twelve hours and not picked up anywhere near as much as I would have liked from the experience.

One last thing worth mentioning: I've listened to a few of these "Great Courses" on history and classics now. During the course of going through other courses - I frequently found myself jumping on to the internet to look stuff up - authors, historical works, artwork, places etc. I was fascinated and inspired to want to learn more. I did not have that urge once with this course.

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- Matt

Book Details

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